The Gear

My gear on the CDT was fairly similar to the gear I took with me on the Great Divide Trail and a full gear list can be found on that page. I did make a few changes, some of which are documented here.

Feathered Friends Hyperion Down Jacket

When you need to be warm, nothing is better than down wrapped inside a water repellant shell. I've been using the Hyperion for the past nine months in conditions ranging from winter trekking in Death Valley, snowshoeing in the Pacific Northwest, a month on the northern CDT in winter-like conditions (at times), and summer backpacking in Washington and Oregon. Without qualification, I highly recommend the jacket.

My size large Hyperion weighs 14 oz, which is more than the advertised weight of 11 oz on the Feathered Friends website. I opted for an Epic shell and the 800 fill upgrade, which brough the total on my jacket to $182. For comparison, a Marmot windstopper fleece jacket weighs in at an advertised 21 oz and costs $185.

The jacket has two pockets for your hands (unzippered) and one on the inside, at chest level, which has a zipper. The internal pocket is large enough to stuff the jacket into, but I have rarely done this. The Epic shell is slightly overkill, given that I would never hike in the jacket. But, it was nice to see water bead up and run off the jacket on the rare occasions that gotten the Hyperion wet. One can get an eVENT shell for the jacket for another $20 and I would recommend that option if the primary use of the jacket is for winter conditions when falling snow or snowcave camping are concerns. The Cascades and Olympics can get cold even in the summer time, but the Hyperion over my hiking shirt provided more than enough core warmth. At temperatures around freezing, the Hyperion with a thermal top was just fine. Anything colder than about 25 degrees required more insulation. I would carry the Hyperion on a PCT or AT thruhike for most of the distance, putting it in a bounce box only when the weather was solidly warm.

Thus far, the Hyperion has shown excellent durability with minimal down bleeding (feathers coming out of the shell) and little loss in loft. What loft has disappeared has mostly been in the lower back area. As I mainly wear the jacket in camp for insulation, and I'm normally leaning against something while in camp, this was to be expected. There are no holes or tears in the shell and the zipper is in perfect condition. I fully expect to wear the Hyperion for another two or three seasons of heavy use.

When choosing an insulation layer, remember that you should not hike in it: It should stay in your pack, nice and dry, until you are done for the day or during rest stops. This is especially true of down since when wet, down collapses into a bunch of mush and provides no insulation whatsoever. This is the one, and only one, advantage that fleece has over down. It is a minimal one in my opinion and I can see no reason for buying a fleece jacket over a down one, unless you are doing things on the cheap and go for a $30 Walmart special and pray for warm weather. There are, however, other options out there. Western Mountaineering makes a highly regarded down jacket (the Flight) and Cloudveil has one as well, as do several other gear makers. In the synthetic realm, there are choices as well. Mountain Equipment Co-op makes a Primaloft insulated pull over, the Northern Lite II, which I have used extensively and like quite a bit. So why opt for the Feathered Friends? First, I like the option of putting a good shell on the jacket and the 800 fill down. Second, FF has been making garments for quite sometime and they know what they are doing. Third, FF knows how to work with down: Along with Western Mountaineering, they make the best sleeping bags that money can buy. If you can afford it, being able to carry so much warmth in your pack is a luxury that you really shouldn't pass up.

Underarmor Turfwear Long Sleeve Shirt

This second-skin style shirt is the best warm weather hiking top that I have ever used, providing moderate sun protection, perfect moisture transport, and near instantaneous drying ability in a light, durable package. I wore this shirt continuously for a month on the northern CDT and for a summer's worth of backpacking and day hiking in the Cascades and Olympics and believe that is worth every penny of its $35 price tag.

The first thing that you'll notice about the shirt is the feel of the fabric: It reminds me, slightly, of rubber. The second thing you'll notice, after you put it on, is that it fits like a second skin. That is exactly how it is designed to fit, however, and you should buy your standard size rather than upsizing. The third thing you'll notice is that, once you get over the compression on your skin, it feels like you're wearing nothing at all. The build of the fabric and the fit of the shirt seem to transport moisture from your skin to the outside surface of the shirt in remarkably short order, and if there is a wind blowing, you'll feel chilled almost immediately. I was stunned to find that I had salt stains on the shirt almost immediately, which is evidence, I believe, that the sweat really was getting off of my skin and out to the air. Even when fully wet with sweat, I could hang the shirt in the sun for a few minutes (as in 10) and it would be dry. Despite the light weight (about 5 oz), the shirt has proved remarkably durable, with only a little pilling on the kidney area where the hip belt of my pack sits. I was concerned, at first, that the fabric would not provide much sun protection, but I found that I tanned only very minimally while wearing the shirt in full sun without sunblock on.

