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    C S


    Hello! I would LOVE it if some of you experienced people would be kind enough to pick apart my gear choices and scan a trained eye over what I’ve come up with. Most of all I need help choosing a backpack. I’ve done a huge amount of research online and have a short list but would really love some advice.

    A bit about me: 5’2” female, 110 lbs. I am relatively new to thru-hiking and am planning a couple of shorter trips this summer (the Tahoe Rim Trail and a week on the PCT in my home state of Oregon, as well as a few 2-3 night trips in Colorado, where I now live). I am planning on a 2016 thru-hike of the entire PCT and am trying to get my gear together so I can test it out on my trips this summer and tweak as needed.

    While I’m somewhat new to thru-hiking, I'm an experienced ultrarunner and do lots of fastpacking. I am very accustomed to hiking/running 40-50+ miles/day over varying terrain and for years I lived and trained outside a small town at the foot of the Indian Peaks in Colorado at 9000 feet. Last summer I moved back down to Boulder, which is where I now live. I’ve run lots of long-distance trails that many people do as thru-hikes, and I’m used to carrying some weight with me while I do this, but generally not more than 15 lbs at most, so I realize this is going to be different!

    I enjoy moving light and fast, but I’m also very cautious by nature and don’t want to leave out things that could be very important. Many items I’ve already acquired and have verified the weights myself. Others I haven’t purchased yet and am relying on manufacturer’s weights. There are still a couple of blanks where I just estimated weights for things I know I’m going to get but haven’t figured out the exact product I want yet.

    A couple of things I am undecided on:

    1) Sleeping Pad: Waffling between the Thermarest Z-lite (I’d trim down the small size to torso length for me), the Ridgerest, GG Nightlight/Thinlight combo, or possibly the Prolite X-Small. Weights are all fairly similar, around 8 oz – I’m interested in what would be most comfortable, practical and packable…I’m a back sleeper and don’t mind a firm sleeping surface. I rest my feet on my pack while sleeping so don’t need anything full-length.

    2) BACKPACK. I’ve waited until last to get this most important piece of gear. I’m a bit stuck because all the ones I’m interested in I can’t try on first. My base weight without the pack is currently just over 9 lbs. My torso measures 15” and my waist is 26”. I was originally leaning towards the Mariposa but I think it is way more pack than I need. The Gorilla might be a better size but I’m concerned about not having load lifters. Interested in either the ULA Circuit or possibly the Ohm? Recently I’ve spent a lot of time looking at JepPacks, a relatively new company. It would be completely custom made, and their packs look great, but not returnable if it didn’t work for me and a bit more expensive……I’d love advice on this. I need to get the pack soon since I’m hoping to do a few short outings next month. Since I will occasionally carry a bear canister the pack has to be able to do that (even if it is strapped to the top…)…which leads me to my next question.

    3) Food storage: I own a BV500 but understandably I don’t want to carry it all the time. Yes, I will absolutely carry it where it is required! If I can afford it I may eventually invest in a lighter Bearikade. For times when I’m not carrying the canister I will likely do a combination of hanging or sleeping with my food in my pack. Wondering if an Ursack Minor is worth the weight for keeping mice/rodents out? Since my shelter is fully enclosed I wonder if it is really necessary. I’m leaning towards a Zpacks food bag, maybe lined with an Opsack, that supposedly is tough for small animals to get into and also waterproof for hanging outside. I’ll add here that I go stove-less and don't do any cooking on the trail.

    4) Charger for iPhone, etc: I’m bringing my phone with me. I hope to use it very minimally, mostly in towns to catch up with family, etc. I realize I won’t get reception or be particularly accessible on the trail but I do have a 9-year-old son who stays with my mom or his dad while I’m away and it seems like the best way to be somewhat within reach. I’m not much of a photo-taker and I don’t do Facebook or blog or journal online or anything like that. I’m bringing a shuffle to have music but probably will use that sparingly, maybe at camp before sleeping if I feel like listening to something. If that runs out of charge, no biggie. The phone though…..wondering if I can get away with only charging it in towns? I have Halfmile’s app on my phone, and the water report, but will carry paper maps too. Not sure how long I can stretch the charge if I keep the phone off most of the time, but curious if other people have managed this.

