View Full Version : PCT Handout

11-08-2007, 15:04
Hi all...
After the few requests from yesterday and being in a "Gee, I gotta update some info" type mood, I updated my PCT handout.

It is meant as something, well, to handout at an ALDHA-type workshop. Basically, it will summarize the info needed for planning a PCT hike. It won't tell you all the info, but it should point in your in the right direction. I've used this handout before at workshops and it seems to work well.

Hopefully it help you get started on the wonderful journey that is the PCT.

Now, I gotta find some way to get out there again. Sigh...

I don't know who moderates this forum, but it may make a good sticky. -Mags

The Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is the Appalachian Trail’s more isolated, lonelier western counterpart. For almost 2700 miles the PCT travels from Mexico to Canada. From a high point of 13200 feet in the High Sierras to a low point of nearly sea level at the Columbia River it is a trail of extremes. A thru-hiker on the PCT will go from deserts to snowfields. Will see glaciers, old growth forests and volcanoes. It will also be an adventure that will not be forgotten.

This handout will help you prepare for the basics of a journey for this trail. But, as always, you should always consult with other resources before heading out on an extended trek in the mountains.


· Administered by the Pacific Crest Trail Association
· Almost 2700 miles in length
· Travels through three states (California, Washington, Oregon)
· Goes through all but one of the ecosystems in North America
· Starts at the Mexican Border near Campo, CA and goes 12km into Manning Park, BC, Canada


· The PCT is open to both hikers and horses
· More gradually graded, easier tread
· Almost no shelters
· Goes through more extreme environments
· Longer days and miles between re-supplies
· “Trail Culture” not as established, but it does exist
· Due to the easier tread way and more gradual grade, tend to do more miles per day on the PCT than the AT
· Narrower window of hiking. Can’t start much earlier than mid-late April or you will hit much snow in the High Sierras. Finish much past October 1st, and you will more than likely have a snowstorm in the Cascades. Reverse problems for south bounding (PCT SOBOs typically start in June)
· Less people attempting to thru-hike the PCT per year than the AT
· Hiker completion rate of the PCT due to more experienced hikers on the PCT · Typically, if you did the AT in 6 mos, you will finish the PCT in 5 mos. If you did the AT in 5 mos, you will finish the PCT in 4 mos.
· Or to put it another way, you tend to do five miles per day more on your overall average on the PCT than the AT. A person who averaged 15-20 MPD on the AT will typically average 20-25 MPD on the PCT
· Miles per day typically goes up after the High Sierra


Most aspiring thru-hikers of the PCT have a few key concerns. Typically they involve desert hiking (sun exposure, heat, water situation), travel through the High Sierras (ice axe use, bear canister regulations, snow field travel) and re-supply.

This section will touch upon those concerns.

1) Desert Hiking

Hiking in the desert is something new for most PCT thru-hikers. Water can be scarce, the heat is intense, the feet often swell up and it is an environment alien to those used to the “Long Green Tunnel” of the AT. In brief, in the desert section of the PCT:

· Water is very important. Pay attention to the PCT Data Book! I highlighted all the water sources in bright yellow. I found one liter of water for every five miles of hiking was how much I drank.

· In recent years, trail angels have been putting out water caches. While almost always there and they are a welcome gift from the trail community, DO NOT COUNT ON THEM. These caches are stashed by the generosity of volunteers. If something happens and they cannot stash water, then you may be in trouble. Think of these water caches as “gravy” and take 2 liters at the most from them. At the ADZPCTKO (see notes later in this doc) and at some places along the trail, water cache info will be available. But, again, think of this as extra water and DO NOT COUNT ON THE CACHE ALWAYS BEING AVAILABLE

· The traditional approach that works for many while hiking in the desert is an early start, a siesta, hike to early evening, eat dinner, hike a bit into the night.

· Though it is easier to do big miles, take it easy at first. All those “easy mile” days can be deceiving. Feet tend to swell up in the heat and all those big 25-30 mile days from the start can be murder for the feet

· Sun exposure is a major concern. Sunglasses and sun protection are a must! Wear sunscreen and/or a large hat, long sleeves and long pants.

