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I just moved to a headlamp that is rechargeable, water resistant (waterproof to one meter) and less than an ounce. Nitecore NU25 360 Lumen Triple Output – White, Red, High CRI – Lightweight USB Rechargeable Headlamp (Black)
It replaced a Black Diamond Storm (an excellent headlamp, has four colors, strong light and is very waterproof — but is about four ounces or so). I really liked the Storm but over time, since I’ve hiked rarely at night, have found myself less and less happy about the weight.
Win has a Black Diamond Spot. It is lighter than the Storm and a trail favorite. Before the Storm and Spot we used a model of Black Diamond headlamp that has been discontinued.
My favorite remains Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trek Poles. I used those, for years until I lost one in a fall in a river. I then replaced them with Leki poles (because Lekis were all that was available) and am back to the Black Diamond. In aluminum for the Appalachian Trail because I find those to survive bending and rough use more.
On the PCT I’ve found carbon to be just fine.
You can epoxy the rubber caps on them. That way the caps don’t come off as quickly. The rubber grips rocks better and overall is better than the carbide tips for everything on the Appalachian Trail except for snow.
The caps will come off anyway and I eventually just gave up on them. On the PCT doing without was better too.
The screw in rubber caps turn out not to be much bigger than erasers. One of my mistakes in purchases.
We both now use TOAKS Titanium Long Handle Spoon with Polished Bowl. I prefer the polished bowl.
I also prefer a long handled spoon to a spork. I’ve used the light my fire spork (spoon on one end and real fork on the other) in lexan and titanium.
I also have the lighter aluminum Sea to Summit Alpha Light Cutlery (Long Spoon). I got it for free from a hiker box. I may yet go back to it, as it is lighter and the same size and seems strong enough.
I’ve been through a lot of different tent pegs. For the Appalachian Trail I like iBasingo Titanium Alloy Pegs Outdoor Camping Tent Stakes Portable Elbow Grass Tent Nail 8 pcs/lot Ti1525I because they are very light and they are tough enough and hold well enough on the Appalachian Trail.
For the Pacific Crest Trail I switched to MSR groundhogs because the surfaces were often too hard for shepherds hooks.
My favorite tent pegs were folded aluminum but I’ve been unable to find more of them —even the tent maker I got them from no longer has them. (Think of hollow three sided pegs, light and strong).
I’ve also used titanium and aluminum v shaped stakes. In different soil conditions I might go back to them.
I have yet to be able to consistently dig a cat hole without a trowel.
I started with a Deuce of Spades but currently use a titanium Ultralight Backpacking Trowel, 0.5 ounce with palm protecting handle and saw teeth. That is a vanity item. Which I got for free.
Win uses a Deuce. it is the gold standard on the trail. Pair it with some freeze dried toilet paper and you are good to go. (Actually regular toilet paper in a zip lock is all you need.)
Lots of people recommend tent stakes for a trowel. I do not. They’ve never worked well for anyone I know, no matter how good they sound in theory.
As for wipes, most aren’t biodegradable anywhere but the marketing department. There are freeze dried toilet papers and some specialty wipes. You can carry and make do with regular toilet paper.
I’ve used a number of pillows (having worn out or lost several) but now have a TREKOLOGY ALUFT Comfort Ultralight Inflating Travel/Camping Air Pillows (deep Blue).
Note that Trekology sold these on Facebook recently for $1.11 including shipping and handling. I’ve bought two from Amazon and one on Facebook. They seem to last about three years. I’d have bought more than one at the discounted price but that wasn’t an option.
Outdoor Vitals sells a similar pillow for $8.00 on Facebook from time to time (whenever they say “free” “just pay shipping and handling” and that comes to about $8.00 from time to time).
Many make do with their spare gear/clothing in a stuff sack. I use that and a pillow.
Water Containers and Systems
I often use one of these for water to be filtered; Cnoc Outdoors 2019 Vecto 2L Water Container, 28mm Thread, Orange, and one for water that has been filtered Cnoc Outdoors 2019 Vecto 2L Water Container, 28mm Thread, Blue (same product but in different colors to keep them straight).
We moved from the Sawyer Mini to the Sawyer Products SP2129 Micro Squeeze Water Filtration System, 1 Pack. Those both work well with gravity filtering as long as you have time.
Recently we moved to the Katadyn BeFree. It filters much faster. It is a little heavier, a little more expensive, had 1/10 the life of a Sawyer and only works on a very limited selection of containers.
