Planning for the Pacific Crest Trail can seem overwhelming if you've never done a long-distance hike before. What gear do I get? Where do I resupply? Do I really have to dig a hole and poop in it and then pack out my toilet paper? Yes, you really do.
The truth of it is, you don't really need to do that much to prepare for a thru-hike on the PCT (unless you have some complicating factor such as a medically-restricted diet). One of the best things you can probably do for yourself is taking the advice of former thru-hikers and learn from their failures (and successes).
Fortunately, for us, as part of the PCT Hiker Survey, I ask hikers what advice they have for the future generations of hikers. The result? A wealth of information and advice on how to properly (and improperly) make use of your time on the PCT.
Table of Contents
Pacific Crest Trail Planning Advice
- Don't look at the PCT Facebook groups; the most active people there typically have no real experience.
- Try not to plan too much beforehand, trail life is its own universe and you will experience it, get used to it, and love it once you are on the trail.
- Train under a load. Being fit will help, but what really matters is being conditioned. Your joints and tendons take a while to adjust, and you might get injured if not conditioned properly.
- Don't over plan your hike. Just go out and start. You can change your gear along the way.
- It can rain/snow/be terribly cold in the desert – be prepared.
- Watch fewer YouTube videos and follow fewer Instagramers. I found myself caught in a trap, believing that the trail would be all sunshine and rainbows. (Check out Suffering & Despair if you think the PCT is all good times)
- Don't overthink / over plan prior to the hike – sometimes you just have to wait and see how things pan out. Don't stress out about things that haven't even happened yet.
- Don't plan. None of your plans will work. And certainly don't plan to meet up with anyone on the trail. It sounds like a good idea before you leave, but it's not.
Pacific Crest Trail Attitude Advice
- Be very determined, because there are a lot of days that will be very hard – it's easy to find reasons to quit the trail!
- Leave your ego behind; it's not your friend out there.
- Be spontaneous. I used my trail name as an opportunity to step outside myself, to do things I wouldn't normally do. I believe my character is now richer for it.
- Try not to have expectations for your physical or mental journey. Enjoy the chaos in your head and the pain in your body. These things will make you feel incredibly strong, capable, and happy when they are done processing.
- The real world pushes you to care about numbers, productivity, and constant work. Being on the trail is a challenge, but it isn't a job. Take time to experiment and work out for yourself how you most enjoy living.
- Call your mom and have a good cry when you need to. Be very aware and conscious of your mental health. Take a zero(s) when you need to, slow down, hike with people who lift you up, be aware of how much time you're spending alone.
- Don't worry about if you're “doing it the right way.” There's no wrong way to hike. Learn from other people, but overall, just do what works best for you.
Pacific Crest Trail Hiking Advice
- Everyone says it, but “hike your own hike”. You're only out there for you, and you are not obligated to do anything that you don't feel benefits your hike.
- If you accidentally hike past a water source and there are none coming up, go back! It's not worth getting dehydrated to save a bit of time!
- Push yourself sometimes to see what you're made of; other times, choose to take it slow and enjoy.
- Keep a trail journal. Even if you can just log your miles, start/end locations, and some quick notes about the day. You'll be able to remember and look back at your hike with a clearer picture.
- Really think about what you want out of the hike before leaving and stay true to your hike even when your new friends and trail family want to do other things. I wish I had taken the time to have slow mornings – make coffee, stretch and write in my journal in the desert – when I actually had the time.
- Plan less. Prioritize fun over miles. Don't let other people's fears become your fears (go see for yourself).
- Don't get wrapped up in the competitiveness. It's not a race. It can be fun to do big miles, and it's also fun to just enjoy the trail.
- Don’t push yourself in the beginning and never push an injury. Take care of yourself. Embrace every high and low. Nothing will go as planned and that is okay.
- Hike the way you want, not the way others think you should. Go as fast or as slow as you want.
- Don’t flip, don’t skip – you will regret it at the end.
