Pacific Crest Trail FAQ - Last updated Apr 5, 2015
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650 mile hiking trail (dirt foot path) that runs contiguosly from the Mexican border at Campo, California to the Canadian border near Manning Park, BC. It is a desginated national scenic trail. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. It offers some the wildest backcountry terrain to be found in the lower 48 states.
Each year an increasing number of hikers, 500-1000, attempt to complete the entire trail (through-hike) in a 4-6 month period. Hikers generally start in late April or early May heading south to north. Many hikers practice lightweight hiking techniques as they must carry all their food and gear in backpacks finding water at natural sources along the way. Hikers will resupply every 3-10 days at trail towns close to the trail.
Embarking on a journey such as this requires proper documentation to be obtained as well as maps & guides. It is also important to understand hiking skills required to cross mountainous spring snow conditions, creek crossings and navigation.
Further detailed information about through-hiking can be gleaned from journals, forums & mailing lists as well as the following FAQ.
Table of Contents
(sections added as they are created)
Hiking Permit - Jim Payne
If one is planning a single trip of 500 or more continuous PCT miles, the PCTA can provide a PCT Long Distance Permit. The PCTA will not issue permits for trips starting at Whitney Portal.
For trips shorter than PCT 500 miles, one must contact the agency in which the trip will begin - or, sometimes, the first agency on that trip's portion of the PCT that requires a permit.
The PCTA does not process Long Distance Permits until after January 31st each calendar year.
Note: Long Distance Permits are for overnight use on the PCT corridor only. Users wishing to travel off the PCT corridor must obtain separate permits as necessary. You may travel off the PCT to nearby trailheads for reasons of resupply and reaching or departing the Trail (Whitney Portal exception, see next 'Note'). This travel must be done on the most direct trail between the PCT and the trailhead. Long distance permits do not allow for camping off the PCT corridor, even while traveling to and from trailheads.
Note: The $15 Mt. Whitney Zone Permit is only required if one is exiting and re-entering the PCT through Whitney Portal to the East; it is NOT required for climbing Mt. Whitney from the West (PCT, Crabtree Meadows) and returning to the PCT.
Canada Entry Form & Identification - Jim Payne
Canada Entry Form & Identification (1.3.2)
If entering Canada, one will need to submit an Entry to Canada form, and have it in possession along with proper identification (included here with additional information and regulations about entering Canada).
Documents for US entry from Canada - Jim Payne
Notice to southbounders: In June, 2010, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determined that there is no legal southbound entry into the United States at the northern terminus of the PCT, as now noted on both the USFS and PCTA websites.
For northbounders returning to the US, starting June 1, 2009, U.S. citizens need a Passport or Passport Card to enter the U.S. by land or sea. Air travel leaving or entering the U.S. requires a Passport. International travelers need both Passport and Visa for U.S. reentry.
International hikers/travelers - Jim Payne
If you're from Canada, without a criminal history, you can stay in the US for 180 days per calender year. You will need a passport. You still need the Canada Entry Permit from above. For more info visit USEmbassy.gov
If you're coming from a country not under the Visa Waiver Program, you will need to obtain a "B2" visa (for "pleasure, tourism, medical treatment") which is normally issued for a stay of up to 90 days, so you will have to request an extension for the anticipated length of time to complete your travel in the U.S.
If your country of origin is under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you don't need a visa for stays up to 90 days. If you plan to stay in the country any longer, the VWP no longer applies and you will need to apply for a "B2" visa for the anticipated length of time to complete your travel in the U.S.
If you need a visa and you plan on reentering the U.S. from Canada for return travel to your home country, then inquire about a "multiple entry" visa or at least a 2 entry visa. A "single entry" visa would allow one only entry in the U.S. during the visa validity period
Fire Permits - Jim Payne
A California Campfire Permit valid for the calendar year it is issued covers use of campfires and stoves in all Forest Service, BLM, and state lands in CA. Campfire Permits can be obtained at any California Division of Forestry, US Forest Service or BLM office, and online here or here. Your valid “PCT Long Distance Permit” will cover campfires (where permitted) on National Park Service lands. It is your responsibility to know the current rules & regulations of each individual agency unit you are in.
Maps & Guides - Jim Payne, et al.
Thanks to hard working trail crews and an army of volunteers the PCT is not a difficult trail to follow. However, you will need maps from time to time even in ideal conditions. Navigating across snow, blow downs, flood damaged areas, etc., will enhance the need for a map, a compass, and the ability to use them.
Postholer Pocket Map Books The 3rd edition Pocket Maps are the most superior PCT map set available, created completely with digitized base maps. Seamless digitized base maps mean uniformity in color, style, textures and units of measure from Mexico to Canada.
The Postholer Pocket Maps are also accompanied by the 122 page data book with 4,000 locations.
Other Maps & Guides listing:
Wilderness Press: Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California (Mexican border to Tuolumne Meadows); 6th edition, January 2003; last updates (2005). Also available in various digital formats.
Wilderness Press: Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California (Tuolumne Meadows to Oregon); 6th edition, May 2003; last updates (2005). Also available in various digital formats.
Halfmile Media: Halfmile's PCT Maps - downloadable, printable maps for the entire trail now updated for 2013 season; other downloads (gpx tracks & waypoints; Google Earth), other info (cell & Wi-Fi reception, iPhone app & downloads).
USFS: "Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail" - ten map series; available from USFS Store (type "pacific crest" in search window).
Hiker Trash Haven PCT Topographic Maps (click on “free topo maps”) - pdf format; incomplete, somewhat outdated; CA sections A-C, part of D, R; all of OR; WA part of H and 'new' K & L (note: shows old route crossing Similkameen River to the Sewage Plant area along Hwy 3 in Manning Park).
Postholer interactive PCT Google Map (including satellite & MyTopo topographical view options).
Jackie McDonnell ("Yogi"): Yogi's PCT Handbook, October 2011 (update before April, 2012?).
Karen Berger & Daniel R. Smith: “The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker's Companion”, October 2000.
Craig's PCT Planner (2012 - new 5.0 version! 2009 - elevation profiles added back in; a couple other minor updates/changes.)
Bearcant's Pacific Crest Trail Elevation Profiler.
Paul Bodnar's Pocket PCT, a mile-by-mile elevation profile with landmarks noted.
Blackwoods Press: PCT Atlas & Wall Map.
David Plotnikoff's "Best on the Crest" - food & lodging along the PCT.
General: USFS PCT website.
General: Backpacker Magazine "Best of the Classic Trails" - PCT (and CDT / AT).
Hiker website: Plan Your (PCT)Hike
Hiker website: Pmags.com
Hiker website: Backpack45
Hiker website: On the Trail
And, of course, you can find the complete and exclusive interactive Google Map of the PCT right here at Postholer.com with trail trace, mileages and elevations (& many other long trails, too!). The trail trace is the same accurate hybrid trace used in the PCT Pocket Maps.
Bear Canister Requirements - Jim Payne
The only areas currently requiring bear canisters for food storage while camping along the PCT are in the Sierra Nevada of California. The agencies of concern regarding use of a bear canister while on the PCT are Inyo NF, Sequoia-Kings Canyon NPs (Seki), and Yosemite NP.
The following were the bear canister required areas for late 2008 (plus some other reference points) – there were no changes through 2012 (and none anticipated for 2013):
PCT miles nobo, approx. / Location
702 / (to Kennedy Meadows Store - reference mileage only)
705 / (Kennedy Meadows Campground - reference mileage only)
750 / Cottonwood Pass [Inyo NF]
754 / Seki NP boundary (southern) [end Inyo NF, begin Seki NP]
763 / Guyot Pass [Seki NP] 750-763 = canister 'required' area
779 / Forester Pass [Seki NP]
808 / Pinchot Pass [Seki NP] 779-808 = canister 'required' area
831 / (Bishop Pass Trail [Seki NP] - canisters 'required' on Bishop Pass Trail)
856 / (northern Seki boundary)
890 / above Tully Hole [Sierra NF (admin. by Inyo NF)]
895 / past Duck Lake Trail [Sierra NF (admin. By Inyo NF)] 890-895 = canister 'required' area
902 / Sierra NF - Inyo NF boundary [Inyo NF]
907 / Wilderness boundary S of Reds Meadow [Inyo NF] 902-907 = canister 'required' area
908 / Reds Meadow [Inyo NF]
914 / (Agnew Meadows area canister is not required for about 0.5 mile of PCT)
929 / Donohue Pass [end Inyo NF, start Yosemite NP]
942 / Tuolumne Meadows [Yosemite NP]
998 / Dorothy Lake Pass [Yosemite NP boundary] 908-998 = canister 'required' area (except half mile near mile 914 at Agnew Meadows)
1018 / (Sonora Pass - reference mileage only)
1092 / (Hwy 50 - reference mileage only)
1094 / (Echo Lake - reference mileage only)
For more info and details regarding bears & bear canisters, carefully check the following links:
SierraWild website - please, read all the various bear related pages. (the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG) no longer exists, but most of their information & links have been incorporated into the SierraWild website)
Sierra Nevada bear canister required areas map (4 MB), or online interactive map - no changes since last 'updated' release 8/26/09. [Note 1: Both maps do not show the two bear box locations to the S of Woods Creek bridge (PCT mile ~801) in Seki. Both maps also show a bear box available in Le Conte Canyon near the Bishop Pass Trail junction (PCT mile ~831), but there is no public bear box at that location.] [Note 2: There are no longer any bear boxes available in the Kearsarge Lakes area per Seki (see below).]
Bear boxes (food storage lockers): Google map of box locations in the Sierra (with PCT trace).
Any known changes for 2013 will be posted here and on various forums, but the yearly announcements from each agency aren't usually made until late March to as late as May each year...
Water Reports - Jim Payne
The water report relies upon communication from the trail community to keep it up-to-date; please report any water status changes as soon as possible directly via email to email@example.com or phone/text 619-734-7289 (voice mail/text, no one will answer). The PCT 'community' thanks you!
Yogi's PCT Handbook (the 'trail' booklet gives water sources status in various years, both SoCal and more northern 'problem' areas, too).
Snow Reports & Charts
Postholer Snow Page: Current and historical snow/precip/temp data along the entire PCT, as well as current weather forecasts. It also has links to all the sensor stations and orignal sources in graph and tabular format. You'll also find the Sierra Entry Indicator (SEI) which gives a general idea for northbound sierra entry date.
“CA Snow Plot Graphs: compares to max & min years, past year, can select previous years”
“CA Snow Plot Map: shows the above graphs “South, Central, & North” surface areas covered”
“NRCS Monthly Snowpack: for western states, goes back to 1980 for historical comparison”
Glossaries of Hiking Terms
Hikers have a language all their own. These glossaries will help you sort it all out:
Journals & Forums - Jim Payne
Forums (or similar):
Backcountry.net (pct-l): join pct-l; recent (includes current month) archives; older archives
Trail Forums (PCT)
WhiteBlaze.net - Pacific Crest trail forum
reddit - Pacific Crest trail forum
Facebook (Search for 'Pacific Crest Trail' & 'PCT' for various groups.)”
Books - Thru-hiking and inspirational
One of the following books will surely quench or stoke the desire to hike. The following books are stories from the PCT unless otherwise mentioned:
Dances with Marmots - George G. Spearing
Journey on the Crest - Cindy Ross
Cactus Eaters - Dan White
Zero Days - Barbara Egbert
A Thru Hikers Heart - Ray Echols
Walking Down a Dream - Natasha Carver
The Thousand Mile Summer - Colin Fletcher
The Man Who Walked Through Time - Colin Fletcher
Blistered Kind of Love - Angela Ballard
10 Million Steps - M. J. Eberhart (Florida Trail, Appalachian Trail, Long Trail)
...and other books:
Fixing Your Feet - John Vonhof
Listening for Coyote: A Walk Across Oregon's Wilderness - William Sullivan
The Last Season - Eric Blehm
Missing in the Minarets - William Alsup
High Odyssey - Glen Rose
...and web sites dedicated to hiking books:
PCT Photo Atlas
The PCT Photo Atlas is a free and online photo atlas. You'll find thousands of photos covering over a thousand locations and objects along the PCT. Physical locations also have a map link so you can see a fully interactive google map with trail trace, mileages and elevations.
This is not intended to give you directions to the trail just give you some idea of forms of transportation at various locations. The PCT has numerous entry points. Modes of transportation will be added as folks contribute them. An informal way, not to be relied upon, is to check with trail angels in the area or post on the PCT-L or the forum. Someone may be headed your way.
While only a few important places are listed below APTA.Com gives you public transportation options for anywhere in the country by state. So it may be a good place to start.
Whether you arrive in San Diego by plane or bus, you'll want to get to the public transportation hub of El Cajon Transit Center which is in El Cajon just outside San Diego. It will be your jumping off point to Campo. Greyhound has a bus that takes you to El Cajon Transit Center as does San Diego public transportation. If you are arriving in the area via Greyhound you can have El Cajon Transit Center as your destination on your ticket. Note: it's not a great place to arrive after dark.
The most flexible way to get from El Cajon Transit Center to Campo is via taxi. It takes about 40 minutes, but it's not unheard of for a taxi driver to quote a price of $100. Hint: haggle. Some of these drivers even know where the trailhead is and they'll gladly drive you the short distance down the dirt road to the PCT monument (southern terminus).
If a taxi isn't your style, you can take rural bus route 894 or 888 from the transit center. The schedule is limited, the trip is much longer and much cheaper. Call ahead to make sure you don't need a reservation.
While Campo is the southern most point of the PCT, Manning Park would be considered the northern most point as you have to hike from the northern terminus to Manning Park. Greyhound will probably be your choice to getting to/from Manning. The Manning Park web site is an excellent resource for travel to and from with schedule, destinations, travel times and general travel information. That info won't be duplicated here.
Stevens Pass - Skykomish, Stehekin
Stevens Pass - Skykomish and Stehekin (via Chelan, Wenatchee) are all accessable by Northwestern Trailways. They have routes heading west towards Seattle, Everret, etc and east towards Spokane, etc into Idaho.
Getting from Stehekin to the south end of Lake Chelan requires taking the Lady of the Lake ferry. From there you can take Link Transit which has an immediate bus stop next to the ferry parking lot. That will take you into Wenatchee where you can catch the Northwestern Trailways bus.
Yosemite National Park
For public access to the PCT in Yosemite YARTS is a good resource. They can move you through the park such as Tuolomne Meadows/Yosemite Valley and outside the park to places like Merced/Merced Airport, Lee Vining, Mariposa, etc. They also operate in a limited manner during the winter. Check their web site for the details.
Hitch-hiking is not for everywhere. Beware of the dangers involved with this activity. If you feel you must, here are some tips that will help you acquire a ride.
Chuckie V advises:
+ Face oncoming traffic and indicate your need for a ride by proudly elevating your thumb
+ Smile! This one is critical. My odds were always better with a grin on my face, even if it was forced.
+ Clean yourself up and dress as smart as your backpacking wardrobe allows.
+ Provide evidence that you are safe by displaying a simple sign stating that you're a PCT hiker
+ When---if---a car stops, kindly ask the driver where they're going. At this point it is easy to decline the lift if you don't like the look of the driver
+ Never smoke in someone else's car unless they offer you a cigarette
+ Don't just stand there doing nothing. Dance. Take bows.
+ Take your backpack off and set it in front of you so that it looks less bulky.
+ If you must, act as though you're injured and hobble around with a limp.
Seth Schumacher states:
+ WEAR A KILT it always attracts great attention on the roadside.
Robert W. Freed suggests:
+ Plan on where to hitch a ride.
+ Busy roads are better than non busy, increases your chances.
+ Major dead end trail heads are best
Bob "Trekker" surmises:
+ Always use a sign, it lets people know you have a definite destination.
+ Make the sign readable. People in cars may have to read your sign at 60 mph.
+ Think about what the sign should say. Keep the sign to 1-3 words.
+ Always stand with your pack standing and visible.
+ Avoid having your face in the shadow of a hat brim.
+ Don't wear sunglasses, let people see your face.
+ Look as presentable as possible, put on some clean clothes.
+ Position yourself where someone can safely stop.
+ Carry a highway map and know where you are.
+ When a ride stops engage your brain. Make mental notes about the vehicle, assess it's occupants and situation.
+ If you feel uneasy about the people or situation just say, "No thanks".
+ Don't risk losing your pack.
+ Help future hikers. During the ride, talk to your benefactor about anything to establish rapport and relate to them.
+ Near the end of the ride, thank them more than once.
During your trip you will be replacing all manner of items, shoes, socks, clothes, food, fuel, poles tips, medications, etc. It's good to have a solid idea of the things you'll need along the trail and how to get them. Hiking pole tips are a good example. It's probably not a spare item you purchased before you left. But having the part number and phone number to your favorite supplier handy means it can be sent to you somewhere up the trail. It's good to have a list of all the things you think you'll need. Make it part of your planning. For further reading:
Craig's PCT Planner:
Weathercarrots resupply strategy:
An example itinerary:
View Examples of Itineraries.
Resupply as you go VS resupply from home
'Resupply as you go' simply means buying items at towns along the trail. Most, but not all, trail towns have a store of some sort. Some may be adequate for resupply; some may not. Some may have a store and post office. If the store does not have adequate supplies, but does have a post office, this would be a good place to send a resupply package. Resupplying as you go takes the burden off your home team. It also allows flexible choice in foods.
The other option is sending all of your resupplies via the mail. In this case you would always stop at a post office to get your goodies. This is the least flexible method and you will have probably predetermined the type of food for your entire trip, which means you may get bored of eating the same thing all the time. It also adds postage costs to your overall trip cost.
Example Resupply Strategy
Most hikers will use a variation of the resupply strategy below. The mileages and days are approximate. Use this as a guide, not a cut and paste strategy. Mailing instructions for each location can be found here. Many resupply strategies can be found here.
|Resupply Location||Miles||Days @|
|Mojave or Tehachapi||104||5|
|(optionally Independence or Lone Pine or Bishop)|
|Vermilion Valley Resort or Muir Trail Ranch||168||9|
|(optionally Reds Meadow or Mammoth)|
|Echo Lake Resort or South Lake Tahoe||150||7|
|(optionally Qunicy or Chester)|
|Burney Falls State Park or Burney||45||2|
|Castella or Dunsmuir||80||4|
|Callahans or Ashland||60||3|
|Shelter Cove Resort||80||4|
|(optionally Elk Lake Resort)|
|Big Lake Youth Camp or Sisters||90||4|
|(optionally Timberline Lodge)|
|(optionally Trout Lake)|
This item is a floating storage shed. You just keep mailing it ahead of yourself up the trail. Use it for spare clothes, gear, guidebooks sections, postcards or whatever. You may or may not use one, but it sure comes in handy.
At some point most hikers will have the need to mail themselves something along the trail. It may be a food resupply, new equipment or the periodic mailing of your bounce box. Following are some tips that you may find helpful.
USPS - United States Postal Service are the people who run the post offices and deliver mail to your mailbox.
UPS - United Parcel Service is a company that delivers anything to just about any address, except a post office (P.O.) box.
FedEx - Federal Express is like UPS
ETA - Estimated Time of Arrival
P.O. - Post Office, usually P.O. Box
The method you use depends on several factors. Some private party maildrops will only accept UPS and/or FedEx, some will accept any. Post offices or P.O. boxes will only take USPS. Some private party maildrops will only accept incoming mail and will not ship out. When mailing a package to yourself at a specific location, first determine your requirements. You don't want to send your bounce box to a place that won't mail it out. For a simple resupply package send it by the preferred method of the private party maildrop.
Another issue is cost. USPS 'Parcel Post' is cheaper than USPS 'Priority Mail' and cheaper than FedEx or UPS 3 day. It's also alot slower.
When to Mail
A USPS post office is only required to hold a package for 2 weeks, some will hold it longer. Ensure you follow that rule. A private party will only hold your package for a limited time as well. If that time is exceeded the package may be returned or the contents placed in a hiker box. It varies from party to party. So, when you send a package account for package transit time, your ETA and the length of time the package gets held.
