You might find yourself at an outdoor retailer, as we have, saying, “Yes please. I want that. All of it. Mhmm. Everything. Thank you.” Before you empty your bank account, remember that the Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH) philosophy applies to gear as much as anything else. There are a million and one set-ups, one of which will surely come close to the right fit for you. The options for lighter, better, and more affordable gear will always be there, so, if you’re planning a hike, take a deep breath before you dive into the gearhead’s ocean. Remember, its you who’ll be doing the walking!
We tend to be middle-of-the-road on this stuff, so if you’re looking for ultralight or DIY tips, scoot on over to Adventure Alan or Backpacking Light (or, to go classic, check out Ray Jardine). The ultralight community is full of helpful and enthusiastic folks, always looking to induct new blood!
That said, here’s Square’s (humble) general advice when it comes to gear:
The Gear-amid won’t let you down.
When acquiring gear, you’ll want to keep three general questions in mind: 1) What is an item used for, and how well does it serve its intended use? 2) How much does an item weigh? and 3) How much does an item cost (or, alternatively, how much time and effort will it take to acquire it)? When you get your answers, typically, satisfying two of the three will mean sacrificing a bit of the third. When we consider gear for a long hike, we aim to find the sweet spot where price, use, and weight intersect. The inverse to this idea is just as simple. If something’s heavy, uncomfortable, and expensive, ditch it!
Don’t be afraid to test-drive.
Remember: your gear works for you. You want gear that is reliable, comfortable, and practical, so you can focus your energy where it counts: on the hike. Now-a-days, most retailers have excellent return policies. While you shouldn’t exploit those policies, you can absolutely purchase gear with the idea that you may soon return or exchange it. It’s definitely worthwhile to take your gear for a few practice hikes (also known as shakedowns), or even just walks around the neighborhood. Maybe the pack you bought felt great in the store, but was uncomfortable in the field? Take it back and try another one!
Get critical, but don’t get crazy.
What’s the proper balance of gear essentials and gear luxuries? Ultimately, only you can decide where the balance lies for you, but, for most people, culling down a gear list usually results in a more enjoyable experience. You’ll carry less weight, and you’ll have fewer distractions. Ommmm, Ommmm, namaste, etc. If you’re worried about having too much gear, grab a buddy and go through the pack together. Vocalizing your justifications for carrying an item to another person will help you realize what’s really important to you, and what isn’t…
Sample Gear List.
Here’s a snapshot of what we’ll be taking on our PCT thru-hike. Clearly, a few small items are missing from this list, so no hating, please. Some of these items (tent, cookware, maps, first aid, etc.) will be distributed between two people and are meant for two people. I’ve included weights when possible. If you have any questions about specific items on this list, or about male- or female-specific clothing options just ask. Finally, one note about footwear: for our PCT thru-hike, we’re both trying out Brooks Cascadia 10 trail runners in lieu of boots. The trend in the long-distance hiking community seems to be veering towards lighter shoes, though we’d be the first to tell you we loved our Keen boots, which we wore for our entire AT thru-hike. Footwear is definitely a personal choice, so roll with what works for you.