My thoughts and
advice for the Pacific Crest Trail and long distance hiking in general.
Your feet are your #1 priority.
You MUST take care of your feet. You may be out of food, it may
be raining, it may be cold, you can still use your feet to keep
you warm and get you to food. Here is some of my best advice and
observations as well as those of others.
used the Hitek Discovery model. It had a wide toe box. They were
29.00$. I could order them directly from Hitek when I needed
them. I got 1100 miles out of my first pair before a puncture
wound did them in. I got 1200 miles out of the second pair. I
could've gotten more. I think others were getting a max of 1500,
but they said that the shoes were flat and starting to hurt
If you are early
through the Sierra, a pair of boots
might be nice. I started from Kennedy Meadows with a pair of La
Sportiva Makalus. I saw others with the same boots. I got 10
miles out, realized that this boot logic was crazy and hiked
back, put on my trusty shoes and walked back, leaving my boots
behind. I was glad I did. However, if you are going in perhaps
late May from Kennedy, then a pair of boots and gaiters may be
just what you need.
After I had caught up
to the first people who had made their way through the Sierra,
most of them had been wearing shoes.
avoid blisters, I changed my socks often, like every 5-7
miles. I washed my feet with soap and I washed my socks out with
water, often using soap. Keeping my feet dry was why I didn't
have any blisters the entire trip. After about a thousand miles,
I changed them less. Keep them clean. Your feet are Holy.
3. I heard that people
were using corn
starch as foot powder
rather than the foot powder you buy specifically for that
purpose. The people that were using this seemed extremely stoked
on the idea.
I noticed that one pair of socks were my favorite one day, but
another day they would make my feet hurt. I was glad that I
packed a few different kind of socks. I used Thorlo, Ultimax,
and Smartwool. The smart wool’s were the most comfy, but they
only lasted half the trip. I had two more pair sent to Crater
Lake. The Thorlo’s were comfy, but the least so, they
occasionally made my feet ‘flare up’, but they also lasted
the whole trip. The Ultimax socks were consistently nice.
carried 4 pair of socks and
usually they all hung on the back of my pack in various stages
of drying. I had multiples of no other gear. I think that this
is how important socks are. Even after your feet have ‘broken
in’, you may be 1500 miles into you trip, but you can still
get blisters! Put on the old pair of trusty comfortable socks
and they may tear your feet up for no obvious reason. That’s
why I think it’s wise to have a few pair of different styles
Sometimes, just taking
my shoes and socks off and putting them on again and relacing
would solve the problem.
I had a pair of Superfeet insoles sent with each pair of new
shoes. I cut the forward section of the insole of the old pair
and tucked them under the new pair. This gave the pads of my
feet a little more protection. I needed the arch support. I cut
the foot beds out on the sides of my heels or in other places
where they caused rubbing.
1. My appetite
was diminished through the desert.
2. I wish I had fewer
cooked meals in the dez. I
craved moist foods like dried fruits, energy bars, protein bars,
protein drink powders, raw tuna, and lots of water and drink
your diet to the terrain and climate.
I would pack more peanut butter, butter, hot meals, in areas
like the Sierra or northern WA.
4. My stomach
became more sensitive. By
Washington, anything much different from my packed food would
often disturb my stomach when I came into town and pigged out.
I had many a sour belly.
5. When pigging out at a
resupply, instead of buying one of everything that sounds good,
try theming foods that will settle well together!
1. Many people I met on the
trail had made their
own tarps. I hesitate to say
'tarp' because they had added so much creativity to these tarps
that resembled tents. Many used trekking poles as the
2. Most of these tarps had
no-see-um netting sewn down the outside.
3. For the first
600 miles think about using no tent at all.
Many people had just used a roll of Tyvek to sleep on or under
when they needed. If I had it to do all over again, I
wouldn't take a tent through the dessert. Just a ground
roll to sleep on.
4. You may want to
seriously rethink your
sleeping system if it's more than 1.5
lbs per person.
5. I used a Sierra Designs
Ultra Light Year CD, evidently the lightest single wall tent
made. After Tahoe I left the body of my tent behind.
I bought the footprint to which the poles pitched and just used
the rainfly, keeping the total weight to about 1.5 lbs.
This brought my shelter weight down to what most people had.
