A Gear Review from my 2013 PCT Thru Hike

Granite Gear Backpack

Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude backpack, Thermarest Z-Lite sleeping pad and Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles.

This is a detailed review of the gear I used on my PCT thru-hike in 2013. I don’t consider myself a super-ultralight or even an ultralight backpacker, but I’m not a heavy-packer, either. I would say I’m somewhere in the mid-range for weight. This means I carry gear that’s just a little heavier than than the ultralighters for my own comfort. Below is a list of every piece of gear I could think of that I had with me and my thoughts on each item. I bolded each piece of gear, so hopefully you can easily navigate to the particular items you’re interested in reading… or if you’re super-hardcore, you can read all of them. :)

The average base weight of my backpack (no food, fuel or water) was somewhere around 20 pounds. Compare this to my friend Cuddles, who is an amazing ultralight backpacker. His base weight was a tiny 8 pounds. I hiked a 41.8-mile day with him across the California border into Oregon, and that is when the difference in base weight really hit me. At the end of that 41.8-mile day, I had a sore foot and my whole body was just tired. Cuddles said to me at camp, “I feel great! I could go another 10!” That might have been the difference, but he is also a strong hiker. He later went on to do a 50-mile day! If I wanted to do big miles like that more regularly, going lighter would be something I would have to consider. But doing “regular” miles (20-30), I was totally fine with my current set-up.

It’s said that you pack your fears. If you’re afraid of getting cold at night, you probably carry a heavier sleeping bag. If you’re not a fan of being too smelly or dirty, you might pack extra clothes. If you’re nervous you’ll run out of food, you carry more. Same with water. Get the idea? It’s something worth thinking about.

I found that once I was on the trail, I didn’t need extra of things. I wanted to carry two knives in case I lost one. I wanted to carry two spoons in case I lost one. I wanted to carry an extra shirt that didn’t have sleeves in case I wanted to soak in more sun. I ended up dropping these all out of my kit and sending them home. Yeah, it would be a pain to loose my knife or my spoon, and it would be a bummer to not be able to bare my arms on a sunny day. But the reality of it was that these weren’t going to put me into a life or death situation, so I ditched them and saved myself some weight. I would only have to make it to the next town where I could replace my lost item or find a new solution.

Here is my list and my comments on each item.

** The Big 3 **
Backpack:
Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude
I’ve been using this style of backpack since 2005 and love it. It weighs in just under 3 pounds, so it’s not super-heavy, but it’s also not super-light. It’s somewhere right in the middle, which is the case with a lot of my gear. I didn’t really want to pony up the dough for a new backpack for this trip, either, so I was content carrying my tried and true Granite Gear. Next to its comfy, stable and consistent fit, my favorite feature of this pack is its unique panel-loading design. I haven’t seen another like it. It has two zippers that run vertically along the entire length of the pack so that you can open it from the top or the bottom. When we’d stop for lunch and others would be pulling everything out of their (most commonly-made) top-loading backpacks, I’d zip up from the bottom, pull out my food bag, and not disturb anything else that was stacked neatly inside. It’s pretty cool. My second favorite part of this backpack is how nicely it stored a bear canister. Nobody really likes carrying bear canisters because they’re heavy, but they’re also boxy and don’t get smaller as you go (compared to a soft-sided food bag). The Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude fits a bear canister either horizontally or vertically very neatly inside. I arranged it both ways, depending on how much other stuff I had or how it best fit at the time. This pack is also very comfortable with a sturdy, stiff frame and padded hip belt. If I was carrying 30 pounds or 45 pounds (sometimes with 5L of water in the desert or food for 8 days in the Sierras it actually got that heavy!), it still fit my back and hips the same either way. The lighter packs’ frames (if they have one), are usually more “moldable” and can change shape and become uncomfortable, especially those times you have to carry more weight in water and/or food.

The bad news is that they don’t make this style any more. Mine was going on 7 years old, and about three months into the hike, the zippers on the panel-load started to split. I tried a few things to keep them working, but they were just old and done. I was worried because I didn’t really want to get a new pack and have to get used to it that far into the trip. I contacted Granite Gear, and they actually had a few in their showroom in my size! They sent me a brand new one further up the trail from me, and when I received it, I sent my old one back to them with no cost to me except for the shipping of mine back to them. Thank you, Granite Gear for making awesome gear and being so easy to work with!

Sleeping Bag:
Western Mountaineering Antelope 5-degree down

Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bag

Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bag

A 5-degree sleeping bag is overkill for the PCT. A 20-degree bag is just fine, and if you’re a bit of a cold sleeper, a 15-degree would work well, too. My sleeping bag cost me close to $500 in 2005, so I couldn’t bring myself to spending another big chunk of cash when this one was still working well. I carried it on my 2006 ADT hike and used it in all ranges of weather. If it was too warm, I just laid it on top of me loosely. It weighs in just under 3 pounds, so again, it’s a little heavier than your regular 20-degree bag, and it’s a bit bulkier, but it was worth it to me to carry instead of spending more money. Western Mountaineering makes really great gear, and everyone on the trail that I talked to that had one loved theirs. My next sleeping bag might not be a 5-degree bag, but it will be WM, so I’m going to have to plan that purchase and save up for it. And I know it’ll be worth it.

Down vs. Synthetic. The only time I’ve owned a synthetic bag was when I bought my very first 20-degree sleeping bag from Gander Mountain years ago. I don’t even know what brand it was, but it was a pretty cheap one. It kept me warm on warm summer nights, but that was about all it could handle. I did use it a few times winter camping — doubled up with my 5-degree bag to add a few degrees of warmth — which worked, by the way. It was just a hassle to carry two bags. Anyway, my precious WM sleeping bag that I carried on the PCT was down, as was the majority of sleeping bags other hikers carried on the trail. I love down. It’s light, it’s warm and it’s fluffy. I love my sleeping bag, and I’d carry it or another like it (down) if I were to hike again. But… the only time I thought a synthetic bag might be nice was in Washington when cold rain fell for a few days straight. My sleeping bag never got soaking wet because I stored it in a waterproof eVent stuff sack (I used this the entire trip), and when it was rainy, I even wrapped that up in a garbage bag. I did everything I could to keep it as dry as possible. But the thing is, when you’re setting a tent up in the rain, taking it down in the rain, hiking all day in rain, then setting up in the rain again, the inside of the tent WILL be wet. There’s just no way around that. So when you lay your sleeping pad down and crawl into your sleeping bag, it’s going to hit the walls and the floor of your tent and absorb some of that moisture. It’s even worse when you set up a tent after a long day, it’s getting dark, and in the morning you realize you set up in a small pit and have puddles in your tent. I guess the down still did just fine for me through all of this, but having a synthetic bag during those couple of stretches would have given me a little more peace of mind knowing that it would keep me warmer than down if wet. In the end? If I did it all over again, I’d still carry a down bag. I’d just replace my bulkier, heavier 5-degree with a 15- or 20-degree bag.

Tent:
Henry Shires Tarptent – Double Rainbow
MSR Hubba

MSR Hubba Tent

MSR Hubba One-man tent, without the rain fly for a perfect view of the stars at night!

I have two tents listed because the first one (Henry Shires Double Rainbow Tarp Tent) was Rachel’s tent, but we shared it for the majority of the trip. It’s a spacious tent for two people, so it worked really well for us as far as space goes. The biggest bonus to this tent is that it’s super-light. Early in the trip when the air was really dry, we didn’t have much trouble with condensation, but if there’s any moisture in the air, the single wall tents like this collect that moisture on the inside wall. When you wake up in the morning, you have to avoid touching the damp walls or the whole thing shakes and the moisture beads up and literally rains down on you. I really liked this tent except for this condensation issue, especially when there’s two people in it. Later in the trip Rachel and I carried our own tents, and when we hit the really rainy section of Washington, she switched to a double-wall tent (the Hubba), as did a few other hikers, because when it rains really, really hard, and you’re sleeping in a single-wall tent, the rain gets through. My mom and I carried the Black Diamond Lighthouse tent on the ADT in 2006, also a single-wall, and we had a downpour that actually came through and it was misting inside. We only had one storm that hit that badly, but it wasn’t fun. One other disadvantage to this tent is that it is not freestanding, meaning you have to stake it down for it to stand on its own. This is a pain when you’re on a rocky surface or really hard dirt where you can’t get it staked down. There is an option where you can use your trekking poles instead of stakes, but the couple of times we did that, we weren’t really comfortable with it. To be fair, this might just be from lack of practice, too. A lot of people on the PCT carried lightweight tarp tents and loved the crap out of them. I’ve slept in both single-wall and double-wall, and this is one of the places I sacrifice a little weight savings for a comfort. Which brings me to my tent, the MSR Hubba.

