The Choice of Ultra Light
Prior to researching about the PCT, I had my customs for backpacking. Among the standard equipment, usually my gear also included pants, over the ankle aggressive tread boots, and some "just-in-case" type gear. Oh, and trekking poles were never my thing. After a few vlogs and blogs, I realized that maybe I should reevaluate my gear plans for the PCT.
There was one piece of gear that I had the strongest opinion about; once I was convinced, I became a believer in Ultra Light (UL) gear. Shoes. I thought I would be more stubborn and resist switching from boots to trail runners, but a few realizations made the switch an easy decision. Here are the reasons:
The trail is maintained; it's mostly a clear path all the way through (we can talk about post-holing in deep snow another day). You probably won't need ankle high or aggressive tread boots.
Trail runners dry fast. I have relied on GORE TEX boots when it comes to water. Once in the Sierras though, you will plunge your entire foot into water multiple times a day...GORE TEX is only going to lock water in and keep your socks swampy. Wet feet is a thing. Embrace it and dry your feet whenever possible.
Trail runners are light weight. And compared to a wet boot, wet trail runners are very light. Apparently, reducing to weight of your shoes significantly reduces the overall symptoms of weight impacts on your feet.
They can be cheap and have minimal to no break-in time. A new pair of shoes does feel pretty darn good.
After being convinced about using trail runners, I realized that I needed to  try hiking in them  know more about the trail which will help me tailor my gear needs. Point #2 is a huge part of UL and hiking the PCT; researching more about every section of the trail means less gear for the unknowns. In this case, prepared means doing your homework rather than throwing a bunch of gear in your bag and calling it good. They say, "Don't pack your fears" which means, don't pack too many socks or too much food.
"You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey’s end."
- J.R.R. Tolkien
When in doubt, don't charge in. How often will a small piece of gear spare you the dangers of a storm? Knowing the difference between discomfort and dangerous scenarios is better than any gear (unless you are carrying some serious gear...then you're not backpacking anymore). Going to town to treat your wounds and pains or waiting out a storm is usually the better option. Removing the risk is better than carrying gear for just-in-case scenarios. If it is that bad of a scenario, then you should ask for help from other people on trail or with an emergency beacon.
I have planned for two sets of gear. The first 700 miles of the PCT follows a route through Southern California and is often referred to as the “Desert Section“. From Campo to Kennedy Meadows, water is scarce and temperatures can reach above 100 degrees F at lower elevations. The trail goes through frequent shifts of environment and ecology, often nestling in the high desert and lower elevation mountains. Although the first 700 miles does run along the desert floor and through the Mojave at times, much of the route follows mountain ridges and averages between 5k and 6k feet in elevation. At times, the elevation reaches 9k – 10k feet and has the potential for remaining snow. San Jacinto peak (10k ft) often retains some snow through the late spring. For 2019, we have above average high snow pack; coincidentally, I've made plans to leave about a month later than most thru-hikers.
First Gear Set
My first gear set is tailored to meet the needs of temperate climate and extra water capacity while minimizing my gear weight. I’m using a frameless pack Summit Series Verto 32L that weighs 20 oz. I’ll require less gear along this section, which reduces base weight and enables me to hike with ease. The reduced weight compensates for carrying extra water along dry stretches (sometimes over 20 miles); although with the deep snow pack this year, more water sources may be available.
Second Gear Set
For the remaining 1,900 miles, my gear setup changes to accommodate colder, icy, and/or wet conditions along the Sierras through to Washington. I require extra heavy gear, like an ice axe and micro-spikes to hike over icy passes. Extra cold and wet weather clothing will also be added to my pack. A bear canister is required to pack my food along the Sierra section which adds 53 oz alone. The added weight and size of equipment means I need a larger pack. I will switch out my Verto 32L pack for an Osprey Aether 85L, which weighs 80 oz. The pack switch alone increases my base weight by 3.75 lbs, a significant shift for Ultra Light hiking. With the added weight, this pack, however, will be a lot more comfortable. The Osprey 85L is little too big for the shift in gear, but I decided to use what I had rather than purchase a new pack. Besides, the extra room may be convenient. Depending on gear shifts after the Sierras, I may reequip my Verto 32L pack.
Nearly all of my gear is pictured below with a brief description. Other gear, like maps, journals, and toothbrush are not featured here. The items below are the bread and butter for my hike and are organized into categories Hiking, Camping, and Other. People often organize gear differently with a special category of "Luxury."
I do have a few luxury items...art supplies being one of them. To me, the weight will be worth it for art; it is a purpose for my trip. Some bring camera gear, I'm bringing brushes and charcoal. Know that gear will always change as I go, especially as I find areas to improve efficiency while sometimes I just may want a fancy new hat.