gearing up for the PCT

Posted by: moab mike

gearing up for the PCT - 01/06/10 04:43 PM

Hi All,
I've got a fair amount of backpacking miles under my boots--mostly all on the Hayduke Trail, which I helped "create".
Anyway, I'm gearing up for the PCT after a frightening health issue, mostly to prove to myself that I still can do such things (among a million other reasons).
I'm wondering:
1) do more people still do mail drops for resupply, or is purchasing supplies en route the preferred method? I've only used caches in my treks, but don't want to do that for the PCT.
2) campsites seem to be few and far between, particularly in the southern CA section; is finding sites a problem? is finding empty sites a problem?
3) how necessary are ice/snow tools? and where are you most likely to need them? or will a sturdy pair of boots suffice usually?
4) what do I need to know about bears?
5) is there any issue with safety (from other humans) while out on the trail? (particularly urban/trail interfaces) I've never carried weapons, but some have suggested they may be prudent on sections.

I'm open to any advice/suggestions any of you may have, and thank you for sharing your experience.
Posted by: Eugene

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/06/10 04:59 PM

I'm glad to see you're planning this.

1) Yes. I plan to mostly do mail drops.
2) You don't have to camp at a campsite. I plan to do so as little as possible.
3) If you leave early like I plan, you should probably take an ice axe and ice traction aid. If you leave at kickoff or a little later, I think you'll be fine without.
4) That's a big subject. Basically, use a bear canister and keep food hundreds of feet downwind from where you sleep.
5) Don't worry about it. Worst that may happen is some assholes may throw something at you while road hiking. That happened to Lionking.

Most people here prefer trail running shoes over boots. The advantage is that it's much lighter and cooler, which helps prevent blisters. They also dry out a lot faster after creek crossings. The disadvantage is having to replace them several times on a thru-hike.

But I have no PCT thru-hike experience yet, only knowledge I've gained from places like this, and a little from the guidebooks.
Posted by: aimless

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/06/10 09:26 PM

1) Mail drops are not as popular as they used to be, and resupply on-the-fly seems to be the most popular method right now.

The mail drop method allows you a greater amount of control over your diet, so people who have dietary restrictions still tend to prefer it. Hikers who are content to eat whatever comes to hand and like the freedom to follow food whims tend to prefer the on-the-fly method.

The on-the-fly method does sidestep the problem of appetite fatigue - where you planned to rotate among a set number of premade menus (say, 8 different dinners), and then discover two months into your hike that you can't stand the sight of two or three of them. But you are still scheduled to eat those meals over and over again!

So, it kind of depends on your style, and how well you think it will extend to a five month hike.

2) Try asking this question on the email listserv run by the PCTA. You can sign up for it at the website.

3) Snow and ice vary from year to year. The best answer to this question will be available in late March.

4) Bears. Wherever bear canisters are required, you must use a bear canister.Beyond that fact, there is a whole lot of bear lore around. Some of it is even true.

In my experience, bears are almost never a threat to anything but your food. If you encounter a bear, the standard advice is not to run, but to move away slowly and not approach it any closer. Chances are very high the bear will skeedaddle in a hurry once it is aware of you.

5) If you've never carried weapons, then a weapon is not likely to do you any good anyway. People who suggest this are almost never hikers themselves, but well-meaning non-hikers.

The good news is that crime rate on the PCT trail is exceedingly low, meaning almost non-existant. Criminals are not often willing to hike into the middle of nowhere on the off chance that they may find a victim. This may not always apply with equal force to places, like campgrounds, that are accessible by car, but even then, it is not exactly a hotbed of crime there either.

If you haven't yet discovered it, may I suggest perusing:

There you'll find a treasure trove of printable PDF maps in 8.5" x 11" format for the PCT. They are free for downloading.
Posted by: Boomer

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/07/10 03:34 PM

Im also have a question about the PCT but i was wondering if youre allowed to use woodstoves on the trail is there any restrictions with that? alchohol is a bit heavy fuel for such a long hike.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/07/10 04:20 PM

From what I've been told, woodstoves are considered the equivalent of a camp fire by many jurisdictions. They are therefore not allowed except where open campfires are allowed. Part of the problem is the low wood supply near and above timberline--the land managers want what wood there is to decay and replenish the very thin soils there rather than to be burned. Some jurisdictions may also ban alcohol stoves in times of high fire danger because they can start a fire if spilled.

There is a lot of info to be found on the PCTA and websites--if you haven't been there, you'll find a mine of information!
Posted by: oldranger

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/07/10 07:05 PM

I think about the last stove to be banned when fire danger gets high are gas canisters. I have seen conditions where I would not care to light any stove - just go with stoveless foods.
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/08/10 11:25 PM

I have not done the entire PCT, but I have extensive experience in the Sierras and on parts of the John Muir Trail. Do not worry about bears, consider yourself lucky if you see one, same for lions, just try to look big, don't bend down to pick up rocks as they can see how puny you really are and be mellow, they can smell your fear. You do not need a gun, yer safer there than in any city, but a hiking stick can be reassuring.