The MSR Hubba is a cute little one-man tent, just wide enough for one person. It’s pretty long, so I had plenty of room to keep all my gear inside. I would wrap my backpack up in my pack cover (especially when it was wet) and store that at my feet. This doubled as a foot elevator. It’s good to keep your feet up at night to reduce swelling if you can. I would usually place it length-wise, starting at my knees for a super-comfy sleep. Since this is a double-wall tent (meaning it has a body and a rainfly – two pieces), it’s a little heavier than the single-wall solo tents. It wasn’t a big deal for me to switch to this, because the two-person tarp tent that Rachel and I were sharing was carried in my pack, and my one-man double-wall Hubba weighed about the same when you added all the pieces up. One of my favorite parts of this tent is the mesh walls. On a clear night, you can leave the rainfly off and have a wide-open view of the night sky. You can’t even tell the mesh is there. On a rainy night, it does a pretty good job of keeping the rain out. I intend to contact MSR, however, because along the way I heard there was a sort of “recall” on some of the older rainflies. I guess they would get “sticky” and weren’t as efficient at keeping heavy rain out. Mine did drip in during a few heavy rains, and two Hubbas next to me had no problem at all. The newer Hubbas shouldn’t have this problem, so I wouldn’t use my rainfly as a determining factor when looking at this tent as a possible option. It was just something I wanted to mention, especially if anyone reading might have a similar problem. It would be worth contacting them. These double-wall tents will keep you drier than a single-wall, it’ll just weight a little more and maybe take up a little more room in your pack. I also loved that I could keep just the fly strapped to the outside of my pack after a wet night so I could easily fan it out on a quick break to dry some of it off. The MSR Hubba is also a free-standing tent. You can set it up, then move it around (even with your stuff in it if you need to) until you get just the right spot, or just the right angle so you can watch the moon or sunrise, then stake it in place. If the ground is too hard to stake, as long as there aren’t gale-force winds, usually your gear will hold it down just fine and you won’t even need to stake it down.

It’s nice to have a shelter, and I’ll always carry one no matter what. There are too many times I’ve wanted an escape from crazy mosquitoes, was nervous about small critters, or I wanted to keep weather out (I’ve even used this tent winter-camping, and it worked great). But all in all, my favorite shelter is none when I can get away with it. Some of my favorite nights on the PCT were out under the stars. Being from the midwest, I never imagined it being possible to confidently sleep without a tent, but it was pretty easy to get used to. I miss all those nights on the PCT when you just KNEW it wasn’t going to rain.

Sleeping Pad:
Thermarest Z-Lite
I bought the Thermarest Neo-Air before the trip, intending to use it, and I’m certain it would’ve worked just fine, but I ended up sending it home and going with the Z-Lite. There’s a couple of reasons I ditched the Neo-Air. The first reason was because of pokey things in the desert and my fear of popping it. I may have been just fine, but I didn’t want to fuss with a deflated air mattress if I were to impale it with something. The second reason was I found it to be kind of a pain to deflate every morning and inflate it every night. The Z-Lite was much easier to deal with, and really nice to pull off my pack and sit on during breaks. I don’t regret this decision. I slept perfectly fine on the Z-Lite the whole trip with the exception of just a couple of nights towards the end of the trip when I could feel some of the cold ground through it. It was starting to wear out a little bit after 5 months of daily use, and at that point, the ground was pretty cold, and usually wet. I cut mine so it was just long enough to cover from my neck to my knees. I always had some sort of gear-stuffed pillow under my head and my pack, length-wise, under my lower legs to keep my feet up at night.

** Clothing (worn) **
Shoes:
Brooks Cascadia 7

Brooks Cascadia shoes and Dirty Girl Gaiters

Brooks Cascadia 7 shoes, Dirty Girl Gaiters, and some incredibly awesomely filthy trail legs!

LOVE. That’s what I have to say about these shoes! Okay, here goes. Pre-PCT, I always wore Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex boots. They’re actually very light and very comfy, and I never really had a problem with them. But when I switched to trail runners while training for the PCT, I first tried the most popular trail runner on the PCT previous years, the Brooks Cascadia. I fell in love with them pretty much immediately. They were comfortable upon first try, and I hiked 10 miles in them with no problems that same day. I always wore them a little too long while on the trail, but again, I didn’t have much of a problem, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. I wore them until I knew I needed to switch. You can tell. I would start getting weird, unusual foot or knee pains. If I switched to a new pair at that point, the pains would subside. You kind of know when they’re starting to wear by how many miles they have on them, so you become a little more sensitive to new aches and pains and can tell when it’s time to let a pair go. My first pair when 300 miles before the PCT on training hikes and 500 miles on the PCT. My second pair went a straight 800 miles (my Sierra and Mt. Whitney pair, which I kept), and my third pair went 1300 miles. Yes, 1300. They were literally falling apart, but I remember how GREAT my feet felt wearing them through Washington. I hiked through snow, hail, sleet, rain for days… and my feet would’ve been cold and wet anyway in those conditions if they’d been new, so I just kept wearing them. They had holes on both sides of both shoes and the soles were totally shot, but they were still so comfortable, I figured I shouldn’t change a good thing. Looking back, I think my feet were wider and appreciated the extra width the holes provided. Anyway, they’re a great shoe. You wouldn’t need more than 5 pairs on the PCT. Also, my first pair was an entire size larger than my typical running shoe size. When I bought my second pair, I tried on another half size bigger, didn’t notice a difference, so bought those. You get used to the larger size shoe, and it’s a must. Believe it and don’t fight it. Your feet will appreciate you for it.

One other thing that I don’t necessarily regard as a disadvantage, but worth mentioning, is that your feet WILL be filthy when wearing trail runners on the trail. They have a lot of mesh, which makes the shoe lighter and keeps your feet cooler, but that mesh does let in a lot of dirt, dust and sand. It is crucial to take the shoes off on as many breaks as possible and empty out the dust. Take off the socks, brush the loose dirt off your toes, and move on. Every time you sit for a break, do this. It’s really, really important to air out your feet anyway, especially in the desert. And seriously. It only takes a few minutes to take the shoes off, get rid of excess dirt and dust and put them back on.

Insoles:
Superfeet Green
I also wore Superfeet insoles in my shoes. I started with the Pink Superfeet, but found out towards the end of the life of my first pair of shoes that the dude that fitted me gave me a size too big, and the way the Pink insoles are designed, the seam landed right on the ball of my foot, causing some terrible pain the last couple of days before I got my new pair. I switched to green, which didn’t have a seam, bought the correct size, and stuck with them the rest of the trip. Insoles aren’t necessarily a must, but I found them to lenghthen the life of my shoes. Those insoles they come with when you buy them? Might as well be a piece of paper. Gone in a week. They were for me, at least.

Gaiters:
Dirty Girl Gaiters
LOVE. Again. I wore my Dirty Girls every single day on the hike. I had to sew a couple of holes and reattach the the hook after attempting to use them in deep snow on one of my last days in Washington, which ripped the hook off, but otherwise they held up great for me. For as long as I can remember hiking, I’ve always been one to kick crap up into the back of my shoes. Little stones, gravel, pine needles, etc. With the Dirty Girls, that no longer happened. It saved my sanity from hiking on tiny pebbles that feel like boulders, and it also keeps your socks a little cleaner, helping them last longer.

