Experience the Pacific Crest Trail.
A world of stunning beauty awaits.
The PCT is rugged, remote and it can be challenging and dangerous. You are responsible for your own safety and you should do everything you can to avoid unnecessary rescues.
Don’t go alone.
Find someone with experience who will take you out. Most anyone would appreciate an invitation to take a hike. Open your address book and start making calls. Online, meetup.com and the PCT Facebook group are two great ways to find partners. Traveling alone in the wilderness adds significant risk. There really is safety in numbers. Only experienced, knowledgeable people who understand the risks and how to mitigate them should hike alone.
Days in full sun, especially at high elevation, can lead to intense sunburns, blistering, rashes and exhaustion. Bonus: helps prevent skin cancer.
Sunglasses – Bring extra dark lenses with fuller coverage if you’re going to be on snow. Bonus feature: eye protection while bushwhacking.
Sunscreen and lip balm – Dry, cracked lips are nearly a fact of life for hikers. Lather up and prevent chapped, sunburned lips.
Sunhat and other sun clothing – A broad-brimmed hat and neck coverage will keep the UV rays away. Look for hats that don’t knock into your pack and don’t flop down in the rain. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sun-gloves, are great too. Lightweight materials will keep you cool.
Pack enough warm clothing to survive extremes. Everyone can hike on a sunny day. Even if you’re just out for the day, bring clothing to cover you should the weather turn foul or you twist an ankle and are forced to spend the night out. Hypothermia comes quickly and it reduces your capabilities. Bring that safety cocoon. Think puffy coat, gloves and beanie.
Even if your party plans to return to your cars before dark, it is essential to carry a headlamp or flashlight, just in case. In an emergency, you may be required to move at night. Often it’s too dark to do it without a headlamp. Batteries do not last forever, so carry spares.
Carry and know how to use a decently stocked first aid kit, but do not let a first aid kit give you a false sense of security. The best course of action is to always take the steps necessary to avoid injury or sickness in the first place.
Carry the means to start and sustain an emergency fire. Most people carry two lighters, but matches in a waterproof container are a good idea. Either must be absolutely reliable. Fire starters are indispensable for igniting wet wood quickly to make an emergency campfire. Where firewood is nonexistent, it is advisable to carry a stove as an additional emergency heat source or to melt snow for water.
Knives are useful in first aid, food preparation and repairs. Every person should carry one. Other useful repair items are safety pins, needle and thread (dental floss works), duct tape, nylon fabric repair tape and cordage. If your shoe breaks apart or your backpack strap rips off, you should be adequately prepared to deal with the problem.
For shorter trips, a one-day supply of extra food is a reasonable emergency stockpile in case foul weather, faulty navigation, injury, or other reasons delay the planned return. Shoulder seasons may require more. The food should require no cooking, and be easily digestible.
Carry extra water and have the skills and tools required for obtaining and purifying additional water. As important, bring enough bottles to have the option for carrying more water should you need it. Drink plenty. Two liters during a day of hiking is a general minimum. You’ll need north of a gallon and a half on hot, dry days. Some stretchs of the PCT require seven liters, or more. Check the PCT Water Report. Have an emergency supply of water too. If you trip and hurt yourself, you’ll need water.
If you are not carrying a shelter, carry some sort of solution for providing protection from rain and wind, such as a jumbo plastic trash bag. Another possibility is a reflective emergency blanket. It can be used in administering first aid to an injured or hypothermic person, or can double as a means of shelter if the rain comes, which is almost assured in the mountains during these seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall.
We hike to immerse ourselves in the natural world. It’s on you to protect that experience for others into the future. With thousands of people using the trail, a campsite can quickly become a barren, trash-filled, feces-riddled, burned and polluted mess. Loud, boisterous behavior can ruin your neighbor’s vacation. Be nice. Be considerate.
Follow leave no trace guidelines.
Leave the cheeseburgers for after the hike. Pack high-energy, low-weight snacks and meals. Don’t cut weight too far though. Hiking takes energy. Outdoor stores carry packable food that doesn’t spoil. You also can find good options at your local market. Think nuts, dried fruit, jerky, peanut butter and bagels.
Split your trip into meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner plus two snacks and maybe a desert per day). Out for three days? Shop for a little more. A little bit of leftovers in your pack is your safety net for an unplanned night out.
Wherever you are, protect your food from animals. Familiarize yourself with proper storage techniques. It’ll keep animals wild, it’ll keep you safe and besides, you need that food to fuel your hike.
Leave details of your trip with someone you trust. Your backup should know where you parked, where you planned to hike and camp, when you planned to return and when you are overdue. They’ll also want to know who to call in an emergency – write down your license plate number and the phone number of the local ranger station.
Stay on trail, and if lost, hug a tree. If searchers were looking for you, you’d want to be on trail. It limits the search area and makes you easier to find. Being lost or injured is exponentially more problematic if you’re off-trail and in the middle of nowhere. Remember, you’ve got survival gear in your pack. Stick with it.
Do you need permits?
Check with the local land agency for the area you’re visiting and read the permits page on their website. Day hikers almost never need permits. Overnight campers, especially in National Parks and Wilderness Areas, usually do. In California, you’ll often need to pick up a permit at the ranger station (there may be quotas) but elsewhere you’ll usually just fill out a permit at the trailhead. If you’re crossing agency boundaries, check with the local rangers for information about what they require. While you’re checking, look to see if you need a special parking pass. More and more, you’ll get overnight permits on recreation.gov. Hiking in California? You’ll probably need a California Campfire Permit.
Check current conditions.
Go to the source for weather forecasts by clicking the interactive map at weather.gov. Avoid big storms. Early season? You’ll need to know if the snow has melted. Visit the website of the land management agency for your locale. It’s chock full of site-specific information.