No matter how many times I tell you that planning for your Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike is useless, I know that you're going to have a difficult time believing me (I know I would).
That's why, as past of my Annual Pacific Crest Trail Thru-hiker Survey (2015, 2014, 2013), I ask hikers what they wish they had done differently prior to setting off on their hikes, and what advice they have for future hiekrs of the PCT.
Because what's better than one stranger's opinion on the internet? A bunch of strangers' opinions on the internet.
Reading through the responses it becomes clear what you need to do if you're going to be a successful PCT thru-hiker: stop worrying, stop planning, stop commenting in the PCT Class Facebook page, and enjoy.
From the pre-hike side of the equation it's easy to look at what all these people are saying and think to yourself, “Yeah, but that's them, I'm different.” No. No, you're not. You're not different, you're not special, and you're not going to be the exception. When you finish your hike – no matter where that may be – you're going to be one of these people too.
And if by some miracle you're not, then please come back here and leave me a comment telling me that I'm wrong (or right).
What, if anything, do you wish you had done differently prior to starting your hike (or during your hike)?
- Stressed less about everything. The trail provides.
- Kept a consistent journal from start to finish.
- Spent less time prepping food drops pre-hike. You have plenty of time to work it out while hiking and can mail things ahead to yourself when you hit a good grocery store.
- Not planned on meeting people along the way.
- Embraced a trail name earlier, the window of opportunity closes after a while.
- Not planned to start with a group.
- Take it less seriously, relax more. It all works out.
- Mailed more whiskey.
- Not stressed about resupplies. You should plan the beginning then figure it out as you go along and mail things ahead or resupply in town and hiker boxes are great.
- Seen more sunrises.
- Did more side trips, peaks, etc.
- Started off slower. Taken more photos of other hikers and towns. Started with a full-sized Sawyer.
- Not worry about the fearmongers.
- Wish I'd taken more time to get to know fellow hikers instead of focusing so much on miles.
- Started alone. I'm a young woman and I asked someone to hike with me because I thought we could be friends and I was scared to start alone. That was a terrible idea. Buy all of your own gear. Don't share anything. You will be safe because of all the awesome people out there and have less stress! (More on hiking alone)
Any advice for future hikers?
- Enjoy the hike! Don't stress about miles; you'll get to the border sooner than you think.
- Just get out and do it. You will enjoy yourself, and if for some reason you don't, you can quit at any time. Don't be afraid.
- Don't obsess over being ultralight, just do your best. Stay on the trail for as long as you can/want to, and don't feel bad if you're taking longer than anyone expects you to. You're going to miss it, so take your time.
- Just start walking, everything else you'll figure out.
- Cowboy camp whenever possible.
- Talk to everyone you meet, even if they're day hikers. It will be the greatest experience of your life if you let it, just sit back and enjoy it.
- Stop planning – it's useless. Enjoy the journey because the memories you make while hiking are far better than actually completing the hike.
- You can't plan everything beforehand. Things will fall into place as you hike. Go with the flow, and listen to your body's needs.
- Realize that it's perfectly normal to not enjoy portions of the hike.
- The internet will convince you that you're underprepared and going to fail. Just relax and go.
- Be flexible, within your time limits, to embrace experiences both on and off-trail. Fully learn and practice LNT principles, and don't be a dick.
- Take all advice from other hikers with a grain of salt, but know that their opinion might be worth listening to.
- Good socks make the difference. Duct tape is a must to carry. Beef stroganoff is the best Mountain House meal.
- Don't worry about finishing, enjoy the journey. If you don't finish, it's not the end of the world, the trail will always be there. If you don't enjoy what's around you'll be more disappointed about not making it to the end.
- Do what's right for you and forget what other people are doing.
- The greater challenge may be emotional. Exhaustion, cold, pain all affect our attitudes. When you get down, try to take a zero on the trail, at a lake or stream,and rest.
- Always be ready to break the monotony of your hike; instead of always camping near water switch things up and pack out water to a sweet, dry campsite overlooking an awesome view.
- Climb side peaks and side trails, bushwack to cool views. Be spontaneous and outgoing with the trail, new people, and experiences.
- It doesn't matter whether you finish. Allow yourself to linger in beautiful places. Go swimming!
- It's going to be hard, but you should definitely do it.
- PACK OUT YOUR TOILET PAPER! Walk/camp alone a few times if you feel most comfortable being in a group. Walk/camp with others a few times if you're doing this alone. Force yourself to journal at least three sentences every night. Know what to do in lightning storms.
- Ladies, if you get a pee funnel, practice a lot first – it's amazing but I peed my pants six times because of “seal” issues.
- Plan less, say yes more.
- Try to avoid taking long trips in the back of U-Haul trucks – It's very hot and painful and will get you in trouble with the cops.
- Do it now! Don't put it off another year.
If you're still looking to procrastinate your planning a bit more (planning that, again, you don't need to do), then I have also written you a letter.
Got questions? I've got answers. Comment below and let me know what you're thinking.
I'm here for you.
THE OTHER PCT SURVEYS
- Pacific Crest Trail Hiker Survey
- Pacific Crest Trail Survey: The Gear Guide
- Pacific Crest Trail Survey: The Resupply Guide
- Pacific Crest Trail Survey: Hiker Breakdown
- Pacific Crest Trail Survey: Horror & Heartbreak
- Pacific Crest Trail Survey: Advice For The Future
- All PCT Hiker Survey Posts