This information comes from the Pacific Crest Trail Class of 2017 Survey and aims to give you an idea of what mistakes others have made pre, during, or post-PCT in the hopes that you will hopefully, be able to avoid the same pitfalls.
That being said, these are all just single statements by individual hikers, and so should in no way shape or form be taken as gospel. However, they should definitely give you idea of potential issues that may arise during a thru-hike.
Because with the PCT, as with all things in life, the best advice comes from strangers on the internet (and Yoda).
Here's what PCT thru-hikers had to say when asked what (if anything) they wish they had done differently prior to starting their hikes:
- 11% of respondents said they wish they had trained more or been in better shape prior to starting their hikes.
- 7% of respondents said they wish they had planned less before starting the trail.
- 6% of respondents said they wish they had gotten lighter gear.
- 6% of respondents said they wish they had done a better job of journaling their hikes.
FOR INTERNATIONAL HIKERS:
- I would get a US phone number from day one instead of after three months. Not only to stay in touch with family friends but also with the people I met, especially this year when everybody flip-flopped.
- Shipping things from Canada to anywhere on the trail is a huge pain. I wish I had purchased gear like the bear can, ice ax, and microspikes in trail towns, instead of shipping it all to California from Canada and spending a fortune. Same goes for my Warner Springs box. I learned it's easier (at least for foreigners) to buy as you go rather getting everything ahead of time and mailing it. Even if prices are slightly higher on the trail, you'll have more flexibility and ultimately spend less.
BEFORE YOUR HIKE:
- Worn a heavy pack while training.
- Stopped reading the PCT Facebook Page. Too much negativity.
- Started the trail in better shape, and skipped on pre-packaging resupply boxes.
- Saved more money.
- Mental preparation, emotional preparation, tie up family issues prior to leaving and not leave them hanging/nagging.
- Taken measurements of my body pre and post-hike; specifically thigh and calf circumferences.
STARTING YOUR HIKE:
- I wish I had done fewer miles for the first few weeks. I twisted my ankles a number of times in the beginning after doing really long days and it negatively affected the latter part of the trip.
- Should have carried less food in the beginning.
- Gone slower in the beginning to avoid injury.
- Started slower. I had some early injuries due to hiking too many miles too early. (Don't do 68 miles in your first two days)
DURING YOUR HIKE:
- I wish I'd taken more photos off trail too. Of towns and people. Of campsites. Not just views.
- I wish I had actually kept up with my journaling!
- Kept moving more consistently instead of taking so many zeros.
- Wish I was more mentally ok with being alone mostly…never seemed to be able to get hiking partners. I hike weird rates (slow but steady) and am a random age (35) with different interests than others it seems.
- Say “yes” to any invitation on the trail.
- Not planned to do artwork (or anything) besides hike, eat, and sleep.
- Fewer plans to meet up with friends/family on the trail. It was a nice idea but hard to make it happen.
- Kept a record of camping locations.
- Stretched more regularly at start of day – about half my zeroes were forced on me by not stretching enough, then getting a calf cramp that forced me to take substantial time off hiking.
- I would not take a solar panel and a power bank, just a good power bank.
- Gotten lighter gear.
- Brought fewer items of gear.
- Done more research on gear.
- I wish I didn't cheap out on gear.
- Chosen better gear from the beginning rather than waiting to switch later.
FOR THE ROMANTICS OUT THERE:
- Had my girlfriend join me for less time. It was difficult hiking with her mid-hike.
- Given my girlfriend more realistic expectations.
- Hiked solo rather than with my husband.
- Not had the hiking partner I had, I would go it alone next time.
- You probably don’t need a lot of the stuff you will start the trail with.
- Train with a full pack.
- Don't take town clothes, you buffoons.
- Consult with someone who has done a thruhike (even if not the PCT), if possible, to run over gear choices.
- Don't obsess over weight other than the big three (backpack, shelter, sleeping bag).
- Keep your pack weight down; this goes double if you're small. Spend more time training and less time planning.
- Spend the money on getting the big three as lightweight as you're comfortable with. It'll be worth it.
ON OTHER HIKERS:
- You don't need to stay in the same group, hike your own hike.
- You are not going to magically find your people right away. You will meet lots of cool people that you can't hike with for whatever reason. That kinda sucks, but the trail has a way of bringing people back together. Also, don't get caught up in bro-hike culture. Stop where you want. Hike however many miles you feel. Hike your own hike (fucker) and try to figure out early on what that means.
- Walk your own pace – chasing hikers who are faster than you is exhausting and you rarely catch up, slowing down too much is frustrating. You will find people with a similar style to yours soon enough.
- When taking advice from someone, always establish what year they did the PCT and what their baseline of skill is before you take their warnings or nonchalant attitude to heart.
