My To-Do List Before Hitting the Trail

Congratulations on the decision to thru-hike one of the great long-distance trails in the United States of America, the Pacific Crest Trail. That was the easy part, the decision. You may have been planning your thru-hike for years, or just decided on impulse to thru-hike, or you may have completed a thru-hike recently or in the past and you are now ready for the PCT. You are going to be either living in the USA/Canada or live on the other side of the world traveling to the Northern/Southern Terminus to start your thru-hike, your adventure of a lifetime.

You have read articles in The Trek, you have joined the Facebook class pages, read books, watched countless YouTube videos, researched gear and made gear purchases, changed out gear, started your training hikes and connecting with like-minded hikers. Your start date is getting very close and you are super excited. Your head is spinning. Have I missed anything? OMGosh, I have so much to do! Or you could be cool baby and have everything under control.

This is not a complete list, but my comprehensive administration list as an international hiker starting NOBO.

Pre-Trail Courses

Map and compass course: Learn how to read a map and compass, navigate using a map and compass, know the difference between true north, magnetic north, and grid north, understand magnetic declination and remember that the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere have many differences with regard to navigation.

Global compass: You can purchase a global compass that will work in both hemispheres.

Snow skills survival course: Learn how to use an ice axe and self-arrest, walk in snowshoes, walk and climb in crampons, and understand an avalanche.

PLB/SPOT/Garmin inReach: Which one is right for you? Enroll in a course that teaches you how to use your device and that your device is more than just a SOS button.

Wilderness/remote first aid course: Learn how to bandage a snake bite, understand the signs and symptoms and how to treat hyperthermia and hypothermia, learn CPR. Many courses cover much more in depth.

Major Administration

Passport: Do you need a passport to travel to the USA/Canada? Is your passport in good condition and not about to expire? If in doubt apply for a new passport. Leave a copy of your passport at home or take a photo in case you lose your passport.

Visa (international hikers): You can apply for your visa before you have your PCT thru-hike permit. A non-immigrant B2 visa is the most common visa for your thru-hike. You will need to apply online and attend an interview at the US Consulate/Embassy in your nearest city. You can choose a one, five, or, if allowed, a ten-year visa. Upon entry into the US and satisfying the US Customs and Border Protection Officer, you have 180 days until you need to exit the US (don’t overstay). Also note that travel to Canada and Mexico are included in the 180 days (contiguous countries). You can also apply for a visa extension once in the USA for the B2 visa only. If you are only planning a section hike or no more than three months on trail then the visa waiver program (90 days) will suffice if you are eligible. Always check online with your nearest US Consulate/Embassy for up to date rules and regulations regarding non-immigrant visas.

Permit to thru-hike the PCT: Highly sought-after permits are released in November and the following January for the next thru-hiking season. See PCTA website: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/pct-long-distance-permit/

Travel insurance (international hikers): Does your travel insurance cover hiking at altitude, wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe, and has no limit on the amount of money it will pay for your medical treatment in the US? Does the policy include SAR and MEDIVAC? Do you have any pre-existing medical conditions? You need to ask questions and do your research before deciding on which company. Your credit card provider may cover some of your travel insurance and you will need to contact your provider.

Health insurance (for US citizens): I am unable to comment on this topic. If you use the search function on the class page there are endless discussion threads.

Garmin inReach: If you have an active subscription you can purchase optional coverage plans for GEOS SAR and GEOS MEDIVAC. You will need to login to your Garmin account. Make sure you are not doubling up on your travel insurance with regard to SAR and MEDIVAC.

Canadian entry permit: Are you planning on entering Manning Park, BC, after the Northern Terminus? Even if you are not, and if eligible, still apply as plans change. Every US, Canadian, and international hiker requires a Canadian entry permit. You can apply once you have your visa and PCT thru-hiking permit. See PCTA website: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/canada-pct-entry-permit/

California fire permit: You must have a California fire permit to use a stove, lantern, or have a campfire on most of the PCT in California. Apply from Jan. 1 for the current thru-hiking season. See PCTA website: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/california-fire-permit/

Administration

Credit/debit/ATM cards: Make sure your cards are not going to expire while on trail and ensure you contact your card provider and let them know of your plans so your card is not canceled while you are on the trail.