How you address your package depends on how you send it and possibly how the private party wants it addressed. The following example shows a UPS or USPS shipping label to a physical address to Kennedy Meadows:
c/o Kennedy Meadows General Store
96740 Beach Meadow RD
Inyokern, CA 93527
This example is for general delivery to the post office in Stehekin Washington:
c/o General Delivery
Stehekin, WA 98852
For a return address don't use an address if no one is there. Use a return address of someone who would be willing to resend that package to you if for whatever reason that package was sent back by the post office. That might be tough for you international folks.
Always include your ETA and the phrase 'PCT Hiker' on your package. Some places specifically ask that you put an ETA on your package as they will hold the package for 30 days (or whatever) past your ETA. Get in the habit of doing this for all packages. Write 'PCT Hiker' and your last name on every side of the package.
If possible put something on your package that makes it easy to identify, smiley face stickers, colored tape, etc. When hiker packages are stacked a mile high in the post office easy identification goes along way.
There are many potential maildrop locations along the PCT with a variety of mailing instructions. We maintain a thorough list of maildrop locations with mailing instructions here at postholer. If you would like to see one added or have corrections, please let us know.
Some of the smaller post offices get absolutely slammed by PCT hiker packages; it can be a real bummer. A healthy dose of "Thank You's" will go a long way. It's also good for the trail and everyone who comes behind you.
Trail towns and Post Offices
You will probably determine where you'll resupply and send packages prior to departing. This is usally determined by how many miles a day you hike and distance between towns. Food is heavy! 3 to 4 days between resupply is a good number. Going through the Sierras without a distant off trail resupply can be as long as 10 or 11 days, which is popular.
The USPS (U.S. Postal Service) will only hold packages for 2 weeks, while private parties will hold them longer. USPS are closed Sunday and holidays. They are usually open for a few hours on Saturday. Rural Post Offices have sporadic hours, so it's good to know them.
Popular trail towns, post office info and maps:
Potentially you will burn lots of calories. For a 20+ mile day you can assume between 4,000-6,000 calories a day. Being that you carry your food on your back, getting the most calories per ounce and not compromising nutrition can be a real challenge.
Skills & Knowledge
Hands-on Skills Training - Ned Tibbits
It could be said that you can successfully plan and complete a thru hike by only hiking (I wouldn't do it). If there are sufficient off-trail resources available, to amend one's menu, equipment, clothing, etc., it could be done, but you'd be off trail a lot fixing grievances that could have been avoided with thorough pre-trip planning. I'm sure this has been done on the AT where towns and roads are frequent.
For example, take tents. Your inexperience says, " I've just bought a tent. Now I'm ready to go." So you leave and hike into an afternoon thunder shower. You quickly take out your tent and suddenly realize you haven't a clue how to assemble and pitch it! Falling on the wet ground is a large folded pile of nylon, a smaller pile of the same, a bundle of stakes, rope, poles, and miscellaneous small plastic things. You don't even know where the front door is and you're getting wet. Needless to say this wet and cold night could have been avoided if you had practiced pitching your "home-away-from-home" before leaving.
The same goes for every other aspect of your trip: food, clothing, fitness, equipment, resupplies, cooking, hiking, snowshoeing, understanding hypothermia, dehydration, exposure, potential injuries, on-trail hazards, sanitation issues, water treatment, and so on.
A multi-month thru hike requires a commitment to a whole new lifestyle in a remote location where rescue or assistance is not readily available. If you miss something in your planning phase, you may suffer the consequences for a longer period of time than you'd like out on the trail. An alcohol stove is nice and light, but do you realize you can't see the flame? Are you skilled in operating it before you must rely on it? Whole forests have been burnt down because of just this.
If what you dream of accomplishing requires the physical doing of something, learning about it is insufficient for your safety and enjoyment. Start practicing it!
At home, cook your dinner on your hiking stove, sleep in your bag in your tent (even if it's on your living room floor), start eating your trail menu, wear your hiking shoes to work, and above all, start hiking in the terrain you expect. Practice how to select a campsite and find out which ones could be hazardous to your overnight health, cross a creek by rock-hopping on wet boulders without slipping, navigate to a destination over snow when you can't see the trail, not panic in a "white-out," deal with bears and other animals that may want your food, snowshoe to a creek, find a safe crossing point, wade through it, dry off, and get going again, and to recognize, deal with, or avoid dangerous icy and avalanche conditions.
Skills training can be found most anywhere. Contact your local backpacking store, community center or college, Sierra Club Chapter, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, or search on-line (pct-l) . Even if you enroll in a "Backpacking 101" course through your junior college, it should involve some sort of overnight trip where you can practice hand-on skills as basic as filtering water from the stream. The more you practice before your expedition, the fewer mistakes you're likely to experience out on the trail.
For years Mountain Education has been offering skills training courses specifically tailored for the long-distance hiker. Owner, Ned Tibbits, has hiked the Crest and Divide, been a Paramedic, a Wilderness Ranger, and taught numerous hikers how to safely enjoy the backcountry year-round. Though the business is no longer, he still publishes the requisite knowledge and encourages the required skills training here on this FAQ, on the PCT-L, and as a guest speaker at Trail Fest, ALDHA-WEST, and the famous ADZPCTKO.
"Hiking and backpacking can be as foreign to some as going out into the African bush. For the majority of those who aspire to thru hike, they have already been hiking for a while and have experienced what that takes. However, summer backpackers can chose to hike at a time when the creeks are low and the snow is largely gone. The thru hiker can't avoid these trail dangers unless he/she leaves sufficiently late and hikes really fast to end before the snow flies in Canada. Therefore, it is critically important for the thru hiker to receive some kind of hands-on training or simple exposure to these two elements so that when they find themselves facing an icy, long, and steep snow field or a deep and rushing stream they will have the confidence and security of having been trained in dealing with them. The mountains is no place to learn something you've never done, especially when your life depends on it."
A thru hike is an adventure of a lifetime. It should be fun, worry-free, and as safe as possible. Not preparing nor practicing for it as much as you can only invites disaster. Get out on the trail and practice what you need to know and do. Only then will you be as safe as possible and have the confidence and security for it to be fun and worry-free. You can reach Ned at firstname.lastname@example.org for advise or training.
Snow Considerations - Ned Tibbits
It has been our experience in teaching snow camping and travel to summer hikers and, especially, thru hikers, that the concept of unstable terrain, notably soft or icy snow or a pack that is ready to slide, is foreign to them.
Take a dry-trail hiker or the thru who is cranking out the miles. They are used to the normal, dry, 18-24" footbed where their only concerns are rocks, roots, mud, and sand (of course there are more, but what they're worried about is predictable foot stability). They are not used to thinking about what's under their feet or the conditions that may exist even 2-8 feet down below dirt level. It is, simply, that lack of knowledge and practice that gets them into trouble.
Snow travelers need to be aware of the conditions the snow may present and know what they look like before they hit the snow.
Snow Types - Ned Tibbits
New Snow The issue here is the major effort it takes to wade through it. If you have a ways to go, you may fatigue quickly. Second, the air is usually colder so use gloves. Third, the snow will stick to you and it is highly likely you will get wet. Carry and use gaitors. You don't want to deal with either frostbite or hypothermia. Fourth, if there was more than a foot of the new stuff and you are on a 20-40 degree slope, you need to think about avalanche possibilities, especially if the snow layer under the new is hard or icy allowing the weight of the new to slide. Fifth, stay away from tree trunks, buried trees, logs, and rocks as they can catch or twist your foot and you can fall into voids. You also have to look up! Beware of snow falling off branches above ("idiot-makers").
Crusty Snow The concern here is the false security you get because you may be able to walk on it depending on the thickness and strength of the crust, your weight, and the temperature of the surface (time of day). If the crust is thick and hard after many days of melting and freezing, walking on it is a breeze in the morning and you can make a few miles before the sun warms it and you start sinking, then "post-holing." While the surface is still hard it may be slippery. This is when you might consider traction devices as aids.
Surface Ice This stuff isn't as obvious as you'd think. Here are the keys: Watch for changes in the surface conditions ahead. If you suspect hard or icy surfaces, go around, walk slowly and carefully, or use your traction device and have your axe at the ready-not on the back of your pack. I repeat, if you suspect slippery conditions and you are on a slope, stop, get your axe out, test the surface ahead, then proceed with caution. Depending on the time of day and the exposure to the sun, ice isn't always in the shade.
Post-holing This is when your legs or leg suddenly breaks through the crust and plummets with you attached into the softer snow below. You may post-hole up to your groin. The action usually causes you to lurch forward or sideways and since you are top heavy, you may suffer a "head- plant," causing further injury or laughter. After even a short while of this unpredictable struggle with flailing and cursing, can get you seriously fatigued and cut up (remember, ice at the top of the hole). The most dangerous situations of this are near creeks and on descents. When you hear water running beneath the snow, test it with your pole ahead to see if the snow is thick and strong enough to walk over, lest you fall into the creek. The same goes for slippery drops into and climbs out of creek beds-a simple post-hole could send you into the drink. Steep descents around mid-day in the sun can be hazardous, as well. Because of the risk of avalanches, you do not want to set off a slab by traversing across the snow field since doing so creates the fault line that triggers it. So, if you sense the conditions are right for this, you will want to descend straight down (the same reason for going straight up). The post-holing danger, here, is when you step forward and down a foot or two, you may have sufficient force to break through the crust and post with every step. What happens, now, is your leg is stuck in the snow at the knee, say, while your body is bending at the waist and headed downhill! If your leg comes out of the post, you better have your axe ready to stop your slide and if your leg doesn't, it could get seriously hurt. Know the conditions of the snow pack you are walking on to minimize trouble. Recognize what they look like before you proceed. Practice!
Ice axe, self arrest & traction devices - Ned Tibbits
Ice Axes and such devices Carrying an axe is no good if you haven't practiced with it. It is a tool that can save your life if you know how to use it. Yes, you can learn once you get there, but do it before you need it. The most important thing is to recognize when you'll need it so it will be in your hand before you slip. Watch the conditions ahead. Make good foot platforms and test them before you put all your weight on them. On ascents, use the axe shaft as an anchor uphill to pull yourself up or on the traverse in the uphill hand sunk in the same manner and for the same reason. Now, to axe or not to axe? Black Diamond makes a superb pole/axe combination that works great for hikers. When walking on snow in boots it is imperative that you maintain your balance at all times, thus the need for a pole with a sufficient-sized snow basket. In your other hand can be the Black Diamond "Whippet." This solves the problem of the axe not deployed when needed as the Whippet is always at the ready.
