Life of the Wanderlust

Tag: pacific crest trail

Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hike Recap – 2022

  • Start Date: May 10th
  • Finish Date: Aug 1st
  • Direction: Mexico to Canada – Northbound
  • Total Miles: 2,653 miles / 4,269 kilometers
  • Duration: 84 days

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the longest hiking trails in the US at 2,653 miles, and by many considered to be one of the most premier. It has two siblings in the Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail both of which are of similar length. All three spanning from south to north across the entire country, and all three together making up what is known as the Triple Crown.

Standing at the southern terminus monument of the PCT at the Mexico border, just 2,653 miles to go

I had attempted this trail in 2018, but unfortunately right around mile 200 I tripped, I fell, and I immediately felt a sharp pain. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong other than it hurt, so I continued another 700 miles hoping it would get better before I eventually got off trail, got an xray, and quit. A broken metatarsal and toe.

I mostly consider that experience an accident. How many times have you tripped in your life, and broken a bone? Still it is worth taking lessons from, and I certainly could have trained more pre hike regardless of my past thru hiking experience. A reminder that these trips aren’t guaranteed, and we should do our best to prepare for success but also to enjoy the moment.

Now 4 years later I was ready to finally give this trail another go. I wanted to see how far I have come and how much I have learned in all the years and miles since my last attempt. I worked hard the year prior and over the winter to prepare, and I set out to hike the 2,653 mile trail in under 90 days. A near 30 mile per day average for the entire hike.

The first of my video series from the hike!
Mt San Jacinto in the background, a long 20 mile descent from high elevation with snow, to the second lowest point on the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail presents its own unique challenges

  • The ground is rocky, dusty, hard, and compact. This type of surface will cause more wear on your feet, joints, and bones. Your shoes will die quicker, and you’ll want to replace them with a higher frequency. I did not wear gaiters around my shoes, though given how often I would clean the grit out I probably should have. I would walk lightly and quietly to try and combat the hard surface, but for many trekking poles are the answer to alleviating pressure.
  • You start the trail in a desert environment, where long and heavy water carries are a daily obstacle to plan and navigate. The heat and sun exposure fries your skin. Electrolytes and sometimes frequent breaks in the shade are a must. Large brim sunhats or sun umbrellas help with exposure. Though I carried 4 liters water, I saw many with 6 liters or more, and frankly the more the better as it gives you options.
  • Climbs are not short and punchy, but instead very long and drawn out. Hikers mostly rejoice in how evenly graded the PCT is, afterall it is made so that a horse or pack animals could do it, but for me that means my muscles will be strained in one way for much longer. Rather than a constantly undulating trail where one muscle group gets a break more frequently, the PCT slowly takes you up or down mountain switchbacked trails for as many as 20 miles at a time. I need to remind myself to break and occasionally stretch as well as to pace myself.
  • Snow travel is an inevitability. You will find yourself slipping, sliding, and learning to travel safely on it in the end. Every section of the PCT can have this type of challenge depending on when you start or how fast you go. For instance I started late but went fast, so I had minimal snow in the desert and the Sierra, but loads of snow in Oregon and Washington. Those who started early but went slow had the opposite. It’s a very fine balance if you’d like to try and avoid all of it. Best to try and enjoy the uniqueness of snow travel regardless of where you hit it, as nature often doesn’t care about how well you’ve planned something anyway.
  • Wildfires are a part of the west. In the past 6 years or so of this trail, wildfires have been one of the largest hurdles of this entire hike. Imagine walking 1,500 miles, and then your hike being stopped, rerouted, or changed entirely due to conditions out of your control. That is a reality of this trail now. Wildfires are a way of life if you’re hiking out west and I think they should be heavily considered when you are planning your trip. Wildfire season is late summer and early fall. Either start early if you wish to go slower, or know the later you start the faster you will need to go to avoid these closures. Unfortunately given the unpredictability of these things you may still get unlucky. I did not fear rain on this trail because I would get wet, I feared rain because I knew it often means lightning, and fires.
North Cascades of Washington, the trekking pole was used for sketchy snow traverses, and high water crossings

Pace

  • Miles Per Day Average: 31.5 mpd
  • Zeros: 2 (Tehachapi CA & Sisters OR)
  • Neros: 9 (Any day less than 20 miles)
  • Avg Wakeup: 5am
  • Avg Bedtime: 10pm
  • Most miles in a single day: 60 miles
  • Desert: 28 mpd
  • Sierra: 26 mpd
  • NorCal: 41 mpd
  • Oregon: 37 mpd
  • Washington: 33 mpd
  • First Half: 29 mpd
  • Second Half: 35 mpd
  • Blisters: 7 (almost entirely from kicking rocks)
  • Shoes: 6 (I could have used one less pair)
  • Socks: 13 pairs (4 of which were from Walmart, all 4 got holes within the same day)

With this hike I wanted to test myself, and see how much I had learned over the past 8 years, and 11,000 miles of my hiking career. Especially considering how my first PCT attempt went in 2018, it often felt like I had a bit of something to prove to myself. I wanted to do the trail of course, but I also really wanted to push myself.

In the end I averaged 31.5 miles per day for 84 days to complete the trail. My goal was sub 90, and I am very happy to have accomplished that!

Speed is a good way to test how well you know your skills and self. Your pack must be light, so every piece of gear has to be chosen carefully and thoughtfully. You must be efficient with your time both in hiking and in towns, as daylight is limited and sleep is precious. You must learn how to take care of yourself all while still keeping up the miles. I think if you can do this you can do anything in hiking.

Most days I would try to be walking by 6am, and most evenings I would stop shortly after sunset around 9pm. I took minimal breaks throughout the day, and walked at a comfortable pace. I had 15 hours of daylight to utilize, and nothing else to do other than walk during that time. By the middle all the way to the end of this hike I was often doing 40 – 45 miles everyday, but the trick of course is making up lost time from town stops, so my overall average does not reflect that at first glance.

The Pacific Crest Trail lends itself nicely with high mileage as the grade of climbs and descents is gradual, the trail is well maintained and easy to navigate, the weather is mild, and towns are frequent enough where food weight is never too high. You can find a comfortable pace and just stick with that endlessly, while many other trails in the US are more varied in a physical sense.