Socks:
Injinji RUN 2.0 original weight toe socks
I started with a couple of different pairs of Injinjis. I love having the separate toes in my socks. I don’t get a lot of blisters, but when I do, they’re almost always on my toes, so I found a long time ago that these help with toe blisters. I got so used to them, that I feel weird wearing normal socks hiking. It feels like my toes are sticking together with sweat and feels nasty to me. Anyway, my only negative comment about Injinjis is that they didn’t last as long as I’d like them to, but I did find certain types lastest longer than others. The worst were a couple of NuWool pairs I had (they were light blue). I seriously had a hole form in one pair after two days on the trail. Then I had the Sport original-weight, and those lasted quite a bit longer. Then I tried out the RUN 2.0 original weight, and those really lasted longer. I always had two pairs with me so that I could have one pair hanging off my pack to dry while wearing the other. I alternated every time I took my shoes off. That way I was always wearing the cleanest, driest pair I had with me. When I hit Northern California I started carrying a third pair because it was more humid and the second pair sometimes wouldn’t dry quick enough after a rinse.

I will throw in a quick plug for Darn Tough socks here, even though I didn’t wear them hiking. They don’t make toe socks (but they should… Darn Tough… you out there?? Toe socks, please!?), but many hikers used and loved these socks. They have a lifetime warranty, so if they DO get holes, you can replace them at no cost, and there are some outfitters along the trail that will just swap with you – you have to ask, though. Not all outfitters are willing to do this. Even though there is this option, some hikers didn’t need it. I guess they do last a long time.

One last thing I want to mention when it comes to socks and wearing them out. Everybody is totally different. Another hiker and I wore the same sock, and mine would have holes in two weeks (always in the same spot, at the ball of my foot by my big toe), but she wore one pair almost the entire hike. I don’t know what the difference is exactly, but it must be something with the way we all walk differently. You might get those NuWool Injinjis and have them last the whole entire trip. You just have to experiment and find out what works for you.

Skirt:
Mountain Hardwear Better Butter Skirt
Walmart skirt slip

REI Larch shirt and slip

REI Larch button-up shirt and Walmart slip

I started the PCT wearing the Mountain Hardwear Better Butter skirt and loved it. Looking back, I wish I’d have bought another one a size smaller for later in the trip. I lost some weight and it started to get too big. It was kind of funny, because I would pull it up so my backpack’s hip belt could help keep it in place. If I didn’t, it would start to fall down as I hiked, and if I pulled it up too high, the motion of my walking would cause my backpack to “eat” the skirt, and soon my butt would nearly be showing. I had it taken in by a seamstress when I got to Mammoth Lakes, and that worked for a little while. Once I hit more humid weather in Northern California my sweaty waist line wasn’t drying quick enough, and the darts that the seamstress placed along the waistline to make it smaller were creating new chafing. I went on the search for a new skirt that would dry quicker, which brings me to my second skirt. The Walmart skirt slip. Yup, just a simple slip that women wear under their skirts. I was nervous about wearing these because they were pretty shear, but they were so light it felt like I was wearing nothing… well, I almost was wearing nothing, but it covered me enough. It was awesome. They were cheap, light, and dried super-fast, even in humid weather. I was never a dress or skirt-wearing kind of girl, but while hiking, I find it the best and most comfortable thing. There are so many advantages to it. It’s cooler, it’s easier to change, it’s easier to pee (especially if going commando!), and it keeps things aired out and you avoid the whole stinky underwear thing. It helps with odor a LOT. There are a lot of skirts on the market, and I always looked for one that didn’t have the sewn in shorts or underwear. I wanted to choose whether or not I wore something underneath. It was surprisingly difficult to find a “sport skirt” that was made with a polyester/spandex mix without the built in shorts/underwear.

Now if only Patagonia would go back to their original Morning Glory skirt that I loved so much. It was the perfect hiking skirt – no built-in anything, light and airy, super-fast drying and perfect – they don’t make them any more. *pout*

Shirt:
REI Larch Long-Sleeve shirt
Pre-PCT, I used to always wear sleeveless shirts while hiking, but quickly fell in love with the long-sleeve REI Larch shirt. I don’t know if they make this particular shirt any more, but there are many on the market like it. Mine was a snap-button-up shirt, and the sleeves rolled up to just above my elbows with a loop that would snap in place to keep them rolled in place. This shirt was amazing. I had two and alternated them, and they lasted the entire trip, and would probably last another thru-hike. It was very quick-drying, ventilated in all the right places, and was easy to change out of. Because it had snaps instead of buttons, once at camp I could look around, and if nobody was coming I would just rip it off and change within seconds. I only got caught once. The sleeves were great. I would start in the chilly morning with them rolled down and roll them up once I started to get warm. I got good at rolling and unrolling and was able to do both while hiking. I liked that it had front pockets, too. I’d place my maps for the day in the front pocket and they were easy to get to. It also had a zipper pocket about mid-way down the front buttons, and my phone fit in it. I found out after dropping my phone in a creek that this pocket was a great place to store it. If was leaving my pack to get water or something, I’d place my phone in the zipper pocket where it was safe, and that way I had it in case I ran into something I needed a photo of.

Bra:
Random single-layer sport bra
I don’t have a whole lot to cover in this area, so any Champion sport bra from Target worked fine for me. I always chose something single layer so it would dry quicker.

** Clothing (carried) **
Underwear:
Nike Pro Short Compression Shorts
I started out wearing the Nike Pro Compression Shorts/Underwear, because I wore a skirt and this covered my thighs avoiding chafing. After about a week on the trail I started to go without the underwear and before I knew it I was having no problems with chafing. Having lost a few pounds and getting a sort of “callus” in the spot where it would normally rub, I no longer needed the protection there. After that first week, I rarely hiked wearing any underwear. I recommend it highly. It’s super-comfy, easy to pee, and keep things “aired out” and odorless. It might take some getting used to, but it’s worth it. Sometimes if it was REALLY hot, I would sweat a ton and a little chafing would start. Easy. I’d whip out my Nike shorts and slip them on over my shoes and up under my skirt – right in the middle of the trail – another advantage to that skirt! The thigh chafing didn’t happen often after the first few weeks, but it was a nice option when it did. I always carried a pair of the Nike Pro compression shorts – I used them at camp so I could sit comfortable without showing anything I didn’t want to show, I could wear them under my rain pants if it was cold or raining, and I could swim in them if I wanted the coverage. I did have trouble with the elastic waistband separating from the shorts on each pair of these I owned, and I found myself sewing them on a few occasions. If I were to hike again, I might look for something similar in a different brand. I was honestly a little disappointed in their durability, especially considering how little I wore them.

Bra:
Random single-layer sport bra
I always carried one extra sport bra. If one was soaked in sweat, I could switch out to a dry one and let the other one dry on my pack with my socks. Also, if I wanted the extra coverage while swimming with others, I could wear my Nike underwear and one of my sport bras, then have my dry skirt and dry bra and shirt to put on after I got out. It was a system that worked perfectly for me. I’d do it the same way again.

Socks:
Injinji RUN 2.0 original weight toe socks

Injinji toe socks

Injinji Toe Socks – my favorites. This pair was particularly my favorite, because they were a birthday present from Tears. :)

I always carried a second pair of socks so one could be drying on my pack after a rinse while I wore the other. In Northern California I started carrying a third because it was more humid and took longer for them to dry, sometimes a whole day after rinsing them out in a creek. In Oregon and Washington when I had a few stretches of constant rain, it was always nearly orgasmic to put on a dry pair of socks in the morning if it were possible… until you had to slip those dry socks into soaking wet shoes… but either way, the third pair of socks was good for my morale then.

** Sleepwear **
Pants:
Patagonia Capilene 1 Silkweight long underwear
If it was a chilly night I could wear these for sleeping, but rarely needed to with my warm sleeping bag. I did wear them under my skirt around camp a lot when it was chillier at night or in the morning, and I even slipped them on under my skirt while hiking when temps dipped lower further north. If it was rainy and cold, I would wear them under my rainpants for a perfect cold- or rainy-weather combo.

Top:
Brooks long-sleeve moisture-wicking shirt
I found that any long-sleeve moisture-wicking sport shirt works great for sleeping.

