[pct-l] Overseas plan to thru-hike
pctl at marcusschwartz.com
Sun Nov 4 19:03:42 CST 2018
I hiked in 2016, and found Yogi's guide marginally useful (and that only
for the town map pages), and Halfmile's maps not very useful. 99% of
the time I used Halfmile's app, or Guthook's app. Generally those two
apps plus a pdf of the water report and of Halfmile's Town Notes were my
reference materials, all on my smartphone. These days, Hikerbot is also
popular, but it was in early development during my hike, so I don't have
firsthand experience with it. I'd also suggest looking at Crows PCT
Town Guide, from her blog "As the Crow Flies", for resupply and lodging
I wrote more about the common PCT apps in a PCT-L thread from mid-July
this year called "GPS App question", you should be able to find it in
I don't recommend bringing a dedicated GPS, it's just a heavier,
less-flexible smartphone these days.
Regarding your gear, I don't think I saw anybody using a tarp shelter on
my hike. Most people either used semi-freestanding 2-wall tents like
the REI Quarter Dome and Big Agnes Fly Creek, or more pricey single-wall
shelters like the Z-Packs Hexamid or Six Moon Designs shelters.
Osprey Exos backpacks were common, as were ULA Circuit and Catalyst, and
Gossamer Gear Mariposas. There was also a variety of boutique high-end
packs from Z-Packs and the like. I used an older Osprey Exos 46 and
found it totally adequate, though lacking in hip belt padding. I'm not
an especially ultra-light backpacker, but a 46-liter pack was enough for
the PCT for me. I used quite a large bear can, and fit it sideways
between the lid/brain and the main compartment of my pack. I needed to
add a couple bits of rope to keep it from sliding out the sides, but
that being done it held a bear can fine.
I rented a Bearikade Expedition from Wild Ideas, which I was very
pleased with. The capacity was large, the weight was low, and the top
opened easily. They're expensive to buy, but the rental prices have
good discounts for PCT and JMT hikers.
I had it shipped to Kennedy Meadows (South), approximately where
canister regulations begin, and shipped it back at Sonora Pass. Sonora
Pass is not a town, it's just a picnic area, but I used a service called
Sonora Pass Resupply which will drive out a resupply to you and also
pick up your bear canister and ship it. The next opportunity to ship a
canister home was not so close, and I didn't want to spend time in town
locating suitable packaging to ship a bear canister.
Incidentally, there is a new requirement for bear canisters for
overnight campers in Lassen National Park. The PCT goes through Lassen
in Northern California, but that stretch of trail isn't very long. It's
easier to just schedule yourself so you don't stay overnight in Lassen
than it is to work out a second round of bear canister shipping (or to
carry your canister a few hundred extra miles from the Sierras).
Regarding distance, 20 mile average is just about exactly right. If you
haven't already, I'd suggest making sure you're experienced with desert
hiking before starting the PCT, with long water carries and daytime
temperatures above 100F. The PCT begins right in the middle of the
desert -- it doesn't ease you into it. You need to understand your
body's water needs in that kind of weather and terrain before you start,
because there is no introductory part of the PCT.
Some people say that if you do the first 20 miles in 1 day (from Mexico
to Lake Morena, a stretch that often has no water), you'll probably
finish the PCT, if you can't you won't. I'm not convinced that's true,
but it is a good benchmark to make sure you won't fail quickly due to
unfamiliarity with desert hiking. It's also a good way to make sure you
won't be a burden on the local rangers.
Speaking of the beginning of the trail, there's an excellent equipment
shop around mile 40, so you will have a chance to change gear if it's
clearly not working in the first 2 days.
Regarding food, I'm pescetarian (that is, vegetarian plus seafood),
which on the trail worked out to pretty much vegetarian with the
occasional packet of tuna. So it's completely feasible to eat
vegetarian on the PCT. The only difficulty I encountered was picking
other people's home-dehydrated food out of hiker boxes -- it usually has
no ingredients list, so I missed out on that part of the PCT experience.
I tried to mail resupplies as rarely as possible, since it's hard to
estimate my calorie needs and food preferences on the trail far in
advance. Plus, picking up resupply packages can be logistically
difficult. I suggest starting out with no mailed resupplies -- the
first several towns vary from adequate to good resupply choices. If you
find this approach problematic, you can always start mailing resupplies
later. Some people start off mailing resupplies and never learn that
it's an unnecessary hindrance.
If you do mail resupplies, I suggest mailing them to certain
hiker-friendly businesses that will hold your resupply (especially
hotels), rather than to post offices, since post offices tend to be open
at inconvenient times (especially in small towns where mailed resupplies
would be necessary). Halfmile's Notes has a good list of such
businesses in each town.
Earlier in my hike, I caught up to a hiker who I knew was much faster
than myself in a small town. He had mailed a resupply there, and
arrived in town Friday afternoon, after the post office closed. He had
to wait there until late morning on Monday, largely just sitting around
his tent since there were no public businesses to speak of in the town.
I just bought my food and moved on. It wasn't exactly what I wanted --
e.g. I bought instant pasta where I would've preferred instant ramen --
but it certainly wasn't worth a weekend to upgrade to ramen.
There are only a few places where you really do need to ship a resupply,
and these days even those have some options for the creative resupplier.