Before this hike I did a fair amount of training. 60 mile overnight hikes, long daily walks, and running. I also paid close attention to my diet for the months prior to starting. Both losing a bit of weight, and staying active I think is very helpful. Anything to make the trip easier physically is worth while as the real trick and true difficulty of this trail comes with its length. At 2,653 miles there is a lot of time for something to go wrong, and it was a constant battle to get ahead of anything that may have stopped me. Much of that battle came before even starting.

Halfway, happy, and on pace for my 90 day hike. Feeling great and ready to ramp up the miles, I went on to average 40 miles a day for the next two weeks

The People

  • Thru hikers I passed: 1094

If I could tell without a doubt that a person was a thru hiker, I counted them. I did not count the southbound hikers I met, so this is only those traveling north. But I would say I saw another 200 heading south if I had to guess. Most interesting is that within the first 1,000 miles I saw and met 852 thru hikers. The other 242 came from the final 1,650 miles. I only ever saw three people more than a small handful of times because of my pace. Kevin, Gasket, and Mooch all hiking a similar speed and started around the same time as me.

The PCTA gives out something like 8,000 hiking permits a year, and of these people it seemed like half of them were from a country other than the United States. The majority of foreigners being from Germany, but I met folks from everywhere it seemed! It was a good opportunity to ask about hiking trails in their part of the world, and it was cool to see all the different styles of gear, and ways of doing things.

Coming into this trail I knew there would be a fair amount of people. I actually adopted the mantra “embrace the community” before I even left for the hike, as typically I want more solitude. Overall I enjoyed the company most of the time, and made a big effort to talk to as many people as I could. Getting information from others, sharing stories, having new people to hike with daily, and an extra layer of safety should I get injured was all a positive thing. The community really looks out for one another, so if you are in need maybe take solace in that another hiker will soon be up the trail behind you.

  • Trail Magic: 16
  • Hitch Hiked: 10
  • Rangers: 2 (who checked my permit)
  • Trail crews: 3 (thank you!)

As I got further north and passed the bubble of hikers, trail magic and any sort of help subsided drastically. Only twice total in the states of Oregon and Washington did I get trail magic, while all the rest came from California.

Hitch hiking was never difficult as most locals near trail towns know what you’re doing, and know that you just want to go eat food. I never waited long, and everyone was friendly. Though should you not want to take the risk there are many people all up and down the trail that offer rides for a small fee, who are more trusted than just a random pickup. Many times you may get to a trailhead and someone will be waiting just to see if you’d like a ride. It is their way of giving back.

Mooch at the start of the ridge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness with Mt Rainier in the background
Gasket coming through Tunnel Falls in the Eagle Creek alternate

Animal Encounters

  • Snakes: 28 (3 of which were rattle snakes)
  • Bears: 2
  • Weasels: 2
  • Mountain goats: 4
  • Horses: 8
  • Llamas: 4 (the llamas and horses were used as pack animals)

My favorite of the animals I saw were the birds! Most of the way up the trail I was using the app on my phone “Merlin” to help identify what I was seeing. It was a fun daily task that would often take my mind off the walking. I enjoyed the Stellars Jay, Spruce Grouse, some type of Quail, Scrub Jay, Western Tanager, and the Black Capped Chickadee most. I never did see an owl, but I likely wasn’t paying enough attention as I could hear them at times. I heard many people also used the app “Seek” to help identify plants, but I always forgot to download it while in town.

As for larger animals, people worry about bears, and people worry about snakes. I saw many snakes through the course of this trip but only three were of the venomous variety. One I almost stepped on in Norcal, one that slithered away very quickly, and one that snuck up towards me while I was taking a break in the shade. I would say you’re fine if you keep your eyes open, your wits about you, and only use one headphone should they rattle. As for bears you may not see any, or you may see a few. They are of little threat and just want your food. Be safe with where you choose to camp, how you store your food, and you likely won’t have any issue with them.

If you are concerned about this or anything else, most hikers these days carry a Garmin Inreach Mini. They are fairly expensive but worth the cost in the level of safety it gives you. It is a personal locator beacon your family or friends can use to track you, but it also has an SOS button that goes directly to search & rescue should something bad happen. I like this model over other brands because it has a messaging system where you can use it to text friends on trail who also have the device, or you can send messages straight to your family at home to let them know how you are doing. I think it can even give you a weather report. I will copy this excerpt into the gear section as well since it is something I believe is very important in this modern day of hiking.

Mt Rainier National Park, sleeping on a ridge with this view to wake up to

Weather

  • Shelter setup: 4
  • Rain: 5 (only one of which is memorable)
  • Snow storm: 1 (Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness)
  • Nights below freezing: 4 (Entirely in the northern Sierra)
  • Lowest known temp: 27°F / -3°C Yosemite
  • Highest known temp: 110°F / 43°C Stehekin

Depending on your start date this trail can be fairly mild when it comes to weather. It’s pretty hot throughout the desert, Northern California, and Oregon so that should definitely be taken into account with clothing choices and start date. Many will wakeup early while the temperatures are cool, take long midday breaks in the shade, and then hike again into the evening. As always remember electrolytes.

As a trade for the hot days I only got rained on 5 times during my entire hike. Only one of those times did I actually want my rain jacket, and felt a need to setup my shelter. The other 3 times I set it up was for wind, while every other night the entire trip I cowboy camped under the stars.

Rarely were temperatures at or below freezing at night, and most days were pleasant for me, though again this heavily depends on when you start. One reason I started as late as I did was so that I wouldn’t run into much cold as I know I handle the heat better. Most people prefer an earlier start with warmer gear to do the opposite and avoid the heat.

A storm rolling in over the John Muir Trail just north of Reds Meadow

Money

  • Money spent: $6,063 (not including flight to or from trail)
  • Resupply – $2,275
  • Restaurant – $1,201
  • Food Boxes – $650
  • Shoes & Gear – $837
  • Accommodations – $1,100
  • Laundry : 7
  • Showers: 12
  • Beers consumed: 4
  • Towns I stayed the night in: Big Bear, Wrightwood, Tehachapi, Kennedy Meadows South, Lone pine, Kennedy Meadows North, South Lake Tahoe, Burney, Ashland, Sisters, Snoqualmie, Stehekin, Mazama

I was quite surprised by how much money I spent on this hike as I figured I would come in around 4k, but I think a few things contributed to it. First, I now see a hotel along the way double charged me. But beyond that… I could have shared hotels with others! Splitting the cost with just one other along the way would have saved me 550 dollars.

