Tag Archives: gear

Final piece of gear, the zpacks down sleeping bag

Well, my final piece of gear came in today. It is my custom sleeping bag by the awesome ultralight gear company zpacks.

This is what it looks like and weighs in at a whopping 16.7oz in it’s cuban fiber stuffsack. The down is hydrophobic and the bag itself is water resistant. For the weight, it really cannot be beat.

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It is, as you would expect, one of my core pieces of gear as part of my ‘primary’ or ‘The big three’ (sleep-system, tent, backpack) and is one of my best weight savings without any sacrifice in usability. My big three is 5.98lbs (that 0.02lbs counts!). I could shave off some weight by getting a different pack, but it would not be a lot, I could also shave nearly a pound with my tent, though I picked my tent for specific reasons and it is still considered very light weight. I may however hack off a couple sections of my z-lite pad.

Popping it open you see that is has a draw-string near the top to cinch it up, there is also a zipper-clasp so you don’t mess up the zipper.

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I wish I had got a picture of the guys at my work throwing it up in the air and watching that it actually had a ‘slowish’ fall, yea, it is that light.

The tag is thankfully at the base and is small and unobtrusive., but has a hang-loop (when being stored you want to hang your down bags loose and not in sacks so the down stays good, If anything you can use a large pillow case so they stay fluffed up)

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This is the large size, I am 6’0″ and this fits perfectly.

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So the question is: “did you climb in it? And, how was it?”

Yep, I did, I wanted to make sure the fit was right and see how it felt considering that this will be keeping me warm for almost half of this year. For how it was, it is super comfortable, I was impressed. Down has an interesting thing that it does. When you get into a down jacket, pants, etc — or in this case — a down sleeping bag, it can be a little flat still and not really all fluffed up on it’s own. However ,after a time being next to your body the down reacts to your body heat and starts to loft up. The more it lofts the more it insulates and thus the ‘warmer’ it is. When you get into this bag, looking at it is odd because at first it is sort of normal and then it slowly looks like you are this big caterpillar of green fluff and the thickness is pretty astounding.  I stayed in it for I guess about ten minutes and got out because I was getting sleepy.

I have no doubts this will keep me warm on the PCT, especially combined with my liner and other clothes. The only thing I am a little worried about is that being so light it feels almost like you are about to rip it just pulling it up around you. I worry that you must take a lot of extra pains and care to make sure it stays in good shape and so I will need to be treating this like my baby the whole way. Though. with all the ultralight gear I have, I have noticed this trend with each one that you need to take extra care with the gear because many times ‘light’ means it is also fragile.

Here it is in the stuffsack, for size-comparison I put it next to my ULA pack, BV500 and a jetboil sol

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I am probably going to keep the stuffsack and not use an eVent compression sack for this just because I want to guarantee that I keep the down in good shape.

Word of advice: If you decide that you are going to buy items from zpacks or any of the other small custom ultralight gear providers please note that the four months before April is their busiest time of the year, I would suggest getting in an order in November or December to get a jump on the season. This particular bag took over six weeks to get to me. I contacted them and they nicely let me know that they were having problems getting down. Which is partly also do with the fact that every other supplier of down products is also having a very bustling time in the pre-hike gear buying season.

Maps, permits and some new gear

57 days out

I literally spent most of Sunday putting together my map packets. These are each a lettered section of Halfmiles maps. I then decided that I would toss in the Yogi’s town guides along with these because I like having info on towns I am going into (however, I do not treat anyone’s town guide as gospel, Yogi did not mention any brewpubs and those are my favorite places in the world), I am going to be on a mission to get to post offices, grocery and resupply and find a place to get a burger and a beer. I absolutely don’t want to go in blind and waste my time. Here is what your packets look like; in the image below the top row is California, the second row is Oregon and the third row is Washington, in Washington the sections and map sections are pretty slim so I combined the last packet into one. So, there are 31 sections, each section is very roughly five days, so you have 155 days here.  Most of these will be mailed forward in resupply boxes. My current resupply looks like about eight total for California, then I will have one mailed to each Ashland and Cascade locks where I will make resupply and mail them out for Oregon and Washington respectively. So, ten total resupply boxes, nine regular flat-rate boxes and one large (flat-rate?) for my bear can and micro-spikes.

