Scout and Frodo’s Tips

Prepare for your thru-hike! We’ve seen strong-looking folks who have quit their jobs and put all their stuff in storage and told their friends and family they’re heading off on a grand adventure; then they get “broken” in the first 20 miles and quit unhappily.  There seem to be more hikers in this situation each year.  It is entirely preventable!  Go out there and train!  Make sure you know what it feels like to hike fifteen-plus miles a day with a heavy pack, day after day.  For one 2017 hiker’s observations and cautions, see here.

Shoes: Wear your hiking shoes on training hikes.  Use lightweight, breathable shoes in Southern California, preferably with lightweight gaiters (like Dirty Girl gaiters) to keep out pebbles and grit. When you hike, take off your shoes and socks when you take a break, so your feet can dry and you can minimize blisters.  Some blisters are normal, don’t let them be debilitating. Be aware that often hiker’s feet swell.  It is not unusual to have your feet swell a whole shoe size larger or more. If your shoes fit too tightly, this can cause blisters.

Yogi’s PCT Handbook is a great resource, with suggestions from many successful hikers.  If you haven’t done long-distance hiking before, get it and read it.

Pack weight: It’s really nice to be able to walk upright and to not groan in pain when you put on your pack each morning.  We did old-school backpacking for decades, starting in the 1960s and 70s.  We know what it’s like to carry a 45-lb pack (Frodo) or a 65-lb pack (Scout).  Ultralight gear and a low pack weight make long-distance hiking more do-able and more enjoyable.  See our “Pack Weight” page for some suggestions about lowering your base weight.

Be good Trail Ambassadors!  To folks in trail towns and folks you meet along the way, you are the face of the PCT.  Be polite and considerate.  Thank people for their help.  Don’t act entitled.  Treat people’s property with respect.  Offer to pay for gas if you hitch or yogi a ride.  Don’t skip out on paying your bill.  If you see other PCT hikers behaving badly, call them on it.  Some businesses have closed their doors to PCT hikers because a few bad apples have behaved badly.

Practice Leave No Trace!  In particular, CARRY OUT YOUR USED TOILET PAPER.  Burying it doesn’t work, since critters dig it up and drag it around.  Hikers have found soiled t.p. in trees.  It’s easy to pack out and really not disgusting.  We provide Ziploc bags for you.  Put your Purell and fresh t.p. in a Ziploc bag, then include another ziploc or two in your bag for packing out the used t.p.  No muss, no fuss, and much better for the environment and the folks hiking behind you.  Also, do not bring soap into the backcountry.  You don’t need it and it is very bad for all ecosystems.

Food storage:  In the Sierra Nevada (Kennedy Meadow to Sierra City), use a bear canister.  It is required for most of this stretch and it is a really good idea.  It protects your food and it protects the bears.  It also works as a handy seat!  In other areas, we suggest using an Odor-Proof Sack (LOKSAK OPSak).  This keeps your food safe from all kinds of critters.

Don’t start too fast: Unless you’ve trained really well, consider not hiking all 20 miles to Lake Morena Campground on the first day.  Or to Mt. Laguna on the second day.  Injuring yourself in the first few days is not unusual and is a rotten reason to have to bail on your thru-hike.

A note about start dates:  In an average snow year, we recommend that you plan to start hiking north into the High Sierra from Kennedy Meadows in mid June.  Most hikers take 5 to 8 weeks to reach Kennedy Meadows from Campo.

Late starters: If your schedule dictates that you can’t start until late May or later, we suggest you don’t start in Campo.  Rather, start at Cabazon on Interstate 10, or at Cajon Junction on Interstate 15, or in Agua Dulce north of Los Angeles, depending on the date and the snow level in the Sierra.  Then, after reaching Canada, come back and hike south from your starting point to Campo.  Here’s why: You are more likely to avoid bad snow in northern Washington and you will be able to hike with other thru-hikers.  If you start from Campo after late May, you will be alone almost all the time through Southern California.  Since we think the hiker community is an important part of a long-distance hike, we encourage you to do what you need to do to become part of that community.  We’ve had late hikers choose to start in Campo anyway, hike for a week, then say, “whoops, you were right” and skip ahead.

Some specific tips:

Don’t miss Eagle Rock, just off the trail around mile 106.

Mammoth Lakes is a great place to take one or two zero days.  Take the bus from Reds Meadow or Devils Postpile ($15 roundtrip) to the ski area, then the free bus into town (or yogi a ride).  We rented a 2-bedroom + loft condo near the shopping center (supermarket, movie theater, pizza place) and shared it with four other hikers.  We had our own kitchen (fresh chocolate chip cookies!), and washer and dryer.  And it cost us each considerably less than the Motel 6. There are several property rental companies in town; we called and reserved ahead.

When you hitchhike, keep your pack with you.  Don’t put it in the trunk or back of a truck.  One hiker watched helplessly as a car drove off with his pack.