Getting your Pacific Crest Trail gear list dialed is a key element of the planning process for a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike.
In this complete Pacific Crest Trail gear list, Kim Vawter, BFT Community Manager, shares every piece of gear she packed for her Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. From the big items (tent, sleeping bag, bear canister, water filter, etc.) all the way down to the little knick-knacks (watch, sunscreen, maps, and more), she lays out her complete pack. She sheds some advice on what to be mindful of when making final decisions. Between my John Muir Trail packing list and Kim’s Pacific Crest Trail packing list; you’ve got some great gear recommendations for any long distance trail.
I’ll let Kim take it away now. Let us know if you have any questions about what to pack for your PCT hike! – Kristen
Figuring out what to pack on your Pacific Crest Trail gear list is big undertaking. I will say one thing before I dive in, keep in mind thru-hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail takes 4-6 months. To put it in perspective between the planning process and the actual hike you’ll spend at least half a year of your life devoted to the trail. With that being said, do your research, test your gear, and make smart decisions. Remember you’ll spend a majority of your day carrying everything you buy. You’ll want it to be light, yet it needs to provide comfort and safety for your entire PCT hike, meaning it must be functional and durable. For the most part, I was VERY happy with my Pacific Crest Trail Gear List and am still using much of the gear two years later.
Durability, functionality, and weight should be central to all buying decisions for your Pacific Crest Trail gear list.
PCT Basic Backpacking Gear
Backpack: I opted for the ULA Circuit. With a maximum weight limit of 35 lbs, this was one of the best gear decisions I made on the trail. The weight limit kept me from overloading my pack. ULA customer service was great when I lost body weight and needed a smaller hip belt they sent one overnight to my next trail town. If I hadn’t boughten a ULA, I would have used a Granite Gear pack such as the Crown VC 60 Ki Pack.
Tent: I originally started with a 3+ pound REI Quarter Dome 2 person tent and upgraded to the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 tent (2 lbs. 5 oz.) when it was discounted during REI’s Memorial Day sale. The weight differential was noticeable, and even more noticeable was how small the Big Agnes packed down. Don’t forget to pick-up a coordinating ground tarp for your tent to protect the bottom.
Read More: How to Choose a Backpacking Tent
Sleeping Bag: REI Joule 21 degree women’s sleeping bag – Warm, comfortable bag, especially for its size and weight (2 lb, 2oz), but I did have a few cold nights in the Sierras and for Washington purchased an extra liner to keep me warm. The Mens version, the REI Igneo 25, is here. Get a lightweight compression sack to compress your sleeping bag for added space in your pack–it’s also great protection from moisture and wear & tear.
Sleeping Pad: This was the gear decision that took the longest– I bought & returned a lot of pads. I finally settled on the Big Agnes QCore SLX Sleeping Pad and still love it to this day. Their customer service was also impeccable from the trail when my pad got a small leak they immediately mailed me a replacement to my next stop.
Read More: How to Choose the Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad
Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles – Still using to this day & LOVE. I lost a section of one pole early on, and Black Diamond mailed me a replacement part on the trail. I’m a big fan of cork handles vs. foam handles. If you are looking for a more budget-friendly option or prefer foam handles, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles are comparable. Don’t skimp on quality for trekking poles; you need poles that are strong and durable, especially if you’re going to be hiking in deep snow in the Sierras.
Pack Cover & Liner: ULA Pack Cover & a heavy duty trash bag liner- Definitely needed my cover in Washington. The trash bag liner was great for town stops. I could easily pull everything out of my bag, shake it out & even use the trash bag as a laundry bag.I packed extra liners in my resupply boxes to periodically swap out.
Gear Organization Pouches: This is what helped keep me organized. I’m a big fan of Granite Gear’s organization pouches–they are lightweight and help keep things clean and organized.
PCT Camp Kitchen
Stove: Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System + fuel canisters – Personally I like the MiniMo better than the Flash. I didn’t have a lot of experience with backcountry cooking & I knew enjoying hot meals would be a significant part of my happiness on the trail, so I’m glad I packed a stove. I had numerous hiking friends go stoveless and survive. FYI, one small Jetboil fuel canister lasts over a week.
