Every year on the last weekend in April, the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff (affectionately known as the ADZPCTKO) is held in Lake Morena County Park, which lies right on the PCT just 20 miles north of the Mexican border. This year’s kickoff was held on the weekend of April 22-24. The ADZPCTKO was started in 1999 as a way for past hikers to give something back to the through-hiking community. Its mission is simple – provide inspiration, information, and moral support for the new class of through-hikers each year. The event has grown from about 30 attendees in 1999, to over 550 at this year’s kickoff. It is intentionally kept as a low-key event for the benefit of current hikers. The event organizers are the first to say that when it comes to rules, well, there are no rules – and take the schedule with a grain of salt. But for a low-key event, this year’s PCT kickoff was very well organized and went off without a hitch. The hikers were fed, campsites assigned, and events ran smoothly. There is a small area for vendors to display their wares, but the number of vendors is limited to around half a dozen who focus on the needs of the long distance hiker.
This year’s PCT Kickoff hosted, fed and informed over 550 people, including over 200 hikers starting the PCT this year.
Events this year included a nutrition and health talk, a homemade gear contest, a presentation from the Forest Service on fire and bear safety, slide shows and movies from previous hikers, and an overview of current snow and water conditions. The highlight for me was listening to the humble and inspiring presentation from Scott Williamson who became the first person to yo-yo the PCT in 2004 (a yo-yo is a there and back hike – in this case from Mexico to Canada and back to Mexico). Scott covered over 5,300 miles in 197 days and battled record early season snows as he crossed the southern California mountains in October as he neared the completion of his quest. Scott gave this year’s hikers some tips on hiking in the high altitudes well before the snow has melted away and had some great stories to share from his seven complete hikes of the PCT spanning the years 1992 to 2004. Scott’s biggest day on his yo-yo hike was 47.5 miles, which he covered partially at a jog in order to reach a pizza restaurant for dinner. That’s the stomach of a long distance hiker ruling the day!
Meadow Mary and Billy Goat discuss health and nutrition with this year’s hikers. Billy Goat is a PCT legend and has 23,000 trail miles on his legs.
Meadow Ed entertains hikers with the water and snow report.
The organizers of the PCT kickoff want to keep the focus on the hikers, and not turn the weekend into a vendor or gear focused event. That said, the kickoff does gather a large number of dedicated hikers into one location – many of whom are dedicated to lightweight hiking and are gearheads. The kickoff is a great opportunity to network with other hikers and vendors, compare gear lists, and generally gab about gear for hours on end. Vendors at the kickoff this year included LuxuryLite, Tarptent, ULA Equipment, Six Moon Designs, Gossamer Gear, and Yogi’s PCT Handbook. Here are a few highlights from the vendors.
The LuxuryLite TrailStik is a carbon fiber trekking pole built from a five-foot section of half-inch carbon fiber. Each pole weights less than 4 ounces and uses a prussik knot to secure a handle anywhere along the length of the pole. This allows the handle to be easily and quickly moved as conditions change. Questions raised in my gear tester’s mind were: “Does the grip hold well under heavy loads?” and “Will the 5-foot pole length impact the swing weight significantly?” The TrailStik seemed to perform well in the vendor area, but a test of field performance would be very interesting.
The LuxuryLite TrailStik features a prussik knot adjustable strap and a 5-foot carbon fiber pole.
Gossamer Gear had a prototype 5-ounce bivy sack made from spinnaker cloth and Pertex Quantum. This bag also featured a zipper for ease of use. Gossamer Gear is testing these now and may or may not bring them into production. This will be a delicate item – not intended for those who flop around all night while sleeping.
The prototype 5-ounce Gossamer Gear bivy sack on the left.
Six Moon Designs
Six Moon Designs had their newly re-designed Europa 05 and Lunar Solo tents on display. The new Europa contains several interesting innovations including a hybrid single/double wall design intended to reduce condensation while still keeping the two-person tent at 36 total ounces. How well does this perform compared to single wall tents in identical conditions? I think I hear a challenge for our shelter systems editor.
Ron Moak of Six Moon Designs (on right) discusses his redesigned Europa 2005 tent.
Gear Trends Among PCT Hikers
In conversing with other hikers and walking around camp I took an informal look at gear trends among current PCT hikers. Shelters were the most visible gear in camp. The campground was decorated with hundreds of shelters of every size, shape, color and design. My informal survey revealed that about 40 percent of this year’s hikers are using tarps as their primary shelter. These tarps cover an incredible variety of sizes and styles, from popular spinnaker fabric tarps to huge homemade tarps and everything in between. A good time could be had (by gearheads anyway) just walking about camp and conversing about tarp setups. Of the remaining shelter systems, most are lightweight tents that weigh less than 2 pounds, including the very popular Tarptents and other single wall designs. Only a small minority of hikers are using traditional double wall tents. That represents a huge change from just a few years ago; although the PCT through-hiker crowd is certainly not representative of the general hiking public.
Henry Shires (left) discusses his popular Tarptent.
Among packs I noted fewer users of the lightest gear options. With packs it was a bit harder to gather data, and sometimes I had to crawl up to tarps to get a look. Fortunately, no one took offense and I was not accused of any moral indiscretion. Only about 10 percent of PCT hikers are using packs that weigh less than a pound. Although numerous options exist for light packs, the difficulties of a PCT hike make it problematic to use the lightest packs. There are times when PCT hikers will carry 25 or more pounds of food and water, making even the most dedicated ultralighters haul well over 30 pounds on occasion. For most PCT hikers, 40 pound packs are an occasional necessity. The vast majority of packs on the trail this year fall into the 24 to 48 ounce range. Traditional full size packs above 5 pounds are nearly extinct among long distance hikers – though a few proud and crusty old diehards could be seen in 3-pound boots and 7-pound packs.
The author at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Based on information I’ve gleaned from previous hikers, there are an increasing number of hikers using water filters. Water sources on the PCT are sometimes crawling in fascinating invertebrates, especially in the deserts of southern California. Several hikers each year are forced to leave the trail with GI tract disorders. Over half the hikers I questioned were carrying water filters, with aqua mira being the favorite treatment by far among those avoiding a filter.
PCT Section Hike
In my continual quest to test and report on the gear, techniques, and life of the long distance hiker, I will be heading out on the PCT myself this year to hike the first 700 miles from Mexico. I’ll be back in Lake Morena on May 9th to start north. I am looking forward to the snow, heat, cold, thirst, bugs, blisters, sunsets, desert vistas, fellow hikers, and the myriad other blessings offered by the PCT.