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PCT 09 Gear Review
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Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
PCT 09 Gear Review on 11/11/2009 01:36:20 MST Print View

Hello all -

I was fortunate enough to thru-hike the PCT this year, fulfilling a long-standing dream. I am deeply indebted to many people, including the members of this forum, for their feedback, advice and encouragement. Thank you.

I am oft-asked about gear, and since this forum is geared toward gear, I humbly submit my reviews...

Sleeping Bag....Feathered Friends Lark w/overfill (rated 10 degrees - down fill)
Feathered Friends is based out of Seattle, and thus, I am biased toward the home team. The 10 degree bag was overkill for much of California. On the other hand, it was great to have in the Sierra when the temperatures dipped into the teens. And it was an deeply appreciated when the weather turned nasty near Sisters/Mt. Jefferson in Oregon and absolutely necessary when we enjoyed lows of 9-10 degrees in the North Cascades in the first weeks of October. It has a full length zip and I could use like a quilt on the warm nights. On cold nights I appreciated the draft collar and extra down. Bag performance is dependent on so many factors, I cannot give the definitive answer to its status compared to other bags. I will attest to the number of people I met along the trail who wound up purchasing replacement bags because theirs weren't up to the cold/dampness of northern climes. Personally, I slept much colder (due to considerable weight loss along the trail) than I ever had previous to this trip, and was glad to carry a much heavier bag (39 ounces).

Bag Liner - I didn't carry one for most of the trip. I did have my bag laundered along the trail (the easiest place to do this is in Mammoth, California). I generally don't use bag liners, but I did try the Thermolite Reactor, which has, at mixed reviews. In the cold weather of Washington I found the Reactor to help considerably in keeping the warmth and cutting down on heat loss when I tossed and turned at night.

Sleeping pad: Thermarest Nero - full length. My favorite piece of gear on the trail, the Nero was 14 ounces of joy. I am a side-sleeper and the Nero offered the greatest stability/comfort in any air mattress I've used. My hips did not ache. It did fairly good job of keeping me warm at night. Only in the Northern-most stretch did the cold from the ground become a factor, but even then it was marginal. It's performance was tremendous, I punctured a hole on the top being careless with a knife, but easily patched it in the field with the repair kit offered by Thermarest.

Pack: ULA Catalyst
Workhorse of the PCT...roomy, comfortable, held loads for me (fully loaded with a bear cannister) of up to 42 pounds. No complaints. I beat the heck out of it, and the stays are coming through the bottom of the pack but it's a lightweight pack and I was not too careful with it. I'd buy this again.

Headlamp: Various models, I would make this generalization: If you want to read or just setup camp, those UL LED-based headlamps work fine. If you want to hike at night, buy a substantial headlamp. They throw out enough light to allow one to keep a good pace and not be struggling with depth-perception. I ended up having a bad case of Petzl TIKKA XP envy as I carried my tiny lights, none of which were worth much on a night hike.

Shelter - Lunar Solo by Six Moon Designs. When not cowboy camping, I slept in this tent until I reached Washington. Staking out tight is always a bit of a challenge (I've found the same with most single-wall, tarp tents). But I really enjoyed this tent because it's fairly compact, light, has enough space to stow gear inside (including your pack) and most importantly, it's a side-entry system. It's performance in windy conditions was less than ideal, but some of these issues were addressed in more recent models. Mine is three years old. And I did meet people who were better than I at setting it up so it was remained taut.

I switched out in Washington to the MSR Hubba for its ability to shed snow. This turned out to be a wise decision. (Although it should be noted that I loaned the Six Moon Designs shelter to another hiker, who hiked through the snow with nary a complaint). The Hubba is much heavier and sturdier, but by the time I reached Washington, weight wasn't an issue anymore. I'd lost more body weight by that juncture than my pack weighed with the Hubba. I've had several incarnations of the Hubba over the years and it's a really solid, well-built tent. Even though the snow loads never approached critical levels, I never worried that Hubba would let me down, either. And that peace of mind was worth the extra pound, especially once the weather turned.

Rainpants - OR PacLite rain pants. Had a problem with the first pair, OR stood by their product and gave me new pants. Worked great. I'd recommend bringing substantial pants, as there are rocks and branches looking to shred DriDucks at every turn.

RainJacket - North Face Men's Venture Jacket (HyVent). PitZips are a plus. Didn't really need it most of the trip, but it did a good job when pressed into service. Not as breathable as some eVent jackets, but a fraction of the price. I'd bring it again.

