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PCT sleep system help
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Evan Chartier
PCT sleep system help on 01/31/2010 18:04:16 MST Print View

Hey there!
I am still looking and researching the sleep system I want to bring this april to the PCT, and I was wondering if anyone can give me some advice. I currently have a Sea to Summit poncho tarp which is about 12 oz and a marmot helium down bag. I am worried about the down getting wet. I have a bit of extra cash as well. What I was thinking is getting the following: either TG bivy to add to tarp, Cuben tarp to lighten load, or Event bivy and leave the tarp at home. I like the ease of setup and packing with the bivy but of course am worried about condensation on the PCT with a down bag. Also, I like the versitility of the tarp/biv combo. Any thoughts? Bivy/Tarp and Bivy...if so, which tarp/bivys? thanks!

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
Re: PCT sleep system help on 01/31/2010 18:10:50 MST Print View

Down is fine. It might get damp from condensation, but you'll dry it before you can even get your water boiling during your lunch break.

A waterproof bivy would be overkill. A lighter bivy, such as the TiGoat one, would be nice for several reasons. For me, it would be to keep the bugs at bay. You'll probably just use the bivy for 80% of the trail, so it will be nice to block the wind while cowboy camping.

I can't give too much advice about the tarp/poncho, since that plays into your rain gear. I can say that it won't be used much in California, but snow and rain can and does happen. I would get the lightest tarp that you are comfortable riding a storm out in.

If you go through Washington past August, I would consider something that can shrug off a dusting of snow.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
a suggestion on 01/31/2010 18:18:16 MST Print View

How many nights have you slept under the poncho/tarp?

How many of those nights were rainy?

Your answers to these will guide an answer to your questions.

Over thirty years ago, the first guy that I knew that hiked the PCT told me his story...starting April 1 at the Mexican border... ending up at the Canadian border in the fall... and how he had been getting rained on and wet every night for over a week as he finished. Plus, he had what was a normal tent back then.

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
Re: a suggestion on 01/31/2010 18:27:01 MST Print View

30 years ago they hauled snowshoes through the Sierra and probably finished close to October. I am not discounting the value of solid storm protection in Washington. You'll probably need it.

If I were to do it, I'd get the MLD Patrol Shelter in cuben or the GG Silshelter. It's solid protection when it need it, but light enough for the many many many nights when you don't.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
a second on 01/31/2010 18:32:50 MST Print View

I second that motion.


Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: PCT sleep system help on 01/31/2010 19:51:49 MST Print View

I would suggest a net tent like the one made by

Get it made with a full silnylon door rather than the half silnylon shown in the pic and you'll have plenty of protection from wind and spray when used along with a tarp. You'll likely have a good 3-4 weeks of bugs and will need some form of protection rather than just a tarp alone.

Mountain laurel designs makes a similar net tent, called the serenity, but it's $35 more and they currently have a 4-5 week lead time so alpinlite seems like the better deal.

If you've still got extra cash get a cuben tarp to go with it to save a few ounces and avoid the silnylon sag.

The nettent gives you plenty of room of you need to hang out and can be used like a bivy for quick cowboy camping.

I used a half bivy half nettent in '09 for my thru. You can see my PCT gear report here. Condensation in the half bivy part was definitely an issue. That's why I recommend the more breathable netting over a nylon or event bivy. Jeff is spot on though about how things dry very quickly as soon as the sun comes out (which is most every day).

Edited by nschmald on 01/31/2010 19:58:15 MST.

Dale Crandall
(dlcrandall) - M

Locale: North Cascades
Prospects of snow on PCT on 01/31/2010 22:26:23 MST Print View

You may want to look at the picture I just posted toward the end of discussion of the Be Prepared, Not Equipped article. It was taken August 15 near Hart's Pass. You don't need the tent shown, but you must be ready for bad weather on the north end of the PCT.

Dale Crandall

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
On snow on 02/01/2010 01:33:11 MST Print View

I was snowed upon in early October along the PCT this past season....We had a couple of days of snowfall right before we reached Stevens Pass (about half a foot). From then on it was just very cold (down to single digits several nights) and we walked through a bunch of snow, but it wasn't bad.

By mid-September, all bets are off regarding the weather in Washington. Some years, it's warm through October, others, it begins to rain and snow significantly beginning in September. I swore I would get done by September 20th - told people to make it to the border by then - and I ended up finishing October 14th.

I actually switched out tents when I reached Washington. I went from a Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo to the MSR Hubba. I did so based upon the fact that the Hubba would shed snow a lot easier because of its poles. When it snowed six inches one night, I was glad i had it. And weight was not an issue by then because I had shed far more pounds than any tent could add.