The ice axe lanyard is designed to slide down the shaft of the axe so you can have your hand wound through it, thus attached to the axe, yet still be able to hold the point end to chop footholds and, if you should lose control of the axe head while self-arresting, you'll still have it tethered to you to try and arrest again-if you can because the thing is flying around.
If the lanyard is first inserted through the hole in the head, prior to your putting your hand through it, twisting it, and grabbing hold of the head, then, if you lose control, your hand will only be inches away from regaining its position on the axe head.
Traction Devices Crampons are entirely foreign to summer hikers and can cause major injuries if not practiced with. It is our belief that the thru hiker will do just fine in a lug-soled boot without any traction device assist if they simply time their day to correspond with surface snow conditions that will allow a little "sink." Time your climbs accordingly. Go straight up. Do south-facing ascents in the morning sun; don't do south-facing descents in the afternoon. We do not trust any traction device, when used on a traversing slope, that isn't rigidly mounted onto the boot or could roll under your shoe. They may work great on the flat, but put your pack on and check them out on a 30 degree slope before you trust your life to them! Screws in trail runners we have no experience with, but, then, we don't trust runners on ice, thus use boots.
Creek Crossings - Ned Tibbits
The question has come up regarding how to cross creeks safely and, in this case, minimize the "wet feet" time afterward.
Creek Crossing Principles:
Safety is your primary concern. Route & Technique:
General Navigation - Brian Lewis
See the Maps and Guides section for trail maps to use.
Hiking the PCT will require a map. While it's possible to walk many miles on the PCT and follow the trail without problem, at some point such a strategy could leave you lost or confused, and the consequences could range from annoyance to outright fatality. While hiking the PCT isn't a particularly dangerous activity in and of itself, carrying map & compass and learning to use them effectively is arguably the most important thing you can do to reduce what risk there is.
To learn to navigate consider local classes from, for example, an REI store, a local community college, a local outdoor organization. You could contact your local Search & Rescue organization and ask if they're aware of local classes. There's no substitute for actually *doing it*, and not just reading about it. If there are no reasonable local class options, then do "read about it" and then practice it. Walk on some well marked trails and refer often to your map, use your compass to orient your map to the terrain, learn through observation how the actual landform relates to what the map shows.
If you're forced to read about it and then practice on your own, where can you do that? Books from your local library are one option. Search your library for terms like "Orienteering" or "Land Navigation" or just "Map and Compass". There's instructional information available on the internet as well, such as (with no particular recommendation to any one source):
When learning to navigate you'll learn about Magnetic North and True North. Magnetic north is what the compass needle points to. True north points directly at the north pole. The difference is called the Magnetic Declination and this varies depending on where you are. For the PCT, it's measurable, but not huge. If you're just trying to roughly orient your map, you don't need to worry a great deal, but if you seek to shoot an accurate azimuth or triangulate to attempt to fix your position, you should adjust for magnetic declination.
Selecting a compass depends on your needs. Many feel that just being able to roughly orient your map to the north is sufficient. Others point out that in places such as the High Sierras, it can be important to be able to shoot accurate azimuths and triangulate your position if you're trying to decide which of multiple alternatives is the pass you seek. In the former case, almost any compass will do, so long as the needle can move freely. In the latter case, you'll want a compass with more features, to include a rotating bezel ring. Note, however, that even fairly inexpensive compasses can include a rotating bezel. For one example of how to use this, see here.
Another factor in selecting a compass is how and where you'll carry it. Many compasses can be carried on a cord around your neck --- the point being that it's readily available when you need it. Or you can just put it in an external pocket or pouch. It's also possible to buy a compass mounted on a watch band, and some electronic watches include a built-in compass.
Note: as a safety measure, it's recommended that you learn how to determine rough direction from the stars or from the sun.
Knowing your elevation can be useful for navigation and particularly when the terrain you're navigating has a lot of elevation change (ups and downs). Some hikers carry an altimeter, and in more recent years this is often incorporated into an electronic watch (altimeter watch). If you periodically recalibrate the altimeter --- meaning to set the current altitude at known elevation locations --- you can sometimes find the altimeter is more useful than the compass, particularly when you're under tree cover and thus don't have long sight lines and clear terrain features to orient by. As with other aspects of navigating in the back country, an altimeter can be more or less useful depending on how much practice and experience you have.
Note that few hikers would suggest that an altimeter alone is sufficient, partly because it's no substitute for being able to orient to the north, and partly because it's an electronic device more subject (than a simple compass) to loss of functionality due to damage or loss of battery power.
Abdication to another is not a substitution for navigation skills. Knowing how to navigate is a must. It's too easy, and too common to get separated from companions, even in just normal human dynamics, not to mention special situations including white out (snow), injury, or other type of emergency.
How to get lost
Snow - It can cover an extensive portion of the trail, and sometimes you can't tell when the trail turns under the snow and you keep going straight. The result is that when you get off the snow, you can't find the trail. Pay close attention to potential turns, switchbacks, and trail junctions. As a rule of thumb, if there are many many footprints digging a substantial trail in the snow, there's a good chance it's going where you want to, but you can't absolutely rely on this. The footprints could be going on a spur trail to a trailhead or off on some other trail, or they might just represent other people lost in the snow and making their best guess!
Close to "civilization" - the closer you get to any population density and roads, the more there seem to be other trails crossing the PCT. Some of these are poorly signed or unsigned. Generally speaking the PCT is some of the best quality and most broad and easy to follow trail there is, but this isn't always the case. Even where there are signs, sometimes you'll find the signs are from a local perspective, listing local destinations that might not show up in your guidebook material or on you map. The more time you spend on the PCT, the better your intuition will become as to what is PCT and what is not.
Roads - The PCT crosses many roads and in some cases goes along a forest service or other local road for a stretch, and you have to find where it leaves the road again later on. As always, good and up-to-date guidebook information can help there; Yogi's book (http://www.pcthandbook.com/) gives some notes on this stuff.
Hard rock - In the Sierras and some other places, you'll occasionally find yourself walking on rock, sometimes just smooth rock, sometimes in a large dry river bed or otherwise on rougher rock terrain, where no trail is obvious. The normal navigational aid on the trail is a cairn, a pile of rocks, sometimes with a pole sticking up. Cairns can be degraded or just destroyed or even vandalized, or you simply might fail to see a rock-colored cairn against a backdrop of similar looking rock.
Not paying attention - It can be easy to fall into a sort of "cruising along and not thinking" mode on the PCT, where you simply miss clear navigational markers.
Navigation on the PCT - Ned Tibbits
Navigation is a skill, an ability you practice whereby you attempt to transfer information on paper to the real world in front of you in order to travel through it without getting lost.
The greatest aid you have is your own mind.
Here are some items to consider taking with you: Trail Guide Books, Off-Trail Resource Descriptions, Topo Maps, and USFS Maps. For hardware, a GPS, a communication device (cell phone, Ham radio, compass, signaling aids, whistle, etc..
Reliance on these Aids:
Back to your mind. During your planning stages, ingest the route every way you can, by topo map, trail guides, personal stories, discussions on the PCT-L, this FAQ, powerpoint presentations, etc., to the point that you can "see" the trail in your mind. By this I mean, you know where the trail goes so well that you can anticipate what's ahead. When you plan your daily mileage, you have to consider the difficulties you're going to walk through. In general, plan on low mileage days for rough terrain and vice versa. As you walk that route, you'll already have in your head what and where those difficulties will be-you'll know the terrain. So, if the trail goes up when it should go down, if there should be a creek ahead and you don't come across it, if you should be following a creek in the afternoon and you find yourself on a dirt road, you'll know in your head where you are and are not and can quickly change course before becoming further displaced.
You can have all the right gear, food, and enthusiasm, and not have a clue where to go or what to do when you suddenly find yourself out of place. Enroll in a course that will teach you how to use your aids. Go on a guided trip where you are shown what to do and not to do. Apply your knowledge before your pct expedition so that you will have the skills to know how to react when a decision has to be made. Take many test run trips during planning with your own gear to see if anything needs to be changed.
Do not rely on electronic devices as your aids. They can get lost, be borrowed, left on a rock, freeze, fall in the stream, or simply get broken. Do not rely on other people to be your guides-they're not always around when you need them. Besides, you're not out in the mountains to deal with this kind of stress. Once the trail is in your head and you know what to anticipate ahead, this kind of worry disappears and you can enjoy the scenery. Paper maps tend to not get lost. A basic compass is good to have along (but you'll rarely need it). Forest Service maps have all the current logging roads and their numbers so you don't get on the wrong one or can select the right one to leave the trail.
A Typical Day:
In the evening prior, while your dinner is cooking, look over the route ahead, notice where the trail bends, the creeks are, where you leave tree line, what street to follow to get out of town, the shape of the lakes, the relationship between the trail junctions, how they intersect and at what angles, and the topography (in the middle of the meadow, on a climbing traverse, above the low point of the pass, etc.). What you're going to see ahead and do tomorrow is going to be incredibly rewarding and another day you'll never forget, especially if you're ready for it! Now, review what the Guide Book says about it, how many miles between junctions, how bad the trail tread is going to be, where the good views are, where the water sources can be found, types of trees, animals, and rocks are in that area. If you plan on leaving the trail, read up on the trailhead, the road to town, resources there, and how to get back so you'll know what to anticipate before you get there.
In the morning review what you intend to do and go enjoy! If you are with other people, discuss where you'll meet again for lunch, for the next break, to go fishing, for the good pictures, to stop for the day, so that everyone knows what to expect and the day goes smoothly. As you hike along, remember what the guide book said and look for it, the creek crossing, the lava flow, the logging road, the big climb, the 5-way trail junction. Constantly keep in mind which way you are facing, north, west, etc.. That way when you see in your mind's eye that the trail leaves the lake on the east side or that the trail follows a valley that runs east then north according to the map, you'll be able to mentally compare to what you see and know if you're headed the right way. ( The big clue is: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and at noon it is due south of you in the northern hemisphere). When you get those clear views ahead, mentally (or visually with a map) verify that you are in the right place, on the right ridge, on the right side of the lake, that the meadow is the right shape, or that the mountain and valley are where they should be. This is navigation. This is, also, knowing your trail and enjoying your surroundings in a practical way.
