Rich Brinkman, a Leavenworth resident and sociology professor at Wenatchee Valley College, walked the Pacific Crest Trail over the spring, summer and early autumn of 2015. That feat comprised about 2,600 miles of walking and over five months of living and camping in the deserts, forests, and mountains of the West – which made for an extensive gear test. Recently I met with Rich to ask him about his favorite gear items. I was less interested in everything he carried and most interested in the items that became the cream of his crop. What things, I asked him, stood up to the challenge and stood out? From his long walk comes this short list of his favorite gear. These aren’t necessarily new items to the market but, as far Rich is concerned, they are tried-and-true winners.
Osprey Atmos 65 Antigravity Pack. Although Brinkman started with a different pack, he switched packs in Mammoth, California. This pack at 65 liters in capacity was considerably larger and heavier (4 lbs. 6 oz.) than the sub-two pound packs many thru-hikers use, but Brinkman, with an average load of about 35 pounds, was traveling medium weight rather than ultralight, so he wanted a pack that handled the weight deftly and that handled the abuse of hiking day in and day out. “You don’t want your pack falling apart on you on a long hike.” The Amos 65 transfers much more weight to the hips and legs than the average pack and, while it took several days to adjust to it, Brinkman reports, “It does feel like the load is lighter than packs that put more of the load on your shoulders.” Final analysis: “Fabulous pack.” In-depth gear review here. Street price: $240+.
REI Sahara Convertible Pants. Brinkman used one pair of these lightweight nylon pants the entire trip and hiked with the lower cuffs zipped off (shorts) and then zipped the bottoms back on at camp (long pants). The pants had no rips, no holes, or no zipper failures during the entire trip. “Great pants.” More info. Price $64.50
Marmot Driclime Windshirt. For something so light (8 oz) this breathable, nylon windshirt adds tremendous warmth to your layering when it’s chilly out, cuts out the wind, breathes well, and is comfortable to use through a huge temperature range. Bug’s can’t bite through the nylon either. “Arguably this was the single-most valuable and versatile piece of gear I carried.” Price: $61+
Injinji Toe Socks. Brinkman used standard-eight ankle-high toe socks made by Injinji as his next-to-skin sock a medium-weight sock over the toe sock for more cushioning. These toe socks are popular among long- distance hikers and long-distance runners because they prevent between-the-toe blisters by transporting away the sweat that softens the skin and increases the friction here. Thanks to this product Brinkman did not get a single blister between his toes, despite walking an average of about 20 miles per day. “Amazing socks!” Cost: $15.
Brooks Cascadia 9s and 10s.“The Brooks Cascadias were far-and-away the most popular shoe used by PCT thru hikers,” Brinkman says and although he used a number of other shoes for the first half of the journey, his feet suffered until he found his stride with these trail running shoes. He liked the tread, cushioning, and fit of the shoe, but reports the Cascadia 10s were not as durable as the Cascadia 9s — the uppers of the Cascadia 10s sprang tears in the flex points more easily. Even though the uppers could be more durable, he got a solid 600 miles of distance per pair of shoes. “Getting the right shoe is critical — the trail is such a trial if your feet suffer every mile of the way.” Cost $120.
Mountain Hardware Sprite 1 Tent. Weighing 2 pounds 9 ounces, this tent wasn’t as light as many of the one-person shelters that thru hikers use, but Brinkman thinks the half pound of extra weight made this a much better structure than others he examined along the way — and comparing equipment is a common topic of conversation among thru hikers. “I had plenty of wet weather but was absolutely dry inside this tent.” Brinkman also says the alcove up by the head of the Sprite 1 is entirely unique and extremely practical. “That nook let me read, study maps, write, store gear, and organize equipment far more easily than the one-person shelters other thru-hikers used.” Cost: $190.
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite sleeping pad. Brinkman says he uses inflatable sleeping pads on short backpacking trips but believes “When you’re out for 5 months, an inflatable pad would be one of the first things to fail.” Brinkman says most thru hikers use closed-cell foam pads and the Z-Lite is one of the most popular pads because it’s light (14 oz in a full-length size) yet warmer and more comfortable than most others. Its accordion construction also makes it easier to adopt for alternate uses (e.g., a camp seat or a camera rest for group portraits) and easier to pack away. Most importantly, Brinkman says, “I was surprised how well I slept with this pad.” Cost: $40.
MontBell Down Hugger 2. “This sleeping bag was quite a splurge, but compared to the synthetic bags I usually carry, I thought this would cut a lot of weight and bulk from my load.” Brinkman was right on both counts: This 900-fill down bag weighs 1 pound 8 ounces and packs down to the size of a cantaloupe when stuffed. Brinkman used the bag with a liner weighing an additional 8 ounces that kept the bag much cleaner and extended its comfort rating into the mid-20s (Fahrenheit). “Some nights in the Sierras I was camping at 10,000 feet and the water bottle inside my tent was half frozen by morning, yet I was never cold in this bag.” Brinkman says it’s hard to explain verbally but the elasticity built into the bag snugged the bag around him when he lay still but stretched when he rolled, so he rarely got twisted up inside the bag. Over the 5-month period the bag saw lots of abuse from stuffing and re-stuffing and yet it never lost its loft and never failed to plump-up fast. “The sticker price was hard to swallow, but now I swear by this bag.” Cost $520.
Leki Trekking Poles. At age 49, Brinkman was one older gents from the Class of 2015 hiking the length of the PCT. Many younger hikers don’t feel the need for trekking poles but, given Brinkman’s many foot and lower leg issues (shin splints, Achilles tendon inflammation, foot swelling), he found poles extremely important for keeping him going and decreasing the stress transmitted to his feet, ankles, and knees. This recommendation is less about a particular pole and more about the contribution poles can play in the successful completion of the trail. Lots of different poles can be found here.
This article was originally published on 11/16/2015.