2) High Sierra Hiking

As with the desert, traveling in the High Sierras has a set of issues unique for most AT veterans. Crossing snow fields, dealing with bears on a regular basis, and using an ice axe are all issues typically new for most people who have done the AT. In brief, the High Sierra issues are:

· Going over the high passes (and the snow fields typically on the passes when thru-hikers come through) are best done in late morning or early afternoon. The snow is slushier and less icy. Makes for safer and easier travel.
· Most thru-hikers bring an ice axe. Typically, a thru-hiker will pick up an ice axe at Kennedy Meadows and mail it back at Tuolumne Meadows. If you do bring an ice axe, know how to use it. Otherwise it is just a piece of equipment you are bringing for no reason. Take a class, practice or at the very least read how to use it. A classic on mountaineering (with ice axe use illustrated well) is MOUNTAINEERING: FREEDOM OF THE HILLS. If you don’t have access to mountains for ice axe practice, a large snow bank will work for practicing self-arrest techniques
· Bear canisters and there use is controversial among many of the PCT hiker forums. Having said that, as far as can be determined; bear canisters are required above 9600 feet in Yosemite National Park and in the Ansel Adams wilderness. Other areas (Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks) have bear lockers at popular campsites. Stealth camping is used by many thru-hikers in bear country. A thru-hiker will cook dinner, hike an additional two-three miles and camp in a spot that gets little to no use.
· As with desert hiking, sun protection is a must! The UV radiation is intense at high elevations. Also, wearing sunglasses is esp. important to prevent snow blindness on the snow fields
· Using some sort of lip balm (i.e. Chap Stick) is very useful in the colder, drier and intense UV radiation of the High Sierra
· Speaking of altitude, most thru-hikers have adopted to altitude by the time they have hit the High Sierras.

3) Re-supplying

· If you are an East Coast based hiker, using mail drops exclusively can be expensive
· It is possible to “buy as you go” if you are not picky and do not mind hitching further out
· A popular hybrid is a combination of “buying as you go” and sending mail drops ahead to spots that do not have a large re-supply selection. For example, many thru-hikers will buy their food in Ashland, OR and mail it ahead to such places as Ollalie Lake or Crater Lake.
· A larger period of time between re-supplies. Typically, you will re-supply every 5-7 days on the PCT versus the average of every 3-5 days on the AT
· Drift (or Bounce) Boxes come in handy for the PCT. If you do not do mail drops from home, the drift box is valuable for containing film, batteries, map sections and other items you use but not on a regular basis
· Denatured alcohol (and HEET) was found fairly easily in most towns. Some hostels are starting to stock denatured alcohol for thru-hikers

4) Misc.

· The PCT is where lightweight backpacking seems to work well. Most nights I slept under the stars. Only had to set up my tarp seven times in a little over 4 months.
· On the same theme, the easier tread of the PCT makes hiking in sneakers very feasible. Most PCT thru-hiker I know hiked in trail shoes or sneakers. You will want to make sure the shoes are well ventilated for the desert section. Make sure the shoes have enough wiggle room as well. My feet grew half a size in the desert section!
· Alcohol stoves were by far the most popular stove on the PCT. Again, light weight hiking has taken off very much so on the PCT. Part of that is Ray Jardine’s influence. Part of that is that after hauling a fifty-pound pack for 2200 miles, most AT veterans never want to do that again! :)
· The PCT will not be a repeat of your AT experience. Esp. after the High Sierras you will see less thru-hikers. The town culture is not as established. And you will have a journey that you will not forget


Anyone hiking 500 miles or more on the PCT can get a permit for the PCT. This permit eliminates the need to get separate permits for all the national parks, wilderness areas, etc. you will be passing through. For PCTA members, the permit is free.

You can get a permit by going to:
http://www.pcta.org//planning/before_trip/permits/thru_permit_form.html (http://www.pcta.org//planning/before_trip/permits/thru_permit_form.html)

Additionally, at this same site, you can get a Whitney Zone stamp for hiking Mt. Whitney. As the highest point in the Lower 48 , it is a side trip most PCT hikers cannot pass up. With a Whitney stamp, you do not need to reserve a day to hike Whitney. It cost $15 for PCTA members to get this stamp.