Socks:
Generic-brand knee-high soccer socks
I always carried a separate pair of socks for sleeping, so I always knew I had something dry to put on my feet no matter what. In fact, all my sleepwear was always stuffed in a dry sack deep in my pack so even if it downpoured all day, I knew I had that dry clothing to slip into for a good sleep. I loved my knee-high soccer socks. They were thin, but enough to give my feet the extra warmth they needed most nights (I switched to a thicker Smartwool sock for a few later stretches in Washington when it was rainy, snowy and cold). I also loved my crazy-colored striped knee-high soccer socks because they were fun to wear and looked silly. A lot of times at camp that’s all I needed to add along with my skirt to be at a comfy temperature around camp.

Camp Shoes:
Crocs
I carried my Mary-Jane-style Crocs the entire trip. A lot of people ditch camp shoes because of the weight, but I found them too beneficial to get rid of. It was a comfort thing for me. I really liked having something simple to slip on after a long day, and when I got up in the early morning to go to the bathroom. I didn’t like to use them for river crossings, though, because they slipped around too much. I opted to just walk through with my shoes on – they dried quickly enough, and I felt much more stable and confident crossing in shoes rather than going barefoot (which I don’t recommend, ever) or with the Crocs. I only used the Crocs for camp shoes, or on breaks if I was airing out my feet and wanted to slip them on to soak my feet in a creek or walk somewhere for water.

 

Patagonia beanie, Patagonia Nanopuff and Buff

My warm layers – a Buff, my blue Patagonia beanie (underneath the hood), and my green Patagonia Nanopuff hooded jacket. This is a photo taken near the cold summit of Mt. Whitney.

** Misc. Clothing **
Hat:
Patagonia beanie
I carried this sucker the entire trip. I always carry a beanie, no matter what the weather is going to be like, hot or cold. If I get chilled at night, or anytime, I put it on and feel a ton better. I learned in my Outdoor Education class in high school that more than 90% of your body heat escapes through the top of your head. I’ve always remembered that, and so I always have a hat when I’m backpacking.

Jacket:
Patagonia Nanopuff Synthetic jacket with hood
It’s expensive, yes, but worth every single penny. I was lucky to grab mine on Steep ‘n Cheap before leaving for the PCT, so I got this one at half price. It’s one of my favorite pieces of gear. I like that it’s synthetic – I always did everything I could to keep it dry, but a couple times in Washington during a stretch of rainy days, I’d pull it out and a sleeve would be damp. I’d pout, but put it on anyway. To my surprise, it would be dry within 10 minutes. It’s very warm, and the hood was nice for extra warmth if I wanted to bundle up on a cold night.

Fleece:
Patagonia R1 full-zip fleece
I only carried this in addition to my nanopuff jacket towards the end of the trip when it was snowy and cold. I’d rather hike in a fleece than a jacket, as I like to have the jacket dry and warm to put on in camp and for sleeping if needed. The Patagonia R1 fleece is warm, light and looks pretty cool as a light jacket when in town, too.

Gloves:
Mountain Hardwear gloves
I don’t know the particular style, but I carried the same gloves the whole trip. They worked just fine when I needed them for just a little extra warmth on my fingertips – usually on cold mornings or sitting around camp. I added a second pair during really wet weather so that I could wear one set while hiking, and if it was raining, they’d be soaked, so I had the second pair to put on at camp that was dry. I don’t do well with cold fingers, so I didn’t mind carrying the extra ounces of a second pair through Washington.

Buff:
Buff brand buff
I loved this piece of gear. It’s so versitile! I used it as a neck gaiter at night, I’d convert it into a lighter hat than my beanie for hiking, but mostly I used it to cover my ears and keep my crazy fly-away hairs at bay on days I didn’t feel like rebraiding my trail braids. I’d wear it like a headband. I liked the way it looked, loved the design I chose, and it kept me warm and cuddly-feeling. I’d never go hiking without one.

Sunhat:
Outdoor Research bucket hat
I have a complete love/hate relationship with this hat. I wore it mostly in the desert because it had a wide enough brim that it kept most of the sun off my face and neck. I loved it for that. I didn’t love it because it was a hat and kept me a little warmer, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing in the desert. I loved it because it kept my scalp from getting sunburned (where the split is in my hair from my braids), which is really painful and looks kind of nasty when it peels in your hair. I didn’t love the hat because it was white, but I loved that it was white because it was a color that kept me cooler. I loved it because when it was really dirty and I washed it, it looked brand new again. Sigh… so in the end, I’d carry it again. The reasons I loved my hat outweigh the reasons I didn’t, and I used it too much to want to leave it behind next time. Especially if there’s any abundance of sunshine.

Mosquito Headnet
I carried a generic, cheap headnet that you can purchase from any outdoor outfitter, even a Walmart. On one of my training hikes before the PCT, I tried a more expensive version that had a wire in it to keep it away from your face, and found it to be kind of annoying because the wire always seemed to land directly in my field of vision. But the generic, cheap headnet fit right over my bucket hat and worked perfectly. I will always carry this when there’s a threat of skeeters or gnats. This piece of gear is a sanity-saver. It also works well when you have to hike over a nest of ground bees, which most PCT thru-hikers know about!

** Water System **
Water Treatment:
Aqua Mira
MSR Sweetwater (just the drops, not the filter)
A long time ago I used a heavy MSR water filter. I started using one on my ADT thru-hike in 2006. I ditched it after a while and my mom and I used a wierd liquid treatment that someone in Utah swore by. Oxygenated-something-or-other. We never got sick, but I was always a little leary about it. After dropping the heavy filter, and not having to pump all my water any more, I never went back to a pump filter. I just do not like to pump water to drink. I eventually switched over to Aqua Mira. I used it for a few years with no problem. I bought enough to cover my entire PCT thru-hike, and used it almost all the way through California. What I like about Aqua Mira is that it is lightweight, tasteless, doesn’t take up much room, and it makes me feel all comfortable with watching the chemical reaction take place before putting it in my water. I don’t know all the scientifics behind it, and I don’t even know that it’s safter than any of the other treatments out there, but I used it in some pretty nasty water and never got sick. So I think Aqua Mira is awesome. So why did I switch? Because it kept leaking on me. At first I thought it was the elevation in the Sierras bloating the bottles and creating leaks. Then we got down into lower elevations and I had the same thing happen. After about the third leaky bottle I gave up. I was too frustrated. A friend told us they were using MSR Sweetwater. It was one bottle (that didn’t leak), it took 5 drops/liter, and you only had to wait 5 minutes to drink it (instead of 15 for the Aqua Mira). Again, I don’t know if the Sweetwater is as effective as the Aqua Mira or not, but I used that all the way through Oregon and Washington and still never got sick.

Water Reservoir (bladder):
Platypus Big Zip 3-Liter
Platypus Big Zip 1.5-Liter
Camelbak 1.5-Liter
I had issues with water bladders. I love having one, because I don’t drink enough water throughout the day if it’s not easy to get at. Having a hose right in front of me keeps me sipping constantly throughout the day, and keeps me well-hydrated. One of the things I’ve heard others say about bladders that they DON’T like, is that you can’t tell how much you have left, and they didn’t want to run out too soon before a water source. I always carried a full liter bottle in my side pocket so I always knew I had at least that liter left, even if my bladder was out. After a little while, it got pretty easy for me to calculate about how much I was drinking and how long a bladder-full of water would last me, and I very rarely ran out of water before I wanted to.

I started with the Platypus Big Zip 3-Liter bladder. I liked the Big Zip style because the wide opening made it easy to fill up and easier to clean out in towns – I was able to fit my hand in to wipe out the inside and then I’d tip it upside down over a sink spout to dry. I also really liked that the bladder itself would detach from the hose, so I didn’t have to weave my hose out of my backpack every time I needed to fill the bladder. I just disconnected the bladder from the hose, filled it up, dropped in my water treatment, clicked the hose back in place and put the bladder back in my pack. It was a pretty slick routine. But then it started to slowly leak from where the hose attaches to the bladder. It wasn’t a “dammit my entire bladder just emptied into my pack!” kind of leak, but just a slow drip – enough to get a few things in the bottom of my pack wet. It could’ve been my fault, too. In the desert I got some sand in the hole where the hose goes in, and had to pick it out a few times for it to work. I don’t know if I damaged it or what, but I eventually switched out for a new one when I got to Mammoth Lakes. I went with a smaller version of the same bladder. I liked everything about it, and I wasn’t in the desert any more, so I didn’t really need to carry that much water between sources. I bought the Platypus Big Zip 1.5-Liter bladder and really liked it, again. After a while, this time, the Big Zip zipper started to slowly leak on me. Again, it wasn’t a huge leak issue where I might run out of water or anything, but it was annoying as heck. I finally gave up and bought a Camelbak 1-5-Liter bladder and used that for the rest of the trip. It also had a hose-release, so it wasn’t much different from the Platypus bladders as far as features go. It has a big opening that makes it easy to clean, but I liked the Platypus zipper-opening better. Either way, the Camelbak didn’t leak.

