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  1. #1
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    Default PCT vs AT ground dwelling

    I recently finished my AT thru hike and now I'm back home thinking about going hiking.

    In another thread I asked about shelter options on the PCT. Now I'm curious about what ground spots are like between the two trails.

    Honestly, as a primary hammock hanger from the Northeast, I thought good tent spots on the AT were hard to come by.

    I was able to setup on some nice flat duff every so often but the majority of the time I felt the terrain wasn't conducive to good camp spots.

    Lots of rocks, roots, dirt, angles, trees, brush, water, and even glass (hello New York), etc to deal with. Sometimes when I did find a great spot, all you had to do was look up to deter one instantly from sleeping under those death sentences.

    My best spots were typically away from shelters and designated tent sites, but as a thru hiker, I didn't feel like I had all afternoon to look for prime real estate.

    My experience with tent spots (ground dwelling in general) is more negative than positive for the AT. Wish I brought my hammock to be honest. Didn't want to sleep in shelters or on platforms either all too much.

    Some areas of the trail, there was pretty much nowhere to setup unless around a shelter due to the rugged terrain or forest growth. Typically, the spots around shelter areas were heavily used and not what I would consider ideal (packed dirt and depressions). I avoided those like the plague.

    On the PCT, is the terrain better suited for ground camping? What can one expect to be different between the two trails?

    Like I said, I did have some great comfortable areas to tent on the AT. The majority of the time, I think a hammock would of been the ideal choice.

    Is the PCT full of cushy, flat, scenic, ground sites like I'm dreaming about?



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    Quote Originally Posted by fastfoxengineering View Post
    . . . Is the PCT full of cushy, flat, scenic, ground sites like I'm dreaming about?
    Of course not. The PCT is generally much more open and less worn out. Yes, I think there are many more and nicer ground sites on the PCT than the AT (at least in the areas of both I've spent time). The ground is still generally hard. Flat spots are only ever mostly flat. Scenic, downright stunning at times, but generally not at the exact location you're putting your tent.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  3. #3
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    All I know is that Dixie (you tube videos) completed the PCT last year and is well on her way to finishing the CDT this year using a Zpacks Duplex.
    Anish, Heather Anderson, is using a Gossamer Gear tent for her Calendar Year Triple Crown. She completed the PCT last month and is on the CDT now.
    Tents work just fine west of the Mississippi.
    Wayne

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    Default PCT vs AT ground dwelling

    Wayne's just kidding. He knows lots more stuff than that!
    The only thing I know is watch out for them ghost heads in the desert - especially around lake Morena cg. Don't let em pop your inflatables.
    ...
    Oh, I know one more thing; Guthook still shows lots of the PCT tentsites.

  5. #5
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    Shhhhhhhh!!! Donít tell.
    GOAT HEADS. And Poodle Dog Bushes. Nasty!
    Wayne

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    Of course not. The PCT is generally much more open and less worn out. Yes, I think there are many more and nicer ground sites on the PCT than the AT (at least in the areas of both I've spent time). The ground is still generally hard. Flat spots are only ever mostly flat. Scenic, downright stunning at times, but generally not at the exact location you're putting your tent.
    Agree with all of this except the last statement. I've hiked the whole AT but only half the PCT, so can only speak for the southern half of the PCT.... anyway reasonably flat tent/sleeping spots can be found significantly easier on the PCT than on the AT.

    But as said, watch out for sharp things! On the PCT, I carried a 1/8", 4.5 ounce closed cell foam pad placed under my inflatable for puncture protection, plus I carefully swept the site for sharpies before layin down the sleep system.

    One other thing of note: "Cowboy Camping" is very popular on the PCT, way more so than on the AT, I would assume because of the less chance of overnight rains. Plus the wide-open, dark, starry skies on the PCT (and the west overall) is very nice to camp under sans anything overhead. I always threw my tent down under me anyway, provides a nice little platform for sleeping under the stars.