I've been using Feathered
Friends gear for almost ten years. For
this trip I chose the Swift model. It weighs 2.0 lbs and
is rated to 20 degrees. It scruntches down to the size of
a Nerf football. It has open baffles so you can wisk the
down from the top to the bottom of the bag (or vice-versa) as
2. Consider making your own
sleeping bag. The people I saw that had the lightest packs
had made their own bags. I saw some bags that looked like
they were professionally made.
3. If you choose to go
tentless, then you may want to consider getting a bag with a
protective coating. Early mornings and late nights with
your bag in your pack leave little time for it to dry.
1. Here I
say an emphatic MAKE YOUR
OWN. Learn how to use an aluminum
can stove. They cost about 5 bucks to make. They are
not quite as convenient as a propane stove or an MSR style
stove, but they win out by a mile because they're so light!
2. I used a propane stove.
The stove is deceptively light, but the cartriges are heavy and
bulky. They are also hard on the environment when you toss
them into the trash. The plus is that I feel comfortable
using it under my tarp or in my tent. If you do have a
propane stove that you will take, I received all my resupplies
that had propane cannisters in them. Don't ask, don't
1. I had done several long
distant walks before so I went through my journals and looked at
what sort of distances I covered. I gave my self room to
'get into shape' increasing my milage by small steps.
For me, started at 20 mile days.
I then figured how many days I'd want to carry food. After
the whole trip, I think 3 days is a good resupply frequency.
Then I did the math and figured which towns were closest to my
resupply periods. Of course I had to vary it a little.
Here is my actual resupply sheet I carried (laminated) with me
the whole trip.
From Last Resupply
Miles From Campo
Pass/I 80 Truckee
Pre-packed vs. Shop-As-You-Go.
I pre-packed everything. It was a mistake. This
is how I wasted a lot of money. Often, I came into a
resupply town in the evening. Do you really think you're
going to eat corn pasta (mush) and that sauce you're tired of
when there are burgers, Ben and Jerry's, and Espresso (Or
whatever you are craving)? So I'd throw that meal into the
free food bin if they had it, often it went into the trash.
Then in the morning, I'd eat several boxes of cold cereal, a
muffin, some Cafe Francais, which meant I'd throw the meal away
that I had packed.
I think going about 70 percent
pre-packed, 30 percent As-You-Go is the best. You should
have an extra 'any-time' meal just in case the store is closed
or gone, but for the most part, you'll eat that
restaurant/convenient store food when you have access to it.
Plan on it.
I didn't know about these until I was well into my trip.
Here's the idea. Keep on forwarding a box full of things
you need access to but don't want to carry. A cell phone
charger. A full can of protein powder. A knife
sharpener. A different tape for your walkman.
Moleskin. Crystal Meth. Whatever! You could
keep your tent/tarp in the forward box and then if the weather
looks bad you pack it. Lot's of ideas.
Damnit, Jim. I'm an EMT,
not a Doctor.
1. There wasn't one injury
that I couldn't walk through. Anything I did to myself was
caused by over exertion. After slowing down for a couple
days, I seemed to heal right away. There are two types of
injuries, I think.
A. Blisters, Strains,
Sprains, Tears when they are caused
by the act of walking were easy to
deal with. They healed up if I took it easier for a while.
B. Strains, Sprains, and
Tears when they are due
to a hyper-extension, twisting injuries, or blunt traumas,
there is less of a chance that you're going to be able to walk
Pain. Your body's way of telling you to stop. Pain
killers are perfect for when you've injured yourself and you
need to get out to civilization to see a doctor or get to a
hospital, but they are
not made to mask pain day after day.
I think it's because I didn't use any the whole trip that I
healed so fast when I did injure myself. Here's how:
When your senses aren't deadened,
you can feel each twinge of pain telling you 'don't do this' or
to 'keep doing that'. Pain that you can live with every
day, may be the kind of pain that will go away.
Bane. We all get them occasionally. Like I said in
the Feet Chapter, change
your socks often. My way of
dealing with blisters is to NOT put moleskin on them. I
cut the loose skin off immediately. I try to keep that red
skin as dry as I can. I change my socks even more.
After a few miles of limping, the pain seems to abate for the
most part. The goal is to get new skin growing and
eventually callous replacing it as quickly as possible.