Navigation on Snow: Visual Route Referencing
Having understood the above and taken the time to practice it, not seeing the trail because of snow is nothing to worry about. (Just because you can't see the trail or may not even know exactly where it is, doesn't mean you're lost as long as you're where you need to be in a geographic sense).
The keys here are the topography and your orientation to it at all times.
In the morning, review your route. The book and map tell you that the trail leaves the north end of the meadow and heads north, uphill in a little valley along the right side of a creek until the valley tops out at a little wooded pass with a clearing in it. At the pass the trail turns left and descends into another valley on a steep traverse to a large creek which you will have to ford. The rest of the day will be spent climbing up to a big pass above a broad glacial valley.
As you go about your day, this is what you'll need to watch for:
When you start out, verify which end of the meadow is north; confirm by the shape of the treed border to the meadow. Can you see the "uphill little valley" you need to climb? As you head into the creek valley, locate the landmarks, the creek, the peaks along the way, the pass at the end. Though the trail stays to the right side of the creek, it isn't necessary to do the same-as long as you know where the next landmark is, say the pass. This is Visual Route Referencing. If you have to cross the creek, make sure the snow bridge is thick enough, the rocks aren't slippery, or the log is sturdy enough. If you have to wade, stay as dry as possible, have good footing (see "creek crossing" above), dry off immediately, and get going to stay warm.
When you get to the top of the valley and find yourself on a ridge, look for the clearing. Doesn't matter whether the trail is found in it or not, just that you know where the clearing is and where to go from there. You are looking down into another creek valley with a huge, broad, glaciated valley on the other side heading away from you. Your destination is the base of the pass at the end of the glacial valley. You can see where you're going to go. The route ducks back onto the trees, turns left and descends to the creek you can hear already. Simple. Descend in the snow steeply after turning left and heading into the trees and out of visual reference of the glacial valley (but remember where it is!). Beware of tree wells, buried obstacles, and post-holing on the steep drop. Traverse far enough to the left while dropping so as to bisect the creek approximately where the trail does, though not necessary. Ford the creek, dry off, and begin the afternoon's ascent up the valley.
Spot the new peaks to your right and left to verify that you are heading into the right valley. As you climb, look for other landmarks that might show through the snow like bends in the creek, the shape of open meadows, short, steep climbs that are noticed from the topo map, and lakes along the way. Before you know it, you'll be camped at the base of tomorrow morning's climb and settling in for dinner!
Once again, it doesn't matter whether you're following the trail or right on top of it. What does matter is that you're near it, know where it is, and are heading the right way based on visual landmarks, topographic features, and guide book descriptions of what you're going to see.
Navigation is more about knowing where you are and which way to go based on spacial awareness than having the right tools to figure it out. When you are paying attention to your surroundings to know where you're going, the benefit is that you're also enjoying all the beauty, sights, sounds, and smells that is called Wilderness.
When determining the cost of your trip, you have to decide what to include in that cost. Does it include rent or mortgage? Maybe a car payment? Lost wages? What about the cost of your hiking gear? Consider all those bills you pay each month and put those costs right up front.
Once you've done that, the general rule for a thru-hike is $1.50 dollar per mile or about $4,000. That covers food, motels, mailings, restaurant binges and normal activities associated with a hike. That's quite a comfortable figure actually and you can do it for less.
If you carry your ATM card and/or credit card and maintain about $200 cash on hand, you'll be financially prepared for any monetary obstacles the trail may throw at you.
Much has been written on the subject and it won't be duplicated here. Consider it an introduction. The concept is this, "Why carry 60 lbs of gear when you can get the same results with 15 lbs?" Most long distance hikers practice this every season, comfortably and safely. Now, don't confuse 3 season hiking with mountaineering, very different gear and skills required.
Take your basic pack for instance, why carry a pack that weighs 4 lbs empty when you can have the same functionality with a 1 lb pack? The same goes for shelters, a 3.5 lb single person tent of a 1 lb tarp tent? Sleeping bag you say? How about a 15 degree down bag at 2 lbs?
Learn as much as you can about this approach before you rush out and buy gear.
Website dedicated to the topic:
Here are some sample gear lists:
Sample Gear Lists
Leave No Trace (LNT) and Trail etiquette
LNT is about keeping outdoor enthusiasts aware of their impact. The basic principles to consider are: Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors.
Visit LNT.org for a comprehensive explanation of "Leave No Trace":
Of course we "share the trail" with many other folks. So it's only common coutesy to act in a manner that is in
everyones best interest. Here's a list you may want to use as a guide while out on the trail:
Wilderness Experience - Ned Tibbits
Is a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail becoming less of a wilderness experience?
First, my definition:
A "wilderness moment" along the pct is an amount of time spent there in the absence of man. As a solo hiker, it can be overwhelming, the silence, the smells, the different textures of rock, bark, soil, and water, all the open air all around you. You don't have to be sitting beside the proverbial stream to feel it, either, as, I would hope, many a thru hiker will tell you, the pct "experience" is the life one lives daily absorbing these moments as they are noticed and felt. The more signs of man, the less input of what is natural, wild, and raw. These moments can occur whenever you step away from the group you are in, as well. However, it is my opinion that you experience, notice, hear, smell, feel, less of the environment you travel through as the group you travel in gets bigger. Thus, the solo hiker has the more intense, intimate relationship with his or her environment than those in groups, on the whole. The "wilderness experience" is one of sensory heightening over time; the more time you spend in it, the more of society wears away, the more of the natural rhythms and ways of the wilderness become a part of you. Thus the "recompression" we feel when we return to society after a 3 to 6-month pct hike.
You have a choice:
If you want to learn of the wilderness, live it, absorb all it has to offer, the solo hike maximizes that experience. To achieve this with the greater number of people hiking the trail, you may have to start early or late or go south-bound.
If you want a little mountains and a little human camaraderie, then hike with your friends-doesn't mean you're always together. One of the joys of the trail is that you can easily have both by simply hiking and/or sleeping apart from time to time. It is so much fun to share what you just saw or realized with someone you get along with. Whether that sharing is done immediately or over meals or at the end of the day is up to you. If this is what you want our of your trail life, then travel this way.
If you desire to experience the wilderness from a group setting with all of its constant interaction and relationship, then you can by choosing the group once you hit the trail and head north (or, of course, bring it with you). If you start in Canada and head south, as there are fewer people doing this, your experience may become more of an intimate one. If you are hiking the pacific crest trail to have a good time with new friends while trucking through the wilderness, then stay in the herd-as many will tell you, there are lots of hikers in close proximity to each other, so if you don't like the group you're in, wait a little while until the next one catches up.
So, hiking the pct can be a true wilderness experience with all its new life, ways, and revelations and it can be quite a social trip depending on your timing (and various shades in between!) and why you are out there in the first place.
41% of the first 500 miles of the southern PCT has burned between 2000-2012!
It's a sad reality that more than a couple major fires have been started by careless thru-hikers over the years. The importance of fire safety cannot be over stressed. A few notable fires:
Southern California deserts are extremely dry even under normal circumstances. The PCT stays away from most real desert, but much of the area is arid and extremely prone to fire with abundant fuel sources at hand. If you're from an area that is naturally green it's very important to understand this. It doesn't take much to start a uncontrollable fire.
Think before you light your stove. Is this a safe area? Are any flammable materials within 20 feet? How is the wind going to contribute? Is there an existing fire ring or fire pit to cook in? Never cook on picnic tables or logs or pine needle duff! Everybody loves a campfire, but if it's not an emergency campfire do everyone a favor and don't have one.
Fire season is a year round event these days in Southern California. Not only do you need to be cautious you need to be aware if any fire restrictions or closures exist in the area. You should also be carrying a fire permit.
Desert Hiking - Ellen Shopes
Critters: Most poisonous desert dwellers are nocturnal during hot spells. They crawl under rocks, bushes, etc during the heat of day (so always look before you place your hand or more sensitive parts somewhere). During cold spells, you may see them out warming themselves on warm surfaces.
Rattlesnakes: Leave them alone. They know you are not edible, and will rattle to warn you before they strike (if they have a chance). Most people who have been bitten have been harassing them in some way. At least a quarter of the time, if you do get bitten, you will not get envenomated. The only sure-fire cure if you do receive venom is medical care. Other first aid ideas: constricting band; immobilized the affected part; extraction devices or cut and suck (generally not thought to be helpful anymore, and may cause harm).
Scorpions: Check your shoes and pack straps, etc, before you put them on in the morning; at dawn, they look for shaded places to bed down. Generally won't cause serious damage if stung, although some people can have allergic reactions. Applying ice or cool compresses can help with the pain. I and others I know have been stung with no problems.
Plants: They all have thorns, barbs or other nasties. Bring tweezers for extraction.
Hiking in the Heat:
Try hiking at night, especially with a moon. Hike early and late in the day. This means starting before dawn. Once desert temps start really warming up in May, it will feel uncomfortably hot hiking between 11am and 4pm. Wear a sun hat, sun glasses, and loose, light-colored clothing. Sunglasses are a necessity. The higher the SPF protection, the better. Sun screen lip protection is great, and can be applied to your nose, too.
Water should be the heaviest thing in your pack. Studies have shown that you can lose about a liter of water per hour during exercise in the heat. The more you acclimate to the heat, the more you sweat. Your body does not acclimate by conserving water, it acclimates by sweating and cooling you more! Although it feels good to use your water to wet down clothing, your water is most effective if you drink it. Your sense of thirst is a poor indicator (by the time you feel thirsty, you are significantly dehydrated). In the desert, you don't notice your sweat losses because the low humidity keeps you fairly dry. Follow the posted water reports and don't rely on trail angel-supplied caches; you could be betting your life on them! You are probably drinking enough if you are peeing yellow-tinged urine regularly. Signs of heat exhaustion (dehydration) include: headache, nausea, diarrhea.
