Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Blog – A Complete Guide (2021)

HIking the Pacific Crest Trail

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Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail ranks as the single best experience I have had in my life. The 2660 mile (4286km) trail that runs from the Mexico Border to Canada .

The PCT traverses dry Californian deserts, high alpine mountains and wet rainforests. There is no other hike like it the entire world.

For Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail 2021 and beyond this guide should help with information needed to complete the hike.

Pacific Crest Trail Blog 2021


Do you need a permit to Thru Hike the PCT?

Yes, you need a permit to Thru Hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Permits for PCT 2021 are little more difficult than usual due to global events.

Here is the list of permits needed to hike on the PCT:

  • Apply for PCT permit. Check to see when permits will be available.
  • If you manage to get the permit then shrink it from A4 to a smaller size and laminate it. The size of a passport of A6 should be perfect.
  • Apply for a California Fire Permit to light an open fire in California. This includes the use of a hiking stove. When you get the permit you can also shrink it to A6 and laminate it. Even with the permit there may be Total Fire Bans, including the use of stoves.
  • Apply for a PCT Canadian Entry Permit.The PCT crosses the international border into Canada. There is no formal border here and no immigration here. Apply for a Canadian Entry permit prior to setting off on the trail. The application is quick and easy. Hikers with criminal convictions are usually refused entry, that includes driving drunk.

Pacific Crest Trail Gear List

Every year thru hiking gear is better. When I hiked the PCT I used quality gear that lasted quite well. I was happy with most of my gear. In recent years I have updated my gear list and compiled a complete guide to the best gear for Thru Hiking. 

What is the Best Gear for the PCT:
Pacific Crest Trail Gear List

Read the Best Gear Review:
Best Tents
Best Sleeping Bags
Best Sleeping Mats
Best Backpacks
Best Down Jackets
Best Rain Jackets
Best Stoves
Best Water Filters
Best Filtered Water Bottles
Best Headlamps
Best Trekking Poles
Best Pillow
Best Backpacking Cookware
Best PLBs and Satellite Messengers


How much does it cost to hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

It costs most people between $3000-$6000 to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Most hikers spend around $1000 per month.

Don’t set your budget too low, many many hikers had to quit the trail due to running out of money. Let me assure you they were disappointed!

It might be possible to hike with a small amount of money but if you have to quit the trail due to lack of funds then accept it as a possibility.

I set a budget of $6000 when I hiked the PCT. It included all money spent while on trail, but not the cost to purchasing hiking gear prior to starting the trail. It did include the cost of replacement gear such as shoes, trekking poles etc.

Most of the money hikers spend is on food purchases such as buying food for the trail and and eating in cafes etc.

Postage can be a huge expense for some hikers. Sending food packages, bounce boxes and gear along the trail can add up very quickly.

Hotels, campgrounds and donations to trail angels are all significant expenses that add up. If I hiked the PCT again I would limit my stays in hotels.

My initial plan was to spend very few nights in hotels but I hiked with an awesome group of people and we shared hotels while in town. But the costs added up quickly.


Resupply on the PCT

There are many options when it comes to resupplying while hiking the PCT. Bounce Boxes, resupply boxes, buying as you go, hiker boxes and resupply companies. If I hiked again I’m not sure I’d use a bounce box, although it did have my computer which I loved having on several occasions. I would limit my resupply boxes and try one of the resupply companies for my resupply boxes.

Click the link below for a Complete Guide to food and resupply on the PCT:
Resupply on the PCT


Tips for hiking the PCT – Bounce Boxes

I hiked the trail with a bounce box. Its a box that contained a bit of food, town clothes, toiletries, my passport, extra money, cold weather clothing, gear to repair hiking gear etc. I packed it in a box and would regularly post it to myself as I hiked down the trail. Sounds like a great idea right? Well, it is, but its also a great big hassle. Let me explain. It needs to be picked up at Post Offices or friendly hotels or trail angles along the trail. It also needs to be reposted to the next destination. I would send it ahead to myself about every 200 miles.

The fear of having my passport and computer go missing was real, but even worse was arriving on weekends or planning to depart on weekends when post offices were closed were worse. If I hiked again I probably wouldn’t use a bounce box or I would bounce it along the trail more often than picking it up. Bouncing it refers to contacting the post office and having it sent further down the trail. If you don’t pick up the box it can be sent further ahead free of charge. Apparently, this can only occur once, but many hikers, myself included found out that that rule is rarely observed.


Tips for hiking the PCT – Resupply Boxes

If I hiked the PCT again I would only pack food into a resupply box at a couple of places. Kennedy Meadows would really be the only place I would need to send a resupply box. Why? Well, at Kennedy Meadows I needed to start carrying my Bear Barrel. I filled it with 7 days food when I posted it. Otherwise the store has enough to resupply. Almost every other stop on the PCT has a store that is sufficient to resupply but I’m not too fussy. Also, when I order gear from REI (or similar), such as shoes, trekking poles etc, I would also order some freeze dried meals etc. The hiker box is particularly good here as hikers discard unwanted food.