Walk at Night!
I started late, the 12th of May. I was the 2nd person to
finish on the 8th of August. I passed about 400 other
through-hikers. I spoke to a good 3/4 of everyone on the
trail. No one, it seems, walks at night but on the rarest
You will not
see snakes at night. This was
the reason everyone was unwilling to walk at night. Think
about it. When is the coolest time of the day?
0300-0500 in the morning. Are snakes cold blooded or warm?
Cold! Late-night/early morning is the least likely time of
day you'll see them. I saw many snakes, mostly at
0830-1030 am on SE facing slopes soaking up the morning sun.
Scared the shit out of me.
The biggest problem with night
walking is finding a
time that you can sleep. I
usually tried to be in my bag at 1900-2000 pm. I'd sleep
until 0130 or so and get up immediately, start moving, and make
10-12 miles before the sun came up. Then I'd eat, make
another 10-12 before 1000-1100. What I did with the rest
of the day varied. But most of my my walking was done
I found that I
didn't drink anything for 10-15 miles each morning.
This saved a lot on how much water I had to carry. It was
often cold! I was chilled in many sections where folks
were panting and heaving through the heat. Imagine walking on a
chilly winter day. How often do you need to drink?
If you walk at night, why
do you need to bring a tent and a sleeping bag?
Think about it! If there is one thing that I recommend
doing, it's keeping it down to a bare minimum. The desert
can be a very fierce place. You'll stay hydrated easier,
you won't carry as much water, you won't see snakes, you could
potentially go very light, you won't get as sun burned. Is
that a win-win, or what?
No matter how good of shape you
are in, you'll slow
maxing myself out at 29-30 miles per day.
Those were some hard ass days!
I craved more
I think, though, that my coldest
nights were in the desert.
Some people were getting off the
trail in Independence or Bishop. I really think that it's
best to just go for it and go big. Go
all the way to Vermillion. Yeah,
you'll be heavy, but it's a pain in the ass to get off the trail
in the Sierra. I only took 6 days from Kennedy Meadows to
Vermillion, but I packed for 9.
too much about the bears, especially
if you're early season. People are often more worried
about the rangers. One of my friends is a backcountry
ranger at Tuolumne. Be it known that PCT hikers are
granted a certain amount of amnesty because of our special
predicament. The rangers aren't stupid. The rangers
aren't waiting to rail PCT hikers for not having bear proof
storage container. Nevertheless, the do reserve the right
to give tickets, but if you're doing everything else right, they
are much less likely to do so.
Cascades. Belden to Castella.
Many people view this part of the
trail as the least scenic. It was my favorite. I
started this crazy walk because I love to walk. I walked
the PCT for the meditative action of walking. The
qualities of the trail in this section were especially suited
towards walking. No stones, just
soft forest floor for the most part. Easy hills, but often
deep. Switch-backs that made more sense. And very,
very few people because there aren't any big National Parks or
Wilderness Areas to attract people. I felt more wilderness
in this section than I did in many of the Wilderness Areas.
You'll start to crank out some
miles in this section. Plan
for an increase.
Marble Mts. CA
to White Pass, WA.
After you surmount the Marbles
you'll really begin to cruise. Oregon
is flat. The rumors are
inclimate weather greatly improve the
farther north you go. So make sure you have a bomber
Here I thought I'd give an
At-A-Boy to the mostly Exemplary Towns and bad-dog some of the
others. Realize, these were my experiences. Yours
may be different.
Mt. Laguna. They
were sort of ambivalent, but heh, think of all the people that
come through! They didn't have much in the way of
supplies, but you could certainly find something to get you to
Warner Springs. It's
amazing, but there was nothing there. I only saw a
convenient store with almost nothing, but I didn't look around.
place. The first big town. All you could ever want.
Nice attitude towards hikers.
Big Bear City.
Perhaps the most welcomed I felt in any stop along the whole
trail. The entire city of Big Bear should be commended!
Plenty of good restaurants, cafes, and a good store kitty corner
across from the Post Office.
Wrightwood. Not as
nice as Big Bear, but it seemed like there was a lot of trail
sympathizers in town. Homestays are possible.
