Preparing for the Pacific Crest Trail (easily the greatest physical undertaking of one’s life) can seem like an impossible task.
But I have good news for those of you in the midst of said preparation: it is impossible!
Why good news, is this? Because now you can waste your time doing other things you think are important to PCT preparation.
Admittedly, before my own PCT hike, I did elect to do some training. What sort of training? Well, it mostly consisted of setting personal eating records, drinking indulging in adult beverages, and gaining around ten pounds. I call it the “fuck it” method.
The weight gain was more an insurance policy than anything; I was not going to quit after just a week or two, because I needed to shed the excess weight at the very least.
See? I was thinking ahead.
Subscribing to the “I will get in shape as I go” school of thought (much to the dismay of my friends and family – but they had never hiked the PCT, so what did they know?), I was confident that with the right gear and attitude, my under-prepared body would be capable of adapting to the challenges of the PCT.
However, I knew that the first few weeks (at least) were going to be marked by a hellish misery, the likes of which I had never known. Unfortunately, I was right.
Plagued by blisters, spastic muscles, and soreness in every part of my body, there were days that I felt as though I would end up a corpse on the trail (and days that I wished I had).
The first few weeks were nothing short of an extreme exercise in masochism, but my body did eventually adapt. After a few hundred miles, the physical struggles of the trail faded into memory and the mental battles began.
But I Really Want to Train!
If you are reasonably fit and have experience with strenuous exercise in the past, then you are capable of surviving the Pacific Crest Trail (without a serious training regimen beforehand).
Should you insist on training then you have two options: work on your cardiovascular health, or do some long-distance, overnight, backpacking trips with your fully loaded pack (because the only real way to prepare for thru-hiking, is thru-hiking).
To tell the truth, I did take some hikes, and the occasional long walk on a steeply graded treadmill, but it is nothing that anyone would even begin to consider an honest effort at physical preparation (it was more so I could say to people I met, “yeah, I did some training”).
One of the benefits of the Pacific Crest Trail is that you can move as slowly or as quickly as you choose. Should you wake up feeling sore, hungover, or just lazy one day, then you only have to hike as many (or as few) miles as you feel comfortable with (if you choose to even hike at all).
According to the PCT Hiker Survey, many hikers said they would have focused on training physically before the trail, but I suspect a lot of them were either in objectively terrible shape or had no real experience with the sort of strain associated with the PCT.
Ultimately, at the beginning of the hike, you will be sore, you will get blisters, you will hurt, and you might wonder what the hell you’re doing, but just suck it up and you will get your hiker legs in no time.
Of course, no PCT “guidebook” is going to tell you to not do any physical preparation, as we learned, guidebooks suck, and so long as you are in reasonably good health and shape, then the PCT can be done. And you should do it.