All about the Pacific Crest Trail and long distance hiking.

The Pacific Crest Trail spans 2,663 miles (4,265 kilometers) from Mexico to Canada
through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. It reveals the beauty of the desert, unfolds the glaciated expanses of the Sierra Nevada, travels deep forests,
and provides commanding vistas of volcanic peaks in the Cascade Range. The trail symbolizes everything there is to love—and protect— about nature.

The trail crosses over 57 major mountain passes, it dips into 19 major canyons and ambles past more than 1,000 lakes and tarns. It passes through four national monuments, five state park units, six national parks, 25 national forest units and 48 federal wilderness areas. The PCT has more tread in Wilderness than any other trail. A remarkable 54% of the PCT on federal land in is Federal Wilderness.

The trail was completed in 1993. Untold thousands of hikers and equestrians enjoy this international treasure each year. Some only travel a few miles, while the so called thru-hikers complete every mile in a single season. Tying the trail together is a large community of volunteers and passionate outdoor enthusiasts.

Last year around 1300 people started out for their Thru-Hike. Only about 10% made it to Canada. Halfmilesurvey has gathered some interesting statistics from the class of 2015. Most of the hikers came from the USA (88%), 2/3rd were male. Reasons for leaving the trail span from family (11%) to injury (38%). The website also contains gear reviews, planning tips and other interesting statistics.

The Pacific Crest Trail together with the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail form the three largest long distance trails in the continental US. If you hike all three trails you complete what is known as the Triple Crown of hiking.

Long Distance Hiking

Long Distance Hiking is nothing like an ordinary camping trip. It is walking for six months, day-in-day-out with a backpack that contains everything you will need to survive. Walking all day and camping every night on the trail. Only to wake up in the morning and do it all over again!

That means a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, clothes, food and water. With a 20 mile daily average, hauling a 30 pound pack is very uncomfortable. It is in fact nearly impossible for all the strain on your joints, feet and back. A pack that is too heavy causes a lot of hikers every year to quit their thru-hike. This leads a hiker to think very hard and long about what you will need on the trip. The so called battle of the grams has begun.

Most weight of your pack will be food and water. You cannot carry 6 months worth of food or water; 5-7 days at the most depending on the terrain. This means you will have to rely on natural resources for water that you will have to filter of bacteria and even get off trail to resupply for food. There are lots of towns next to the trail, but some resupply points are over 50 miles from the trail. This requires a lot of planning before you hit the trail. Luckily the hiker community is very helpful with trail angels (volunteers) helping out wherever they can.

Some parts of the trail require specialized equipment like bear vaults (prevent bears from smelling your food), crampons and an ice ax. It is a waste to carry the extra weight of an ice ax all through the desert. Luckily you can box these things up, mail to yourself to a trail-town and pick them up in the place where you’re going to use them.

Example of a PCT hiker’s ultralight gear

Ultralight Backpacking

Upgrading equipment to lightweight gear is the first step, but the most efficient way to go ultralight is to leave things at home that you will not need daily. Luxury items are usually a trade-off in weight, but hiking is not about being comfortable, it is not supposed to be. It is about survival and endurance. And a lighter pack will make you way more comfortable and enjoying the trail than that extra pair of luxury items ever will! But assessment of luxury versus necessary items is always a very personal thing for each hiker.

I am not usually one to hold up my hand and ask for money, but unfortunately durable ultralight equipment and the necessary specialized gear does not come cheap. Being a medical student for 8 years my savings do not cover the costs of permits, flights, gear and food. But after talking to a lot of people about me planning this trip, it really excited a lot of people to want to help me realize this dream and share this journey with me. Because of this I started a crowdfunding page, more information about this on the crowdfunding page.

Food.

Ever wonder what you would eat if you had no access to refrigeration, cooking was limited to boiling water, and you had to carry all your food and cooking materials in a backpack with you through the wilderness?

My research immediately takes me back to my early days as a student. Lots of ramen, plain mashed potatoes and stuff wrapped in tortillas…

Hiking all day long will cause you to burn through 5000 calories per day. This is more than 2,5 times what you burn on an average day. Burning this amount day after day, means you will burn through your reserves within 2 weeks. This changes your metabolism and means you will need to seriously increase your input.

A hiking diet usually consists of 40% fat, 40% carbohydrates, 20% protein. Look to food items that have the most calories in the lowest amount of grams. Who knew that the ultimate trail food would be a Snickers! Or a can of peanut butter enriched with extra butter, peanuts and nutella… Or olive oil dripped through all your food for extra calories?

The snacks look awesome, especially if you have a sweet tooth like me. But to keep your meals lightweight, means lots of basic and plain food without much taste… And to eat pretty much the same stuff for 6 months… Hitting that 5000 calorie mark every day will become more and more impossible… Eventually leading to the infamous hiker-hunger.

For easy cooking on trail, it’s best you package every meal in a ziploc bag. This way you will only have to add water, wait 10 minutes and you can eat right out of the bag! No difficult cooking after a long day… No dishes… No need to carry a big pot or plate…

Water.

Thankfully there are a lot of natural sources of water on trail. Since water is the most heavy thing you will carry… You don’t want to carry for 5 days without being able to refill… Especially in the desert where you will need up to 7 liters a day…

To use natural resources it is advised you filter your water or purify it chemically. Some people choose to not filter at all. Hmm… Wildlife feces, viruses, bacteria… I will bring a Sawyer Squeeze water filter with me, which is the safest/lightest option, wildly used and easy applicable!

The pacific crest trail association has a thorough water report that is updated frequently. This report gives a heads up when natural sources are dried up or when new sources have been discovered. Live updates on the trail itself are very valuable!!

All information on this page comes from the Pacific Crest Trail association and Halfway Anywhere’s Thru-hiker survey 2015.