PCT clothing review

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23 Responses

  1. Shawna says:

    Thank you for all the details that you wrote about what you wore and how the items worked out for you. I greatly appreciate the time that you took to critique each item.

    I am a larger size woman…think short squatty body type…and it is a royal pain in the butt to find clothes that work for me. Men sizes are out of proportion. Women sizes too small. It sucks.

    It is like, no heavy set women hike (well, once I start hiking I do lose the weight), which isn’t true, but the manufactures of good quality clothing act like there aren’t any.

    So I spent my summer of 2014 wearing one skirt the entire 500+ miles I hiked in France and Spain.
    I’m thinking I’m going to be wearing the same one on the PCT.

    Did you see any other women who are heavier set out on the trail? Know of any brand of clothing that accommodates plus size women?

    Thanks again for writing your post

    • Alice says:

      I definitely saw heavier-set women (and men) on the trail! I can say that some brands run super small :( Icebreaker in particular seems to be sized for … elite marathon runners? I started the hike at 5’5″ 145 lbs, size 6 or 8 pants, and the size medium long underwear bottoms were super tight at 450 miles in. If I should have been in a size L, I doubt the XL would accommodate much over 10 or 12.

      I do remember seeing plus size clothing at Athleta, and I’ve at least had good luck with their sports bras. Their spandex-y tights go up to 2X.

      If you like hiking in skirts, that’s an option for the PCT for sure. I saw several women hikers wearing them (I think Rambling Hemlock is one, and has a blog you can google for), and a few men in kilts as well. If you haven’t already tried it, you might like spandex long enough to cover the thighs to prevent chafing. I carried Body Glide that helped with that too, but preventing rubbing is the most useful for me. Until you get those lovely purple calluses and stop feeling anything…

      What kind of skirt did you wear? I tried one before the PCT and had it stretch out on a training hike (damn wool again…). Would like to try again with a different material.

  2. Jill Russell says:

    Hi Shawna,
    I started the PCT as a size 18 (2660 miles later and I had to buy a whole new wardrobe!). To get outfitted for the hike, I found that REI has plus sized options (http://www.rei.com/s/womens-plus-size-clothing), and got some of my clothing from junonia.com. You should also keep an eye on geartrade.com. It is a great marketplace of used items. You should go there first for things like shorts and short sleeve shirts because trust me, your size will change. I ended up buying new shorts every month – not because they got shredded, but because they just wouldn’t stay on. Good problem to have, though.
    Finally, no matter what you buy, be sure to stick with Penguin’s advice about getting quality wool products (Ibex is best), or poly that is treated to not smell (like RAB).
    Good for you for hiking the PCT! It will absolutely change your life!
    – Jill (Trail Name ‘Port’)

  3. Sonnie says:

    Thanks so much for this post!! It was so helpful :)

    I also wanted to wear an Icebreaker 150 merino wool as my hiking shirt, but you have convinced me not to, because of the shredding. It’s soooo thin, I am not surprised. I really wanted to stick with wool, but I fear that 195 merino (and def 250) would be way too warm for my summer mountain through hike (not PCT). So maybe I need to start looking at synthetics as well. Did you consider a Capilene 1 or 2 for your hiking shirt, by chance? Have you found any good LS button downs?

    I was lucky to find a bra I loved on the first try! The Icebreaker Sprite sports bra. It’s just perfect :)

    What did you think about your Rab Microlight Alpine? That is warm and cozy, but it’s kind of a heavy piece! Did you find it was worth it’s weight? What about the hood? It sounds like you would buy a down puffy with a hood next time? (I am in the middle of the Great Hood Debate–too many hoods, or not enough?) Did you ever use this hiking, or was it for camp only?

    Thank you again so much for this post!!! What a pleasure to read and I like your laid back attitude :)

    • Alice says:

      Hi Sonnie, glad to be of help! Yeah, the wool stuff is hard. I think it’s fantastic for warmth, love it for sleep wear or base layers while standing around, but as a solo layer under a pack, it was just not durable enough for the price point. I didn’t consider the Capilene layers before my hike, as I was 100% merino focused. I lucked into the Rab Aeon tee that worked so well for me, ’cause it was the cheap option in a color I liked at the store. I’ve heard good things about the Capilene layers, so that sounds like a great thing to try out. As for LS button down, I got a strong recommendation for the Columbia women’s silver ridge button down from a fellow thru who wore the mens version. He said it lasted the whole hike, breathed well, and the plaid hid the dirt.

