Navigation

The PCT is not always easy to find. Carry maps and a compass and know how to use them. The detailed turn-by-turn descriptions in the guidebooks can also be helpful in keeping you found. We recommend learning navigation skills from a skilled and experienced teacher.

Six important tips

  • PCT sign. Photo by Ryan Weidert

    Photo by Ryan Weidert

    The trail is generally marked at intersections and very occasionally by “reassurance markers” along the way. It is a wilderness path and navigation skills are necessary. You’ll find some unsigned intersections and you’ll miss others because you were distracted or the sign wasn’t obvious.

  • When the trail is covered in snow, finding it may be impossible. The Pacific Crest Trail is not designed, nor intended, for snow travel. You’ll have to be an excellent navigator to follow the trail corridor when it’s covered.
  • Know where you are at all times. It’s much easier to look at your maps regularly than it is to locate yourself when you’re lost.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Keep track of the peaks, drainages, slopes and other features that you pass. A running tally of the past few hours is invaluable. It’ll tip you off if you suddenly start heading down switchbacks that aren’t on the map.
  • Never rely solely on a digital device for your maps. It may run out of batteries, get soaked or otherwise break. Carry paper maps.
  • Magnetic declination varies from about 11o to 16o on the Pacific Crest Trail. This is important information when using a compass. Calculate the magnetic declination on noaa.gov. Your compass won’t tell you where to go, but it’ll help you orient the map and figure out general directions. Study your map closely for the answer to where you are and where you should be.
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Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton