I'm 19 years old and I'm ending my first year of college; I am planning on doing the PCT in the summer of 2011(because I need to start saving now...I'm broke) I've been told that I will not be able to do the whole thing all at once (I refuse to believe this) I was wondering what you guys think about this.
Also I was wondering if I should go with trail runners or hiking boots and which piece of equipment should I go all out and purchase no matter the price.
100+ people complete thru-hikes every year, so it is very possible to do so. Of course, 100+ people fail to complete an intended thru-hike every year, as well. To make it all the way border-to-border you need to be very determined to do it, be reasonably fit before you start, and have the right footwear.
Many successful thru-hikers wear trail runners, some wear boots, but wear whatever fits you best. Foot problems probably get more people in trouble than any other single item, especially during the first month.
As far as what "should I go all out and purchase no matter the price?", I'd say your backpack. If you don't get the right one, your shoulders, back, and hips will be miserable. There are many fine packs in the $150-$250 range. For both footwear and packs , find someone who really knows their stuff and can make sure you get the right fit. The usual advice is to buy your pack after you get all your other gear and I think that's good advice especially if you can't afford to buy several of them before finding the right one.
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
If a petite 20 something young lady can do it I know and finish in Oct. you should be able to make it. She went as light as she could, shelter, pack for the most part. She used a Golite pack at the time, the one smaller than my Gust.
completing the PCT in a single season is more a mental thing than anything else. If you're motivated and keep your motivation up during the hike, nothing will prevent you from getting there except for something catastrophic which is always a possibility but not the rule.
That said, some factors that seem important in vanishing motivation from thru-hikers who leave the trail are related to wrong expectations. A PCT thru-hike is probably not the best thing for a first time experience in backpacking, probably not even for a first in long distance backpacking. I think people who know what they're doing and what they're getting into usually make it through with no major problem. It's hard work but not technically difficult.
I don't know your level of experience but you've got time anyway so get out there, try things out on the field. Fancy gear is a nice thing to have but in practice anything works if you know how to make it work and you enjoy what you're doing. With time, you'll fine-tune your gear kit to match your likes, dislikes, style and budget. Like with your question about footwear... running shoes are most common among thru-hikers on the PCT but that only means it can be done, not necessarily that'll be the best for you. You have to try and see for yourself. It's not something you need to know three years in advance anyway.
I'd highly recommend getting used to your gear kit for the PCT before the trip. At least, avoid trying any new major item on the PCT thru-hike. It's important to trust your gear, it gives you confidence and that helps with the motivation.
Loc: Portland, OR
Personally, I have not thru-hiked. Section hiking is more suited to my style and desires. However, in doing my section hikes I have replicated some of the effort a thru-hiker puts in.
RobertL has given you some very good info, but a PCT thru-hike demands a lot and it pays to do as much research as you have time for. One good place to seek information is the email listserv for the PCTA. You can start by poking around in their archives at:
One thing you will notice is that the list has a high amount of socializing and extraneous noise. However, when a good, juicy topic comes up it can deliver a lot of good, experience-based opinions.
Another highly regarded source of info is Yogi's book for thru-hikers. I don't have her web address handy, but I am sure you'll run across it as you do your research.
Conventional wisdom says that you should accumulate most of your gear before you settle on a backpack, for the simple reason that you won't kow if the pack is too small or too large until you know what you need to fit inside it.
For example, sleeping pads can vary widely in how bulky they are and paradoxically the lightest choices are among the bulkiest. Other gear choices can greatly affect the size of pack you need.
As for trail runners or boots, feet vary so much that you'll have to discover the answer for yourself. The best rule-of-thumb is hike in the lightest option that works! RobertL is correct in identifying foot problems as a common cause of failure. The other most common cause is mental distress.
Try out trail runners while you do some long conditioning hikes - as close to actual thru-hiking as you can manage. You'll find out if they work for your feet. (I haven't hiked the desert sections, but I expect they demand highly-breathable footwear.)