Utensil: Snow Peak Titanium Spork – Lightweight, durable, and versatile. Lasted the entire trail.
Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze – This is the only place where I would 100% change what I used. Whatever you do don’t buy the Sawyer Mini; I started with it and upgraded to the Squeeze, and it was still a painful choice. I’d buy a Platypus GravityWorks 2.0 Bottle Kit (see Kristen’s full review here). A few friends had gravity systems, and I was always jealous at the trailside watering hole. Filtering water by hand for 5 straight months day in and day out is exhausting–but I did develop some nice forearm muscles.
Learn More on How to Choose the Best Water Filter for Backpacking
Water Bottle: SmartWater Bottles (Qty: 4) – These bottles are tall and slender so they don’t take up much room in the pockets of your pack. The bottles are more durable for filtering water & you can easily replace them in any trail town with clean fresh ones.
Bear Canister: I carried the Garcia Bear-Resistant Container and liked it except for the fact that you can’t see in the container like you can with the BearVault. Kristen loves the Wild Ideas Bearikade Weekender; which she used on her JMT hike. She raves it’s the best bear canister out there. Much lighter than its competitors and super durable. Rental canisters are available via their website. Your bear canister is one piece of gear you want to practice packing in your pack and carrying as it does add significant weight and takes some practice in packing into your pack.
This was the last supper before I mailed home my bear canister. That’s a celebratory smile for “sayonara insanely heavy canister.”
PCT Backpacking Gadgets/Tools
Knife: I started with a Leatherman Skeletool CX and quickly realized it was ridicously heavy so I switched to small locking knife.
Headlamp: I used a Pretzl headlamp but wasn’t sold on it. The Black Diamond Storm is built for surviving long distance thru-hiking. It is waterproof and has red and green night vision modes for late night reading in your tent that won’t kill your eyes. It uses 4 AAA batteries and shows battery life remaining when switching on the headlamp.
Watch: Armitron Sport Digital Watch – This thing took a beating and survived. You’ll want a watch–pulling out your phone to check the time is annoying plus having a back-up alarm and time source is great in case you run out of phone battery or your phone stops working.
Phone charger: I started with a Suntactic Solar charger which broke and their customer service was terrible; I’m yet to get it fixed or replaced still to this day. I switched to a lightweight power bank which I think is the way to go.
GPS Transponder: This was a requirement by my mom since I was going to be hiking the trail solo. The SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger fits in the palm of your hand and allows you to send simple signals to your family and friends indicating your whereabouts, and in the case of an emergency you can send for help with the press of a button. The other option for checking in with family or emergency responders in the Garmin InReach Explorer, which goes further allowing you to send AND receive custom text messages. The Garmin InReach is a bigger investment, but it comes with a lot of additional features (this is the device Kristen is currently traveling with).
I’m telling you right now. You don’t need deodorant (no, you don’t), shampoo, conditioner, etc. You’ll find all those items in town re-supply boxes, at every trail angel house and even at most hiker-friendly hotels. You can use & then put back in the hiker box for others to share. You’re going to get dirty and yes, you’ll smell, just get over it. It’s not worth including these on your Pacific Crest Trail gear list for the room they take up and the weight they add to your backpack.
Bug spray: UltraThon Insect Repellent – This stuff lasts for 12 hours and resists rain as well as sweat. It’s 34% DEET but honestly, you’ll need it in some places depending on the weather.
Sunscreen: Sawyer SPF 30 Stay Put Sunscreen – Kristen uses the same sunscreen as me. This sunscreen was awesome. Non-greasy, and you’ll only have to put it on once in the morning, and it lasts all day.
Homemade First Aid Kit:
For each of the items in my first aid kit my parents would frequently pack resupply in small quanitities in my 22 resupply boxes. This was helpful so I never had to buy a large quantity in town. Here are the items included in my homemade first aid kit.
- Benadryl* (seriously a godsend on a few specific nights I was scared and couldn’t sleep)
- Individual packs of kleenex
- Electrolyte replacement tablets*
- Emergen-C (great for ensuring you get your vitamins on the trail & helps with electrolyte balance)
- Green Goo (it’s ointment for cuts/scrapes, chaffing, bug bites and perfect as lotion for dry, cracked hiker hands)
- Duct Tape**
- Leukotape (this is the best stuff out there for blisters precautions, my dad cut a pencil in half and would wrap a bit around the pencil to mail to me)
- 2 Safety Pins
*For all the pills don’t pack bottles; just take 10-15 pills of each in a small plastic bag. If I started running low, I’d ask my parents to put more in my resupply boxes.