Also, you will need a permit to enter Canada as you will not be entering an official border checkpoint. This form can be found at:
http://www.pcta.org//planning/before_trip/permits/canada_permit_app.html (http://www.pcta.org//planning/before_trip/permits/canada_permit_app.html)

This permit is free from the Canadian government.

On a related note, getting back into the US is a little more complicated since 9/11. You cannot just use your driver’s license. As of January 1st, 2008 you will need a passport to get back into the US from Canada.

Many thru-hikers will mail themselves their passport to Stehekin.

FIRE PERMITS: This info is from PCTA.ORG website: http://www.pcta.org/planning/before_trip/permits.asp

Fire Permits:
The PCTA strongly urges all hikers using the backcountry to obtain a California fire permit. The permit covers use of campfires and stoves in ALL Park Service, Forest Service, BLM and State Lands within the state of California. Permits can be obtained at any US forest service, National Park service, BLM, or California Division of Forestry office. They are free and valid for one year. The purpose of the permit is to ensure that people using the back country have all the proper information about safe use of fire in the backcountry. These permits should be acquired before the start of your hike or ride. For more information visit:

www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/passespermits/campfire_permit/campfire-index.html (http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/passespermits/campfire_permit/campfire-index.html)
www.fs.fed.us/r5/passes/campfire.html (http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/passes/campfire.html)
www.fire.ca.gov/Education/CampfirePermits.asp (http://www.fire.ca.gov/Education/CampfirePermits.asp)

As FYI, fire permits were able to be procured at the ADZ PCT Kick Off (See below).


The ADZPCTKO is an annual event put on by a dedicated and generous group of volunteers for people about to start their hike of the PCT. It is generally held in the last weekend of April. At the KO, you will get info about water caches, trail conditions, and have a great feed-a-thon for the hikers and the good wishes of people cheering you on. The cost to thru-hikers? Zero.

It should be noted that if you attend the kick off party, it will mean that you will be hiking with a large group of hikers (about thirty hikers in the trail towns at one time) from Mexico up until the High Sierra. For those who want somewhat of an “AT” experience to ease them into the PCT environment, it may be good to attend this weekend. If you want more of a solo experience from the beginning, plan on starting before or after the KO. Some people hike ahead and hitch to the PCT from further up the trail. Think of the KO as the PCT’s very low-key version of Trail Days.
More info can be found at: http://siechert.org/adz/ (http://siechert.org/adz/)

In the past, there have been CA Fire Permit available as well as a mini-post office setup for mailing packages. Please check up on these facts as the KO gets closer.


The first place to get any info about the PCT is from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). At their web site you can join the association, order guide books, videos and other merchandise: www.pcta.org (http://www.pcta.org/)

The guidebooks needed to hike the PCT are all available from the Pacific Crest Trail Association. The guide books to get are:

The Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California
The Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California
The Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon and Washington

These three books have the trail maps and descriptions needed for each state. Strongly suggest buying these books!

Pacific Crest Trail Data Book
Very similar to the AT Data Book. Has mileage guide, water info, elevations, etc. Another useful book.

Yogi’s PCT Handbook
The PCT equivalent of the ALDHA Companion. Much info about re-supply areas, desert hiking, what shoes to bring, etc. Much input from past PCT Thru-hikers. Yogi has thru-hiked the PCT twice herself!
http://www.pcthandbook.com (http://www.pcthandbook.com/) (Full Disclosure: I helped contribute to this book as well as the CDT handbook. I receive no compensation other than helping out a dear friend in addition to fellow hikers)

PCTA.ORG Some more info about thru-hiking the PCT can also be found on the PCTA web site:
http://www.pcta.org/planning/before.asp (http://www.pcta.org/planning/before.asp)

Additional planning sources include:

The PCT Planner
A great little program for figuring out your mileage between re-supply points
http://www.pctplanner.com/ (http://www.pctplanner.com/)

The Pacific Crest Trail Mailing List
For discussion and answering questions pertaining to PCT issues and concerns
http://mailman.backcountry.net/mailman/listinfo/pct-l (http://mailman.backcountry.net/mailman/listinfo/pct-l)

