PCT gear review
In this PCT gear review I want to share my experiences and highlight the pros and cons of the gear I chose to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. You can find a complete list of all the gear I carried here: PCT gear list.
Bevor heading out on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016 I did a lot of research about gear and I know how hard it can be to select the right stuff. Carrying everything that’s needed on our backs we hikers are very limited. You can’t just bring everything! Therefore it is important to find good gear that is lightweight but still durable. And ideally this well-selected piece of gear serves more than one purpose.
As the PCT was my first long-distance hike I was very happy with a total base weight of my backpack of about 7.6 kg. Furthermore I am very proud of the fact that I didn’t have to get rid or exchange much of my gear. I made the right picks – right from the start!
My PCT gear review is based on my personal opinion and I only recommend what I am really convinced of. I had a hard time at the beginning of the PCT due to an early knee injury. I had to went hard on my hiking poles and some other pieces of gear! In the end it was also my well-chosen gear that helped me through a hard time. Finally my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail was a big success for myself and I think the right gear was most important for that.
How to select the best hiking gear?
I have chosen five criteria to classify the products with 100% meaning the product is very good with this criteria. Of course the classification reflects my personal opinion but it is supposed to give you a rough idea. I hope my PCT gear review helps you to find the right gear for you!
- Usefulness – It’s a personal decision. If you pack for a long distance hike you do not have the capacity to bring many luxury items. Ask yourself the question: Do I really need this?
- Weight – You will definitely talk about your base weight every day for the first two weeks. And every time your base weight is smaller than that of your fellow hikers you will be very proud! 😉
- Durability – You want a product that lasts for the entire hike, right?
- Cost – Most of us hikers travel on a tight budget and unfortunately the above mentioned points come at a cost. Of course most of the high quality hiking gear is more expensive. Therefore this criteria wants to stress if the price is okay for the quality you get.
If I was about to go on another thru-hike… or better: when I will go on another thru-hike I will definitely bring these shoes! The first pair lastet me until Sierra City at mile 1200 where I exchanged them for a new pair. Given the fact that I had to skip about 300 miles in the desert due to an injury that’s still 800 miles!
Reading my daily blog posts about the Pacific Crest Trail you might also see the photos of the big blisters I had at the start in Warner Springs. The LaSportivas were a little tight for me in the back until I broke them in but it’s normal that you develop some problematic spots at the beginning of a thru-hike. With the second pair I just used some tape right from the start and that was it.
Besides the durability of these shoes I likes their grip on sandy terrain or even on ice and snow. You will definitely notice when it’s time for a new pair as the soles get bad and the grip fades away.
Finding the right hiking shoes is very individual and you should definitely try lots of options before you decide. Comfort should always be your first concern as the shiny blue color of my second pair was barely visible after 2 hours on trail! If you want a durable and reliable shoe I can definitely recommend the LaSportivas! There’s even a goretex version. I used the not waterproof ones and I guess with lots of river crossings this is your best bet.
Lundhags Traverse WS pants – 480g
My absolutely favourite hiking pants!! Unfortunately they don’t come as a zip-off version so I used some other convertible pants for the desert section. But as soon as I entered the Sierra Nevada I turned into my favourite Lundhags. I have probably never had such comfortable pants before. The fabric is just fantastic with lots of flexibility for your knees and your butt 🙂 I use my Lundhags pants since 2011. They have been with me all over the planet, hiking and traveling in New Zealand, Crossing the European Alps and hiking the PCT in the United States and are still good to go. 100% for durability! Whereever I go people ask me about my pants and say they like them. It happened to me in New Zealand, on lots of day-hikes in my home area and also on the PCT: I like your pants!
Unfortunately with nearly all high quality item comes a big price tag. The new models of Lundhags are even more expensive. Still they are definitely worth the price!