Agua Dulce. Well, I
let you find out about this one on your own! Incredible.
went to Tehachapi. If you plan on going there and you
don't have a confirmed ride to take you around, it's going to be
a pain in the ass. It's a nice town, but some developer
gave the post office some free land out on the outskirts of town
that is basically a defunct strip with a gas station, a Denny's,
and the PO. That's it. It's a few miles into town to
I heard that people had a very,
very good experience in Mojave. The hotel came an picked
them up from the trail. Everything was very convenient.
I'd have to say that I'd probably chose Mojave.
There's no other choice. The feller at the counter largely
seemed to have had to develope a resistance to the through hiker
because everyone stops there. Oh, yeah, it all was amiable
enough, but it wasn't an enthusiastic like we got in Vermillion
or Old Station. We mailed packages from there postage due
by stapling a dollar bill onto the package!
Vermillion Valley Resort.
See alternate routes for a shorter more efficient walk right
down to the resort. It was great. I was expecting to
be treated like the dirty, smelling worm I was. First
thing she said was, "Thru-Hiker? Go get yourself a
beer, the first one's on us!." That about says it
all. Put it on the tab. I spent a bit of money
there, but heh, they were worth it. Meals and a small,
Well, the park shuttle was nice and convenient. The store
is an outfittable store. Post office in the store.
No one to be really nice and helpful unless you know park
Echo Lake Resort. It
was a little tart. It caters to more of an upper crust, it
seems, and us being a little crusty, I felt like was being
merely tolerated. They had a fairly nice store. They
are real strict about ID and take the package holding pretty
Squaw Valley. This
wasn't my official stop, but I ended up stopping here.
There is a natural foods store in the village! It's only
about 3 miles off the trail. A post office, too.
96146, Olympic Valley, CA.
Belden. I didn't
have a good experience in Belden. In fact, it was the
worst one on the trip for me. Although, to be fare, I have
to say that other people had good experiences here. Maybe
they were just having a bad day.
Old Station. Great!
Enthusiastic reception at the Grocery. Nice
restaurant/diner style meals.
Burney Falls. Lot's
of people. Everyone was so busy, I didn't really get a
chance to have a conversation with anyone. It's all a
state park operation. The concession hold and charges for
the packages. Decent store you could resupply from.
Castella. Not really
a town. Another state park. Odd but friendly post
office. No restaurant. Convenience store.
Showers and 1 dollar camping at the state park.
Seiad Valley. Take
the pancake challenge! Not a big town though, and you're
quite a ways from anywhere.
Short business hours, but they were willing to get out of their
house and go get my box.
Crater Lake. Don't
make the same mistake I did. I even addressed my packages
to Crater Lake Lodge, Rim Village Drive, but they still went to
Mazama Village like everyone else's. Mazama Village is
down by the entrance station in the park.
Resort/Willamette Pass. They were very nice here.
Although it was very busy. Did I mention it was very busy?
They gave me special attention that they didn't need to give.
They were willing to run me a tab. They had a fairly
adequate store to resupply.
Olallie Lake. This
place was a lot like Vermillion Valley except they didn't offer
me a beer! They ran me a tab. They had actually a
very good store to resupply and get fat on. They are
pretty remote so don't think you'll get anything very fast
Another very nice town. A number of nice grocery
stores/supermarkets in very nice proximity to the post office.
The fellow at the PO had a soft spot for PCT hikers. There
was a food box at the PO. The free place to stay in town
was at the Port of Cascade Locks. It was about a 5 minute
walk from downtown. They have live music on the week ends.
White Pass. Ski
areas generally wreak havoc on the environment. White Pass
has done an excellent job keeping things fairly aesthetic.
The folks at the store were very, very nice. They have a
fairly decent store. They took very good care of their
packages, like many of the stops.
Snoqualmie Pass. Two
Thumbs DOWN! What a pit. I didn't get half the
packages I had sent. It was the only place that I didn't
receive what I had sent. I watched as they looked my
packages. The 'post office' was disorderly and a part of
the kitchen. No wonder things got lost. I wouldn't
place too much faith in this place. I asked at other
places if they would accept packages after I explained my
experience. They said that they were infamous for less
than adequate experiences. No one else will take the
Steven's Pass. Well,
albeit inconvenient, the hitching is easy, the people are very,
very friendly in town, and the convenience store is adequate.
