Thursday, September 10, 2015

PCT Thru Hike Gear Review - Clothing

For me, choosing the right clothing was difficult. There are so many options. What works for one person might not satisfy another. Here is the clothing I took and what I thought about it.

I took a SmartWool beanie. It is fairly light weight, and is wonderful to wear while sleeping when it is cold. It can also be worn during the day when there is a cold wind and you need some extra warmth.

I would definitely take this again.

Sun Hat
I wore a sun hat every day on my hike. At my age and with my bald head, I needed the protection. But in addition, the hat keeps the sun off the face. My hat was an Outdoor Research Helios hat that I bought at REI.

I found it important to have a hat that wicked away excess moisture and had a draw cord to keep the hat from blowing off. There certainly were a number of windy days and places where a hat without a draw cord would blow off.

I would definitely take this hat again, but might find another hat with a bit more character!

I wore this every day on the trail. It is very light weight, and the material wicks away moisture from the skin.

More importantly, it provides UV protection. Much of the desert has very little shade, and I saw some hikers with very bad sun burns. My buff protected by neck.

In the high Sierras, the buff kept me warmer and provided protection from the sun and the reflected sun from the snow.

In northern California, I hiked during some very hot weather. I found that I could dip my buff into a stream. The cool water would slowly evaporate, keeping me cooler.

I would definitely take this again.

I wore a shirt from RailRiders called the "Madison River" shirt. The shirt is made with nylon/polyester fabric that's lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, sun-blocking (UPF 30+), and quick-drying. There are side and back vents that provide upper-torso ventilation and air flow.

It was perfect for hiking in the hot desert, and the ventilation helped keep me cool as I made those long climbs.

The fabric was treated with Insect Shield® repellent technology which is invisible, odorless, built right into the fabric, and lasts through 70 washings. When the mosquitoes got really bad, I noticed that they did not like to land on my shirt, and I never did get any bites while wearing it.

There were two shirt pockets and one zippered pocket. I kept my Leatherman, whistle and clippers in one pocket and my sunglasses in the other. I used the zippered pocket for a black sharpie marker, ball point pen and eyeglasses.

RailRiders claims to have the "toughest clothes on the planet". I would agree. The shirt lasted me the entire trip. I only had one small tear in the sleeve.

Although this shirt has been discontinued, RailRiders has other shirts that I would highly recommend.

I would definitely take this again.

Flannel shirt
I decided that I would use "layering" approach to warmth, instead of just taking one jacket. My logic was that I could add or remove layers to better suit the hiking environment.

The flannel jacket is 100% polyester. I felt warm even when it was wet with perspiration. On a cold morning, I would often wear it over my shirt for extra warmth. In the Sierras, there were nights that were really cold. Without the flannel, I would have really been cold.

My only complaint was that the flannel shirt was heavy in comparison to the other shirts and jackets that I carried. It weighted 12.7 ounces.

In retrospect, I would consider getting a warm, light-weight raincoat on my next trip.

Down jacket
 I took a Ghost Whisperer down jacket. It is very light-weight at only 7 ounces. The jacket has a nylon shell and is filled with 800-fill down. It has two zippered pockets and a waist drawstring.

I wore it over my flannel shirt and under my rain jacket when the weather was really cold and windy. On cold nights, I wore the jacket while sleeping. It was also a great item to put on when arriving at my campsite at night. It provided just the right amount of warmth.

I tried wearing the jacket over my shirt while hiking, but the jacket soon became wet with perspiration. The problem was especially bad on my back and arms.

I liked the fact that the jacket is easy to store and packs down into a very small bundle. However, the jacket needs to be protected from the weather. Once I had the jacket stuffed into my pack during a rain storm. The rain soaked into my down jacket. From then on, I always carried it in stuffed in a plastic bag for protection.

I would definitely take this again.

Rain jacket
ZPacks makes great gear for the outdoors, so I got their Challenger rain jacket. It is made from waterproof but breathable material. It has one zippered pocket, a hood, a full-length front zipper, and arm-pit zippers for additional ventilation. The jacket with optional arm-pit zippers weighs only 5.9 ounces.