    Sorry for the long post but just trying to include as much info as possible. Thanks in advance!

    GG pack liner, 1.2 oz
    Zpacks stuffsack for clothing, .25 oz
    Zpacks dry stuffsack for sleeping bag, 1 oz
    Zpacks roll-top food bag, 1.4 oz
    GG small zip pouches for 1st Aid & Hygiene Items, .4 oz
    Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1, 36 oz
    GG Polycryo Groundcloth, 1.2 oz
    Zpakcs 20-degree Sleeping Bag, 16.7 oz
    Thermarest Zlite (torso-length), 8 oz

    CLOTHING (packed):
    Patagonia Capilene 2 Zip-Neck, 4 oz
    REI Silk Base Layer Pants, 2.5 oz
    MH Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket w/hood, 6.8 oz
    Patagonia Houdini w/hood, 3 oz
    Spare Running Shorts, 2 oz
    2x spare Darn Tough hiking socks, 2 oz
    REI Medium Cushion Crew Socks (sleeping), 1.5 oz
    Beanie, 1.2 oz
    MH Stretch Gloves, 1.8 oz
    Mosquito Headnet, 1.2 oz
    Underwear (sleeping), .5 oz
    Pants (undecided), 8-10 oz

    Ziploc Plastic Screw Top for soaking meals, 2 oz
    Titanium Spoon, .4 oz
    1-2 Smartwater bottles, 1.3 oz each
    Platypus 2L Storage Soft Bottles (as needed), 1.2 oz each
    Sawyer Mini, 2 oz
    (Aqua Mira/Iodine/Bleach as backup)
    Small Scotchbrite pad/sponge, .4 oz
    small pack towel, .4 oz

    Trail Maps/Data Cards/etc, 2 oz
    Compass, .5 oz
    Firefly Headlamp w/extra batteries, 1.2 oz
    Photon Microlight (backup), .2 oz
    Swiss Army Classic Pocket Knife/Multitool, 1 oz
    Flint Bar & Tinder (backup), 1 oz
    Mini Bic Lighter, 1 oz
    1st Aid Kit, 4 oz
    (includes duct tape, Needle, Safety Pins, Thread, Advil, Benadryl, Immodium, Bandage Materials, Gauze, Moleskin, After Bite Wipes, Antiseptic Wipes, Alcohol Swabs, Tape, Triple Antibiotic Ointment, etc.)
    Bandana, .8 oz
    Duece of Spades Trowel, .6 oz
    Wipes & Feminine Items, 1 oz
    Toilet Paper, 2 oz
    Hand Sanitizer, 1 oz
    Toothbrush, .3 oz
    Toothpaste, 1 oz
    Camp Towel, .5 oz
    Soap, 2 oz
    Comb, .3 oz (I have lots of hair!)

    iPhone, 5 oz
    Notepad & Pen, 1.5 oz
    Euroschirm Swing Liteflex Umbrella, 8 oz
    iPhone Charger, 1.2 oz
    Shuffle & Charger, 1 oz

    ETA: I realize I neglected to add a few items I'll pack for specific sections of trail depending on conditions. Kahtoola microspikes, ice axe, bear canister, possible extra layers for higher elevations/colder conditions, etc. I hike in a long-sleeve nylon shirt over a synthetic tank top, running shorts or skirt (no liners or underwear), thin socks, Inov8s or Altras and sometimes gaiters, pants if needed. I don't use DEET (and I know people will recommend it, and yes I know firsthand how bad it gets!) so I do cover myself completely when it gets bad.

    Scott S


    Locale: New England

    On pads: I'm a z-lite user. I like the no-hassle packability and the fact that it doesn't curl up when I lay it out like a ridgerest does. Main drawback is that the z-lite isn't as warm as the ridgerest, so if you're a cold sleeper you may want to think about the ridgerest instead. One big advantage of foam pads vs inflatables is that you can lay on your foam pad during breaks.