You don't camp in campsites if you can avoid it, the bears will travel a route and hit every campsite and not even come around if you camp off trail.
If you do need ice tools and don't have them you could be in deep dodo especially if you leave early, however the snow isn't off the high country until late July or August. Maybe leave the axe at home, but carry some cleat thingies to put on your boots.
Footgear - you didn't mention this. If you stay on trails and you don't have a heavy pack, you might be ok with trail runners if you have good solid feet with no problems and strong ankles, BUT the trail can be very rugged and washed out and even on the trail it can be a bad place for inadequate footgear. there is a point where the weight of medium leather boots will cause less fatigue and provide enough more security of footing to be easily worth their weight. If it was me, I would have real ankle high medium weight hiking boots AND trail runners for easy trails and stream crossing.
Jim YMMV good luck
If you do get off trail and who wants to stay on the trail in beautiful country like that, then be sure to have boots with vibram soles and gaiters are a must.
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/08/10 11:34 PM

Approved, bear resistant canisters are required thru part of the PCT.
Posted by: Saltlick

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/15/10 03:07 PM

Organized campsites are few and far between, but you'll soon get used to just finding a flat spot of ground a little way off the trail and using it as a campsite. There are very few places where you won't easily be able to find a spot to lie down, and a lot of people end up cowboy camping (just laying down a ground sheet and sleeping bag without bothering with the tent or tarp) for a lot of the time.

Almost everyone wears trail runners rather than boots, for the reasons already mentioned. The only people who have problems with this are those whose packs are heavy. The PCT is a trail where most people go pretty light-weight, but if you expect to have a total pack weight over 35lbs for long periods, you should probably wear boots to save your ankles.

Definitely don't carry any kind of weapon - they're illegal in some areas through which the trail passes, and they're so heavy that you'll quickly regret carrying it. A lot of people are trimming the edges off their sleeping pads and mailing away spare underwear by the end of the first month - several pounds of firearm will just seem like an unsufferable burden, and - right or wrong - will probably make your fellow hikers feel uncomfortabale around you.
Posted by: BrianLe

Re: gearing up for the PCT - 01/19/10 03:30 PM

I did the PCT in '08. The main suggestion I have is that you get Yogi's guide and read through that ... it does a good job with the sort of questions you're asking. You could also look at an attempt at a PCT FAQ on the postholer site, at

I used a lot of resupply drops and would use less if doing it again --- a common theme. It depends, however, on why you're doing mail drops. I.e., if you have food allergies or are vegan or something like that, maybe more. It also depends on how much backpacking experience you have; if you've done some long trips, then perhaps you'll be better able to guess how much and what types of food you might want. Bonus points if there's someone at home you can contact to tell them how to adjust type and quantity of food in the boxes.

Finding places to sleep is rarely a problem. I live in western WA state, and it can be a problem there as open space is often covered in brush, so you can be restricted to established camp/bare spots. For most of the PCT, however, it's pretty open, easy to just flop down and sleep.

Ice/snow tools. A light ice axe or an arrest pole like the Black Diamond Whippet is a good idea, assuming you know how to self-arrest, but this very much depends on your particular year and how early or late you go through the Sierras. In 2008 I ended up mailing home both ice axe and mini-crampons, never needed them.

Sturdy pair of boots: I'm in the trail runner (running shoes) camp myself, work fine in snow or whatever. There are people who do it in boots, but even that's kind of squishy --- it's not just black and white "boots or shoes" as there's a whole gamut of greyscale of beefier shoes, shoe-like boots, etc.

Bears: use a bear cannister in the Sierras as required. Basically don't worry about them elsewhere; I personally slept with my food before the Sierras (SoCal has very few bears!), and used an Ursack after the Sierras. If outside of the Sierras you see or hear specific bear sign, then hang your food. Maybe bring an opsak (odor proof) to line your food bag.

Safety from other humans: biggest issue is getting hit on the road while hitch-hiking, or I guess running into someone crazy who picks you up. Biggest human-related dangers will be near roads. For the first 700 miles you'll mostly just see other thru-hikers, and it becomes sort of like a gypsy community of people who will mostly look out for one another. I wouldn't even think about bringing any sort of "weapon". When you say that some have suggested a weapon may be prudent --- have any of these folks hiked any significant portion of the trail in one go? There are risks everywhere; I have a friend who carries a handgun everywhere he goes, but IMO the biggest trail danger is in getting to the trail and back from it on freeways and so on.