1. Freeze-dried food: It's surprising to people that I, and most thru-hikers, did not take much freeze-dried food. It seems simple, we are trying to cut the weight in our packs, so why not the lightest food? There are many answers, but here are the two big reasons. Taste: even the best freeze-dried food tastes a bit like salted cardboard, so when you need 7,000+ calories a day, it is impossible to force feed yourself enough of it. Water: when you're hiking 20, 30, 40 mile days, it is not always possible to camp at the perfect water source. If you need to re-hydrate your food, all the weight saving is lost due to the need to carry extra water for cooking. Dried fruit, on the other hand, is a great choice.
2. Hiking Boots: To me, thru-hiking has a lot more in common with long-distance running than it does traditional hiking. Runners carry a bare minimum and thru-hikers obsessively cut the weight on our backs to make the walking itself more enjoyable. When Ray Jardine's PCT Hiker's Handbook suggested eschewing heavy boots in favor of trail running shoes, I made the switch and never looked back.
3. Band-aids: My first aid kit was fairly minimal arriving at Campo, CA. Yet, it still had items I would soon discard like gauze, bandaids, several varieties of moleskin, and athletic tape. All these things have a place when you're trying to prevent blisters, but on the PCT preventing blisters entirely is impossible. It soon became easier to toughen up my feet by letting the blisters happen. Any place that became too raw or rubbed too much had to be covered in duct tape because nothing else stayed on for more than a few miles.
4. Gun: One of the most common questions I got about the PCT: 'Did you bring a gun?'. Those asking the question often reiterate the fear of bears. Well, bears and cougars, but mostly bears. The truth is, wildlife on the trail is far more scared of us than we are of them, and that includes bears and cougars. Plenty things will stop a thru-hiker, from injury and fatigue to loss of motivation to weather, but wild animal attacks are not on that list.
5. Stove: Out of all my choices, this was the one that other thru-hikers questioned the most. Even ultra-light hikers had made some concession to have a miniature pop-can alcohol stove and a tiny bottle of fuel. All food that can be cooked, can be re-hydrated at room temperature, well, at least mostly. I ate re-hydrated Israeli couscous every night on the trail. My routine was simple, throw the couscous and water into my tupperware, and let it sit while I set up camp. 15 minutes later and I was shoveling down a perfectly re-hydrated meal. Oatmeal can be treated similarly. For the most part, I took normal, calorie-dense foods like bagels, peanut butter, snickers bars, avocados, and salami.
6. Air mattress: I do take a light air mattress on any shorter hike, but on the PCT I took only a torso cutout of a Z-rest. The pad was multi-functional, acting as the backing to my home-sewn backpack, and I never had to worry about punctures from thorns or rocks. That being said, a good air mattress is more comfortable, and warmer.
Thanks for checking out the blog! Every hike and every hiker is different and I'd love to hear what gear you take or leave behind on your adventures.