“This Should Be Good. Unless…?” – Accepting the Never “Final Pack List” on a Thru Hike
As thru hikers start to share their excitement about their chosen trails for 2019, so too are they sharing their gear lists. The result provides all the evidence anyone needs to show how addictive the pursuit of the ready-for-anything “final pack list” is for trip planners. (Spolier alert: It’s never over). Pacific Crest Trail Alumnus Samuel Martin came to the Hyperlite Mountain Gear office to visit recently, and this very subject came up. Here he shares how a willingness to deviate from preconceived perfection, no matter how hard you planned every detail beforehand, can go a long way towards your overall enjoyment on trail.
Words and Photos by Samuel Martin
Standing in the desert 50 miles east of San Diego I carried 10 pounds worth of dreams and three years of weekend adventures on my back. I was embarking on my grandest adventure yet; thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – a 2,652-mile National Scenic Trail that stretches from the Mexican border in the south of California to the Canadian border in Washington State. I began my hike with as trim a kit as I thought I could get away with. Backpacking forums will tell you that you’ll need solar panels, extra clothes, and accessories, but I chose to start my hike with the mindset to begin with less and add on if needed.
The content of hikers’ packs evolves multiple times over the distance of a typical thru hike. Hikers love to talk gear, and in the early miles of the trail it’s not uncommon to see experienced hikers giving pack shakedowns while in town or in gear shops. The most popular item people swapped early on seemed to be their backpack. It was common in the desert to see a familiar face carrying a brand-new pack coming out of a town resupply. What once felt comfortable on a weekend overnight trip suddenly rubs in all the wrong places and causes neck pain after 450 miles. To lessen this gear swapping on trail, I did my best to put all of my equipment to the test over many miles of weekend and overnight trips leading up to the PCT. Knowing your gear, with all of its quirks and intricacies, will go a long way to minimize the need to swap items out.
To prove that point, almost immediately I noticed I wasn’t using my down puffy, a piece of gear I also had not used much during the months leading up to the hike. I had read many reports that the desert is always freezing at night, and even with my May 10th start date, I decided to carry the puffy. I had purposefully chosen a warm 18-degree sleeping quilt that didn’t require extra clothing layers, so I found myself placing my puffy under my knees at night more than I decided to wear it. Instead, I opted to wear my active layer Patagonia Capilene fleece hoody and rain jacket as a windbreak. This system paired with a pair of wind pants rounded my clothing out and allowed me to hike comfortably through the remainder of the trail.
As you approach the Sierra Nevada, talk of snow and alpine equipment picks up considerably. The 2018 season was a normal to low snow year, and only the earliest of the hiking pack had to deal with dangerous weather. Looking back on it now, I’m glad I chose not to carry any special equipment into the Sierra range. When I entered on June 9th, the snowpack was solidly in place but melting quickly and only posed dangers of post holing late in the afternoons. As a consideration, I would always cross rivers with other hikers, but even those were never higher than my knees in the afternoon.
On a side, the snow levels in the Sierra seem to be much higher for the upcoming 2019 hiking season. I would suggest this year’s class doesn’t overreact early but wait until you are farther along in the desert to evaluate the current conditions and what gear choices you need to make.
By the end of the Sierra, I had reached the final iteration of my pack contents. Because of my pace, the seasons did not vary from my time in Northern California until I reached the Canadian border on August 16th. My puffy had been sent home, and I had swapped my tarp and ground sheet combo for a one-person full protection shelter when the mosquito season had begun. I picked up my third pair of socks in Mammoth after learning the precious rule of carrying a pair dedicated to sleeping in.
Each individual will experience different gear needs on trail, and it’s important to go into a thru hike holding your gear with open hands. Be willing to learn from those around you and make adjustments to what you carry. The journey of 2,652 miles is long and filled with many challenges, and it is essential that the gear you carry helps facilitate that journey without causing extra stress or hindrance.
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Hey Sam. When this is all over in a couple months I know you’ll be back looking at this photo - thinking about the moments beneath the monument. • The monument was smaller in person wasn’t it? It’s paint was weathered but in good shape. So many grand adventures have started and finished here. Now it’s your turn. • Do you remember joking about seeing Canada off in the distance? “It’s just over that ridgeline” No one laughed. • Do you remember that knot in your stomach? The fear and doubt rose so quickly you almost cried. How much would this trail take from you? How much would it cost to hike to Canada? • Do you remember that first step? The courage it took? The knot loosening with every effort northward. • You do remember that morning - where it all began.
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I hiked to Canada today It’s a wild thing - walking from Mexico to Canada. This summer on trail has meant more to me than I know how to put into words right now. I’ll find the words one day - after I take a few showers and read some good books. I’ll remember the miles of dirt and the people I met there. I’ll remember the summer I walked north into the sun, into the snow and fire, into the mountains and a bit beyond. But now I stand in a clearing between two worlds. The wooden monument before me. My hands are stained by huckleberries and the dirt of a thousand miles. It feels strange to be here - to be finished - as if I’ll ever be finished. I wish I could stay a little longer - to breath in this world just a bit more. I glance southward down the trail for the last time. In my mind I can see all the way to a barbed wire fence strung across the desert. 2,652 Miles in 99 days. - Frick