APPALACHIAN TRAIL VS. PACIFIC CREST TRAIL GEAR LIST SHOWDOWN
Words and Photos by Abbigale Evans @abbigator53
I almost changed my entire gear setup from my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail to my upcoming journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. Although both trails are upwards of 2,000 miles, the PCT is a very different beast. On the AT, the biggest environmental barriers were fields of rocks, endless mud, and almost vertical rock scrambles. However, on the PCT, I'm expecting heavy heat in the desert, snow in the Sierras, and more exposure than I experienced on the AT. I wanted my setup to protect me from these environmental features but still be around the same 12 to 10-pound base weight (warm and cold weather dependent.) I believe one of the most important assets a hiker can have is flexibility. While there's a strong sentimental value to the gear I finished the AT with, I feel being able to adapt to new environmental conditions with gear that is better suited for them is more important.
I switched out my ULA Circuit pack for something lighter (by 7.7 ounces) — the Hyperlite Unbound 40. It carries well and has a similar setup to the ULA pack with an expandable back pocket. On the AT, I found I often had too much room with a 68-liter pack, so I feel more comfortable with a smaller one. There's no need to carry extra room if you don't use it. The Unbound 40 also has a bottom pocket so I can store all my lunch and snacks for the day. This allows me to ditch my fanny pack and just reach around into the bottom pocket while I'm hiking for any food I need. I'm hoping the white color of the pack will reflect heat in the exposed terrain so that my gear won't get as hot inside and also a little less hot while carrying it.
The Unbound 40 is also nearly waterproof, so I won't have to worry about it getting soaked through if I have to do a high river crossing in the Sierra. A common issue I had with the ULA Circuit was that the fabric would grow heavier when it rained. I would also overstuff my stuff sacks with my fleece and beanie to protect them. Inevitably, I'd have the internal debate about whether I should stop and rearrange my pack to keep my clothes dry or if I could get to a shelter fast enough not to worry about it. With the Unbound 40, I won't have that issue–I can just continue hiking.
It also still has all the same features as my old pack that I love—the large pockets for water bottles on the sides, a comfortable hip belt and shoulder straps, daisy chain loops on the shoulder straps to hook pieces of gear onto, and a roll-top closure. Additionally, I can doodle on it with Sharpie when I get bored or have other people draw things on it! That way, it can become a keepsake I'll have for years to come and remind me of the incredible miles and people I've worn it through.
I almost swore off inflatable sleeping pads altogether after my Nemo Ultralight Tensor Sleeping Pad popped on the AT. Five days of sleeping on the cold, hard ground will make you a little wary about trusting an inflatable pad for another thru hike. This time, I've come prepared.
I switched out my Nemo pad for an even lighter sleeping pad from Therm-a-Rest: the NeoAir XLite NXT. On the AT, my Nemo pad ripped at the valve. The XLite has a completely different valve system that is more protected and securely attached to the pad. It's also lighter by 2.5 ounces and has the same R-Value of 4.2.
This thru hike, I will also be carrying a foam pad, the Therm-a-Rest ZLite Foam Sol Sleeping Pad. This way, if my inflatable pad pops, then I don't have anything to worry about and still have a way of getting some rest. I plan on laying my inflatable pad on top of my foam pad to sleep — which will come in handy in the desert for cowboy camping. It's also ideal to lay out for impromptu naps, lunch breaks, and stretch sessions throughout the day. On the AT, I realized my knees got really sore from arranging everything in my tent while I was kneeling directly on the ground. While it's a tiny inconvenience, now it's solved by having a foam pad. I'm immediately more insulated in my tent, and my knees are happy. A win-win situation!
As for the final piece of my sleep system, I switched from an Enlightened Equipment Revelation 0 Degree Quilt to a Therm-a-Rest Parsec 0 Degree Sleeping Bag. Often, on the AT, I was frustrated at how I had to tuck the quilt underneath myself to prevent drafts from leaking in, and even then, I was still cold. I am an extremely cold sleeper, so this might not be true for everyone. However, I was tired of being cold while I slept (unless I was literally curled up into a ball underneath the quilt), so I switched over to a sleeping bag to be completely insulated. It also has a hood on it so my head can be covered, and I won't lose any heat at the top. In addition, it has a zipper pocket for my phone to keep it warm and secure while I sleep. It might seem excessive to some—but for me, it's a luxury item that's worth the weight to me.
For most of my thru hike on the AT, I was shielded from the sun by tree cover. In the desert section of the PCT, I will be more exposed, so I'm changing my daily hiking clothes accordingly. I will be wearing a Red Eft Sun Hoodie from Town Shirt to protect my arms from the sun, along with REI Co-op Swiftland Training Shorts, which will prevent my thighs from chafing in the heat.
I'll also be carrying Hyperlite's Essential Umbrella. Whether or not an umbrella is just extra weight is a common debate among hikers, but I think it will become an essential piece of my kit in the desert. The silver reflective outer coating of the umbrella will provide a reprieve from 50+ UV rays while I'm hiking, and I can sit underneath it to enjoy a lunch break without baking myself in the process. It will also make for a flashy way to get a hitchhike into town as I'm twirling it on the side of the road.
To protect my eyes and face from the sun, I will be wearing the Long Haul Cap from Territory Run. It's lightweight and breathable—most times when I'm hiking in it, I barely notice it's there. It also compresses down to stuff easily into my pack. Since I wear glasses on trail, I'll be sporting a pair of clip-on sunglasses to prevent harmful UV rays from affecting my vision.
I managed to avoid any snow on my AT thru hike—however, I think this will be impossible to do on my PCT thru-hike. So, to make sure I'm still able to hike through slippery snow and ice conditions, I've added Hillsound Trail Crampons and a Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe. The ice axe is a necessary safety feature in snowy and icy conditions. Hikers need to be able to self-arrest if they start slipping down an incline. Those couple of extra ounces you carry with an ice axe could save your life.
My clip-on sunglasses will also come in handy in the Sierra as they can prevent snow blindness. If I find myself to be particularly sensitive to the light, I'll duct tape the sides of my glasses to act as shields for my peripheral vision. It might not be the cutest look, but I'll just be glad to have eyes that are protected.
On this trail, I'll be carrying a camera with me: the Sony A6000. I started to carry it on the AT but sent it home. I made the decision because it was too overwhelming to think about photography while trying to figure out thru hiking for the first time, but I started to regret it halfway through the trail. There were many moments when I wished I had something a little better quality than my iPhone Camera. However, the shoulder clip I originally had it on was also bothersome—so I switched it out for Hyperlite's Camera Pod. The Camera Pod allows me to strap the camera across my chest for easy access. It keeps the camera safe with the Dyneema fabric, internal padding, and a water-resistant zipper.
With each trail, hikers have to adapt their gear to fit the conditions they'll be facing. For me, it's a fun challenge to research the technology that can keep me going on my thru hikes. Like all things in nature, if we want to grow as hikers, we have to be willing to change—even while hiking. Though I know I will send pieces of my kit home as I hike, I'm excited to see which ones go the whole distance with me.
Abby Evans (Sh*twater Fireball Queen of the Salamanders) hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2023 and loves to write about gear and outdoor misadventures. They look forward to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this coming summer and hope to triple crown before they're thirty. You can find them cutting their toothbrush in half, eating cold ramen and embracing the struggle on a trail near you! You can follow their journeys through their Instagram: @abbigator53.