- The whole hike is hard. It doesn't get easier. The stronger you get, the more miles you do in a day leaving you feeling the same level of exhausted always. You do get faster though and eventually climbing mountains does come more naturally. If you want it, commit to it and don't give up. There will be mountains every day and eventually a huge feeling of accomplishment when you cross the border.
Pacific Crest Trail Gear Advice
- Don’t stress so much about the gear. The trail is all about the head on your shoulders, not the amount of Dyneema on your back.
- YouTube gear advice videos are bullshit. Figure out what gear works for you yourself. You think you have the best most popular and successful gear until you get out there and realize something fishy is going on with the gear recommendations and everyone lied to you. Some people have heavy cheap ass shit and are so happy and never have an issue.
- Keep your pack as light as possible. It's worth all the extra money for the lighter gear.
- If you're not sure if you should bring something, leave it at home and someone can send it to you in a matter of days if you're missing it. Or, bring it with you and you will soon send it back if you don't need it. Bottom line – don't stress it, you will figure out what you need and don't need in the first couple of weeks.
- Don't let your filter freeze.
- Waterproof socks are awesome, just don't let water get inside them.
- Starting off, I felt like I would look like an idiot if I didn't have Hyperlite Gear and Altras, even though I had good reasons for choosing other gear. On the trail, no one really cares what gear you have and there is a lot more variety than it seems when you are reading the blogs. You don't need a bunch of expensive stuff, and you will quickly find a lot of things you need to switch up once you start.
- Make sure that your backpack fits properly and is working for the amount of gear you plan to carry.
- Just because a piece of gear, shoes, etc., works for someone else doesn't mean it will work for you.
- Train with your gear! Take it out for at least a weekend so that you can really feel how heavy it is and you can dial in what works for you and what is really necessary and what will keep you comfortable and motivated.
- Carry less stuff (think minimalism), but don't worry about weight too much. Your gear is what keeps you safe, don't compromise on safety to lower your base weight.
For more on the Pacific Crest Trail gear, check out this year's PCT Gear Guide.
Pacific Crest Trail Resupply Advice
- Err on the side of mailing fewer packages. You can always mail packages to yourself from towns with good resupplies if you determine you'll need a box.
- Take time to try different trail foods beforehand, and make boxes varied.
- Don't rely on others to plan your water and food carries.
- Mix top ramen with peanut butter and hot sauce.
- Focus on getting to the next resupply, not Canada.
- Don’t worry about resupply! California will take care of itself and when you need to send boxes you can do it on the road.
- You don't have to know your resupply strategy for Oregon when you're still in SoCal.
- Resupply on the trail as much as you can to avoid unnecessary zeros waiting for the post office to open – many do not open on weekends and/or have short opening hours in the remote locations.
For more on the Pacific Crest Trail resupply, check out this year's PCT Resupply Guide.
Pacific Crest Trail People Advice
- Take time to enjoy the people you meet on the trail. The other hikers are what really make this hike extra special. The desert was incredible as many relationships were created that lasted over the course of the hike.
- Don’t be afraid to hike by yourself. Groups can become a burden in certain cases.
- The people you join up with can make or break your hike. If you're feeling like you're not connecting with a certain group, don't feel bad about going your own way.
- Don't be competitive with other hikers on mileage/purity/anything else, and don't judge people. Everyone does this for different reasons and has different goals. It's not a competition!
- Get over yourselves and don't be jerks to section hikers, people going the opposite direction, or anyone you think is “cheating” or not “pure” in the arbitrary ways you've decided.
- Don't be afraid to get ahead/fall behind any groups. There are always nice people ahead and behind you, and you'll be happier setting your own schedule.
- Have a friend/family member you can call and complain to who will listen but won't tell you to just come home because it's tough. Figure out what will get you through your hard days before you have one.
- Be accepting of the fact that people come and go. You need to be independent.
Pacific Crest Trail Culture Advice
- Don't poop too close to campsites.
- Act as an ambassador from the PCT community.
