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  • Emily Hayes

PCT Gear Review - The Big 3

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

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 started 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. TENT – Tarptent Notch Li + Hiking Poles

This is a 1 person tent that requires hiking poles. There is a detachable mesh inner and dyneema (DCF) outer fly. I would 100% use this tent if I was to do the PCT again, however I didn’t specifically need a double wall tent as there was minimal condensation and rain when I did the PCT in 2022.

I purchased 2 extra tent steaks (MSR mini ground hog) additional to the 4 steaks that came with the tent. This was to make sure I would get a sturdy tent set up when windy. One aspect I hadn't thought much about before the PCT was how easily tent pegs would go into the ground. In the desert, sandy and stony terrain does not equal a taut guy rope which means my tent would fall down. Good tension of guy ropes and technique of pitching a frameless tent directly relates to how likely the tent will stay up in the night. I quickly learnt how to choose better areas to camp and how to use rocks to secure pegs and guy ropes.

The tent got a few micro holes in the DCF outer which were easily fixable with tenacious tape, my tent bag was in tatters from a previous trip pre-PCT so I replaced that with nylon version which was bigger and easier to pack my tent away. I also carried my bag on the outside of my backpack as the storm flaps are quite inconvenient to "stuff" in a backpack.

I experienced 3 days of rain on trail, starting late March and ending early September so there was little concern about how my tent performed in rain although there was a major storm which caused flooding, i'll save that for another article. The major weather variable was wind, which is when cowboy camping was chosen over setting up a tent.

I used Black Diamond women's trek poles to support my frameless tent, i've found these to be quite lightweight and strong for both hiking and tent assembly. I would have changed to a cork handle if I could choose to change anything.

The only change I would make to my shelter set up is to not carry a tent and loose 1 of my hiking poles for the first few months. I spent most of my nights cowboy camping while in the dry and warmer dessert section and I generally only use 1 hiking pole for hiking.

Tent set up for the desert

2. BACKPACK – Osprey Kyte 36L

This backpack is now heading towards 6 years old and it has performed well with whatever I have put it through. It does now look and smell like it has seen its last long distance thru-hike.

I have looked at the “lightweight” packs but my personal preference is comfort over weight, the weight saving worked out as about 400g if I was to get an Atom Pack for example. I would be compromising by not having back support and a pack with such adjustable strong straps for support. There have been many days where a long food carry, bear canister, extra snow kit or just carrying too much stuff has meant my pack is heavy and i’ve been grateful for the support my Osprey has provided through well made shoulder straps and waist buckles.

It has a 36L main compartment + 10L total for the top and bottom compartments, yes it did fit a BV450 bear canister.

Heading into Kennedy Meadows with a very full pack!

3. SLEEP SYSTEM – Sea to Summit Flame 3 + Nemo Switchback + Bag Liner

I’ve experimented with an inflatable pad before the PCT and it just wasn’t for me. Too much noise, my bag and I slipped off, waking up on the floor throughout the night. Also it turns out those thing pop which leaves you sleeping on the cold floor for days and even weeks before you have got a replacement. I’m not going to say the Nemo switch back is more comfortable than a Thermarest pad, because it’s not, but I did get a better nights sleep overall as I spent less time awake. I went through 2 Nemo pads on the PCT because they do become flat and tattered over continued use. I would do the same again. I slept on a variety of terrains which meant the floor was either flat rock, gravel, sand, dirt and my favorite; soft pine needles and soft forest floors. I was never cold at night so I believe the insulation of this foam pad to be excellent.

My sleeping bag is one of my favorite bits of kit. I chose a bag over a quilt partly because I move a lot in my sleep and as I’m not using an inflatable pad, a quilt would not be easy or comfortable to attach to a foam pad. I mainly chose a mummy bag because I find sleeping in a bag more comfortable with the hood and drawstring around my head and shoulders. The bag was very cosy on colder nights. The Flame 3 is comfort rated to 24°F/– 4°C and that is definitely an accurate rating, there were a few nights that temperatures dipped that low but I was never cold at night in my bag. I slept in silk leggings, a merino top and cosy thick wool socks every night of the PCT, except when it was too hot and I slept in underwear.

Nemo pad and Sea to Summit sleeping bag, cowboy camping in the Sierra

I switched for a month to a Sea to Summit Flame1 bag which is comfort rated to 48°F/9°C, this saved me 400g weight and allowed me to comfortably increase my daily mileage with a lighter load (I did remove many other heavy items from my pack also). The weather become very hot, 42°C/107°F, for a period in North California going into Oregon in Late July into August. I am fortunate to have extra kit and the support to be able to switch kit out. I would definitely do a sleeping bag switch if I was to do this again, the only change I would make is to get a long bag not a regular as my summer bag was a little small in regular (I'm 5"7).

I also used a RAB silk liner for my sleeping bag, this helped add a few degrees warmth, comfort and protected my bag from the filth that hikers bodies acquire over the days/weeks/months.

So in summary, I think I chose my "Big 3" well and would not change anything. I had plenty of time to test my kit out before I started at the Mexican border which is an activity I would 100% recommend everyone does before they embark on such a hike.

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 :)

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