Preparing for the PCT: The big three (final version)

I’ve been doing that thing every night where you go into a trance staring at your computer looking at gear trying to figure out the exact combination of things that will somehow transcend all of your anticipated hardship and the right before three a.m. when the screen starts to go blurry you just buy some stuff and then a few days later (you’d emailed them- I’m leaving in a week! [exaggerating]) everything arrives and you open the boxes and you’re like, what the fuck is this stuff? And then you feel sort of empty inside because there aren’t any answers.


The big three are your sleeping system, shelter system and pack. You can cut weight in the little stuff but if you cut weight here it will make the most difference, leaving you room for ridiculous things like two hats- because even though you thought you could rock the ugly camel-colored sun-hat you got at Ross Dress For Less, the thought of being photographed in the thing for the next five months fills you with unutterable dread, and so you are bringing two hats- one for the sun, and a better one for pictures. (Is this deceitful? You decide.)

So I decided to spend some money getting a new sleeping quilt to use instead of my “heavy” down bag, but then in a fit of enthusiasm I bought a new tent and pack too and then I was out $600 (whoops!) but my base weight was (hallelujah!) four pounds lighter.

Everyone talks on their PCT blogs about gear. I am going to try and differentiate my PCT blog from the other PCT blogs by being as weird as possible from here on out. Are you excited about that? Because I am.

So I wrote a post a little while ago about my bag and tent. It was very humble. That post is now wrong, and I have deleted it. Here is my new, more pretentious gear.

The Enlightened Equipment Revelation X 10 degree quilt. Enlightened equipment does this really cool thing where you can order their quilts in seconds fabrics, making them WAY cheaper than other quilts of comparable weight/warmth. I just ordered the 6′ regular 0 degree Revelation X quilt, and am sending back my Jacks R Better Sierra Sniveller, because I think it won’t be warm enough. The two quilts are the same price! I wish I’d found Enlightened Equipment sooner. I was actually going to buy a 10 degree quilt, but it takes them 4 weeks to make your bag and luckily they had a 0 degree in stock that I could order now. If anything I’ll be too warm, which is WAY preferable to being too cold.

This 0 degree quilt weighs just 29 ounces and was only $255. And you can zip up the bottom section to make a footbox. I’m going to pair this sleeping quilt with a Gossamer Gear NightLight sleeping pad, which is brutally hard. I also got a Gossamer Gear Thinlight insulation pad, because it’s only 2.5 ounces, thinking I would maybe use them together. Today I laid both pads on top of each other on the narrow floor of my little trailer and tried them out. It felt like… I was laying on the floor. Let’s see how long I last before I buckle and buy a neo-air.

My old sleeping bag weighed 39 ounces, so WHACK! Now my total base weight is ten ounces lighter.

The ZPacks Hexamid Solo

This was my dream tent that I thought I couldn’t afford. Then I found one on a used gear site for $200! It’s basically a tarp that has full mosquito netting, and it weighs just 9 ounces! The thing came in the mail today, and it feels like it’s made out of tissue paper that’s been reinforced with butterfly wings. And it’s been raining too hard for me to practice setting it up, which apparently is kind of tricky. And it’s the SOLO size, which is a bit narrow, so apparently if I’m caught in the rain I’ll have to sleep JUST SO or else I’ll get soaked. A tarp that’s too narrow, rain in Washington… what’s gonna happen?!!

I’m pairing the hexamid with a poly-cro ground sheet from Gossamer Gear, which it turns out is really a piece of cling-wrap folded into a tidy little square and slipped into a plastic bag. I can’t wait for ultralight cottage gear companies to start making gear that’s, like, invisible.Β The double-wall tent made out of air! Five hundred dollars and comes with magic beans that go back in time! Packs into negative space!Β Stores neatly in its own parallel universe!Β 

The Gossamer Gear G4.

There’s nothing really I can say about this thing. This pack is AWESOME. Although, to be honest, I haven’t gotten it in the mail yet. It’s probably made out of tissue paper too. If I’m not mistaken, this pack is based on the original sew-your-own-ultralight-pack instructions that Ray Jardine came up with and which you can download from the web. The pack weighs just 16 ounces, and unlike other ultralight packs, it can actually handle larger volumes and more than 20 pounds. My base weight is going to be low, but then in the desert I’m going to be carrying, like, fifteen pounds of water, so I need something that won’t cut into my shoulders. This pack is pretty cheap new, and I then I found one used for $70. Although I love my other pack, which I modified last summer to be much lighter, I was horrified to learn that it still weighs 29 ounces. (I know that this makes me sound like I have anorexia, but for gear.)