      The Sprite is great! I tried one before my hike and was between sizes, but suspected it would have worked out great on the trail.

      I really like the Rab jacket, but you’re absolutely right that it’s super heavy (~12 oz). It was the only one I could find to ship to myself overnight right when I needed it, which is how I ended up with it over say a Montbell UL Down Parka at ~8.3 oz. If I were buying it ahead of time, I’d definitely go lighter (probably Montbell). I never hiked in it, as I wanted to avoid getting sweat on it. For warmth while hiking I layered a wind shirt or rain jacket over my base layer; that was always sufficient.

      Another note on hoods — they can be part of a system. Some of the lightest sleeping bags on the market don’t have a hood (the Zpacks bags), so having a hood on your puffy would make sleep a lot more confortable. My sleeping bag had a nice hood and neck baffle, so the hood would have been less necessary. If I use the quilt again, a hood would be nice… You gotta know what other items you have with you, and how much having a cold neck detracts from your hike :)

  4. Andrea says:

    Alice, Thank you so much for this amazing PCT gear overview – one of the most helpful I’ve ever read. I agree with you about the Ibex Indie Hoodie – I find the material weight and weave to be a perfect combination of durability + warmth over a broad range without being too hot. Any lighter weight merino wool fabric just doesn’t last. Quick question about the Houdini pants sizing – I’ve been using the Houdini Hoody for years and love it and thinking about picking up the pants to wear over hiking pants or base layer for a quick boost to warmth in the mornings and on ridges. I’m a size 8, 125 lbs, and have curves and find that the Men’s Small fits over my hiking pants (Patagonia Tribune) and are fine everywhere except that they are snug though not tight in the seat. I think a unisex Medium will just be too large. Did you try the Medium and were you swimming in it?

    • Alice says:

      I did try the mediums, and I was also swimming in them. The smalls were a bit tight to start (picked them up in Tehachapi), almost difficult to get on over my butt. By the end of the trail, I could pull them on fine. It sounds like you might be similarly sized to me and I think we’re just between sizes for the Houdini pants. Another option, if you could find them in person to try on, would be the Montbell Dynamo wind pants. Also unisex, probably in medium since Montbell runs small. Never tried them myself, but I love my Tachyon Anorak windshirt from them, so have a lot of trust for their manufacturing.

  5. Andrea says:

    Thank you again for the Houdini sizing advice (it’s not tight, just snug, I should be happy it fits) and again for all the fantastic recommendations here that I’m still digesting. This review was so good that I can’t wait for your PCT 2014 Gear List. Please please post soon : ) Especially interested in your current choice of pack, shelter, quilt/sleeping bag and sleep pad.

  6. Esther says:

    Thanks for writing such a thorough review! I’m hiking the JMT this summer and I found this post while looking for gear ideas. Your thoughts on the merino wool vs polyester were especially helpful.

    I thought it would be helpful to share that Rab base layer fabric aren’t the same as regular ol’ polyester! Its Polygiene, polyester treated with natural silver salt for odor control. Rab also uses a blended fabric called MeCo in other shirts, which is a combo of Merino Wool and Polyester treated with Cocona, also for odor control. Anyway, I found this great video review on the difference between various base layer fabrics (merino, polyester, blended, etc) that I found really helpful. Thought it was worth sharing:


  7. TwoYellowDogs.Terri says:

    I’ve been reading PCT blogs, section hiker blog, thru hiker blog… so nice to find women are solo backpacking! I’m trying to get back to backpacking after many years of health issues. I started backpacking in the mid 80’s. Things/equipment have changed radically since then. I’ll be stuck with using much of my old equipment, no $$ to replace. But I’ll be starting with short overnighters, a couple of days… IF I can do that, then I’ll start replacing things one at a time. Thanks for all the gear lists… especially enjoyed the Small Things (most blogs I’ve read don’t show the little things). I am rethinking everything I learned in the 80’s (then it was BRAWN to carry heavy packs) and start thinking BRAINs to lighten the pack. I’m struggling over what clothes… this blog has been very helpful. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. Caitlin says:

