A Day in the Life of a Thru-Hiker: SoCal Edition 

You’ll often hear hikers speak of the trail in sections of sort; namely Southern California, the Sierra Range, the tiny Northern California section, Oregon, and Washington. We do this partially to break down the magnitude of the task ahead of us, but mostly to make it easier when talking about conditions, required equipment and the like. The Southern California section is generally considered to be from Campo (mile 0) to Kennedy Meadows (mile 704) and has it’s own particular brand of challenges (the lack of water, the heat) that greet northbound hikers at the start of their journey. Having now hiked 454 of those 704 Southern California miles, I thought I’d try and paint a picture of a typical day on trail.

Time to Get Moving

The day starts early for our particular hiking family; our alarms beep before daybreak (generally 4:30 – 5:30, depending on that particular day’s plan and weather) and we slowly persuaded ourselves to leave the warmth of our sleeping bags. We pack up our tents by the light of our headlamps, set to the red setting and moving silently to avoid waking any fellow hikers not so inclined to early mornings. Once we’re packed up, I pull out the first of that day’s protein bar and we eat it as we walk.

Morning Hiking

A major reason for our early morning habit is to avoid doing major miles in the afternoon heat. Because of this, we hike quickly in the mornings, aiming for 10 miles before 10 AM; sometimes we make it, sometimes we don’t. We once managed 10 miles by 8:30 AM, but that involved a 3:30 AM wake up and we were attempting to avoid a heat wave. After a couple of hours of hiking we stop for what our family has affectionately named “second breakfast,” often a cereal bar with our coffee, which is mixed up cold in a Gatorade bottle with peanut butter powder for extra calories.

The Afternoon

Since we get so many of our miles done in the morning, the pressure is off for the afternoon; we have the whole day to get the rest in. We usually aim for 10 more miles; sometimes we make more, sometimes we make less. We hike slower now, and take short pauses when we pass under shade. Often, an afternoon nap is in order, under shade if we can find it, and under our reflective umbrellas if we can’t. Lunch is generally whatever we can  put in a tortilla, peanut butter, tuna, salami, trail mix, hot sauce, you name it. Throughout the day we keep a close eye on the water report, looking to see how far we have until the next water source and if we’ll be able to reach it before we are done for the day.

All Done

Once we settle on our camping spot the tents go up and the Pocket Rocket stoves come out. We rehydrate our supper, often ramen, packaged pasta meals, or another grain with some sort of add in (bacon bits, tuna, beef jerky.) If it’s one of the first two nights since a resupply we’ll also have a vegetable. The preparation for the next morning starts now, sorting out the next day’s food and setting out the morning’s protein bar. It’s then off to bed, if we manage stay awake past 7:30, we are quite proud of ourselves! The next day, the routine starts all over again…

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Comments 2

  • Ashlie : May 16th

    Hi, Lisa. I appreciate this article in giving a glimpse of life on the trail. I’m curious how you were connected with your ‘hiking family’. I’m keen on thru-hiking the PCT and would love to do so with a group.

    • Lisa : May 16th

      Hi Ashlie! It just happened spontaneously on trail; we all seemed to have compatible hiking styles and were doing similar mileage, (and therefor kept bumping into each other) so it only seemed natural to hike together. Most groups that have formed seem to have happened in the same fashion. Best of luck with your PCT dreams!


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