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Difference in gear for PCT vs. AT
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James Reilly
(zippymorocco) - M

Locale: Montana
Difference in gear for PCT vs. AT on 07/27/2013 17:00:09 MDT Print View

I just finished an AT thru-hike and am ready to start planning my PCT hike for next year. I was ultralight through my whole AT hike. Starting March 5 I had plenty of gear, skill and opportunity to deal with the snow and cold. In fact I was very pleased with how well my kit worked from beginning to end. I of course changed some gear out for the warmer months.

For people that have hiked both what gear changes did you make. I have read Yogi's planning guide but I don't feel like I have enough information to properly plan for the hike with a lightweight philosophy. I am trying to figure out where to go from here.

Two things that come to mind is tent stakes and pack. I used a MLD prophet for the AT. It seems to me that I might want a little more structure in my pack for the water and food weight required on the PCT. Something like a Zpacks Arc maybe? Then Tent stakes. Will titanium pegs work in the desert? Another thing is inflatables, will they last through the desert?

Any information to help me kick off my research would be great. I signed up on the Pct list serve as well.


Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
PCT vs AT on 07/27/2013 20:03:30 MDT Print View

The main difference between the 2 trails is on the PCT you normally stick with the same gear as you can have cold wet weather at any time. UL was invented on the PCT so going light isn't a problem as long as you properly are prepared and have the experience to deal with what you might encounter. It can rain at any point along the PCT (even in SoCal where the trail can go over 9000ft at times). You can encounter cold weather at any point on the PCT. You often will have below freezing temps at night and people have experienced below 20F temps in the High Sierra and Washington. Snow does happen, even in SoCal in the Spring, the High Sierra in summer, and Washington in late summer/fall. My coldest day hiking before northern Washington in late September was in SoCal in early June just after Wrightwood.

How much water weight you'll have depends on the year. I hiked in a slightly less than normal year and only had to carry 4.5L of water at the most in Socal. I've heard some slow hikers (or very heavy and thus slow hikers) have carried as much as 6L.

You will be required to carry 6-7 days of food on occasion but 4-5 is more normal. The only reason to carry anymore is because you choose to avoid a resupply due to it involving hiking miles off the PCT (such as going over Kearsarge Pass to avoid going 10 days straight from Kennedy Meadows to VVR in the High Sierra) or a difficult hitch. You'll need to be able to carry a bear can in the High Sierra and possibly an ice axe in your pack. Some people carrying a small pack figure out a method to strap their bear can to the top of their pack so it won't fall off, but this makes the pack carry top heavy and isn't very comfortable. I personally would prefer a pack large enough to insert a bear can vertically inside and then stuff the rest of your stuff around it. If I hiked the PCT again, I would use my ULA CDT which is frameless but I can barely get a bear can in it and my baseweight would normally be under 10 lbs without the bear can. I'd suffer a bit for 2 weeks in the High Sierra but would be fine otherwise. A larger pack with some sort of frame would be safer and take some of the guess work out. But when I did that in 2009, I often found my ULA Circuit too big for my gear though it handled the bear can with no discomfort.

SoCal is not all Desert as you will go over some significant moutnains. Most of the time you won't be camping on sand. Using large rocks or logs to tie to can work if stakes won't hold or placing rocks on top of your stakes. I cowboyed camped (slept outside without a shelter) all but 9 days when I thru-hiked in 2009 so stakes never came up (though I use small titanium ones too). I used a tarp for rain and had a 7oz water resistant bivy sack that I used most of the time (cut the wind and as a defense against bugs in the High Sierra and Oregon until they went away after dark when the night temps fell).

James Reilly
(zippymorocco) - M

Locale: Montana
Re: Sean on 07/28/2013 08:34:31 MDT Print View

Thank you Sean that is some great info. Do you have any idea what your max total weight was?

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Max weight. on 07/28/2013 12:13:40 MDT Print View

Back in 2009, I probably had a max weight a few times over 30lbs (maybe 35lbs once with the bearcan on a 9day carry when I skipped over other possible resupplies) though it mostly was under 30lbs; my baseweight back then averaged a bit over 12lbs with a ULA Circuit pack and a camcorder (doesn't count the bear can for the High Sierra and didn't carry an ice axe due to a late June entry). I carried more food than most hikers as I only lost 10 lbs on my thru-hike and always had extra food coming into town (I added more food/day as I went further north and went too far and started to gain back weight in Oregon).

My current planning for a possible CDT thru-hike is a baseweight of 9.5 lbs (includes 20oz for a large camera) with a possible max of 29-30lbs on occasion. It would be similar if I did another PCT hike.

Now I mentioned that you pretty much carry the same gear for the entire PCT, which isn't completely accurate. In Socal, some hikers carry just a lightweight tarp for a shelter (as it can rain or snow, but its not very common), but switch to a tarptent or tent once they get to the Sierra Neveda to better deal with bugs (I used the same tarp/bivy combo for the entire trail). In the Sierra Neveda you'll add a bearcan, maybe an ice-axe, and possible warmer layer that you'll dump after Sonora Pass (normally Echo Summit/S.Lake Tahoe unless you do an earlier 30mile hitch to Bridgeport). Due to Frequent hot weather, some people mail some of their warmer layers in Nor.Cal ahead to Oregon, though I know someone who went as far as mailing their sleeping bag ahead (bad idea) only to immediately regret it when the weather turned cold. Some hikers increase their rain gear in the Sierra Neveda and Washington. For those who finish after mid-September, they may add some additional warm layers as well as whatever they feel is necessary to walk in several inches of snow (I finished Oct.2 and had 4 days of off/on snow including several inches the last day).

Evan Chartier
PCT Gear on 07/29/2013 09:48:47 MDT Print View

I highly recommend a light tarp and bivy combo. Served me well in 2010. I hardly used my tarp and cowboy camped all but 6 nights from March through August, NOBO. The bivy with mesh did well against the mosquitos. I punctured one inflatable pad (original NEOAIR), but that was completely my fault, since the wind caught it and blew it into a small cactus. A few fast and light patches later, however, and it lasted the whole rest of the trail, and then some!

If I were to do it again, I would bring this sleep setup: small zpacks tarp, light pertex quantum/M50 (top)/sil nylon (bottom) bivy with mesh face and loop to attach to tarp or pole, and small neoair xlite.

Forgot to mention: I used half titanium, half aluminum (MSR Needle) stakes, worked well when I needed them, which was rare. Also used a 2010 Gorilla, would probably use the same, or an even smaller pack for everything outside the Sierra, then the gorilla for the sierras.

Edited by evanchartier on 07/29/2013 09:49:54 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Shelter on 07/29/2013 10:39:30 MDT Print View

I have used my PCT gear on the the AT as I section my way down the trail. The major change that I made was to get rid of my tarp/bivy and move to a MYOG setup that is very similiar to a MLD mid with the net inner. Why the difference? On the PCT there were only a couple nights that it didn't cool down significantly at night. This is an ideal setup for a bivy. A bivy is also very helpful in SoCal where it can get extremely windy. In fact IMHO a bivy (with or without a tarp depending on conditions) is the ideal setup for SoCal. The bivy keeps the wind at bay, allows you to camp anywhere and can provide protection from crawling bugs as well. On the AT in the summer I find a bivy too warm which is why I am moving to a mid tarp with a net inner. I will use the net inner only whenever possible to combat bugs which don't go to sleep on the T on hot nights.

One thing to keep in mind.... soCal will be cold. Don't let the term desert fool you into thinking it is hot at night. Your coldest nights will likely be in SoCal, not in the Sierra. I ended up using a 20 degree quilt for the whole trip. I also wore a balaclava almost every night.

In general your food carries will be heavier unless you go to every resupply point. There is not the 100 resupply points close to the trail like you had on the AT. Having said that, generally folks on the PCT that have hiked the AT will end up doing higher miles so you can scoot between resupply points faster. I successfully used an MLD burn and it was ideal for every carry other than leaving KM.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
different opinions --- all of them correct on 07/30/2013 09:59:27 MDT Print View

Different ways of doing this stuff. Bugs are few until somewhere into the Sierras, so I liked carrying a poncho tarp as shelter and raingear for the first 700 miles, almost never set it up. Then swap to something that can create a bug-free-zone at Kennedy Meadows.

I did swap sleeping bags, used a 20F bag until done with the Sierras, used a 32F bag for the rest, but finished the trail before it was too-o cold for a 32F bag in northern WA.

You do want a pack strong/solid enough to carry more water than you might be used to in the first 700 miles. Not all the time, certainly, but you need to be able to do it.
The bigger "is my pack beefy enough" issue for me, however, was in the Sierras --- bear can, ice axe, maybe an extra clothing item or two and possibly microspikes depending on the year --- but also a long distance between resupply.

Tent stakes: take what you like. You won't be sleeping on sand (it's not like a 'Lawrence of Arabia' movie scene). In the cases where there's any problem you'll get good at using rocks or local sticks or something. It's not always easy on the AT either --- I recall a couple of times getting creative using those $#%^! tent platforms with my non-freestanding tent.

"Another thing is inflatables, will they last through the desert?"
I used an inflatable on all of the big 3 trails, to include through both SoCal and New Mexico (which latter had IMO a lot more "needles and stuff"). If you're concerned, consider bringing a 1/8" ccf pad and put it under your inflatable whenever sharp stuff is of a concern, and on top of it when you want a bit more warmth. Gossamer Gear sells one, I think there are other options listed elsewhere on this site.

It's possible that by the end of a thru-hike you'll have a slow leak. One of my pads I just know that in the middle of the night I'll have to reinflate; leak is too slow to find in the bathtub, just due to a lot of use I guess. Another is somewhat delaminated so that it bulges in a slightly uncomfortable way. At least with neo-air pads, I wouldn't expect to get a lot more than one thru-hike out of it, but you might do.

I've also seen the recommendation to avoid water bladders in "the desert" because of the needles. I can only speculate that folks are perhaps carrying them in external side mesh or not taking care when they throw them down on the ground or something as I've used bladders throughout (platypus) with never a leak.

Eli Zabielski
(ezabielski) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
Re: Shelter on 07/31/2013 10:01:59 MDT Print View

> I successfully used an MLD burn and it was ideal for every carry other than leaving KM.

I'm curious about using the Burn. How did you deal with a bear canister with your MLD Burn? And what was your longest stretch without resupply (in days)?

James Reilly
(zippymorocco) - M

Locale: Montana
re: bivvy, burn on 07/31/2013 12:16:57 MDT Print View

Thank you all for the great information. From what you all describe it sounds like the gear setup that I used to begin my AT hike will be about right on. I came to the AT from the west so a lot of what I used was geared toward the conditions I encountered Montana. This was good because we had a cold, snowy start.

I am interested in the answer to the question about the Burn as well. I used a Prophet for the AT and never came close to filling it. I would consider using it for the AT as well if I was sure that the weight would not be too much. I would want to stay sub 25# total most of the time.

Also, I will be hiking with a partner again. We used a Hexamid Twin for the entire AT and loved it. Would this work okay through the desert or should I consider making a tarp? Two Bivvies seem like too much for us and I think I would try to avoid that but could change my mind if it seems to be the right thing to do. I have never used a tarp/bivvy combo but am open to it. Just looking for the lightest 2 person option that will do the trick. Maybe that is the hexamid?

Thanks again. Please keep it coming if anyone has anything to add.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Hexamid would easily work on PCT. on 07/31/2013 22:32:18 MDT Print View

Hexamid would work fine on the PCT. You can just reuse it with no worries.

The advantage of a tarp/bivy is because some of us cowboy camp (sleep out without a shelter) most of the time and thus a bivy gets used most of the time (stuff sleeping bag and pad into it and throw it on the ground and camp made) but the tarp rarely gets used unless it rains/snows. Bivy also adds some warmth to sleeping system (I've used it as my sleeping bag when it gets too hot for sleeping bag and means I can use a lighter sleeping bag for same warmth), and adds insect and wind protection. My MLD cuben fiber tarp,bivy, stakes, stuff sack, etc. weigh under 15oz so for my camping style, its the way to go. However, others don't like it.