    Packs: if you are new to backpacking, you may want to get a framed pack–they're more forgiving in terms of packing. ULA makes great packs, but my wife (who is almost exactly the same size as you) had a lot of problems getting the Circuit to fit her right on our last thru-hike. YMMV. Unless you can find those packs locally, you will probably have to just pull the trigger and buy one. Most of the companies you mentioned will accept returns.

    Food storage: you only need the canister in the Sierras, from Kennedy Meadows through Yosemite. Otherwise, most people just sleep with their food. I never had rodent issues on the PCT.

    Other thoughts:
    – You can save almost a pound with a non-free-standing tent like a Tarptent Contrail or one of the several that Gossamer Gear make.
    – If you're going to go without a rain jacket, make sure you are okay walking for hours in cold rain with just the umbrella. Even in drought years, you can get rained on in SoCal on the PCT–supposedly it poured during the KO this year.
    – There's not enough water on the PCT to justify bringing soap along. Once you get a few days in you will stop caring about how you smell anyway. Washing on the trail just creates a bunch of polluted water that you have to dump somewhere.
    – A few waterproof matches will weigh less than the flint.
    – Mechanical pencils are way more reliable than pens.
    – Sunscreen? Sunglasses? Chapstick with SPF? A good hat? The sun is your number one enemy in SoCal.
    – Unless you dry that sponge every day, it's going to get gross. Use your fingers and a little water after a meal and then clean your container well in town.

    C S


    Thank you! I really appreciate your thoughts. That's interesting to hear about your wife's experience with the Circuit; I spoke with a couple other women who had similar issues with the fit.

    I do carry sunscreen and chapstick in my hygiene kit, and wear sunglasses and an Outdoor Research sunhat. Forgot to list them! I knew I'd forget a few things.

    Great advice about the pencil and the matches.

    Sometimes I bring Dr. Bronner's and sometimes I don't, and when I do I use it rarely and sparingly. You're right, probably not necessary.

    I seriously considered a couple of the tarptents, as well as the Lightheart Gear Solo. I really love my Copper Spur though – so easy to set up just about anywhere and free-standing. I don't use trekking poles so I'd need to get tent poles to set up those shelters, making the weight savings not quite as significant. But yeah, I know there are some great options that are quite a bit lighter than the Copper Spur. It's the one area where I could shave off significant weight.

    My Houdini has done pretty well in the rain but you're right, it's not waterproof and I wondered about that. I figure on adding a rain jacket and probably a fleece further north but maybe I should consider carrying it from the beginning. I am leaning towards bringing the Mountain Hardwear Conduit pants as well.

    Thanks again!

    Amy Lauterbach
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    CS – I'm a 5'8, 135 pound woman. I've been using the ULA Circuit for many years now, and other ULA models before that (prior models used the same hipbelt). I tried a Gossamer Gear pack for ~8 weeks, but never found the fit or the design details to be nearly as good as the Circuit. I've tried Osprey packs and they were a hip-belt disaster for me. I am continuously looking for a lighter weight pack that is as comfortable and functional, but so far no go for me. My husband uses an Ohm-2 and feels similarly.

    You can always order both the Ohm-2 and the Circuit, load them up and wear them around the house or neighborhood for a day, and return either or both. You're out the shipping costs, but otherwise it's a very viable way to go.

    On the Z-rest – be aware that after ~20 days it will lose 20-25% of it's oomph. At least that was the case for us. We tried them years ago. We were out for 20 days, and it seemed to me that my hips were getting cooler and cooler during the course of the trip, as if the pad was losing insulation value. When we returned home we compared the 20-night-used z-rest to the unused pieces that we had cut off prior to the trip. The difference in "height" was very measurable. We returned to inflatables, and won't go back. You're lighter weight may mean that it degrades more slowly and/or doesn't matter as much.

    Don Burton


    Locale: City of Angels

    I have a GG Gorilla and love it. I can fit my BV500 in it but usually bring my BV 450. I can get at least 5 days of food in it. I think you can manage the 500 though with your gear. It'll be tight for that section though. My bw is around 13lbs. My only concern would be the desert section and carrying a lot of water with it. The Gorilla is advised at 25lb and less. The most I've carried is 23lb and it felt good still but I'd be afraid of 30lbs. I love all the features the pack has. I've also looked at the Elemental Horizons Kalais too. It has a great reviews on BPL. Seems to haul better than the Gorrilla. I agree, the Mariposa is overkill.