Hyponatremia (low salt levels) occurs because you lose salt as you sweat. These losses can be made up by including more salty foods in your diet, or by a commercially made sports drink. If you use a sports drink, try it out ahead of time to make sure it's palatable warm. Many people find they need to dilute the sports drink down to make it drinkable. Signs of excessive salt loss: muscle cramps, nausea, profuse clear urine, abnormal behavior (bizarre, disoriented thoughts/actions).
Heat stroke is a life threatening failure of the body to thermoregulate. An individual will have a very high temperature (108 or more). Signs include confused behavior, unconsciousness, seizures. The only treatment is to cool the person rapidly (immerse in water, provide shade, fan the individual). Out in the desert, without help, cooling will be difficult to impossible. Better to prevent this by staying hydrated and not hiking during the hottest part of the day!
Water in the desert is a precious commodity. When you come to a water source, don't pollute it! This means you do not wash yourself, your dishes, your clothes, etc. in it, even if you don't use soap! If you must wash, take a pot-full of water away from the source. Hygiene is difficult when water is unavailable. Try using wet wipes for a PTA bath. Brush your teeth without toothpaste (to save rinse water); if you need an abrasive, try baking soda. Baking soda can also add salt to your diet.
Some water sources are short-lived, shallow, colored (by minerals), or algae-laden. For some, a water pump is helpful to get water from a shallow source. Some people pre-filter their water to remove large crud (a bandana, coffee filter, etc.). Even muddy, stagnant water is drinkable if you treat it!
Temperature. Because of the low humidity, temperatures fluctuate widely during a 24 hour period. At night, lows can get down to freezing, then warm up 50 degrees in the light of day. Be prepared with layered clothing.
Your general goal is this: "Leave Mexico after the weather stops and reach Canada before it starts." You'll consider several factors when choosing a start date. A college student may wait till classes are out or you may have commitments to your employer. Besides the obvious scheduling constraints, regardless if your're heading north or south, the single biggest question is: "How much snow/bad weather am I prepared to deal with?"
Generally speaking, winter weather begins to subside early April and it begins again in earnest mid-October. Of course severe weather can be experienced at any time. That is your 3 season hiking window for the PCT.
The general rule is: the earlier you leave the more of both you have to deal with (initially). Most northbound hikers leave near the end of April planning on entering the Sierra's near mid-June. In a normal snow year they depart with the expectation they'll deal will some snow at locations such as Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. Baden-Powell as well as the higher segments (passes) of the Sierra's during June. You must ask yourself if you are equipped and have the skill to negotiate the snow in mountainous terrain. For spring time conditions it's rather straight-forward.
Being that most folks leave near the end of April you will find many hikers headed north with you. Starting with a group provides a sense of security and is a real confidence builder. You also have the company of others on those long, long days. Friendships forged on the trail can last a lifetime.
On the other hand, this grouping can be intrusive on the trail. You may find crowds in trail towns competing for the same services such as motel rooms, resupplies, etc. The most reliable method to avoid this crowding is leaving earlier or later.
PCT Postholer for current snow/weather conditions:
First, if you're going to argue about carrying a gun, argue about what is a better color, red or blue. Carrying a gun is an individual choice. Check local regulations for any restrictions.
Some folks feel that extra sense of security, real or perceived, carrying a gun on the trail. It's the topic of many flame wars and intense argument. It is simply an individual choice regardless of opinion.
A less obvious reason for packing heat is the protection of stock animals or the need to euthanize a badly injured stock animal. You haven't lived until you've passed the rotting corpse of a horse on the trail.
As an astute lightweight hiker you have to ask the question, "What serves me better, the extra weight of a gun or the extra weight of cookies?"
Dogs on the Trail - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
People get really worked up about dogs and have some excellent reasons for not wanting them on the PCT. Most of them have to do with the behavior of the owners or the dog (which really means the owner) but there are lots of people with dogs who are good owners and whose dogs are well-behaved, many of them better than some hikers.
Another reason people give for not wanting dogs on the PCT is that they don't do very well. Every year there are complaints about people with dogs who have damaged paws or are so overworked, they can barely walk.
These are the two major concerns for dogs on the PCT and both are valid. If you choose to long distance hike with your dog, be sure to know your dog's limitations and be prepared to get off the trail immediately if s/he is distressed. When you hike with a dog, you must put your dog's well-being first. They can't talk to tell you when something is wrong and even if they could, most of them are so loyal they would walk through hell for you.
Having addressed these obvious problems, there are people who take their dogs and hike successfully and caringly with them.
Here are a few tips for hiking with a dog, keeping in mind that size, type and age will affect all these factors and have to be weighed for each dog. The assumptions are for long distance hiking of twenty miles or more a day over a week or more time period.
Food - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
Dogs like humans will work into their long distance hike. Initially, they need 25-50% more food than their usual intake, but after two to three weeks on the trail will probably need 100% more food.
Water - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
Some dogs naturally drink a lot of water and some don't. In addition, temperature has a big affect on their need for water. Unfortunately, when it is hottest is when it is least available so in long, hot, dry sections you will need to carry a lot of water for your dog even if they normally carry their own.
Heat - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
Heat is very stressful to any dog. In desert areas the ground can be so hot that a person cannot walk on it barefoot, consider what this does to your dog's paws. Their feet will rapidly develop blisters that burst if not tended, then you risk infection etc. Shoes can help but they exacerbate another problem - dogs lose heat through their paws and if they are covered, this process is more difficult.
Consider hiking with your dog during cooler times of the year through hot parts of the trail. The desert can be very beautiful in early spring and your dog has a much better chance of success.
Snow and Cold - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
Some dogs have problems with snow getting stuck in their paws or they suffer from the cold. Many dogs are at their best in the cold and snow and actually revel in it. If your dog is prone to cold, make sure you keep him warm enough (bring a coat, let him sleep with you).
Foot care - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
Big dogs especially are almost guaranteed to have problems with their paws initially. It takes a while for them to get toughened up. If you get this bit right, chances are that your dog will have a great experience on the trail. Use some kind of cream (bag balm, paw wax or other paw cream) and apply every night liberally to each paw. There will come a time when the dog doesn't need it any more but some dogs enjoy the "doggy spa" so why stop?
Shoes - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
In addition, especially for big dogs, shoes are good to have for situations when you have to cover hot ground, granite or any other rough conditions that your dog is not used to. The best dog shoes have real soles (like tennis shoes). For example, Rufffwear makes shoes with vibram soles. Shoes should not be left on the paws for too long, doggy feet swell and get blisters too. They work best if you alternate the dog wearing them for 1-2 hours, then 1-2 hours off. Again, when you have hiked a few hundred miles, if your dog is doing well, you will find that he won't need them so much any more. One more thing, most dogs do not like shoes - it is best to introduce them young and/or intermittently for brief periods before your hike so they get used to them.
Achy Bones - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
An appropriate dose of aspirin at the end of a long day can help a dog with achy bones. Check with your vet or a dog first aid book as to the appropriate dosage.
Packs - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
Dogs like to work. Don't be afraid to give your dog a pack to carry (he can see you carry one and he is part of the "pack"). It is said that they can carry up to 15% of their body weight. That is too much for a long distance hike. Up to 10% is plenty for most dogs and they may have to work up to it. You will probably have to carry some of your dog's food if you have a lot of distance between resupply places. In addition, if the dog has any trouble with his paws, the pack should be removed immediately. If you don't do this, the situation will only deteriorate.
Control - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
Even if your dog is a "good" non-aggressive dog, be sure to have your dog under control at all times. After a while in the wilderness, dogs revert to nature and they tend to become more protective of their "pack". This means some friendly, unwitting stranger can be seen as a potential threat to your dog and before you know it, your nice friendly dog is charging or barking at the stranger coming down the trail. This can be terrifying to even the most ardent dog lover. Keep your dog under control and don't make any assumptions about his behavior around other hikers.
Bears - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
You will not find a better bear detractor any where than a dog. Although face to face, a bear is big and strong enough to kill a dog, they generally don't want to bother with them.
Benefits - Jo Pegrum Hazelett
If your dog is one of those who does well on the trail (and you probably won't know for sure until you try), then you will not find a happier, better companion anywhere. And they love it, all of it, the smells, the walking, the companionship of the pack, the guarding and just being with you.
So hike your dog's hike and enjoy!
Poisonous Plants and Critters
Rarely do you hear of hikers having any life threatening experiences with the plants and critters found along the PCT. It is wise to be aware of what you might encounter, though.
Poison Oak is by far the most common poisonous plant you should watch for, it will be found all along the trail. This plant has 3 leaves joined to a common stem with an oak shaped leaf. The leaf is green, but turns red in the fall. It will often be very shiny. The plant may have small white berries. On the leaves is an oil that upon contact will cause a form of dermatitis. It will appear as tiny blisters or rash and is very itchy. Symptoms usually do not occur until 1-3 days after exposure. The severity of the reaction seems to vary from person to person. It is quite uncomfortable. The most severe cases will require a doctors care. It is very similar to poison ivy.
If you suspect you have come in contact with poison oak, flush your skin with lots of water or use poison oak cream. When hiking through areas of poison oak, be careful not to touch your hiking poles or clothing that may have been exposed. When crossing a creek, give your poles a good rinse occasionally. Beware of dogs that may be running through poison oak areas; you don't want to give that dog a big hug!
Remember, "Leaves of three, let it be."
Poodle Dog Bush is found primarily in the southern sections of the PCT in recovering burn areas. It has a pinkish-purpleish-whiteish flower with long, narrow leaves, long vertical stems and is kind of bushy. It's by no means as common as posion oak, but it is also capable of causing an extreme dermatitis.
Cactus along the PCT is not poisinous, but it's certainly threatening. Coming in contact with it will definitely cause discomfort. Lots 'o cactus will be found along the southern PCT so be aware.
Rattlesnakes are quite common and very, very rarely does anyone get bit. Fortunately, they want absolutely nothing to do with you. You are threat to them. When you hear that familiar rattle, that is the snakes way of saying, "stay away". Snakes will not slither into your sleeping bag at night. Pay special attention when walking through grass that obscures the trail, as to not step on one; a sure way of getting bit. Even on clear trail you might find yourself dodging a snake at the last minute. "You just walked over a snake" is not something you want to hear from your hiking partner, but it gets said occasionally. Do not reach into bushes or rocks, another good way of getting bit.