I wore the jacket mostly for wind protection, but it did well in rain and snow. As advertised, the jacket is waterproof. The breathable material works okay when the temperature outside is cold. It does not work very well when it is warm.

The jacket functioned well over both my flannel and down jackets. The hood came in handy during rainy days to keep water from dripping down my back.

My major complaint about the jacket was the front zipper. I had a very difficult time getting the zipper to engage. It got so bad that I decided to keep it partially zipped, meaning that I had to step into and out of the jacket. For a garment as expensive as this one, I would expect the zipper to work better.

In retrospect, I would NOT take this jacket. I would consider getting a light-weight insulated rain jacket for my next trip. An insulated rain jacket would take the place of this jacket and my fleece.

Sun gloves
These were great. I noticed that a lot of hikers who did not wear sun gloves ended up with a bad sun burn on their hands. I wore these almost every day. They kept my hands protected. As a bonus, they also protected my hands from stickers and bugs.

There were only two drawbacks to using them. First, they tended to get really dirty, which makes sense since they are touching my trekking poles all day long. Second, since they are 3/4-finger length, my hands ended up getting tanned on the fingers. It made for some funny-looking tan marks!

I would definitely take these again.

I carried a pair of light-weight Marmot softshell gloves. I used them when it was really cold, or when I was hiking over snow.

The gloves are not waterproof, so I also brought along a pair of light-weight rubber gloves that would fit over them. In retrospect, I never used the rubber gloves, and would not bring them again.

I used the gloves all along the trail. In the desert, the high mountains can have snow or ice. I encountered snow and ice in the San Jacinto mountains and in the high Sierras. The gloves are great on cold mornings or evenings.

I would definitely take these again.

I wore RailRiders Eco-mesh pants with insect shield. The pants are made from nylon and include leg venting that can be opened for maximum ventilation. There are two zippered pockets and two regular pockets. I carried my iPhone in my left pocket, my ID in my back pocket, and used my right pocket to collect candy wrappers and trash.

The material was treated with Insect Shield® technology for protection against mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks. Mosquitoes would land, but didn't bite through the fabric.

RailRiders make very durable products. I ended up replacing them in Mammoth Lakes because I had fallen on some sharp rocks and ripped them just below my knee. Had they not been ripped, I suspect they would have lasted the entire trip.

I would definitely take these again. 

I normally don't wear shorts. It's probably because my legs never got exposed much to the sun and would burn easily. Also, I had lots of scars from falling on rocks in the Sierras!

However, I got tired of wearing my rain pants in town when I did laundry. With a pair of shorts, I could wear them while washing everything else.

I picked up a pair of shorts at Timberline Lodge in Oregon. I should have taken some with me in the first place.

The shorts I carried were adequate. I could wear them while swimming, and they were comfortable. I am sure I could have found something more light-weight that would have worked just as well.

I would definitely take a pair of shorts again, but find something more light-weight.

Some hikers wore no underwear, but I chose to wear Under Armour boxer shorts. They are light-weight at just 4.7 ounces, and are made from polyester/elastane fabric.

I never experienced chaffing while wearing them, a problem some other hikers had while wearing other brands of underwear.

I also wore these while soaking in the hot tub, so they doubled as shorts in a more private environment.

I would definitely take these again.

Rain pants
I struggled with the decision regarding rain pants. I don't like the fact that rain pants keep the rain off, but often also keep the sweat in. The result being that I am wet at the end of the day.

I chose to take Frogg Toggs rain pants, basically because they were the lightest choice and least expensive. I also liked the fact that I could pull the rain pants on without taking off my shoes.

I did not like the durability of these pants. Sharp sticks, plants, stickers and even rough rocks would poke small holes in them. I even got holes in the back of the pants while resting on a rock along the trail! The pants also do not have any pockets, so I struggled with a place to carry my phone.

In retrospect, I would NOT bring these again. I would investigate other options, including a poncho or kilt!