The G4 pack has no frame, and instead you use your folded sleeping pad, tucked down inside.

You know what’s even more exciting than gear? FOOD. And if you think gear is expensive, you should try ordering three months’ worth of jerky off the internet! Ouch! Also, I went to Grocery Outlet and it was amazing. I bought nine jars of coconut oil, and that, if nothing else, is going to guarantee that I make it all the way to Canada. I also stood for a while staring at a bag of pork rinds, wondering if they were some sort of awesome trail snack that I had yet to discover. And I bought some instant mashed potatoes and ate them, and they were awful. Seriously though, if you grew up eating food from food banks then you probably feel the same way that I do about instant mashed potatoes. UGH. But luckily I got a really good deal on a GIANT box of dried sweet potatoes on the internet, and that, along with rice noodles from the asian store, is going to be my dinnertime carb of choice. My two #10 cans of mountainhouse freeze-dried ground beef have yet to arrive in the mail- let’s hope freeze-dried ground beef is not the most disgusting thing imaginable.

Two weeks until I fly to LA, and so much still to do! In my downtime I lay in bed and watch the rain and listen to audiobooks that I downloaded from the library. Did you know that the Multnomah County Library has a MASSIVE selection of ebooks and downloadable audiobooks? Fuck yeah, Portland! I’m simultaneously reading that hyperbolic Bill Bryson book about the Appalachian Trail and listening to The Help. I feel like I’m in heaven.

One of the things on my pre-departure to-do list is to have Potato’s balls chopped off. I’ve been procrastinating this event for far too long. It’s hard for me to take my baby puppy treasure to the shady cheap vet for surgery. There are like ten vets that do a low-cost neuter in portland, and they all have appalling yelp reviews. One of the vets is “the most sued veterinarian in Oregon” and another has three reviews from people saying that their pet DIED after the surgery. At the vet I’m going to, their worst offense is that they force you in sort of an angry way to give your pet a topical flea treatment before surgery. This seems arbitrary and sort of sadistic, but it’s better than my dog ending up with his intestines stapled to his abdomen.

Oh, dogs!

Here are Kinnikinnick and Potato looking angelic and cuddly and perfect in my cute tiny home on my nice cozy bed. I am going to be thinking of this bed and of these nice dogs when I am lying in the desert on a foam pad that is exactly as hard as the bare dirt ground.


20 thoughts on “Preparing for the PCT: The big three (final version)

  1. I’ve been away and just catching up. I somehow managed to miss your whole Kickstarter but really hope I can shell out for a book later on. I find comfort in your observations about ultralight gear, and feel like they mirror mine … I dislike the whole pretentious concept, hate being told that I “have” to take this or am an idiot to carry that … but then go ahead and buy into the ultralight cult anyway. I’m excited about your trip!

    And yeah, PCT blog … less gear, more stories. Thanks. πŸ™‚

  2. I’m into and really enjoy your gear stories. I’m probably not going to get to hike the PCT unless I have both knees replaced ( I stay away from 3 things:the legal system, doctors, and hospitals ) and that doesn’t look likely !! So I will enjoy your blog immensely, and I am enjoying the gear stories for now, & waiting patiently for the food storys to begin …

  3. silk liner for sleeping adds 10 degrees, sponge for soaking up torrential groundsheet puddles, really thick (wool) socks for underneath shoulder pads on heavy-water days and for wear around camp.

  4. Since you have time before you leave PDX … there are several new housing developments going up that have large scraps of Tyvek housewrap in their scrap boxes for FREE. I use it under my tent as a ground cover. Tougher than most lightweight tarps and quieter once you run it through a soap-free rinse in the washer. You’ve probably thought of this already … but in case you haven’t … you can also buy it by the linear foot at Next Adventure.

  5. Carrot,
    If you were to give us some kind of schedule of were you might be checking your mail, and the kind of things you might be willing to eat, some of us could send you surprise care packages!

  6. I know I would hate to be looking back at photos of myself in bad hats for the rest of my life.

    You might want to look at efoods, we have some crates of this freeze dried food stored for emergencies. As far as this type food goes it’s remarkably tasty and satisfying and a decent price compered to others. It also has a shelf life of 25 years. We only eat fresh foods at home but this is about as good as it gets for emergencies or hiking.