After all my water reservoir troubles, I still contemplate finding a new solution. Maybe I will work on drinking more often out of bottles, because they’re much easier to deal with.

Water Bottle:
Smartwater 1-Liter bottle
I always carried at least one Smartwater bottle with me, and in the desert I carried two. With my 3-Liter Platy bladder in my pack, and the two bottles in my side pockets, I had the capacity to carry 5 liters in the desert, and there were some stretches I bought a third Smartwater bottle and carried 6 liters. It’s heavy and rediculous, but it was absolutely necessary on some stretches. The Smartwater bottles were my favorite bottles because they are tall and skinny and fit really easily into side pockets of a backpack. I sometimes carried Gatorade bottles, too. It’s cheap and easy to switch them out, but I almost always looked for the trusty Smartwater when in town. I’d use them until they smelled and looked gnarly, then bought new, shiny ones to replace them.

** Kitchen **
Stove:
Jetboil Flash Cooking System

Jetboil stove

Cooking dinner – Jetboil stove, Ziplock containers to hyrdate food with boiling water and a Nut Roll. Because they’re awesome.

I love my Jetboil. I’ve been using one since 2005. I like that it’s compact and all packs into its own pot, it’s super-easy to use, it’s safe, you can get it to simmer, it works well in windy conditions and it boils water really fast. I wish I could fairly compare this with an alcohol stove, but I haven’t used one enough to really review one or compare the two. I did, however, buy an alcohol stove and try it out a couple of times before my PCT thru-hike. I just honestly didn’t have enough time to experiment with it to the point of feeling comfortable using it. I felt sure that I’d clumsily start myself, my tent or a tree on fire. There are some places on the PCT where alcohol stoves are banned, too, so I did feel a little better knowing I had a safe stove to use in those really dry sections. When I look at everything carried for a stove set-up, it didn’t seem like the Jetboil set-up was really all that much heavier than the alcohol when you start counting the fuel carried, pot, etc. It’s just another part of my kit that I sacrifice a few ounces for comfort. I used the original Jetboil Flash set-up, but if I were to go on another thru-hike, I would consider switching to the SOL or something smaller and a little lighter. The one disadvantage to the Jetboil is it seems to work less-efficiently when it’s really cold out. I know there’s tricks to using them in colder weather – the biggest one is to keep the fuel can warm by stashing in your sleeping bag at night, or your jacket for the last few hours before dinner, and there’s some trick with placing the fuel canister in shallow, warm water when in use. Either way, I didn’t have to deal with nights so cold on the PCT that it affected my Jetboil performance too much.

Fuel:
100-gram Jetboil fuel canisters
You can use any brand of propane/isobutane canister that will fit the Jetboil stove, but I always stuck with Jetboil’s Jetpower fuel because the size of the canister fit into my pot so nicely. How long one canister lasted obviously depended on how often I used it, but in normal circumstances, I would say it would last me 7 days on average, if I was using it every single day. I would boil water in the morning for a cup of coffee and oatmeal, and at night I’d boil water for hot cocoa and dinner, and sometimes I’d even make a meal that needed simmering for a few minutes. Sometimes a third boil during the day for a midday coffee, or an extra drink at night.

Spoon:
Long Titanium Spoon
I will always carry my long spoon on backpacking trips. Not only is it great for reaching to the bottom of my Jetboil without dipping my hands in boiling hot water, but ithttp://wordpress.com/post/’s also very nice for reaching into the bottom of Ziplok bags when you rehydrate meals in them, or are scooping out crushed-up potato chips. Oh, and if you eat Mountain House meals, it’s nice to have the long spoon for getting to the bottom of those bags, too.

Food Bag:
Ursack Minor
Garcia Bear Canister
I used to carry a light, thin stuff sack for my food bag, but after reading stories of mice and small critters getting into food bags on the PCT, I decided to upgrade to a slightly heavier food bag. I bought the Ursack and used it on my entire thru-hike. It’s a bit heavier than my old stuff sack, but it was durable and big enough to carry up to seven or eight days worth of food. I never had any trouble with mice or small critters. I don’t know if that’s because I was carrying an Ursack, or if there just weren’t any around to bother me.

There is a section in the Sierras between Kennedy Meadows and through Yosemite that you are required to store your food in a bear canister or bear bins at campgrounds. I carried the Garcia Bear Canister through this section, and it worked just fine. There are a few different brands of bear canisters that hikers use, and I think the Garcia I carried was somewhere in the middle as popularity goes. I enjoyed carrying a bear canister because I could just toss it next to a tree or wedge it between a couple of rocks and not worry about bears getting into it. I didn’t like the bear canister for the same reason most hikers don’t like them – they’re heavier than any food bag you’d carry, they don’t get smaller as you eat food out of them, and they’re bulky and take up a lot of room in your pack. I was still happy to carry one, abide by rules and not worry about my food at night. We did have rangers ask us to show our bear canisters once on the trip.

Bowl
Ziplock container & lid
I carried a small Ziplock container and a lid to go with it, and this worked great especially in the first half of the hike when Tears and I were sharing a stove. While we waited for water to boil in the Jetboil, we’d divvy up our dinner into our Ziplock containers, cut up cheese and meat into it, add the boiling water, cover it with a lid and let it sit for five to ten minutes to hydrate. We’d sprinkle some potato chips on top, then eat it up. The stove would stay nice and clean, and the Ziplock containers were really easy to clean out by adding a tiny bit of leftover water, putting the lid on and shaking it like crazy. Drink the dirty water, wipe it out, and dishes are done.

Patagonia ski shell rain jacket and Mountain Hardwear Conduit Rain Pants

Patagonia ski shell rain jacket and Mountain Hardwear Conduit Rain Pants… worn on a SUPER rainy, and very cold day in Washington.

** Rain Gear **
Pants:
Mountain Hardwear Conduit full-zip pants
I carried my rain pants the entire trip, and was glad I did. One of my reasons for doing so was because I wear a skirt hiking, and instead of carrying an extra pair of pants for times when I might want my legs covered, I just carried the rain pants. If (and when) it rained, I was prepared for that, and I was able to throw them on if it was windy and/or cold, I could keep my legs covered when the mosquitoes were out in force, and I even wore them through some of the poodle dog bush when it was overgrown and hanging over the trail. My favorite feature of the rain pants I had was the full-length zipper up the sides of the legs. I could wear them even if it was kind of warm out, and I could zip the zippers half-way down my legs to ventilate them and let in some air. I wore them a lot in Oregon and Washington when it was rainy or snowy, and I figure it is worth mentioning here, that if it’s raining for an entire day (or more), you will be wet underneath any raingear. Either condensation will get you damp, or water will find its way in. It is still worth wearing, in my opinion, though. Rain gear might not keep you bone dry, but it does keep you a LOT drier than if you weren’t wearing any.

Jacket:
Frogg Toggs jacket
Patagonia Ski Shell
I carried the Frogg Toggs rain jacket (a very cheap rain coat you can actually buy at Walmart, I think), and it did okay in the southern part of the trail where rain was less likely to happen. The few times it did, the Frogg Toggs did okay. They are not at all durable, though, and tear very easily. It was rare to see a hiker wearing a Frogg Toggs jacket without duct tape patches on it. If you carry one, be sure to have duct tape along (which you probably will – and if you don’t, the person hiking in front of you or behind you will).

