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[pct-l] Tent/tarp and sleeping bag choices on the PCT

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     Several people have written to this list asking about tent and
sleeping bag recommendations.  Here's my two cents worth.  The PCT is
     quite diverse in rainfall, temperature and terrain.
No single pack-full of equipment will do for the duration.  The
southern California desert in May can be very hot (100+) during the
day.  It cools off quickly at night and can be cold by morning.  The
Sierra in June still has much snow on the ground and you'll be very
lucky if you don't experience at least one "winter" storm on your
trip.  Most of the time the Sierra has clear weather though, and that
will bring out ravenous hoards of mosquitos.  Protection from the bugs
is not just a luxury, it's a necessity!  If you choose just a tarp
here, which I don't recommend, make sure you have nighttime mosquito
protection.  Mid-summer is usually warm but you can get snow anywhere
on the PCT.  Most thru hikers are under equipped for worst case
weather.  If things get bad, they plan to hike out and wait for better
conditions.  In northern Oregon and Washington, you'll have rain.
Lots of rain.  In '97 there was quite a bit of snow in mid September
in Washington.  People with down bags were in trouble.  Even Gore-Tex
tents were wet inside after days of rain.  All bags were at least damp
if not soaked.  My recommendation here is:  no cotton clothes, no down
     Here's my recommendation for a minimum amount of equipment to
cover all but the worst conditions.  A tarp, a bivvy sack, a 35-degree
poly bag and some warm clothes.  (poly tights, long-sleeve poly shirt,
fleece jacket, full-face pull-over wool cap, wool glove liners)
     For the desert, use the bag and bivvy.  Some "nuts" use just the
bivvy, but I think this is a little too close to the edge.  Remember
Mt. San Jacinto is 10,800 in that section.  (The trail gets to 8,800.)
A bivvy is not sufficient if it rains for more than one day, but
that's unlikely in southern California.
     For the Sierra, bring it all.  The bivvy provides mosquito
protection under the tarp and adds 10-15 degrees warmth to your bag.
On cold nights wear all your clothes as well.  The basic idea here is
why carry both warm clothes AND a bag that's warm enough to sleep in
naked?  For the record, I brought a tent into the Sierra and loved it.
But it was heavy.
     For the mid-summer months you can wing it.  Put what you don't
need in your drift box.  Most of the time just the bag and tarp are
fine.  I chose to bring bag, bivvy and tarp the whole way.  I prefer
to sleep under the stars most nights.  It's fast, easy and wonderful.
But you WILL wake up to unexpected thunderstorms.  It's so much easier
to get into a bivvy in the dark than to try setting up the tarp.  You
may not have even chosen a campsite adequate for setting up the tarp.
(I say again the bivvy is NOT adequate for torrential or unrelenting
rain, but okay for the occassional T-storm.)
     For northern Oregon and Washington where it can rain for days on
end, you're going to be wet.  Unless you're camped in one spot with
the kind of huge canvas tents that horse-packing hunters use in this
area, you're going to be wet.  Get used to it.  The key is to stay
warm anyway.  No cotton clothes and no down bags.  I recommend the
bag, bivvy, tarp and warm clothes.  Set up the tarp every night.  The
weather WILL change.  Setting up the tarp in the dark in the rain is
not fun.
     One might think a tent would be better in constantly rainy
conditions.  It is better for campers and backpackers, but not for
thru hikers.  If you plan to hide in the tent all day when it rains,
you'll want a tent.  Don't even THINK about spending time awake in a
bivvy!  A tent is also fine if you keep it pitched until noon, waiting
for it to dry.  But a tarp and bivvy soak up less water.  They are
lighter to carry when wet and they can dry out during your 1/2 hour
lunch stop.  Tents take longer to dry.
     Some have asked about how big their tarp should be.  The answers
I've seen mention that bigger is better for staying dry.  This is
true.  But you can get by with a much smaller tarp if you have a
bivvy.  Just keep the bivvy zippers dry.  As mentioned earlier, you
can get by with a lighter bag when you have a bivvy.  It's a flexible,
multi-purpose shelter of great value to the thru-hiker.

Brian Robinson, PCT '97
My PCT journal can be read at:
or follow the link from the PCTA web site

Disclaimer:  The preceding is my opinion, presented without warranty.
I accept no responsibility for any consequences resulting from the
advice I've given.  Make your own decisions regarding equipment
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