You can definitely find your favourite hiking trousers here: Lundhags
For me it was a hard decision which jacket to buy for hiking the PCT. I wanted to pick the right one. In the end I decided for a synthetic jacket instead of down because it doesn’t loose its ability of keeping you warm when it gets wet. The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody is very stretchy which is good for activities and still lightweight. It just fits perfectly under my arms (not too tight and not too wide) and also the hood has a good shape.
If you are looking for a synthetic alternate to all the down jackets recommended definitely have a look at Arc’teryx’ products!
For the desert section of the PCT I wanted to have a longsleeve shirt mainly for protection against the sun. therefore I bought the Craghoppers shirt and I really liked it. Worn at a temperature above 35 degrees Celsius it still kept me cool. The fabric is not too thick and protects – not only from the sun but also from mosquitos. And you will meet some! It was also this double-purpose that convinced me of the Craghoppers. You don’t really need it but it’s nice to have it and definitely better than a sunburn!
If I could give 120% for durability I would definitely give it for this socks. What a great product! Well-known in the hiking community these are the socks you should definitely get for your thru-hike!
And if you can manage to get a hole in them – which I did once – just send them in or go to the nearest outdoor store and you will get a brand new pair in exchange for the old ones. Any questions?!
I had these socks from Smartwool before starting on the PCT and I really love them as sleep socks. They are just very comfortable for my feet and it is nice to change from your daily “working” socks into some other socks at night.
If you are looking for some sleeping socks and you’re not good with knitting: try Smartwool!
Definitely my favourite underwear for hiking! I never had any chafing issues and these boxer shorts double as swimming clothes as well. Choosing the right underwear is very personal but if you are a girl I can recommend the Craft boxers to you. I was very happy with them at all times and just bought my second pair for my next adventure!
Again for the ladies only! I carried a total of one bra and because of that I chose a more expensive one made of merino wool. I never had any problems with this bra and I basically wore it every day of my hike except when it was in the washing machine. Unfortunately – for us girls – bras are always expensive (I wonder why because most times it is so little fabric ;-)) but I think the Icebreaker bras are really worth it.
A real gem I found while I was looking for other stuff in the outdoor store. Seemless and handmade in Sweden this merino wool longsleeve shirt from Woolpower is one of the most comfortable shirts I own. It kept me warm and my sleeping bag a bit more clean during the cold night on the PCT. The Zip turtleneck shirt is unisex.
What’s the specialty? Responsible production in Sweden and every piece from Woolpower is made by one person. You can find a small sign in your shirt saying “sewn by…”
These are the pants that keep me warm at night. At least they did on the PCT. For me these pants were not only imortant for warmth but mainly to protect my sleeping bag from the dirt. YOu know how dirty a hiker’s legs can be, right?
Rain gear & cold weather gear
The Helium II jacket from Outdoor Research is lightweight, packs up very small into its own side pocket and still fulfills its main purpose: It keeps you dry.
I especially like the hood that is very easy to adjust even if you are wearing gloves. Luckily I didn’t have too much rain on my PCT hike but I can definitely recomment this lightweight rain jacket to you! Just take a shower with it for trying…!
ULA rain skirt / kilt – 72g
I wanted to save some extra grams and instead of heavier rain trousers I used the ULA rain skirt. Well, I carried it most of the time. As it was not raining much until I reached the Eagle Creek Alternate near Cascase Locks definitely the right decision for me. You also don’t need to take of your shoes or anything. Just wrap the skirt around you and close it. That’s it!
For the PCT, if there’s not much rain and if you want to save some extra weight just like me the ULA rain skirt is a great option!
Carrying an umbrella while thru-hiking might sound like a luxury and yes, maybe it is! But hiking with an umbrella when it’s raining is fantastic. You don’t get wet at all! And you don’t even have to get into your rain jacket! Unfortunately it only works if it’s not too windy.
But an umbrella also doubles as sun protection. I still remember one lunchbreak in the desert section when I was sitting under my umbrella just to have a little bit of shade.
The Euroschirm Swing Liteflex is the best and with only 230g the lightest trekking umbrella I could get for my hike. I spend some additional money for the silver version and probably that made all the difference when I was sitting under the Californian sun!