Here are some photos of the trail (post snowfall) between Stevens Pass and Manning Park, B.C. Please note that these are just a few pictures I tossed up. They aren't really indicative of the amount of snow in a few stretches. But if I could make it, you can too!

Photos from Stevens Pass to the Canada

Edited by dirk9827 on 02/01/2010 01:39:52 MST.

Evan Chartier
PCT sleep system on 02/01/2010 09:28:20 MST Print View

Still analyzing all the replies and looking over the links. If it makes any difference, I will be off the trail by the end of August. If I follow my current plan, I should be able to finish the entire thing by mid august, but Im giving myself 2 weeks leeway for weather and possible injuries, etc. However I have to start school by September, so there is no way I will be on the trail past Sep. 1...does this change anything? From what I gather with your posts, the weather in Washington seems to be the main problem with tarp/bivy however only once september passes. Can I count on decent weather in Washington in August, and still tarp/bivy the whole way? Thanks again and I will continue to look over the links and gear reports, but please comment on this with the updated finish time! Looking at average temps for august in Washington, I think I should be

David T
(DaveT) - F
. on 02/01/2010 10:37:05 MST Print View


Edited by DaveT on 06/17/2015 20:54:13 MDT.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
tarp to start, then tent for bugs on 02/01/2010 11:44:52 MST Print View

Like Dave, I used just a poncho-tarp (and a very light, not waterproof bivy) for the first 700 miles, then I switched to a fairly light (single wall) tent at Kennedy Meadows. I'd do exactly the same thing again, maybe without the bivy at the start.

Not much in the way of rain or bugs for the first ~700 miles. At some point in the Sierras you start getting a lot of bugs, typically, and I like an enclosed tent where I can get away from them, spread out my stuff, eat dinner inside, just have a bug-free zone to stay sane in.

Then at some point, indeed perhaps WA state, you could get significant rain. I think a good tarp can handle rain as well as a good light tent, but the tent certainly works too.

So bottom line, my recommendation (or at least "what worked best for me") is a poncho-tarp until the Sierras, then swap for a light enclosed solo tent at the same time you pick up your bear can, use that tent for the rest of the trip.

Roy Staggs
(onepaddlejunkie) - F

Locale: SEC
After Kennedy Meadows on 02/01/2010 11:56:33 MST Print View

Brian, after Kennedy Meadows, could you use a hammock the rest of the way?

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: pct sleep system / rain on 02/01/2010 11:59:11 MST Print View

You don't need a tent to handle bad weather. Here's a picture of me in northern washington in this years October snow.Snow camping

Ok so I spent a good part of the night banging snow of the tarp and the next day, I woke up hiked 12 miles through sometimes knee deep snow and stayed in town for the next 5 days waiting for the snow to stop. But so did every one who was carrying a tent.

There's actually a lot of space under a tarp. It's just that some of it is outside. No reason you can't use it all.

Really, this is all about state of mind and what you are comfortable with. You will be safe with either system. Or unsafe if you act without engaging your brain. I just don't think you should get scared off by the warnings of folks who have found their comfort level doesn't include tarps in significantly inclement weather. Many others have found their comfort level does.

You will likely get some bad weather somewhere in Oregon or Washington. That's just the way it goes. So be prepared, both in terms of gear and state of mind. Since you'll be off the trail in by September, snow is unlikely. But a week of cold, continuous rain is not unlikely at all.

I would also say that no matter how much planning you have done, be prepared for your actual hike to be nothing like what you expected. If you embrace that you will have a great experience, what ever happens. If you try to stick to your plan at all times, you'll find it difficult to make the trail do what you want it to do. And you will miss what the trail is trying to give you.

Edited by nschmald on 02/01/2010 12:08:53 MST.

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: After Kennedy Meadows on 02/01/2010 12:17:05 MST Print View

I didn't hammock, but there is lots of great above tree line camping to be done through Seqouia, King's Canyon and Yosemite. I'd recommend not going to a hammock until north of Tuolumne or even Sonora Pass. It's not that you can't do it, but it will restrict your options.

I often wished I had a hammock in Oregon and Washington as finding a decently flat spot was difficult. I ended up sleeping on dirt roads a few times as a result.

