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6 Items You Should Start the PCT with but Won’t

Posted on March 07 2018

Items to Bring Backpacking on the PCT

Every hiker knows you need a shelter, sleeping bag, and a backpack. Although when I thru-hiked in 2014 I actually met someone on my first day that wasn’t carrying ANY shelter. She assumed that she wouldn’t need one until Kennedy Meadows. Ok, that’s the ONLY person I’ve met that didn’t carry any shelter at all starting out on the PCT. So shelter didn’t make the list of items you should start with but won’t. For those items, you’ll have to keep reading.

  1. Big Shoes - Yes, really! You need shoes that have a generous amount of space for your feet to swell and your toes to wiggle. How big is big enough? I’d go for a very long hike with a fully loaded backpack and at the end of your hike go shoe shopping. Don’t wait until the next day or even a couple hours after to shop. Finish hiking and go straight to the store. Perhaps take a minute to clean your feet first once you arrive, ha ha. Size the shoes so the end of your toes have an entire thumb width at the end of them. Almost anything smaller and I guarantee you’ll be one of the ones buying yourself a new pair of shoes in the first 150 miles of the trail. Check out our selection of shoes here.
  2. Body Glide - You don’t have to have Body Glide but you should have some sort of anti-chaffing product. It could be vaseline, Sport Shield, or some other slippery product but whatever you do, start with something. I’d recommend the travel size. I’ve seen lots of bloodied arms, legs, and feet and heard of plenty of other areas that could have avoided chaffing with just a little bit of Body Glide or the like. Even if you aren’t prone to chaffing, you should still include a small container because you aren’t prone to walking every day without a shower through a hot dessert carrying a backpack full of supplies. You can find Body Glide at local outdoor stores or running store or here in our store. You might also consider a pair a anti-chaffing shorts if you know you're prone to chaffing.  
  3. Leukotape - If you haven’t heard of leukotape before now, you definitely will hear all about it by the time you reach Warner Springs. Or you can just take my advice and get some before the trail and be a hero for all of your new friends who didn’t read this article and have shoes that are too small. Enough delay, leukotape is the single stickiest medical tape out there. It’s a must have for your medical kit. If you are developing a hot spot on your foot stop hiking immediately. Don’t walk another mile or even 5 more minutes. By then you could have a blister. If you stop immediately, place a piece of leukotape over the developing hotspot and forget about it. There will be no blister as a blister requires friction and suddenly your shoe/sock will be rubbing against the fabulous leukotape and not your hot spot. If you didn’t heed this advice and you kept walking and developed a blister, put a little mole skin over the blister and then cover the moleskin completely with leukotape. This will prevent any sand or dirt from getting in there and causing more problems. Trust me, if you get a blister this stuff is the very best product on the market for dealing with them. Unlike other tapes out there, leukotape will stick for days and days. I’ve personally walked more than 150 miles with tape around a toe and finally cut the tape off to check things out. It lasted through sandy days, wet days, showers, etc. Don't delay, get your leukotape now!
  4. Dry Sacks - I’m sure you’ve read all the blogs about how great trash compactor bags are. You might even have a fresh bag sitting in your gear pile ready to be placed into your backpack. Don’t do it! Skip the annoying bag and get an inexpensive dry sack. The problems with the trash compactor bags are: 1) They are heavy (~4 ounces compared to just a couple ounces or less for a dry sack) 2) They rip when you shove your gear in your pack repeatedly which means you’ll be patching them with duct tape that peals off when it gets wet 3) They aren’t for sale individually when yours does rip and you need to replace it 4) They don’t pack in your backpack very well and lastly 5) If it does rip between town stops and there’s a rain storm or high creek crossings, how do you plan on keeping your gear dry? An inexpensive dry bag can be anywhere from $10-$20 depending on the size and brand. If you're looking for Dyneema (formerly cuben-fiber) you'll pay a lot more. Either way, these bags will last you the entire trail! 
  5. Trekking Poles - If you haven’t bought trekking poles for your thru-hike yet, it’s time to take the plunge. It’s ok if you haven’t used them and are unsure about them. They are very easy to use and have tons of benefits. They increase stability by giving you 2 additional points of contact with the ground. That becomes even more helpful for crossing slippery logs and rocks in a creek. They also provide extra stability when you are tired or it’s getting dark. If you turn an ankle having the ability to catch yourself with your poles before you fall can save you from a much bigger injury. Despite all the benefits, the biggest benefit is the reduction of wear and tear on your joints. One study reported a full 20% reduction in wear and tear on the knees on downhills. Also hikers report a perceived lower effort to cover the same distance as those hiking without trekking poles. If you aren’t already sold, consider the fact that your trekking poles could be used to hold up your tent at night eliminating the need for carrying tent poles too! Check out these poles by Komperdell that have a 3-year unconditional warranty.  
  6. Warm Gloves - Don’t underestimate how cold the desert is in the spring. It might be hot during the day but it can be chilly at night. Also the first 700 miles pass through 4 different mountain towns which get snow most every single year into May. When I hiked, I had 100+ degree days before I-10 and 3 nights later woke to 6+ inches of snow. Be prepared from the get-go with a nice lightweight, warm pair of gloves. I really like the Seirus gloves but there are many options on the market in the $30 range. If you want a good wool glove I’d go with the Icebreaker Quantum.

In many articles I focus on lightening up your pack by eliminating extra or unneeded gear for your PCT thru-hike. However as I always say, don’t sacrifice safety for weight. In this case, having an anti-chafe product or leukotape might be something you don’t need, but having a rash or worse yet a developing infection because you didn’t have something and needed it triumphs over the 1-2 ounces you’ll be carrying to protect yourself in the early miles of the trail. After the first several hundred miles you’ll know whether or not you need to keep carrying these. When it comes to leukotape, I would not carry an entire roll. I would wrap several feet on a lip balm or sharpie and put the rest in resupply boxes or a bounce box. You may also like our other articles “6 Items You’ll Start the PCT with That You Shouldn’t”, “PCT First Aid Kit”, and "8 Tips for Preventing Injury & Making the First 100 Miles of the PCT A Success".


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