WHY YOU DON’T NEED TO SPEND $5000 ON YOUR PACIFIC CREST TRAIL GEAR
WHY SPENDING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON GEAR FOR YOUR THRU HIKE IS A REALLY BAD IDEA
There’s a vicious rumour circling around on the internet. It says that, in order to embark on a hike of the PCT, you need to spend upwards of at least $4000-$5000 on Pacific Crest Trail gear. I’m here to tell you why this vicious rumour is absolute bullsh*t.
We would also like to touch upon the fact that everybody seems to think that whilst you are actually, physically on the trail, you’ll be spending at least $1000 per person per month. Again, this is bullsh*t. This is our take on what hiking the Pacific Crest Trail will cost.
First things first, let us just clear something up:
There is no reason you’ll need $10,000 to go on a 4 month hike. That’s just crazy.
And if you don’t think you’ll ever be able to afford a PCT thru-hike, read this and think again.
Now, some facts about us.
FACTS ABOUT US
First off, some simple facts about us at perusingtheplanet.
We hiked 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail over 3 months in the summer of 2018. We started in May and ended in the beginning of August the same year. We went slow. When we were walking, we were walking at pretty standard average of 3/4 miles per hour. Our downfall, however, was town: we spent way too long in town.
We would spend our time in motels, eating out at restaurants and fast food chains. Essentially, we found it WAY too difficult to tear ourselves away from the comfy motel bed and the greasy food.
As we were just hiking for 3 months, we weren’t tied to any kind of requirements to get to Canada before winter started. We had no real place to be, and no time schedule. So we spent a long time in town. This meant we spent A LOT more money in town than the average thru hiker. So our on trail budget was probably a great deal higher than most others.
Around a week before beginning our hike, we had just got home from almost 12 months backpacking around Asia. That meant, not only were we a little strapped for cash, but we were also strapped for time. We had just over a week to get everything we needed. So, we shopped at discount sporting goods stores (of which, our favourite is still Decathlon), and Amazon. MORE ON THIS LATER.
We took the backpacks that we had used as we travelled around Asia, and took one pair of hiking trainers (sneakers) each. We bought cheap hiking poles and a small stove off of Amazon. In total, each, we spent around £150 ($200).
We don’t regret any of our gear purchases. Everything we bought lasted us our entire three month hike, and most of it has come with us on our other adventures since then (and is still going strong).
WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT IT WEIGHS
I know what you’re thinking: “if I buy cheap gear, how will I be ULTRALIGHT?!”.
And the answer to this conundrum is this: you won’t. The phrase “ultralight” hasn’t been around very long at all. A few years ago there was no such thing. It was “lightweight” and “not lightweight”. That was it. And before that, it was just “backpacking”. Now, everyone has jumped on this new craze of thinking that you can only be capable of backpacking comfortably if it involves carrying a 4 pound bag. It’s just nuts.
*I don’t want you thinking we are some old-school, old-timer backpackers that are afraid of changing our habits of a lifetime: we’re just two ordinary girls in their mid-20’s who want to share our wealth of knowledge.*
But the thing is: you don’t NEED to be ultralight (or lightweight or super-ultra-lightweight). There is nothing to stop you from bringing a 50 pound backpack and still having the adventure of a lifetime (and spending a fifth of the price doing it).
If buying expensive, lightweight gear isn’t an option for you, then don’t buy it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t waste 4 years of your life saving for a 5 month PCT hike, because that’s what everybody else does. Spend a fraction of the price buying (just as amazing) slightly heavier gear, and hike this summer, or next summer instead. You’ll have an incredible time, and you’ll have more summers to spend hiking other trails with your newfound perspective on backpacking and adventure travel.
BEFORE THE TRAIL
Being from London, our travel to and from the trail was considerably more than most other hikers. Being the budget-savvy backpackers that we are, we booked our flights about 6 months in advance. This saved us HUGE amounts. We also went with the budget airline of Norwegian Air, and booked our return flight from Oakland (and then rented a cheap ($45) car to get to Oakland airport) in order to save even more. The simple rule here is; if you’re flexible – with dates, location, airlines – you can save your self a massive amount.