Good gloves that will keep your hands warm and still allow you to use your phone – therefore “sensor”…. Together with the glove liners these gloves kept my hands warm while hiking through snow and climbing Mt. Whitney.
You will definitely need some gloves for your hike. I personally prefer finger gloves over mittens. If you look for some lightweight gloves that allow you to still navigate with your smartphone while hiking on a snow-coveres trail, have a look at the backstop sensor gloves from Outdoor Research.
Some nice glove liners to wear under my OR gloves. It’s all about the air inbetween the layers because this air will keep your hands warm. That’s the reason why I decided for glove liners. The ones from Icebreaker are made of merino wool and keep your hands warm even if they get a little seaty.
I went stoveless on the PCT and you won’t find a review about a stove or a pot. As “pot” I basically used a waterproof, lightweight plastic container to rehydrate my food. Going stoveless or not is always a big consideration and I might write some further information about this at some stage.
However, to eat the food out of my plastic container I used the Esbit Titan longhandle spoon. I especially like the long handle (fits in every pouch) and I like that it is titan and no plastic in this case. Whatever your food may be – warm or cold, liquid or solid – a longhandle spoon is definitely a good idea!
These very small Nalgene bottles come in very handy for everything liquid. I personally used them for cooking stuff and filles in olive oil or some hot sauce. But you could also use them for shower gel or anything else. They are completely waterproof and very durable. A must-have!
I have to admit that I started with the Sawyer squeeze mini water filter but exchanged it later for the PointOne. Being a little bit more heavy and bigger the PointOne gives you a reasonably higher flow rate. Outside the Sierra you will spend lots of time filtering your water and after some time it adds up. That’s basically why I changed to the Sawyer PointOne which is still the way to go in the hiking community.
I personally carried some chemicals as well as a back-up. But I used them only once.
I bought my softbottle from Evernew because they fit better with the Sawyer filters than the Platypus ones. And yes, they fit perfectly. Unfortunately I lost my Evernew bottle in the desert when a yucca was poking through it during the longest and hottest stretch without water!
Headlamp Petzl Tikka R+
This headlamp is rechargable which is basically why I decided to buy it. I used my headlamp quite a lot because I had to leave my tent nearly ever night and I was happy with my pick. Electronics are developing fast and I am pretty sure Petzl has some new models that are even brighter and last longer. Just do your research! Another brand that is very common on the trail is Black Diamond but I personally have never used one. I can definitely recommend a Petzl headlamp and if you don’t need a fancy one you can get one for less than $30.
You want to know if that’s a good camera? Just have a look at my photos! So far I haven’t done much in photo editing and changing colors manually. I just pressed the button.
The photos this camera makes are quite good but I am still very unhappy with it and wouldn’t recommend it. First the plastic ring around the lens fell off very quickly. And I have seen the same camera from another hiker at hiker heaven and it was also missing this plastic ring. An outdoor camera that is falling apart quickly is not good. Due to incoming sand, water or whatever the panorama option this camera has also stopped working properly soon. Pretty much all the panoramas I made on the PCT are not good. The only good thing about this camera was for me, that I could transfer my photos wireless to my phone using the in-buildt wifi. That is quite a nice option that makes mobile blogging much easier.
To sum things up I don’t recommend this camera. I am pretty sure there are better ones out there these days. Maybe even the newer version from Olympus does a much better job!
The USB Travel Adapter from Anker was a great choice. Yes, it is a bit heavier than all the other options but the advantage is that I could charge three or even four devices at one time! And yes, you will have that much electronic devices! Just start counting: phone, camera, headlamp…. And if you don’t make it up to four it’s always handy to have a free plug for other hikers! 🙂
As I wrote before in the Intro, I was suffering from an early knee injury on the PCT. I hardly made it into Idyllwild. Maybe the most important piece of my gear at that time have been my Leki poles. I wasn’t able to walk without them. Not even to the bathroom! Day after day I went really hard on my Leki poles not only on the trail but also in towns like Idyllwild or Big Bear Lake. I was often wondering that my poles didn’t break. Thanks to these awesome poles I could make my way to the Health Center in Idyllwild, take the bus to Big Bear Lake and finally recover from my injury.
