CLOTHING for the Pacific Crest Trail
(Next month, April of 2011, I will be setting off from the border of California and Mexico and taking my first steps northward, hoping to finish sometime in September in Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada. I will be doing this to raise awareness and funds for a very important cause. Please follow my journey on this blog, and through the YouTube videos I will post here as well.)
One of the areas of my hike people are most curious about is what I’ll be bringing with me. Obviously, I’ll be backpacking…so everything has to fit in my backpack. Or on my feet. Or my head. Somewhere on my person I have to carry ALL THIS GEAR! I think what surprises most people is the amount I will be bringing. It won’t be much.
If you stop to think what you might wear in a given week, it would dwarf the amount of clothes what I will be wearing…for 5 months.
Since I am counting the ounces I carry, attempting to minimize the amount I carry on my back, less is ultimately more. Even my footwear is lighter. Gone are the heavy leather boots of the old-school backpacker, and in their place much lighter weight trail runners. The heaviest thing I will
be carrying is my backpack, which as I write this is being constructed in Seattle Washington, and weighs in at just under three pounds. In this post, I’ll be going over my clothing, piece by piece, and throwing in pictures where appropriate. This might get boring for some, but for you gear junkies out there, it’ll be fun. Feel free to look at the list with a critical eye, and leave your comments below, I would love to hear any and all feedback.
Because the terrain, weather and conditions will vary greatly along the PCT, the gear I choose for the trek needs to be multi-functional and able to be layered, as well as rugged enough to make it to the end of the adventure.
I’ll start off with the head, and work my way down to my feet.
On my head I’ll be starting off the PCT in the desert section with a simple visor, layered over a slightly larger than normal bandana. This will give me protection from the sun over my face, head & neck. The two together weigh less than 2.5 ounces. Later, I will switch to a wide-brimmed hat that is good for shedding rain, and provides a little more thermal protection. It weighs 3.2 ounces. Both are coated on the underside of the brims with a special deflective property which absorbs reflective light. And what adventure would be complete without a beanie. My beanie was made special for me just a few days ago from alpaca and merino wool by Katharina Pierini, who is an artist with wool. (here is a thread just started with some of her handiwork included. She can be contacted through her profile on that site). I will also be bringing a very lightweight, multi-functional balaclava made by smartwool. It can be used as a neck gaiter, headband, or
traditional balaclava. 1.75 ounces.
I’ll have three types of gloves on the trek. One will be mostly for sun protection through the desert and the Sierra, a pair of fingerless padded gloves. For the cold, I’ll have a pair of Arctery’x ‘Delta SV’ gloves, not thick, just enough to warm my digits and keep me from being distracted by the cold. The last pair will be rain mitts, made by Outdoor Research, which will add a few degrees of warmth as well as wind and water protection.
The next group, for me, is one of the most crucial, and that’s the tops I’ll be bringing. This
is the most crucial area to keep your core warm when you need it warm, and cool when you need it cool. Since I need to carry everything with me, that means layering options. The first and thinnest layer is known as a “baselayer,” as it’s the ‘base’ of a layering system. Pretty creative, huh? They must have stayed up all night thinking that one up. Since I’ll be on the move and active, I wanted to go with something that was thermally temperate, and was able to be worn alone or as a layer. Also, if worn alone, I wanted it to be of a lighter shade so as not to draw unwanted attention from the sun. So I went with a merino wool top made by Smartwool, the ‘Microweight Zip T,’ (weight: 6.9
ounces). The zip allows for even greater thermal regulation, as I can zip down if I need ventilation or zip up if I need to retain heat. It will also act as my sleeping top. Next would be my long sleeve ‘go-to’ shirt for most of the trek, the REI ‘Sahara’ shirt. It has pit vents, front pocket vents, a vent that runs across the mid-shoulder area, and the ability to roll up and hold the sleeves as well as unbutton the front if more ventilation is needed. Very quick drying and lightweight, in a light tan color to stay cooler. As a layer under the ‘Sahara’ shirt or in place of it, for a touch more warmth, is a hooded technical sweatshirt made by Patagonia, the ‘R1 Hoodie.’ Made to lay closer to the skin in a more ‘athletic’ fit, with a soft inner waffled weave that traps warmth coming off your skin, it is loaded with
features. For a while, Patagonia stopped making this item, and there was a cult following that lamented the ‘Hoodie’s’ passing…until it was revived years later, improved and ready to rumble. A favorite piece of legions of the backcountry and rockclimbing set. Over that, would be what’s known as a ‘windshirt.’ A windshirt is a cross between a moderate insulator, a light rain jacket, and a wind barrier jacket rolled into one. The windshirt I chose to go with is made by Marmot, and known as the ‘DriClime’ windshirt. It has cult status among thru-hikers of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, Coninental Divide and other ‘long trails.’ As with all of my gear, I scoured the web for
months looking for good deals, and wow…this one was a deal. My main insulating piece is a synthetic filled, lightweight & compressable piece made by Patagonia, the ‘Nano Puff.’ It looks more like yoru traditional camping jacket, filled with warm fluffies. I chose synthetic since it will still insulate when wet, and also isn’t as heavy when saturated. This, to me, was a very important piece in my gear. If I happened to get caught in a downpour or fell into a river during a ford attempt, and all my clothing got soaked and I had to make camp to dry my gear out because night was falling, I could
technically still wear this piece and stay protected enough from the cold to ward off hypothermia until I could make a fire to dry the rest of my clothes out. My last piece of upper gear is my poncho, which also happens to be my shelter for the first portion of the PCT. Made by GoLite, it weighs 7.3 ounces and is both a full coverage poncho (fitting over my pack as well) and also a very serviceable tarp shelter.