Exchange rate: As in international, you will pay fees to use your card and to withdraw cash. There are institutions that offer no fees if you deposit a certain amount each month into the account. Worth looking into. Also work out your budget for the trail in USD, then convert to your currency so you know how much you will need to save.

Cash on the trail: Carry $50 to $100.

Tipping: Ensure your budget covers tipping. Fifteen to 20 percent is standard at restaurants where table service is provided. One dollar per drink at bars. Tipping is for service, so anything that is a service, such as hairdresser (15-20%), taxi drivers (15-20%), and housekeepers ($2-5 per night). Thru-hikers tend to share a room with two, three and four other hikers, and usually leave a mess. Bathroom dirt, extra towels, extra trash from shopping and resupply boxes and alcohol bottles. Be respectful and leave a generous tip of twenty dollars, when split four ways, five dollars each, for housekeeping to deal with the additional cleaning. Don’t ruin it for the thru-hikers on trail behind you.

Phone SIM and data: Make sure your phone is unlocked. Using a plan from your own country will be very expensive. Most trail towns have free Wi-Fi. Companies in the US include Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. I am looking at https://www.telaway.com/, which will give me my US phone number and SIM before I depart for the US.

Vaccinations: Maybe not needed but see your travel doctor.

Dentist: Have final checkup before you start your thru-hike.

Medications: Many thru-hikers are on medications such as thyroid tablets or insulin. Will you carry enough medication for your entire hike? Do you need to contact trail angels and store medications at their place? Know the rules and regulations for bringing medication into the US and for posting medications in the US.

Uber/Lyft: Sign up to Uber/Lyft as you will never know when you will need to ride share, when you can’t get a ride any other way.

UPS/USPS/FedEx: I am unable to comment on this topic. If you use the search function on the class page there are endless discussion threads.

Stamps for postcards: I am planning on sending postcards from trail towns and will carry a few stamps, so I can write and post while I’m doing laundry. Make sure you have addresses for family and friends that you will send cards to.

Business cards: Vistaprint does cheap cards, and it’s worth getting some cards made up with your name and details to hand out to people that you connect with or take photos of you. Saves trying to find pen and paper.

Trail runners: Can you buy your favorite trail runners in the USA? You don’t want to pay extra to have your runners shipped from your home country, unless you bring all four pairs and post them up the trail.

Shakedown: Get a private shakedown of your gear from a previous thru-hiker.

Driver’s license: In case you need to rent a car or need ID at a bar.

Create a shopping list for San Diego: Fuel canister, phone SIM/data package, food/snacks, and any last-minute gear purchases.

Power of attorney/will: Everyone should have these in place anyway, but if not, now is the time to visit your solicitor to make these arrangements.

Sticky notes/pen: Put a pad of sticky notes and a pen next to your bed, so that when you are trying to sleep, and your mind is ticking over, you will think of something, so write it down, as you will forget in the morning.

Journal: I read that many hikers regret not making daily notes. This is going to be, for me, probably my only time in life to do a thru-hike, so I will journal daily: steps/miles, starting mile and location finish, milestone, wildlife, money spent, how I slept, such as cowboy camped/tent/hostel/hotel, showers, laundry, and anything else of importance.

Logistics

Plane/train/automobile/trail angels/bus/rental car/Uber/taxi/hitching: Traveling to San Diego, then getting to the Southern Terminus. For some PCT thru-hikers this could be a 40-minute trip, for some it’s a 40-hour journey with hikers coming from all over the US and the world.

Accommodations in San Diego: If you arrive between certain dates, you can stay with the famous Scout and Frodo http://sandiegopct.com/. Note: 2020 will be their last year hosting hikers. Either side of their dates you have trail angels/hostels/hotels/other hikers/family and friends.

Social Media

Social media: A great way to document your thru-hike for your family and friends, and for the wider hiker community. This can include blogging, vlogging, Facebook private page, Facebook business page or a Facebook group, Instagram, and Twitter. Ensure that you have all your social media platforms active and know how to use these platforms prior to starting your thru-hike.

Editing videos: If you are vlogging, understand the video editing software that you will use and practice making videos and editing well before you start your thru-hike.

Electronics

Phone: Do you need to upgrade your phone? Do you have enough storage? How will you save photos and videos from your phone while on trail? Download podcasts, music, and audible books to listen to while on trail.