I’ve seen a lot of estimations online for travel to and from the trailheads, and they all seem to be pretty high. Obviously, depending on where you are coming from/going to, your travel costs will be significantly higher or lower than someone else. That being said, don’t be afraid to travel on budget airlines and make use of budget car rental agencies where possible, to avoid huge taxi and train fares (car rental in the US is CONSIDERABLY less than in most other countries, so use that to your advantage!).
A quick Google search for “Pacific Crest Trail gear” brings up pages of extensive lists that are suggesting nothing but over-priced, branded clothes. I don’t want to sound like a middle-aged mum of teenagers, but, there really is no difference between the branded and unbranded clothes. To an extent of course. Some of the expensive branded stuff is a little lighter. That’s basically it. As long as you don’t compromise on the quality, there is no reason you can’t get thru-hiking clothes that cost 10% of the price, but perform in exactly the same way.
Now, back to these packing lists put together by other hikers. Why are we being told to spend $75 on a pair of Patagonia running shorts, when an unbranded $7 pair will suffice just as well? One website (second result on a “Pacific Crest Trail gear” Google search), recommends a pair of $120 rain pants! Rain pants?! Even if you needed a pair of rain pants (which you probably won’t), why would you be spending $120 on them? Especially when there are places (Amazon included) that sell them for less than $10.
Just remember that – unless you want to, of course – you don’t need to spend more than $50 – $100 on ALL of the clothing needed for your hike. Just be smart about it.
THE BIG FOUR
If you’re going to spend a lot of money on any one area of your Pacific Crest Trail gear, it should be on one (or more if you can afford it) of these items. Aptly named ‘the big four’ by a lot of folks, these 4 items take up the most space and weight, and saving weight on one of these items makes a much larger difference than small savings on all other gear combined. Essentially, if you invest your dollars here, there is a bigger weight saving per dollar spent.
Having said that, if you can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on each (or any) of these items, never fear. There is some perfectly adequate alternatives available.
POPULAR AND EXPENSIVE – “Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest“: $365, 34.9oz.
CHEAPER ALTERNATIVE – “ULA OHM 2.0“: $210, 34.5oz.
We took backpacks with us that we had previously used to backpack around Asia, so our bags were heavy (but cost us nothing). Danielle took a “Vango Sherpa” that cost her just £55 ($75), but it did weigh around 2kg (70 ounces).
POPULAR AND EXPENSIVE – “MSR Hubba Hubba NX2“: $450, 3lbs 8oz.
CHEAPER ALTERNATIVE – “REI PASSAGE 2“: $120, 4lbs 13oz. *REI are no longer selling this tent on their website, but are selling the 1 person alternative still.*
We bought the REI passage 2 for our 3 month hike, and were very impressed with this tent. Obviously, it is a little heavier than the competition, but for just over $100, it was a great investment. We even took this same tent on a 3 month bikepacking trip down the West Coast this year, and it is still going strong.
POPULAR AND EXPENSIVE – “Western Mountaineering Alpinlite: 20F“: $600, 1lb 15oz.
CHEAPER ALTERNATIVE – “Kelty Cosmic 20“: $170, 2lbs 8.9oz.
We actually both took very cheap Decathlon sleeping bags with us, with an extra liner to keep us warm at altitude. However, we would not recommend these, as we later bought “Kelty Cosmic 20” bags during our 3 month cycle tour down the Pacific Coast Highway the year after (which we now love and think were an awesome investment).
POPULAR AND EXPENSIVE – “Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite“: (Regular size) $180, 8.8oz.
CHEAPER ALTERNATIVE – “Therm-a-Rest Z Lite“: (Regular size) $45, 10oz.
We actually used a “Karrimor Folding Sleep Mat” that we bought from SportsDirect in the UK. It is essentially a budget Therm-a-Rest Z Lite, and only cost us around $20.
WHERE TO BUY YOUR GEAR (AND CLOTHING)
I’ll keep this part simple. There are two main places that we bought (and still continue to buy) the majority of our hiking gear from: Decathlon and Amazon.
(NOTE: We would recommend buying your ‘big four’ items from other online stores, or REI.)