**Pick a uniquely printed duct tape design for closing your resupply boxes and carry some of that duct tape in your first aid kit as well as wrapped around your hiking poles. When I got to town, I’d just show the tape on my hiking poles to the postmaster, and it was easy for them to find the matching tape on my boxes. I also put labels on all my boxes with my name on every side.
Chapstick: Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25 – I was constantly losing my lip balm and buying a new one in every other trail town. They are all good but this one is mositurizing & has SPF.
Instant Hand Sanitizer
Wipes: Swipes Lovin’ Wipes – These are adult baby wipes for ladies that are gentle and help you stay fresh. They aren’t for wiping down your entire body, just for keeping your lady parts clean and fresh. I kept a few handy in a ziploc bag & had extras sent in resupply boxes.
Trowel & Toliet paper – Cheap was the name of my game when it came to buying a trowel; I used this GSI Outdoors Cathole Sanitation Trowel. If you’re worried about weight; check out this new ultralight trowel that weighs less than an ounce. To the people who say just use your trekking pole as a trowel, I tried and it just didn’t work for me at all. Don’t run out of TP; always check your supply before leaving each town. And if you’re nervous about pooping in the woods, check out our Step-by-Step Guide to Going #2 in the Wilderness.
Toothbrush & travel-sized toothpaste
PCT Miscellaneous Gear
This category of your Pacific Crest Trail gear list is where a lot of people add weight. Be careful; you need to evaluate how functional and essential every item will be to your everyday happiness on the PCT.
Notepad: Moleskin Cahier notebook + pen – I like handwritten journaling and having the memories of written word vs. using my phone to journal. These notebooks are lightweight and soft covered yet durable.
Kindle Paperwhite w/ water-proof bag: I loved being able to read & not carry the weight of an actual book. The Kindle Paperwhite weighs 7.2 ounces; I used it a lot in California but by the time my mileage increased in Oregon & Washington I wasn’t reading as much, and I sent it home. The waterproof cover was just to keep it safe in my pack. Honestly, if I was to hike again, I’d read on my phone.
Trail Guide: Yogi’s Trail Guide & PCT Half-Mile maps were a must for me & I was very happy with both. Personally, I liked having physical copies of both. Every night in my tent I’d read about the upcoming miles & plan my next town stop. I divided the trail guide & maps into each of my resupply boxes, so I was only carrying an ounce or two of paper at a time.
Pacific Crest Trail Clothing
Your clothing options are endless. Make sure to test out your clothing for comfort and functionality.
Hiking pants (1 pair): I rarely wore pants on the trail and ultimately sent my pants home after the Sierras. The pants I did have were REI Co-op brand, similar to the REI Kornati Roll-Up Pants. After I mailed my pants home, if I was cold I’d wear my base layer leggings.
Hiking skirt or shorts (1 pair): I started the trail with a pair of Nike spandex shorts that became my lifeline. I also hiked in a PurpleRain skirt. I loved the fit and the big pockets for carrying items. In the photo above, you’ll see my friend, Pinkie, wearing a green PurpleRain skirt.
Short-sleeve shirts (2): Hands-down obsessed with Icebreaker shirts. I bought 1 Cool-Lite Short Sleeve Crew Shirt & 1 Tech Lite Short Sleeve; I switched shirts a little after halfway. Never once did I feel they smelled and they do a great job of wicking moisture.
Long-sleeve shirt (1): A must for sure, you’ll be thankful to have long-sleeves for sun protection. I wore an Exefficio long-sleeve button-down that’s no longer available but here are two similar options: Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Shirt or REI Co-op Sahara Long-Sleeve Shirt. This is one of the only pieces of gear that was beyond filthy by the end of the trail. I threw it out but got 5 months of daily use out of the one shirt.
