DGA-Gear Review from PCT “Shakedown” Hike (WP Basic)

When doing a thru-hike, your gear becomes your home for weeks or months on end. It needs to function well, be reliable, and hopefully be as light as possible.

There are the “big four” items – including pack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and tent.  And then there’s all the peripheral stuff including stove & cook gear, clothing & hiking shoes, water filter & bottles, first aid kit, and more.

Here’s a list of the key gear I tested and my reviews of each item.  Click on the item to go directly to the review:

Core Items – Tent, Sleeping Bag, Pack, Sleeping Pad

Cooking Gear

Hydration

Clothing

Footwear

Headwear

Electronics & Apps

Other Essentials (and Luxury!) Items

 

The Big Four

Tent – Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2

(Rating: 4/5)  I decided on this tent because – at 3 lbs, 1 oz – it is one of the lightest and comfortable double-wall tents made.  This was my first trip with it.  Though it’s described as a 2-person tent, I look at it more as a “1 + gear” tent.  It would be a tight squeeze for two.

Thanks to its unique pole architecture, I found it to be incredibly spacious.  Best of all, it has two entrances and vestibules.  That gives you options!  Cook on one side and enter/ exit on the other. Or stow all your gear on one side.  Or – if there are two of you – each of you has an entrance.

  • Pros – Light weight, spacious, sturdy, true free-standing tent.
  • Cons – Zippers can snag. Pole section cracked (replaced under warranty).  Expensive.

Gregory Z-Pack

(Rating: 3/5) Okay, I bought this pack almost 15 years ago, but I never used it.  I considered it more of a single-day mountaineering pack.  But at right around 3 lbs, it’s substantially lighter than the larger “regular” backpacks I’d owned which often weighed closer to 5 lbs.  So I tried it out for my shakedown hike.

And it did amazingly well.  It is a beefy pack and will likely last for years of abuse. It has both a large mesh pocket and a smaller enclosed pocket on the back.  It has a top cover pocket (sometimes called “the brain”) which goes over the top and provides plenty of storage for snacks, sunglasses, first aid kit, sunscreen, flashlight, snacks, etc.

One of my favorite features is a side zipper which gives access to the inside of the pack without having to open it from the top.

Unfortunately, the pack is simply too large for me, and there’s no way to change the height of the shoulder straps in relation to the waist belt.  So I’m going to sell it.  If I had bought the medium version of this pack, it’d probably be the pack I’d use for my thru hikes.

  • Pros – Relatively light weight.  Beefy.  Great side-access pocket.
  • Cons – No longer made. A bit heavier when compared to the newer ultralight packs.

REI Magma 15 Mummy Sleeping Bag

(Rating 1/5) I really wanted to like this sleeping bag.  It’s half the price of another bag I was looking at, yet rated to even cooler temps.  It uses very high quality down and weighs about 2 lbs.

Unfortunately, I’m a “cold sleeper” and it just didn’t work for me. It’s rated to 15 degrees, meaning they’re suggesting it could keep you warm down to 15 degrees.  Well, I found it comfortable at 50 degrees, chilly at 45 degrees and cold at 40 degrees.  That’s a 25-degree difference between what they claim and my experience with it.

Also, I found the bag to be too narrow for me (I’m 6′ and weigh 190) to add any extra layers.   Bottom line:  I’ll be returning this bag at the end of summer and look for something warmer and wider – probably the Western Mountaineering AlpinLite 20.

  • Pros – Reasonably priced for an 850-down bag. Light weight.
  • Cons – Crazy unrealistic temperature rating.  Too narrow. Zipper snags.

Sea-to-Summit Silk Sleeping Bag Liner

(Rating 4/5) I’m including this because I consider it an essential item.  A light, warm, high quality sleeping bag is expensive.  A silk (or other) sleeping bag liner can help you protect that investment and give you other benefits.

First and foremost, after a day of hard hiking you’ll likely be sweaty and dirty.  Do you really want to jump into your $600 sleeping bag like that?

No, of course you don’t.  That’s where the liner comes in.  It can prevent that sweat and dirt from going into your sleeping bag.

But then there’s the silk aspect of this liner.  It is nice and luxurious and feels great.  And it also adds warmth.  Heck, on warmer nights it might even be all you need ~ you can sleep on top of your sleeping bag.