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NOTE: I realize that there are some hikers who feel they are above the guidebooks, but this is just silly posturing as far as I am concerned and it maddens me to see them recommend new people don’t look at them. Everyone has an opinion on the guides hike your own hike and use everything at your disposal, I personally would rather have more information I don’t need, than less.

I got my PCT long distance permit and I am still waiting on my Canada entry permit, I really hope it shows up soon as I am feeling I may need to contact them to verify they got it. I am waiting on my PLB registration sticker as well, though that is less vital than the Canada entry permit. I have decided to add two pieces of gear to my pack, one is called a Glif and it is a lightweight mount for tri-pods (and my stikpic) which fits smartphones. Here is the box it comes in, and in testing it works good. The video there shows more info.

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The other is a Golite Chrome dome for the desert section. I realize that yes, I will indeed be a grown man carrying a ‘parasol’, but jokes aside I will be walking through the Mojave desert and there are some brutal sections there (runners wear full sun suits in the ultras out there). Keeping the sun off me means I sweat less, if I sweat less I don’t have to carry as much water, which means I move faster. That is the theory at least. Here is the Golite with office dog ‘Dingo’ checking it out.

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For the trip I really have two things I need to get still, one is my sleeping bag from zpacks which is taking longer than expected (a month now, just sent them an email) and the other is my Canada entry permit. Then it is about food and possibly seeing if I can live without some things I have put into my pack and/or replace with lighter versions or more minimal versions, though I have been doing that for months now. And the last item, California needs rain really bad, like we are going to cook out there if we don’t get any rain. Luckily as I was buying my umbrella two storms are stacking up to come this way. Hopefully it will help, though it can’t do too much, it should lift some of the pressure off water sources.

Visual tour of my 2014 PCT gear.

So what does all this gear look like? I’ll show you.

Note that I have added a couple things and taken away a couple things from my previous list, but the grand total is roughly 13lbs base weight, then what is worn. Obviously not counting the required bear cannister and light crampons I will be carrying for ice crossing in the sierra. I will also be picking up a super-light fishing pole with those items as well. That will be about 4 or 5lbs added for that section. Luckily the bear can you can mail away after.

First lets look at clothes. I have put numbers in the images to correspond to the numbers below explaining what is what. Clothes are heavy so you need to make choices about fabrics and multi-usability. I.e. zip pants, down jacket that doubles as a pillow, etc. #5 and #6 are core pieces of clothing for the trip, the other choices were worked around these two pieces specifically to save weight.

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NOTE: This list includes items I will be wearing (not showing Cascadia 8’s and Sun hat)

  1. Marmot rain/wind shell
  2. Long sleeve REI adventure shirt (wearing)
  3. Columbia short/pant zip-offs (will be wearing this or shorts)
  4. Mountain hardware ghost whisperer down jacket. (very light and compacts to nothing)
  5. Smartwool long-john top (night etc.)
  6. Smartwool long-john bottom
  7. Not-cotton quick-dry shirts, three in image, I will only be bringing two, the black one is already gone. (usually will be wearing one)
  8. Running shorts. (wearing this or pants)
  9. ultralight gloves
  10. underwear, 1x Underarmor Heat (anti-chafe) and 2x ex-officio boxer (will be wearing one)
  11. 1x sock liner (worn)
  12. 4x socks (1x worn)

Now for what is in the bag.

