Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT): The Ultimate Guide

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT): The Ultimate Guide

Backpacking trips are fun ways to explore new territory, but they can also provide grueling challenges that create lifelong memories. A short hike can be as simple as an hours-long day trip. If you want to complete any available route, including within the Triple Crown of Hiking, you’ll be backpacking for months.

The Triple Crown of Hiking includes three routes that span thousands of miles across the North American continent. This includes the Appalachian Trail alongside Eastern US and the Continental Divide Trail in the West. The last, and the focal point of this article, is the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail has long held an allure for long-distance hiking. This has been both for the power of the trail and the cultural touchstones associated with it. In 2012, Cheryl Strayed released the memoir Wild, later adapted into a movie, about her experiences hiking the trail. 

She achieved this grueling journey with zero prior hiking experience. To this end, we want to enable hikers of all levels to overcome this long-distance journey. 

The Pacific Crest Trail covers countless miles of terrain, offering new challenges to all. Below, Olivers will review what makes the PCT special and how to prepare for the most comprehensive hikes.

Defining the Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail covers 2,650 miles of land that crisscrosses through the West Coast States. The southern terminus of the trail begins in Campo, California, along the Mexican border. It travels through California, Oregon, and Washington, to cross into Canada and end up in British Columbia.

Along the way, some of the most gorgeous landscapes of the North American continent are placed on immediate view. These include both the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges and numerous national parks.

Clinton C. Clark was the first man to conceive the PCT. In the 1930s, he conceived of a hiking trail meant to highlight the complex beauty of the Western USA. He created a 75-foot long map of the trail alongside hiking guides and other paraphernalia. The route would eventually become an official national trail in 1968, signed into law by President Johnson.

The early explorations of the PCT were done by relay. The first reported hike of the entire trail by one person was documented in 1952 by Martin Papendick. The first definitive hike of the trail after it officially became what it was is disputed. These debates come from whether or not particular hikers used rides or other documented aids. 

In Southern California, starting near Mexico, the hike goes through verdant and desert environments, as well as cities like San Jacinto. Going north allows for an approach to Mt. Whitney on the western side.

The Oregon stretch of trail includes Crater Lake and other national forests. This concludes with a trek across the Bridge of the Gods. At 143 feet high and over 1,800 feet in length, the bridge makes for a special stretch of trail. The Washington portion of the journey crosses just over the Canadian border to Manning Park, British Columbia. 

Prepping For Your Trail

If traveling from the Mexico border to the Canadian border by foot sounds daunting, it should. Many hikers only choose to travel certain parts of the trail as the entire trip requires a significant amount of time that tends to clash with career and educational obligations.

The first thing you need to prepare for traveling along the PCT is time and a sense of scale. With 2,600 miles to travel from end to end, you have plenty of ground to cover. It takes nearly five months for a thru-hike, and thru-hikers will be rewarded with national parks and more. 

A PCT thru-hike, traversing the entire trail, is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences a hiker can have. PCT hikers face complex wildlife, the risk of wildfires, and more. They don’t have to do this alone, though.

What Is the Pacific Crest Trail Association?

The Pacific Crest Trail Association exists to provide backup for new and experienced hikers alike.

The PCTA and many other professional groups provide guidebooks highlighting essentials for would-be world travelers. Many locals also offer benefits and guidance, as many small towns become universal destinations. Trail angels exist that provide food, shelter, and other forms of aid to hikers in need.

You can also get help from home on the trail. Many organizations and post offices will hold packages marked for PCT travelers at certain destinations. This can make it great to resupply with food and emergency supplies you may need over your time. These can be mailed in advance, or you can have people at home mail packages for you before your arrival.

Many backpackers also limit the weight of their gear. From heaviest to lightest are traditional, light, and ultralight backpacking. The latter of these only carries ten pounds of gear on their person.

Going this light isn’t a necessity. Proper gear, however, is. 

Basic Gear To Bring

There’s no totally comprehensive PCT gear list. What you should instead be looking for are pieces that serve overarching purposes. 

First, you need a way to navigate the world around you. This includes a map, a compass, and possibly a device with GPS functionality. When you’re out in the wilderness for months on end, you can’t always rely on your phone service. However, it may work with extra or solar battery packs if you are only out for a few days.

A good first aid kit is also essential; both DIY and store-bought options are viable. In case of an immediate emergency like broken bones or rattlesnake bites, you should prematurely end your hike. A wildlife or nature guide can also help you navigate both topographic and biological obstacles. They can also help you find clean water sources when you are in need.

Your camp supplies, including a tent and sleeping bag, should be minimal but effective. You should also bring a modest repair kit, as the trail won’t always be kind to your gear. A bear canister and bear spray can be helpful when you invariably enter the territory of this wildlife. 

You’ll inevitably end up traveling or staying up at night or in low light. A flashlight or headlamp offers illumination in these situations.

Your own body is your best friend when you are trekking along the trail. Healthy, nonperishable foods and plentiful water are vital, along with suitable sun protection. This includes sunscreen and apparel with UPF protection for days spent fully in the sun. 

The PCT, especially in the last decade, has become an increasingly important national hiking trail. This makes conservancy efforts all the more critical. Leave no trace helps sustain the natural ecosystem and protects the trail for future hikers.

More Gear to Style Your Trip

The gear you pack to wear and use is more than just a tool to get you from point A to point B. It’s the embodiment of your style for days, weeks, or even months on end — the more arduous the journey, the more its performance fabric matters. 

Ripstop nylon is the optimal material for heavy-duty items like tents and sleeping bags. Nylon as a material originated in the 1930s and immediately saw commercial and military use. Ripstop nylon built strength and stopped tears from spreading, making it the material used in WW2-era parachutes. The material is essential to those items we need to last.

For this reason, our Compass Pant uses ripstop nylon, but we aren’t content to let the material rest. The fabric in the pant is also coated to be water-repellent and UV coated. From slick marsh to sunny mountain, it is designed to help guide you wherever you go.

Another material to be on the look for is merino wool. Wool has unique thermoregulating properties that make it effective in multiple environments. It can trap heat when temperatures drop and allow breathability under the sweltering sun. With the level of variety your environments provide, you only need one material to fit any situation.

Our Convoy Tee is powered by merino wool. 11 different colorways in cool, neutral, and earth tones allow it to fit into any hiking wardrobe.

Your choice of material has everything to do with how you operate. Versatile, performance tech allows you to journey further while traveling with less.

Traveling the PCT

We travel for many reasons. We travel for the feeling. We travel for the accomplishment that awaits us on the horizon. We travel because others have done things in the past, and we want to go further. 

The PCT provides a masterful access to the most impressive hiking in the Western United States. A day hike can provide wonderful memories, but a months-long exploration of the PCT can provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

The best time to thru-hike the PCT is in the early spring, going into the fall. This will have you weather the warmth of summer without needing to endure the frost of winter. On the PCT or any other trail or adventure, Olivers is here to guide you. 


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