The only downsides I’ve experienced is that it’s sometimes to crawl and in and out of at night. But that’s a minor inconvenience you’d experience with pretty much any sleeping bag liner.

Pros – Great protection for your sleeping bag. Adds warmth. Luxurious to sleep in.


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad

(Rating: 3/5) Getting a good night’s sleep is awesome when backpacking  And your sleeping pad can make a huge difference.  There are a lot of options now for lightweight inflatable pads that weigh between 1 and 2 pounds, and Therma-a-Rest is one of the companies leading the charge.

I got their XLite pad in exchange for an earlier version that kept getting leaks that I couldn’t find or get repaired.  So I am worried about it’s durability.  But – for basically one pound – this new one provides a good night’s sleep.  A couple big downsides are that it requires (at least) 40 breaths to blow up, and it’s “noisy” – it has a crinkly sound that can wake up your neighbors.

  • Pros – Very light weight.  Reasonably comfortable.  Has a decent r-value for summer and early “shoulder season” backpacking.
  • Cons – Expensive. Questionable durability. Noisy.

Cooking Gear

Soto Windmaster Stove

(Rating: 5/5) This is one of the most expensive backpacking stoves you can buy.  I also think it’s also one of the best pieces of gear I’ve ever bought.

It’s small, powerful, light, works great in the wind, has a built-in ignition and regulator – and simmers better than any other backpacking stove I’ve used.  I love this thing.

The key thing differentiating this stove from the tons of others out there is the “inverted” shield going around the flame.  What it does is deflect the wind away from the flame, and this effectively blocks the wind from reducing the flame or even putting it out entirely.  It’s shockingly effective.

There are some downsides.  This stove is slightly larger than others, and you should get the larger clip-on base for securely holding most pots on it.  But whew – this thing rocks.

  • Pros – Light weight.  Built-in igniter. Simmers great. Shockingly great in wind. Built-in pressure regulator. Large pot base.
  • Cons – Expensive.  Not as small as the smallest stoves such as the MSR Pocket Rocket.

MSR Titan Ultra-Lightweight Camping Kettle

(Rating: 4/5) You’d think something as simple as a cooking pot – basically, something for boiling water in – would be a simple choice.  But there are additional choices that come in.  Should it be large enough to hold the fuel cannister and the stove?  Do you also want to have a coffee mug that nests in it?  Etc.

Right now I’m using the MSR Titan.  I find it’s large enough for solo backpacking, but would probably be too small for cooking for two people. It holds a large fuel cannister comfortably, but not the cannister and a coffee mug.  So I’m currently using a “two part” system with the pot and fuel canister as one, and my mug/ stove/ spork in another.  Here’s my take on the MSR Titan (and this would be true for pretty much any the many titanium pots of this size to choose from):

  • Pros – Titanium is both very light and durable. Room to hold a fuel canister inside. Lid fits nicely. Enough volume to boil water for each item (i.e., coffee, meal, etc).
  • Cons – Handles get got and often require a “pot holder” for pulling off the stove. Lip gets too hot to use it as a coffee mug. Titanium, in general, costs more than aluminum or steel.

Sea-to-Summit Delta Insulated Mug

(Rating: 3/5) The most fanatical of ultralight backpackers take one cooking container for everything – their cooking pot, mug and bowl.  Personally, I only use my pot for boiling water.  I like to have a separate mug for drinking my morning coffee, eating my oatmeal out of, or anything else I eat out of a bowl (I often go with those backpacker dinners where you pour water into the pouch and eat out of them).

And this mug is great for that.  It’s light, has enough volume to hold a decent-sized cup of coffee, has a broad base to it doesn’t wobble or tip over when I place it on the ground or a random rock.  It’s also “part 2” of my cooking kit (“part 1” is the pot) – it has enough room inside to hold my stove, spork, and a small sponge for cleaning my cookware.

The main downside is that it sometimes “dribbles”.  The seal of the lid to the top of the mug could be better.  To overcome this, I’ve developed a slightly more cautious approach to sipping.  I’ll continue searching for a better solution.  But at the moment this mug works better than anything else I have.

  • Pros – Light weight.  Room to hold stove, spork and small sponge. Large base makes it stable. Keeps beverages warm.
  • Cons – “Dribbles”.