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  1. ULA Circuit pack, has one ‘Hoser’ bladder inside and one visible leaning on it.
  2. Tarptent notch
  3. Z-Lite Sol sleeping pad, I may take off a section or two after I try it out.
  4. Z-Packs 20 degree waterproof down sleeping pad (old bag stand-in, zpacks is shipping now, they come with cuben fiber stuff sack so much lighter than this one)
  5. Black diamond trekking poles (note extra shoe laces there)
  6. Ultralight hiking Medical kit, has everything I should need for my feet and any cuts and scrapes and blisters I may get.
  7. Jetboil sol ti cooking system with cannister inside, tested this in my apartment, this thing is boss.
  8. Polycro ground cover.
  9. ultralight (Eagle creek climbing) ‘clothes bag’ see above for clothes
  10. socks bag, see clothes section above
  11. Sanitary wipes to keep the funk down, multi-use
  12. Sea to summit eVent waterproof compression sack for clothes bags (I have another I may use for electronics and such,, will see).
  13. waterproof document pouch for maps and such
  14. Hanky, useful when dealing with sweat and can be sacrificed to start a fire if need be.
  15. Buff, these things have a lot of uses (literally the only thing I learned by watching that show Survivor).
  16. Suntactics solar charger, tested this and it is good for my gear.
  17. ultra-light leatherman with knife and pliers, I really want to do some fishing in the Sierra and will be mailing a telescoping rod to Kennedy Meadows for that, so this is a must carry for sniping wire and working with hooks.
  18. Double-ended sharpie, for making signs and leaving notes for other hikers.
  19. Regular pen, for writing and making notes (my ‘Evernote’ Moleskine pad is pre-ordered and should arrive next month once they are available) I am an artist and do illustration so this is obvious.
  20. Sea to summit collapsible trowel. I don’t like digging with my hands and then going to the bathroom, it just seems … kind of gross.
  21. Whistle, this is a safety thing with many uses.
  22. Lighter, leftover from my smoking days.
  23. Headlamp, petzl with red light for night vision. (charges batteries with #35)
  24. Bug netting for my face.
  25. Silk sleeping bag liner, these are light and much easier to clean than a sleeping bag.
  26. Go-pro, I have made a priority of documenting this, and this is a very light camera/video camera which I have put an eye-fi into so it automatically transfers video and pics to my phone (#38) The gorillapod is the smallest possible and also have a base for a stik-pic (not shown)
  27. Fast-find ranger PLB, this is so people can find me if things go sideways
  28. Foodbag and foodbag cord, for hanging, cord also helping to keep my tent stable etc. String could work but this is very light tent cord so I can deal.
  29. Ankor 10,000, usb power supply. This is a charge-in-town thing for backup power for all my devices.
  30. Spoon or spork? I am leaning towards just spoon.
  31. Sansa Clip FM radio and mp3 player, extra 32GB memory card (?), earphones and extra-small usb charge cord.
  32. usb wall charger (this is the smallest I have found)
  33. Passport, travel wallet, permits, emergency numbers.
  34. toiletries, travel size toothbrush/toothpaste, sewing and tiny eyeglass repair kit.
  35. usb battery charger which in testing works great with the solar charger (#16) charges both AA and AAA batteries.
  36. Sawyer squeeze with attachment set for my water bladders
  37. usb charge Steripen, this is more of a backup
  38. Samsung Note 3 with the GEAR watch (gear charger not shown, but it is super-light) This is so I can keep my phone in my pack and the watch can take photos and do calls all Dick Tracy like.

Things not shown besides shoes and hat.

  • Food (this will be it’s own post)
  • Gallon zip-lock freezer bags, will need to carry a few of these.
  • Pack liner.

I am going to probably have a good time revisiting this post when I get back. I know that the trail is where plans go to die. And it should be fun to see what I end up liking/not liking and what I kept and sent home.

Here it is all packed up.