Midweight Base Layers: I loved my base layers; I carried REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Tights & Smartwool Midweight Base Layer Bottoms for California and then for Oregon & Washington I only carried Smartwool Midweight Base Layer Bottoms. It was helpful in the Sierras to have two pairs so I could hike in one & have a clean pair for night. For my base layer top, I carried an Icebreaker Oasis Crew Long Underwear Top. Beyond the occasional times, I chose to wear my base layers for added warmth I never wore them outside my tent. It was nice to have “clean” clothes for bed.
Jacket: Definitely, bring a down or synthetic jacket of some sort. Nights and early mornings are very cold. You want something that is lightweight, packable and durable. I had planned to purchase a Patagonia Hooded Nano Puff but found a NorthFace ThermoBall Jacket on sale at REI, so I opted for the money-saving option. The ThermoBall survived the trail, but I’m looking to upgrade now to the Patagonia Nano Puff as I do think it’s significantly warmer. I will say, you want a hood–it helps keep in your body heat.
Underwear: Ex Officio Give and Go Mesh Bikini Briefs (2 pairs) – Easy to hand wash and dried quickly, and they can also be used to swim in. My favorite “outdoor” underwear. I’ll be honest though since the trail I’ve discovered Patagonia’s underwear, and I am slowly converting.
Sports bras: Patagonia Brand Active Compression Bra (Qty 1) – Seriously the only athletic bra I’ve ever bought that didn’t stretch or get loose after extended use.
Rain Pants & Jacket – I started in Mexico with rain pants & a jacket. They ripped by the time I hit Julian, CA for a trail stop that I threw them out and roughed it all the way to Washington with no rain gear. We almost changed my name to Tinman after I picked up matching silver rain pants & a jacket in Seattle. I’m still to this day in love with my OR Helium rain pants & OR Helium rain jacket. They are pricey but weigh less than 6 ounces each and pack into a pocket for easy storage. The elastic waist with drawcord is great for putting on over other pants as well as the zip ankle bottoms for getting over your shoes. Due to my height (& the rain), I wore the men’s version of the pants almost every day in Washington.
Socks: Don’t think twice—Darn Tough Hiking Socks (2 pairs) + Injinji 2.0 Midweight Socks (1 pair). Don’t skimp on sock quality or the number of socks you pack. I changed my socks every 3-4 hours if it was hot or wet outside. I hiked for 5 months, 2,650 miles without one blister…change your socks. Use safety pins to attached freshly changed socks to your pack to try out.
Pacific Crest Trail Clothing Accessories
Hat: I wore a random Gregory hat I had gotten for free at PCT trail days. I ended up ditching it. I’m not a huge hat person. Kristen loves Patagonia hats. Check out the Patagonia Interstate Hat, it’s breathable and stays on even with strong winds.
Sunglasses: You need something durable with polarized lenses like Native Eyewears or Smith sunglasses.
Buff: Not only did I wear a Buff High UV headwear everyday either as a headband or around my neck, I used my Buff every single night stuffed with clothes as a pillow.
Wool beanie and gloves – I wore a free merino beanie every morning & night that I had gotten from PCT trail days the year prior. I loved The North Face Etip Gloves; they were also necessary, especially for Whitney and cold mornings. My beanie was similar to SmartWool’s lightweight merino beanies.
The Best Shoes for Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
500 miles to Canada! Imagine all those little pine needles in your shoes. Gaiters are a must.
Hiking Shoes: I trained in Brooks Cascadias, then started in La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX hiking shoes but they were just too heavy at the end of the day. In Mount Laguna, CA I picked up a pair of Altra Lone Peak Trail-Running Shoes, and it was a love story for the rest of the trail. They have an extra large toe box which is great for swollen hiker feet. I went through 5 pairs and still to this day am buying Altras.
Gaiters: Before hiking the trail I thought these were a little overkill. Post trail I think they’re one of the best hiking inventions ever. My mom got me a pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters, and I’m still rocking them today. They do a killer job of keeping dirt, rocks, twigs and anything else out of your shoes. Nothing is worse than getting a rhythm down and then having to stop to shake out your shoe.
Crampons: I mailed myself MICROspikes to Kennedy Meadows that I used for the entire Sierras and then mailed home. They were perfect for giving me extra traction & security on ice & snow.