I wore Dirty Girl Gaiters for my entire trip. The Dirty Girl gaiters were very popular on the trail, and are one of the easiest use. They also worked very well in keeping out all of the rocks and sticks which are so common on the trail. They will not keep out the dust, however, but neither did my lightweight shoes!

The only drawback was the requirement to install a tiny strip of Velcro to the heel of the shoe. I knew I was going to wear gaiters, so I attached the Velcro to all three pairs of shoes before I left on my hike. I also used Super Glue to ensure that the Velcro didn't come off the shoe. Attaching the Velcro while on the trail is much more difficult, since the Velcro can become detached if not attached properly.

I found that my pair of gaiters lasted well for half of my hike. I ended up having to sew the metal retainer back onto the gaiters just after I left the Sierras. I also had to sew on the Velcro that was attached to the gaiter.

In retrospect, I would take them again. I would also send a new pair midway through the hike as they tend to wear out along the way.

I wore Darn Tough socks the entire trip. They provided comfort and durability. Their seamless construction ensured that there would be no slipping or bunching.

I took three pairs, and rotated to a new pair each day. The pair from the previous day were washed out and hung from my pack to dry. I re-used the first pair on the fourth day and so on. When I was in the desert, I often rotated my socks every three hours. I found that putting on dry socks kept me from getting blisters, which are very common in the first month of hiking.

The socks have a lifetime unconditional guarantee. I managed to wear a hole in one pair, so I can exchange them for a new pair. What could be better than that?

I would highly recommend these socks and would take them again.

Sleeping socks
At the start of my hike, I took a regular pair of Darn Tough socks to use while sleeping. That was a mistake. My regular socks did not keep my feet warm. I ended up buying a pair of fuzzy wool socks midway through the Sierras.

The thick wool socks weighed more, but kept my feet warm and cozy all night.

I would take warm socks again, but investigate other options that might be more light-weight.

Pajama top and bottom
I chose Icebreaker merino wool tops and bottoms as my sleeping clothes. I only used these clothes for sleeping, and kept them in the stuff bag for my sleeping bag. The clothes were rated as 200-light-weight, best for moderate to cool conditions.

I liked the clothes as pajamas (they were very soft), but found I was still a bit chilly on the coldest of nights. I also liked the fact that the wool allowed me to wear them for multiple days in a row without worrying about odor.

I would bring them again.

Everyone has a different foot, so the choice in shoes depends on fit, feel and durability. I found that Vasque Pendulum shoes fit very well. I normally wear a size 10.5, but when hiking I found that I needed a size 12!

The Vasque Pendulum is a running shoe. I thought that I could get 700 miles for each pair of shoes. I started with a new pair, and planned to send new shoes to Kennedy Meadows (south), Dunsmuir, and Cascade Locks. As it turned out, my shoes sent to Kennedy Meadows wore out early, and I had to replace them at South Lake Tahoe. I then sent my third pair to Timberline Lodge instead of Dunsmuir.

The shoes I bought in South Lake Tahoe were Merrell Moab Ventilator shoes with a wide toe box. I wore these straight from the box with no problems. They were not as light as the Vasque shoes, but were tougher and had a great Vibram sole for better traction.

In retrospect, I would start out with Vasque Pendulum shoes for the desert, but would switch to Merrell Moab Ventilator shoes for the rest of the hike. The rough and sharp rocks of the Sierras and Washington Cascade mountains, and the rough lava rocks of Oregon ate up my Vasque shoes.

Shoe inserts
I always used Montrail enduro-sole heat-moldable foam inserts. These shoe inserts had thermo-moldable foam which conformed to the unique bone structure and shape of my foot, offering more surface area contact, and dispersing pressure points. It was as if I had a prescription insert!

I would definitely take these on every hike.

Looking back on this list of clothing, it is obvious that clothing choices can add a lot of weight. There always seems to be a balance between comfort, weight and peace of mind. I've heard it said that we carry our "fears" while hiking. I am sure there is a lot of truth in that.

Please feel free to comment on what worked for you, or if you have discovered that new piece of clothing that is a must-have for the through hiker!

More reviews to come.

Bobaroo, PCT class of 2015
Started April 16; Finished August 20

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