We both carry a filter. For back-up I used to also carry portable aqua tabs and then Aqua Mira tabs and then moved to drops.
Note that the mini is just too slow compared to the regular or the micro. Both are staples on the trails.
Finally we use Gatorade and smartwater bottles. Light. Virtually free. Easily replaced. My Sawyer filter often lived on a smartwater bottle attached to my pack. The bottle/filter combo is ubiquitous on the trail.
We also carry Core Water bottles. Core Water bottle caps will work to scoop water when you need a scoop.
For sleeping pads I use a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Ultralight Backpacking Air Mattress, Regular – 20 x 72 Inches that is over ten years old. Win used a Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm Lightweight Inflatable Backpacking Air Mattress, Large because she got it for cheap at an REI garage sale.
She switched up to the updated XLite (it weighs less) recently. We use them with the bag pumps they come with.
About 25% of the world can be happy on a foam pad. Try it out sleeping on your floor at home. If you are comfortable then yes. Otherwise you want something warmer.
If you don’t want to return the foam pad you can always cut off a third of it to use as a sit pad and to put under your backpack when you set up your tent’s vestibule.
A couple can each carry half a pad as sit pads and have it in case an inflatable pad springs a leak.
To blow up your pad, use a pump sack. An alternative is to get a bit of silicon tubing and make a pump sack out of a pack liner (plastic garbage sack or trash compactor bag used to line your pack to protect your gear from water)
My pump sack is probably my favorite item of gear. Makes it so much easier to inflate my pad and keeps the moisture out of it too.
For stoves we’ve moved back and forth between the Snow Peak which is like the more common MSR PocketRocket 2 Ultralight Backpacking, Camping, and Travel Stove and the MSR WindBurner Personal Stove System for Fast Boiling Fuel-Efficient Cooking for Backpacking, Solo Travelers, and Minimalist Trips — sometimes carrying both of them to compare.
Then we moved to a Stanco Grease Pot because it is so much lighter.
Note that many clones of the Snow Peak / Pocket Rocket are available for cheap on Amazon and are getting great reviews. According to Darwin they take only 4-5 seconds longer to get two cups of water to boil and often weigh in at just an ounce.
This is an area where it appears there is no need to spend money for premium especially for a pot. Keith titanium (has a different name in China) is cost competitive and has premium quality.
Titanium is fine for boiling water. Aluminum is even better.
With the WindBurner we use the 1.7 liter pot and with the Snow Peak we used a Keith titanium pot like the Snow Peak Titanium Cook & Save Pot and a frying pan (for quesadillas) similar to the Keith Titanium Ti6034 Fry Pan with Folding Handle – 33.8 fl oz. I haven’t been able to find the actual pan we use (we got it at an REI garage sale and I’ve never seen one like it since).
Note that over any distance, canisters are lighter than alcohol. They get water to a boil minutes faster. They are legal places alcohol stoves are not legal.
When we use the WindBurner we have a MSR WindBurner 8-Inch Ceramic Camping Skillet with Folding Handle.
Right now we are using the Snow Peak gigapower and the cheap Stanco pot. It just saves a lot of weight. Funny how we have gone back and forth. But Win tested everything at the house and the time to boil water was about the same between gear items. So we changed again to the lighter system.
There are a lot of PocketRocket clones and they almost all have great reviews. I don’t know of a reason not to consider saving the money.
Shoes and Socks
I use darn tough socks treated by Insect Shield to hike in. I sleep in some socks from Costco (also treated).
Some people use Iniji Toe socks if they have blisters. I’ve used Smartwool socks and liked them enough to pay for Insect Shield.
For shoes, those are very personal depending on your feet. Last time on the trail Win and I both ended up in Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Waterproof Hiking Shoes — had to do with what was available and what was tough enough for the rock and events of Maine and New Hampshire.
Win now uses Olympia Altras.
I also like the La Sportiva Men’s Wildcat Trail Running Shoe but the rocks cut them up in Maine. Trail runners or hiking shoes have trumped boots on the trail.
I’m was using Hoka Speedgoats because they now come on a wide, but they had a long slow arch. So I switched to Hoka ATRs which has an arch that works better for me. The PCT kept tearing up the soles early.
Some people have trouble with goretex shoes. I can walk with them in the Dallas summers and I’m ok. I used them to ford in and they dried out for me in the 100 mile wilderness as I walked in them.