For what it is intended for (warm weather), the shirt works very well. However, prospective buyers should be aware of several facts. The first is that the shirt provides absolutely no insulation or warmth. In temperatures below about 65 degrees, I wear my rain jacket or windshirt to help keep me warm, especially on breaks. Outside of the summer time, I wear, instead, my MEC Warmwear shirt, which provides more warmth. Second, the second-skin tightness of the shirt might not be for everyone. The shirt is very stretchy and I've never felt constricted in it, even when sleeping in the shirt, but others might want something looser. Moreover, if you have any excess flesh (as we all do), it will stand out and be readily apparent. However, in the wilds, who cares? Third, the shirt is apt to ride up. However, I found that by tucking my shirt into my underwear, the shirt stays in place and I also eliminate irritation the hipbelt of my pack rubbing against the edge of my pants or shorts. Finally, though the shirt is designed for use in hot weather, I would absolutely, positive, not take a shirt like this on a hot desert trek, even if it was a lighter color. The reason is that my sweat would simply evaporate too quickly. A loose fitting, long sleeve, light colored shirt would be much more appropriate.

Integral Designs eVENT Rain Jacket

When I first starting cranking uphill in Glacier National Park while wearing this thing, I finally believed all the hype about the eVENT fabric: Simply put, eVENT works extremely well. Weighing in at a preposterous 8.7 oz (my scale, size large), the jacket performs that miracle balancing act between the light weight and breathability of a windshirt and the waterproofness of a mainstream rain jacket. One does not have to put breathability or waterproof in quotes. During a summer's worth of testing in the northern US Rockies, the Cascades, and the Olympics, I've found the jacket to, well, about perfect.

This is a minimalist jacket. There is a single, zippered chest pocket. This zipper, along with the main one, is of the Urtek (waterproof) variety. The wrists close with velcro and the waist with elastic draw cords. You can't adjust the hood, which is just large enough to fit over a hat, but certainly not over a helmet. The hood does not have a functioning brim, but the design is certainly better than, say, on a Frogg Toggs jacket. The fit is trim, although I've found that I can comfortably wear a light fleece pull over underneath it along with a thermal top. One interesting feature is that when you zip the jacket all the way and put the hood on, the jacket covers everything from the chin down: In other words, if it is really crapping on you, seal up and enjoy a lot more coverage than most jackets. My jacket extends down to my hip bones and no further and does not significantly ride up. There are no pit zips, but the jacket does not need them. The jacket comes seam-taped from Integral Designs.

I wore the jacket almost constantly in Glacier National Park as it was cold and I needed all the extra warmth that I could get. In short, I used the jacket as a wind shirt. Hiking hard through snow or up hill, the eVENT fabric breathed just as well as my MEC windshirt: That is, moisture coming off my body passed quickly through the fabric leaving me quite dry on the inside and tiger stripes of salt on the face fabric. Once I cleared GNP, I tended to wear the jacket until about noon, when it would become warm enough to hike in my Underarmor top. There were several occasions when I was caught above treeline on extended ridges in very, very nasty storms. The jacket performed exceptionally well in the sort of conditions that everyone dreads. In short, in the worst scenario I had exactly the right piece of gear.After coming home from the CDT, I wore the jacket on many excursions, from day trips to 80 mile romps in the local mountains. I don't even bother with the wind shirt any more. The fabric is, I've found, more waterproof than the Frogg Toggs material and far exceeds that of the Rainshield garments I used on the AT in 2004. It is not as good as my MEC Aquanator III jacket, but that one doesn't breathe at all.

I do have a few gripes about the jacket, but they are fairly minimal. First, I'd really appreciate more of a brim on the hood. I got caught in several storms above treeline and had to wear my sun hat under the hoot to keep the rain out of my face. For comparison, the Aquanator III has a completely functioning hood. Second, the inside fabric that sits directly against the small of my back is a little scuffed, most likely from rubbing against the belt that I wear on my pants. Being pressed against the belt by my backpack, the fabric isn't exactly degraded, but there is noticeable scuffing. This isn't a major concern of mine, however, given the location. The rest of the jacket looks as good as new. Third, the fabric seems to retain hiker funk more than any other that I have used extensively. After returning home from the CDT, I washed the jacket three times and still couldn't get the funk out. I've used it quite a bit since then, and washed it quite a bit, but still can't get enough of the stink out to wear the jacket in settings when I'll be among civil society.

The question remains, Should you buy this jacket? The answer depends on where and when and what you'll be hiking. On the Appalachian Trail, say, this jacket would simply be overkill. For most of the AT hiking season, it is warm enough out when it rains that you don't really need a killer jacket. Something like a windshirt and umbrella would work nicely there. Or, a Frogg Toggs jacket. Or, a Marmot Precip. All of these will be cheaper options that the Integral Designs jacket ($187 on sale) and will work just as well given the conditions on the AT in the summer time. On the PCT or CDT, when it rains you need protection from the cold and given the amount of above-treeline hiking on those trails, you need solid protection. The eVENT jacket will give you just that and you'll be able to dispense with carrying a windshirt. I intend to use this jacket while snow shoeing this winter time and believe it will work extremely well; much better than my current, heavy, non-waterproof softshell jacket. For hikers in the Rocky Mountains and all points west, I consider this jacket to be the best thing you can add to your gear collection. Hikers in warmer climes should carefully consider whether or not the expense is worth it.