Though focused on Eastern hiking, there are PCT, CDT and other Western trail hikers in this org as well.

http://www.aldha.org/ (http://www.aldha.org/)

ALDHA-West (http://www.aldhawest.org/)

ALDHA’s sister organization that focuses primarily on Western trails, including the PCT
(http://www.aldhawest.org/)http://www.aldhawest.org/ (http://www.aldhawest.org/)

Trail Forums
There is some PCT discussion on this board
http://www.trailforums.com (http://www.trailforums.com/)

Whiteblaze.net Though AT focused, the OTHER TRAILS section is getting growing use www.whiteblaze.net (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/../)

A site with journals, forums and a regularly updated snow percentage level along the PCT
http://www.postholer.com (http://www.postholer.com/)

How to Hike The Pacific Crest Trail Video by Lynn Wheldon
A bit dry at times, but has some good info on such topics as re-supply, crossing passes, desert travel, etc. All the people on the video are PCT thru-hikers. Has been updated. Can be purchased from the PCTA web site. www.lwgear.com (http://www.lwgear.com/)

The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker's Companion by Karen Berger and Dan Smith
This book serves as a nice overview of the trail. Not specific info per se, but gives a flavor of what you will be hiking
through. Also makes a good present to give someone who may be curious about what a thru-hike of the PCT involves. Can also be purchased from the PCTA web site.


Of course, planning for the hike can be exciting. But some times it is inspiring to read other hikers stories or online journals:

Journey on the Crest by Cindy Ross
A PCT classic. A candid and heartfelt account of Cindy Ross’ journey on the PCT

Along the Pacific Crest Trail. by Bart Smith (photos), Karen Berger and Dan Smith (text)
A book that will make you say “WOW”. Read this book to get inspired to do the PCT! Give it to your family when they ask “Why?”

A Blistered Kind of Love, One Couple's Trial by Trail., Angela Ballard and Duffy Ballard.
A recent account book about a couple’s journey on the PCT. Have not read it myself, but has received many favorable reviews.


Links to many on-line journals for the PCT.

www.trailjournals.com (http://www.trailjournals.com/)
A popular web-site for all kind of on-line hiking journals, including ones for the PCT. Yogi has her many journals on this site.

www.d-low.com (http://www.d-low.com/)
I've see way too much of this guy since I've met him on the PCT in 2002. :)

www.lindajeffers.com (http://www.d-low.com/)
A wonderful, giving and warm hearted person I have the pleasure of calling a good friend. She provides the bandannas you see at the KO. Tell her THANKS!

www.pmags.com (http://www.pmags.com/)
If you want to see photos and the journals of shortish, heavily bearded fellow who could look like an extra escaped from Pirates of the Caribbean/Adventurers of a Bedouin/LOTR meets a Biker Gang, read this guy's site.

Best of luck on your PCT adventure! If you have any additional questions about this document or the PCT in general, please feel free to e-mail me.

01-03-2009, 23:04
My updated version is located here:

01-15-2009, 16:16
thank you thats what i was looking for

09-26-2009, 15:04
Mags: Thanks a million. I have been trying to decide between AT and PCT. I am 56 and will retire in 2013. I'll be 60! I have hike PCT a lot in OR and WA in the past when I was a young man. I have section hiked AG on the AT. I look at the AT and was trying to plan for that but the problem is I know the vistas of the NW! I realized that it is obvious to me. I live near Amarillo and my spouse could surely connect with me much easier then out East. Familiar stomping grounds and all. Well, thanks for letting me ramble. Thanks again for fine thread and info.

11-02-2010, 11:20

02-08-2012, 23:47
Updated for 2012!

12-04-2013, 23:15
Updated the PCT one recently as well:

As I mentioned on the AT one, sign of the times: Apps for smart devices listed. :)

03-11-2019, 20:10
So is there still a "kick off?" I can not find it. Looks like maybe the last one was in 2017?

03-11-2019, 22:26
So is there still a "kick off?" I can not find it. Looks like maybe the last one was in 2017?

Hello Penny Pincher, there was a thread on the demise of the PCT Kickoff here...


03-12-2019, 22:18
thank you.