A sleeping pad is critical to any sleeping system nowadays. Gone is the era when four hobbits would cuddle together underneath an outcropping with their wool cloaks wrapped tightly around them, a rock their only pillow. If you ask me, we have all lost a little of ourselves by letting that go. Anyhoo...
Pros: Lightweight, compact, excellent insulation, no slipping.
Cons: Can be punctured. I very foolishly put a bag with a sharp object underneath it in the Sierras while elevating my feet. Went right through both sides. Thankfully, the tenacious tape worked spectacularly and held the rest of the trip. Also, I admit it is a bit noisy at first. After the first week or two, I stopped noticing.
Bottom Line: Recommended? Yes, oh yes. I am not the best sleeper and never having to worry about rocks, roots, or cold ground was fantastic.
When you absolutely positively have to boil water quickly, the JetBoil cannot be beat. While most thru-hikers were still figuring out where to safely put their alcohol stoves, my water was already boiled. It is actually so fast that I spent less time boiling the water than finding the food I wanted to eat in my food bag. So, if all you are doing is rehydrating meals of potatoes, oatmeal, instant rice, noodles, et cetera and you are not fond of the wait or issues with alcohol, then this is the stove for you.
However, you cannot cook with it. Well, that is not entirely true, you can cook with it, but it is a pain in the ass. I used the ol' trusted method of cooking food inside of a freezer bag placed inside the boiling water to cook a few meals. Did not find it particularly enjoyable or easy. During the first week I tried, foolishly, to cook some noodles in the JetBoil, completely against the recommendations of the manufacturer. There are still burnt marks on the bottom of the pot.
The stove also sips fuel. One of the small 100g canisters typically lasted me 3 weeks when having one or two meals a day. A fellow hiker gave me a full canister of one of the larger sizes (230g, I think). It lasted me all the way from Echo Lake, CA to Timberline Lodge, OR. A distance of over a thousand miles. That is damn impressive. If you do choose a JetBoil, leave the stand at home. I never used it.
The Grease Pot was a great vessel for my meals. Lightweight and very resilient to the beatings of a thru-hike. And during the day I put all of my snacks inside it on the outside of my pack. Worked out great. As for the Titanium Spork: it survived the entire trip completely intact. I think the "fork" aspect is unnecessary though. I used it more for opening packages than I ever did for spearing my food.
Pros: Fast boiling, sips fuel, lightweight, and the envy of morning coffee drinkers with an alcohol stove.
Cons: Bit heavier than an alcohol stove. No simmering. Fork aspect of spork was not necessary.
Bottom Line: Recommended. Would probably choose a titanium spoon over the spork and insure it is of a size that it would fit in the pot.
In retrospect, starting with the Sawyer Squeeze Filter was a nice experiment but it should have never gone on the trip. Even during testing at home I became impatient with the amount of time it took to squeeze a couple litres into my Platypus Platy Bottles, especially since the bottles were flexible and did not stand up well when empty. Thru-hikers simply want their gear to work quickly and well, but once you leak water onto your pants for the tenth time, forget to bring the filter into to the tent on a freezing cold night, or have issues back flushing...the Sawyer filter has failed that test.
So, my backup water treatment was two wee bottles of Aquamira. Once I started using those I never looked back and bought more on Amazon and shipped them to myself as necessary. Towards the end even Amelia was using it. Many people complain online about the 5 minutes required for the two chemicals to react before being put into the water. Honestly, if you think about how long it takes to fill up the bottles, go pee, and grab a snack you are essentially at 5 minutes. I had two 1-litre bottles that I cycled through for drinking that were in one of my side pockets, so I added the Aquamira and kept on walking. 15 minutes later, I could drink the water. Pretty darn easy.
There are other
ways to treat water in the wilderness (such as bleach), but chlorine dioxide (aka Aquamira) is more effective against Cryptosporidium and Giardia while also improving the taste of the water and not creating any harmful byproducts.
Pros: Quick, easy, reliable, better than bleach or filters, reasonably cheap
Cons: None unless you are really impatient.
Bottom Line: Recommended.
When you have to carry more than 2 litres, say in most of California except for the Sierras, the Platy bottles are fantastic. Large capacity, lightweight, and collapse quite small. They only lasted me about 800 miles before developing a leak though. For everywhere else and for daily drinking, I used bottled water bottles put into a side pocket of my pack. Replaced them about every three weeks or so.
Digital Device - iPhone 5
Best thing ever. Camera, GPS, navigation, email, browser, music, videos. Damn thing does it all (and extremely well) and is a phone too. While having a digital device is not
necessary for a thru-hike, I would say it is extremely worthwhile. When mine was stolen in Castella, it really knocked me down. Losing my photos and videos, connection to the outer world, and entertainment was a huge blow. Thanks to it happening after a really challenging stretch, it was probably the closest I came to quitting. Thank goodness for an automatic online backup in Burney the week before, otherwise I might have lost over 500 miles worth of photos and notes.
Since it is an electronic device and you are going backpacking for five months in all kinds of conditions, it makes sense that it needs a bit more protection than what is required in civilization. I put mine in an
Incipio case and then a Loksak bag to protect it from dust, sweat, and rain.
There are a few apps that I recommend you look at:
Halfmile app is based off Halfmile's notes and maps, which are the maps for the Pacific Crest Trail. Using your GPS coordinates, it can tell you where you are on the trail (or how to get back to it) and also the distance to the next Halfmile landmark. However, after the Sierras, Halfmiles notes are fewer in number and you will start becoming frustrated when you walk by additional water sources or campsites that are never mentioned. Guthook's apps fills in the blanks with far more water sources (springs!), campsites, and additional details + photos. When you are hiking 20-30 miles a day in all kinds of conditions and terrain, it is helpful to know if the next reliable water source or campsite is around that next bend or 6 miles beyond. The Guthook app was a bit buggy at times and does not give you any calculated distances to destinations, but it was regularly updated while on trail so hopefully it will continue improving.
PCTHYOH app is simply a nice way to cache PCT related information on your phone (ex: PDFs of Halfmile's maps). Found it handy a few times when I wanted to look at Halfmile's elevation profiles in my tent. Eventually I stopped using it as the other two covered 99% of what I needed.
Pros: Amazing digital multi-tool. Able to order stuff from Amazon while on trail. Replaces physical maps. Apps for everything!
Cons: Expensive when you consider contract. Can be stolen or broken, so you have to protect it. Requires power (see next review).
Bottom Line: Highly recommended. My favorite piece of gear.
With the iPhone being used every single day and there being 4-7 days in between towns, it was necessary to have some manner of way to recharge the phone on trail. The
Wandering the Wild blog highly praised the sCharger-5, so I gave it shot. It does not have a battery and the iPhone 5 requires a strong, steady stream of power, which requires that you use it primarily during breaks when there is full sun. Not a problem in most of California and Oregon. The only time I had to conserve power was when the charger stopped working (manufacturing defect, apparently) and was without it. Easily recharged my phone in 1-2 hours, perfect for lunch breaks.
In Washington, I switched to the
Suntactics USB Battery and sent the charger home. That also worked extremely well and could recharge my phone at least 2 times, which is perfect for a 4-6 day stretch. Only complaint there is I think with a bit more engineering work (cost?) they might be able to make the entire device a bit smaller.
Pros: Simple, fast, and more reliable than other brands. Company was extremely responsive when charger stopped working and shipped me a new one via priority mail.
Cons: It did break at a rather inopportune time. Pricey.
Bottom Line: Recommended for California, especially if traveling with friends who want to use it too. I found their USB Battery so reliable though that I would recommend it as a lighter, cheaper alternative.