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2014 Gear list – preparation, and weigh-in

Please note: where possible below I have gotten the items on sale and have been slowly acquiring these items over the last two years. I started all the planning for this in April of last year when I started reading PCT blogs and realized I was not anywhere near ready to just drop everything and go. Some of the items I had from previous years hikes in Yosemite, Zion and the Grand Canyon. I realize that the items listed amount to a huge expense. Thru-hiking with ultra-light gear is prohibitively expensive to set up and I have chosen lighter/expensive over heavier/cheaper in nearly every instance.  I am not listing prices here, I actually don’t want to know the total cost and I would not want to discourage anyone in thinking they need these items and need to hike this way. This is how I have chosen to do this and don’t consider this any kind of recommendation or guide, once I am done with the PCT I will have a review of all this stuff after daily use for five months, then and only then will that will be a recommendation. In other words, Hike your own hike.

Total weight below: ~13.3lbs base weight, which is  ~7.35lbs of main stuff, light clothes and stove etc, 5.98 for the big three, then in the Sierra my base weight has an extra 4.2lbs for special gear. The 7.35lbs is mostly based on the amazon listed weight which I am really not sure about because they list underwear as 1lb so I am mostly guessing over. Their electronics weights are accurate but it appears they approximate the weights of clothes with the packaging when the exact weight is not listed. I will not know my exact base weight until all items are delivered and I get on a scale. 12 was my goal so if I start chucking stuff, I won’t have to chuck much.

Big three (95.7oz/5.98lbs):

Pack (39oz) : ULA Circuit this is basically my dream pack, and the pack I knew I would be using from the start of planning, I love this thing. Feels great, is light with ample side pockets and tons of places to hook stuff onto it. When it came there was a live spider in the box. For some people that would be a bad thing, for me I was like “HELL YEA!! This is the real deal!!”. This is also one of the most popular thru-hike packs. I gave very careful consideration to the other pack manufacturers (zpacks, gossamer, etc) and after all my research this is the one. If I was sponsored or something I might consider another one, but really at the end of the day, this is the end-all-be-all of lightweight long-distance packs.

Tent (26oz) : Henry Shires Tarptent Notch (get the seam sealing kit with it!), with a z lite sol (14oz) pad to sleep on all over a polycro ground sheet (3.65oz-not in count above) by gossamer gear to keep all my stuff off the dirt. The ground sheet things feel very light and frail but the stuff is next to impossible to destroy. The tent has what is called a bathtub floor which can be a lifesaver in the instance of unexpected rain at night, bugs, and such. Oddly, bathtub floors are a topic which gear-geek hikers like to argue about.  The pad is yet another contentious issue, but there is NO way I am going to fiddle around with an inflatable and carry a patch kit with me, I would rather sleep on the ground … in ants.

Sleeping system (16.7oz) : Z-Packs 20 degree, three season sleeping bag, great reviews (linked from page) and great product. I also have a silk liner to keep the bag from getting skank too fast. This is not cheap, and in fact is my single most expensive piece of gear but for the big three you need to not skimp, these are things you depend on daily and in my experience, if you get crap you will have a crappy experience.

Clothes (no cotton):

Shoes: The absolute go-to PCT shoe is the Brooks Cascadia 8 (11.9oz), and is what I will be wearing. Note that the Cascadia’s are so popular for thru-hikers that they have had to add a note on the official Brooks page for this shoe saying it is not ‘pack rated’.  For snow and ice I will be carrying Hillsound trail crampons (16oz/1lb) starting in Kennedy Meadows. For camp shoes I might have teva’s (~16oz night bathroom runs etc, I may toss these though)

Socks: kirkland trail socks, with liners and one pair compression socks. (12.8oz total 4oz worn) I will have socks in every single resupply box, so the main thing is liners with socks and keep rotating socks out and keep feet clean and dry.

Underwear: 2x Ex-Officio boxer (3oz ea) and Under Armour HeatGear (3oz, anti-chaff), one worn, both of these are also anti-microbial so you don’t have any issues with that.

Hat/head: buff (1.9oz many uses) / sunhat (2.5oz mesh to breathe) / MH beanie (2oz) I found.