MSR Plastic Folding “Spork”

(Rating: 3/5) It used to be that you’d take a knife, fork and spoon for eating in the backcountry.  Now it seems the “spork” is the single most common utensil.  It’s like mashing a spoon and fork together.  And it works pretty well!

I like the MSR folding spork because it’s light, small and works reasonably well.  I also like that it comes in a variety of colors – making it easier to see.

To use it, simply squeeze the handle together.  This relieves the pressure on the folding joint – enabling you to fold it over and “snap” it into place.  It’s a simple, elegant solution.  Here’s my take on this utensil:

  • Pros – Works well.  Very light.  Space-saving design means it should easily fit in your cook kit or mug. Cheap. Bright colors make it easy to find.
  • Cons – Could be stronger. Larger spoon would be nice.

Hydration

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter

(Rating: 4/5) The days of using those heavy, bulky large cannister-type water filters are gone!  There’s been a revolution in creating smaller, lighter filters – and the Sawyer Squeeze is one of the most popular of all.

While I find it to be a bit slower than using my older Pur handpump style filter, it is much lighter.  To use it, you fill one of the included bags with water, screw on the Sawyer filter, and then “squeeze” the bag to force the unfiltered water through the filter and out the other side.

The included bags that come with it or pain to fill, but there are aftermarket solutions for bags with wider openings that make it a lot easier to scoop up water before filtering it.

  • Pros – Light.  Can be cleaned by backflushing.  Relatively inexpensive (when compared to the older pump-style filters). Very popular, so lots of aftermarket accessories available for it.
  • Cons – definitely slower than a good handpump filter.  Getting water into the “squeeze” bag is a pain.

Clothing

Clothing must be flexible, move moisture away from your body, and light weight.  You can spend hundreds – even thousands – of dollars in pursuit of the ultimate system.  Here’s what works for me:

Patagonia Capilene T

(Rating: 4/5) This has been one of my favorite standby clothing items for decades.  It’s a t-shirt that wicks.  The Capilene fabric is great.  Patagonia quality is fantastic.  And the company is awesome.

In fact I often take two with me – one for my daily hiking, and a second for my “sleeping clothes”. All that being said – any reasonably good synthetic “active wear” t-shirt would probably work fine.

  • Pros: Light. Functional.
  • Cons: Probably more expensive than other options.

Patagonia Lightweight Zip Turtleneck

(Rating: 3/5) This is another standby clothing item I’ve had for years.  It’s basically the same weight as the capiline t-shirt, but has long sleeves and a turtleneck top.  I’ve had it for years and I’m not sure if they make it anymore.

What I like about this is that the sleeve cuffs are loose fitting, so I can “pull the sleeves up” and use it like a short-sleeve shirt.  And the zippered turtleneck makes it easy to open and ventilate when it’s warm.

All that being said, I may consolidate my clothing by getting a midweight zippered turtleneck to replace both this and my fleece top.  I could probably shed a pound from my pack by doing that.

  • Pros – Light. Functional. Adaptable.  Easy to roll the sleeves up to use it as a short sleeve shirt. High quality.
  • Cons – Expensive compared to other brands.

 


Patagonia Houdini Jacket

(Rating: 4/5) I love this jacket!  It blocks the wind.  It repels a light rain. And it protects against buzzing mosquitoes.  And yet it packs down so small you could stuff it into a jean pocket!

I’ve had mine for years, and the newer versions of this are probably even better.  Also, if I know there’s the potential for stormy weather – i.e., downpours – I’ll bring a more serious (but heavier) shell.

But it amazes me how I use this.  I’ll wear it in my sleeping bag to add an extra bit of warmth. I’ll wear it in the evenings or mornings when the mosquitoes are especially bad.  And of course I’ll wear it when I’m hiking and I don’t want the “full on” protection of my primary storm shell.

  • Pros – Very light. Versatile. High quality.
  • Cons – Pricey. Could breathe a little better.

Patagonia Down Puffy

(Rating: 4/5) Light, warm and versatile … that’s how I’d describe Patagonia’s down “puffy”.   It’s a lightweight down jacket with a number of uses.  It’s warm enough to take the edge off on cool nights, yet stuffs down to a small space.  Put a lightweight shell over it for increased warmth.

It’s fashionable enough to wear when you’re in town.  Sometimes I’ll wear it while sleeping when it gets beyond the comfort rating of my sleeping bag.  When it’s warmer, I can stuff it into a small stuff sack and use it as a pillow.