    What about the Neoair Xlite short pad? 48" and 8oz. Super comfy, packs small, and has an R-value of 3.2.

    C S


    Thanks Amy! It's nice to hear from a woman who uses the Circuit. I may end up ordering a couple of packs and trying them out like you suggested. My boyfriend has used the zlite and had the same experience with it. I'm leaning towards using it anyway, at least in SoCal, but just replacing it once/month or so.

    C S


    Don, thanks for sharing your experience with the Gorilla. I've wondered about strapping the canister to the top of my pack rather than trying to deal with getting it to fit comfortably inside. I could carry my food bag inside my pack while hiking so the pack isn't too top-heavy, and just store it in the canister at night. Erik the Black apparently does this with his Ohm. My main concern with the Gorilla is if it would adequately transfer the weight off my shoulders and to my hips. Most of the time I hope to keep my pack weight under 20 pounds but obviously there will be times I'll be pushing that, mostly in sections where I'll need to carry larger quantities of water, or in the Sierra when I'll be going a long time between resupplying.

    Thanks for the suggestion on the Kalais. I hadn't really looked at EM packs – reading some reviews just now I came across a few women about my size who have have been really happy with their packs.

    Good call on the Neoair. I tried it at REI a couple of weeks ago and it is way more comfy (and warmer I'm sure) than anything else. I'll probably use the zlite in SoCal but have thought about switching to the neoair at KM. I think it's mostly the price tag that has made me hesitate!

    Link .
    BPL Member


    I am a 5' tall 110lb female and I love my Kalais and Mathew who owns Elemental Horizons is great to deal with.

    C S


    Thanks Link! I actually came across one of your posts about the Kalais in another forum. :) I'm definitely looking into it!

    ETA: Lint, did you opt to have the lumbar pad built into your pack? Thoughts?

    Andy F


    Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic

    Good list. I really like my Copper Spur also, and I consider it worth the weight anytime there are bugs to disrupt sleep. Even when there are no bugs under a tarp, I've been awakened to large slugs crawling on my cheek and mice scurrying over the top of my sleeping bag.

    Consider other repellents such as picaridin and lemon eucalyptus. I always use those rather than DEET, although I suspect picaridin is a bit safer in bear country. No need to smell like a bear lemon snack. :)

    I have an older 2010 model Gorilla. I like it when carrying less than 20 lbs. Above that, I prefer my old 3 lb Kelty pack, which I generally use in winter. I've been considering an Osprey Exos due to the back ventilation.

    I don't use any type of sponge or scrubber. Spruce branches, grass, and other natural materials work well enough.

    A regular pencil is more reliable than a mechanical one, and can be sharpened by whittling with a knife.

    I don't know if you've practiced using the flint or not, but they often take some practice to be effective. Good idea to carry some tinder. The quality of some waterproof matches isn't very good. I was fairly impressed with the UCO Stormproof matches, but I always test each new batch. My test is fairly realistic: soak the match in cold water along with my hand for a few minutes on a cold, windy day and try to light a piece of birch bark or wood shaving.

    Aaron Sorensen
    BPL Member


    Locale: South of Forester Pass

    Here's a really good 7.5 pound CDT list.

    There is even a 1/2 pound or more that can easily be shaved off this.
    For instance, you have a lighter headlamp combo and the 3.4 ounces for a polycro groundsheet is way too much.
    He also has a lot of electronics on the list that you don't.

    If you would be able to pare things down even a little, you would be able to go with a much smaller pack.
    The smaller the pack the more options you have to have it fit your torso.

    If I was going to do the PCT, I would go with a SMD pack.
    Those hipbelts do an amazing job at load transfer and carrying comfort is one of the best as well.