You will have to decide based on your feet and how they deal with warm days and water.
I still haven’t found the perfect shoe for me.
Win had settled in with a Granite Gear Crown 60 Backpack that fits her just right. She tried Osprey and Gregory packs and they just didn’t fit her. Backpack fit is another thing that really makes a difference.
She now uses a Hyperlite Windrider as do I. Hers is black and mine is white.
That pack fits us well, is light, holds our gear, and is pretty much waterproof.
Get fitted and put 25-30 pounds of sand bags in your pack and walk around the store (REI and other outfitters have sand bags for that purpose). Do that when you try out shoes too.
I liked my Osprey Packs Exos 58 (2.65 pounds) and moved to a Osprey Levity 60 ( 1.951 lbs) to save some weight (and had to send the Levity in for repairs which they did not complete so I returned it to REI).
I am currently using a Hyperlite Windrider — which has a reputation for being tough, waterproof and light (31.82 ounces). It is a favorite on the PCT.
It also sits closer to my back and with the change in center of balance I hike with better posture in it.
We started with a half dome. Perfect except it weighs twice as much as a through hiking tent should. If you are doing overnights and weeklong hikes I can’t recommend it enough. We still have it.
We tried several tents that did not work for us.
Our Copper Spur is a great tent. However we are currently using a ZPacks Triplex. It is only 21 ounces, palatial in size and sets up dry when it is raining (so we don’t need a tarp).
Before we carried a tarp. In the rain you set up the tarp then set up the tent under it. That way you stay dry while setting up and your tent stays dry through the night (a traditional tent picks up a lot of weight when wet).
The DCF a triplex is made out of doesn’t absorb water and unlike a more traditional tent you don’t set up the inner layer before you set up the rainfly. It does need tent pegs, but the Copper Spur did a lot better with them and we needed them for the vestibules anyway.
As I’ve gotten more comfortable with tents I’ve gotten more comfortable with tents that aren’t freestanding.
We use polycro tarps when we need one. Just take the large film and tie a sheet bend knot with your tie downs in each corner. There are fancier ways to do it too.
Note on Tents
There are a few things to look at with a tent or a tarp.
- The weight. Our Noah’s Tarp is great but it weighs over two pounds. A disposable polycro (window film) tarp is four ounces. The Half Dome tent is about five pounds. The Triplex 21 ounces.
- Side or front entry. With a side entry it is easier in and out. Also it means you each get an entrance and exit of your own. Front entry requires more limber movements and you kind of climb over each other getting in and out.
- Freestanding, semi or non. Freestanding means you don’t need tent pegs or to guy out your tent. Most free standing tents are better guyed out. Semi wont fall over without tent pegs but the tent sides flop in.
- Non freestanding tents will fall over without tent pegs. Our triplex uses our hiking poles instead of tent poles and needs to be guyed out.
- Size and volume. Some tents are little more than a bivy sack. Most single hikers carry a two person for the extra room. The Copper Spur has a great sidewall design that opens the interior volume out. We’ve had tents that were barely three feet tall inside.
You can make a polycro tent to experiment and understand what I am talking about. For twenty dollars you will understand why the REI Quarterdome and the Big Agnes Fly Creek are both very popular and often returned.
Or why for distance backpacking use we use either the Copper Spur or the Triplex.
However. You can go to an REI and set up 2-3 tents next to each other and crawl in and out of them. Put up one, set up another and compare with the two you have up. Read real reviews.
If you need to save money, consider the Lanshan UF tent. Killer price. Decent quality. Reasonable weight.
(Anything around three pounds is reasonable by today’s standards. Many lighter tents have compromised durability or size —read reviews by real users).
Compass and whistle and bear spray and sunscreen and sunglasses. My backpack has a built in whistle as does one of my compasses. Bear spray can be used on out of control dogs illegally off leash. Some of us need reading glasses too.
Small utility knives (not a Gladius, instead a pocket knife for cheese and salami and such)
A bic lighter. It will light even without butane left in it. You can carry one on an airplane in your pocket.
- Two pairs of hiking socks.
- A buff (or two)
- A hat. I loved my Tilly Hat but I hiked with a cheap truckers cap, a cheap and light Frog toggs hat and I’m currently using a baseball cap.
- A short sleeve and long sleeve t-shirt or a sun shirt. Merino wool won’t pick up smells but vinegar or a little bleach will fix the smell polyester tends to pick up.