Another big factor here is the towns themselves. The places I often found myself in are more akin to resorts and resort towns. High prices, small stores, and not much going on other than opportunities to spend money. Still they offer food, electricity, wifi, and other essentials.

Something else that stood out is that the towns came surprisingly frequently. I always knew the Appalachian Trail had a lot of towns and roads, but I never thought of the PCT this way. And to be fair, it doesn’t! But given that the trail itself allows for a faster pace, it feels like it does. Many sections it seemed like I could go to town every other day if I wanted.

I think in the end I had more fun out there than I expected to, financially speaking. Expensive hotels and expensive meals. Bought a pair of shoes I knew I wouldn’t like then proceeded to not like and replace them. But hey this is supposed to be fun, I ate what I wanted, and did what I wanted. I have heard and could easily understand people spending far more than 10,000 dollars to do this.

Views of Mt Shasta every day through Northern California, one of my favorite mountains

Food & Nutrition

  • Starting body weight: 186lbs / 84kg
  • Ending body weight: 176lbs / 80kg

Calories per day

  • Desert – 2,500 (felt good)
  • Sierra – 3,000 (lower energy, harder trail, hiker hunger kicked in)
  • Norcal – 4,000 (starting to chase the hunger)
  • Oregon – 5,000
  • Washington – 7,000 (finally caught up to hunger)

I wasn’t particularly trying to lose weight this hike, but I also knew that I could have been eating more. Most days I felt fine and I still made the miles I wanted, but it was that last hour or two of the day where I often wished I had just two or three more little snacks.

Heading into the future I would like to play around with cold soaking more meals during the day other than just dinner. Oatmeal for breakfast, beans & rice for lunch, and then a more built and hearty dinner for example, with snacks in between. I can fairly easily cold soak and eat while I walk so I don’t think I would lose any momentum, and I would likely gain a lot from this. Especially compared to the dense bars (or candy) all day for energy instead.

On this trip I bought my food from a store 2/3rds of the time, and the other third of my resupplies were boxes I had prepared before I left. I like boxes but you definitely don’t need to make any. Stehekin, and Crater Lake would be two places I would recommend, but those can be prepared easily while on trail as they are quite far north. Even then you could do this hike without any boxes, though the boxes sometimes give you the option of ‘better’ foods compared to a convenience store. Other potential spots would be: (in order from south to north) Kennedy Meadows South, Tuolumne Meadows, Seiad Valley, Crater Lake, and Stehekin. Every other spot and even some of these you could hitch to a different location for food.

Stehekin is a town only accessible by boat, bush plane, or hiking. No cell service, and not much going on, still it was my favorite town of the trail
Pastries from the famous Stehekin bakery, trying to recoup lost calories

