So here it is finally, a new collection of blogs reviewing my extensive list of EVERYTHING I had in my backpack for thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2022.
I’m not considered “ultra light” but I do opt for the lightest version I can find without compromising on comfort. I did start the trek with quite a few things that I ditched or switched along the way. Overall my bag weight and size was about average amongst the hikers that i’ve physically compared with. I’m not a number cruncher so I’ve never weighed my bag or submitted stats to a website, I take what I need, try to make it light and just get on with enjoying the hike. Having said that I have removed a lot of weight for some hikes to enable bigger mileage in a day, that’s going to be another blog....
1. RUNNING LEGGINGS + RUNNING SHORTS
I started in running leggings from New Balance (Impact tights) as these are designed to stay firmly on your legs when running, they work well at doing the same when hiking over multiple days without washing. I did however develop a little bum chafe as there wasn't much air getting to the sweaty parts of my body!
I carried running shorts (Under Arrmour Speed Pocket) to switch to once my legs had adjusted to the Californian sun and I then mailed my leggings back to a friend when I passed through Mammoth Lakes. I lost a lot of body fat while hiking so I bought a size smaller of the exact same shorts. I would put my waterproof trousers on if I got cold at camp in evenings or for hiking which worked well as I was rarely cold.
Both leggings and shorts had great pockets to stow a phone and a few small items so I didn’t use a fanny pack. It seems strange to see people hiking in all weather conditions in shorts but I just got used to living in my shorts and didn't feel cold even hiking through snow!
This is the best bit of clothing I had on the PCT. I went through 3 from Ridge Merino because not many things last forever on the PCT. I did not get sun burnt thanks to the generous hood and sun protection. I found the hoody ok to wash with everything else and was comfortable to hike in; day in, day out.
Benefits of merino wool include, anti odour (yes it really is less smelly than synthetic materials, I have smelt my hiking friends to check), anti bacterial, sweat wicking and environmentally friendly vs comparable plastic sourced materials. When buying merino check the % of wool in the fabric blend and the thickness of weave. These will all contribute to the comfort and longevity of your garment.
3. UNDERWEAR + SOCKS
I started with too many pants (knickers/underwear or whatever you Americans say). I had 3 pairs of very standard cotton pants (not sporty or technical material) which were absolutely fine, they got a bit thin eventually. I went down to 2 pairs of merino wool pants from Ridge Merino and by the end I was mainly just using 1 pair. It was not as gross as it sounds. Merino is obviously better for this type of activity for its antibacterial properties but cotton was also fine in my experience.
I had a merino wool cami top from Ridge Merino that I wore instead of a sports bra, I switched to a smaller one as I lost weight. The thin strapped cami tops worked well for me to avoid any discomfort on my shoulders from my backpack straps and of course the merino wool kept terrible odours away.
My socks changed a lot throughout the PCT as I suffered a lot from blisters the whole trail. I started with thinner merino socks and bamboo socks as liners, I then tried Injinji socks but I settled on Darn Tough heavier crew socks as they were the most comfortable in varying terrain (snow, dust, dirt, sand, rain, cold, hot). I had 5 pairs of socks in my bag at one stage, including a pair of town socks! Socks are quite a personal thing so go with what works for you and keep switching until you find the right pair. The optimum combo for me was 2 pairs of Darn Tough socks switching between pairs to hike in and a cosy loose pair of wool socks for sleeping.
Waterproof socks are useful in some scenarios – i’ll share more about that in another blog.
4. PUFFY DOWN JACKET + WINDPROOF LAYER
My RAB microlight alpine eco women’s down jacket has been with me for a few years and was an excellent choice for the PCT. It stuffs down small yet retains loft to keep me warm. I washed it once on trail towards the end of the sandy and dusty desert section. I’ve washed it since finishing the PCT and it has puffed up once again and is looking quite smart still! It has a chest pocket, perfect for phone access and a hood for extra warmth on cold nights.
I mailed my waterproof jacket back to a friends when I got to Mammoth Lakes and invested in an Arc'teryx wind shell jacket (women's squamish hoody) as this is a lighter, more breathable and compact layer to wear on the days it’s windy. I realised I was only using my waterproof jacket for wind protection but as it wasn't raining I didn't need such a bulky item which is where the Arc'teryx came in. I did have a poncho which I'll share about in my waterproof systems blog.
I absolutely love the windshell jacket and would thoroughly recommend reviewing which clothes you actually need o pack based on weather.
5. SLEEP CLOTHES
I chose a pair of silk leggings (long johns) from Lands End, I’ve been sleeping in the same pair for all my trips for the past 3 years, including the PCT, the same pair are still very usable. They are lightweight and compact yet being a natural material they are good for using over multiple days without washing. I wasn’t able to wear for hiking as they are so thin which is why I started with running leggings as well as silk sleeping leggings.
My chosen top to sleep in was a Ridge Merino high neck top which doubled up as an extra layer for hiking if needed.
Some hikers sleep in the same clothes they hike in, for me it was important to have reasonably clean dry clothes to change into for the evening and to sleep in. Sweat builds up in hiking clothes and when the temperature drops in the evening wet grimy clothes do not keep you warm.
6. TOWN CLOTHES
What to wear when its laundry day in town? I had an oversized black silk t-shirt dress from Lilly Silk that doubled up as a hiking dress, I lived and slept in it when I was in town. The other option is to wear your waterproof layers which is extremely hot and uncomfortable.
7. OTHER ITEMS
Beanie hat – Ridge Merino
Sun baseball cap – my Thru-r Trail Team hat lasted most of California but I switched to a Ridge Merino cap
Gloves – I went through many gloves depending on the weather as I have raynauds syndrome, I’ll save that experience for another blog.
Neck Gaiter – I had an Ice Breaker men’s merino wool neck gaiter but never used it to so gave it away.
Gaiter for trainers – good for the dessert to stop little stones and sand entering your trainers but not needed later on in Oregon and Washington.
Sunglasses – I think I completely ditched these in the end as I just wasn’t wearing them.
Tote bag - useful for shopping in town, laundry and to carry water from water sources when there was a longer side trail rather than carrying a backpack.
Purse - the weight of money, cards and a passport is a little annoying! I had a small cloth shoulder string bag which was helpful for my phone and purse in town.
I’ve set up some links to the products I used through affiliate programs which means I will get commission for that poncho I will not stop talking about! Please use the links to purchase if you are interested :)