    FWIW, this spring, I hiked Campo to Kennedy without a single drop of rain hitting my head or tent. Pure dumb luck, it did rain twice, quite heavily once, but I was in a town both times.

    Oh yeah, my disagreement with the last statement: For the most part, it is fairly easy to find not only decently flat sites, but also very scenic ones along at least the southern half of the PCT. As long as you're not also trying to camp near a water source, that is. I "dry camped" way over half my nights on the PCT (easy to do with just a little bit of planning, along with the Guthook app).

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    . . . my disagreement with the last statement: For the most part, it is fairly easy to find not only decently flat sites, but also very scenic ones along at least the southern half of the PCT. . .
    I should probably stand corrected on this one. I think maybe I'm spoiled. If you call these scenic, which admittedly they are, they are two views along the PCT at a couple random flat spots where I camped a few years ago in Oregon. The second one is clouds forming over Mt Jefferson from my sleeping bag early in the morning while "cowboy camping". I did rain a bit that night.

    Jefferson area ridge.jpgJefferson clouds.jpg
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  8. #8

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    When I hiked the PCT, I normally started looking for a place to camp around 7:30pm at night and with only a handful of exceptions, was able to find a decent campsite within 15 minutes of looking as I hiked along. I used a Gossamer Gear Torso foam pad, so I'm sensitive to ground with numerous pressure points caused by rocks, roots, etc. Other then moving obvious small rocks, sticks, pine cones, before setting up my cowboy camp (only set my shelter up 9 times), I normally slept well. The issue with campsites on the PCT, is the ants. You need to check the ground for crawling insects and signs of burrowing from the various rodents before choosing a site, especially if cowboy camping.

  9. #9
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    tarps and tarp (ish) tents are definitely the most popular compromise on the PCT

    less need / use of hiking poles so to me the common single pole / half pyramid shelters make the most sense

    but, in hard rocky ground a freestanding shelter is also attractive - that being said, the people finishing the PCT in 2017 (a tough year) were not carrying free standing - so not the long term choice of compromise

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    tarps and tarp (ish) tents are definitely the most popular compromise . . .
    How are tarps a compromise? I believe they are the pinnacle of joy for backpacking shelters. Now, my wife doesn't agree with me and neither do my kids or my friends I backpack with. But, I figure that's just myopic niavitae on their part, and I must to learn to forgive them.

    I mean really, why would anyone go to all the trouble to hike out into the woods with overnight gear and then isolate themselves from the woods to sleep all zipped up in a tent? Heck, most of the time pitching a tarp is overkill and blocks a good night sky view!
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  11. #11
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    It's much easier to find acceptable non beaten down LNT GROUND CS's on the PCT than the AT. However, I'm of the opinion expecting to hammock the entire PCT will require more thought to CS location. For example in the Mojave true trees other than spiny and rather brushy Joshua trees are what you'll find with no other trees suitable for hanging... AT times. That is not to say there haven't been those that did hang on a PCT thru. It's my best guess those that did hang were also ground dwelling/cowboy camping when necessary.

    As far as conditions of the ground on the PCT that changes as the geology in the south changes to a more volcanic based one in the north. Elevation also plays into PCT ground conditions.

    I find appropriate for myself on a PCT NOBO thru a UL tarp preferring to almost entirely cowboy camp. It saves time and wt. Some take UL or minimal tents like one of the ZP shelters.

  12. #12

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    Recent PCT thruhiker here.

    You can probably hammock camp in most places north of mile 700. In the "desert" section south of that, you'll be cowboy camping, or in a tent. There were a lot of UL non-freestanding ones, but the envy of most were the free or semi-free standing ones like the Big Agnes line. BA and ZPacks rule the trail.

    Also, there are sites right along the trail everywhere. Since in my experience people pay little attention to Leave No Trace, they flop down anywhere, and right next to one another. The running joke was to 'add a zero' to the number of campsites listed online, i.e. if it says 2, there's 20.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    How are tarps a compromise? !
    all equipment has compromises

    for specifically shelters consider the factors:

    weather / bug resistance

    comfort

    weight

    privacy

    versatility ie. hammock without trees, tent without a clear spot

    ease of set up

    price

    no one system or model is the best for all factors - thus every choice has to be a compromise

    most hammock users value comfort vs price / ease of set up

    for me, on the AT, a bivy is good on weight, price, versatility and easy setup - no one will say it is best for comfort

    for the PCT weather/ bugs / privacy are lesser deciding factors for shelters than the AT - thus the slant towards tarps/ tarp tents, that are good on weight, comfort(best airflow for warm conditions) decent on price, ok on ease of set up/ versatility

  14. #14

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    Everything you carry boils down to 1 question: "How do you want to suffer?"

    Want to set up a tent quickly? Carry a heavier tent and lament the weight.
    Want to save half a pound in your pack? Carry a lighter tent and lament being wet. Also, bugs.

  15. #15
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    here is what I consider to be a great shelter system compromise for PCT:

    ( I use a single hiking stick regardless of shelter choice so am not counting that weight/ price)

    gatewood cape and borah bivy

    https://www.sixmoondesigns.com/products/gatewood-cape

    http://borahgear.com/chestbivy.html

    with stakes the system is @ 20 oz - you have your rain gear, bivy for pack liner, bug protection and ground sheet

    with stakes and shipping about 250$

    while this system may not be the best in any feature, to me it is the best mix

  16. #16
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    I was not too concerned in discussing shelter choices for the PCT. I, the op, also dont plan on hammocking anywhere on the PCT.

    I am more interested in learning about the kind of ground camping I will encounter on the PCT compared to my experience on the AT. I have never done western hiking.

    For instance, the really sharp needles and such that can easily puncture a mat is some good information. Also, people have told me ants are a problem. Both things I was not aware of before asking/researching the environment.

    For those wondering, my current PCT shelter system consist of a polycryo ground sheet, mld superlight bivy, and I'm looking for a deal on an UL tarp to pair with it. I'm also trying to shed some weight on my stakes. Carried 3.4oz's of stakes on the AT. Would like to lighten that up a bit.

    I do believe that carrying the superlight will help find ideal camp spots. The footprint of my duplex was restrictive on the AT. An inflatable pad was a godsend though as many time did I have to setup on a root or lump.

    If I decide to carry my inflatable, I'm thinking about adding a gg thinlite to my kit somehow or maybe giving a zlite a try to prevent punctures.

    I also think I'll treat the my superlight with permethrin to deter creepy crawlies.

    Thanks

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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by AllDownhillFromHere View Post
    "How do you want to suffer?"
    well, definitely less than Tipi Walter

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by fastfoxengineering View Post
    s. Carried 3.4oz's of stakes on the AT. Would like to lighten that up a bit.

    Sent from my SM-J737V using Tapatalk
    for the gatewood cape 8 stakes + 1 spare 2.2 oz:

    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/carb...27424c4dPi4SCG

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by fastfoxengineering View Post
    ...I am more interested in learning about the kind of ground camping I will encounter on the PCT compared to my experience on the AT. I have never done western hiking.
    Pretty much everyone's thermarest ended up with a leak. I cowboy camped on polycro, and used the same polycro for my groundsheet under the tent. Somewhere in Norcal where I was mostly tenting due to bugs, I got a pinhole. Ants were never a problem for me, but I checked to make sure I didn't pitch ON an anthill. You might want to reconsider the bivy - having a real tent with room to sit up, change, cook, etc when you're swarmed with epic Sierra mosquitoes (rivalling Maine), can be handy.

    I swapped the free Al stakes that came with the tent for Ti shepherds hooks, and had no problems with holding power. A few times I put rocks on them, in high winds, but so did everyone else. I'm a fan of these - made in the US, good quality. https://lawsonequipment.com/Hardgood...akes-p883.html I think they're .22 or .25 oz per stake.

  20. #20
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    AT thru hiker, really little problem finding tenting sites, however there were a few creative sites, not many. I can't compare hanging as I never hung.

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