Things I Should Have Listened to as a Rookie Thru-Hiker

I was a rookie. I spent months scouring information about thru-hiking and the PCT. I read a lot of hiker blogs. I fine tuned my gear, I tested it (sort of), I walked with my pack, but none of this really prepared me for the truth of the trail. The trail boils everything down to it’s bare minimum: what do I need to survive, where is the next water source, how can I keep my feet, legs, body going, who am I, what am I doing? What I didn’t realize was how helpful some of the advice actually was. Of course, the trail teaches you these things and fast, but I’m going to share a few of the things that I wish I’d paid more attention to before I began. You should too, you won’t, but that’s okay, we all learn from experience.

Your Pack is Too Heavy

This is true! No matter what you think you need, you will learn very quickly what it means to carry it. I started out with 44lbs including food and water…and it was a wet year! By the time I reached Lake Morena I knew what I didn’t want to carry anymore. I literally cried in defeat as I did that first shakedown. I felt like each thing I gave up was a failure. That being said, don’t beat yourself up if you have to send stuff home. Just expect that this will happen. You will also likely make changes to your gear along the way. What you end up carrying will be what you personally decide is right for you. What other people carry or don’t carry is up to them (also file under Hike Your Own Hike). For example, after all of my research, I thought everyone carried the same water filter (Sawyer Squeeze), had the same backpack (ULA Circuit), and the same tent (Zpacks Solplex). The reality was that I saw a huge variety of filters, packs, and tents. You’ll learn what works for you.

These are some of the things I let go of:

  • Leatherman – too heavy
  • A large cotton scarf – I thought this would keep my head cool, it didn’t, and it was bulky and heavy
  • Extra sleeveless shirt – didn’t need it
  • Metal water bottle – just buy the plastic water bottles like everyone else, seriously, they are the lightest easiest option
  • Some food – I carried far too much food in the first section (see next point)
  • Umbrella – I sent it ahead to Acton for the real deserty parts
  • My coffee mug – I wasn’t using it
  • My iPod – This was a HUGE mistake. I sent it home because my mind was on trail overload, so I wasn’t thinking straight. I regretted it almost immediately. I got it back in Big Bear.

And these are the things I changed after leaving the trail:

You don’t need to carry so much food at the beginning

I carried enough food to get me to Warner Springs or so I thought. Apparently my planning went awry somewhere. I carried out 5 days of food (it took me 11 days to get to Warner Springs with a zero in Julian, see next point), but that was still too much. You can buy food in Lake Morena, Mount Laguna, and Julian. Later, it is necessary to carry more, but in the beginning don’t. There are enough new things to get used to without burdening yourself with extra food weight.

Hike Your Own Hike

This may be cliché by now, but it’s very important! It’s impossible to know how it’s going to go, especially in the beginning. It may take longer or shorter than you expect. You may find you want a break earlier or more often. You may want to hang out longer in one location, or you may want to book it. Most importantly, it doesn’t matter what other people are doing! Everyone is different. They have different gear, abilities, experience, fitness, desires, and mental fortitude. Just do you.

Get Guthook’s PCT App

I held out on this one because I had purchased or gotten all of the other resources: Yogi’s Handbook, and Halfmile’s maps, trail notes, and app. But Guthook’s is super useful for seeing where stuff is on the map at a quick glance, plus it has helpful up-to-date notes from other hikers. While hiking, I used it as much as or more than the Halfmile app. Of course it depends on having a working smartphone, but as long as you have that, it’s absolutely worth it.

Don’t underestimate the mental challenge

It helps if you know yourself well enough to know how you handle adversity, but if you don’t, you will learn pretty quickly how the mental challenge will be for you. This was my biggest struggle, and I’m still learning how to manage it. I would start by reading Pacific Crest Trials. Also, remember that although people may not be vocal about it, you are NOT alone. Everyone is struggling in some way. The trick is in how you choose to respond to the challenges; that’s what’s going to make all the difference.

The number one piece of advice I would give?

Drop all expectations. Do your best to prepare, but expect nothing. This will keep you open and flexible and less likely to fold under all of the unexpected challenges of the trail. The things you’ll see and experience are worth it, you could trust me on that, but I’d rather you learn that one for yourself.

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Comments 5

  • Vince Piquet : Nov 14th

    I am glad you have come to terms with your hike and continue to ruck on. Did ME, NH, and VT this year on the AT. Will be going back to start at the VT/MA border in June of ’18. Good advice, especially about the gear and the mental outlook. Fair winds and following seas Annette.
    Vince aka The Dude

  • David Mizer : Nov 17th

    Thanks for the pointers. As I gear up for a 2018 thru-hike of the PCT, I know that the mental game will be the toughest part. How I cope and come to terms with “trail adversity” will likely be the difference between finishing and prematurely getting off trail. Be strong and I hope you can get back on the PCT soon. HYOH.

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