Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gear Question: JRB Quilt for PCT

Hi Buckwheat!

I've been really enjoying your blog on the PCT and have found some great information. I had a question I was hoping you could answer. I've been considering one of the JRB quilts (Sierra Sniveller) for a PCT thru hike but I am not sure if it will be warm enough for me.How did you find the Rocky Mt. sniveller? Was it overkill or was it just right. Could you also comment on the utility of using it as a jacket. I was thinking if I could use that as my main insulating layer when not hiking that I could save some ounces. Any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance and happy trails,

Hi Adam,

Thanks for the message. I'm glad you've found my blog useful.

The Rocky Mt. Sniveller actually turned out to be just right for me. There were 15 to 20 nights where the temperature was between 25 and 32 degrees (I recorded the temp. each day), mostly in the southern and central Sierra. I am thin and sleep slightly cold, and by this time had lost a little bit of weight. Also, stuffing my quilt in a stuff sack each day had somewhat reduced its loft. I would consider the Sierra Sniveller if 1) I had a bigger stuff sack allowing me to not compress it so much each morning, 2) if I didn't sleep on the cold side, or 3) if I were beginning the Sierras June 15 or later, not June 2 like I did in 2009. A lot of guys were fine in quilts like the Golite Ultra 20 with just 12 oz of down, and the Sierra Sniveller is cut a little wider on top, which is nice especially if you're broad shouldered or heavier.

Like most people, I rarely used it as a jacket but appreciated it the few times I did. For instance, I wore it all the time during Kick-off, when most people froze their butts off standing around all the time in sub-50 temps. I was probably the only one there who was warm. It is slightly clumsy to switch to jacket mode with the tape and drawcords, but once you do it is very warm because it wraps around you all the way to the knees. However, I don't know that I like their hood much. If I did the PCT again I would take this hood I modified from the BPL Pro 90 Cocoon Balaclava: (scroll down to pictures). It is a lot more functional as a warm hood for daytime use in addition to the night, and it draws around your face better. It weighs the same or slightly less.

Most thru-hikers find they don't spend much time not hiking and not sleeping. Either they're getting ready for bed, or packing up, or eating while still in their sleeping bag, etc. Only in the Sierras and occasionally in WA did we spend significant time chilling out around fires. I sometimes wore the quilt then.

One thing I would change about my clothes (which were nearly perfect) is taking a Marmot Cocona PowerDry layer instead of a Merino long underwear top and bottom. I have this now, and it is at least twice as warm per weight than Merino. So, I would probably stick with the expensive Merino T-shirt, then have the PowerDry layer (total weight ~ 320 g top and bottom), sending home the bottoms from Truckee, then the wind layer, plus light gloves or mitts, my fleece ear wrap, and the BPL balaclava. Also, I would take Rocky goretex socks (for the narrow-footed) for the Sierras to help deal with cold and wet feet. Most of us had residual toe numbness for months after the 10+ days of daily snow crossings in 2009. Also, I would take this awesome new 25g flashlight of mine instead of the Photon Freedom or a 3-AAA Petzl headlamp: The reversible clip allows it to be used as a headlamp if you're wearing a hat or visor.

Finally, instead of a poncho-tarp and bivy combo I would consider a Zpacks Hexamid and a dedicated silnylon poncho for roughly the same total weight. The poncho could be used as an additional layer in the Sierras, even an emergency vapor barrier layer if needed. I got frustrated with clipping and unclipping the poncho tie-offs and trying to avoid tangling. This would give me a lot more room to relax and eat inside my shelter when the mosquitos come out (a major issue).

Best wishes,

Gear Question: Bivy & Tarp for PCT

Hello Richard,

My name is Joshua and I myself will be thru-hiking the PCT in 2011. I have been looking alot at bivy/tarp as a primary shelter; MLD superlight being the primary bivy and not sure on the tarp yet. I was curious from your experience would you recommend the full net hood for the Bivy or the half moon window? Also any other recommendations about what gear you recommend would be so much helpful. Thank you so much

Congrats on undertaking the PCT! I suppose you've come across my PCT prep blog at

Being an UL advocate and the owner of a Russian-language UL online community, I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on gear!:) Let me share a few, and if you have more questions I'll be happy to give input.

Bivy + tarp works well. Most of the time you won't want to pitch the tarp at all, and just having the bivy will save you time and effort over all the people with tarptents.

I would definitely take the full net hood, but I have never tried any other kind of bivy. What I found on the PCT is that heat is more of an issue than cold. Chances are you'll have a warm bag/quilt for Sierra temps (in 2009, it was 26 to 34 degrees at night for the first 20 days of June) that will feel like overkill for much of the rest of the summer. Having the netting will allow for more airflow.

I found myself at times thinking that perhaps a bug bivy would be more useful than a bivy much of the time. It would have been nice to have a bit more bug-free space, particularly around the head. For instance, I never tried eating more than small snacks inside the bivy. With the full screen, you'll also be able to talk to other thru-hikers more easily while in camp.

If I did it again I would probably take the MLD silnylon poncho-tarp and figure out a better solution for the problem of attaching tie-outs and avoiding tangling (I think I have a good one, but it needs testing). I have since sold my cuben poncho tarp and bought the more functional silnylon one, despite the additional weight.

An even lighter option is the Zpacks Hexamid plus some kind of rainwear such as a 200 gram poncho. You'd have more space to relax in buggy areas but would have to set it up almost every night, meaning less flexibility. I personally am nearly torn between these two options, but the Hexamid + poncho or light rain jacket combo is lighter even than the poncho tarp + bivy combo.

As I think I mentioned in my blog, the Golite Chrome Dome allows you to wear shorts and short sleeves in SoCal, avoiding much discomfort and grimeyness. I don't think I used sunscreen the entire time. A lot of PCT'ers agreed that it was a good idea, but didn't like the idea of choosing between poles and umbrella. But when I asked, most weren't 100% sure they actually needed the poles. For many poles seemed to be something they thought they had to have as backpackers. I, too, started with poles and used them plenty in the Sierras when crossing innumerable streams, but sent them home from Truckee and almost never regretted it.