Answering the Top 15 FAQs about the Pacific Crest Trail
Happy New Year! I’m responding to the top 15 most frequently asked questions I received about my hike.
- What’s that/where’s that? The Pacific Coast Trail, right?
I used to think it was called the Pacific Coast Trail, too. Growing up on the East Coast, I envisioned some trail going right along the coast of California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But the PCT, in fact, is nowhere near the coast. The Pacific Crest Trail (crest referring to the top of a mountain) starts at the US-Mexico border in a small town called Campo, California. The trail meanders through desert before reaching the rocky, mountainous terrain of the Sierra Nevada. The trail then traverses the forested Cascade Mountain range through Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, all the way north to the Canadian border, ending at Manning Park, Canada.
- How long will the trail take? A few weeks? A year?
On average, the entire 2,650-mile PCT takes 5 months to complete. There is a fairly narrow window to start the trail between March-May and finish by September or early October, before winter weather conditions and seasonal closures make it impractical to hike. Two fastest-known-times (FKTs) were set this year! Karel Sabbe holds the supported record and Nick Fowler holds the self-supported record, completing the trail in 46 and 52 days, respectively.
- What did you eat/how do you get food? Do you fish/hunt/forage along the trail? Is it all dehydrated food?
You eat ramen, mac and cheese, dehydrated meals, instant mashed potatoes, protein bars, wraps, candy, trail mix, chips and copious amounts of food on “town days.” My personal favorites were Farm to Summit meals, anything birthday-cake flavored, and apple sauce packets. There’s no way you could carry all the gear for fishing/hunting/foraging or have time to find food (if you want to finish before winter), let alone actually find enough food to sustain yourself.
- How much water do you carry? Where do you get water?
The recommendation is about 1 liter of water for every 4-5 miles, give or take depending on the individual and environment (are you in the desert heat, or are you in a shaded forest). I often carried 6 liters of water in the desert, earning me my trail name “Chamelle” (meaning camel, in French). Most thru-hikers carry some 1L Smart Water bottles and some sort of lightweight water carry bag without a hose, like a CNOC or Evernew (the one I used). The navigation app, “FarOut,” labels most water sources along the trail. Hikers can leave comments, updating if a source is still flowing or has dried up. That way, you can plan how much water you need to carry. Water sources range from rivers, streams, and lakes to water caches and tanks maintained by trail angels and the PCTA.
- How many miles do you hike a day?
This is going to vary widely from person to person. On average, I hiked 20 miles/day in California and 30 miles/day in Oregon. Days when you go into town or leave town are generally shorter. Your pace, trail family, locations of campsites, and number of days planned between towns decide your mileage. Before starting the PCT, ~25 miles was the farthest I had ever day-hiked and ~18 miles the farthest I had ever backpacked in a single day.
- Are you just outside for months on end with no showers or bed?
For the most part, yes! But you go into town about every 3-6 days or so to resupply at the grocery store, mail packages at the post office, hit the laundromat, and maybe get a shower and sleep in a bed at a motel or Airbnb with your trail family. But every other night, you’re sleeping in the tent you’re carrying on your back – there aren’t any hostels or shelters, like there are on the Appalachian Trail.
- Are you hiking alone/did you hike alone?
I started the hike alone, yes. But I saw people every day, and never camped alone. In 2023, about 70% of hikers reported starting the trail alone (a statistic from the one and only Halfway Anywhere’s PCT survey). Over the first week or so, I met people who eventually became my trail family ~ and all 8 of us hiked and camped together until we split up at Kennedy Meadows South.
- What do you do when you get bored? Did you bring something with you?
Friends asked if I’d bring a book, a journal, knitting, or maybe some binoculars. But the reality is you don’t have time for these things – or not with the way we were hiking, anyways. If you want to hike all 2,650 miles within the seasonal window, you have to hike. You have to keep going from sunrise to sunset. My friend Josie talks about this in her amazing episode on the Weatherproof podcast. Unfortunately, there just isn’t time to make s’mores over a bonfire or to lay by the river and read a book for hours. That being said, I did have one friend who carried a book, and another who carried a physical journal (at least at the beginning). I was always exhausted by the time I set up camp and ate dinner, and fell asleep right away.
As for getting bored, you bet! The caption on @titooo_lr’s post sums it up well. You are so sick of listening to the same downloaded offline music over and over. I found that I wasn’t interested in listening to audiobooks, and would turn them off after maybe 15-30 minutes, when normally I love listening to them. And the whole trail isn’t scenic – there are lots of bland parts, too.
- How do you know where to go?