Earbuds/headphones: Bluetooth earbuds are safer as opposed to traditional headphones with the cord that plug into your port. The cord could get tangled in gear, tree branch, or another piece of equipment. Earbuds have no external cords.

Camera: Send your memory cards home when full so you don’t lose the memory cards on trail. Have spare batteries and memory cards.

USB adapter: Buy a three to four USB port adapter with US plug.

Electronic items: Label all items with your name, Dymo label all your different cords, put your name and phone number on your Garmin inReach.

Garmin inReach: You will need to purchase a subscription. Ensure you load three free preset messages to send daily, download the PCT maps prior to the trail, download the Earthmate app on your phone, and set up your account so your family can track you. Test your inReach to make sure everything works and contact Garmin support in your country for further assistance.

Track your steps: Imagine how many steps you will take? Could be a contest with your family and friends, guess how many steps you will step to complete your thru-hike.

Personal

Pacific Crest Trials book: Write three lists—I am hiking the PCT because, When I successfully thru-hike the PCT I will, and If I give up on the PCT I will. This could be a personal list or a list that you hang next to your PCT wall map or on your dream/vision board.

Tell everyone: You will have to repeat yourself hundreds of times, but your family and friends need to know what you are doing, and you need their support, especially once on trail. When you are having a tough day, who is that one person you can talk to? To give you the motivation you need not to quit and to persuade you in not going home? You know the saying: never quit on a bad day!

Hold a PCT going away party: A great opportunity to be with your family and friends in one place and to thank them/say goodbye prior to your departure. These people will be your biggest cheerleaders supporting you mentally, and maybe financially, as you hike.

Be present: You have planned, you have devoted a lot of time to this thru-hike, you have been away from family planning/hiking and now you are down to the final few weeks before you depart for four to six months and these final few weeks will fly by so quick. You are excited. Be present for those you are leaving behind, your loved ones, your family. Spend quality time together and be there for them while you can. At the end of the day, they are hiking the trail with you, just not physically.

This list doesn’t include your home situation, e.g., selling your belongings, putting items in storage, moving out of your apartment/home, leaving money for bills, setting up automatic payments, resigning from your work or taking a leave of absence, car insurance, mail redirection, unsubscribe from emails, plants, pets, cancel streaming services, internet, car storage, completing your tax, gear and resupply. Those are other lists!

Please comment if you think of anything to add to this list so it can be updated at a later stage or if you found any of my to-do list helpful as you prepare for your thru-hike. Happy trails!

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway

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Comments 5

  • Laurien : Feb 19th

    Thabks for makinha good list. I would recommend at LEAST $20 for housekeepers at hotels/motels/hostels. You will probably split it with other hikers and the damage you leace behind (lots of towels, your general funk from not showering, packaging from food for resupply, etc.). They are underpaid and unappreciated, they have to deal with the aftermath. 🙂

    Reply
    • Vanessa Dodd : Feb 20th

      Thank you for your feedback Laurien. I agree, you stack a room with 2 or more hikers, and its extra towels and extra mess, not to mention the hiker funk!

      Reply
  • Richard A Mulvey : Feb 20th

    Not to seem ignorant, but the thought of “having to” acquire a thru-hiker tag concerns me…
    Does this now mean that a form of regulation is going to be placed upon all trail hikers as a requirement?
    I do understand that regulation of trail hikers is an affirmative action towards overcrowding at trail shelters and waypoints, but what is next?
    As I see it, Congress established the National Trail System to provide everyone with an “escape,” per-say, of everyday drudgery and work. The trail system was to bring us back to nature.
    Now, it is being infringed upon by regulation?
    Don’t get me wrong, but when I section hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2009-10, I’ve come across several homeless people that really do not belong in the trail shelters.
    So, does that warrant regulation whereas i, the thru hiker, must comply with registering for classes and a thru-hiker tag?
    Sounds more like control to me…
    Sorry to say.

    Reply
    • Vanessa Dodd : Feb 20th

      Hi Richard, I’m from Australia, and this is MY to do list that I shared on The Trek in a hope of assisting others in their preparation for their thru-hike. You can do a course if you like before you hit the trail or you can simply do nothing. It is totally up to the future thru-hiker what they do in relation to their own preparation. Thank you for your comment and I hope you continue to enjoy articles on The Trek.

      Reply
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