- Pants or leggings.
- Shorts (optional)
- Underwear (optional for some. I believe in a day pair and a sleep set).
- A fleece. I prefer micro grid full zip hoodies. You can take them off without taking your pack off. This is for warmth while hiking.
- A puffy. I started with the economy puffy from REI on sale for $49.99. I now have a warmer one with a hood. You wear it at camp when you have quit hiking for the day or sleep in it when it is really cold.
- A baselayer to sleep in and sleep socks or a sleeping bag liner. Some people use one of their t-shirts (whichever one they didn’t hike in). The best/least expensive one changes all the time. Wool for winter, spring & fall, some people have silk or polyester for summer.
- Rain gear (like a Packa and gaiters or rain pants). This will double as a wind shirt while hiking.
- Possibly a rain skirt and a mosquito net (head net—I’ve lucked out on the bugs but one is essential).
- Gloves and mitten shells. The best shells don’t have affiliate links so they seem to be forgotten when people post best of collections. You can get great poly fiber work gloves for cheap at Home Depot.
- A pair of rubber faced painters gloves from a dollar store for climbing Katahdin. The rubber face is grippy and the gloves will keep your hands from being chewed up on the rocks. You can throw them away after you finish the trail and not worry.
“Best” is a price/performance issue. The best price and the color you want or can find is constantly changing.
My favorite fleece from Terramar was discontinued. The Patagonia alternative was discontinued. I found a replacement from Marmot and it has been discontinued.
Sleeping Bags, Quilts and Gear
A puffy just warm enough for the AT isn’t warm enough for the PCT. The same is true of sleeping bags.
We’ve used a number of bags and quilts. In practice you can use a bag as a quilt. When it is really cold you can zip bags together and two people huddling for warmth are warmer than two sleeping apart.
There is another factor. It is tempting to get something light then add a little more for extra warmth for really cold sections. The problem is that the weight adds up.
You can get an excellent 16 ounce quilt. It isn’t warm enough. Buy a fleece blanket, fold it over and, sew and trim and use it as an extender—works great and is cheap and warm with great texture —and adds two pounds of weight.
A really warm sleeping bag won’t reach three pounds. Liners are otherwise expensive and the amount of warmth they add in real life is proportionate to their weight.
Take my experience with Costco down quilt—warm, light and, if I needed more warmth was just another pound for a second one. Yep. Suddenly I was at two pounds and not as warm as a two pound bag.
First. Sleep socks and try a sleep good or a beanie.
- Sleep socks and try a sleep good or a beanie. I gave my down head gear away as I was too warm. Others love theirs.
- Try a quilt if you are single. Zip together bags if you are married or a couple and used to sleeping together.
- A good warm bag or quilt
- I really like Feathered Friends bags and REI’s Magma bag.
- There are many handcraft sleep quilt companies. Even the big players are really cottage industries.
- An inexpensive light summer bag or quilt. That lets you shave a pound for warmer weather.
- I’ve used these bags for summer;. Windhard/Aegismax.
- I’ve used these quilts. Costco and Loco Libre.
- The temperature ratings for many brands are very optimistic (wear all your clothes and you won’t die ranting kind of ratings).
- Try to practice with your bag by sleeping in your tent in the back yard on a cold and snowy night. That is the best way to find out if it is warm enough.
I’ll update this as we go on.
Note that the PCT tends to have different gear preferences and needs than the AT.
Or why we used different gear for the PCT than the Appalachian Trail.
I needed a hat 2-3 days on the AT. In addition, I found one useful while it was raining. The Frogg Toggs hat was perfect on the AT. I’ve switched hat types to work with my sun gear.
I never really needed sunglasses on the AT. Finally quit carrying them. Training for the PCT I find I use them daily.
ThePacka.com paired with EMS full zip rain pants were great on the AT. EMS gear stood up to heavy rain, brush and wind. You can unzip at the top or bottom to vent. Ten ounces. Replaced my rain skirt/kilt and rain gaiters with the EMS.
For the PCT we have both switched to Versalite rain pants. Goretex. Three ounces or less. They breathe. I would not use them for day in and day out heavy rain. But that is a PCT vs AT difference.
We also have lightweight rain jackets that double as windshirts. A lot more open wind on the PCT and our packs are waterproof (we still use pack liners to protect our sleeping
I have updates with PCT gear with more detail. See the Table of Contents.