Daily Milage & Journal

  • Day 0 – 0 – 0mi Colder than average, sleep near terminus
  • Day 1 – 38 – 38mi Lots of people the first half of the day
  • Day 2 – 68.5 – 30.5mi Mt Laguna, long descent very windy
  • Day 3 – 103.5 – 35mi Hot! Scissors Crossing, nice people
  • Day 4 – 138 – 34.5mi Hot! Eagle Rock, Mike’s place, boulders, setup for PVC
  • Day 5 – 162 – 24mi PVC resupply, heavy pack, big climb
  • Day 6 – 188 – 26mi Cool ridge hike, first very physical day, Mt San Jacinto
  • Day 7 – 220.5 – 32.5mi Hot! grueling descent, 2nd lowest point on trail
  • Day 8 – 252 – 31.5mi Whitewater long climb, bee stings my face
  • Day 9 – 266 – 14mi Big Bear nero, a lot of chores done
  • Day 10 – 288 – 22mi 1pm leave town, good walkin’
  • Day 11 – 322.5 – 34.5mi Deep Creek Canyon, hot springs busy
  • Day 12 – 357 – 34.5mi Lake SP, cajon pass McDonald’s, awesome long climb
  • Day 13 – 369 – 12mi Nero into wrightwood,
  • Day 14 – 390 – 21mi I love Angeles NF, Baden Powell, sweet Rd walk
  • Day 15 – 433 – 43mi Tired and first blister! Nice people but a lot of people
  • Day 16 – 467 – 34mi Extremely hot, agua dulce
  • Day 17 – 486.5 – 19.5mi Casa de Luna, disc golf with Joe
  • Day 18 – 526.5 – 40mi Pleasant oak & maple forest, hiker town, aqueduct
  • Day 19 – 559 – 32.5mi Hiker town aftermath, super easy 30, wind farm
  • Day 20 – 566.5 – 7.5mi Nero tehachapi
  • Day 21 – 566.5 – 0mi Zero in tehachapi, loads of people!
  • Day 22 – 597 – 30.5mi Leave at 10am, two long water carries 17 & 19mi
  • Day 23 – 631.5 – 34.5mi Pleasant meadow then grueling desert, Josh!!
  • Day 24 – 667 – 35.5mi Josh gone, walker pass, Sierra!
  • Day 25 – 702 – 35mi Sprocket, Kennedy meadows!
  • Day 26 – 719 – 17mi Leave 2:30pm, new socks new shoes, Sierra!!!!
  • Day 27 – 750 – 31mi Tooth pain! Lone pine, sprocket
  • Day 28 – 756 – 6mi Nero, jump lake, beautiful camp
  • Day 29 – 767 – 11mi (+16) Whitney sunset! Only us
  • Day 30 – 792.5 – 25.5mi I miss sprocket, Forester glen pass
  • Day 31 – 823 – 30.5mi Pinchot Pass & Mather Pass awesome
  • Day 32 – 857 – 34mi Muir pass snow, jbird
  • Day 33 – 888 – 31mi Selden Pass and Silver Pass, tired hungry
  • Day 34 – 921.5 – 33.5mi Reds Meadow, end of Sierra proper
  • Day 35 – 955 – 33.5mi Tuolomne Meadow, enter Yosemite
  • Day 36 – 989 – 34mi Many river crossings & punchy climbs
  • Day 37 – 1017 – 28mi No more bear can! Sonora Pass
  • Day 38 – 1046 – 29mi High wind, multiple injured hikers
  • Day 39 – 1081 – 35mi Cold wind in the 20s, Tahoe Rim Trail!
  • Day 40 – 1092 – 11mi Snow storm! South Lake & new altras
  • Day 41 – 1118 – 26mi Desolation Wilderness, Dick Pass
  • Day 42 – 1156 – 38mi Bear steals my food, Donner Pass
  • Day 43 – 1194 – 38mi Summer solstice quiet day
  • Day 44 – 1234 – 40mi Sierra buttes, norcal is hotter
  • Day 45 – 1274 – 40mi Trying to catch Joe, big burn area, boomerang
  • Day 46 – 1307.5 – 33.5mi Big climb, Lassen burn! Belden resupply
  • Day 47 – 1367 – 60mi Halfway!
  • Day 48 – 1396 – 29mi Caught up to Joe! Cool trail fam
  • Day 49 – 1419 – 23mi Claustrophobic anxiety attack at Burney Falls
  • Day 50 – 1447 – 28mi Burney crazy breakfast
  • Day 51 – 1490 – 43mi McCloud river quiet day
  • Day 52 – 1531 – 41mi Castle Crags climb
  • Day 53 – 1577 – 46mi Fun day! Trinity Alps
  • Day 54 – 1618 – 41mi Loads of blowdowns, crazy sunset
  • Day 55 – 1660 – 42mi Seiad Valley, less than 1000 miles to go
  • Day 56 – 1702 – 42mi Oregon! First real rain
  • Day 57 – 1718 – 16mi Ashland & chores, new superiors
  • Day 58 – 1742 – 24mi Ate too much in town
  • Day 59 – 1787 – 45mi Mosquitos!
  • Day 60 – 1837 – 50mi Crater Lake, Mazama resupply
  • Day 61 – 1878 – 41mi Lots of snow & OR/WA highpoint
  • Day 62 – 1923 – 45mi Shelter Cove resupply
  • Day 63 – 1968 – 45mi Three Sisters! Snow snow snow
  • Day 64 – 2001 – 33mi Lava fields, wildland firefighter gives me a hitch
  • Day 65 – 2001 – 0mi Zeroooooooo miles hiked
  • Day 66 – 2031 – 30mi Mt Jefferson!
  • Day 67 – 2075 – 44mi Lake Olallie, Starlord
  • Day 68 – 2116 – 41mi Mt Hood, Timberline Lodge buffet, Mooch joins
  • Day 69 – 2161 – 45mi Cascade Locks, Eagle Creek alt, Washington!!
  • Day 70 – 2206 – 45mi Section hikers everywhere
  • Day 71 – 2250 – 44mi Mt Adams
  • Day 72 – 2289 – 39mi Goat Rocks Wilderness! Hard day
  • Day 73 – 2330 – 41mi White Pass resupply, meeting punisher, wet campsite
  • Day 74 – 2378 – 48mi Ultra marathon on trail! Aid stations, Mt Rainier
  • Day 75 – 2394 – 16mi Snoqualmie Pass hotel
  • Day 76 – 2434 – 40mi 10k vert every day, beautiful
  • Day 77 – 2478 – 44mi Stevens Pass, hot! Bye Gasket & Mooch
  • Day 78 – 2517 – 39mi Dangerous river crossing, Cara, ridges
  • Day 79 – 2553 – 36mi Dangerous snowy pass, blowdown hell
  • Day 80 – 2573 – 20mi Stehekin! Shin splints
  • Day 81 – 2587 – 14mi Junior ranger day with Punisher
  • Day 82 – 2592 – 5mi Shin splints pain
  • Day 83 – 2617 – 25mi New shoes, KT tape, Advil
  • Day 84 – 2647 – 30mi Slow pace, stretching often
  • Day 85 – 2653 – 6mi CANADA!
The final thirty miles were my favorite. Views of Jack Mountain and overall good feelings

You can see in my daily miles that in the beginning I started immediately with big days, but then more time in town. Eventually all I was doing was big days. That however came with a cost, with just 150 miles until the end I developed shin splints. It was an incredibly painful few days where it felt like I had a broken ankle. Eventually a former triathlete southbounder saw me and was able to help with an initial diagnosis and some stretches to be doing. I took some time in the last possible town of the trail to research, buy new shoes to get me through the last 30 miles, and I hobbled on. In the end it was really nice to take that last section so slow. I had to let my friends get ahead and finish days before me, but spending the final days alone to reflect was what I needed. I took in all of the sights, and relished in the finish. It was bittersweet to finally get there. I deserved to be mildly injured for what I put myself through the rest of the hike, and hey, now I know better how to handle the problem.

I am very happy to have finally completed the Pacific Crest Trail. I did this hike how I dreamed of doing it, and got more from the experience than I ever could have asked for.

My Pa’lante V2 at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, I hung out and cherished the moment for a while

Gear

I started the trip with a 6.6lb / 3kg baseweight and overall was very happy with what I used, hardly changing anything over the course of the hike. Prior to starting I was already pretty dialed in with what I like to use, but there are a few standouts and things worth talking about.

I replaced my shoes and two pairs of socks every 500 miles. Important for the longevity of my feet, as many try to stretch shoes much longer. The shoes I wore most were Merrell Trail Glove 6, but at times when it was more convenient I did buy and use Altra Lone Peak 6 as well. One time I tried Altra Superiors and didn’t like them as the sizing is way off compared to Lone Peaks. Far too tight while the Lone Peaks were nearly too loose in the same size, so beware you may need to size up. The Merrells however were a dream for my feet. The fit was great, and the minimalist feel gave me a lot of control. Switching to Altras after those felt like I was wearing clown shoes. Rolling my ankles because I was higher off the ground, and generally very unstable feeling. Still Altras are the most popular trail shoe, I think in some ways it is because in nearly every town you can buy them while I had to order my Merrells online.

The socks I wore were Darn Toughs and overall I was pretty happy with the feel and lifespan. Mostly I went with the midweight, but the lightweight version worked great as well.

I would recommend anyone that is hiking this trail in the future to get gaiters for their shoes, as it will help keep rocks out, preventing blisters and extending the life of your shoes and socks.

