This is something I’ve been kinda playing with recently after looking back in horror of how much money I spent on all my hiking gear. Seeing people make the same mistakes I did is sad because – while it’s their money, their comfort, their hike, etc – You’re much better off keeping extra money in your pocket for your hike. I hate telling people what to use and I don’t generally like recommending gear after my hike because nothing comprises the ultimate setup. No one was 100% happy with what they had.
And then I met a man who geared up mostly from Wal Mart. That threw me around for a little while and I emotionally dropped to my knees and screamed into they air “Whyyyyy?!”. I’m not necessarily telling you to do that, but it put the amount you need to spend into perspective for me.
Keep in mind that I probably haven’t used some of this gear and can’t vouch for it, but I am listing gear that people use and generally like. Also keep in mind that there’s a bunch of used gear markets on Facebook where you can get killer deals on AAA gear (GearRats, Backpacker Gear Flea Market). I’m also going on a bit of a focus of having a somewhat lighter setup, you can go even cheaper if you buy things without considering weight.
For reference I spent $2,500+ on all my gear including “But this item is lighter!” purchases to replace perfectly good gear I already had. I’m ashamed of that number.
- $149 – MyTrailCo Backpack Light 50L
- 2lb 1.5oz
This is kind of a new company. They used to be GoLite before GoLite was nuked off the face of the Earth, and this backpack is basically a new GoLite Jam which was an immensely popular lightweight backpack back in the day. One of the things that was popular about this pack was how little you pay and how far you can carry it. There’s plenty of used GoLite Jams on the market that are still in great condition if that tells you anything.
This backpack is quasi-frameless. There’s no metal frame to it, but the foam mat supporting the back really is enough. I use the same system with my Gossamer Gear backpack and can’t tell the difference. The Backpack Light is reviewed well for comfort and is rated to carry up to 40lbs which is more than enough for this setup. I’ve been eyeballing this pack for a while personally.
They do have a 70L pack, but honestly you absolutely do not need that much space for a thru-hike. All my gear fits comfortably in my 36L. Lose the stuffsacks if you run out of space.
- $153 – Six Moon Designs Scout
Assuming maybe you’re not ready to jump into using tarps (which would be a fantastic way to save money), the SMD Scout gives you the best of both worlds being a full shelter, but also being relatively lighter than a regular tent since it uses your trekking poles instead of typical tent poles. This system can be frustrating at times if you don’t find a good patch of ground to set it up on, but by and large it’s not really that big of an obstacle. For the price it’s hard to complain.
I saw quite a few of these tents on the PCT and continued to see them. That tells me that either people liked them, or they were just reliable enough to continue using them, or all of the above. Realistically all you really need is a roof over your head.
The price listed includes the aluminum poles to set it up (They’re an additional $28). If you already have trekking poles, don’t bother buying the aluminum poles from SMD. If you don’t have trekking poles, buy the aluminum ones from SMD and forget about buying trekking poles. They make life nice on the trail sometimes, but are not an essential piece of thru-hiking gear.
- ~$35 – Thermarest Zlite
- Regular Size: 14oz
These are extremely common on trail. I started with an inflatable mattress but switched to one of these to spare myself the insanity of having to meticulously fold it every single morning. They provide just enough padding that you can sleep on, and are just warm enough. You can cut off some of the squares to shed some weight where you don’t need it. Propping your feet on your pack/on gear to keep your legs off the ground is good enough.
- $255 – Enlightened Equipment Revelation
- Stock Weight (no adjustments to configuration): 19.27oz
This one is tricky. Warmth is important as is a good quality bag. Since I’m quasi-recommending gear I’m not going to say to skimp out since I’m also considering quality with everything I’m listing here. For the price and quality, you can not beat Enlightened Equipment Quilts. I will personally beat you over the head with how great these quilts are, and reassure you that you will be fine without the bottom portion of your sleeping bag. You can wrap these quilts around and under you to eliminate draft just fine.
For something like the PCT, 20 degrees is just fine. Of course some people sleep colder, so your mileage may vary.
You can get away without a stove and the latest/greatest UL titanium pot. Use any water-tight plastic screwtop container for your food dish (peanut butter jar for example), put something dry in there, pour water in it, let it soak while you hike. You can eat anything this way. I did not feel limited what-so-ever in what I could eat on trail without a stove with the caveat that some things took on a strange texture. But when I had a stove some foods tasted strange when cooked, so either option had its quirks.
Peanut Butter Jar: ~$2.00 (smaller size, you don’t need a huge one)
You can also use just any spoon. Get something a little firm if you want to be on the safe side, but I saw people using regular plastic picnic spoons and just took really good care of them. But assuming you go with a decent spoon:
Utensil: ~$5.00. You can find a good one at the grocery store for around that price.
Icebreaker this, Merino that! I’m sure they’re comfortable, but the one right call I made when gearing up was I didn’t spend an insane amount of money on my clothes, they get absolutely filthy and beat up. I made sure whatever I was wearing was polyester (because it dries fast), and that was it. Running shorts are also superior. If you want to save money and be really cool, they’re a bomb option.
You can get a 100% polyester shirt from Hanes for like $3. Example.
You can get a pair of good shorts for $10. Pockets are worth the few extra bucks, but you could really go super cheap on these as well if you wanted. Example.
This is where I kinda have that conundrum where it may be worth it to spend extra money. Socks are important because blisters are the worst. I love Injinji toe socks, I only had two blisters in total throughout my entire hike and I have these socks to thank. Some people recommend wearing socks on top of toe socks, I never found that to be necessary but if you wanted to, you can get a pair of light dress socks to wear over the top. Injinji Toe Socks: $10, you should get at least 2 pairs.
Cold Weather Gear
- ~$15 – Champion Thermals (legs)
- Weight: N/A
So I didn’t use these on my thru-hike. I went out and got really expensive Patagonia leg thermals. I used to wear Champion stuff when I worked outside during the winter at the airport and – you know what – they’re the same thing. I found them to be just as warm. If you’re uneasy or not sold on the idea of going with these, get two pairs and wear both if you feel you need it. They’re cheap enough. The next gear item I’m going to cover helps with extra insulation.
- (Optional) $18 Wind Pants
- Weight: N/A
I took along wind pants with me on my hike and loved them. I’m part of the club that doesn’t use rain pants, you don’t need them on a hike like the PCT (or ever, there are very few circumstances I’d bring rain pants with me). Light pants that shed wind with some water resistance were good enough. If they soaked through, I just hung them up in my tent and they’d dry over night, ready for the next day. You have to treat them gently, but if you get any holes you can patch them up with Gorilla Tape/Duct Tape. I mostly used them as extra insulation and they were perfect.
If you go this route, make sure you get something made out of nylon and for bonus points something that’s water resistant.
- ~$20 – Frogg Toggs Rain Jacket
- Weight: -10oz (I can only find the weight for the full suit)
I see these pop up quite a lot and they’ve been touted as excellent rain gear. They’re not made out of the strongest materials so the pants in particular have a habit of falling apart, but the jackets have a good lifespan to them. The one thing I hear about them is that they don’t ventilate as well, but not a lot of rain gear out there does. My jacket was horrible at ventilation, I just opened up the front zipper a bit to let hot air out and that worked out just fine. The difference is I paid $300 instead of $20.
- $69 – Melanzana Micro Grid Hoodie
- Weight: 9.15 oz
Down puffy jackets (down like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer) are overwhelmingly popular because they tend to be light and pack down really well (occupy less space in your pack). It’s a classic thru-hiker item, but not necessary. Fleece is the secret option #2 that is kind of overlooked. It’s infinitely cheaper as well for what you get in terms of warmth. There are cheaper fleece jackets out there, but I chose this one since it’s a bit warmer.
Some people buy wind shirts to go over the top of these in addition to having a rain jacket. I find that to be a little redundant so I won’t list it, but if you feel it’s right for you then by all means look into it. Personally I just used my rain jacket as a wind layer if I needed it.
*Updated as per a cheaper and lighter recommendation from another hiker*
I want to note that a lot of people don’t even use their headlamps on a consistent basis at all – if ever. I used my $100 headlamp twice. This is a cheaper (in comparison to higher end models) but well received model and was very popular. For safety sake, I like to keep one on me and in the future I’ll be using this one for sure.
*Updated as per a cheaper recommendation from another hiker*
- $16 – Anker 5400mAh
- Weight: 4.16oz
This could be classified as a luxury for sure, but in this day and age most hikers have a cell phone on them and even use it while they hike for maps and such. This model will give you maybe one full charge (depending on your phone) which is enough insurance if you don’t really use your phone at all on trail aside from quick GPS checks. You can upgrade to a larger capacity for minimal money. Anker is a fantastic brand.
You can find them for $15 at REI. I won’t list specific models here. Some people swear up and down you don’t need one on the PCT and they are – in a sense – correct. The trail is so easy to navigate, but it’s just one of those things you should have on you. I used mine under legitimate circumstances twice while hiking, and that was during the night when the trail is amorphous to the terrain around it. It’s easy to become disoriented on a dark night and I was glad to have mine.
- $22 – Leatherman Style CS
- Weight: 1.4 oz
This is the knife I had with me on the PCT and I mostly used it for clipping my toe nails, but I also used it to make minor repairs on gear as well. Oh and I used the bottle opener quite a bit. You know, the survival stuff.
$789.95 (minus tax)
That’s not bad. You’re going light and not spending a shit ton of money (as far as buying new gear goes anyways). And more importantly, you’re not exceeding the weight limitations of the backpack which is really important, you want to leave a lot of room for water and food. Of course keep in mind that I wasn’t able to find the weight for everything, but even then you’re still realistically looking at sub-15lbs which is an excellent base-weight for starting a long hike. I also didn’t take into account little hygiene/medical/survival things which won’t set you back monetarily or weight-wise at all. That stuff is cheap. By and large, this is really all you need as far as big gear items go.
Am I saying you should go out and use this stuff specifically? No, not unless you test it for yourself and ensure it works. You are responsible for your setup and making sure it suits your needs both comfort wise and making-sure-you-don’t-die-wise. The purpose of this post is to make gearing up for a thru-hike a little more mentally/emotionally attainable and to remind you that gearing up should be a relatively minor expense. That being said I will be doing something similar when I need to replace my gear, and I did see a lot of this stuff on the PCT.
Think outside of the box to save more money such as buying used gear, do not fall into a trap second guessing your setup because someone online has something lighter than you. Do not obsess over every ounce to the extent that it’s costing you extra money you don’t need to spend. While I do advocate for going lighter, it’s not going to make/break your hike as much as you think it would. There’s people out there hauling around 60lbs of stuff who make it to Canada. It’s all the same once you start walking. This setup is an example of going cheaper/lighter but not necessarily compromising comfort on trail.
Edit: Thanks to everyone making recommendations on better options. Let’s bring this price down as far as we can get it!