Gear decisions are very personal. Many people would be very unhappy if they hit the trail with the same gear I use. My pack is heavier than average and some veteran hikers have rolled their eyes at my choices, such as hammock camping with four pounds of insulation (underquilt, sleeping bag, and sleeping bag liner). I do not suggest that anyone blindly use this as a guide. I am sharing this list for those who are curious, and because some specific information may be helpful to some people, particularly my podcasting gear which many people have asked about.
I am posting this list without pictures for now, but I intend to add those along the way. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to use the comments section.
Sony PCM-M10 audio recorder (7 oz)
A key piece of gear for Trailside Radio. This thing is amazing. It records high-quality, low-noise audio in wav or mp3 format. It has 4 GB of internal memory, as well as a slot for microSD cards. I can fit over 20 hours of CD-quality audio on one 16 GB card. The internal microphones are great, although I’ll often be using its plugin power to operate my external microphones, providing me with more flexibility in my recording technique. The PCM-M10 runs for about 24 hours on 2 AA batteries. It was recommended to me by two different people who both have professional experience recording audio in the wilderness, and so far I’ve been very impressed with it. I’ve used it to record every interview since episode 2. If there are flaws in the recordings, blame it on my inexperience, not this recorder.
DIY omnidirectional microphones (1.1 oz)
Professional microphones at a fraction of the weight and cost? Yes, please! These were made from Primo EM-172 omnidirectional microphone capsules encased in Sharpie pen caps and wired to a 3.5mm stereo
microphone plug. They have extremely low self noise. Total cost of parts: around $30 per pair.
I’m still experimenting with different ways to use these. I have one pair mounted onto the sides of my backpack, providing me with the ability to instantly record what I’m hearing on the trail in stereo sound. I have a couple lightweight homemade windscreens, but I actually found something at Kick Off that works even better– foam beer cozies! (Thanks to Backcountry Ninjas for the cozies.)
Samsung Galaxy S4 Android smartphone (4.6 oz)
Lifeproof frē waterproof case (1.7 oz)
The primary trail function of my Galaxy S4 is editing my podcast. I am using an app called Audio Evolution Mobile to do all my post production on the trail. I also made myself use it for episodes 1-4 as practice. I transfer audio files from my PCM-M10 to the smartphone using micro SD cards. Finished episodes will be uploaded using wifi as often as possible, and Verizon data service when necessary. I use the free WordPress Android app for much of my website maintenance, although I use my web browser to upload the actual audio files. I have additional apps for converting finished episodes to mp3 and editing the tags of those mp3s.
The phone also serves as a clock and backup navigational tool, although I will be primarily relying on physical maps (by Halfmile, digital version available free online) and a compass. When I do use the phone for navigation, I’m using Guthook’s PCT app as it incorporates such things as trail town info and the most recent data from the PCT water report. I may have also used it to listen to live NBA playoff games while camping on the PCT– but let’s keep that a secret, shall we?
I’m carrying a small Samsung microUSB/USB adapter with a tiny micro SD card reader so I don’t have to remove the Lifeproof case every time I want to transfer files from my audio recorder to my smartphone– or from my smartphone to my mp3 player.
SunTactics sCharger-5 solar charger (8 oz)
This is a new thing for me. But that’s because I’ve never tried to produce a podcast in the wilderness before. Most thru-hikers probably don’t need a solar charger. Even those who use smartphones regularly are able to keep them charged using an external battery and regular town visits. I am carrying a solar charger so that I’ll have the option of minimizing my time in town and choosing scenic places along the trail for my editing sessions.
I have read great things about the SunTactics chargers, and so far I’ve been very happy with my first tests here in northern Oregon. It seems to work fine even on cloudy days, as long as it’s pointed toward the sun.
Anker 2nd Gen Astro E3 10000mAh External Battery (8 oz)
This external battery stores enough mAh to charge my Galaxy S4 about three times. I also use it to charge my headlamp when direct sun is not available.
