Are You Bringing Bear Spray? And Other Random Questions for a PCT Thru-Hike

It’s been over a month since I announced to family and friends that I will be attempting a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

After the shock and disbelief from family and friends, these are some of the questions I’ve received:

  1. How long will it take you to hike all 2650 miles?
  2. You’ll be going with a guide, right?
  3. Where will you sleep?
  4. What will you do if it rains?
  5. What clothes are you taking?
  6. You must have good hiking boots?
  7. Will you carry a firearm?
  8. What about bears and snakes?
  9. Aren’t you worried about serial killers?
  10. What about your husband? What will he do? (most frequently asked question)

This is by no means an extensive list. I figured I would just address the most common or wildly bizarre questions here.

Most people take between 5 and 6 months to complete the PCT. The matter of completion is somewhat personal. There are some who are determined to walk each and every mile of the trail in a continuous footpath. This means that they don’t skip any miles and if they leave the trail to go to a town for resupply they return to the trail at the exact same spot. This is the ultimate goal for me, to be able to come home and say that I hiked all 2650 miles!

In reality however, it is becoming increasingly harder to hike all the trail miles considering how many fires continue to force hikers off trail. Not that it cannot be done; it sure can, but it all depends on your timing, the weather and how quickly you’re hiking those miles.

I have done the math, and it would take me 183 days (April through September) to complete 2650 miles, at 14.4 miles per day. That’s six months, and although, still ambitious, doable. But I have to take into account that I would probably take a few days off in-between to rest my happy feet and a few half days off, to organize resupply. There might have to be some higher mileage days in there too, but my goal is to start off slow, build up some momentum, and reach the Canadian border before snowfall. I want to stop and take as many photos as possible, not forgetting to enjoy myself, as this is a once in a lifetime opportunity! I believe that if I start off with lower daily mileage, thereby decreasing possibilities for injury and increase mileage by 5 to 10 miles per week, I will be home before September 30th.

There is no guide on a PCT thru-hike, but what an amazing job that would be!

My family and I did a guided horseback pack trip a few years ago through Kananaskis country in Alberta, Canada. The trip was for four days, with a guide and pack horses that carried all our food and gear. It was by far the best family vacation we have ever taken. Having a horse carry all my food and gear while a guide points out all the local geographic details and fun facts sounds like a dream PCT hike. But I think that the most appealing part of hiking the PCT is living out in the wilderness for six months on my own, carrying everything I need to survive on my own back! The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) accepts volunteers for various projects throughout the year, I would certainly be open to going back one day to do some trail maintenance!

I’ll sleep in a tent, on an air mattress, under a quilt in my thermals.

Sleeping on the ground is not for everyone, including me! To be honest, I have never slept on the ground for more than four nights in a row, and I sure hope that with time I learn to love it or at least figure out how to enjoy it. The topic of gear, not to mention ultralight gear, is an endless conversation. I have bought gear over the last two years with budget, weight, and comfort (in that order) in mind. Some gear hasn’t worked for me, and some has proven to be priceless. I have settled on my gear choices for the most part but may still change up a couple of things between now and April.

Here’s what I’m taking:

The Big Things: Backpack, tent, closed cell foam sleep pad, air mattress, quilt, inflatable pillow

Backpack, shelter, sleeping gear

Cooking: MSR PocketRocket stove, 1.1 Litre pot, utensil, 2 water bottles, 1 water reservoir, 1 water filter/purification tablets, propane cylinder, plastic jar with lid

Cooking and water filtration

Hygiene: Toilet paper, trowel, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste tablets, anti-chafe, floss, half hair brush, bandana, sunscreen


Electronics: Garmin inReach (GPS), smartphone, earbuds, portable battery bank, charging cables

First Aid and Electronics

First Aid: Luekotape for blisters, pain killers, anti-nausea/diarrhea tablets, band-aids, tweezers for those pesky ticks, nail clippers

Clothing: Shorts, three pairs of socks, down jacket, rain jacket, long pants, thermal sleepwear, fleece, warm hat, neck warmer, trail runners


Extra Gear: Microspikes, ice axe, headlamp, compass, maps, emergency blanket, mosquito head net, cork massage ball, Kula cloth


Luxury Item: Mini watercolor paint set (undecided)

There are a few items not listed or not photographed at the time of these pictures.

Everything has to fit in my backpack and hopefully weighs less than 15 pounds (ha ha). On paper, I am close to 21 pounds, but I am not too stressed about the weight of my pack. I may get a lot of seasoned hikers giving me advice on how to shave weight by getting rid of certain things, but I am not willing to compromise yet! If I see that after a few 100 miles, I am not using certain items, or they’re not working for me, I may send them home.

My Weapon of Choice

I laughed when I was first asked whether I would be arming myself with a gun while on trail. But a few people were quite serious, and I guess I can see why. Walking in the wilderness on my own, facing unknown dangers, wild animals and possibly serial killers is a cause for concern! No, Mom, don’t worry, I will be quite safe! I am starting out my hike on my own, but it won’t take too long to form up with a group of other hikers and camp together.

Black bears are common in areas of California, Oregon, and Washington but usually shy away from people and are not a threat unless food is improperly stored. Sightings of mountain lions on the trail are not unheard of but are quite rare. Rattlesnakes are fairly common but I haven’t ever heard of any hikers being bitten.

Just for fun, I did a quick search on the Internet for serial killers on trail, and in August 2015, a killer was in fact using the trail to evade police! After an 18-day manhunt by police, he was captured near a mini-mart after being recognized by an employee. I will look out for myself in those resupply towns and my weapon of choice will be keeping my wits about me, staying informed, and going with my gut. Common sense will prevail.

My Dear Husband (MDH)

We met in November 1991, and after forming a strong friendship, began dating. This year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. MDH has always been my strongest supporter and my biggest fan. He thought he had seen it all when I had this insane idea to start a career in policing at the age of 36! Little did he know that, at age 50, my plan would be to hike a 2650-mile trail. It took him a moment to come around to my craziness, and he did an extensive amount of reading and research and finally decided that he would join me.

At first, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea. After all, this was my dream. We talked about it extensively. At one point, my daughter entertained the idea of tagging along for the first 200 miles too, and then my son didn’t want to be left out either. The whole family was jumping on the PCT wagon, and it seemed like this might be an amazing opportunity for a family experience.

Not a “happy camper.”

Slowly they have been dropping like flies, and all decided that a five-month thru hike or less is not for them. MDH has dreams of his own, and he will continue to pursue those. He fully supports me, has been encouraging all through my training, and although I hate to speak for him, he has come to realize that his wife will continue to do crazy, wild things and he’s okay with that because he knows he married a badass!

MDH always full of encouragement and support.

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Comments 2

  • Lauren Maker : Dec 21st

    Oh Leonie, you are an incredible human being! I’m super proud of you and cannot wait to hear everything!

    How will you blog on your hike?
    Can we track you daily?

    You have a African spirit in you!

    This is going to be an epic journey my darling friend!

  • Cindy Strowe : Dec 21st

    Love your post! I think you will do great, and have a great time.


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