PCT #2: Becoming an Equipment Bore
Updated: Mar 28
Once one has decided one is going to walk the PCT, or even at the considering-it-stage, one is likely to join up to every Facebook Group on the subject matter going - and there's quite a few, catering to different lifestyles, genders, years, ages, and eating habits. At my last count, I think I found over twenty.
They all have one thing in common: post after post after post on fecking hiking gear, with a smattering of fear-mongering posts on frightful matters: like what to do when being eaten alive by a bear. Or a badger. Those kind of posts can absorb one for days and usually delay the most important pre-trek stage: equipping oneself for the actual PCT hike, or justifying why one took what one took on one's last hike, be that the PCT, AT, CDT, ABC, DEF or a quick jaunt to M&S.
Occasionally one can observe variations to every Facebook groups' dominant kit theme, and these usually occur at date-specific times: PCT Application Day, PCT Permit Approval Day, PCT Permit Printing Day, and New Years' Day.
Most scary is January 1st with its plethora of announcements that 'we' are walking the PCT this year, and the number of days 'we' have left to crap ourselves. I've a March start - I have less time to crap myself than your average PCT-er, who has at least four months to go. Normal service resumes within twenty-four hours though when we all resume fretting about kit again.
I decided that my 'Gear Selection' Phase would not start until I got my passport (now with US Visa) back in my hand. It was a bit unfortunate that my most prized possession went via a random neighbour's house for a few weeks due to a misunderstanding that when I paid for signed returned delivery, I actually meant I wanted to sign it myself in the presence of my own front door, rather than it being randomly shoved through someone else's letter box when they were away for Christmas and New Year. Still this misunderstanding permitted me to procrastinate for several more weeks, reading everyone else's ditherings on all matters hiking kit.
The key thing to anguish over is something called 'base-weight'. This is not, as I had initially thought, an obsession about just how heavy I wouldn't be if I had foregone forty-five years of excess eating. It is, in fact, what my rucksack will hypothetically weigh with the basics in.
And the 'basics', of course, is everything one is going to haul around on one's back, but excludes (sometimes) anything that has a variable weight such as a gas canister (but not the stove) food, drink, day clothes, and all the other 'essential' but diminishing or replenishable factors. Anything carried on the body is also excluded (sometimes) and anything that is considered 'luxury' is also not 'basic'.
It is important to note that actual body weight, excess or otherwise, less displacement across one's height, spine length and shoulder width, minus muscle mass, has no contribution to the algebraic calculation to the square factor of complicated.
In short, base-weight becomes a topic for endless discussion. I own no scales and so I have nothing to contribute.
One must decide on the "Big Three" pretty quickly, as some specialist gear, if that is what one is after, takes several weeks to make and send. The big three for the uninitiated (that's most of us) is one's shelter, rucksack and sleeping 'system', which consists of one's sleeping pad and some form of sleeping cover like a bag or quilt. At this point about 25% of the participants argue that a pillow is essential, about 25% argue it's a luxury and the rest fall out as to whether or not it should be included in the 'base weight' calculation.
Discussions lengthen still further on the shelter options: 'cowboy camp' (shelterless), hammock, bivy, tarp or the humble tent. However, if one is going for tenting, the most popular choice, one finds hikers are typically divided along tribal lines: Are you an Agnes or a Hubba? Of course, both brands have a variety of cousins and new incarnations for wannabee PCT hikers to fall out over.
In reality, when it comes to ordering whatever has been shortlisted as a possibility, one discovers the reviews on Amazon in no way correlate with the views expressed on Facebook, leaving one more baffled than ever. At that point you discover several threads of 'Over-hyped stuff that disappointed you...' and every conceivable bit of kit that has ever been recommended then gets a thorough smashing.
Resigned to getting it wrong, one busies oneself applying for a small mortgage on the tent one has yet to buy because it's this year's 'must have or you'll fail to arrive in Canada' edition of a lightweight nylon shelter. Shelters, of course, are no longer simply 'nylon' but in fact a trademarked poly-neo-faddy-and-newly-variable-number that denies its nylonesque origins by being half the weight of nylon and yet offering none of the durability of the canvas used in yonderyear. That done, provided the selected shelter has gravity-defying physical properties with an inverse impact on base-weight, you will then gather strangers-on-the-net's approval or disapproval depending on their tribal affiliations.
If one wishes, one can fire the debate further with a discussion on whether one is going 'ultralight' or 'ultra-ultralight' or heavy as hell (anything other than ultra-ultra-ultralight). The parameters of the technicalities are still hotly disputed. Obviously, the lighter the pack, the easier the hike, but the fewer items one brings, the harder the hike. This pure obsession with weight and pack-size means decisions need to be made according to what gear weighs as well as the more subjective of what is defined by 'essential'. This brings UK citizens to problem number two.
The UK suppliers, with a few rare exceptions, do not inform us exactly how many grams, for example, your second set of socks are. And if they do it's in kilos. American sites use ounces and pounds, but mostly ounces because even fractions matter! Suddenly, the fact that in my lifetime we substituted imperial for metric becomes crucially important because trying to choose a rucksack that is the hot choice on Facebook, but is not available in the UK anyway, means rabbit holes are more fun to explore. All subsequent frustration must surely be displaced onto the bureaucrats, best if they are European, whilst we still can.
In the end, I bought a pretty white rucksack with pockets for my stuff. A blue sleeping pad with matching blue sleeping bag, and an orange tent. Yup, I'm a colourful walking advert for Visa Card, who, incidentally, funded the entire lot. Or rather, at least until the end of the month when I'll be paying them back (somehow).
And for weeks after, everyday is like Christmas Day. Avoid coming home in the pitch-black: I tripped over the deluge of Amazon deliveries, nicely spraining my ankle.
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