Other clothing observations - The best choice on the trail as far as clothing was to go with convertible pants...The long pants saved my legs from many stretch of overgrown trail....I also wore long sleeves, even in the heat, as this reduced the chances of sunburn and dehydration. I switched to short sleeves later in the hike when weather cooled...The Icebreaker Merino 200 BodyFit is the world's greatest cold-weather hiking shirt...It was 24 degrees and I hiked with just that until the wind kicked up.

Gloves - I carried simple wool gloves, more technical gloves and even snow mittens. I didn't use gloves much except for Oregon and Washington, and then I was glad for a spare pair when one pair wetted out. Yeah, it was extra weight, but I dislike cold hands. I'd carry glove liners in the future for additional warmth.

Cooking - The old titanium pot with the Caldera Cone. Works great, very stable, just treat your Cone with love and respect. By the end of my trip mine was beat up pretty good and on its last legs due to owner abuse. But it did the job and I will buy again.

Water treatment - I filtered using an MSR MiniWorks. This subject draws just about every possible opinion. I chose to filter my water for the simple fact this was my one shot to hike the trail. I took a sabbatical from work and I had a six-month window to finish this hike. The MiniWorks is heavier and slower than other filters, but its carbon element does a good job of making the water taste, well, like water (no odor or aftertaste). The filter needs to be cleaned fairly frequently (easy to do) and the filter holds up for a very long time (I did change it in Washington, but did so earlier than necessary). The removable float on the end of the intake line was useless and was too easily detached from the line (strong current finally took it away to my chagrin). The MSR threads onto a nalgene bottle (I carried a Nalgene-made collapsable canteen) but most of the time, I just held the filter above an old Gatorade bottle and filled it up. I like the MiniWorks, but the frequent cleaning does get somewhat tiresome. However, it's a small price for clean water. All that said, I met people who didn't treat their water, used chemicals, used steripens (with mixed results) and other filters. I really did like the gravity fed models out there, and would strongly consider going with that model. The Platypus gravity fed filters worked well, although I'd be tempted to rig one myself and add a carbon filter.

Bear Canister - I brought along a Bearikade that is custom-sized between the Weekender and Expedition models. I received this tip from this forum a couple of years ago and dropped Wild Ideas a note and they had no problem meeting my request.
The Bearikade is an extremely easy canister to deal with, well built, light and considerably more expensive than other brands. Mine holds around 725 cubic inches worth of food. In my ULA Catalyst, it had to be loaded horizontally in the pack. The only downside is that the backpack collar did snag along the lip of the canister, causing a small tear in the pack. I taped this up. I didn't mind carrying the canister through the Sierras, as it made food storage in bear territory a snap. The canister had the advantage of being able to hold slightly more food (725 vs. 700 cubic inches) than the BV500 at a lighter weight (6 ounces fewer). However, the cost of the Bear Vault 500 is around $75 while the Bearikade was $260.

Camera - I elected for compact rather than SLR-cameras for the simple reason that I was more likely to pull out a compact than dig into my back to pull out an SLR.

Edited by dirk9827 on 11/12/2009 01:19:07 MST.

David Neumann
(idahomtman) - M

Locale: Northern Idaho
Great Beta on 11/11/2009 09:24:16 MST Print View

Thanks Dick for the beta on your PCT equipment. Sounds like a great sabbatical activity.

Dawn Hamilton
(dawnlh) - F - MLife
thanks on 11/11/2009 20:05:31 MST Print View

Hey Dick, thanks for the gear review. I am hoping to hike the PCT in 2012 and always looking at gear. I have been looking at the ULA Catalyst and almost ready to buy. I hiked the AT in 2007 so I'm not new to the long distance hiking. My latest interest is in camp shoes. I carried crocs on the AT and will likely buy something new for 2012 as my crocs have little tread left on them. I know I have lots of time, but if I think I might get something different, I want time to test it out. With some of the water crossings, I want good traction and want to be able to wear warm socks with them on a cold night (ruling out the five toe Vibrams or whatever they are called). Do you have any recommendations or comments on what people were using?

Thanks,
Dawn

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: PCT 09 Gear Review on 11/11/2009 22:02:02 MST Print View

I also had the stay come out the bottom of my Catalyst. I think it's a common problem. I've also broken two stays.