SanDisk Clip Sport mp3 player (1 oz)
I’m bringing this so I can listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and occasionally music without depleting my phone’s battery. It may even prove useful for reviewing audio I’ve recorded on the trail for my own podcast. Its rechargeable battery is good for about 25 hours of use.
No, I don’t plan to wear my earbuds every moment of every day. I’m not using them at all while hiking in the desert, due to the real possibility of encountering rattlesnakes. But in my experience as a section hiker, audiobooks can be great for combating occasional boredom and music can provide the necessary motivation for powering uphill at the end of a long day of hiking.
Osprey Atmos 65 backpack (3 lbs, 9 oz)
This is a new purchase for 2015. It doesn’t qualify as an ultralight pack, however I like having the extra storage capacity this provides. I don’t want a pack that tops out at 30-35 pounds, even though I hope to stay under that weight most of the time. I also appreciate having separate compartments to keep me organized. It would be easy to shave a few ounces off this pack by trimming a few unnecessary parts, such as extra strap length.
ENO Doublenest hammock (1 lb, 2 oz)
Dutchware Gear whoopie slings (1.6 oz)
I bought my first camping hammock about 15 years ago. I now own five of them. I haven’t owned a bed in years– I replaced it with a collapsible hammock stand. I’ve selected the ENO for my thru-hike because it’s versatile and nearly indestructible. I’ve removed the attached compression sack to reduce weight, and replaced the original continuous loops with lighter ones made from Amsteel. I added a fixed ridgeline borrowed from another hammock. For suspension I’m using Amsteel whoopie slings with whoopie hooks from Dutchware Gear, with 3/4″ mountaineering webbing as my tree straps (which I have not weighed on their own).
Yes, I know I won’t always find places to hang my hammock on the PCT. Even when there are suitable trees available, I often choose to “cowboy camp” anyway. My tarp can be set up on the ground using my trekking poles if I need shelter when I’m not hanging. I will be carrying a ground sheet and sleeping pad, although I may not carry the pad all the way to Canada. But my hammock is a comfort that I simply can’t bring myself to leave at home. Along the northern half of the PCT, it is often easier to find places to hang a hammock than places to pitch a tent.
Wilderness Logics Big Daddy tarp (14 oz)
Like several items I’m packing, this is a little heavier than necessary. I could go smaller and sacrifice coverage, or I could go cuben fiber and break my budget. I’ve used smaller tarps before, but I find the size of the Big Daddy is worth a few extra ounces. Useful for shade during desert siestas, wind protection on cold nights, and of course for staying dry when camping in the rain. It can be supported by trees or trekking poles.
DIY “Fronkey-style” bugnet (8 oz)
I’ve had my DIY bugnet for a couple years. It’s great. The design is by a hammock enthusiast named Fronkey, whose videos are available online. The opening is on the bottom and …..ffffft'(
KAQ New River underquilt (1 lb, 14 oz)
Can you say overkill? Sleeping in a hammock requires some extra insulation on the underside, but it doesn’t have to be so big that it wraps you up like a burrito. This one is. At least I know I’ll be warm. It is more common for hikers to use a shorter underquilt that runs from shoulder to knee. I like the synthetic Climashield because I don’t have to worry about it getting wet from dew or sideways rain. When I sleep on the ground, this underquilt goes on top of me.
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 45 sleeping bag (1 lb, 3 oz)
A 45° sleeping bag is not sufficient on its own. My underquilt provides most of my insulation. I don’t even use this as a bag, but more like a top quilt. On really cold nights it serves to fill the narrow gap above me where my underquilt does not reach.
Sea-to-Summit Reactor Extreme bag liner (14 oz)
I love this thing. Yes, it’s relatively heavy, but it adds about 25° of warmth (and lots of comfort) to my sleep system– much more than a standard silk liner. It is also easier to clean than a quilt or sleeping bag.
My complete insulation system (underquilt, bag, and liner) adds up to almost 4 pounds. Gram weenies scoff at this. I’m not worried. I’ve carried this setup hundreds of miles already and so far I’ve never regretted it.
