All The Gear, All Lined Up

When I fist started looking at gear for my PCT adventure I planned to carefully weigh my options for each item I would be bringing with me, by not only reading reviews but physically inspecting and testing items out before making my final decision. You may remember earlier posts about backpacks and tents, where I outlined different option sand attributes with the intent to dive deeper to each option. Well, that didn’t happen. After discovering the wealth of detailed reviews and ranked lists of backpacking gear I just started buying things, here is what I ended up with.

For my backpack I ended up with the ULA Circuit.  I didn’t necessarily chose this backpack, it just so happened that my brother had one that he never used and was willing to part with for $100 (Thanks, brother!).  I love how it carries and the way the hip belt moves with you while you’re hiking.

For a tent I ended up with the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2. It was at the top of many lists and while I could have gone with something lighter (and more expensive), I felt better getting something I believe to be more durable and sturdy, call it my security blanket.  It’s super easy to set up and nice and roomy. I also picked up the footprint for it too. However, while the extra space of a 2 person tent is nice I’m wondering if I should switch to the 1 person version for the PCT.  I wonder if my decision was a subliminal one.

After considering going with a sleeping quilt I decided to go with a sleeping bag, the weight difference wasn’t substantial enough for me to risk having drafts of cold air attack me while sleeping. I landed on the REI Co-op Magma 10 and apparently so did a lot of other people because it wasn’t easy to track down, all the REI locations were sold out when I went to buy it. The first time I tried to buy it I had made a special trip to Portland to avoid sales tax , the second time I had a 40% off coupon for the REI friends and family sale. However, third time’s a charm; Cristina and I went to some outdoor event only to find REI was handing out 35% off coupons and had it back in stock!  The sleeping bag itself was well worth the wait and effort, it’s not named “Magma” for nothing.  I also picked up a silk sleeping bag liner to help keep it clean, I can only imagine how filthy i’m going get.

For a sleeping pad I went all out and picked up the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Max. I didn’t realize how important sleeping pads until I started looking into my sleep setup. With a down sleeping bag it’s the trapped air that is keeping you warm, when you’re laying on the down it is compressed causing it not to provide insulation from underneath, so a good sleeping pad will provide the insulation your sleeping bag doesn’t.  This one is nice and comfy but it does make crinkly noises when you move around it, a small price to pay for warmth.

My last major gear purchase was a new camera, the Sony A6000! I had already accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be bringing my heavy DSLR and was planning on just using my phone for photos. However, I just couldn’t do that, I need (heavy emphasis on the word “need”) an actual camera for my hike. I considered a compact point and shoot but was concerned about the lack of zoom, so I went the mirrorless route instead. Having a digital display viewfinder takes some getting used to but I’m amazed by the pictures it takes. While it barely fits in the hip pocket of my backpack I’m happy I decided to get it.

In addition to the major items here is the rest of the gear i’m taking with me.  I’ll cover clothing in another post.

  • BearVault BV500 – Extra big ass bear can! While i’m not overly concerned about bears a bear canister is required in sections of the PCT.  This thing is huge, I have yet to figure out how i’m going to carry it with me.  It does double as a seat, so I have that going for me.
  • Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe – Another item I will only need for parts of the PCT but this one is a little more important, as I learned when learning how to keep myself from sliding off a mountain in the snow. I could have gone with a lighter version but if i’m going to need it I want to make sure it’s not going to fail.
  • Leki Corklite Treking Poles – A friend of mine pretty much demanded that I get Leki poles when I started hiking seriously and I’m glad I listened. I’ve put a lot of miles on them and they’ve held up great.
  • Kahtoola MicroSpikes – Added traction for the icy bits of the trail, makes it super easy to not slip and fall on your butt.
  • MSR Titan Kettle – Since I’m planning on dehydrating a majority of my food in ziploc freezer bags (easy clean up) I really just need something to boil water in, this will be more than sufficient. It can also double as a coffee mug.
  • MSR Pocket Rocket 2 –  While I currently have another canister stove I’ve decided to pick up the Pocket Rocket 2 as it’s lighter and probably a bit more reliable than a no-name brand.  I don’t have it yet, I will soon!
  • Long Handle Spoon – With the plan to eat most of my meals out ziploc freezer bags having a spoon with a long handle will keep my hands clean. So while you think my spoon might be too big, it’s not, but this guys is.
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – Yep, it’s a phone.  The same phone I have with me every day. However, more importantly, it functions as a GPS and there are some great PCT apps out there, some of which I mention in my PCT Resources post.
  • Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter – This water filter and I are going to be best friends. I’ve used a Sawyer Squeeze on my backpacking trips and while it takes a little work it gets the job done. Not to mention it fits perfectly on top of a smartwater bottle, which my backpack is designed for.
  • Generic First Aid Kit – I’d link to it but i’m not sure what brand it is. I’ll probably switch it out with a more compact single use kit.
  • Huntsman II Swiss Army Knife –  It took me a while to find a pocket knife that had scissors, a can opener, bottle opener, saw and tweezers.  This one has me covered.
  • The Deuce Of Spades –  Super lightweight, just a tad over half an ounce, shovel for digging holes. I mean how could I not buy it with a name like that?
  • Generic USB Battery Pack – The one I have now is nothing that special, i’ll probably upgrade it soon. Not only can I use it to charge my GPS (phone), it can also charge my camera as well!
  • Klymit Pillow X – Tiny little inflatable pillow. I’ll probably end up using my puffy jacket as a pillow most nights.
  • Petzl Tikkina Headlamp – Cristina had an extra so I adopted it as my very own, the one I had wasn’t very bright. Might look into upgrading it to something even brighter! (not pictured)
  • Sunto A-10 Compass – A compass that works great!  However, I should probably upgrade to one that I can adjust the declamation on.
  • Other Stuff – A lighter, tooth brush, tooth paste, dr. bonner’s soap and a camp towel.

