So, you have done a bunch of backpacking, but now you are thinking of a really long distance hike. Woo hoo! It’s pretty easy to figure out what gear you need. But, one of the easiest ways to save yourself weight and money is actually NOT BRINGING certain gear that you are used to bringing.
Unlike traditional backpacking, on a thru hike, it is going to be even more important to get your pack weight down. If you are hiking the PCT, you will be walking 8-12 hours a day (possibly carrying as much as 25-30 pounds of food and water for some stretches). Because of that, the amount of time you will have to sit in camp and entertain yourself will be more limited.
I certainly carry one or two luxury items on my long hikes, but I have become more picky about what I do carry. Here is a list of items that most PCT through hikers forgo:
To a newbie to thru hiking, this may sound disgusting, but most people (not all) end up dropping the soap after only a couple hundred miles. First, if you hike northbound, you will soon learn that you will not have much water. When you are already carrying 6 liters of water, do you really want to add another half liter just for bathing? Next, it’s almost impossible to keep the dirt off; it’s a losing battle. You may clean your feet and legs at the end of the day, but they will be nearly as dirty within 30 minutes of hiking the next day. Also, biodegradable or not, soap should not be used near any surface water. To do it properly is quite a hassle and you will likely decide it is not worth the effort after a hard day of hiking. Finally, you may come to love your trail dust. You will find that you will not have to apply sunblock to your legs! A lightweight alternative for cleaning up is the Wet Ones towelettes. I get the sensitive skin ones so that I can clean up my sensitive parts every other day or so.
You just don’t need one here. Trust me.
Yes, you are likely going to smell worse than you have EVER smelled in your life. But, here is the thing: no deodorant will help you with that! If you manage to carry that heavy deodorant stick without it melting and/or leaking all over your pack, you will have to apply it about once an hour to stay on top of your stench. And, after a week out, it won’t be your pits that stink. It will be your shirt. And your shoes. And your pack. It will be all of you! The odd thing is that after a couple hundred miles, your nose will change and you will find yourself being far more offended by the strong, synthetic smells of soap, deodorant, and perfumes than you will be of stinky hikers. You will smell day hikers from a quarter mile away. You aren’t going to want that deodorant.
I started the PCT with a small book of Sudoku puzzles. It weighed little, and I told myself it would be fun on breaks. A former thru hiker told me I would never have time for them, and she was right. I never even opened it! I ended up stashing it in my bounce bucket for later down the trail, but I never once fetched it out.
When you stop for a break, or stop for the day, there is a lot to do with limited energy. You will be meeting people, stuffing your face with food, looking at maps to find the next water, reading the trail description for the following day, writing in your journal, finding a campsite away from the crowd, and probably climbing into bed before the sun is even completely below the horizon. Save that weight for more Snickers bars.
I will carry really light flip flops for camp on occasion, but I have seen very few thru hikers carrying a completely extra pair of shoes. If your feet hurt so bad in the footwear that you walked in all day, they probably don’t fit right. If your shoes take too long to dry after a stream crossing, they probably aren’t going to feel good to hike in long-term either. Get lightweight, breathable shoes in the first place, and you won’t need a second pair. Of course, there are exceptions.
Bandaids are one example of the many things you can make with your duct tape! Blister prevention, sleeping pad/bag repairs, butterfly bandages, regular bandaids, etc. The list can go on and on.
Extra Cook Pot, Bowl, or Cup
It may not be civilized, but everything you care to eat or drink on the trail can be eaten or drunk from your cook pot and your water bottle. There is no need for extra containers. Even coffee drinkers can drink the coffee right out of the pot. For that matter, all you need is a spoon or a spork. You don’t need a spoon, fork, butter knife, chopsticks, etc (some people just eat with a stick or their driver’s license, but that is a bit far in the other direction…
I used to carry a pillow backpacking–until I started long-distance hiking. Now, I just take one of my stuff sacks or my down jacket and stuff it with all of the extra stuff sacks and clothing items that I am not using. I find it more comfortable than any of the pillows on the market anyway.
Change of Clothes
Don’t want to hike in dirty clothes? Well, you shouldn’t long-distance hike then! In all seriousness, though, maybe carry one extra pair of underwear and 1-2 extra pairs of socks. The rest will smell terrible very soon anyway. It won’t be worth carrying it.
I carry a long underwear top, bottom, and one pair of socks that I only wear when I am not hiking (or in an emergency). Those are what make up my sleepwear kit so that I can keep my sleeping bag clean. I have a lightweight down jacket, a beanie, and thin gloves, that keep me warm when I am stopped (or in my sleeping bag on cold nights). I carry a rain coat and pants, which I often throw on in camp to stay warm. And, I carry at least one more pair of socks (a total of 3 pair) that I will rinse and hang off of my pack to dry. That way, when I get a hole in one, I have a backup. Besides my hiking skirt, shirt, and skivvies, that is all I bring.
The thing is, that you can always add luxury items to your pack if you decide you really want them. You may want to see how you do with the load of essentials before you make that call.