- Find your “Why?” Slow down at the beginning. Try not to get roped into the 20s-out-the-gaters. Make the hike as Yours as you need it to be. Take the extra zero, stay in the hotel room, don't be afraid of saying no to splitting a room. You make the rules.
- Even though the trail is way safer than being in a town, keep an eye on your stuff and have other hikers' backs!
- Trust the trail to give you the experience you need, even if it's not what you expected.
- Go see for yourself. Always go see for yourself. Most people flipped or skipped because of the snow this year; that was totally unnecessary. The rumors got out of control and the fear-mongers were the only winners there.
- Be courteous to trail angels and people in town, don't behave like entitled hiker trash.
- Make sure you properly put out your campfire before you leave camp.
Pacific Crest Trail Quitting Advice
- Don't quit. It's one thing to be forced off-trail by an injury or unforeseen circumstances; it's another thing entirely to throw in the towel because you felt weak one day.
- If you are thinking about getting off trail because of discouragement, take one or two zeroes in the next town. Eat a hot meal, sleep in a real bed, talk to your fellow hikers and realize what a big fucking deal you've done already.
- Expect the unexpected. Remember, this hike is for YOU and only you. Leaving the trail does not equal failure and does not mean you are a quitter. But make no decisions until after a shower, laundry, hot meal, and decent night's sleep.
- Know that at times it’s going to be harder than you can imagine, but it’s worth it and for some reason, you’ll still love it.
- Whenever you are close to a mental breakdown or think about quitting, try to be around people and talk to them.
- Don't overthink this, and make sure you have your feet sorted out. I had to quit because of tendonitis and that sucked.
- Start slowly, even if you feel great! Your body needs time to transition to the level of physical exertion you’re reaching for. Also, give yourself at least a month on the trail before deciding to leave. Everyone feels fear and doubt in the beginning, this is normal!
Top Pacific Crest Trail Advice
- Comparison is the thief of joy.
- What does the phrase hike your own hike mean? It means that you should not alter your idea of safety, fun, or enjoyment to validate someone else's experience. Most hikers on the trail, past the first 100 miles, get this and are encouraging of whatever your choices are. However, the worst way to ruin the adventure is to listen to someone who is insecure and/or competitive that wants you to do your hike like they did, or are doing because that would validate their choices. Of course those with no hiking experience, but think they are experts in everything, should be ignored. Do your research with healthy people who are secure enough in themselves to have you disagree or question their advice. Make your own choices based on your hopes and limitations, and learn from your mistakes as you go. Don't be too independent, introverted, or proud to ask for help when you need it. The PCT community is awesome and trail magic happens every day.
- If you pass a magical campsite, stop for the evening, or at least eat dinner there. Also, swim as much as possible!
- I know this is super cliche, but it really is more about the journey than the destination. Make sure you're not just focusing on the miles – it's possible to still stay on track while finding little ways to stop and smell the roses. Go for swims, eat all the berries you want, take photos of cool bugs. Stay and talk with trail angels. Sit for a minute and reflect on life when you get to a particularly awesome view. These moments are the ones I cherish way more than the days I was just focused on getting to my desired campsite.
- Plan for boredom and being lonely. Bring twice the money and half the clothes.
- Even though you are an independent, capable, lone wolf badass you will still rely on someone for something. Let it humble you.
- Look at the PCT as a series of one-week backpacking trips, back to back, with a one day rest between the sections.
- We all get so wrapped up in the numbers. What date did you start? How many miles a day are you going? How many days did it take you to finish? How many miles per hour are you hiking? How much does your pack weigh? My advice? Think less about the numbers and more about the landscape and the camaraderie of other crazy thru-hikers.
- DON'T LISTEN TO MOST ADVICE YOU GET! There is a ridiculous amount of fear-mongering throughout the ENTIRE trail and the majority of it is absolute garbage from people who have too much negativity in their lives. With a decent amount of common sense and a few hundred miles to get the hang of things, your own insight will guide you better than 90% of the people who think they know best.
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