Last spring as we were preparing for the PCT we posted a gear list here on the blog. Once we were on the trail, our gear list changed quite a bit. We sent things home, left things in hiker boxes and swapped things out. I have updated our gear list here (to the best of my memory) but have not included the weights. All told, I think our pack base-weights (minus food and water) were around 15 pounds each.
If you don't read this entire (long) post, here are some key points that worked for us:
1. It's all trial and error. We thought we had a pretty good handle on what gear we wanted/needed before our thru hike... we're experienced backpackers and had spent plenty of time on trail. But thru hiking is a different animal. We certainly went through lots of options and were glad we did. Your body, needs and desires change so much. If you can, give yourself some room to try and change options.
2. Use what you have. We got a lot of gear as wedding gifts and already owned lots of gear from years of working outdoor retail. Gear costs add up quick, so use what you have, even if it's a few extra ounces.
3. Don't be afraid to be comfortable. Hiking is hard. If there is something you carry for comfort, it's worth it.
Now onto the reviews...
Here are things that we swapped out and are so damn glad we did.
CATALYST BACKPACK: In Agua Dulce, I swapped my Granite Gear Vapor Ki out for a ULA Catalyst. I LOVED the Catalyst. It does carry quite differently than the Vapor Ki (and most packs I've carried) but once I got used to it, I absolutely loved it. It's durable and light and, I found, very spacious!
SAWYER SQUEEZE FILTER: This thing is brilliant. We used bleach and the Katadyn Hiker for the first 1100 miles and switched to the Sawyer in Reno. We wish we'd had it from the beginning. The bags that come with it are total junk, so swap them out for the Evernew 2 Liter bladder.
BIG AGNES FLY CREEK UL3: We started with the Tarp Tent Squall 2 and switched to the Big Agnes in Sierra City. We actually got the UL2 (2 person) and found it so small that we couldn't sit up at the same time. We also got concerned about condensation, as our bags touched the walls all the way down the sides. We upgraded to the UL3 (3 person) in Shasta and were (and still are) obsessed. We had plenty of room, a full mesh top, a fly and felt like the little extra weight was well worth it. Like other things, we wished we'd started at Campo with this bad boy.
Trial, Error, Success
It took a few tries, but we were thrilled with our selections.
Vasque Velocity and wore them until Agua Dulce. I was having hip and knee pain and switched to the Merrell Moab Ventilator, looking for more support and bulk. I wore the Moabs (two pair) until Shasha City and switched to the La Sportiva Wildcat. I loved the Moabs. They were supportive and confortable, but the second pair I got felt very narrow and my feet got so swollen on the Hat Creek Rim, that all I wanted breathability. I found the Wildcats in Shasta and fell head over heals. I wore three pair to get me to Canada and loved every step. I wore each pair for 600-700 miles. In 'real life' I measure at a 7.5-8 shoe size, but on the trail, in all of these pairs, I wore a 9.
Montrail Masochists, which he had pre-ordered online in his normal size 9.5. By the time we made it to Northern California, his feet had grown/swollen so much that it was time to get something new, so in Mammoth he bought some Patagonia Drifter ACs (for a few reasons, mostly because they had a very solid sole). Just a handful of miles out of Mammoth he realized that those Patagonia shoes were not for him and he could not wait to get some new shoes. The trail provided (as it always does) and in Yosemite, at the gear store/gas station in Tuolumne he bought the only trail runners they had, the Solomon XA Pro 3D Ultra. He love loved them, and wore three more pair until Canada.
Mine and Trav's.
PATAGONIA...EVERYTHING: It's no secret that we wear a lot of (matching) Patagonia clothing. We met while working there and have a large stockpile of Patagonia gear. We were, basically, decked head to toe in clothing we already had. It wasn't always the lightest, fastest option, but it was what we had and we didn't want to spend more money. Items we are both obsessed with: Baggie shorts (lasted the whole way), Wool 2 long sleeved shirts, Rainshadow jackets, Down Sweater jackets. My old Baggies that I started in got a hole in the seat, so I did buy a new pair in Reno at the outlet. I hiked in the Wool 2 zipneck, long sleeved shirt from Campo to Eugene, and switched to Capeline 2 for the last leg of the trip. Most wool shirts that I saw wore through and need to be replaced. It was worth it to me in comfort. The Capeline was fine, but I also wore a hole in in and it stiiiiinks. Trav wore his El Ray button down the entire way, and it's still in solid shape. I had my Houdini shipped to me in Kennedy Meadows and loved having it through the Sierra. This has been a long standing favorite of both of ours (we both wore this jacket religiously while biking around San Francisco). Trav picked his up in Reno (after a few hundred miles of being jealous of mine). We had a warm year compared to most but nonetheless we were so so glad to have had this extra windproof layer through Northern California, Oregon and Washington. It was worn daily. There's a picture of us with Histo, all in our Houdinis.
THERMAREST WOMEN'S PROLITE: We rolled into a gear shop in Bishop and picked up Prolites that were a past model and deeply discounted. We both carried the Women's version. Adding the 16oz to our packs was WELL worth how much better we slept. And yes, we did keep carrying the ZLites, too.
USB MEMORY CARD READER: You can find one of these at any drug store or Radio Shack. We got ours in Big Bear and it was a wonderful solution to uploading and backing up our photographs. A bunch of our hiker friends used it at every town stop, too. It's a light and simple solution to backing up photos. I'm glad I did along the way, because the first of our two memory cards was somehow damaged and I cannot access the photos from Campo to Bishop any longer...
List of (some) things we ditched all together:
-Second/spare Moving Comfort sports bra
*There are so many things that we ditched that I don't even recall... In each town you end up leaving something behind and trimming weight and bulk.
MSR POCKET ROCKET: We loved the system and felt like it was quite efficient for the two of us.
IPHONE: So glad we had our iPhone. Carrying a phone/gadget isn't for everyone, but we were glad to have it for internet-ing in town, calling family and friends and using PCT Apps. We HIGHLY recommend the Halfmile Maps and App. We kept the phone in a simple Ziploc and it was fine for 2660 miles.
Hope this helps!
PS. I have added some useful information, guidelines and even print-outs on our PCT page outlining the US Postal Service's guidelines for mailing fuel canisters to PCT hikers. In short, it is totally possible and totally easy to mail isobutane canisters, you just need to account for more time (they cannot go air, they must go by ground, even if you use a flat rate box) and you must add the appropriate label. Ship on!