The infamous windfarm section just north of the LA Aqueduct. I was ready for my first zero in Tehachapi

I used a 30 degree fahrenheit Enlightened Equipment Enigma quilt and was very happy with the warmth, only a couple times being mildly uncomfortable the entire trip. If you sleep cold, a 20 degree would likely be preferable.

My 7×9 Zpacks tarp was perfect, as it didn’t rain often. So having the lightest shelter possible was cool since I hardly needed it. In Oregon there were many mosquitoes, they never bothered me but I would factor that into your shelter choice. Most hikers use a tent instead for that very reason. For the bugs I did carry a headnet, but only used it once.

I replaced my polyco groundsheet three times, and my pack liner twice to avoid tears and holes. Many use a tyvek groundsheet instead, as one sheet would certainly last the entire hike for just a couple ounces more.

For warm clothing I just brought a lightweight fleece (KUIU Peloton 97,) rain jacket (Enlightened Equipment Visp,) a fleece beanie, and some bodywrapper wind pants. I not once wished I had more than that. Since I was moving for most of my waking hours that added to my warmth and allowed such a minimal setup to be fine. If I was stopped, I was probably in my quilt, and soon going to bed.

I also started with and wore Ombraz sunglasses which I really liked, until I lost them around mile 400.

Wearing my fleece and rain jacket on the Tahoe Rim, this was just before a snow storm rolled in on one of my coldest days on trail

I carried 4 liters water to start, and though that worked great for me I would recommend others to start with at least 6 liters and then if you find you need less, you can always get rid of a bottle or two. I did something similar as I got north, for different sections I would carry different quantities. Adding a bottle or removing a bottle. The least I ever carried was 2 liters total capacity.

As for food I cold soaked the entire trail in a small peter pan peanut butter jar and was very happy with that! I like the efficiency of cold soaking where I can add water, hike another two miles, and then eat immediately upon getting to camp. Many prefer to use a gas stove instead which would give you more options when resupplying than having to find items that don’t need heat to rehydrate.

Many hikers used a sun umbrella in the desert. I did not, but they looked very fun and often I was jealous of them! Protection from sun burns, and a self deployed spot of shade to hide in wherever you are. A lot of those same people ditch the umbrella around mile 700 as they are leaving the desert and entering the Sierra, but many people do hike the entire way with it. I think I will personally give these more of a try on future hikes.

Early morning hiking before the heat rolled in. Joshua Trees scatter the landscape in the Mojave Desert

In the Sierra and for Washington I did add a trekking pole to my kit. One that I found in a hiker box that I later ditched, and then one I bought off of a southbound hiker that made it to the end. I found a trekking pole to be essential for safety and stability on the snow, and when crossing swollen rivers. I didn’t much feel a need for them other times but most do use them as they take weight off your joints and muscles, ideally helping to prevent injury, and make the hiking a bit easier.

For this hike I also changed cameras to a lighter and smaller one to film with. I will let you and anyone else be the judge as to how the Sony ZV-1 worked out. I personally really enjoyed the smaller size and significantly reduced weight. I enjoyed the image stabilization, and the zoom. I liked that I could charge it via usb, didn’t need a separate charger, and tons of spare batteries. Something that wasn’t the best though was in efforts to save battery life, I filmed entirely in 1080p instead of 4K, even though it has the capability. It used too much juice to do so and I couldn’t justify that. Still I am happy with the choice, and will likely continue to use it because it is multiple pounds lighter, and many times smaller. For most people I would say to just use your phone.

If you are concerned about this or anything else, most hikers these days carry a Garmin Inreach Mini. They are fairly expensive but worth the cost in the level of safety it gives you. It is a personal locator beacon your family or friends can use to track you, but it also has an SOS button that goes directly to search & rescue should something bad happen. I like this model over other brands because it has a messaging system where you can use it to text friends on trail who also have the device, or you can send messages straight to your family at home to let them know how you are doing. I think it can even give you a weather report.

Standing atop Forester Pass at 13,153ft it is the highest point along the PCT (since Mt Whitney is a side trail)

The flashlight is the Rovyvon Aurora A5x, the same I used last year on the Arizona Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and Long Trail. It’s still going strong! It is rechargeable via usb, ultralight, and has many settings for different levels of brightness and battery longevity. Oh! and it glows in the dark, so you will never have trouble finding it at night when you need it. I carry it in my hand while I walk which elongates shadows and helps to see rocks and things in the trail better than a headlamp would given the lower angle. It does come with a clip so at camp or while walking I can still attach it to my hat for handsfree chores.

My trowel is the deuce of spades, again very light, and I would argue an essential item to have out there. Much of the ground you will be digging in is very difficult to get into with just a trekking pole, shoe, stick or whatever else. Having a dedicated trowel to do the job was extremely helpful to make sure I was leaving no trace.

Descending Forester Pass with bear can and 5 days food inside my pack

My backpack was the Pa’lante V2 in Ultra, a 37L pack that was originally designed with the PCT in mind. Two front shoulder strap pockets for small gear you want accessible like a flashlight, camera, phone, knife, spoon, etc. A bottom pocket that is easily reached while walking to store food in, allowing me to keep moving without the need to stop and take my pack off for a snack. The side pockets very easily fit 4L of water. The overall size was perfect for what this trip called for and the gear that I use. I could even fit a bear can inside, but I would recommend you strap it on top empty instead, and all your food in your pack for maximum comfort.

Though I loved this pack, I think in the future I will use their Desert Pack as it is very similar, but just a touch larger to give me more options to pack out bulkier food items. The Ultra fabric was good and certainly held up, but I think I will use the gridstop in the future. Ultra has a lot of promise, and is working very closely with many companies to make it the best fabric out there, but I don’t think it is there yet. Gridstop is still king for the time being.

Overall I was very happy with everything I used and would hardly change a thing should I do it again. I think the PCT is interesting in that you can go extremely light with some smart planning and timing should you want. I feel like my 6.6lb kit kept me safe, comfortable, and happy the entire way.

For those interested in my gear from the Pacific Crest Trail check out this video! or my gear list can be seen here https://lighterpack.com/r/ub8e5c

Favorite Sections

When a friend asked me if I had any favorite sections or moments from the trail I could not come up with an answer, the experience as a whole was so incredible, and so many things stood out I could not choose just one. It is a similar story for what I liked the least, every section was so unique and interesting it would be hard to pick.