FarOut, the most useful navigation app for thru-hiking the PCT. No maps, compass, or guidebooks. This app is pretty much hikers’ lifeline out there. Though much of the time, the trail is a visibly obvious path in front of you, with signed junctions. You just have to carry a big enough battery bank and not run down your battery in Extended or SOS areas (hello airplane mode).
- What wildlife did you see?
I hoped to see some bigger fauna, but the biggest I saw was probably a deer or a cow. Other thru-hikers mentioned seeing a bear and night hikers mentioned mountain lions (we could see their scat on the trail). The most dangerous animal I saw was a rattlesnake, and I saw about 10 in the California desert. The cutest was a pika, which I saw in Oregon. Other than that, mosquitoes were the most abundant.
- What was your favorite part?
In 2023, I hiked the California desert, northern California, and Oregon. In terms of scenery, my favorite was the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon. There were stunning colorful meadows, dramatic mountains, lakes and beautiful trees and sunsets. The desert had its moments too, and was my favorite in a way – since that’s when I hiked with my whole trail family!
- How many pairs of shoes did you go through?
I think 3 or 4. I started in New Balance Hierro trail runners, but those quickly became too small. I hiked for about a week or two with awful blisters. I got bigger shoes in Big Bear Lake, but they were way too big so I had to switch again. I landed on the Hoka Speedgoat trail runners. I went through two pairs of those, total.
- Were you ever scared?
The two things I was worried about most pre-hike were camping alone/not sleeping well at night and heights. Like I mentioned earlier, I never camped alone – and it didn’t really require active effort to avoid. I was always so exhausted by the time I was in my sleeping bag, that I slept more soundly than I had in months, even years. As for heights, I was a bit timid at times, but there is nothing too vertigo-inducing on the PCT. The things that I found myself the most scared of were hiking on slopes through snow and running out of water. It’s also worth noting that I never encountered anyone that made me feel scared (though of course, it’s always best to be mindful).
- Did you hike the whole thing??
The short answer is no. I hiked over 1,400 miles of the trail, and I intend to finish the remaining sections one day! For reference, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, hiked 1,100 miles. I’ve found there is often a bit of a fixation on hiking the whole trail, as if to write you off or discredit you a bit if you didn’t hike the entire thing. The topic of hiking the whole trail came up in conversation on the trail too, and I think a big question to consider is, if you couldn’t tell anyone about it, would you still want to hike the whole thing? Anyways, before I started the trail, I told myself that I wouldn’t quit on a bad day, and only would quit if there was something I wanted to pursue more. Once I reached Hood River, Oregon (near Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods), I really wanted to pursue life there and progress at kitesurfing for the rest of the windy season. It’s worth noting, it throws off the flow skipping a section (the Sierra, due to snow), having your trail family part ways, having to “flip-flop” due to fire closures, and going over budget. I’m happy with my hike, and I think everyone’s hike is valid and their own – hike your own hike, as they say.
- Why do you want to hike the PCT?
Last not but not least, the big question! The truth is, everyone has their surface-level response, like “I like backpacking and being in the mountains and nature”. But I found, everyone has a deeper reason for being out there. A reason for craving, even needing the time away from “real life”. I think it’s a chance to prove to yourself how strong and resilient you are. It’s a chance to step back and gain new perspectives, and to deeply connect with people from all over the country and world. It’s a chance to process what you’ve been through, reflect on where you want to go, all while simultaneously stepping away from all of that and allowing yourself to just be, with the only goal of putting one foot in front of the other and making it a little farther up the trail.
What other questions do you have? Feel free to message me @theworldisbeau or leave a comment! If you hiked the PCT, what FAQs did I miss?
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Loved your QA, thanks so much for the info. I was wondering what was your budget and did you stick to it? What was your initial cost of equipment and supplies? And then one more question, how old was the oldest person you saw or met on the trail? Thanks for taking the time and energy to read and answer my questions.
Hi Ken, thanks so much! Budget is a great question and I haven’t quite calculated it all out yet, and it will really vary based on gear selection, how much gear you already own, what you eat, how much of the trail you plan to hike, and the year (for example, 2023 was a high snow year so if you flipped around at all, your costs would be higher). That all said, I would budget for at least $10-12k to complete the entire trail. And if you don’t have a job waiting for you when you get back, I’d make sure you have some finances aligned so that you have resources for post-trail too. For gear, if you opt to buy all new ultralight gear, I’d budget for at least $1500.
There were plenty of older folks on the trail – some 60-70 year olds were keeping pace with our trail fam and hiking 20-25 miles a day! I think the oldest I met were older 70s. 🙂