I’m somewhat of a weirdo. I can spend hours upon hours searching for all the information I can when I get passionate about something. So when I decided to do the PCT and started looking into what my gear would be I had hours upon hours (more like days) of internet sleuthing. It got to the point where it was very difficult to focus on one piece of gear because I would learn something new and then research the crap out of that. There were weekends when I would wake up and start looking at tents only to realize it was the middle of the night and I had 20 tabs open of various websites discussing why the Sawyer Mini will drive you crazy. A lot of people might consider the planning stage of a thru-hike boring and tedious. I revel in it.
The Big Three are your pack, tent, and sleep system (sleeping bag/quilt and pad). They are called the Big Three since these three items are extremely important and will be the heaviest. For a thru-hiker these items are very important since you will have to use these every day for almost 5 months.
I spent a lot of time looking at clothing online, going to REI and trying on items only to get more and more frustrated. I never realized how heavy clothes are! I was struggling to find items that were lightweight, had features I wanted, and didn’t have useless features that I didn’t want. Slowly after days of reading through other hiker blogs and gear review sites I started to find items that met my criteria. The best part was by the time I decided what I wanted I was able to watch these items go on sale and get them for way less than their normal price!
This was the hardest to keep at a low weight since it generally involved just not bringing crap I don’t need. This consists of electronics, first aid, a multi-tool or knife, headlamp, money/cards/ID, etc. All the little things you’ll need or might need for 5 months. This is also where the ounces go back up to add in luxury items such as a camera or a super nice umbrella so that the desert sun doesn’t melt my face.
I’ve had a MSR PocketRocket for several years and was planning on just bringing it since it only weighed 3 oz and getting fuel for it wouldn’t be that hard. I thought about going the ultralight route of making a .3 oz cat can stove where you modify a cat food can and use denatured alcohol. I decided against this because of the potential fire hazard and these are not allowed on certain parts of the PCT. After a couple camping trips I realized how much I hate having to cook and then clean my pots so I decided to go the stove-less option. I won’t be eating hot meals while on the trail. I can use a jar to cold soak mashed potatoes, couscous, dehydrated refried beans, etc.
I’ve mentioned this to some people and they always react the same way “You’ll want a hot meal.” First, the last thing I’m going to want to do after hiking all day is to sit down and wait for water to boil then wait another 15 minutes for my food to cook. Second, screw having to do dishes on the trail! Lastly, I’ll get all the hot meals I want when I’m in town a town a few days later. I’ll go the simpler snacking route and watch you “cook.”