Tunnel Vision: Preparing to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail


After ringing in the new year, I felt a shift in my life. I decided – sometime back in the fall of 2018 – that 2020 would be the year I would attempt to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s hovered like a carrot as I researched gear, gave my job the longest notice ever, and put hundreds of hiking miles on my legs. It started with explanations of “Not next year, but in 2020…” then the switch to “Next year…” and now I am counting down by months. It’ll be weeks, then days before I know it. 2020 is here and the PCT is all I’m really thinking about, everything else is just everything else.

For those unfamiliar, the Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking trail that runs from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada. It travels through the desert, forests, along high mountain ranges, and all the meadows, lakes, and rivers in between, for 2,650 miles. To thru-hike is to walk the whole thing all in one go. It’s a goal that’s been incubating since I was 12-ish years old, but it’s taken until now for me to feel like it’s time.

Believe it or not, thousands each year set out to attempt a thru-hike. Some make it without issue. Some get diverted by snow or fires. Many drop out. And in this media-soaked age, more and more are doing blogs and vlogs of their journeys. This is not my plan, I’m going as analog as possible for my hike, but there’s always been one part of those blogs and vlogs that calls to me: the gear post. What goes in a backpack, and how it all works. I’m such a nerd for gear. So since my mind is on nothing else at the moment, I thought I’d (selfishly) take all you lovely Backwords readers on a tour of my backpack; give you a glimpse of what will be my home for the 5 months I’m out on the trail.

The pack: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest

I love my backpack. My backpack feels like home. I bought it before I had a solid plan to hike the PCT, but I’d been wanting to upgrade my 15-year-old REI pack for several years. After buying my car and increasing my time in the wilderness dramatically, I finally justified dropping the cash on a svelte ultralight backpack. It’s so simple, just a roll-top compartment and three outside pockets. It’s made of fabric that’s super light, but also rugged and waterproof. It has already served me well on a handful of prep trips. When people ask if I like my backpack I generally reply jokingly, “With every waking breath.”

The tent: Nemo Equipment Hornet 1-Person Backpacking Tent

My backpack is my home but my tent is my house. A compact waterproof shelter that fits me and my gear with just a bit of room to spare.

The bedroom: Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad, Enlightened Equipment 10-degree Enigma quilt, Sea to Summit Aeros pillow

So. Cozy. Believe it or not, finding a good pillow has been the trickiest part of my gear testing. I am prone to headaches and I’ve learned a pillow means fewer days taking Ibuprofen first thing in the morning. My little pillow is inflatable and packs down tiny. My quilt I bought specifically for the PCT. It’s like a sleeping bag but with a small opening down the bottom that connects together with flat buckles. I can open it up like a blanket when it’s warm at