If you are a victim of a rattlesnake swelling or discoloration will indicate venom. Seek medical attention immediately, especially children. DO NOT use a snake bite kit and make incisions with a razor and try to remove the venom. No torniquets. Remove restrictive clothing, jewelry, etc. Keep bite below the heart. Use no ice. Seek medical attention immediately.
Rod Belshee cites this interesting paper and points to the key findings: most snake bites are provoked (especially by young males and alcohol is often a factor); dry bites without envenomation are rare; death or long-term disability is extremely rare; the popular belief that small snakes inject more venom is a myth; where you get bit is not a big deal (e.g. arm vs. ankle), and the variation between rattlesnake species is not correlated to severity. Basic conclusions for PCT hikers: don't provoke snakes, give them their space; but if bit anyway do not panic, just get to medical care and you will be okay.
Scorpions are seen much less than snakes. They are out there. It's not unheard of to have a scorpion find its way under your sleeping pad. Ok, maybe that's a bit scary but it does happen from time to time. If by some remote chance you are stung by a scorpion, use the same common sense as with a snake bite, seek medical attention.
Someone on the PCT-L once said of mosquitos, "Quantity has a quality of its own." That is so true. You will find mosquitos all along the PCT. Each state has its own notoriously famous enclave such as, Yosemite, 3 Sisters Wilderness and Goat Rocks Wilderness. The bad news is you are the main course.
You have 2 methods of dealing with mosquitos: chemicals and/or barrier. Repellants containing DEET are the most effective, particularly those that are 100% DEET. DEET acts on the nervous system of mosquitos and this make some people skittish of its use.
Your second choice is clothing. Whether you use DEET or not, you must carry clothing to protect yourself as well. Relying solely on DEET can be suicide by voluntary anemia (poor humor). Carry items such as a headnet and breathable lightweight clothing that mosquitos can't penetrate. In the thickest of hordes the smallest exposed area will be violated. They'll penetrate socks as easily as bare skin. Capiliene? HA! An appetizer! Motion is an excellent deterrent, but sometimes not enough.
When choosing a shelter you must consider mosquitos. A tarp is a fine shelter, but useless against mosquitos. You'll need some sort of netting. Something that will enclose you while you sleep. Tents typically come with no-see'um netting. Whatever you choose it must work reliably night after night.
The good news is mosquitos are pollinators. Not much of a consolation while trying to eat lunch through your headnet.
Stoves and Cookware
Stoves are not measured equally. Several different criteria are considered: functionality, weight and boil time. You have to determine which best suits your needs. The 3 most popular stoves used by long distance hikers are covered. Those stoves are: canister stoves, pepsi/cat stoves (alcohol) and solid fuel (Esbit or Coghlans).
Canister stoves are typically the most functional. The on/off nature and the means to adjust the flame gives them that edge. Backcountry chefs will find the ability to 'simmer' ideal for that creative meal. They are also fast at boiling water. Many meals can be prepared from 1 canister. However, canister stoves tend to be heavier. For those concerned with weight this stove may not be your first choice.
A Pepsi stove is just that. It's made from a Pepsi can and is an extremely light stove. A cat stove is made from tuna cans or cat food cans, thus the name. Both of these stoves burn denatured alcohol and they are very efficient. Folks typically use 'Heet' as a source of fuel and it's available at most auto parts store. It's also available in many small trail towns because they know you're coming!
You'll typically use 1 oz of fuel per meal or about 8 minutes of burn time. Some will carry their fuel in a small soda bottle or the smaller size Heet bottle. Once you light this stove, you let it burn till it's out of fuel, so you need to get a feel for how much fuel for each use.
Warning: A major concern with this type of stove is safety. Huge fires have been started due to careless use. The fuel is highly flammable! It's an uncontained liquid making it easy to disperse in the wind over a wide area. NEVER use near brush or grass or in windy conditions! Another concern is availability. While you'll find fuel stocked in unusual places, they might not stock alot of it. You will meet people looking for a fuel source on the trail.
Solid fuel stoves such as Esbit are typcially the lightest stove you can find. Some folks make their own stoves which are even lighter. Others will use 3 tent stakes as a pot stand and place the fuel tab on a small stone. That is going light! A fuel tab will burn about 12 minutes which is plenty long enough to prepare a meal.
The major drawback of this stove is the fuel cost, about 50 cents per Esbit tab. 120 tabs would cover a thru-hike and would cost about $60. Heet would cost about $20 for a Pepsi stove. You can also use the cheaper Coghlans's tabs. The fumes from Coghlan's are toxic and they tend to leave excessive soot on your pot and stove which makes them less than popular.
Regardless of the stove you use you'll want to use a wind screen. Without a wind screen (or pot lid) your stove is almost useless. A piece of heavy duty aluminum foil folded 2 or 3 times is light and flexible. You want the top edge of the screen to fall just below the lip of the pot (notch it for the pot handle) with no more than a half inch gap between the screen and pot.
Of course you'll need a pot AND lid. You'll find 3 widely used varieties, titanium, teflon coated aluminum or something such as the KMart "Grease" pot. A 1.2 liter pot will hold 2 packages of Ramen or 2 packages of Liptons Noodles and Sauce or Mac and Cheese very nicely. The cost of these pots varies wildly, but function is about the same. So make it a personal choice!
Here's a few tips you might find useful. When cooking some type of noodles as mentioned above short the amount of water you use. For instance, if you're cooking 2 packages of Ramen and it calls for 4 cups of water, use 3+ cups. Don't wait for the water to boil to put the noodles in, put them in immediately and stir occasionally until it's a yummy, bubbling, caldron. Then add seasoning packets or tuna or whatever. Remember to use your wind screen and lid!
Cell Phone - Brian Lewis
Phone booths are still available in some trail towns, but are becoming less common over time; some people choose to bring a cell phone with them, or put one in their bounce box.
The consensus among thru-hikers (UNDONE: entry, and link to this term) is that AT&T and Verizon provide the best coverage on the PCT.
You should not expect to get a great deal of coverage, but in some places, perhaps most in Southern California, there are quite a lot of opportunities to connect. See Halfmile's list of known cell phone coverage points for specifics.
A cell phone can be a fairly simple device, or a smartphone (UNDONE: link) which embodies a phone as well as other functionality in a single device.
Some hikers are unhappy with cell phones in the back country due to (the lack of) etiquette on the part of some cell phone users. If you do carry a phone, please be sensitive so as to not degrade the wilderness experience of those around you.
GPS (Satellite locator) - Brian Lewis
Click here for general information on what GPS is and how it works.
There are two general approaches to using a GPS on the trail. One is to have paper maps that have a particular coordinate system typically in a grid superimposed on the maps. The GPS provides two sets of numbers (the UTM system is typically recommended, though longitude/latitude can also work). These numbers are used with the grid on the paper map to identify current position.
The other approach is to have the actual map displayed on the GPS device screen, with current location displayed. In this approach, most people would recommend that paper maps and a compass also be carried, and that the person be familiar with using those --- the idea being that essential functions like navigation not be reliant on an electronic device.
GPS devices have improved in recent years; one standard to consider is the SiRF Star III chipset as part of the specification of your GPS. SiRF Star III devices lock on to satellites faster and can lock on under tree canopy where older GPS units cannot.
GPS units offer other functionality as well, but by far the most common use by PCT thru- and section-hikers is just to obtain current location.
Should you bring a GPS on your PCT hike? There are differing opinions on this point. Most agree that a GPS shouldn't be used to substitute for map and compass, and some feel that it's best to keep things simple, less weight and complexity to deal with. Others find a GPS to be worth the weight in specific conditions, to include low visibility situations, poorly signed trail junctions, and cases where the trail itself is difficult to follow --- under snow or at river beds or on rock surfaces.
PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) - Brian Lewis
A personal locator beacon is a small, portable satellite transmitter designed to send emergency and sometimes other messages to friends or relatives. The idea is that you can send limited data to indicate whether you have an emergency situation or perhaps some other status report, along with your current location.
As of 2008 the most common PLB used by PCT hikers is the Spot unit. A PLB is distinct from a GPS; the former is for giving your location and perhaps other information to people at home, where the latter is for you to determine your current. A PLB receives information from as well as sends information to satellites, whereas a GPS only receives information.
Should you carry a PLB on your PCT hike? Some carry such a unit more to reassure loved ones at home; only you can determine whether it's worth the various costs (weight, money, time) for you to carry one. If you do carry one, please work carefully through expectations with those at home; the people at home likely don't see the trail and its risks in the same way that you do, and the potential for false emergency search & rescue situations is unfortunately high.
Audio Player - Brian Lewis
Many hikers carry an MP3 player on their trip, to listen to music, or audiobooks, or both.
The most popular players are relatively inexpensive, solid state (no hard disk) so as to better handle bumps and drops, is perhaps DRM compliant if the user is interested in audiobooks, and uses replaceable batteries, most commonly one or two standard AAA batteries or perhaps AA.
Some audio players provide other features, such as voice recording, and FM and/or AM radio.
It is suggested that the voice recording feature is only useful to a hiker if the audio player interface makes it quick and easy to enter voice recording mode; if it requires navigation of a menu on a small audio player screen, it's less likely that you would actually use it.
Radio reception --- without any sort of external antenna --- will be limited, particularly for the majority of the PCT which is remote from broadcasting sources.
Book Reader - Brian Lewis
Some hikers find it nice, or even important to carry one or more books on their hike. An electronic book reader allows access to dozens or even hundreds of books for the weight cost of just the one device. Like other electronic devices, of course, it requires electric power to operate, and depending on the particular device it could be difficult to read in bright sunlight.
The utility of a book reader is also affected by your hiking style. If you like to do just a few miles a day and spend a lot of relaxed time at breaks or in camp, then a book reader might be a great option for you. If your goal is to do as many miles as possible per day, however, and you spend relatively little time in camp, then you're likely to find your book reader only of value at longer breaks in trail towns, if then.