Naturally the Sierra Nevada is near the top of the list. After leaving the desert you enter this world of flowing water, large granite walls, old growth trees, and this sense of true remoteness. I enjoyed the Kings Canyon section the most, but my favorite moment of all was hiking Mount Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48 at 14,505ft) with my friend Sprocket. Many hikers choose to do the trek before sunrise to see the changing of light from the top, above the world. I am not one for waking up early nor night hiking so it worked out for us to be heading up in the evening. As we went up most were coming down and we guessed back and fourth as to how busy it might be up there. I figured there must be another 40 or so hikers hanging out at the top, she guessed less. We took our time to get to the summit to try and avoid any altitude problems, still I had a mild headache, and she said she felt a bit drunk. At the top we find there are only two other hikers there who were leaving shortly. We had the entire mountaintop to ourselves and it felt so incredibly special to be up there. Amazing views of the valley and mountains below, a time I will never forget. We descended the mountain while watching the sun set over the western mountains.

Sprocket on the top of Mt Whitney at 14,505ft
Descending Mt Whitney while the sun set over the mountains to the west

I of course look fondly back at the desert and how fun it was. How much the plants and animals would change from the lower elevations to the higher. I would find myself high up in the mountains nearly everyday, dipping back down to the desert floor, and back up again. This being my second time doing the section I even enjoyed repeating it, and feel like I had a greater appreciation for it than before.

I was surprised at how good Northern California was, as that is often hikers least favorite section. The term “Norcal blues” has even been coined and is thrown around frequently. I felt like it had much to offer both in the way of frequent towns but also constant changing beauty. With views of volcanos off in the distance and many wonderful wilderness areas it seemed like the trail changed drastically from day to day.

Northern Oregon again blew me away, the terrain is easier allowing for some more comfortable walking. It winds us around lakes and ponds, again with views every day of the massive volcanos. Not to mention the famous Eagle Creek alternate with Tunnel Falls, or the Timberline Lodge buffet under Mt Hood.

The Three Sisters in northern Oregon

Washington, and the North Cascades specifically were my favorite section of the entire trail. They also happen to be what I believe is the hardest part of the entire trail. The Cascades are the youngest mountains in the United States and it shows. They haven’t yet been worn down by weather so every peak and ridge looks like jagged shark teeth extending high into the clouds. The diversity from the valley floor to the ridges was always a treat. A near rainforest environment up into high alpine. Marmots, slugs, mountain goats, berries everywhere, beautiful mountains and remote places. I loved the Cascades, and was blown away hiking through. It almost made me forget that everyday I was doing more than 10,000ft of climbing, much more than any previous section.

8,000+ people a year want to attempt this trail for a reason. Despite the loneliness, pain, or any of the tough times, it feels like home.

Washington, just north of Snoqualmie Pass
An ocotillo in bloom in the desert
The California Oregon border, 1,700 miles into the hike
Burney Falls in Northern California
Many years later a dream realized

Thank you to anyone who has followed along, to the angels who helped me along the way, to the folks I met and hiked with, the trail maintenance crews, and PCTA.

If you would like to see some of my Pacific Crest Trail inspired paintings check out the shop on this website. Either way thank you for reading! I hope this has been helpful in someway if not just entertaining

Jupiter

Mt Hood with a blanket of clouds

The Next Chapter

I’m off trail. I broke my foot in two places around mile 200, and proceeded to walk on that broken foot for roughly another 800 miles. Very much so determined to achieve my goal, mentally 100% in it, but not knowing why my foot was in so much pain for an entire month.

You can watch the whole story unfold through this video: https://youtu.be/WdVskPFiLJU

Walking on a broken foot is rough. Some days I’d be in excruciating pain, then other days I figure where my bone was more aligned like how a doctor will ‘set’ a bone, weren’t so bad. This drastic difference in what I was feeling everyday added to the ever lasting confusion that was, “what’s wrong with me?” I took 5 days off at an unplanned stop in Tehachapi to see if things would get better. Looking back, I don’t think anything would have changed even if I took a month off right then in there, which would be unacceptable to still achieve my goal. Sitting in that hotel by the second day without the adrenaline of the trail I found I could barely walk from the bed 10 feet to the bathroom. I had to hold onto the walls and prop myself up limping just to get there. A friend who was hanging out saw me do this and I could tell he knew something was seriously wrong, but who knew what.

I made it almost entirely through the Sierra Nevada beyond that, which I’m very happy about. It is by a large margin the most amazing place I’ve ever been in my life. Mountains surrounding towering over everything up to heights of 14,000 feet. This sense of energy and wonder surging through the landscape. Snow still at high elevation even though it was April, and at the valley floor well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This area absolutely amazed me, just across from the Sierra you have the White Mountains, the Inyos, and Death Valley. How could one small section of this planet get so many cool features? Regardless of the pain, I was happy to be there.

I intended on getting off trail for a short break. I had taken 5 days and that didn’t seem to do the trick so I decided on 10. Finally I got off trail to rest, saw a doctor, had some xrays taken, and my worst fear was realized. I thought maybe the problem was an overstretched tendon, or at worst a stress fracture. Come to find I broke two bones. I remember the moment it happened clearly, descending Mt San Jacinto, getting up from a short break, and tripping. Catching myself with my right foot, and putting all of my weight on it. Immediately feeling a very sharp pain. Some days were ok, and some days were absolutely horrible. Still walking as many as 30 miles a day to stay on track.

I had still fully intended on coming back to the trail to finish what I started, I even had purchased a plane ticket to return after those 10 days. Learning what I did at the doctors office threw that plan for a loop. I skipped my flight, and decided after a full month I would see how I feel and maybe return then. No dice, after an entire month I felt no better. Coming to the conclusion that I need to rest, and focus on what’s next.

Now this isn’t all bad. I’ve now had a lot of time getting a head start in my next adventures. Things I had planned for after this hike. Though I’ve been recovering and unable to hike I have been able to work on a lot of art, a lifelong passion beyond hiking (even getting a job as a local painting instructor.) As well as continue to edit more videos! So a lot of my focus has been on those two things, and I’m happy to report that I have a large stock of videos to share with you about hiking. A ton of new artwork, and a video series surrounding it I’m very excited to begin posting!

