In this post I review of some of the gear I used on my 2013 PCT thru-hike. If you're interested in what I'm using now, here's my current gear list.
Field Use: I used this pack for my entire thru-hike, even though it didn't quite last the entire thru-hike.
Likes: Lightweight, comfortable, nice design, durable fabrics. There was only one thing that I didn't like about this pack, and it's a deal breaker. . .
Dislikes: Weak stitching (see photos). At mile 2506, my left shoulder strap broke from the stitching at the bottom of the pack. I did a quick field repair to keep going. About 100 miles after that, my right load lifter strap broke from the stitching on the pack. Even before these two critical seam failures, the shoulder straps had begun slipping even under the lightest loads.
Would I buy this product/brand again? I don't abuse my gear, and I was comfortably below the weight recommendations for this pack during my thru-hike. That wasn't enough to prevent pack strap slippage and seam failure before the end of my thru-hike. Perhaps the 2014 packs that Brian Frankle is designing for SMD will have more durable stitching than their current line. Brian Frankle's first company, ULA, sells backpacks that had no durability issues on the PCT, so I ordered a Circuit pack for my future hikes. SMD has offered to repair my Starlite under the year warranty.
|Broken Starlite shoulder strap|
|Broken Starlite load lifter|
Field Use: Except for a few nights of cowboy camping, I used this tarp every night during my thru-hike.
Likes: Lightweight (13 oz.), 360 degree rain protection, bug netting skirt around perimeter, pitches with one trekking pole.
Dislikes: I replaced the door toggle with a mitten hook, making it easier to strap the door open. Condensation, but all single-wall shelters have condensation in high humidity. Zipper failure (SMD has offered to send me new zipper pulls).
Would I buy this product/brand again? While I've lost interest in SMD backpacks, I do still like their tarps. I'm a big fan of one-pole pitch pyramid tarps that don't require the pole to be in the center of the floor plan. The ZPacks Hexamid has a similar structure; however, for now, the Wild Oasis is still my tarp of choice.
|Wild Oasis tarp front|
|Wild Oasis tarp side|
Field Use: During my PCT hike, it rained a few days in California, about a week in Oregon, and more than a week in Washington. These are the days I busted out the Frogg Toggs. By Stehekin, WA, they were pretty well shredded. I'd wished I'd sent a new set to Cascade Locks for the Washington section.
Likes: Lightweight, inexpensive.
Dislikes: Not durable, especially the pants.
Would I buy this product/brand again? I don't regularly hike in rainy places. If I did, I wouldn't buy Frogg Toggs; they're not durable enough. Since I live in the southwest, I still carry a Frogg Toggs jacket. I don't bother with the pants anymore, as the act of hiking wears out the inseam within a week. If it's rainy enough to wear rain pants, I pack my Mountain Equipment DriLite Plus pants.
Field Use: One pair of these pants lasted my entire thru-hike. Aside from the cuffs fraying, there was no noticeable wear.
Likes: Durable, lightweight, quick drying, 50 UPF, large cargo pockets. They offer convertible or solid pant leg versions.
Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are my favorite hiking pants.
Field Use: I wore these gaiters about 80% of the time, over 2,000 miles. They were especially useful during the first 700 miles of desert before Kennedy Meadows and in Northern California. I didn't wear them in the rain or after the rain had settled the dirt on the trail. As you can see from the photo, I only wore a few holes.
Likes: Comfortable, lightweight, simple design, fun patterns, surprisingly durable. These are excellent sand and scree gaiters. They're not made for rain, snow, or river fording.
Would I buy this product/brand again? My thru-hike pair still has some life in them, but I'll get a new pair fairly soon. See my initial review: dirty girl gaiters vs. simblissity levagaiters.
|Dirty Girls after 2,000 miles|
Field Use: The longest stretch I hiked with these socks, alternating between two pairs, was the 1,000 miles between South Lake Tahoe and Cascade Locks. That amounts to 500 miles per pair. By Cascade Locks, I'd worn substantial holes under the balls of my feet in both pairs. A pair of these socks can go 250-300 miles without significant wear.
Likes: Comfortable, durable, lifetime warranty.
Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are my favorite hiking socks. I recently mailed those two holey pairs to Darn Tough to be replaced under their lifetime warranty.
Montrail Mountain Masochist Trail Runners (Now Mountain Masochist II)
Field Use: I hiked 500 miles across desert terrain, from Cabazon to Kennedy Meadows, in one pair and only changed them out because I had a new pair of shoes waiting for me at Kennedy Meadows. I changed the insoles at 350 miles, but the shoes themselves could have gone at least 700 miles.
Likes: Durable, breathable, lightweight, unique outsole tread pattern.
Dislikes: Sizes run narrow.
Field Use: I hiked 800 miles across rocky terrain, from Kennedy Meadows to Mt. Shasta, and 650 miles from Mt. Shasta to Cascade Locks. I changed the insoles at 400 miles. The photos show my Moabs after 800 miles compared with my new pair.
Likes: Durable, breathable, lightweight, offers wide sizes.
Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are my favorite hiking shoes.
|Moabs front: new vs. 800 miles|
|Moabs bottom: new vs. 800 miles|
|Moabs side: new vs. 800 miles|
Field Use: I used a generic plastic spork for 160 miles until it snapped in half while I was eating peanut butter. In Idyllwild, I bought a Light My Fire Spork. It lasted even fewer miles, snapping in half while I was mixing instant mashed potatoes. A generous camper then gave me a spare Sea-to-Summit Delta Spork that he had. The Delta Spork lasted the rest of my thru-hike.
Likes: I much prefer the Delta Spork for its flexible, durable plastic and for its design. There's a spork on one end and a long handle with a knife edge on the end of it. The knife is sharp enough to cut sausage and cheese but not sharp enough to cut your hand.
Dislikes: The Light My Fire Spork is made of cheap plastic and has a poor design. The full fork and full spoon at opposite ends of this utensil might appear to be an advantage, but neither end makes a good handle. The worst design decision, though, was putting the serrated knife edge on the side of the fork.
Would I buy this product/brand again? I now use a Snow Peak Titanium Short Spork. It's lightweight and stows neatly in my 0.6 liter mug.
Field Use: I used this sack for 1,662 miles and got rid of it in Seiad Valley, CA.
Dislikes: The .51 oz/sqyd cuben weight lacks durability. The drawstring design (as opposed to roll top) appears to shred the fabric with use (see photo).
Would I buy this product/brand again? Other hikers had the 1.00 or 1.43 oz/sqyd cuben roll-top stuff sacks offered by ZPacks, and they held up much better than my .51 oz/sqyd sack. I might consider trying the heavier duty cuben roll-top sacks sometime in the future. I won't buy the .51 cuben sacks again.
Halfmile's GPS App, Trail Notes, & Water Report
|ZPacks .51 oz/sqyd cuben stuff sack after 1,662 miles|
Halfmile's GPS App, Trail Notes, & Water Report
Field Use: I carried printed copies of the water report and trail notes. I downloaded the app to my smartphone and used it a few times a day for the entire thru-hike. You can also print out Halfmile's maps; however, having the app and notes, I didn't find maps necessary.
Likes: All free, but Halfmile does accept donations. The trail notes guide you along the PCT with pretty detailed information. The app locates you along the PCT and guides you back to the trail if you stray.
Dislikes: Trail notes are less detailed for Oregon and Washington (e.g., many established campsites and water sources are not mentioned).
Would I buy this product/brand again? Well, Halfmile's stuff is all free, and it's all you really need to thru-hike. As a side note, the popular pay app on the trail this year was Guthook's Guide.
Field Use: I used the BV500 from Kennedy Meadows to Echo Lake (392 miles).
Likes: Good balance between weight and cost. PCT thru-hikers get a price discount and free delivery.
Dislikes: Very difficult to open in cold weather. The only reason I can think of why this happens is because the lid, which is made with a different type of plastic than the can, might contract more in the cold and tighten around the can. This was common among other BV500 users, some of whom warmed the lid over a campfire or put off breakfast until the day warmed up.
Would I buy this gear/brand again? Yes, though I hesitate to use it in cold weather.