As for developing the mental toughness to finish out, I suspect that requires striking a balance between knowing when to gut it out and push yourself and when to back off and be more flexible and self-nurturing. Every athlete needs to learn that balance. That's how NBA players survive an 82 game schedule and four rounds of seven-game playoffs.
Good luck and happy hiking! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
You also realize, it will take longer than the summer to complete your hike if you are like most folks. I believe normal amount of time required would be late April to Oct, give or take a little depending on snow pack etc.
Plenty of people do it every year, so it's possible. Like others have said though, it's never a garauntee. I managed 1000 miles before injury forced me off the trail.
As for what piece of gear to spend the $$$ on? Hmmmm... I'd say the sleeping bag. Get the best, lightest down bag you can find. The cost, spread out over the life of the bag, will be cheaper than even a really good synthetic bag anyway, as down bags tend to last longer.
Look at Western Mountaineering bags, or Feathered Friends bags. Both are top notch.
And trail runners vs. boots. I would say start now getting your ankles into shape and go with trail runners, especially through the desert section. It's hot in the desert, and runners will be more comfortable.
That's Yogi's book, talks about what to expect, helps with planning , shows town names, etc. Suggestions for starting dates and what not.
Your first thru hike, etc. I'd say buy that guide asap, and hold off on gear. If you have hiking gear now (to weekend hike with) maybe keep your money in the bank and when you near the start of your trip buy some new stuff. In 2 + years gear will be lighter and perhaps better then whats available now.
For what its worth in '07 a very high percentage used trail runners. A few "AT vets" came in their leather 5 pound boots.
Anyway, after you read that guide, ask some more questions )
For my PCT thru hike in 2002, my big purchases were a Feathered Friends Hummingbird sleeping bag, an Arc Teryx Khamsin pack, and a Marmot Home Alone tent (not recommended). I still regularly use the pack and bag, so spending money on quality gear that will outlast your trip is a good trade off. You really don't need much. Buy one pair of shoes (I used a mix of new balance trail runners, which lasted about 300 miles, and solomon trail runners, which lasted about 600 miles). You will have opportunities to buy replacement shoes along the way, and often your feet will spread a little resulting in a need for larger shoes. I used chlorine bleach for water treatment and esbit tablets for cooking. The key to a successful PCT hike is to really move from the get go. You have a 5 month weather window and 2600+ miles to cover, 700 of it desert and high desert will 30 mile stretches without water in the beginning.
Hello Itsinmyeyes, hope your PCT plans are still go. There's been some good answers to your questions. As far as your comment about being told that you can't do it and refusing to believe that, then your belief has already got you a good way along the trail! As someone else mentioned, a great deal of a successful long distance hike is mental attitude. If you really want to accomplish it, then barring accident or injury, you will. It is after all, only a series of day hikes. If you stick to it, your fitness whatever it is at the start, will only improve. Re' footwear, as has also been said, that is a personal preference. Personally I prefer a leather boot (Asolo) and find them neither too heavy nor too hot. They also give good support, especially if carrying a full pack. I've tried 'shoes' but badly sprained an ankle once in a nanosecond of inattention. If that had happened on the PCT it would have been disasterous. I find boots will take me across rivers, through snow and can even accept crampons if required and still last the distance, so for me they are a preference. But that's just my opinion. If you hike better with shoes or runners then go for it, but be aware that there will be less support. Six months is plenty. I took five (calendar) months on that particular hike, and I averaged 17 miles per day over that period. (That included 'layover' days) Keeping up a steady mileage is important. You'll only have a certain 'window' to do it in because of seasonal changes. Take too long, and you run the risk of getting 'snowed out' before you reach the Canadian border. I guess the two main pieces of equipment for a successful hike, if you have to pick just two, are your footwear and your pack. Don't skimp on those. In fact get the best you can afford of all your equipment. e.g., my pack and tent are now 19yrs old and still doing the biz. They were not cheap at the time I bought them and they've paid off with many miles of use. Good luck, it'll be a grand experience, it'll change you in subtle ways, and it'll be an experience that will stick with you as long as your memory does!