Note that a book reader can provide not only a variety of "read for pleasure" books, but also allows you the option of carrying one or more first aid reference, perhaps field guides to plants or animals, file-type converted documents on your hiking equipment (for example: "how do I set an alarm on my watch?) or about general hiking techniques, even lists of contact information --- almost anything you can render into the right digital format.
If you carry a more advanced cell phone (smart phone), you might be able to download free software to use that as a book reader, such as the mobipocket reader.
Voice Recorder - Brian Lewis
Some hikers find it handy to carry a voice recorder on the trail. If you keep a trail journal (UNDONE: FAQ link for this), it can be handy to record your impressions while on the move, rather than trying to remember things later in the day or even days after the events.
It can also be helpful to make notes about equipment or things you want to ask or tell people at home or general logistics issues while they're fresh in your mind.
Standalone voice recorders exist, both digital and analog, though the analog (tape player) versions could be a bit heavy and bulky for a long distance hiker to consider. It's also possible that you have a voice recorder built in to your cell phone (smart phone) or audio player.
Smart Phone - Brian Lewis
A smartphone is essentially a phone combined with a very small computer, and as such, it can offer a variety of functions to the hiker, acting as any or all of phone, camera, GPS, audio player, voice recorder, and/or book reader.
For a more complete treatment on smartphones, see Gadget's Guide to selecting a Smartphone for long distance hiking.
Other devices - Brian Lewis
There are a host of electronic devices that a thru- or section-hiker could consider bringing along on their trip, and the offerings are constantly changing. Some that don't fit neatly into the other categories include:
Powering your device(s) - Brian Lewis
If you carry any electronics on the trail, you'll need to somehow supply electric power to them. If your device uses a standard battery type, such as AA or AAA, then it's not difficult to obtain replacement batteries in any trail town, though some have concerns about the environmental impact of using a series of throw-away batteries. Rechargeable AA or AAA batteries can also be used, depending on the dynamics of your particular hike.
In many cases, however, you have no choice but to recharge your device, typically using a separate charging cord from wall current.
Some hikers carry solar chargers, such as the Solio unit. If you somehow attach such a unit on the top of your pack, it could serve you well, at least in California, depending on how power hungry your device(s) is or are.
There are also hand crank chargers, though limited feedback from people that have tried these suggest at least to some that these aren't a great option for other than emergency use, for example, if you really need to make a call and your cell phone is low on power.
There is even an option to use wind power, though current consensus seems to be that this isn't practical for a hiker on the move.
Whatever option(s) you select for charging your device(s), it's helpful to think through this aspect when selecting any device you plan to carry with you on the trail. Some hikers attempt to standardize if they carry more than one device, for example, both their camera and their GPS uses AA batteries, so they only have one battery type to carry. When you also factor in some sort of headlamp or other flashlight, possibly a cell phone --- this can get tricky. Ditto power cords, if you anticipate recharging in trail towns, though one option is to keep charging cords in a bounce box.
Rain, bad weather gear
Whether you anticipate rain or not you must carry some type of protection. Getting wet and cold may lead to hypothermia which is the leading cause of death among outdoor enthusiasts. Don't leave home without your rain gear.
Hardshell is the outer most layer that water cannot penetrate. This might be a full set of rain gear that includes pants and a jacket or it might be something simple like a poncho. When the wind is howling and it's raining sideways in buckets you'll want something to protect you.
Breathability is a big issue when selecting a hard shell. Perspiration collecting from light to moderate hiking can cause moisture to build up inside. Rain or not you still get wet and ultimately cold. Poncho's tend to be far more breathable than a rain suit but a bit unmanageable in strong winds.
Umbrella's are the ultimate in breathable rain gear if the rain is coming straight down with no wind. You'll hardly notice the change in weather.
Shelters whether a tent or tarp can be a great substitute for hiking in the rain. If the weather is rainy and gloomy and your have enough rations stay in your well ventilated tent and crack a book as an alternative to hiking in the rain, but never leave your rain gear at home.
Hiking vigorously when everything is soaked is an option if you don't have far to go. Maintaining your body heat is the key.
A Fire is your last line of defense when you and all of your gear is wet, your cold and far from shelter. Build a fire in a sheltered area and set up your shelter close but not too close to the fire and use the radiant heat to try and dry everything out. Hopefully, you won't find yourself in this position.
Sleeping bags, pads and quilts
How down bags work - Ned Tibbits
The premise of clothing is to capture body-radiated heat next to the skin and thereby keep us warm. The more air that can be held within the fibers (micro fibers), the greater the R-value, so to speak, of the garment. Thus, a down jacket, which, efficiently, can hold a lot of air heated by the body, has the potential of keeping you very warm-as long as the wind doesn't blow it out of the spaces held by the fine feathers. Therefore, the need, in a windy and cold environment, for a wind-proof outer covering over the down jacket. The thicker the garment (full of fine fibers), the more air it can hold, the better the insulator. Same with home insulation.
Now, a sleeping bag was designed to work the same way. Heat held still, as said, within the clothing, will keep you warm. But, when clothing is worn inside a sleeping bag, it prevents the heat from being held more efficiently within the down and you are warmer because of the multiple layers involved, not because you have the most efficient bag.
Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, Sierra Designs, and Marmot all sponsored me in one way or another over the years or taught me how to sell their clothing and the gist of the sleeping bag design was this:
The body radiates heat into the space between the skin and the down and eventually it is held by (or bonds onto) the fine fibers of the down quills. The down holds it undisturbed better than does the space between the skin and the down, thus, allowing the heat to be held in the down is more efficient. The closer the down can be to your skin, the less energy the body has to expend on heating the space between. A tight bag is more efficient, but don't plan on rolling around in it. Roll around with it! Movement does encourage or push heated air out of the bag, so the process of reheating begins all over again, roll after roll, all night long.
Here is where membranes come in which reduce cold air from blowing the heated air out and keep you from rolling the air out as well. They are marketed with many names, but they work wonderfully and greatly increase the rating and efficiency of the bag (price tag, too).
Hoods, draft collars, zipper draft barriers, foot boxes, half zippers, etc. all contribute to keeping the heat in and a more efficient bag.
The bigger and finer the feathers, the more heat can be held. The more the down is crushed, stuffed, stored stuffed, the less the feathers can expand and hold air. Uncertain about how dirt and body oils contribute to efficiency loss. With use, the feathers will crush and the bag will loft and hold heat less. They have a lifetime.
Store down as un-stuffed as possible. Hanging on a sleeping bag hanger, open under the bed, in a storage stuff sac (laundry bag as mentioned), for reasons above.
The only way to decide what kind of bag works best for you is to try out different types (down vs. synthetic), sizes (mummy, rectangular, quilt...), designs (slanted baffles, chevron slanted baffles, longitudinal baffles, quilts sewn-through, etc.), loft heights, and on and on.
For the most part, men create more heat than women. Therefore, we have always encouraged the ladies on our trips to choose down articles (parkas, booties, bags...) unless allergic, then go with the synthetic.
Most of all, Know Thyself. Only you can know what works best for you in the conditions you expect to encounter. To find that out, take numerous pre-trip weekend test hikes in all the worst weather and terrain. Just because it seems that most folks do the pct in an "ultra-light" manner and take a tarp or no stove doesn't mean you will want to or should. Part of wilderness hiking is discovering who you are and what matters to you, apart from the maddening crowd. Go work out the details as they pertain to you, then go hike the Crest!
ALDHA-West - Greg "Strider" Hummel
The American Long Distance Hiking Association - West is the ONLY long distance hiking association dedicated to ALL of the western U.S. long distance hiking trails. Our mission; "To promote fellowship and communication among long distance hikers, and those who support long distance hiking" is accomplished through a quarterly published Gazette, our quickly developing state-of-the-art website (www.aldhawest.org) and our annual gathering. The Triple Crown Award is the only recognition awarded by any organization to long distance hikers who complete all three of the great National Scenic Trails; The AT, the CDT and PCT. The names of those who have been awarded this honor reads like a who's-who of the long distance hiking community. Check out the website and consider joining this low cost, great hiking community organization.
ADZPCTKO - Greg "Strider" Hummel
The Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off is a low-key hiker gathering held near the southern terminus of the PCT every spring. The event is focused on the education, inspiration and butterfly-killing of the rattled nerves of aspiring thru and significant section hikers of the trail (the guests!). You'll encounter groups of past thru-hikers who have come to re-commune with their fellow hikers and to help lend a hand and share their experiences with the guests, along with trail angels you may have heard of and a few, long distance - ultra light focused vendors. Registration for the event begins in February each year and is on a first come - first serve basis as space is limited. Check out our website at www.pct77.org/adz for the history of the event, fun stories, photos and great links.
Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)
History - Jim Payne
The PCT has a long and varied history from conception to completion. The following sites will give an idea of the making of a true gem in the triple crown of trails:
Trail Angels - Scott Bryce
Trail angels are kind folks who helps a hiker in some way. Different trail angels will offer differing types and amounts of help.
Services trail angels may provide:
A trail angel may do one of these things one time, or may help as many people as they can throughout the hiking season.
The reasons that trail angels do what they do are as varied as the help they offer.
They do it because they love the trail. Because they like to rub shoulders with hikers. Because they saw that you needed help. Because they want to give back to the hiking community. Or just because they were feeling generous.
Treat trail angels with as much gratitude as you can. Never presume upon a trail angel. Never make demands. Never complain about the help they offer. If you have a specific need, it is OK to ask, but never approach a trail angel with the attitude that you are entitled to their help. You aren't. They don't have to do what they do. They do it because they want to.
It is a good idea to offer to pay them to cover the cost of gas, food etc. If they decline to take your money, respect that decision. If you stay at the home of a trail angel who leaves out a jar for donations, it is a polite way to suggest that they can use some help covering their costs. Pitch in if you can. If you can afford beer and pizza, you can afford to pitch in.
There have been a very few times when hikers have had a bad experience with a trail angel. If that happens, first determine whether the problem was a fluke, or the fault of yourself, another hiker, or circumstances beyond anyone's control. If you are sure that this particular trail angel really is a little creepy, then it is OK to pass that information along to other hikers who may want to avoid that particular trail angel.
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