My only regrets – I wish I’d bought the hooded version.  It’s almost the same weight and would add a significant amount of extra warmth.  Also, many companies now make their own version of this.

One downside – you shouldn’t wear these while hiking strenuously, as the down will absorb your sweat and the “ball up” and lose its insulation value.  Patagonia now makes a synthetic version of this which is even better than down, but also very pricey.

  • Pros – Incredible warmth-to-weight value.  Great for around camp, sleeping, and taking the edge off of cold days. Makes a great pillow.
  • Cons – Expensive.  Wish I’d gotten the hooded version.

Patagonia 3-Layer Goretex Rain Shell

(Rating: 2/5) I bought this at the Patagonia Outlet Store in Reno and not sure whether they still make it.  I initially liked it because the 3-layer Goretex makes it especially bombproof.  But, unfortunately, this particular model is one of Patagonia’s poorer designs.

Specifically, it doesn’t have pit zips – which are incredibly effective at helping to cool down and dump moisture while doing strenuous activity.  And it doesn’t have the roomier “Y-cut” that makes it easier to add extra layers underneath.  Bottom line: I’ll be buying something else to replace this.

  • Pros – 3-layer Goretex is very effective at blocking wind and rain.  Good quality. Light weight.
  • Cons – No pit zips.  Doesn’t have the Y-cut for extra room for layering.

32-Cool and Adidas Synthetic Underwear (from Costco)

(Rating 4/5) There are lots of expensive underwear options out there.  But I’ve found several of the synthetic brands Costco sells – most notably Adidas and 32-Degrees – work great.

I’ve put on hundreds of miles with these, and do what I need underwear to do – wick away moisture, dry quickly, and not create any “issues”.

  • Pros – Work great. Great bargain when compared to other specialized brands.
  • Cons – None.

REI Safari Pants

(Rating 4 / 5)  My requirements for hiking pants included a lot of things.  They had to be light and durable, look good enough to wear around town, not restrict my leg when climbing hills, and have an adjustable waist band.

But the biggest single criteria – have an easy-access cargo pocket big enough to carry my phone.  I use that phone as my GPS, camera, timer, and a multitude of other things.

Well, the REI Safari pants do all of this well.  Plus you can zip off the legs to convert the pants into shorts, or even zip up the legs slightly to have better ventilation on hotter days.

My only concern is durability.  I’ve found REI clothing to be a mixed-bag when it comes to longevity.  For example, my previous REI Safari pants blew out a zipper in less than a year.  But thus far these are the best pants I’ve found for what I want.

  • Pros – Great all-round pant. Convert to shorts.  Awesome cargo pocket big enough for most smart phones. Adjustable waist size. Look good.  Reasonably priced.
  • Cons – Durability is a question.

32-Degree Thermal Leggings

(Rating: 4/5) I bought these at Costco for around ten bucks, maybe less.  And they are just as good as the pricey brands costing a lot more.

I often wear these for sleeping for an extra bit of warmth.  But they’re also great to wear under my REI Safari pants when the temps drop.

  • Pros: Work great.  Inexpensive. Great for sleeping in, and also for extra warmth on cool days.
  • Cons: None.

Footwear

Finding footwear that works for you is crucial.  If your shoes don’t fit right, you may end up with blisters, not enough support (which could result in a twisted ankle), not enough traction, etc.

But footwear is a highly personal thing.  Some people hike in leather boots, and others go for lightweight trailrunners. I tend to have strong ankles, so I go the lighter route, but for those who have ankle issues, boots offering more support would be a wise move.

Socks and gaiters also come into play.   So here’s what I currently have:

Topo Terraventure 2 Trail-running Shoes

(Rating: 5 / 5) Everybody I know seems to be into Altras.  Well, Altras are just too wide for me.  So I tried on some other brands with the “zero drop” like Altras.  And that person helping me at REI suggested the Topos.

Wow … what a find!  I love-love-love these shoes.

They work with my narrow feet.  They have enough room for me to be able to insert my custom orthotics.  They have a large toebox section – all the better for having room to move my toes, and not slam them into the front of the shoe on descents.  Best of all, the mid-section of the shoe holds onto my foot like nothing else.

In several hundred miles of hiking, I haven’t even had so much as a warm spot with these – let alone any blisters.  If you have wide feet, these probably won’t work.  But for those with narrow feet, these are awesome.