Andrew Wilson
(andreww) - MLife

Locale: Vosges
My 2c on 02/01/2010 12:25:45 MST Print View

A tarp is a very versatile shelter. (If you have any doubts, check out for a mind-boggling set of options.) Besides its light weight and mechanical simplicity, this is its best feature. If you're skilled you can use it in just about any kind of weather. It's nice in a prolonged we spell for its spaciousness and ventilation; you can really stay dry. If you pitch it well, as the previous post stated, summer or early fall storm need not worry you (especially as you intend to finish before September).

You'll need something for the bugs; I've used wind-shells with a headnet+wide-rimmed-hat with good success, though the net tent thing works better. It all depends on what you can put up with.

If I had a bottomless chest of gold I'd get the Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben grace tarp. Francis Tapon used one of these on his CDT yo-yo, and Colorado ridges are way more serious than anything you'll have to camp on on the PCT.

That being said, I myself used a hardware store blue woven poly tarp draped over a cord for my trip on the PCT through OR and WA, through a prolonged storm, through hordes of mosquitos, and came out very happy with its performance.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Tent, not Tarp on 02/01/2010 13:54:41 MST Print View

Personally I think a TarpTent or other single wall tent from Go-Lite, etc. would offer you more protection from weather and bugs for less weight than a tarp & net tent combo.

I had a TT Contrail for 3 summers and it served me very well. Now I own a TT Moment, which is more wind worthy than the Contrail and even faster to set up, requiring only 2 stakes in most weather. At 28 oz. with 2 stakes it's a light tent with a nice vestibule where you can store your pack out of the way and even cook beneath in foul weather. Ventilation of the Moment is really superb, cutting condensation to a minimum in those situations where it's likely to occur.

At the end of a long, hard day on the trail fast setup of your shelter is important. On a rainy day for lunch or for just a rest you can set up the Moment in 2 minutes and other single wall tents are about as fast to pitch.

Obviously, with a tent you won't need a bivy. But if you decide on a bivy I'd absolutely recommend a tarp as well. Bivys are miserable in rainy weather. Getting in and out of them in the rain means you and your sleeping gear WILL get wet.

Edited by Danepacker on 02/01/2010 14:01:39 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: My 2c on 02/01/2010 14:33:49 MST Print View

Over the years I have gone back and forth between and Poncho/Tarp and a 8' X 10' tarp. Currently I am back in the tarp camp, using a GG SpinnTwinn. With a rain jacket and the large tarp, you can handle just about everything on the PCT. The exception would be flying insects. For this a head net would probably suffice. But you could pitch a net tent under the tarp for the buggy sections. Just mail it ahead for the portions you will need, and then mail it home when it is no longer needed. Bivy would be required for with a poncho/tarp for some sections.

8' X 10' tarps are palatial in terms of room and coverage. And in most instances, condensation is a non-issue.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Re: My 2c on 02/01/2010 14:49:03 MST Print View

One of nice things about an 8x10 is the ability to cook under it out of the rain easily. Ive tried poncho tarps and tiny cuben, spinnaker tarps and everything in between but there is nothing like the trusty flat 8x10 tarp.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
PCT Sleep system help on 02/01/2010 16:01:40 MST Print View

Almost anything will work if you have the skill set to use it correctly for the conditions you encounter.

I hiked the PCT last year with a MLD Grace Solo cuben fiber tarp and a bivy sack (started off with a TIG bivy, but lost it and replaced it with a MLD superlite bivy). I had no issues keeping my down bag dry. I cowboyed camp for most of the trail and often found the bivy useful for this (especially when it got cold in late September in North Wash; I finished in 3 out of 4 days of snow on Oct.2) The tarp only came out for bad weather and was more then adequate for hard rain and snow.
MLD Solo Tarp in snow on PCT
Even if your stuff gets damp, there are often short breaks in any Washington weather that you can use to try to dry your stuff out. You have to stop immediately and take advantage of any sun though. If you decide to wait, it may be gone 10min latter.

Edited by Miner on 02/01/2010 16:05:28 MST.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Shelter.... on 02/02/2010 10:41:18 MST Print View

If you are going to finish in August, I'd elect to take a tarp or similar tarptent Shelter. The PCT just doesn't require anything sturdier for most of the way.Like the other posters stated the chances of running into significant snowfall is about nil if you are hiking through Washington in August.
I do agree that a tent isn't a necessity for Washington - obviously, camping in a tarptent or tarp in the snow would likely be more an inconvenience than a threat; although it does require a bit more thought when it comes to site selection. But is that a big deal? No. In my case, the decision to switch to the Hubba was comfort-driven; I just wanted to sleep throughout the night without having to wake up every couple of hours to knock off the snow load.
Have fun!


Edited by dirk9827 on 02/02/2010 10:41:50 MST.