Beyond that I’ve made future hiking plans, and have in general been setting myself up as best I can to do a lot of hiking this next year. My big focus will be on shorter trails, and going for speed records on them. There’s a lot of really amazing trails out there that interest me greatly, and it’s been impossibly hard to stay away while recovering.

Plus my wonderful girlfriend Nicole who has been so incredibly supportive and understanding through all of this is certainly happy to have me home, and I’m certainly very happy to be home with her too! In the coming year beside my own personal pursuits of records on long trails, her and I plan to do a lot of hiking together as well. After all she is a long distance hiker herself.

A lot of good to come.

For info on my paintings I just posted a lot of what I’ve been working on that I’m very happy with you can check out here: jupiterhikes.com/art

So I’m back! Hey!!

 

Here’s to a speedy recovery!

Jup

Pacific Crest Trail Yoyo 2018 – Introduction

I want to do something big. So I guess I will.

Welcome to the Pacific Crest Trail, in itself shorter than my 2016 Eastern Continental Trail hike, but if you do it twice! It’s quite long then, huh?

So I guess I will.

In reality, welcome to my 2018 Pacific Crest Trail Yoyo. Named such because the motion of the hike mimics the toy. First up, then back down again, or two continuous thru hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail back to back. Starting at the Mexico border, traveling up through California, Oregon, and Washington to Canada, then back the same way I came finishing my long walk just outside of Mexico again where I started 6 months prior. A total of 5,300 miles for the round trip.

Now the length in itself is somewhat daunting, but it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with mega long distance hiking as the ECT was 4,800 miles, and I completed that in just under 7 months. Feeling stronger than ever as I hit the half way mark, and topping it all off with a self supported speed record on the Florida Trail to complete my journey. This trail however has much harsher conditions. I start in the desert come May with extreme heat, exposure, and less than promising water sources. Thrown upward into the high country of the Sierra with the threat of many miles of snow travel, elevations reaching nearly 14,000 feet, treacherous stream crossings, and long distances between safety or being able to get more food. Swarms of mosquitoes will welcome me into Oregon, and Washington brings its own extreme elevation gain. All to turn around and do it again! Which should be it’s own fun mental experiment seeing the same things twice. I know of at least one person who quit this endeavor just after halfway for that reason.

This is all fine and dandy, I think there are much harder trails out there, and it is all perspective, but to complete this specific goal I have to go fast! Really fast. I’ll need to average 30 miles a day for 6 months straight, racing the unpredictable seasons. Should I fail this I’ll get snowed out on my way south in the Sierras, and either seriously risk my life or call it a day. This is without a doubt the hardest aspect of the journey. Hiking so hard to beat this fluctuating unknown date in October when the first big snow storm hits, coming more than 4,000 miles, and having to quit. However If I get through I’ve basically done it, and the final 700 miles will be somewhat of a victory march.

Though I’m mostly focusing on the difficulties in this post it’s because not everyone is familiar these trails. So long as you come prepared I think some of these conditions are overstated, but they are there. I don’t think just anyone could simply get up off the couch and successfully complete this hike once, let alone twice, as I’m attempting. As the trail goes it’s actually known as having much easier tread than its weird east coast cousin, the Appalachian Trail, which throws you around in every which way via rocks and roots in truly sadistic ways seemingly never evening out, only going straight up a mountain or straight down a mountain. The Pacific Crest Trail was made for pack animals, so it’s extremely evenly graded, and clean. In other words, if the conditions surrounding the trail don’t get me, miles should come easier, and I’m very excited for that.

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PCT yoyo watercolor depiction

I left you all in 2016, with my last public writings here about the 4,800 mile Eastern Continental Trail, and that faithful walk across America. From one point far away up in Canada, 7 months later finding myself in the deep south, Key West Florida. I knew it, I had been working towards it, maybe you saw it too. That was less so much a “trip of a life time” for me.It was more of a beginning. So here I am, less so much beginning again, and more so continuing what I started.

So why am I so driven to continue my journey along this particular trail?

While hiking over the mountains in Quebec, and again in New Hampshire I was left above the trees for many miles at a time, through storms, clouds, wind, rain, and sun. I was exposed, often given the opportunity to see forever. I was filled with glee, feeling as though I truly was on top of the world. But the Appalachians are best known for its dense forest, and relatively small mountains as opposed to the majestic, endless views that define the West. Thus these two points in time were the rare chances I had to experience that euphoria, bar a couple sections far south in Tennessee. I knew this, and though I loved all the rest, that was feeling above all the trees was where my heart suddenly felt strongest. I laughed at myself, resigned to hike this massively long trail that only shared a few key moments with that alpine environment. I joked while skipping on rocks above the trees that last time, maybe I should have just done the Pacific Crest Trail instead. Known for its sweeping views, exposure, and exceedingly tall elevations. No, this was what I needed, and this was ultimately what I had dreamt about for years prior, meticulously planning each step forward. It was right. It was a good beginning. If you could say that about a 7 month hike which nearly reaches 5,000 miles in length. A good beginning.

So here I am. The West calls, it did then, as it does now. Engraved in the human spirit maybe.

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Northern California on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Trinity Alps looming in the distance 2017

On this hike I’m following some self imposed guidelines.

  • I will avoid any sort of support from vehicles. This means no hitch hiking, or rides to and from town. I will walk the entire distance, and walk in and out of any town I choose to stop in, or pick up food.
  • I will carry all of my own food, water, and gear between towns as a backpacker. Or in other words I won’t partake in what is somewhat commonly known as ‘slack-packing’ where someone shuttles your gear ahead a days length away for you so you can do the same distance without the burden of your provisions.
  • Should there likely be a closure for fire, or otherwise I will walk any official detour around back to trail, connecting footsteps. Again, not accepting rides.

The point of all these rules is to stack the deck against myself. Each and every time you set your sights on a new objective, it’s about giving yourself an obstacle. Instead of seeing it as 500 laps of punishment for losing I see it as the path to beating the odds next time. By leaping that hurdle it’ll be that much easier to achieve my next goal. This is, as I like to say, self imposed suffering. If I should deviate from these rules in some way I’ll be honest about doing so, as I think it goes towards my own purity in this endeavor.