  • Pros: Awesome fit for people with narrow feet.  Zero drop sole.  Great traction.  Seem to be holding up well.
  • Cons: Won’t fit wide feet.  Somewhat pricey.

Weatherproof Wool-blend Socks

(Rating: 4/5) I originally bought these at Costco on a whim.  And they have been stellar.  They are my go-to sock for hiking, home, around town, and wherever else I might go.

I haven’t gotten any blisters with them.  They wick moisture well.  And they seem to be very well made.  Highly recommended. Be aware, though, that these are not “weatherproof”; that’s just the name of the company. You have to treat them like any other woolblend sock.

  • Pros: Work great.  No blisters.  Great price – at least at Costco when they have them.
  • Cons: None.

Salomon Low-top Gaiters

(Rating: 3/5) At first I wondered why anybody would want to put low-top gaiters over low-top hiking shoes.  But then I “got it”.  It keeps scree and dirt out.  It protects your ankle area from scratches and cuts.  And it keeps pebbles from getting into your shoes.

There are several brands out there – including some popular ones made by “Dirty Girl” and Outdoor Research.  I found these Salomon gaiters at REI and decided to purchase them.

Overall, I like them.  They seem to be built well.  The velcro closure works well.  And – because they are a “wrap-around” style, I don’t have to take off my shoes to put them on.

All that being said … I may try out some other brands.

  • Pros – Good quality. Wrap-around style means you can put them without removing shoes.
  • Cons – Not sure how well the velcro will hold up.

Headwear

Protecting your head – from sun, rain, branches, or whatever else is out there – is a good thing to do.  As a blond, fair-skinned type, I probably need more sun protection than most.  But, because of vision issues, I also need a hat for protection from branches and other things I may not see.

And then there is warmth – there’s nothing like a good beannie cap to help take the chill off on chilly nights or cold days.  Here’s the gear I take:

Outdoor Research Aquifer Sun Sombrero Hat

(Rating: 5/5) I’ve had this hat for over 20 years, and it’s still my favorite hat for hot sunny days.  It’s highly adjustable, provides a LOT of sun coverage, and has a chin strap to keep it on when the wind blows.  It’s even great for putting a mosquito net over.

It sheds light rain well.  However it’s hard to pull the rainhood on a rain jacket over it.  So when it rains I’m more than likely going to go for my baseball-style cap.

  • Pros – Incredibly effective at keeping the sun off the face. Durable (I’ve had mine for 20 years).  Adjustable.
  • Cons: Neck strap could be a little better.  On really windy days, the wind has almost blown this hat off me even when it’s cinched down hard.

Sunday Afternoon “Eclipse Cap”

(Rating 5/5) – I used to think “baseball caps are baseball caps”.  Thanks to the Eclipse Cap made by Sunday Afternoon, I don’t think that way anymore.

Why? Features and versatility!

It has a long stout brim, so it protects against the sun better than many others. It has “ventilation covers” you can pull up to get a nice cooling effect.  Its easy to adjust the size.

And … get this! … the brim folds in half!  That makes it easy to slip it into a pants pocket or small pocket on your pack.

  • Pros – Versatile. High quality. Brim folds in half. Stays on head securely even in high winds.  Long brim provides excellent sun protection.
  • Cons – Pricey.

Wool or Synthetic Ski Cap (Any will do!)

(Rating: Depends on brand you get) It gets cold up in the mountains.  A cap – whether it is synethtic or wool (go with your preference) – is an incredible thing to have for keeping your head warm.

Since I tend to get cold easily, I personally like one that’s a bit thicker and denser.  I just find it gives me more warmth and makes me feel more “secure” when I crawl into my sleeping bag.

I also find the thicker cap comes in handy if I want to sleep in … I can pull it down over my eyes to keep the light out.  A tighter fit also enables me to keep my ear plugs in (if I’m sleeping with or near somebody who snores).

  • Pros – Keeps your head warm whether hiking, sitting or sleeping. Helps to keep earplugs in. Great for blocking morning light if you want to sleep in.
  • Cons – None.  Just get one that works for you.

Electronics & Apps

I remember backpacking before the advent of smartphones, apps and other high-tech gear.  We used a map and compass to navigate. And it was understood that – if something went wrong – you were on your own.

Those days have changed.  Now there are dedicated GPS devices, satellite communications devices and all manner of electronic devices to make the backcountry easier and safer to navigate.  And, as in many areas, the smartphone has completely changed the game.

Here is the phone apps and peripheral devices I currently use:

Motorola Moto G6 Phone

(Rating: 2/5) I bought the Motorola Moto G6 because my old Samsung Note 4 was finally getting too slow.  But one of the things I liked about my Note 4 – and the reason I held onto it so long – is because I could easily swap out the batteries in it.  I bought an extra large battery for it that could power it for days – even a week if I just kept the phone in airplane mode.

First off, the Moto 6 is a great phone for the money – often priced below $200.  It has a decent camera, good screen, and enough battery life to get through the day without an issue.  You can also add storge with a micro SD card.

Where it falls short is as a phone.  In my experience, this phone has a terrible antenna.  Friends with other phones – including iPhones – will often get a signal when I can’t get one.  For example, on a section of the PCT, others were able to do calls and texting while mine couldn’t.

I’ve also noticed that even when it does get a decent signal, voice quality is not good. The bottom line is I’ll be looking for a new phone – quite possibly the Pixel 3a.

  • Pros – Cheap to buy (less than $200). Expandable storage with micro SD.  Decent camera.
  • Cons – Lousy phone. Terrible antenna and reception.

Sabrent 12,000mAh High Capacity Battery

(Rating: 3/5) If you’re in the backcountry for more than a day or two, you’re going to need to recharge them. That’s where an external power source comes in.  At the moment I’m trying out two, including the Sabrent 12,000 mAh battery.

So far it’s done pretty well.  I can get at least 2 full phone charges and 2 full Garmin Instinct watch charges out of it.  Its flat shape makes it easy to carry in the case I use.  And it has multiple ports so I can charge two items at once.

It is heavy, but that is likely true of any 12,000 mAh battery.  And it can take a long time to charge from empty (at least a night).  But I may be able to remedy that with a higher output charger.

  • Pros – Plenty of power for a multiday backpack trip.  Flat design can work well with certain cases. Double outputs for charging multiple devices at one time.
  • Cons – Heavy.  Can take a long time to charge.  Durability might be lacking (not sure on this one yet).

Garmin Instinct GPS Watch

(Rating: 3/5) I’m mixed about this watch.  My first “sort of” smartwatch was the Fitbit Charge 2. It was great for the basics – heart rate monitoring and tracking my hikes when synced with my phone’s GPS.

But more recently I wanted something with more functions, an “always on” watch face, built-in GPS, etc.  And it had to be durable. So I sprung for the Garmin Instinct.

This watch could have been great. It has good battery life, a good GPS, can alert you to calls and texts, has a built-in barometer, altimeter, and temperature gauge.

But it falls short in one key area – the heart rate monitor.  Frankly, it just plain sucks.  If you want to track your heart rate, this is not the watch to get.   I’ve had it tell me my heart rate is 110 bpm when it’s actually 60. I’ve watched it go up and down like a yoyo while I’m sitting still.

Still, for what it is, this is a good watch.  Hopefully will get their act together with building better heartrate monitors.  That’s when I might make the jump to a more expensive watch.

  • Pros – Easy to read watch face.  Goes for a week or longer if you don’t use the GPS.  Water and shockproof.  Built-in backlight is bright enough to use for finding small objects in tent.  GPS, altimeter, compass and other features all work well.  Syncs with phone pretty easily.
  • Cons – Heart rate monitor absolutely sucks.  Cannot download maps into it – though at this price point I don’t think any watches can.  (Their more expensive watches such as the Fenix series do have that capacity).

Guthook for PCT (App)

(Rating: 5/5) If you’re hiking the PCT, you need this app.  Period.

Seriously, it has everything you need.  It shows you where campsites are, how far to the next likely water source, where the next store is, and a whole lotta other stuff.  It’s also regularily updated by hikers, do you can get relatively accurate details to help you find the best campsite, or exactly where the spring is.

It also had downloadable sections, so you can use it on your phone without a signal.  This is key because much of the PCT has no signal.

The PCT is broken into “sections”, and you can buy a map for one section or – if you plan on doing the whole thing – buy all the maps at once for a decent savings.