In Washington, when it was getting colder and raining more often, I switched to my heavier Patagonia rain jacket. Well, it’s actually a ski shell, but it’s the most waterproof jacket I’ve ever owned. I love it, I just don’t usually carry it because it’s bulky. At the point when I wanted to carry it, I was wearing it almost all the time, so the weight didn’t bother me. I was really glad I switched out to something more durable. The Frogg Toggs would be soaked through with a full day of rain, but my more expensive and durable Patagonia jacket performed great.

Pack Cover
REI rain cover
Some people carry rain covers for their packs and others don’t. The theory behind not carrying one makes a lot of sense – if everything inside your backpack is wrapped up in waterproof stuff sacks and waterproof bags, then you won’t need a pack cover. Quite a few people would use a trash compactor bag inside their pack (they’re big and more durable than a standard garbage bag), and stuff everything inside of that. If it rained, as long as the trash compactor bag was sealed well, nothing got wet. Here’s the disadvantage to that – once a backpack gets really wet, it also gets really heavy. I chose to carry a rain cover, and would carry one again. I liked having my backpack as dry as I could keep it, especially since I liked keeping it my tent at night under my feet. When the weather turned really rainy, it would still be pretty damp at the end of the day (just not dripping, soaking wet), so I would wrap it in the rain cover inside my tent to keep it from dripping or creating any puddles inside my tent, and I could still use it for under my legs. I used a simple REI rain cover and it worked fantastic.

Stuff Sacks:
Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sack
I used this stuff sack for my sleeping bag. I never had it submerged in water, but I did have it come out of my backpack wet from rain because I stashed it in the bottom of my backpack. Rain water would sometimes drip down inside my pack cover and collect in the bottom, then when I set it down, the puddle on the bottom, inside of my pack cover would soak through the bottom of my pack. My sleeping bag was never wet because of the eVent stuff sack it was in. The Sea to Summit eVent dry sacks are great. When it was really, really rainy, I even put that inside a small garbage bag for extra protection, which I probably didn’t need, but I was paranoid about my sleeping bag getting wet.

Granite Gear Air Sacks
I used these for my tent. These are durable, light and can hold anything. In fact, I can actually fit my entire MSR Hubba tent (the tent, rain fly and ground cloth) in one of them. I choose to split the tent into two stuff sacks, though. This way I could keep the tent inside my pack and the rain fly outside in case I wanted to easily pull it out to dry during breaks if it got damp from rain or condensation the night before.

Granite Gear Air Pockets
I used two of these zippered pockets, and both were the small size. I used one for small toiletry items like my toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, small comb, etc. I used the second one for my first aid items like Benadryl, moleskin, ibuprofen, and other first-aidy kind of things. I love them because they help keep my smaller things organized and easy to get to when I need them.

Side pockets on my backpack
My Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude backpack doesn’t have hipbelt pockets like many newer styles do, so I bought two side pockets that attach to my hipbelt. One was a generic zippered pocket that I bought at an outfitter. It had two loops that I could thread my hipbelt nylon strap through to keep it attached, and in it I kept my phone and small journal notebook with pen. It wasn’t waterproof at all, so if it rained I had to keep my phone in a waterproof Loksak, and since I was wearing my rain jacket, I’d stow it in the pocket for those times. Otherwise, my generic zippered pocket worked great. On the other side of my hip belt, I used a Zpacks buckled side pocket. It claims to be waterproof, and it did a fairly good job at keeping things pretty dry inside. I used the Zpacks pocket for snacks that I could easily grab throughout the day. I would do it the same way next time. Having handy snacks really helped me keep my energy level up.

Phone/Camera:
Samsung Galaxy S3
I was extremely happy with how this phone performed for me on the PCT. In fact, once I got used to the camera on it, I sent my Olympus Stylus Tough digital camera home and just used the phone’s camera for the rest of the trip. All the photos taken and shown in my blog were taken on my Samsung Galaxy S3 phone. The reason I chose this phone over the iPhone was because I could take the back off and replace the battery, which you can’t do with an iPhone. I bought two spare batteries and carried them with me as I hiked, and when one died, I’d put a fresh one in. They were rechargeable, so when I got to town, I juiced them all back up and was ready to go again. Another advantage to an Android phone over the iPhone, is that I could check the Halfmile app while in airplane mode. While I was out on the trail, I kept my phone in airplane mode the whole time and vowed to not check Facebook or any social networks while hiking. I only broke that rule a couple of times. It was a good thing for me. It also saved my battery life a TON. The minute you come out of airplane mode, the battery starts to drain really fast as it searches for a network that is almost never there. On the trail I used my phone for the camera, notes, the water report, Halfmile’s app, and my blog (which I typed up every night on the trail). I could do all of these things while in airplane mode. Once in town, I’d take it out of airplane mode, add photos to my saved blog drafts in my WordPress app, then post all my entries from the previous days on the trail. The one thing I liked about the iPhone is that you can purchase a water PROOF case for it. I had a water RESISTANT case on mine, and almost killed it after dropping it in a creek. Thankfully it dried out and started working again a couple of hours later. I also wasn’t comfortable taking photos on really rainy days. However, with that being said, I whttp://wordpress.com/post/ould carry an Android again. I really wasn’t a fan of the solar charger setup, which a lot of iPhone users carried to recharge their phone.

Carrier:
Verizon
I used Verizon as my carrier and was very happy with how well it worked when I needed it. There were only a few times AT&T seemed to get a better signal, but with no question, I’d go with Verizon again. I even called my mom and dad from the summit of Mt. Whitney!

Phone Case:
Ballistic Water-Resistant Case
This case worked pretty well for me. I dropped it quite a few times with no worries, except that time I dropped it in the creek. I recovered it from a small pool of water after a split second, but water did get in the cracks. Even though it was fully submerged, it did come back to life after a couple of hours, but the touch screen did stop working during that time… and you can’t do much on a smartphone without the touch screen! It was a scare, but my Ballistic case DID save it. I’m sure it would’ve been completely dead if it weren’t for the case. I also ordered extra screen protectors from Ballistic for when mine got really scratched up. My actual phone, underneath the Ballistic case is like brand new, still, after 165 days on the trail.

Batteries:
Samsung Rechargeable Li-Ion Batteries
I carried two extras with me the whole trip, and bought a third towards the end. http://wordpress.com/post/There was only a couple of stretches I had to conserve battery power, otherwise the two extra were usually enough to get me to the next town-stop where I could recharge them.

Maps and Apps:
Halfmile
I carried Halfmile’s paper maps and used them alongside the Halfmile app. I loved the Halfmile app and would use the same exact system again. Halfmile’s app always told me what mile I was on, and if I wasn’t on the PCT, it would tell me how far off I was. Also, a REALLY cool feature of this app, is when you click on “BY TRAIL” (see photo below), it would tell you how far you were in miles from the next landmark, whether it’s a water source, campsite, mountain pass, or anything else indicated on the paper maps. The only tiny, tiny thing I didn’t like about the combination of the maps and the app, is that the GPS coordinates on the app didn’t match the coordinates marked on the maps – they were in different formats. It’s not necessary to have to refer to coordinates very often, but it would have been helpful in a few situations and would have stimulated the slight bit of nerd in me. Still… the BEST combination of naviagation on the PCT, hands down… in my opinion. Thank you, Halfmile!!

Halfmile App Screen Snap

A screen snap of Halfmile’s app on my Samsung Galaxy S3 phone… this is when we hit mile 1,000!!

PCTHYOH app
I also use the PCTHYOH app quite a lot in the beginning of the trip, because that is where the water report was stored. I had to cache the report in town when I had a good wifi or data connection so I had the latest updates on water, but if I forgot, there was always another hiker out there that had one printed out or updated on their phone. Getting through the desert was a group effort a lot of the time, but having this app on my phone and that list of where water sources were and whether or not they were still reliable was definitely a crucial piece of ‘equipment.’

Yogi’s Guide
I read Yogi’s guide before leaving for the PCT, and learned a few tidbits from it. If you’ve never done a thru-hike or have only taken limited trips, read through this entire guide. There is a ton of useful information in there! While on the trail, we used the town guide to see what was available in upcoming towns as far as lodging, restaurants, post offices, resupply options, and trail angels. Just keep in mind when using this guide that the opinions regarding businesses are just that – opinions. It’s a great guide for getting an idea of what’s coming up in the towns ahead, though.

