Monday, February 22, 2016

Tips and Advice for the PCT

I’ve been working on this miscellaneous list for a while, trying to make it more cohesive, but it’s still pretty random. Still, anyone interested in a PCT thru-hike (and, to some degree, any other long-distance hike) might find some useful info. Enjoy!

Gear— see my blogs about it, here and here.


Save up as much money as humanly possible. You will need a lot of it. Even if you’re on a tight budget. Even if you never stay in a hotel and eat out of the hiker box. You need ever so much money.

Enlist the help of friends and family. Most people want to help you out, so think of ways to get them involved.

Get the necessary permits: a thru-hiking permit, a campfire permit (just to use your stove in California), and an entry into Canada permit (get these permits early, especially the entry into Canada one!).

Walk every day.

Hiking Theory

Hike your own hike. So much harder than it sounds.

Make a schedule, or don’t, as it fits with your personality.

The length of the PCT changes every year, due to trail closures, detours, and reroutes. If you get obsessive about hiking every mile, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

When there are a couple different options for getting somewhere (for example, around a trail closure), pick the one that makes the most sense with your hiking style. If you choose to walk on a road the whole way, some people will judge you for being too purist. If you choose to hitchhike past a burned area, some people will say you’re not a thru-hiker. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try! Decide for yourself what you want to do, and don’t worry about justifying yourself. Unless you are trying to set an official speed record, the specifics of your route don’t matter.

Some people will make you feel insecure, intentionally or unintentionally. Let these comments roll off your back.

Don’t complain to other hikers. Even if you’re feeling terrible. Even if you have a sinus infection in a waterless stretch of desert.

Let people help you, and help out other people when you can.

Always try to uplift people and allow them to be proud of their accomplishments. (This is something that was really hard for me, but as I met awesome people along the trail, it got easier.) Walking even a hundred miles of the trail is still a huge accomplishment!


The typical resupply strategy is to pack yourself a bunch of boxes in advance and have someone at home send them to towns along the way. Zach and I did this the whole trail, giving my parents a timetable for when to send each package. We used a flat-rate large post office box for each town, which was big enough to pack our basic meals and a snack or two. 

However, unless you can make a bunch of meals for really cheap (like we did by using our one-time 20% off coupon at Walmart to buy all five months’ worth of staples which we then packaged into meals), it isn’t worth it to send yourself a resupply box to any location that has a grocery store. Instead, buy your food in town. 

Send yourself new shoes and new socks at least every thousand miles, probably less. (You can do this from home, or just buy shoes online and have them sent to a post office, although that seems like more hassle than it’s worth.)

If you have a choice to send your box to something that is not a post office (a hotel, a store, a trail angel’s house, etc.), DO IT. I don’t care how much extra it costs. It is always worth it to send your box to someplace with better hours.

Pack your boxes with eight gazillion strips of tape, especially if you’re using the post office— every box we got looked like it had been ravaged by wolverines.

Write your name and ETA on every side of your resupply box— it’ll make it easier to find in the massive jumble of boxes at every resupply stop.

Pack more snacks than meals.

The Desert Section

At every water source, drink a liter of water. This helps you carry less in between.

You may need more water receptacles during the huge dry stretches. Again, soda or Gatorade bottles work really well.

If you’re really thirsty and trying to conserve water, tie a bandana over your mouth to catch the vapor. This is helpful to keep your sinuses moist, too.

Never ever EVER plan on resupplying your water at a cache. This is very inconsiderate of your fellow hikers (especially with the volume of hikers now on trail), and is a dangerous strategy because caches run out quickly. Plan to get all your water from natural sources (springs, troughs, spigots, towns, etc.), and if you do come across a cache, take no more than a liter or two to top off your supply. Leave the water for the truly desperate.

Bring snacks and meals that don’t need water to hydrate them (Clif bars, packs of tuna, peanut butter, etc.)— water will be in short supply and it’s simply not worth it to carry enough water for every meal.

Don’t worry about packing a ton of food for each day. The real hiker hunger won’t have kicked in yet, and there are plenty of places to resupply.

Hike the LA aqueduct section at night. It’s pretty much the only part of the trail that’s really boring.

If you meet someone who looks out of it or sick, ask them if they have enough water. If they don’t, give them some of yours. No one should have to put their lives in danger because they’re too shy or disoriented to ask for a drink, so do your part to look out for each other. (Note: sometimes if people have been drinking water but not eating any food, they need electrolytes to balance their system. A salty snack might be just what they need too. On the other hand, if they’ve been drinking just straight electrolyte drinks, they need some pure water because too many electrolytes dehydrate you too.)

Crowds are par for the course on this part of the trail, so be prepared to have a lot of company, and enjoy the camaraderie! That’s part of the trail experience. Everyone will get a lot more spread out in the Sierra.

The High Sierra

You need a bear canister to pass through this section of the trail. Rangers will check you for it. There are usually bear boxes at campsites, but you can’t rely on those.

If you can’t fit everything in your bear canister, use the bear box for overflow, or pack the non-smelly stuff (like dried plain pasta) into your bag.

Bring more food than you ever think you could possibly eat. Especially if you’re doing a side trip to Mount Whitney.

Water is plentiful in this area, so foods that need to be rehydrated are a good option.

Food and everything else in towns is expensive, so budget according.

Focus on bringing calorie-dense food. Peanut butter, trail mix, seeds, chocolate, oil (olive oil, butter, coconut oil, lard), and dried refried beans are your friends.

The side trip to Mount Whitney is totally worth it. It’s a pretty easy hike for bragging rights to saying that you’ve hit the Lower 48’s high point!

Try to tackle the snowy passes at about 11 in the morning— it won’t be too icy, but you’ve avoid the scary late-day snowmelt. 

When crossing a snow field, watch out for “moats” (melted ice) around the edge of boulders sticking out. 

If you’ve never hiked on deep snow before, take a bit of time on the first snow field you come to to hike around. Test the snow, and feel what it’s like to put your full weight on it. You’ll get the hang of it and understand what it feels like when you’re about to post hole.

Spend a day or two at Vermillion Valley Resort. Not staying there is my biggest regret on trail.

The section after the High Sierra is one of the hardest on trail— not because it’s that hard, but because it’s rugged terrain after you’ve tackled some very difficult passes.

Northern California and Oregon

This part of the trail is often hot and humid, so plan accordingly. 

You’ll have a lot more chances to resupply in these sections, so don’t worry too much about bringing enough food.

You’ll be able to make huge mileage in this section, so if you want to give your best shot at a 30- or 40-mile day, this is the place to do it.

Be aware of your water— these sections are often very dry.


You’re almost done! Savor the scenery, as it is an immensely gorgeous state. Unless it rains all the time, which didn’t happen to us, but happens quite frequently in other years.

Learn how to identify huckleberries. They are the most delicious thing you’ll ever eat.


You will meet someone, probably on the first day, who wants to give you a dumb trail name. Don’t let them. You are the final authority on what your trail name is.

The trail is the experience of a lifetime— keep a good journal, take lots of photos, and cherish these memories forever!


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