Tips for hiking the PCT – Hiker Boxes

Then there is the hiker box. Most people send themselves food in a resupply box and usually send way too much food or are so sick of the food they send themselves that they offload it into the hiker boxes. Regularly I would sit near the hiker box when hikers opened up their resupply boxes. I would pick up Freeze Dried meals, oats, chocolate, granola bars and much more free of charge from hikers who didn’t want to carry the food.

It is also filled with discarded clothing, shoes, socks etc. Some hikers quit the trail and leave almost all their gear in these boxes. Sometimes the equipment is new and in great condition, mostly it’s been thrown out due to being in poor condition. Several hikers used old hiking shoes left behind and didn’t buy any shoes for the whole hike. You would need to be very cheap and/or not very fussy to do this. But it can be done. Great way of recycling for those with little money!


Tips for Hiking the PCT – Fitness

This trail is not about how fit you are (though it helps a lot), its about your endurance and mental strength. Remember that. Fitness is good, fitness is great, but just because you go to the gym for 30 minutes per day prior to the hike doesn’t mean you can hike for months with all your gear, a weeks worth of food and 6 litres of water on your back!

Mental strength will give you the courage to keep moving when all you want to do is stop and sleep in a comfortable bed. That can’t be taught. So when the going gets tough, make sure you have a damn good reason for hiking the trail. Get hiking fit before the trail, put a pack on and go hiking.

It will take about 1 week for the muscles to harden up. 2 weeks for your feet to harden up and the blisters to stop, or at least not appear as often. It will take about 2 months for the tendons and joints to harden up to the trail. After 3 months the body is a machine, really, it’s an amazing feeling! Start slowly and let the body get used to its new life!


Best PCT Guidebooks and Apps

Guthook’s Pacific Crest Trail Guide App

This is the gold standard for navigating the trail. Easy to use, multiple map formats to choose from, easy to navigate, great updated info on water / campsites / elevation profiles etc.

Town info is OK and getting better every year. When I hiked the PCT it was the first time in my life I hiked without paper maps and relied on technology. It was a bit of a leap of faith but it worked great. Highly recommended.

Halfmile maps

They are the most trusted and relied upon maps of the PCT. They are free and they also have a great free navigation app. The Halfmile app is not as detailed or easy to follow as Guthook but it is free.

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The Halfmile navigation app has a great function of looking ahead to the planned campsite and seeing how much elevation gain and loss that there will be for the day, this function also sucked on some days in the Sierras and Washington when the magnitude of the day was revealed! Highly recommended App. Use the paper maps if you are a traditional kinda person, otherwise move with the times.

Water Report

I used this in conjunction with the Guthook App to work out how far it was to the next water. It is user updated and accurate. I saved an updated copy to my iBooks folder regularly as I traveled up the trail. Highly recommended.

Pocket Earth PRO Offline Maps

Pocket Earth Pro has been my go to offline maps for many years. Great for around towns and even better when you need to get off the trail in an emergency. Imagine you are in Northern California and a wildfire is heading your way, need to get off the trail ASAP?

Or you are in Washinton late in the season and large snows make travel difficult. Need to get to lower altitudes and off trail?

Download the Pocket Earth Pro App from the Apple Store.


Overseas Hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail


Coming from another country to Thru Hike the PCT onvolves a lot more work.

  • Overseas hikers usually require a Visa to stay in USA for a period up to 6 months..
  • You should make a booking to get your USA visa AT LEAST 6 months before the start of the hike. Remember there is no guarantee that you will get the visa.
  • Medical costs in USA are very expensive. Get hiking insurance.
  • For the last several years I have exclusively used World Nomads as my preferred company for travel insurance.
  • World Nomads cover Thru Hiking and other adventurous activities that other companies do not cover. Also, they are reasonably priced. 
  • Click here to check World Nomad prices.

Training for the Pacific Crest Trail

Some things a thru hiker will learn by completing a shakedown hike and doing some training before a long distance hike.

  • Why it is necessary to train for the PCT
  • Why a shakedown hike is important
  • Read blogs written by other hikers and learn from their journey
  • How to lighten your backpack by completing shakedown hikes
  • Learning to put a little bit of trust in technology (but not too much)

When I committed to hike the Pacific Crest Trail I spent more time reading through forums and checking out other hikers blogs than I thought about planning and preparing for my own hike.

I learned that almost every other hiker felt the same combination of excitement and the feeling of being under prepared.

I decided not to let that bother me, I’m good at adapting to situations. Sometimes, it’s ok to feel a little bit overwhelmed by the long journey ahead.

