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.

Oh snow! 

One of the things I will most likely run into on the PCT next year is snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Since I have no idea what to do in snow other than, sled, build a snow man and throw snowballs, I jumped at the opportunity to take a free ice axe class from a complete stranger that simply posted about it in a PCT group on Facebook.

The class itself was at Hurricane Ridge out on the Olympic Peninsula, which is about 3 hours away.  Rather than wake up extra early to make drive while half awake I decided to drive out the night before and spend the night in Port Angeles. This seemed like a great idea at the time but after spending an hour there and grabbing something to eat I was mildly depressed and afraid of being stabbed.  A quick google search reveled that the crime index of Port Angeles is 3, with 100 being the safest 3 is also the percent of cities in the United States that Port Angeles is safer than. After learning that I decided to stay in my room and play video games.

In the morning I packed up and made my way to my car, ignoring the drug deal going down in the parking lot, and made my way to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center to meet up with everyone. When I arrived and met everyone Steve, who was teaching the class, pointed out the monitor showing a live view of Hurricane Ridge… it was pure white, luckily the road was open but the weather was  going to be challenging.   We piled into a couple cars and slowly made our way up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.  Everything was going smoothly until we saw a car coming down the road way too fast as it began to slide in front of us, everything seemed to move in slow motion as the car passed just inches in front of the car I was in before plowing into a snow bank.  A little shaken we got out made sure everyone in the car was OK and the car was quickly pushed out of the snow bank to continue down the mountain.  We made our up to the top, going even slower than before.

Hurricane Ridge lived up to it’s name being very windy with lots of blowing snow.  We quickly grabbed the ice axes and snow shoes  and made our way inside the visitor center.  Due to the weather Steve started going over a few of the basics of handling an ice axe in the visitors center.   Key points are:

  • When picking out  an ice axe  it should come just above your
    ankle when you are holding it by your side.
  • Always carry the ice axe in your uphill hand.
  • Carry the ice axe with the adze facing forward and the pick facing backwards.
  • Ice axes are easy to attach to a gear loop on the bottom of your backpack. Just slide it in, twist so the pick side is facing inwards and flip it up towards the top of the pack so the spike is secured at the top with the head at the bottom.

Steve also demonstrated how to perform a self arrest which seemed a bit tricky to do indoors.  After covering the basics we headed outside, strapped on some snowshoes and made our way to the ledge.

After Steve went over some of the basics again the fist thing we had to do was make a snow slide, somewhere that we could slide down and practice stopping ourselves with an ice axe.   Going down was the easy part but getting back up was a little more challenging. Luckily there was about 10 of us so after a few passes we had a nice slide and a set of snow steps going back up to the top.  Then it was time to practice a self arrests in every position possible sliding down on your tummy, on your back, on your belly head first, on your back head first and then eventually Steve just started pushing people over.  I was at a bit of a disadvantage since my jacket and pants, while very waterproof, were very slick and I picked up speed rather quickly.

In addition to performing self arrests we also practiced performing a self belay, which should be how you actually stop yourself before you start sliding down a mountain and having to self arrest, but practicing self arrests was much more fun. We also practiced climbing up, traversing and descending from a small snowy hill. At that point we grabbed our gear and headed back in side.  If you’re interested in how to do all this crazy ice axe stuff here’s a video that goes over some off the techniques.

Once we trekked back the extremely cold blowing snow and made it to the warmth of the visitors center Steve went over a few additional points about being out in the snow.  One side point he made is that in recent years there have been a lot of less than desirable  people hiking the PCT, the kinds of people that don’t pack out their trash or follow common trail etiquette rules and asked everyone to call them out if we someone being a jerk. Some of the things that I took away regarding being out in the snow were:

  • If you’re camping on top of snow you’ll stay warmer by putting extra martial under your rather than on top of you
  • Bury your water bottles upside in snow to keep them from freezing completely. Since water freezes from the top having the bottle upside down keeps the mouth from freezing solid.
  • Don’t stuff your sleeping bag full of clothes to stay warm, this stretches out your sleeping bag and compresses the fill, which makes it less effective.
  • If you get caught in an avalanche you have about 30 minutes before you’re dead and the snow becomes as hard as concrete.

After the class concluded Steve passed out some cans of PCT Porter and spent time answering other questions from the group (most of whom are probably out on the trial right now as I was the only one not hiking this year).  When I asked him what we could do in thanks for facilitating the class free of charge he just said to pay it forward.  So, if you you want to learn some ice axe basics and practice with me, i’ll be more than happy to show you what I know.. and then you push you down a snowy hill.