Journal:
Small notebook with Sharpie pen
Throughout the day, I liked to have a small notebook and pen easily available (in my side pocket) so I could jot down notes of things I saw, people I met and things I wanted to remember. When I laid in my tent at night and typed up my blog entry, it was nice to go back and read over my notes for the day. I also used my journal for more personal notes and thoughts that I didn’t necessarily want to share on my blog – or things I shared but wanted to personally expand on. There were a few times I felt like sketching, too, and it was nice to have paper and pen to do so.

PCT journal

A small notebook that I used for my PCT journal. I used a few of these.

Toilet Setup:
I carried a trowel and a black stuff sack that contained my toilet items so I could dart off into the woods with all my needed items packed up and easy to carry. Inside my black stuff sack was toilet paper, a small ziplock bag containing a stash of OB tampons, a package of Wet Ones, a small bottle of hand sanitizer and my dirty ziplock bag, which I used to pack out any used toiletry items. It was a pet peeve of mine to see toilet paper ANYWHERE on or along the trail, so I figure it’s a good spot for me to mention – please don’t ever leave your TP in the woods. Even if you think you’ve walked out into the woods far enough… at the very least, bury it 6″ or deeper, or better yet – carry it out. It didn’t take me long to get used to carrying a dirty ziplock bag of toilet garbage out and tossing it when I found a garbage can in the next town.

Toiletries:
In my small Granite Gear zipper pouch, I carried a folding toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste, a small bottle of camp suds, a small comb, dental floss, an extra hair tie, and a spare chapstick.

First Aid:
In my other Granite gear zipper pouch, I carried a single-dose of Benadryl, chafing cream (I used a Monistat chafe cream that was non-greasy – I hear Desitin works well, too), a small bottle of hydrocortisone cream (for anything itchy like bug bites or weird, random rashes), a couple small sheets of thin moleskin, a small lighter, a small roll of athletic tape, a large safety pin, ibuprofen and Immodium.

Miscellaneous:
Pee Rag
I know, it might sound kind of gross, but I tell you what – for a girl, I think this is one of the best systems on the trail. Some people drip-dry, but I wasn’t a fan of that. I liked to dab the pee drip and hike on with dry thighs. In fact, I got to the point where I could just stop in the middle of the trail, squat down with my pack on, pee, dab, reattach the pee rag to my pack and keep hiking. It worked pretty slick. Pardon the details here, but that’s how it works, folks. When I’d get to a stream, I’d walk downstream as far away as I could from where anyone would collect water to drink and I’d rinse it out. By the next time I had to pee, it was dry. I kept it hanging off my backpack so it would dry and be easy to get at next time I needed it.

Bandandage
Tears and I came up with the name “bandandage.” It was based on the many uses of a bandana. In this instance, a bandage. We never had to use it as a bandage, but we just kept calling it that. The bandandage hung off my shoulder strap and was used to wipe sweat off my face and pick my nose. When I rinsed out my pee rag, I rinsed this out, too. It dried super-fast and worked great for those small hygiene chores that needed attention while walking.

Safety Pins
I always had at least four safety pins on me. I used them to hang my socks of my pack, and I only lost one sock the entire trip, and that was during the last week! I also used a safety pin to hang my pee rag off of my pack, and to dry out my sports bra and underwear after a swim. It was nice to have them pinned so I didn’t have to worry about them slipping off.

Sunscreen and Mosquito Repellants
I carried two small bottles on caribiners and attached them to the shoulder strap of my backpack so they were easy to access while hiking. One held SPF 30 or more sunscreen, and the other held a Watkins mosquito repellant lotion. The Watkins worked better than any DEET that I’ve tried, so I used it whenever the mosquitoes came out. I would dab a bit around my hairline, the tops of my hands and along my legs, and I’d be good to go for a few hours.

Whistle, Knife, and Push-Light on a caribiner
On a caribiner, I carried a small whistle, which I never had to use but I would still carry on future trips. I also carried a mini Swiss Army knife that I used ALL THE TIME. It had everything I needed – a small knife, a small scissors, a nail file, tweezers and toothpick. I used all of these quite often. Honestly, maybe this is one of my favorite pieces of gear! I also carried a small push-light as a backup to my headlamp in case it ever stopped working for some reason. I never had to use this, either, but it was nice to have just in case.

Headlamp:
Black Diamond Spot
This headlamp was a little heavier that some of the smaller ones you can buy, but I liked having the bright light for when hiking in the dark. I didn’t hike in the dark often, but when I did, I was very happy to have the light to see the ground well. I did carry the Petzl e+Lite for a short while, and I liked it, but I missed that bright light of my Black Diamond Spot, so I switched it back. The Petzl light required a harder-to-find small, round battery, too. The Spot took 3 AAA batteries, so I always carried a spare three with me in case I needed to replace them (which I did a couple of times). I liked that it was so easy to replace them when needed.

Trekking Poles:
Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
I didn’t have the fancy anti-shock poles or anything, just the $100 Black Diamond Flick-lock trail trekking poles and I loved them. They were very durable, and the flick-lock system is SO much easier to use than the kind that twist. There were several times I wanted them collaped – while in town, or when it was raining and cold, I could collapse them and tuck them in my pack to keep my hands tucked into my sleeves where they could stay warm and dry. I loved carrying trekking poles, and will probably always carry them. They’re nice to have for river crossings, slippery surfaces like snow or mud, and to hang stuff on to dry.

Well, that’s all I can remember for now. If I forgot something… well, let’s face it… my forgetfulness made this blog post just a teeny bit shorter! As always, if you have any questions, just comment and I’ll do my best to answer for you! you can always email me, too:

robin.grapa@gmail.com

And, of course, a few more gear photos because I like to share.

A mostly organized backpack for the PCT

My backpack during a break – mostly organized, with everything fairly easy to get to.

Brooks Cascadias, Injinji socks, Superfeet Insoles, Dirty Girl Gaiters, and Croc camp shoes

Brooks Cascadias, Injinji socks, Superfeet Insoles, Dirty Girl Gaiters, and Croc camp shoes

Hiking in the rain on the PCT

Hiking pretty comfortable in the rain.

Jetboil dinner with a sunset view

A Jetboil dinner with a sunset view.

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas!

I’ve really missed writing blog entries these past few weeks. I think of something to write about, and then overthink it, worry that it’s too cheesy or too personal, or just boring… and then I write nothing. I hope to stop overthinking so much. Not just here in my blog, but in everything I do. Hmmm… maybe I have a New Year’s resolution in the works. Anyway… I’m here now, with the best reason ever to write –

I wish you, my followers, supporters, friends and family – all of whom are a very loving and important part of my little, cozy blog-world – a very merry Christmas! If I don’t get on here before the calendar turns over, have a great and safe New Year, too!

Thank you all for following my adventures this year. It’s been a ton of fun sharing it, reading the comments you’ve left for me, and responding when I had the opportunity. I hope to be able to respond to your comments more often from here on out, especially since I should have a more reliable signal on a more regular basis now. Hmmm, maybe another resolution? I should start a list!

So I’m going to be thinking a lot about 2013 and what it meant to me over the next couple of weeks, and I’ll try not to shy away from sharing some of that. It was a really amazing year, and I will strive to stay motivated to make the next one just as good. I hope to keep you all up to speed on my next journey, in truck driving, and hopefully as entertained as I’m sure I will be (with the good and not-so-good)!

So what’s next? I start classes for my CDL in less than a month, and before that happens I hope to finish and post my gear review (which I have a really good start on already) and finish going through my PCT photos. I’ll also keep walking, relaxing and mentally preparing myself for learning and living according to a schedule again for a little while. I’m starting to feel antsy and excited to get going with this next phase.

Since I’ve last written, I’ve spent a lot of time with family, especially since it’s Christmas-time. I’ve been taking lots of walks that make me smile and remind me just how much I love to walk and enjoy the exercise, the trees, birds, animals, clouds, breezes… there’s so much in the outdoors that makes me feel warm and genuinely happy inside.