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
Re: PCT 09 Gear Review on 11/11/2009 22:10:50 MST Print View

I regularly beat the snot out of my Catalyst and I've barely done anything to it, other than some small holes. Granted I probably don't have 2500 miles on it yet. I'll have to keep an eye on the stays. Is this a common problem with them?

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
Re: Re: PCT 09 Gear Review on 11/11/2009 22:14:25 MST Print View

As for recommendations for shoes.....if you hike in trail runners or runners (almost everyone does) then that is all you really need. They are comfortable enough around camp and town and they dry in a matter of minutes. I didn't even take them off in the Sierra. I just charged right through while other people sat on the banks and fiddled with removing their shoes or drying their feet off while getting eaten by mosquitos.

When I hiked on the AT, I used boots and carried crocs. That just isn't need on the PCT.

But don't worry about it too much. A LOT will change by 2012. Both you and the gear that is available.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Alas, the great shoe question on 11/11/2009 22:16:00 MST Print View

Dawn -

Thanks, I should have mentioned footwear in my post. Most people elected to go with trail runners of one sort or another. Some switched to sturdier boots in the Sierra, although I didn't. I went through five pairs of Vasque Blurs...They worked out well enough, although they were pretty worn by the time I switched out after 500 miles or so. I was a long-distance rookie, so I would only offer the advice that in SoCal you will want a shoe that circulates air. Southern California can see temperatures in the 90s and 100s, and thus your feet will get hot. The downside to shoes that breathe well, as in the case of the Vasque, is that they also allow a ton of dust into the shoe. A pair of Dirty Girl gaters or some equivalent helps some, but the dust in many sections is rather fine.

No matter what you take out there, I found that your feet suffer in the beginning if you are not already in trail-shape. It took about six weeks before my feet toughened up to the point that blisters and pain were no longer issues.

Footwear is a real personal issue, and everyone has an opinion on the subject. I didn't carry anything special for Sierra creek crossings, only because my feet were soaked anyway from hiking through snow fields. However, I will say that trail runners didn't provide much in the way of traction on icy sections, and kick-stepping wasn't pleasant without a structured toe box, but I managed. I hiked with a partner who wore serious boots, and she generally had good luck with them once her feet toughened up. But they were really heavy compared to trail shoes. I think finding a shoe that is comfortable on the trail and works with your foot is the most important thing - whether that be a trail runner or boots.

I would love your opinion on this in relation to the AT - the longer you travel on the trail the less gear become an issue. What I mean by that is that at first, everyone seems rather gear obsessed. By the time you knock out a 1,000 miles or so, nobody cares much anymore. If you want to carry some bulky piece of gear and it makes you happy - God bless you. If you want to go UltraLight - knock yourself out. By Washington, I carried what I wanted - weight be damned. (I know, this is the antithesis of Backpackinglight.com. But I took lightweight gear, I just took a lot of it. I had two insulating jackets in Washington - both from Montbell (the synthetic thermawrap and the down jacket). I'd do it again, because I could layer the jackets in camp when it got really cold and neither weighed much. It provided me with a great deal of flexibility during the day. (Please mind you I was hiking through Washington in late September to mid-October and it was chilly - if you were here in late August your strategy would likely differ.)

Finally, there are a number of points along the trail in Southern California where it is possible to get to a good outfitter. If you are having issues, switch out gear. It's better than suffering!

Thanks,

Dirk

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Re: PCT 09 Gear Review on 11/11/2009 23:24:20 MST Print View

Jeff, my Catalyst is pretty abused. Besides the stay problem, the hipbelt pockets are ruined, and the hipbelt/pack interface is fully worn down. Almost no fabric left at the interface and the foam is even rubbing away.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: PCT 09 Gear Review on 11/12/2009 01:09:10 MST Print View

Jeff and Jack -

The issue with the stays, as Jack noted, is pretty common with the ULA Catalyst. But in most cases, I though the damage was more due to the fact that I dumped the pack on the ground, overloaded it on a few occasions and generally beat it half to death. For a lightweight pack, it's pretty amazing. I mean, it's not the bomber that say, my old Dana Designs pack was, but heck, it's several pounds lighter...And it held up remarkably well for being mistreated by its owner. I only hope that ULA under new management continues to make great products!

Dirk

Edited by dirk9827 on 11/12/2009 01:16:42 MST.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: PCT 09 Gear Review on 11/12/2009 09:05:38 MST Print View

I agree with you Dirk. I probably broke my pack by dropping it on the ground from hip hight one too many times too.