My journey to hike the PCT saw me transition from a traditional hiker to lightweight hiker. Normally, like most people I would carry about 12-14kg in my pack, minus all food and water.

In the months leading up to hiking the PCT I lightened the load in my pack to less than 8kg. Completing Shakedown hikes were part of the process of learning about myself and my gear.

Edit : My pack is now around 6kg and getting lighter, check out my current hiking gear list

I’m happy with that. I lightened my load by evaluating every single thing that I had in my pack. I did this by taking a series of overnight training hikes, known as Shakedown hikes.

Each with several goals of testing myself and my gear.

During my first shakedown hike was on the 6 Foot Track. I planned to walk the track twice, a total of 100km in 3 days. On day 2 I hiked 50km. The most I have ever walked in one day, and all this with my backpack. My base weight on this hike was just under 10kg.

After the hike I re-assessed everything I was carrying. I found ways to lighten my load, and learned the value of  Ibuprofen, the hard way.

When the hiker finally makes it onto the long distance trail the idea is to start slowly and allow the body to adapt to it’s new job of hiking everyday. It is a process that takes many weeks. Don’t be the hiker that hikes too fast or too many miles at the start. Injury forces many hikers off the trail every year.


Best Books about the Pacific Crest Trail

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail– Cheryl Strayed – The book that made hiking the PCT mainstream

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart: An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail – Carrot Quinn – A great read about hiking the PCT

Skywalker: Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail – Bill Walker – Another great read about the PCT

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
 – Funny read about hiking the Appalachian Trail, much better than the movie.

The Last Englishman – Keith Foskett – An English guy hiking the PCT, great read.

Hikertrash: Life on the Pacific Crest Trail – Erin Miller – A daily journal style book about the PCT, great read.

Adventure and the Pacific Crest Trail – Arthur McMahon – I hiked hiked with Arthur and his partner Jill. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my list.


Pacific Crest Trail Documentary


Pacific Crest Trail Blog

While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail I kept a daily journal. Below are all those entries. Each entry relates my experiences of the day both good and bad. Each entry also contains a selection of photos that I took on the that day.

If you are planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail then you might find the posts of interest. If you never plan on Thru Hiking the PCT then you might get the feel for what it is like to spend 21 weeks hiking in nature.


Pacific Crest Trail Southern Californian Desert


Pacific Crest Trail – The Sierra


Pacific Crest Trail – Northern California


Pacific Crest Trail – Oregon


Pacific Crest Trail – Washington

After the Pacific Crest Trail

Are you Interested in hiking other long distance thru hikes:
Best Thru Hiking Trails
Te Araroa Trail
Continental Divide Trail
Appalachian Trail

Are you planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail? What are your biggest fears?
Leave me a message in the comments section below.

pacific crest trail

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  1. This kind of hike is indeed not for the faint hearted, but truly is an experience one will never forget for the rest of their life!

  2. It’s just like yesterday that I’ve trekked Annapurna circuit. Not only we discovered the mountains like these, but we also experienced the way of living of its wonderful people. By visiting families, villages and charming sites we could feel ourselves immersing in the Nepali culture. I’d love to come back to discover more of this amazing country and its humble people. Would love to thank my guide who really has a good sense of the culture that is so present in Nepal. Trek was expertly organised and we felt looked after from beginning to end. Not only we discovered the mountains, but we also experienced the way of living of its wonderful people. I’ve been on a lot of excursions and have done a lot of travelling before but not more on hiking. Such a wonderful experience to remember. Hope you could try it also Brad.

  3. Good luck mate, I followed Carrot Quinn last year, certainly a winner of a walk. Funny thing is, I came here looking for bike electric charging info, the Sinewave seems the way to go.

    1. Thanks mate. And by the way I have been impressed by the Sinewave so far, highly recommended for charging from the dynohub. I’ll be back on the bike later this year.

  4. Best of luck to you! We will be doing trail magic up here in the Cascades outside of Seattle, hopefully we can hit you when you come through!

    1. Thank you, I love this trail magic thing that I keep hearing about. Seems like a tight community looking after each other. Hopefully I’m there in September before the weather hits.

  5. Hey man, I dont envy you but I’m jealous. If you ever want to have a yarn about the AT I’m at the pool on the weekends, I’ll try to remember to keep some books there if you drop in. Enjoy

  6. Hey Brad,

    I think it is a wonderful decision. I can’t wait for the stories.
    I’ll keep my fingers crossed that everything will work out.
    Many greetings form Alice.

  7. You sure know how to dream big! Hope to see you in Portland or at least buy you a burger and a suds at Bridge of the Gods.

    1. Thanks Gretchen, I should be in your part of the world late August / early September, hopefully, keep in touch.

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