While this is a lot of stuff it does fit in my backpack with room for my clothing and food, both of which I’ll cover in a future post.  Wait, I feel like i’m forgetting something….. that always happens to me when I’m packing for a big trip.

Backpacking is in tents

Picking out a tent you’re going to spend months living in isn’t a decision one should take lightly, especially when you’ll be facing a plethora of weather conditions and having to set up and tear down your tent almost every day.  Finding the right balance between weight, function and durability can be a difficult one.  There are some really lightweight tents out there but I find myself questioning how well they will hold up on the trail, the last thing you want is for your tent to fail when your days away from civilization in a massive storm.  While I currently have a hand me down 2 person North Face Tent which does the job, is a bit bulky and heavier than I’d like. Plus it’s a bit old, so I don’t know if I trust it.

I considered making weight my top priority, looking at tarps and bivys ,but decided an actual tent would provide me with an extra bit of comfort and sanity that I’ll need while out on the trail. As I started my search  for a new tent my only prerequisites were that it be a 2 person tent and weighs under 3 lbs. While I am in fact only one person I like the idea of  having the extra room a 2 person tent offers, allowing me to either protect my backpack from the elements and critters by keeping it inside the tent, or have enough room for Cristina when she joins up with me to hike some sections.  Here are the tents I’ve taken into consideration:


MSR Carbon Reflex 2  

Nice and light weighing in at 1 lb 13 oz with  zipper free vestibules and dual doors.  It also has a “Fast & Light” configuration where you combine the rain fly with a footprint, cutting 6 ounces of weight when conditions don’t call for a full tent setup. This was my first pick when I began looking for a new tent but the negative comments about the rain fly, comparing it to saran wrap, made me reconsider. There were other comments stating that the materials were prone to punctures and tears, which doesn’t sound like a fun thing to have to deal with. Another point that I realized is that I needed to take into consideration is that the Carbon Reflex 2 is a non-free standing tent, like the North Face tent I currently have. The idea of having a tent that can be completely freestanding is appealing because finding the right area to steak out your tent can be difficult, especially if the ground is hard.  The Carbon Reflex 2 retails for $499.95, which I would gladly pay if I wasn’t so worried about the durability.

MSR FreeLite 2 

Another light MSR tent, heavier than the Carbon Reflex at 2 lbs 7 oz but still well under 3 lbs, and freestanding!! Awesome! Like the Carbon Reflex it has dual doors and a “Fast & Light” configuration which reduces the weight by 7 ounces. I was ready to order (and it was actually ordered by accident) until I  read a review stating that when the rain fly was added the ceiling was lowered by by 4 inches and the walls bowed. Being tall I need all the room I can get, so that was an immediate red flag. Also, it’s not really freestanding! with only one point of contact on one side it needs to be staked down as well. The Freelite 2 is a bit cheaper than the Carbon Reflex at $439.95 but the alleged space issue and my added criteria of a freestanding tent kept me from going through with the purchase.

Mountain Hardware Ghost UL 2 

This tent looks amazing on paper.  2 lbs 9oz , freestanding and 2 person! Unlike the MSR tents the Ghost UL  only has one door, which in itself isn’t a deal breaker. However, I once again lost interest when I read the reviews and saw comments about the tent being fragile. One reviewer stated that the material ripped when it brushed against a rock. Another reviewer called out the fact that the rain fly sags and design flaws which makes it hard to get in and out of. The Ghost UL is priced at $449, the same as the MSR FreeLite 2, but the potential for frustration seems high with this one.


Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2

When Cristina and I went to the PCT class at REI a few months ago the presenters mentioned the popularity of Big Agnes and after taking a closer look I can see why.  The Copper Spur HV UL is freestanding, has 2 doors, and a maximum height of 40 inches!  At 2 lbs 12 oz it’s the heaviest out of the tents I’ve considered but a little extra weight can go a long way.  It has a “4-way high volume hub design” for added strength and some magical “Proprietary random rip-stop pattern nylon” which makes it extremely durable. It also has some nice pockets for keeping things organized. The price is inline with the other tents I considered at $449.95 and at this point is my choice. Let’s see if that remains the case when I go to buy it this weekend.

There are a number of other great 2 person tents which weigh in over my self imposed 3 lb limit, such as the Nemo Dagger 2P and the REI Co-Op Quarter Dome 2 , both of which are cheaper than those above. If you’re looking for a lightweight tent for backpacking I’d take a look at those in particular.