    Hi Alice, the level of detail you provided in this post was extremely helpful. I am working on putting together a clothing system for a PCT thru next year. Almost everyone’s lists include base layers for hanging around in camp and sleeping. I’m questioning whether to bring base layers at all at the beginning, and only get them sent to me when I feel I need them. I’d like to run my plan by you and see what you think. I’m a cold sleeper and am looking at using a tent, getting the WM versalite (10 degree), which is only a few ounces more than the ultralite (20 degree), plus I’d like to use a 4oz silk liner (not only for warmth, but also keeping the expensive bag in good condition!) and an inflatable sleeping pad. All this together I’m hoping will be a pretty warm system (being unable to get warm while inside my sleeping bag is probably my biggest fear). For hiking clothes at the start, I’m looking at taking a long sleeve wicking/vented/sun protection shirt, light vented pants, wind pants, wind shirt, light rain jacket, and the Montbell UL down parka. I’ll also have warm accessories like gloves, warm hat, buff, sleeping socks. Considering all this, do you still think I’d be wise to carry top, or bottom, or both, wool base layers, or would they be superfluous? Or would you recommend having base layers and changing some parts of my proposed system to make it more weight-efficient? I’d appreciate your advice so much.

    • Alice says:

      Hi Caitlin! Sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into your sleep and clothing systems. I would recommend having a base layer from the beginning. Southern California can get really cold at night. The base layer will do two things: 1) be dry clothes to change into if you get soaked during the day, and 2) be a set of sleep clothing, which will help keep your sleeping bag clean, potentially doing away with the need for a silk liner.

      As for material, wool is nice, and since you’re not hiking in it, you can get away with the really thin (i.e. light) stuff. You’d probably also be fine with synthetic, since the Versalite is a super warm bag.

      I found wind pants handy because I hiked in shorts. If you’re hiking in long pants, you might not end up using wind pants, as they mostly keep your bare legs from getting too cold in high wind. Same with the wind shirt — I wore a tight-ish short sleeve shirt and the wind shirt blocked the wind on my bare arms. If you’re hiking in a long sleeve shirt, you might not need the wind shirt.

      Wind shirts and pants are super light though, and there’s no shame in taking it with you, then sending it home if you don’t use it. :)

      Warm hat, gloves, buff are all good. I liked having sleep socks when it got cold in WA, and I made sure to NEVER hike in them, so they’d always be warm and clean.

      I’m jealous of your Montbell parka — sounds great!

  9. Stacia says:

    Hi Alice! Thank you so much for this insight, especially on the bras and shorts–I’m planning a 2016 thru-hike and this was a great read to figure out where to start clothing-wise.

    On a completely unrelated note yet in an attempt to be helpful: those tall flowers in your hats subheading actually look like giant hogweed–stay away from those (in the future)! When their sap comes in contact with human skin and then is exposed to UV sunlight, can lead to severe burns/blistering.

    Thank you so much for this post! Your writing is truly an inspiration and I am excited to embark.

  10. emily says:

    This is SO SO SO helpful! I plan on hiking the PCT 2017 but have a 40% off code to Patagonia right now… Any great suggestions for jackets from there other than the toerrentshell??
    Loved this article, thank you

    • Alice says:

      Thanks Emily! I really love the lightness of the Patagonia Houdini pants, and I’ve heard great things about Houdini jacket, so I’d recommend that jacket (though not from personal use). I’ve also heard good things about the Nano Puff jackets. I’d probably go with something besides the TorrentShell for rain next time actually, if I were going UL (it’s 12 oz!). Have fun with the coupon!

  11. Allie says:

    Wow, I was fully captivated while reading this. I literally lost track of time, oops! This is one of the best blogs I’ve read and you have answered so many questions I had roaming in my mind. Thank you thank you thank you!

  12. Jessie says:

    Thank you so much for your amazing reviews!! I am planning a 2018 thru hike and would love to know where along the trail you sent yourself new shoes (To which places). I have hiked in the altra lone peaks for the JMT and they lasted fine the whole way, but not sure they would make it all the way from the border to Kennedy Meadows. I am having a tough time figuring out the best places to send myself the new shoes. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks again for all your great posts! I always tell other hikers looking to do the PCT about your blog!

  13. Carl says:

    Just a quick comment about the Oiselle running shorts. I traveled the trail with a gal that brought along two pairs of the “Flyout” style of short. She wore them just about every day until WA. The first week in the deserts of southern California, she had an small issue with chafing in the inner thigh. I had a small container of ointment she used to treat it. She never had an issue on wards. I seams like this type of short “cut” tends to ride up after awhile

  14. “Düzen, zamanı verimli kullanmanın anahtarıdır.” – Benjamin Franklin

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  16. Rianna says:

    I’m going through the gear lists for my 2024 hike and this was very useful! Thank you so so much!

  1. January 28, 2015

    […] Read my PCT clothing review. […]

  2. February 5, 2015

    […] you have been following along with my clothing and gear reviews, you will have noticed that I finished with different gear than I started with. […]

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