  7. Jill- You’ve been having so many adventures in Alaska!!! Yeah the ultralight thing is such a trip- I’m SO GLAD I discovered the concept of lightweight gear, and will take it over the unnecessarily heavy traditional packing styles any day, but then thinking ultralight also leads me down this weird path in my brain where I start obsessing over ounces in a really hilarious way. And as soon as I’m on the trail I’ll have SO MUCH to write about that’s not gear- and I can’t wait!!!

    Joe- I’m glad I can provide you with vicarious adventure!! Thank for reading!

    Fenu- check.

    Trail angel- I’m gonna try my “polycro ground cloth” for now but yes, might definitely revert to tyvek. πŸ™‚

    Dawn- you are so nice!!! Soon I’ll have a tab up top where you can read about that. Unfortunately I am an epically picky eater, but I’ll find a few things that people can send me if they want, and then I will derive unreasonable amounts of joy from receiving them while I am on the trail.

    Bayrider- I did order some freeze-dried stuff off the internet, and I can’t wait for it to get here so I can talk all about it! From what I’ve read on other peoples’ blogs, I think I may have the nerdiest trail diet of them all. Yay!

  8. For your dogs: I totally recommend Barbur Blvd Vet Hospital ( I don’t know how they compare in cost, but they are super sweet people and are very highly trained. They were actually recommended to me by a veterinary professor in Los Angeles….which I guess means a lot in veterinary circles, as the Barbur Blvd folks were super flattered when I told them this. Anyway, they helped me out when I was traveling in Oregon with my cat and had an emergency. They were absolutely the best. They are a small vet, and I don’t remember them being expensive…so you might want to check them out just in case.

  9. Carrot,

    Let me just start off by saying that your pups look so sweet and your living space is so cozy.

    Secondly – this post was SO in line with how I’ve been feeling and I am not packing 1 million food boxes. Are you planning to send yourself mail drops the entire length of the trail? I do not know if I could do accomplish that task. My mind would be more than rainbow pinwheel. Already (with the simple task of 5-6 mail drops) I am having to take lay-down-and-get-under-the-covers-in-the-middle-of-the-day-reset breaks. And that is only with 5 boxes.

    The Big Three and the glazed over crunchy-eyed trance: I feel ya. Luckily though, I started purchasing my gear over a year ago, so I have not had any last minute/late night online ordering (thank god). BUT – I really admire the fact that you are purchasing all new big 3 items so “last minute”! I would do this if I didn’t think it would break the bank… my big three are “ultralight” but NOT anywhere near as light as your new acquisitions…

    I love your comments and blog posts because it’s nice to know that someone else is going through these same, insane, indescribably tedious, overwhelming, preparation tasks. I laughed out loud when reading about your sun hat conundrum because I AM RIGHT THERE. I also considered buying some pretty hideous articles of clothing and attempting to wear them ironically but I just…can’t do it. As “deceitful” as it sounds to some, I cannot share these feelings enough. (The photos!)

    Cheers to blogs that are not being gear-centric/boring and being weird instead. Except, you just made talking about gear totally hilarious.

    – TB


  10. Carrot! Angela, here, another Portland PCT hiker leaving on the same day as you….thank you so much for your words, I relate on so many levels, especially the heaven of lounging with audio-books! Good choices! Here’s to some down time before a nice long walk. See you at the Southern Term April 20!

  11. I remember years ago when I hiked the PCT that I went to Salvation Army Thrift Store and by the time I walked out I had all the items I would need for under $40.00. I bought a old rain coat and used the material to sew my backpack. A down quilt became my sleeping bag. A couple of ugly blue tarps for my tent and ground cover and cloths enough for the entire trip. You can spend a lot or a little the point is, have fun. Good Luck.

  12. Thyra-
    Thanks for the nice words! I’m sending myself boxes right now for the first three months of the hike- almost all my food except some snacks that I’ll buy in towns. And then I’m doing my Oregon boxes in Ashland, and my Washington boxes in Portland. I’m stupid picky about food- I don’t eat gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, sulfates, nitrates, MSG or most other food additives, and I only eat a tiny bit of sugar. And yeah, this shit is cray. You know what is amazing though? TRADER JOE’S. Maybe this is a “duh” for most people but I never shop there, and then I went yesterday and it was like BACKPACKING FOOD HEAVEN. Seriously, the cheapest high-calorie hippy snacks I have ever seen! I spent three hundred dollars, and I think I have to go back again… 😦

    It’s CRAZY to try and plan all this but I know I am going to be SO GRATEFUL on the trail when I stop at the little towns and there isn’t much I can eat. And even though it seems like a lot of money right now I think I’ll save money in the end because in Portland I know how to shop for what I eat cheaply. So a lot of work right now will make much less work on the trail… sigh.