I have the Android version, and the app was faithful.  It never crashed.  It could show me my exact location quickly.  And it’ll even let you know exactly how far it is to the next reliable water source.

  • Pros – All the info you need to hike the PCT.  Android and iOs versions. Works offline.  Constantly updated.
  • Cons – None, as long as you’re on the PCT (or any of the other many hikes they have maps for).

GaiaGPS (App)

(Rating: 4/5) This is another great map app to use your phone as an offline GPS.

It’s more complicated than Guthook.  But with it you can plan your hikes, download a variety of maps to use offline on your phone, etc.

It also excels at tracking your hike and giving you great stats such as your overall speed, ascent, moving time, distance, etc.

The only downside to this app is that – because of all its features – it has a steeper learning curve (I’m still learning how to use many of its functions).  That being said, I don’t think there is any better overall trail app.

  • Pros – Feature rich. Stable.  Works offline. Great tracking.  Awesome maps.
  • Cons – a bit more complicated interface than others.

AllTrails (App)

(Rating: 1/5) I really wanted to like this app.  It has the best trail reviews of any app.  So if you’re actually trail planning, this is the go-to place.  Fortunately, you can do that on their website.

Where it fails miserably is their app.  And whew … I mean miserably.  In my experience, the app is the single most unreliable app I’ve ever used.  If you were counting on it, it might even be dangerous.

Why?  Well, in my experience it crashes all the time.  It failed at tracking my full hike 80% of the time. When I downloaded maps to use offline for a multiday PCT section, it failed to bring them up once I was offline; it simply kept asking me to download them again and again.

So here’s my take: use their website before you go for planning your hike.  Then use GaiaGPS when you’re on the trail.

  • Pros – Great trail reviews by users.
  • Cons – Crashes all the time. Fails to track hikes. Downloading maps for offline use failed – every single time. Could actually be dangerous if you relied upon it for hiking in rugged country because it might fail on you when you need it most.

Other Essential – and some Luxury! – Items:

Some of these items are essentials (headlamp!), and others are luxury (the Chair!).  They don’t really fit into the other categories, so I’m using this as my “catch-all” place to list those reviews.

Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp

(Rating: 4/5) You should always have a flashlight of some sort with you.  Headlamps are great because they free your hands up for things like cooking, hiking at night, “doing your business” in the dark, reading, etc.

I opted for the Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp because of a review I read on it, and also because of the high 4.5-star rating on REI’s site.

Overall, it’s great. It’s small and light.  It puts out a bright beam when you need it, yet can be dimmed down a lot so you don’t overwhelm you or your partner in a tent.  And it has a red light, which is great for use in a tent. It even has an IP waterproof rating – though only to a few feet, and you’ll need to dry out the battery compartment if you dunk it.

  • Pros – Really nice light beam.  Versatile. Light. Seems very durable.  Waterproof (or at least resistant).
  • Cons – Buttons are small and would be hard to use with gloves on.

Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 Chair

(Rating: 4/5) You’re thinking “A chair … for backpacking?!”  And I’m saying “Yes!”

You hike a lot of miles.  You’re tired to the bone.  There is nothing more luxurious than being able to sit down with back support.  And that’s what the Crazy Creek Hex Chair 2.0 gives you – a truly comfortable chair you can lean back (and even rock) in.

There are a lot of reasons I like this chair.  It can be rolled up and easily attached to the outside of a pack. That means you can even use it for  a quick lunch break.  It’s easy to put together; you don’t have to insert poles and do all those other “chair assembly gymnastics” to prepare it.  Just unfurl it, sit and enjoy.

Also, you can use it in your tent.  If there are tons of mosquitoes around, you may end up retreating into your tent.  And having a seat you can kick back in is awesome.

And, if you sleep cold like I do, you can use it as extra thermal padding under your blow-up mattress.  It’s easy to unclip it so it lays out flat, and it’s long enough to protect your main torso area.

The only downside is that – while it is light for a chair – it still weights 1 lb, 5 oz.  I will for sure take this on all hikes except where I’m planning on maximum miles and my day is likely going to be hike, set up camp, cook, sleep, repeat.

  • Pros – Awesome luxury item. Provides extra thermal warmth when sleeping.  Durable.  Fast and easy to set up.  Light … for a chair.
  • Cons –  It does weigh 1 lb, 5 oz, so it might be too much weight for thru-hiking.

More Gear Reviews to Come!

 

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