Gossamer Gear Thinlight Insulation Pad (12 oz)
This was recently gifted to me to use when I end up sleeping on the ground. Its dimensions do not match any of the versions Gossamer Gear has for sale on their website. It is a wide version of the 3/8″ option. I like the simple design. I will most likely carry it rolled up, attached to the bottom of my pack. I may trim it down a little, but I haven’t decided yet.
I haven’t carried a sleeping pad in several years and have gotten along just fine. If I find that I’m not getting enough use from it to justify its weight, I can always send it home or regift it.
Six Moon Designs Tyvek ground sheet (? oz)
Sweet and simple. I picked this up at Kick Off. Not needed for hammock camping, but very useful for cowboy camping.
GoLite “Chrome Dome” umbrella (11 oz)
GoLite recently went out of business, but I still have my Chrome Dome umbrella… for now. I’ve been using it for years and while the structure is as good as new, the canopy is starting to show its age. Fortunately, if it finally falls apart on the trail, the same umbrella is now available through other companies. The Chrome Dome has always been manufactured by EuroSchirm, a German company that supplied them to GoLite. In the United States they are now available through Gossamer Gear, and soon through Six Moon Designs.
Lightweight umbrellas are very useful on the trail for protection from both sun and rain– but especially sun. It can be attached to my pack, keeping my hands free for gripping my trekking poles. I am also experimenting with ways to hang my solar panel atop the umbrella, although so far these have been pretty clunky.
Cascade Mountain Tech trekking poles (1 lb, 5 oz)
Nothing says “hiker on a budget” like a pair of Cascade Mountain Tech trekking poles. They’re actually decent poles made of carbon fiber, but they cost a mere $30 at Costco. Yes, there are better poles on the market, but they usually cost at least $100, and these do just fine.
I consider trekking poles a necessity. Without them my knees hurt after 5 miles. With them I can hike 30 mile days. I’ve met very few long-distance hikers who aren’t using poles.
Black Diamond ReVolt USB-rechargable headlamp (? oz)
I have a Black Diamond headlamp I’ve been using for years. They are wonderfully bright, versatile and reliable. For this adventure I’ve upgraded to the ReVolt to avoid going through piles of regular AAA batteries, although it can use those too. I’m carrying 3 AAA as backup in case the rechargeables run out of power during a long night hike.
MSR Pocket Rocket stove (4 oz)
Simple and reliable. The standard bearer for canister stoves.
stainless steel cooking pot (? oz)
99¢ at Goodwill. I’ve been using it for years. I’ve got my technique down so I don’t need to carry a handle anymore.
Aquamira water purification drops (3 oz)
When I was buying gear for my very first backpacking trip 17 years ago, I asked a staff member at Next Adventure to help me choose a water filter. He asked me about the hiking I was going to do, and recommended that I use Aquamira drops instead. I’m glad he did. All these years later, I still haven’t bought a filter.
The one disadvantage of using Aquamira instead of a filter is that it won’t remove dirt and other chunky stuff from the water. Where I usually hike, this is not an issue because clear water sources are plentiful, but southern California may be another story. I plan to use a small handkerchief to filter out solids, and I’m hoping that will do the trick.
Deuce of Spades (0.6 oz)
At this point I’ve accumulated a collection of lightweight shovels for digging poop holes, yet still I felt compelled to try something new for my first thru-hike. The aluminum Deuce of Spades is lighter than anything else I’ve seen, gets the job done efficiently, and comes highly recommended. It can serve as a tarp stake in a moment of need. I am curious to see how well it holds up to months of use– which will determine whether or not this is worth the extra money.
Mahalo ukulele (? oz)
I didn’t start my thru-hike with a ukulele. In fact, I had never played one before. But I am a musician, so when another hiker offered to give me this ukulele that was found in a Mount Laguna hiker box, I couldn’t say no. I’m slowly learning to play, as you’ll be able to hear in the podcast.