    As with paring down some items, I would think that you being an Ultra Runner would mean that you will be doing a little more daily miles than most???
    Having a smaller pack and moving more miles would mean you could/ should probably be able to get away with a BV-450 Solo?
    You would have to hit every possible resupply going through the JMT portion, but again, very easy with a more efficient and lighter load. Then you wouldn't have to worry about a pack size to fit in the full size canister or carry it on top (yuck).

    Don Burton


    Locale: City of Angels

    On the Gorilla, I definitely felt like enough load transferred to my hips if the total weight was less than 22lbs. I'm sure you'd have to suffer a few days above this. One thing nice about GG is it's a larger cottage so you can buy it and return if you don't like it… BUT, the Kalais has great reviews on load transfer.

    I did a web search and bought my Neoair xlite Reg for $90. I remember it seeing a lot more Short versions for around the same price. I don't remember the site though. Just doing a google search I can always find an item for a lot less. Marmot Essence for $88 vs $200 and Montbell Tachyon wind shirt for $68 vs $99. I know that $90 is still a lot but my sleep is worth it. I'd pay more too if I had to.

    C S


    Thanks Don! I bought my Copper Spur after doing extensive googling of prices and sales and I'm also a big fan of searching for coupon codes online. :) I think I found it on sale for $299.99 and I was able to find another coupon for 20% off, plus free shipping and no tax which was awesome! I do tend to get chilly as soon as I stop moving and I imagine the neoair will provide a much more comfortable sleeping experience. Do you think it would hold up ok in the desert? I worry about popping if I bring an air mattress instead of a CCF pad, it will be on top of a ground cloth and a tent floor. I know some people use the zlite in SoCal then switch to the neoair. Also, is it easy enough to blow up manually? I tried one out at REI today and it does feel great. Their anniversary sale is coming up, so with 20% off and my lame little $12 dividend I could get it for under $100…

    Amy Lauterbach
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    "is it easy enough to blow up manually"
    I made a very large cuben stuff sack out of 1 oz cuben (could use the lighter cuben) that I use to organize some gear in my pack. I use that to inflate the neoair. It takes a tiny bit of practice, but it's effective and it prevents the pad from accumulating condensation from your breath.

    "would hold up ok in the desert?"
    You could consider carrying an equally long piece of the thinnest ThinLite pad from Gossamer Gear to put under an inflatable. We do this when we travel to any place (i.e. high sierra) where we'll be sitting around on rocks, because it makes a great butt pad. We don't this on hikes where we'll be sitting around on dirt. This would add a couple oz to your pack weight, but it gives you a sit-pad and also protection under the NeoAir. We've been using NeoAir for a long time without a puncture, but we're fastidious about removing anything sharp from the site — pine cones, live-oak leaves, etc.

    Scott S


    Locale: New England

    At the end of a 25 or 30 mile day, or after night-hiking until 2 am, the last thing I'd want to do is have to scour a campsite for pointy things. YMMV.

    C S


    Thanks for weighing in Aaron, and thanks for sharing that gear list! That's a great list. Yes, I hope I can pare things down more after experimenting this summer. Studying my list I already see a number of areas I can save weight (do I really need a little trowel? not really – I can use one of my tent stakes. or a stick, rock, etc). One pack towel instead of two, etc. And the tent…obviously. At the moment its benefits are worth the weight to me but I'm open to other options.

    The firefly headlamp is actually a new piece of gear for me and I haven't tried it yet. I have some runner friends who love it and it seems pretty amazing. The reviews I read were highly favorable even if the battery life isn't as long as it claims the batteries weigh next to nothing. I figure I can make sure I always have a few extra. I'm looking forward to taking it on some night runs and testing it out.

    Yes, I was also thinking I might be able to get by with the BV450. Would definitely be nice if I can make it work. I haven't ever done a thru-hike as long as the PCT so I'm planning to allow myself a lot of time. Obviously unexpected conditions can affect carefully laid plans and I know that very well. I won't set a start date until next spring and it will be very dependent on current conditions but I hope to complete the hike in about three months. But I'm allowing for it to take a month or even two longer if that's what it ends up being. I run/hike 80-110 miles/week throughout the year and am used to elevation and rugged conditions. On shorter backpacking trips 30-40 miles/day is average for me. I naturally move quickly and am happiest when I'm in motion, but I know having my pack and its weight be streamlined and comfortable is critical.

