Tips for Hiking the PCT

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Here are my tips for hiking the PCT. If I were to hike the PCT again I would not change much but here is what I would do differently

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PCT Tips

Many years ago, maybe 20 years ago I first heard of the PCT all the way in Australia. I can’t remember where, possibly in a magazine such as National Geographic, Australian Geographic or Wild Magazine (the Australian equivalent of Outdoor magazine).

I thought it was the craziest, most impossible hike in the world. A hike where somebody could really test their hiking skills in some of the most diverse habitat in the world from desert to high snow capped mountains to endless forest to volcanic mountains. What a test of outdoor skills to do such a hike in such a scenic wilderness. That was my reason for doing it. I love the natural world. I’m curious about the natural world.

In times of hardship on the trail I had to fall back on my reason for being there, it kept me on trail. I’m just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary dream. So if you hike the trail, have a damn good reason for being there, you will be called to question why you are there at some stage, or in my case many times! And everybody will question it!

Tips for Hiking the PCT – Resupply

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.

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 – Resupply Companies

There are now several resupply companies that stock everything a hiker could want or need at reasonable prices. I can’t personally recommend any as yet as I haven’t used any, nor do I personally know any hiker that has used them. I would consider using one of these companies in the future and for my next thru hike I hope to work with one of these companies for resupply. Do your own research.
Zero Day Resupply

How much does it cost to hike the PCT?

How much does the PCT cost to hike? It appears $4000-6000 seems to be normal, or around $1000 per month. I spent around $6000 which is much more than I budgeted and more than most people.

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! I think 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.

My $6000 included all money spent while on trail, but not the cost to purchase hiking gear prior to starting the trail. It does include the cost of replacement gear such as shoes, trekking poles etc.

Most of the money I spent was on food purchases such as buying food for the trail as I went and eating in cafes etc, and I ate a lot, so will you! The next biggest expense was postage. It cost a lot for me to constantly resend my bounce box. It also cost a lot to post food to myself along the trail, something that I would limit in the future.

Hotels, campgrounds and donations to trail angels were all significant expenses that added up. If I hiked the PCT again I would limit my stays in hotels, in fact on this trip I only planned on a couple of hotels but I hiked with an awesome group of people and we shared hotels while in town. But the costs added up.

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!

Tips for Hiking the PCT – Guidebooks, Apps

Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook (Yogi’s PCT Handbook)

Yogis Guide is a common guidebook about the trail and if you must have a guidebook then this is it. Great for trail town info and planning resupplies but getting very dated. It has average on info about the trail. An expensive book that I probably would not buy again.

The sooner the book is available in a format that works on smartphones the better. The guidebook is a little outdated in its paper form and will become redundant unless it moves to a digital format, either as an App or digital book!

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. 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

Great tool for hiking the PCT. You can download topo maps for use offline which covers a much broader area than the Guthook App. Great for emergencies when you might need to get off trail due to weather, fire, illness or injury. It is also great for use in towns as it lists places like hotels, McDonalds, restaurants etc. Highly recommended.

PCTA website

Great tips for hiking the PCT and info on planning, info on trail closures etc. Sometimes slow to update closures etc but still a great resource. Are you doing a blog? If so register your blog at here. My blog is linked to this site, BikeHikeSafari.

Tips for Hiking the PCT – Facebook

There is a class Facebook site each year, in fact there are usually many, all trying to be the official or most popular Sometimes overrun with non-hikers passing comment. In fact, I would go so far as to say the PCT Class groups are some of the biggest spreaders of fear and misinformation about the PCT.

But the hiker can find some tips on hiking the PCT. It is also great for networking with other real on trail hikers and usually the first place to find up to date info on fires, trail closures, reroutes etc.

There are many other useful PCT related sites, search them out yourself.

Travel Insurance for Overseas Hikers

Hikers traveling from overseas to hike the Pacific Crest Trail will need some form of Travel Insurance. I travel a lot, in fact, travel is my life. When I travel I always use travel insurance to protect me from potentially large medical bills. For the last several years I have exclusively used World Nomads as my preferred company for travel insurance. They cover Thru Hiking and other adventurous activities that other companies do not cover. Also, they are reasonably priced. Click here to check their prices.

Great Books to Read about the Pacific Crest Trail and Thru Hiking

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.

tips for hiking the pct

The Best information about the Pacific Crest Trail:
Complete Guide to the Pacific Crest Trail
Resupply Guide for the PCT
PCT Gear List

PCT Gear Review

The Best Thru Hiking Trails in the World?
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Hiking the Appalchian Trail
Hiking the Continental Divide Trail
Te Araroa Trail

The Best Hiking Gear at the Best Prices :
Backcountry.comREI | | Amazon |
Hyperlite Mountain Gear | Patagonia | Feathered Friends |
Nemo | VasqueSea to Summit | Enlightened Equipment | | Macpac | MEC Canada |
Traveling Overseas to go Hiking?
World Nomads Travel Insurance

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  1. we learn through those that have gone before us. I love the before and after shots. Out of interest, and seeing you’re from the same land as myself, what kind of insurance have you taken out for such travels? So far I’m looking at QBE

    1. I use World Nomads, I’ve used them for many years. They cover all the long distance hiking and Bicycle Touring I do, so they work well for me.

  2. I’m starting the PCT next month and thinking of using a bounce box (I’m from the UK). How much on average did it cost to send your bounce box to the next resupply location?

    1. There are several options for the use of a bounce box. Some people buy a plastic bucket from a hardware store and continue to reuse it. Another option is to find a cardboard box with the size you like that will fit all your stuff. The third option is to use the free priority boxes at the airport. Each option costs between option costs between $12-20 to send. I used my own cardboard box that I found at a grocery store. I was charged by size and weight and distance. I never paid more than $20. The prepaid are usually a set price for the size of the box, with a max weight of 20kg (I think). I guess it depends on how much gear you will bounce along the trail. Hope that helps. So first stop when you get the USA, go to a post office a see if your gear will fit in the prepaid boxes.

  3. In my experience, 3 factors came into play during my hike: Physical, mental, emotional. They wrap themselves around the highs and lows of such a long trail. I’m grateful that at my age (67), I can still hike the long trails and will continue to do so as long as possible. When I bought into the project, I was glad to see some other hikers older than me who were doing this sport.

  4. Thanks so much for all the great information! I’ve learned so much that I’ll use on my hike next year. I have one question, however. What did you use for getting weather information?? Any particular websites or apps that you found helpful??
    Again, thanks!

    1. Hi Marie, I used the app. It seems a lot of people here use it. I was able to observe storms through the radar and get up to 10 days advance notice of the weather. It worked fine for me.

  5. Great post. I totally agree with the bounce box comments. It was great when you got it, but it was such a pain to have to plan your mileage around the post office’s schedule. I think we sent ours home by Ashland.

  6. Totally recommend Sonora Pass Resupply for any prospective hikers reading this. We sectioned SOBO this year through Sonora Pass and the service is amazing. You can send your box to them and they will meet you at the pass, they send anything you don’t want home, take your trash and you can buy yummy stuff from the truck. Eliminates a difficult hitch.

  7. Shepherd! Thanks for sharing your tips – an informative summary which will will no doubt enhance the experience for others in future. The journals I’ve followed and the videos I’ve watched have been the main contributors towards altering my mindset and strategy towards this trail. More than anything – we learn through those that have gone before us. I love the before and after shots. Out of interest, and seeing you’re from the same land as myself, what kind of insurance have you taken out for such travels? So far I’m looking at QBE – although pricey!

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