So you want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, but you don’t know if you’ll have enough time?
Let me tell you now that if that’s the case, I would seriously reconsider hiking in the first place. However, if you’re like me, then you really don’t care what other people have to say and you’re going to do it anyway (you’re such an asshole).
If you’ve never done a long-distance hike before, then there exists a reasonably high probability that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into (spoiler alert: you’re going to die), and that the idea of trying to predict how long this venture will take us far from the realm of reasonable expectation.
How far am I going to hike each day? Will my distances vary drastically between the desert and the Sierra? Between the beginning and the end of the hike? How many zero-days am I going to take? What if I realize that I’m not hiking the trail and I’m actually just homeless?
Attempting to fashion answers for these questions with no real idea of what you’re doing or how your body is going to react is as big a waste of time as planning the rest of your thru-hike.
Best to just get out there and enjoy yourself (or have a terrible time).
DAILY AVERAGE: 85.8 mi / 138.1 km per day
In the process of writing this, I started obsessing over whether or not a one-month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail was even possible.
I know, your first reaction might be to say something to the effect of “there’s no way in hell someone is going to hike the entire PCT in only one month”. However, that assumption may not be as concrete as you think it might be.
My investigation turned into a rather lengthy report which I decided to publish separately: The One Month Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike: Is It Possible?
DAILY AVERAGE: 43.6 mi / 70.2 km per day
To be honest, if you are planning on completing the trail in this amount of time, you have little business being here. If you have not yet surrounded yourself with more educated and qualified PCT experts, then you are either
- Going to die
If you plan on finishing the PCT in two months or less, then congratulations – you’re a superhuman. This feat has only been accomplished (and documented) a handful of times (most were supported but there are some unsupported).
UNSUPPORTED RECORD: 60 days, 17 hours, and 12 minutes | Heather “Anish” Anderson (2013)
SUPPORTED RECORD: 51 days, 16 hours, and 55 minutes | Timothy Olson (2021)
To complete the PCT in two months (or less) you will need to average approximately 43.6 mi / 70.2 km per day (this was my longest day on the trail). Seriously, how do these people even have time to make poop?
DAILY AVERAGE: 29.2 mi / 47 km per day
A three-month thru-hike does not require feats akin to those of the two-month (one month?) superhumans, but it still means that you kick ass every day on the trail. Fellow thru-hikers will be impressed with your goal, but they will not be in awe of you (as is the case with the two-monthers).
Your PCT brethren will likely rationalize that you could not possibly be enjoying yourself as much as they are and therefore, despite your impressive time frame, they will still think themselves better than you (although none of them would ever admit to this). The thru-hiker superiority complex is a real (and ugly) thing.
Your zero days (should you decide to take any) will be few and far between, and you will certainly outpace nearly everyone you meet (that’s alright, you don’t want to associate yourself with those 4+ monthers anyway).
To successfully hike the PCT in a three-month window, the idea would be best born as a goal, i.e. “I want to hike the PCT in three months because I’m a badass”; not, “I want to hike the PCT in three months because I only have three months free”. Otherwise, you’re gonna have a bad time (and are probably better off as a section hiker).
DAILY AVERAGE: 21.8 mi / 35.1 km per day
We have now entered the realm of realistic expectations for a thru-hike.
Although it may not seem possible when you first begin dragging yourself through the desert of Southern California, the pace required to complete the PCT in four months is not unachievable. Before you know it you will be knocking out twenties, thirties, and maybe even a forty or two (or maybe you’ll just stick to teens and twenties).
Laying off the zero-days, a four-month hike starts looking more plausible.
Still, if you’re short on time to begin with or you think that you’re going to be doing a lot of zeroing and side tripping, you may want to reconsider your goal of a four-month thru-hike (or the idea of having a “goal” in general).
DAILY AVERAGE: 17.5 mi / 28.2 km per day
Typically five months is the default amount of time allotted for a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (and is what many hikers use as a baseline for planning their thru-hikes).
Many prospective thru-hikers start their PCT journey during the third or fourth week of April and aim for a September completion date (assuming a NOBO thru-hike). October can be a scary word in Washington as you are drawing dangerously close to the first snows of the season (as I found out on my thru-hike).
Even if the 17.5 mi / 28.2 km per day average looks scary when you’re starting out, rest assured that by the time you hit Oregon you will (probably) be able to crush that distance before lunch. You will be a beast.
My time on the PCT fell just short of five months at 142 days. For more stats on my thru-hike check out: The Final Stats Of The Pacific Crest Trail.
DAILY AVERAGE: 14.5 mi / 23.3 km per day
Taking six months to complete the Pacific Crest Trail means you were really taking your time.
The generally accepted entry date for the Sierra is June 20. By this point in the year, the snow has melted to allow for reasonably safe and easy passage. However, the snow levels (and therefore the Sierra entry date) can vary dramatically depending on that year’s precipitation.
Assuming that you enter the Sierra on June 20, that means you have 3.5 months before October (and the risk of winter in Washington). If you started April 20, that would only put your thru-hike at 5.5 months (and it would also put your daily average in the desert at 11.7 mi / 18.8 km per day).
Therefore, to achieve a six-month thru-hike, you would be best off starting mid-April and hoping for a late winter in Washington, or starting early April and seriously dragging ass through Southern California up to the Sierra.
Then again, I suppose anything over five months could be considered a six-month thru-hike. So what if you want to go even longer?
DAILY AVERAGE: 12.8 mi / 20.6 km per day maximum
To achieve a 7+ month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, your best bet would be to start mid-March or the beginning of April in a very low snow year. However, as is the case with a six-month thru-hike, the snow in the Sierra and winter’s arrival in Washington will be your two biggest constraints.
Even if you wait until the beginning of April to start your PCT thru-hike, and you maintain a 12.8 mi / 20.6 km per day average, you will still hit the Sierra at the end of May – more than three weeks before the snows are usually expected to have melted (mid-June).
If it turns out that you can enter the Sierra because you chose the right year to attempt this, then good for you – lazily drag yourself up to Canada. If not, then you could end up waiting a while in Kennedy Meadows before being able to move on. Sure it’s still part of the same hike, but wouldn’t it be strange to hang out for the better part of a month not making progress towards Canada? No? You’re right, HYOY.
Wondering about going SOBO instead? Will that give you more time? No luck. The window for a SOBO thru-hike is smaller than that of a NOBO thru-hike: North Or South: Which Way To Hike The Pacific Crest Trail.