    Re: hiking hats- someone needs to start a cottage company that makes backpacking clothes that aren’t FUCKING HIDEOUS. Like how hipsters ride bikes and so now there’s all this bike clothing and gear that is aesthetically beautiful. That needs to happen with backpacking! If I was a more ambitious person I would do this. Universe hear my cry! A consumer has spoken!

    And yeah, buying my gear at the last minute was stressful. But I was waiting on the money from my kickstarter, which was pre-orders of the book (that I haven’t written) and so then when the kickstarted ended it was like BUY ALL THE GEAR AS FAST AS YOU CAN OMG. And I got the lightest stuff I could because I KNOW that if my pack is heavy I will FAIL, and I KNOW that if my pack is light I will succeed. It’s really as simple as that for me. But LOTS of people do it with heavier gear. Just not me. I’m tough in lots of ways, but I am not tough in that way!

    I’ll see you on the trail SO SOON! It’s so cool and cloudy in Portland it’s surreal to think that soon we’ll be in the SCORCHING DESERT. I’m actually starting on the 21st I think, so it’ll be interesting to see where I end up actually meeting your group. And I love the pictures on your blog! I live vicariously through people who take beautiful pictures, as I am much too lazy to do so. Also, when I first looked at your blog I guessed it was in Portland, because of the light in the photographs in your yard. I was like, I know that light!

  13. Angela-
    I think I’m actually starting on the 21st now- but yay another hiker to meet starting around when I am! Are you keeping a blog or a trail journal of your hike?


  14. Koda-
    You are very tough. I picked the gear I did specifically because it was so light, because I am a weak mortal who dislikes load-hauling more than almost anything, but loves to walk long distances at a quick pace. Good for you though, for doing it so cheaply! The good thing about my current gear-buy is now I HAVE the gear, so my next thru hike will be VERY cheap.

  15. Hi there, I found your blog via, I’m excited for your journey to start and wanted to say thank you for blogging it. It’s my dream to hike the PCT one day, but for now I will just be following the blogs – which I’ve been doing for a few years now πŸ™‚
    Good luck in your journey, I’m in the SoCal area and am willing to help if you need it.

  16. Okay – so I have a question: what are you doing about pants? you wearing the ugly safari zip offs or………..
    Hike outfit eludes me.

  17. Heather- Thanks for reading!

    Thyra- I am totally going to wear the zip offs. Apparently lots of people thru-hike in running shorts and just slather their legs with deet in the buggy areas, but I am anti-deet and so I need to zip-offs to protect my legs. HOWEVER, my zip-offs, when zipped off into shorts, look kinda cute, in an early-nineties OMG NYLON CLOTHING kind of way. For a top I’m going to wear a safari-style button down or a thrift store cotton-poly blend button down. The cotton-poly blend one is better looking but the safari style has vents? I don’t know. It’s all pretty bad. My pack may be light but MAN, my vanity is heavy… what are you going to wear?

  18. I am definitely one of those that is going the running short only route (mostly because they are more comfortable to me) but I got this GREAT idea from Dorothy aka BaconBit’s blog. THE THIGH HIGH SOCKS. In the morning I will wear the (exceptionally tall) thigh high socks as an added layer of warmth when it is cold and if/when there are things I don’t want to rub my legs all over while I’m sitting/walking. I thought it was brilliant and she swears by it so I’m gonna give ’em a shot. ALSO – they are so tall it just looks like you are wearing some leggings under the shorts, which is nice.

    Who knows – I might switch to some zip offs if the shorts prove to be inadequate once are in buggy sections (Sierra’s or whenever the herd begins feeding)…. I also do not want to be using DEET, but we will see.

    For a top I went with some random BRIGHT white button down that is synthetic (and oddly shiny, actually). I love it. I might have to cut some holes int he armpits though. When I first started researching PCT clothing I was perplexed by the idea of a BUTTON down collared shirt while hiking…it seems weird but I’m gonna try it. I will probably switch to tank top once we’re out of the blistering hot no shade section because by then hopefully I will have bronzed enough to not burn a ton.

    I can’t believe how fast the start date is approaching!

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