For the lower half of me, I am bringing a pair of pants which have zip-off legs, so they can be made into shorts. The North Face ‘Paramount’ pant is made of a light-to-midweight fabric which dries quickly and is
more durable than lighter density trekking pants. Under those I’ll be wearing a pair of ExOfficio ‘Boxer Briefs,’ which are the most comfortable boxers I’ve ever worn. Made of a poly blend, they wick away moisture and are quick drying. And those are it. One pair (although I have a backup pair if needed that can be mailed to me). I know, this raises a lot of questions, and the question has to be asked: what about clean underwear?? I guess my answer would be something like…I’ll have a lot of clean pair when I finally get home? While I’m on the trek, I’ll have only what I need, and nothing
more. With no one to impress but a bunch of marmots and some black bear, I will have to do with one pair. I will also bring along a pair of thermal leggings made by Smartwool (yes, I’m a fan…they simply make great products), the ‘Microweight Bottoms.’ I’ll mainly use these as my sleeping layer. I had someone wondering why I’d have a dedicated set of clothes for mainly sleeping in. Basically, the reason is twofold: one, to provide an extra layer of warmth, and two, and possibly the biggest reason, to protect my sleeping quilt. With the accumulated dirt, oils, and sweat built up over just
one day, not to mention many days, the sleeping quilt (or sleeping bag) would become pretty gross. It’s much easier to wash a set of clothes than a down sleeping quilt. Plus, the wool baselayers can be used if necessary under clothes while hiking in colder weather, or changed into if other clothes are wet. Merino wool retains its insulating qualities even while wet and dries very quickly.
My feet: I’ll have several different types of shoes which I’ll go over more in another post, but they are all for the most part lightweight trail runners. My socks will consist of lightweight poly liner socks from
Patagonia (one pair, with two other replacements waiting to be mailed if necessary)…my ‘go-to’ socks, Smartwool ‘PhD Outdoor Ultra Light Mini Hiking Socks.’ These are specially designed for hiking, and a mid-cut, so I’m not bothered by too much sock. I’ll carry one pair with me, and have one other pair that can be mailed if necessary. I’ll switch from the lightweight liner socks to the PhD’s when one or the other is drying out on the back of my pack while I hike. Also, I’ll have a pair of Smartwool ‘Midweight Trekking’ socks to sleep in, and have as a reserve emergency pair of socks to hike in if absolutely necessary.
Lastly, I’ll have two pair of glasses, one regular pair, and the other a pair of sunglasses with UV and polarized protection. The sun in both the desert section as well as the Sierra sections will be brutal, and has caused sun blindness in some cases. Good, full coverage will be a quality necessary for the sunglasses. I’ll be getting those this next week after I get my vision prescription updated.
Well, that’s pretty much it…
So as you can see, it’s not much. The game plan will be to go as light as possible, which means finding lightweight & effective clothing, and then not bring much of it. I do have a few items I can use as backup in case of an emergency and need to replace one of my pieces I listed, but I will be trying to be good to my gear. Also, since this is my first thru-hike, there might be gear I send home, or other gear I need instead based on what the trail is like. Regardless of how much research I’ve done, I may miss on a point or two, but that’s all part of the fun!
I hope you enjoyed this little post on the clothes I’ll be wearing for the next 5 months starting at the end of April…Anyone want to donate a bar of soap?