Gloves: Hyper-light all weather gloves (0.3oz) not really for warmth, more for just basic protection as needed as my hands adjust to gripping trekking poles all day long.

Shorts/Pants: Need to pick up pants still at REI, one pair Columbia running shorts (2oz)

Jacket: Mountain hardware ghost whisperer (8oz) which is stupid expensive but is lightweight, compact and sort of the ‘go-to’ jacket for thru-hikers. Seriously, look at pictures and read gear lists, this is always present.

Rain shell: Marmot Aegis Jacket (~10oz) this has a hood.

Shirts: one worn, two in pack (7/14oz) Columbia and Northface quick dry fabrics.

Long johns: I have a black set of smartwool long johns(top and bottom 6oz ea) I will be bringing, these are light and fairly expensive, but should be worth every penny.

Stove: Jetboil SOL ti (16oz/1lb I am not sure if this is with fuel or what they based this on). It is the lightest one they have and has some very good reviews, in fact the cons are basically non-existent. They don’t ship canister fuel, but lucky me I have an REI down the street to pick some up ahead of time.

Electronics:

Charger: Suntactics solar (12.8oz). I will try to keep my Anker 10 amp battery (8.6oz) charged up with it. Also a usb battery recharge kit for my Petzl tikka 2 headlamp. The suntactics I chose after reading many reviews and a lot of post-hike gear reviews (which are the ones I really trust). All the other brands people seemed to ditch, this one made it to the end of thru-hikes every time it seems like.

Phone: Nexus 4 with Bluetooth keyboard (~6oz), I am looking to replace this before I leave with a Note 3 and one of the smart watches. However I am not settled on this just yet, I have a few weeks to decide.

Personal locator beacon: I pulled the trigger on a Fast find Ranger PLB (11.2oz) instead of the SPOT device I was originally going for. This was picked after reading horrible reviews of the SPOT devices about how the company who makes them has very bad billing practices, has a crap website for it and even ‘bad manuals’ made it into more than one review. I was actually going to entirely not have any kind of PLB rather than deal with a company like them. However I thought about the stories I have read of people stranded and realized I should  have ‘something’. These were recommended as they have no monthly or seasonal costs. Thanks to the PCT Class of 2014 Facebook group for the recommendations for this.

Music: Sandisk Sansa (0.8oz) 8GB, not much to say, simple and cheap little mp3 player that is lighter than an ipod and lasts a long time on a charge.

Camera/video: Camera TBD, I do have an Eye-Fi card however to get pictures posted as I go and I own a GoPro. Weight is an issue here, I would love to take my Canon 7D but obviously I can’t and still be in the weight class I am going for.

Water filtration: Steripen freedom (2.9oz, primary), Sawyer squeeze (~3oz single for chunky water), Aquamira drops (~2oz backup for if my battery dies and squeeze freezes). Because I am a planner, and everyone has a special thing they need, this topic is heated when people discuss water treatment online and every thru-hiker has an opinion (and are not afraid to speak it). Because of this I am simply going to bring them all and see what works. On previous hikes I used a camelbak charcoal filter bottle and drops and have never once had an issue, however for this trip the weight of the bottle is a consideration and some of the water sources will need actual treatment.

Other:

Black Diamond trekking poles with cork handles (amazon says 1.9lbs, that is wrong). And black diamond gaiters (I do not like rocks in my shoes).

2x eVent dry compression sacks (~8oz total, one for clothes and one for sleeping bag)

Aloksak bags (~4oz) for electronics and passport.

Trowel (4oz), because I am not gross and you need to bury this stuff. People who just put a rock on it are causing serious problems on the trail and I would not want to leave a present for anyone coming after me.

Mosquito headnet for after Kennedy Meadows.

Bear vault 500 (51.2oz/3.2lbs – ugh), for after Kennedy Meadows it is the standard for the Sierra section where you need to sometimes take a lot of food between towns.

