[pct-l] Hiking Poles, Bear Canisters and Tarp/Bivy Setups

Brian Lewis brianle8 at gmail.com
Fri Apr 24 13:29:16 CDT 2009

 Chris asked:
"First: Would you recommend the use of hiking poles on the whole trail? If
so, what brand/model would you suggest?
Second: Would you recommend the use of a bear-proof food container on the
whole trail? Would you recommend hanging food from trees instead?
Third: For sleeping, it seems like many of you opt for the use of a tarp as
opposed to a tent. Do you normally use a bivy sack with a tarp overhead, or
just a tarp, or just a bivy sack?"

A couple responses have come in for the above already, but it's always good
to hear multiple opinions on this stuff.  First opinion:  search the
archives.  You could also search archives of other sites like whiteblaze.org,
backpackinglight.com forums, backcountryforum.com, though your questions are
somewhat PCT-situational.

Trekking poles --- one of many topics on which there's no consensus.  My
feeling is that after you reach a "certain age" (whatever that age might
be), the likelihood increases that with experience you'll prefer trekking
poles.  Somewhere in my 40's I converted to be a two-stick hiker and I'm
confident that using two poles throughout made my trip last year better and
perhaps just "possible".  I don't have bad knees, so who knows.  There are
always a few older guy exceptions, such as Voyager.      I personally prefer
a telescoping carbon fiber pole without shock absorbtion of any sort built
in.  I use the REI branded Komperdell models, and now have something like
3000 miles on mine with one change of tips en route.

Ditto on "no clear consensus" on the bear stuff, and it too can raise
passions.  For the first 700 miles last year I slept with my food, and would
do that again ... few critters to get at it, essentially no bears I
believe.   A hard plastic bear can of course in the Sierras, from Kennedy
Meadows to, for me, Sonora Pass, others mail theirs home I think from Echo
Lake (an on-trail option to do this).   Bearikade expedition model is sweet
but bloody expensive, though you can rent them.  Bear Vault (newest model
for Rae Lakes) is helpful to use as the clear plastic allows more efficient
I'm no fan of hanging my food, I think few thru-hikers do this as it's time
consuming, need to find the right tree (or don't bother), can get your cord
stuck, ...
Practically speaking I think a lot, maybe most people sleep with their food
the rest of the way.  On this topic in particular a big debate no doubt
could rage (and probably has).   Whatever you reckon the odds to be and
however much you care about the wellfare of bears (always interesting to be
bearproofing food and then seeing bear hunters out and about :-)), an Ursack
plus perhaps an odorproof liner is a nice option.  $65 for the Ursack, about
8 oz of weight, dead easy to use.  That was my approach from Sonora Pass to

Bivy with a tarp?   I used a tarptent, not a tarp, except in the first 700
miles where I just carried a modest poncho tarp and set it up all of maybe
once apart from at the KO.  I brought a very light bivy then and used it a
couple of times when the bugs were bad (twice in 700 miles).     If you go
with a tarp, there are three reasons you could consider a light bivy of some
sort:  wind blown rain, temperature/wind, and bugs.  Wind blown rain is a
factor that depends on what size and type of tarp you get and very much on
how you pitch it.  I think temperature is generally best handled via the
sleeping bag + clothing.    Some people are content to bug proof via a
headnet; I found myself a lot happier having an enclosed space I could
retreat into.         Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) and Six Moon Designs
(SMD) both offer a bug shelter that have a bathtub floor and are designed to
work in conjunction with something like a tarp.  The SMD version is designed
to work with their Gatewood Cape, and I think that combo might be an
excellent one if you like the idea of a poncho as your rain gear as well.  I
know that Halfmile owns and uses that combo, maybe he could comment on it.

I have a poncho and the MLD bug shelter, and like that combo for trips where
I don't expect a lot of bad weather or rabid swarms of bugs.  With a typical
poncho-as-tarp, however, to be reasonably weather proof you have to pitch
pretty low, too low to comfortably use a bug shelter.  Pitch high enough for
the bug shelter and the limited width of a typical poncho can allow
windblown rain in on you.  Adding a bivy inside of that and you might as
well bring a tent instead, no weight savings.

I really liked the tarptent that I used last year (Contrail).  Very roomy
inside, unlike some solo tents and the bug shelters which latter basically
offer enough room for your body (with limited motion) and that's it, your
gear sits outside the mesh.  On the really buggy times late in the Sierras
and in much of Oregon last year the roominess of the tarptent contrail
allowed me to retreat inside with most or all of my stuff and do whatever I
needed to do safe from the bugs (I very rarely used bug repellant).  I'd go
with that same approach again.

Sorry to be missing the KO, I'm definitely thinking of everyone down there,
and best of luck and happy trails to the class of '09 !!

Brian Lewis / Gadget '08

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