    Thanks again to all of you for the great advice! I'm very grateful. :)

    C S


    Thanks Amy. Good idea on using the cuben stuff sack to blow up the pad – that's creative! Right, I remember reading about condensation from breath accumulating inside the pad. I really really like the ease of tossing out a foam pad and viola, ready to sleep! It also allows me to hike until dark and set up camp in a few easy minutes (I like my Copper Spur for this same reason – saves a lot of time scouting for a good spot to sleep). Pros and cons either way I guess. When I fast-pack I usually take a piece of tyvek and a sleeping bag, no pad, and it's not super comfortable but I sleep okay. But I usually only do that for a couple nights at a time. I'll just have to experiment. :)

    Link .
    BPL Member


    Amy Lauterbach
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    "At the end of a 25 or 30 mile day, or after night-hiking until 2 am, the last thing I'd want to do is have to scour a campsite for pointy things. YMMV."

    yep. This discussion about pads is a great example of how personal everything is. Some people can't imagine scouring a campsite for pointy things, and another can't imagine sleeping on a degraded z-rest. The value of the conversation, I think, is to identify the "best" options that optimize for different things.

    Optimizing for comfort and convenience, at the expense of some weight, an excellent option is:
    8 oz small NeoAir Xlite +
    2.5 oz 1/8" GG Thinlight (we cut ours shorter)
    1.0 oz homemade cuben stuff sack. (ours is 16" x 28", made from 1 oz cuben)
    11.5 oz total.

    Adding the Thinlight pad means you don't have to scour the campsite, since you can plop your NeoAir on top of the foam pad.
    Thinlight makes a good sit pad.
    Thinlight is backup if you do have a NeoAir leak, so you have some padding until you have time to patch it.
    Thinlight means you can deflate the NeoAir a bit more than if you don't have it – and a somewhat deflated NeoAir is oh so comfortable.
    If ground has nothing sharp, the Thinlight can be offset so it's under hips and feet instead of under upper body and hips, reducing need to fuss with arranging clothing and pack under feet.
    Cuben stuff sack means you can inflate the NeoAir quickly and without condensation (takes about 3 "puffs" from the stuffsack), and it's useful for organizing stuff in the pack.

    Compare this to a 20×51" z-lite at 10 oz. (lighter when you shorten it). For me the added 1.5 oz of weight is easily justified. The comfort difference is very substantial, especially after the z-lite has degraded for 10 or 20 days.

    Optimize for comfort on trail (save the weight) or for comfort in camp or some compromise? – HYOH.

    Don Burton


    Locale: City of Angels

    I definitely feel like it'll hold up in the desert but sometimes you'll have to clear the site. I know some people don't want to bother but it takes less than 5 mins to clear a space of 20" x 48". More like 45 sec. Personal pref though. As far as blowing it up. Not difficult. I tried using a stuff sack and gave up. I just think it's faster and simpler to blow it up the old fashioned way. :-)

    David Cardellini
    BPL Member


    Have both the BA Copper Spur UL 2 and 3. Great tents, but still lots of weight. As a solo traveler, you may find that the incremental weight for a two person shelter is not that much extra, and gives you tons of space for your pack,etc. inside the tent.

    I have gone back and forth between my Coppers and ZPack tarptents. I now exclusively use the Zpacks Duplex tarptent. Pushed its limits this past week in RMNP snowshoeing up to Black Lake (Glacier Gorge) and camping on a 4' snow base….not sure how I would have fared in a real snowstorm, though. Staking out a tarptent in snow takes more effort than self-erected Copper though.

    If you chill easily, then your torso length pad could have a major impact, even if you attempt to sleep with legs on your pack. I started with torso-length Neoair's, but now have full length Xtherm's and would not consider going back to torso length for comfort and warmth (I'm late 50's though….).

    We all have our guilty pleasures. I am a real gram weenie, but, I carry a chair (Alite Monarch). Go figure.

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