Custom Medical kit (~3oz) – this is mostly for foot care and things like anti diarrhea medicine for if I drink bad water and such, however has some other items for medical care and sewing which comes in handy.

Unscented trash compactor bag for a pack liner and extra layer against moisture.

I also bring some twine because having some comes in handy often for things like hanging your food, keeping a tent up, making a makeshift little shelter with your ground cover etc. It is just smart to have.

For personal care, you need to keep baby wipes because you are not near a shower and you want to clean your face once in a while and wipe the pits. Also, chafe.. nobody wants chafe. I will be mailing myself some in every one of my care packs.

Food and water:

I am going to be able to pack eight liters of water (total) if needed. I have various bag and hose setups for about 6 liters water and will also have a Gatorade bottle or two.

For food, I am going all re-hydrate meals and have not ordered these yet, that is my next big TODO and I  should have an entire blog post about that. One thing though is making sure to pack small plastic bottles of olive oil in every resupply to add calories to food.

Things I am considering or may or may not make it:

Big permanent marker dual-tip. For signs and such. I will probably bring it.

Small notebook, I think I should bring one and a pen.

Things I want to bring but am not letting myself:

Kindle, I am a reader, alas this cannot come.

Sketchbook and pens/pencils – as an artist I would want to pack one everywhere.

Hammock.. I might just throw it in the bag though, I have a backpacker one and a then a lightweight one that I can use as a tarp.. it is multi-use.. maybe..

My Ribz frontpack, I have not had a chance to use it and keep trying to tell myself that it will be good for town stops. *sigh*

Gear choices and maps and on it ‘getting real’

Halfmile’s PCT maps have been updated for the 2014 season, so I have been downloading those and starting to get them printed out in the various sections I will be mailing to myself. I was considering if I should get them laminated but I think that is overkill and will add a lot of weight. Which reminds me.

Gear choices; I will be doing a full blog post about all the gear I will be taking but there has been some discussion about the drought we have been having on the West Coast for a while now and the fact that the fire danger this year is shaping up to be fairly serious. I now have to reconsider my stove situation. I had chosen a manufactured alcohol stove with a stand and pot/pan thing. It is light, and the stove has a lid so you can easily shut it off. However I am now looking at doing a Jetboil and will be picking up one of the titanium Sol versions, they are expensive but the regular version is about half a pound heavier so an extra $40 for half a pound savings on weight is not bad considering I will be carrying it for five months.

I finally also chose a sleeping bag and decided not to skimp and went with a zpacks 20-degree bag which has excellent reviews and also allows me to shave off some weight for less expensive options I had been looking at. That rounds out my big-three, and is perfect with my ULA Circuit pack and my Tarptent Notch tent.

I made a rather large order from my final amazon wish-list that I have been working on for months over the weekend for many more items which I will cover in my pre-hike full gear checklist. I have been picking up various things item by item over the last nine months or so as well. I would like to say that the amount of preparation for this trip is kind of insane, like take some simple item you will need on the trail, a ‘trowel’. Nobody ever talks about trowels (it is a little shovel to dig catholes so you can go to the bathroom and cover it up). Do you go with a titanium folding one, or try one of the new hard-nylon ones that collapse much smaller, which is better when the weight is the same and can you trust the reviews online for the products? This is all stuff you have to think about for every single item. It also helps to read previous hikers gear lists and what they brought and then (this is the most important) their follow-up gear reviews, I get really interested in what they thought they needed and eventually tossed, or what they bought along the way. For instance, I was dead-set on a quilt and saw that some people were using them on the trail, then I read follow ups on the trail gear and decided that perhaps I should rethink it and go with a bag.

I was hoping to be able to order permits when I wrote the previous blog post but it seems that you cannot get them until February (couple days now).

This is getting real. Like, real real. Butterflies kind of heavy real. This is no longer just me sitting around looking at gear and dreaming and trying to plan logistics of this because that is something I like to do, this is happening. I talked to my building maintenance guy this morning about putting in my notice to vacate.