Main Differences Planning My First Vs. Second Thru-Hike

Sometimes I forget I’m leaving for the PCT in two months. A friend will offer ticket to a concert in July, or throw around plans for a May climbing trip, and I’ll have to remind myself I won’t be in Montana. I have a pile of gear sitting in my closet that I trip over on a daily basis, but it doesn’t always register that it’s for the PCT. Make no mistake… I’m stoked. But it’s different than the pre-AT butterflies and constant obsessing I felt in the months leading up to the AT.

Doing something as impactful as taking 5-6 months out of your life to hike over 2,000 miles is a big deal, but doing it for the second time feels more familiar. In some ways you know what to expect, and while the excitement is still there, the mystery isn’t. These are the main things that feel different this time around, and what I anticipate doing differently on the PCT than the AT.

I’m Planning Significantly Less

Pre-AT, I’d been backpacking less than five nights in my life. I spent a considerable amount of time researching gear, planning mileage (lol), and packing resupply boxes. I’ve done enough backpacking in the years since then to have a decent understanding of my own gear and mileage abilities, and also thanks to all of my AT plans going to shit once I actually got on trail, I know not to plan any more than I have to. This time, I’m sending one box to the desert and one box to Kennedy Meadows. That’s it. I’ll resupply from the trail from there. I’m not even sure where I’m staying once I get to California a few nights before my start date. I have plane tickets to San Diego and a vague timeline of when I’d like to finish, but beyond that, no planning. I’m going to show up with my gear, enough food to get to my first resupply, and go from there.

I’m (Mostly) Hiking Alone

maggie Slepian PCT grand canyon

My boyfriend has thru-hiking plans of his own this year, so except for few weeks of hiking with him in the desert, I’ll be on my own. I’m looking forward to this. I often felt like an accessory on the AT. My ex would get asked (with me standing right there), “How did you drag her along?” As bothered as I was, it was hard for me to speak up and tell people that it was my idea, and I’d dragged him along. I’m looking forward to being on my own schedule and not worrying about someone else. I’m anticipating being both lonely and being open to meeting cool people out there.

My Gear Is Hella Lighter

maggie Slepian PCT grand canyon

Lighter gear = happier hiker, especially when you off-the-couch the Grand Canyon and nearly perish.

I started the AT with a 40-pound pack. Nothing about me looked like I had a conceivable chance of finishing a thru-hike. By the time I got to Damascus, I’d bought an entirely new setup that cost about $1,000 (effectively doubling what I spent on gear) but ended up getting me to Katahdin. This time, I know how important pack weight is, and I’m hoping to not have to switch as much. I’m also not cooking at all—no stove setup, no extra water, no cleanup. I hate cooking in real life, and I really hate cooking in the backcountry.

My 2020 Life Is Nicer Than My 2015 Life

Maggie Slepian PCT


When I left for the AT in early March 2015, I was living in my ex’s parents’ basement, delivering sandwiches, and teaching kids how to climb for a living. Things were sort of bleak, but they’ve improved since then. I own a house, I have a rad job, and I have a great group of friends who are always down to ski, run, bike, or climb. My motivations for the AT weren’t entirely fueled by being dissatisfied with my life, but I was certainly looking for a break. I’m definitely going to miss my life this time around.

I’m Not Starting the PCT in Such Abysmal Shape

Maggie Slepian PCT

Skate skiing: For when you want to hit your Vo2 Max in ~6.8 seconds.

I “trained” for the AT by eating gas station chicken fingers and doughnuts. While that wasn’t a deal breaker once I hit the trail, it did make for a hard first 400 miles. Montana winters are long, though, and while I’m not pounding trail miles on foot and on bike like I do in the summer, I am trying to stay more active leading up to the PCT. This mostly means skate skiing and yoga, but it’s better than nothing.

I Swear I’ll be Less Stupid With Money

maggie Slepian PCT cat

I feel like there should be a photo beneath every subhead (editor probs) so in the absence of a photo of money, here’s the love of my life wearing his bat wings.

I’m not actively budgeting, but I’m definitely planning on spending less this time around. Hiking by myself means I’ll be less likely to get sucked into longer town stops, and coming back broke from the AT was not fun. I also have more bills I’ll be responsible for upon returning, so keeping a cushion in the bank account is critical. We’ll see how this one plays out though. I am historically terrible with saying no to myself.

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Comments 5

  • Chill Bill : Feb 22nd

    Hey Maggie!

    I love this take as this is exactly what I’m going through myself. I definitely relate with the planning bit, so much so that I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not planning enough. I also hiked the AT in 2019 with a female partner and got the same questions your ex received but it was my partner that also dragged me out there!

    Are you hiking NOBO or SOBO? I hope to see you out there!

    • Maggie : Feb 23rd

      Heading NOBO in late April! Glad someone else can relate to the non-planning of a second hike. You with the partner again or on your own?

  • Liz (Chuckles) : Feb 27th

    OMG I thru-hiked the PCT last summer with my bf and several people asked him the same thing, “how did you drag her along?” Especially since he had already thru hiked the AT and it was my first thru hike. But I had wanted to hike the PCT before we even met. I wish I had spoken up more to those comments…

    Good luck on the PCT this summer – it is AWESOME! I’m back at work but itching for another thru hike soon.

  • Janelle Gavin : Feb 29th

    Spartacus and I wish you the best of luck. This article made spartacus smile. Brought back memories for him. We hope that all goes well for you on this hike. We will be following you. If I was close I would pick you up and cook you a meal. Good luck happy hiking. You sound so postive about this hike. Hopefully Spartacus wise words have helped. Love the Gavins

    • Maggie Slepian : Feb 29th

      Janelle! So amazing to hear from you. Huge hug to you and Spartacus <3


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