Regarding keeping your phone charged, I suggest bringing a USB battery
of 5000-10000mAh, rather than a solar charger. It is lighter and more
reliable than a solar charger, particularly when you reach the more
northerly parts of the trail. Unless you plan to avoid staying
overnight in town very often, you should have ample opportunities to
charge your phone and battery. I do suggest bringing a charger that can
charge both the phone and battery simultaneously, so you don't have to
switch them at night when you stay in town.
Regarding phones, I don't have very specific suggestions, except that
Verizon has by far the best coverage on the PCT, and do try to get one
with a fast-charging technology (most newer phones do). It's nice to be
able to get most of you phone's battery back during lunch. Also note
that good smartphones have cameras good enough to replace a traditional
compact camera in many situations (excepting telephoto), which can be a
great weight savings.
I didn't bring an ice axe, and from what I hear, most people who did
didn't know how to use them. 2016 was an average snow year, and though
I did slip and fall down slopes several times, they were never long
enough that an axe would've helped.
I talked to hikers in the much heavier 2017 snow year, and their main
complaint was that they should've gone with a longer-handled axe. So my
guess is that when you do need an ice axe, the especially light ones are
Also, my understanding is that you must get practice using an ice axe in
person on real snow to learn to use them in an emergency, you can't do
it by watching clips. If you live near mountains with snow, this
shouldn't be too hard. But all that said, I don't know how to use one
Regarding boots vs. running shoes, I saw no thru-hikers using boots on
any part of the trail, it was always trail runners (usually the
non-waterproof varieties of Altra Lone Peak, paired with Injinji toe
socks). The High Sierras are the only reliably snowy part of the trail,
and a typical PCT schedule will encounter them when the weather is quite
warm, often over 80 degrees F. Snow field crossings are no more than
3-4 miles at most, and usually much shorter, so your feet have time to
dry out. I didn't even take my shoes off for river fords, because
having damp feet for a mile or two in well-ventilated running shoes in
warm summer weather was downright pleasant.
Regarding crampons, my understanding is that they're not necessary on
the PCT in normal years. Microspikes (that is, metal cleats that strap
on to running shoes for snow field crossings) are much more common, and
I brought them. In retrospect, I'd have preferred not to -- they did
make it possible to go faster across some snow fields, but there were no
places that I couldn't have crossed without them. So I didn't think it
was worth carrying a pound of metal for hundreds of miles just to go a
little bit faster on a few miles of snow fields.
Of course, all this depends on the late winter snowfall, which hasn't
happened yet. If there's a heavy snowfall, or if you intend to enter
the Sierras abnormally early, your needs may differ greatly.
As for fire closures, Halfmile tends to publish recommended alternate
routes on his website when they occur. Hikers often band together in
temporary groups for particularly long or awkward alternates. It's also
common to take public transit or hitchhike around closures. There is
generally information about these choices posted somewhere at the last
resupply point before the closure, either in hiker hangouts, trail angel
houses, or ranger stations. I think the yearly PCT Facebook groups are
commonly used for this kind of discussion, but I don't have an account.
As for safety in general and helpful hikers: The trail is popular
enough these days that if anything bad happens, you can just stay in one
spot on the pct and someone will surely be by shortly. With about 3000
people starting within a couple months of one another, you're never all
that far from another experienced hiker.
And lastly, the final rule is that the trail provides: You'll
inevitably find that you planned something wrong, that your gear broke,
and that you left half you food in town, and it will inevitably work out.
On 11/3/18 1:51 PM, Adrian Yardley wrote:
> Circumstances got in the way from attempting thru-hike of the PCT until
> I bought Yogi's guide & Half Mile maps in 2013 - might these be OK for
> 2019? I confess to feeling rather overwhelmed by the volume of Yogi's
> advice, and hoping practical knowledge can be picked up along the way, from
> other hikers, from water reports, from town guides (Yogi)...
> I'm aged 62, all bits still working. For the last 10 years have used Ray
> Jardine kit (including tarp, wild-camping) thru-hiking national trails in
> Britain & Europe. Probably need to make/buy a new backpack large enough to
> take a bear canister. Any recommendations please.
> Please advise on bear canister hire, and where.
> I'm planning on 20 mile average, based on my experience. I've walked up to
> 30 miles daily over flattish ground, long days.
> Is it basically OK to (vegetarian) supply along the route, excepting
> sending forward selectively (and which sections especially to send
> forward?). Are supplies improving along the trail, as numbers of hikers
> have increased?
> I'd like to use a GPS, perhaps with solar charging, as cannot see how
> batteries would work on PCT. Any tips on what kit to buy please. I've only
> used GPS on a smartphone along some of the Lycian Way.
> I plan to study 'self arrest' clips on YouTube and bring a lightweight snow
> Mainly I wear running shoes, so would post ahead boots and ice axe and
> crampons. Which sections would need boots rather than running shoes?
> When I read about heavy snow and detours for fire, it concerns me if (as a
> foreigner to the US) I'm being too ambitious. I hope that (with GPS) can
> keep to the trail and will be overtaken by helpful hikers!
> Thanks for keeping this bulletin going.
> Any suggestions much appreciated.
> I've kept bulletins from 2013 when I was last researching pct.
> On Sat, Feb 2, 2013 at 9:41 PM Adrian Yardley <adrianyardley at gmail.com>
>> Thanks for your help Steeleye, Bill, Matt, Scott, Scott, Douglas, David,
>> and groudpounderbill:
>> Yogi's book + Half Miles maps + water report
>> Use postal service selectively
>> best wishes
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