Some of you may not have heard of Decathlon, although it has increased in size and popularity dramatically over the last couple of years. Decathlon is quite simply a European sporting goods store, that sells own-brand clothing and gear at a ridiculously low price. There is no catch. The quality is as good as (sometimes even better than) other branded gear, and it’s brand new and made, sold and distributed by them. This is our go-to for anything sports related that we need to buy.
Our other go-to store is Amazon. Anything that we can’t find in Decathlon, we find on Amazon. I don’t need to explain what Amazon is and does (as I’m sure you already know), so just know that everything you buy on Amazon varies in quality, but (if you shop around) you can usually find good stuff for a lower price than anywhere else. Amazon is a great resource for Pacific Crest Trail gear.
(Another UK- based store that we SOMETIMES buy gear from is SportsDirect. We find it has varying degrees of quality though, so tend to avoid it if we can buy what we need in Decathlon or Amazon.)
ON THE TRAIL
Roughly 90% of your thru-hike will be spent on the trail. The other 10%, you’ll be in (or near) a town.
When you’re on the trail, you will have NO access to ANYTHING that costs money. No access to motels, fast food, 7 eleven, beer, candy, soda… no access to anything. That means that whilst you are on the trail (90% of your hike), you won’t be spending a dollar. Not even a dime.
Now, of course, you’ll need to spend money before you leave for the trail. You’ll need to spend money in town on food and luxuries you’ll want with you (beer, Fireball, candy, coffee etc.) whilst you’re on trail. That’s a big expense. But, no where near as much as most people estimate.
WHAT WE ATE
We ate a selection of what most people would refer to as: classic backpacker foods. You’ve probably heard people talk about these before. They are no secret:
Ramen, oatmeal, Rice Sides, tortilla wraps, peanut butter, Idahoan mash, tuna packets, granola bars, Pop Tarts, Clif Bars, cous cous, mustard, gummy candies and instant coffee powder.
NOTE: your instant coffee powder does not need to be $10 Starbucks sachets (Nescafe works just as well).
Our average cost per meal was between $0.50 and $1.50. Compare this to freeze dried meals such as, say, Mountain House, and you can see we saved around $6 – $8 per meal. That’s a lot of money over a 4 – 5 month period. Money that could be better spent eating burgers and sleeping in motel beds!
Town is the part of the hike where we really think you should splash out. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be exhausted and smelly by the time you reach the next town, and you’ll have been thinking about that hot shower and those clean motel sheets for days before reaching town. So, spend a day in town splurging, and feel 1000x better because of it. We genuinely enjoyed our hike much more because we allowed ourselves to splurge in town.
WHERE WE STAYED: Quite simply, we stayed in the cheapest place in town. If it was a $60 motel, that’s where we stayed. If it was a $150 Best Western, then that’s where we stayed. Because there is 2 of us, it was cheaper for us to stay in motels than if you are hiking on your own. However, in a lot of towns, there was the option of staying in a hostel bed, camping, and even staying with trail angels.
WHERE WE ATE: Again, we usually ate at one of the cheaper places in town. Most of the time we would eat fast food, as that’s what we had been craving anyway. We did, sometimes, eat at restaurants, although we did prefer to eat at bars (again because of the greasy food cravings).
Essentially, your PCT hike will cost you whatever you want it to cost you. Your Pacific Crest Trail gear won’t cost you anywhere near as much as most other people estimate it will, IF you are willing to sacrifice some weight savings.
Take everything you read on the internet with a pinch of salt. It’s disheartening to hear that people are saving for years and years in order to get the money to hike the PCT. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was one of the most amazing things we at perusingtheplanet have ever done, and we want to enable people to be capable of hiking it too.
**There is no reason you’ll need $10,000 to go on a 4 month hike. That’s just crazy.**
And on the same note, if you don’t think you’ll ever be able to afford a thru hike of the PCT, I’d like to think we’ve helped you re-think that theory.
OUR PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR
LAPTOP – Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
SMALL CAMERA – Olympus OMD- E-M10 Mark II
ZOOM LENS – Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm Lens
DSLR BODY – Canon 60D
WIDE ANGLE LENS – Sigma 10-20mm Lens
DRONE – DJI Mavic Pro
ACTION CAMERA – GoPro Hero 7 Black Edition
MICROPHONE – Rode VideoMicro
CAMERA BAG – Lowepro Fastpack 250 AW II