Planning a 2,600 mile thru-hike, where do you even start? For most it may seem overwhelming due to the sheer amount of information you need to research. Luckily for me, I’m a weirdo and I absolutely love it. I have no problem spending hours upon hours researching gear, resupply strategies, trail food and reading other’s blogs. That’s my idea of a fun day. So here is how I went about planning my thru-hike.
TL;DR: Read trail journals and PCT related websites, patiently research gear using past hiker’s gear list as a template, and plan your resupply using Craig’s PCT planner.
So where should you start if you are thinking that looking and smelling homeless sounds like fun?
In my opinion, as someone who has yet to do the trail and is completely talking out of his ass at this point, reading someone’s blog that journals every day is probably one of the best ways to get your feet wet. Wired’s blog is hands down probably the best one out there. She doesn’t hold back on how she feels about the trail even if it’s kicking her ass and she’s having a bad day(for example watch her try and find her camera on the CDT). Reading a blog really does help give you an idea of what the trail is about and what you might expect. You also can see what people have brought and their opinions on the gear if they posted a gear review or if they mention the gear in their daily posts. Once you start really planning and looking into gear, resupply strategies, town stops, etc it won’t seem so overwhelming because you already know a bit about these things even if it’s only a little.
So you’ve read a blog or two (hey maybe even mine!) and have decided that being a smelly, dirty, hiker is for you, what’s next?
Start looking into the various gear you need. Use other people’s blogs to see their gear lists to give you an idea of what you will need to bring. Obviously the Big Three (tent, sleeping bag, and pack) are the most important but there are a lot of other things you might not think of or might think you need but really don’t. This can be overwhelming because you have a ton of choices when it comes to gear. I found creating an Excel file (love Excel) and listing out the various gear by weight and price was helpful to keep track of.
After I did this I would keep looking and read reviews from others or go and look at an item if REI carries it. After a few months of this I eventually got a pretty good idea of what I wanted and narrowed it down to one or two different brands for each piece of gear. I created a lighterpack profile to get an idea of how much all this crap would weigh. Luckily for me I started all of this almost one year prior to when I planned on starting my hike. This gave me plenty of time to research the gear I needed and wanted and wait to see if any of it went on sale. Hint: Black Friday and the weeks leading up to Black Friday are when most outfitters do their sales it seems. Also, recommend to follow on Facebook the small cottage industry companies such as Zpacks, ULA, Enlightened Equipment, etc. to see any announcements for any sales. Also, check out Steep and Cheap, Moosejaw, and Mass Drop’s Ultralight community.
I’ve changed my mind on a few pieces of gear and almost all of them are the first pieces of gear I bought. Definitely be patient here since gear is not cheap and you are going to have to use this stuff for almost 5 months. Choose wisely and remember ounces add up to pounds. You really want to shoot for under 15 pounds. Check out /r/ultralight for getting into Ultralight (under 10lbs) backpacking
OK, now how the hell do I plan to eat on the trail?
This is probably the most overwhelming, time consuming, and boring (for some) part of the planning process. Below are the resources I’ve used to help with planning my resupply strategy.
Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook: This is probably the most popular handbook for the trail. The handbook is really broken up into two sections. The first section is a general overview of the trail, gear and clothing, mail drops and resupply. There is a nice section where she has how her and a few other hikers who have hiked the trail numerous times would plan their resupply. As in which places they would stop and whether they would buy or have a package shipped. In my opinion the information in the front section can be found anywhere online for free and Yogi’s guide is $40. Granted it isn’t always in a nice compact book form.
The second section of the book is where I believe it will more than make up for it’s cost. The second section consists of trail tips and town guides that are printed on perforated paper that you can remove from the book. It has town maps, mail drop information, how to get to and from towns for resupplying, exactly what each town has for resupply, lodging, restaurants, ATM, internet, fuel, shower, etc. I found this incredibly helpful in planning out my resupply strategy. It also has historical data on water sources and other trail features and tips which isn’t all that useful since I’ll be using an app on my phone that has this info in more detail.
Craig’s PCT Planner: This webpage is amazing! At first it looks overwhelming but after a few minutes of playing with it it’s not that bad. I highly recommend saving this until after you’ve read a few blogs otherwise the resupply locations won’t make much sense. This page is very helpful in planning out your resupply strategies. Enter in your start date, estimated hiking pace (you can edit this for different sections), hours per day hiked, and how many extra minutes to add per 1,000 feet of elevation gained.
Then you get to a page that has check boxes in a yellow section on the right and then some info and elevation gain maps on the right. The check boxes on the left are where you plan on stopping to resupply. I think by default it has the most popular resupply stops already checked. On the right you can adjusted your hiking details to edit your pace, on trail rest days, extra miles of distance and feet of elevation. You can also edit your resupply to set it so you take a rest day or take the rest of the day off once you get to the resupply point.
I love Google Earth. So when I was using Craig’s PCT planner and Yogi’s PCT handbook I would look at Google Earth and follow along on the trail and look at where I what I’m about to embark on and how getting to and from towns work. In fact I went a little over board by putting pins where I thought I might camp. I used other’s blogs, and the handbook to guess this. This is totally a waste of time but I found it fun and thought it would be interesting to see how far off I would be once I finish the trail.
Go here and you can download the PCT map with mile markers and trail info.
I also made an Excel spreadsheet of what my daily distance would be, what mile marker I would stop at, where I would resupply and if I would buy from stores in town or have a packaged mailed. I then made a separate Excel spreadsheet that would allow my mom, who will be my official Resupply Technician, to update the dates I actually arrive at a town which will then update the predicted arrival dates to towns further down the trail. This allows her to get an idea of when to send out my packages so that they are not sitting there for weeks. Possibly getting eaten by rats, this apparently is a thing.
So there you go. That’s basically how I went about planning for this trip. It’s been about 10 months in the making and I’ve made many changes and I expect all of these plans to completely crumble and be worthless once I get on the trail. Even though my plans will change I feel like spending the time on it will better help me deal with any issues as they arrive.
Other sites that I used
Halfway Anywhere – Full of information including an annual hiker survey.
Plan your hike -List of resupply points and information on towns including a link to a summary of each towns.
/r/pacificcresttrail -A Reddit subreddit on the PCT. Usually has pretty good discussions, no where near as bad as the Facebook class page.
/r/ultralight -A Reddit subreddit that focuses on helping you reduce your pack weight.
Facebook class page – “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Very rarely will you find actual good advice. It’s mostly shitposting with people asking questions who have clearly just learned about the PCT and haven’t done an ounce of research. Also includes “experts” who are just trying to sell you things. I’m hoping this Facebook group is helpful once the hiking season starts but it doesn’t look like it.
PCT-L -A listserv that relays emails of the users to everyone in the group. Somewhat like the Facebook group with lots of bickering but less likely to have people discussing how they plan to smoke pot on the trail and more likely to see people complaining about current hikers and how great the trail used to be.