- Hike your own hike, and ignore all the critics of the ultralight bros and purists.
- Don't let groups get too big – hiking with a lot of people can be stressful because of too many ideas/opinions and hard to find a camp to accommodate everyone.
ON DEALING WITH NON-THRU-HIKERS:
- Be nice to section hikers. They likely admire thru-hikers, but can't take as much time off. 🙂
- Bring out your best manners for trail angels and places that cater to hikers. Say thank you.
- Be courteous to trail angels, treat each other with respect.
- Use what you have, buy as you go. Don't buy all your food in advance. You've got this =] And it's OK TO BE A SECTION HIKER.
- Unless you have a restrictive diet, don't assemble your re-supply boxes before your hike. Your tastes and caloric needs will change, you will alter your plans and decide to go into towns with friends, and it's easy to send yourself boxes from on trail.
- Research but don't plan. Your plans will go to shit. Plan all food from trail.
- Don't do the trail with a deadline. Both of my hikes I've had to be back for school, which is totally doable, but I think it would be much nicer to experience the trail at your own pace and make your plans as you go. Flexibility is so nice.
- Be prepared for it to ruin you in the best way possible 🙂
- Be flexible. You really can not plan for the things that are going to happen to you on the trail. You'll think you're prepared, but you're not. Don't get attached to your plans, because you almost definitely will have to change them at some point. Let the trail take you where it will, it knows best anyway.
- Go swimming, pick berries, watch the wildlife.
- Learn to roll with the unexpected – nothing ever sticks to the plan. Find joy in the little things. One step at a time. It's not a race. Take too many pictures.
- DO NOT LISTEN TO PEOPLE IN TOWNS OR ON THE TRAIL. There was an insane amount of fearmongering this year and much of it was for absolutely no good reason. Hike what you feel comfortable hiking. If you feel like you can handle something that doomdayers are saying is impossible, take some extra food and go see for yourself. There are too many people who try to shit on your Sunday for whatever reason and most of what I encountered was not reality.
- Don't listen to fear mongering! Prepare to the best of your knowledge, and GO SEE CONDITIONS FOR YOURSELF! You are stronger than you think. Also, remember that the trail should be ENJOYED. Everything else is secondary.
- Ignore the trolls on the Facebook page. The fear mongering prior to the hike is insane and I think discourages a lot of people from attending their hike. Also, define what a successful hike means to you prior to starting the trail that way when the inevitable closure or roadblock happens you already know how to handle it. Is a successful hike a continuous path, all open trail, just being in the woods for 5 months? Know this prior to your hike so you don't have to figure this out as you stand at a trail junction.
That being said, remember:
- Unless you have substantial backcountry experience, err on the side of caution, don't try to be a badass. Decision making is a skill that needs to be developed, and I wish that we had a trail culture that celebrated safety above “achieving the goal”. I saw so many people who had never been camping before who went straight through the Sierra this year, and they're so proud of themselves, but they all just got lucky. They didn't even know the magnitude of the risks that they were taking. It takes a lot of mental strength to decide to bail if the conditions aren't safe, but it's something to be proud of. Don't get drawn into heroic narratives about pushing through difficult conditions. It's not heroic to put yourself/others at risk. Every time somebody has to rescue a hiker, that rescuer is at risk.
- You're going to make mistakes. Be patient with yourself and know that even the worst day on the trail is a privilege.
- You won't love every day on the trail but the feeling of accomplishment is huge. It's okay to end early and try again or decide it isn't for you.
- You will suffer. It is worthwhile. Is a thru-hike what you really want, or do you want to let nature's peace flow into you like John Muir? Those goals will sometimes be incompatible. The trail will make you choose. You'll choose the right choice sometimes and other times the wrong, which is okay. In that way, hiking the PCT is no different from the rest of the things you do while you're alive. Also, there's nothing you can do to make Fate and Earth conform to your plans: it takes more than just willpower to thru-hike the PCT.
- No matter how much it hurts, push and make it through the first two weeks. Those are the hell weeks, the initiation. After that, you can will your body to handle anything on the trail. And just enjoy it and don't take it for granted.
- The start of the hike can be daunting, especially if it is your first thru-hike. Take it one day, one water source, one step at a time and things will fall into place.
- Think long and hard before leaving the trail for good. Give yourself a week and then another week to think about it. But if it's what you really want, don't let anyone shame you from it. There's a lot of articles on “how to not quit a thru-hike” but Jesus, if it's not for you or if you've already got what you want from the trail…then leave and go do some other awesome thing with your time and money. I have zero regrets about leaving early.
- NEVER quit on a bad day.
But most of all, what hikers had to say to anyone thinking about hiking the PCT was, “Just do it!“
THE PCT CLASS SURVEY
The information in this post comes from my annual Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker survey.
You can find all the previous years' surveys below: