I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. After months of meticulous research, weighing my bag, editing, and weighing it again, I still managed to pack a ton of stuff that I didn’t need. Feel free to learn from my mistakes with this fairly exhaustive list of what I should have left behind:
1. Soap: In the beginning, I washed my socks at the end of every day and attached them to my bag to dry in the sun. Then I stopped. I let my socks stiffen with grime until they had a life of their own. I’d crunch them onto my feet and loved them all the more.
2. Deodorant: I lost an awareness of my own funk and rarely spent time with other people who would mind (read: non-thru hikers).
3. Town dress: Did I love my town dress? Absolutely. But did I need it? No way. I could have hung out in laundromats in my rain gear just like the rest of the hiker trash (a loving term for thru-hikers) and I’d have been just fine.
4. Underwear: Nope. There weren’t enough bikini-needing mountain lakes to justify this extravagance. The trail gods thought so too: I put my undies too close to a heater on my first town stop, and didn’t have underwear for the rest of the trip.
5. Mug: I love my titanium mug more than I can say, but carrying a pot and a mug? That was way too fancy for my needs.
6. Pot scraper: I stopped washing my pot after two weeks. People (yes, even gross hikers) judged me for letting my previous meal flavor my next, but I didn’t mind one bit.
7. Bear bag: I used a bear can where I was required to (as all hikers should), but everywhere else it was silly to have my bear bag. The only animals that bothered me were mice—and they had no problem climbing right into the big hole at the top and pooping all over my food. (Learn more about backpacking in bear country.)
8. 3-liter water reservoir + hose: I was so terrified of running out of water in the desert (this never happened), that I only drank water from my external one-liter bottles so I could monitor my intake. Thus, having a hose attached to a reservoir was useless.
9. Gaiters: Although I devoted a lot of time into choosing the perfect pattern (little cartoon sharks) for my gaiters, I got just as much sand in my shoes on the days I put them on as the days I didn’t.
10. Backpack top lid: I agonized over this decision. Should I cut the lid off? What if I need to put stuff in it? In the end, I cut it off and brought less because I had less carrying space. Plus, I felt almost like an ultralight hiker with my frayed, cut-off straps.
11. Sleeping bag: I brought a bag that was rated for men down to 15 degrees. I finally looked at the tag when I was freezing on-trail and saw for a female-bodied person, it was rated to 31 degrees and was a foot too long. I ended up buying a 15 degree quilt instead, saving myself weight and space.
12. Silk liner: I was told that I could keep my sleeping bag cleaner and stay warmer if I had a silk liner, but I was dirty with it and warm without it. I tossed it.
13. Open-faced bivy. Although I started in a two-person tent, when I lost my hiking partner to debilitating foot issues, I continued alone in the cheapest shelter I could buy en route: an open-faced bivy. I got drenched by freezing, torrential downpours one night and was driven mad by mosquitoes for a week in the High Sierra. Never again!
14. GPS device with texting capabilities. I never used the GPS capabilities (I relied mainly on a PCT phone app) and only texted when I was super lonely and mosquito-crazed along the dead-zone of the John Muir Trail. Next time, I’m saving my seven ounces for more food.
In the end, what you carry is a highly personal decision, and no matter how much research you do, you will definitely edit your gear as you go. But if you really think about what you need versus what you want, you’ll find the sweet spot.
To connect with other PCT hikers, ask questions or share your experiences, visit the Pacific Crest Trail Hikers’ group in our digital community, Conversations.
Photo credit: Avry Martinson.