As always, here’s some photos of some of what I’ve been up to in my quiet state these past few weeks.

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Selfies from many walks. It's been a cold winter here in northern Wisconsin!

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Enjoying freshly-fallen snow.

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Chickadee! So freakin' cute!

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Adam and I made a board game and have played it A LOT!

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More snow. I love this winter so far!

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A walk with my favorite person. ♡

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My mom's awesome frosty face after a cold walk!

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Christmas with the Laatsch's.

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Baking cookies with Adam and his mom... and trying to keep the cat from eating them all!

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Adam and I put together a karaoke space for the kids in the basement. :)

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Christmas with the Drexlers.

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Me, my mom and cousin Annie.

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My nephew Dean showing off the sweet Angry Birds card village we built.

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So adorable. Adam with our super-cutie niece, Josie.

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Christmas with the Belle's.

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My latest beautiful walk on Christmas Eve.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Hunting season 2013

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Opening morning, sitting in my tree stand before light.

It was nice to be home from the big hike in time for hunting season. I’ve always enjoyed this time of year, in fact, it’s one of my favorites. I remember as a kid, all the guys (my dad, uncles, cousins, brother and family friends) would stay in the “huntin’ shack” above the garage, warmed by an old-fashioned wood stove, long johns hanging all over the place, stacks of bunks along the walls, and  there was a “fart pole.” The rule was if you had to let one go, you had to hold on to the pole. If you didn’t hold on, you had to put money in the “fart bucket,” and that was saved up for the next year’s beer supply. It was a fun place. In the mornings the hunters would all come down to the house and pile into the kitchen for breakfast, and I miss the energy and sounds of them chowing down on pancakes and eggs as they planned the day’s drives, joked about all kinds of things, while every so often laughing in unison. Gallons of coffee were poured and the bathroom door’s squeak was constant… open, close… open, close… open, close… Then they’d pile into their trucks and off to the woods they’d go. They would usually stay out hunting all day, having sandwiches for lunch, and sometimes they’d even make a fire and heat up some soup. At the end of the day would be the “last drive,” which involved visiting one of the local bars to brag about what deer they bagged that day, see what other hunters got, and then they’d all come home for dinner. I looked forward to them pulling into the driveway at the end of each day to see whether or not they’d back up a truck to the meat pole. On Thanksgiving, the house would be full to the brim with people – sometimes up to 30 family and friends would join us for dinner. Over the years our big hunting crew has dwindled down to only a few, and our Thanksgiving dinner is now down to around ten people, but it’s still a great week, and it’s still hard to see it end.

My favorite part of hunting season is spending quality time with my dad in the woods. I could give up everything else as long as I was left with that part of it. We usually set up our stands in the same area so we walk in and out together, and if we get cold we’re able to get up and walk around somewhere together to warm up. This year’s crew was the smallest yet – just me, my dad, my uncle Kenny, uncle Jerry, and family friend, Jim. We weren’t able to do any drives with such a small crew, but we did join a big group of hunters from Park Falls on Wednesday to do some drives, and that was really fun. For most of the week, we sat in our stands waiting, napping, breathing in cold air and enjoying every minute of it. Unfortunately after nine days, we didn’t have any venison to put in the freezer. It was a pretty quiet year, and by the sounds of it, we weren’t the only ones not seeing many deer. I can’t complain too much, though. I got to wander through the woods and sit for hours watching twitchy squirrels bound around on the ground and in high tree branches, nuthatches flutter past my head and land upside-down on the tiny hemlock pine cones next to me, and giant, fluffy snow flakes float down until a breeze would push them quickly in one direction, then another. Yup… nine days in the woods? I’ll take it!

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A great sunset from my tree stand.

It was a colder year than we’ve seen in a while, too. I have always gotten cold in the woods, even during warmer years. I think my toes get cold, then my hands, and the chill spreads through my body after a couple of hours until I’m forced to get down from my stand and walk around. I used to only make it about four hours, max. Since we didn’t have a big crew this year, we planned to sit for long periods of time, so my dad and I brought our sleeping bags out to our stands with us. Opening morning welcomed us with a chilly 4° temperature, and I was surprised to find I was able to sit comfortable for six straight hours. I stepped my feet, boots and all, into the foot of my sleeping bag, then zipped it up to my waist. If a breeze started up I could wrap the loose top half of the bag over the shoulder facing the wind and I stayed nice and cozy. Thank you, wonderful down feathers! On the second day we woke up to a crisp -10°! It was hard to even think about sitting in that for hours, but once again, dad and I sat out there from sun up to sun down. Wrapping up loosely in a sleeping bag was the ticket this year! I continued the sleeping bag method all week. I’m hooked.

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A crisp, chilly morning.

I moved my stand on the second day. We had fresh snow, which is another thing we’ve missed in the past few years. After a few days, there were hardly any tracks or new sign of deer activity around where we were sitting. My new spot was great, or so I thought! There were a couple of active trails criss-crossing each other, and after dropping a small pile of corn to see if they were currently active, I was happy to see that corn was completely gone the next morning. I only ended up seeing one deer from that stand all week, and it was just a little guy way off in the distance. The tree I was sitting in was tall and caught a strong breeze easily. If I was sitting in my sleeping bag, scanning the woods for deer and a gusty breeze started up, it would catch the top of my tree and sway me back and forth slowly, nearly lulling me to sleep. On Wednesday we woke up to 0°, but that was the day we were joining the big group of hunters from Park Falls to do some drives, so we’d at least be moving around. I had a fun day with that. I got to wander through the woods, bushwhacking-style, just following a compass bearing. I love it. I crawled over and under alders, past pine branches covered in snow, and hopped on bog clumps through swamps. I saw two deer during one of the drives, but they weren’t within shooting range for me. One of the other hunters took a few shots at them, but missed. When the drives were done we joined the big crew at their authentic hunting cabin for a couple of hours. I was the newest guest at their cabin, so they were showing me all of their fun gadgets hanging around and placed several jars of homemade pickled deliciousness in front of me to try. It was really fun to be a part of their crew for a day.

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Half of the crew on Wednesday, heading out to do a drive.

I didn’t hunt on Thanksgiving day. I went into town with Adam for football and an early 1:00 dinner at his mom’s house. I felt kind of bad because I fell asleep on the couch for probably a couple of hours after the meal. The cold air the past few days had really worn me out! Then we head back to my parent’s hours for a second dinner at 6:00. I did pretty well with enjoying a little bit of everything at both, but not stuffing myself too uncomfortably bad. It was another great holiday… except for the horrible Packer loss to the Lions. Yowzers.

During the next few days the weather started to warm up a little bit. I stayed in my same spot in the woods and still didn’t see any deer. But what I did see… were two wolves! I suppose that might explain the lack of deer we’re seeing. This was the first time I saw a wolf in the wild, so I was pretty excited about it! The first one was pretty big, and I remember being so impressed with how huge and puffy his tail was as he gracefully jaunted through the trees behind me. The second one I saw was later in the day and was a little smaller than the first. I watched him run out in front of my stand and dig around at something in the ground for a while, then disappear in the pine trees behind me. I know they can be pretty destructive animals out here, but I can’t deny how cool they are in their natural habitat, either.

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I wasn’t able to get a photo of the wolves, but I did get a shot of this chubby red squirrel perched right in front of me!

As always, it was another fun hunting season, even though we’ve got no new meat to show for it. We all missed my brother this year. He moved to Florida and doesn’t make it up for the hunt any more, but I hold out hope that one year he might just show up and surprise us. I don’t spend as much time with him as I should, and hunting season was that one week out of the year I saw a lot of him and enjoyed hanging out with him. I even enjoy and miss his picking on me like a big brother should. :)

So, the hunt is over. Here’s to hoping we’ll get some meat in the freezer next year!


Tonight I love my pappy. Easy one. He’s my hunting mentor and one of my best friends. :)

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I kick myself for not getting a photo of me and dad in the woods, but I did capture a shot of him securing his stand to the tree!

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Another incredible sunset from my stand. I think this one was opening day.

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Another beautiful sunset from later in the week.