Ah, I nearly forgot: The Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles also fold up nicely so that ou can easily store them in your backback. Don’t forget to bring them!
First I decided to buy the Nano stuff sacks to save some extra grams. Unfortunately they rip very fast and as a hiker on the PCT you cannot be over careful with your gear. So I exchanges all my nano stuff sacks with the ultra-sil version and they are the best!
You need a little bit of effort to get a hole into them and therefore they are just about perfect. Very lightweight, waterproof and you can fit everything in to get organized. Of course you could leave any kind of stuff sacks at home. But I like it more organised and it makes life easier living out of your backpack if you know where things are.
I personally use a 2l stuffsack for my electronics, 8l for clothes, 13l for food and 20l for my sleeping bag.
The Leatherman Style CS is a nice little multitool with everything you need. I especially found the scissors very handy for cutting blister tape or opening packages with food.
I lost my Leatherman somewhere on the trail before reaching Red’s Meadows where I met a very special trail buddy. A few days later I had my little trail wonder when I found a small Victorinox knife next to the trail. I still have it because I couldn’t find its owner. The trails provides!
Navigation on the PCT is fairly easy unless the trail is covered in snow. And your first navigation device if you need one will be your phone with a navigation app.
I wanted to be on the safe side and always carried a backup consisting of paper maps and a compass. Regarding compass I chose the Suunto M3-G. The “G” stands for global and means that you can use this compass all over the world. If you do your research about navigation with compass and maps you will stumble over terms like declination and inclination. The latter – basically the vertical force of the geomagnetic field that pulls a compass needle towards the earth – is responsible for the fact that you cannot use every compass anywhere. There has to be a special system that allows the needle to do its work in every time zone.
The compass Suunto M3-G has that system buildt-in and therefore is a good investment for a global hiker. There are many other trails to explore, right?
A must-have! Just in case… While hiking the PCT there was exactly one day when I thought I could quit. It wasn’t the day when I hurt my knee or when I had to climb more than 3000ft over a pass. On that day I was constantly attacked by flies. Even normal flies, no mosquitos. They tried to get everywhere in my face, especially into my nose, eyes and ears. How bad can normal flies be? I can tell you very bad. Another day like this and I might have just quit the trail.
For days like this there is that very small headnet you won’t even feel in your pocket. Definitely bring some kind of headnet with you!
Being the most-hated piece of gear amongst thru-hikers the bear canister is a necessary evil and needs to be carried from Kennedy Meadows until Sonora Pass. It is basically a plastic container with a screw-on lid that cannot be opened by a bear. You are supposed to keep all your food and smelly stuff in it throughout the whole Sierra Nevada. (When I left Kennedy Meadows with seven days of food half of my supplies didn’t fit into the bear canister.) The BearVault is very heavy and you cannot really use it for anything else, exept for sitting on it.
I immediately got rid of my one in Kennedy Meadow North and send it to some nice people I met on my way down to Yosemite Valley. Being from Germany I had no chance to send it home or store it somewhere so this was the best solution for me.
A really good piece of temporary gear I carried in the Sierra Nevada were the Kahtoola Micro Spikes. They are also a well-known standard in the hiking community. The micro spikes are a good option to get additional protection on slippery surfaces. You might have lots of ice and snow in The Sierra or later in the Cascades so it’s better to be prepared and carry the extra weight.
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Disclosure: The product reviews on this page are based on my own personal experience and opinion. I only recommend products that I am convinced of. Furthermore, this page contains affiliate links which means at no additional cost to you, I may receive small commissions for purchases made via these links. This helps to cover some costs to run the website and to make improvements possible for the future.