Only 3 people before have done a yoyo of the PCT. Most notably Scott Williamson, the only person to do it twice. To say he’s well known out west is an understatement, having hiked the trail 13 times as of 2011. Then there’s Eric D, who has done it fastest in 183 days. And Olive McGloin most recently, becoming the first woman to do this.

I’ll be aiming to beat Eric’s time this year with a goal of less than 180 days, and become the fastest to ever do it.

Interestingly enough all 3 hikers have started, hit the half way point, and finished at very roughly the same dates give or take a week. I think this is a testament to the extremely tight time frame to which one must adhere. This is also why being the fastest is so appealing. If I am to complete a PCT yo-yo, I might as well be the fastest. If you followed my ECT hike, you know I do love those long lonely days, and I never was much for being normal.

I start walking May 10, with an ambitious goal I’m eager to take on. And let’s be real, there’s much more ambitious journeys out there, but this is another good step in that direction.

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John Zahorian and Castle Crags on the Pacific Crest Trail 2017

You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

Jupiter

Review: Pa’lante Packs Simple Backpack

This year I’ve had the great pleasure to carry a new pack!

For my thru hike of the 4,800mi Eastern Continental Trail, I took a chance on a new company, and purchased the Simple by Pa’lante Packs. They weren’t in production yet, but I had been seeing photos of it online. Similar to the pack I had been using for the last few years, but an improved design.

“Hey that thing looks awesome, take my money.” Is to my memory, the message I sent Andy Bentz. He mailed it out to me while I was on trail, and I received it the same day I picked up a very heavy resupply (6 days.) Immediately I was stoked on how comfortable it was, even while carrying 15lbs of food on top of my gear.

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Grabbing a snack from the secret bottom compartment

Andy Bentz and John Zahorian are the two founders of Pa’lante Packs. Some info on Andy’s making history can be seen in this cute video, showing packs he’s made in days past, leading up to what you see now in this final product!

Since receiving it I’ve now carried it for the last 2,800 miles, and this is what I think about it.

Basic Info

  • Volume: 35L or 40L
  • Price: $210 – $250
  • Weight: 13oz
  • Frameless and Hipbeltless
  • Material: X-Pac

Where can you find it? PalantePacks.com

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Size

They come in both a 35 liter, and 40 liter. Very low on internal volume, but in a world where ultralight backpacking is becoming more popular this is a perfect size. The bigger the backpack you buy, the more stuff you tend to fill it with, and then consequently have to haul up that mountain!

For me, with a 6lb base weight the 35L is just right. I’ve carried 6 days food in it without issue, even thinking I had room for more. I would go for this size if you’re looking to seriously nerd out on gear, for most everyone though, I think the bigger size might be wiser. If you’re unsure, definitely go for the larger 40L. You’ll be happy you did when you want to pack out bonus foods from town!

As a frameless, hipbeltless pack it does well. The shoulder straps are large enough with enough thickness to take the heat of heavier carries. I find it’s comfortable up until around 25lbs.

All in all the small size is something I really like in a backpack. It gives me the ability to maneuver freely.
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Durability

Amazingly, after 5 months of use every single day. Sleeping on it. Rubbing it against, and sitting it on rocks. Brushing it against trees and branches accidentally…. there isn’t a single hole, not a single tear, or even any real sign of wear. Even the stitching is holding up, without fraying or coming loose. It’s almost the same as when I first got it.

When it comes to durability most consider ultralight gear flimsy or that it won’t last. In the case of this pack that is clearly not true! I could easily get a second multi thousand mile thru hike out of this pack.

I had remembered seeing pictures John posted online when he first came up with this design. I was skeptical about the bottom pocket, and it’s durability. After 2,800 miles of abusing it without a single hole forming I’m convinced. The east coast is very rocky, Maine and New Hampshire are no cake walk, so to come out unscathed was really impressive, and admittedly surprising.

I give it a big thumbs up for durability! Unlike cuben fiber packs this X-Pac material is gunna last. I expect I’ll get another few thousand miles outa this one, at least.

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Design

  • Waterproofness: The fabric used for the body of the pack is waterproof, but overall water will get in the seams. So I still use an internal liner like a trash compactor bag.
  • Single strap top closure: I love the single strap! It sinches down so nicely, creating an excellent seal. The last pack I had before this used a Y strap, and I greatly prefer the single.
  • Shoulder strap pockets: One of my favorite features of this pack. The stretchy integrated shoulder strap pockets! I like that I have everything I need right at my fingertips. These pockets are perfect for a camera or phone, snacks, guidebook pages or maps, trash. Really handy, and sleek. I highly recommend getting them added to your pack, as they are optional.
  • Secret bottom pocket: Annnd my favorite feature is the bottom pocket. Large enough to fit almost an entire days worth of food. But why do you care? Because every time you’re hungry, you can just reach under and grab a snack! No need to stop. Just keep moving! Alternatively, keep a rain jacket, or wind jacket under there for quick access.
  • Aesthetics: I mean, it’s super cute. Really small. Black. Beautiful. Clean.
  • Side pockets: Good height to grab my water bottles while walking. Stretchy enough to hold two bottles in one pocket. Or as I often do my umbrella, and a water bottle. Or my rehydration jar, and a water bottle. Tight enough so that they  don’t slip out when jostled.
  • Shoulder straps: Comfortable width, shape, and thickness.
  • Draw cord compression: Unsure of what to call it, but it needs to be mentioned. On one side of the pack there’s a small cord that can be pulled tight, to either compress down loose space inside, or firmly secure an item there. Personally I use it most when I have wet socks, or to dry out a wet groundcloth. Sinch the item down, and let it sit outside your pack all day. Or if you’re looking for a place to stow away trekking poles or a trekking umbrella while not in use, this is it!

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Extra Thoughts

John has used this pack for thousands of miles, and I’ve used this pack for almost 3,000 miles. He loves it, I love it. I hate to gush er whatever, but of all the gear I’ve been using this year, this pack is the only thing I wouldn’t swap out if given the chance. Since leaving Canada and receiving this pack, its been wonderful all the way down to Florida.

It’s made for efficiency. Most everything you need during the day is at hand, and I love that. So until these boys come up with something similar but smaller and lighter this will remain my main hiking pack.

The waterproof material, the clever pockets, a pack that won’t deteriorate after a single season…

So if you’re looking for that perfect backpack for your next thru hike, the Simple from Pa’lante has treated me right.

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