One old fellow lets you stay in his back yard. Inquire at
the PO, but I think that no matter what time you collect your
packages the hitching is so easy that you'll get a ride very
quickly back up to the pass.
Stehekin. A little
bit of Paradise. It is impossible to drive to or from
Stehekin. It costs at least 22 dollars to take the slow
boat to Chelan. There are no ATMs. Bring Cash.
There is a great bakery, better than any you've ever seen,
you'll want to spend some time there! Showers are free.
Laundry right next to shower. Shuttle is 6 dollars for the
one-way down to Stehekin from the Trail. Camping is free.
Very limited store. Un-enforced buffet, all you can sneak.
As you take
things out of your pack, you will replace them with awareness
It's a hard sell to someone who's
never done it, but I say with all my conviction and vigor I'll
never go back. I was most skeptical
of ultra light enthusiasts touting going light as being safer.
Now, after 2700 miles of lightweight experience, I have to say
that I do think it is definitely safer.
1. I often carried my
'back-pack' on one shoulder. It sometimes draped
underneath my arm like a purse! This allowed my back to
breathe. My sores that I had from hip-belt
chafe went away.
2. I would venture to guess
that everyone that finished in front on the trail either
designed all their own gear (or nearly) or bought a GOLITE or
other ultra light system. They finished first not because
they were stronger or 'faster' but I think they had the
easiest, most trouble-free time of it.
They were the least encumbered. It's not a race, but those
with the lightest packs will be the most mobile.
3. If I rolled my ankle, it
was with much less force. The daily wear on the pads of my
feet was noticeably less with 13 lbs rather than 26 lbs.
My feet at 35-40 miles felt like they had before just having
walked 20-25 with the heavier load. My
knees did not hurt after I had donned
my GOLITE. Often my knees would ache going down hill with
a load of 30-40 lbs.
MOST OF ALL
I had to be more aware, more skillful, and smarter as I made my
decisions each day, I felt like this brought me markedly closer
to nature and my environment. I noticed the weather more
because it was more important to me. I noticed more
animals. Because I was less encumbered, sweating, less
taxed with each step, I was more lively and my head was up, my
focus was not on my exertion nor my 'pain', it was more aware of
the country through which I was passing.
People seem to
cling to their heavy weight hiking habits as devoutly as a pious
shi-ite Muslem. They often say, "Well, that's great
you can do that, but I just need my stuff." I may
have used to say that, but now I can honestly say that when
asked what I took out of my pack, I can't remember. I
can't think of anything I'd need beyond what I have in my pack.
"You must not have a tent. You obviously are not
carrying a stove. You can't be carrying a sleeping
bag." I've heard it all. And they are so
puzzled when I say, "No, I have a tent, a sleeping bag, a
stove, a pot, a sleeping pad, everything you do."
light frees your feet, your mind, your thoughts, your dreams,
everything. See the philosophy section and how I think
this affects your life.
There are many parallels between the
trail and life. There are too many not to notice.
1. Here's a typical trail
Hiker, "So where are you coming
Me, "Mexico, actually."
Hiker, "Really! When did you
Me, "The 12th of May."
Hiker, slowly after thinking, "Wow,
Me, "I'm going pretty quick."
Hiker, "Do you ever stop and enjoy
Me, "Well, now, that implies that I
don't enjoy walking. It wouldn't be very smart to try to walk 3000
miles if I didn't enjoy walking."
HEREIN lies the basic
difference between through hikers and normal back packers.
In my opinion, the typical heavy laden backpacker isn't out for the
enjoyment of the walk as much as the beautiful destination. This
realization came to me when after our interactions the backpacker would
turn away and often their backpacks would completely eclipse their
bodies. Completely sweaty with knee braces they would stare at
their feet as they walked by me on the trail without notice.
Sometimes I was close enough to the trail to reach out and grab them as
they passed. Then the same people would say after a long
conversation, "Don't you think you'd see more if you went
slower." I'd snicker and say, "No."
I think that this can be applied to life
and living. Think of the hike, the distance, as the work week.
Think of the destination as the week end. Think of the backpack,
the weight, as what you must support, you bills, etc... I think
the analogy is obvious. You bet they'll get defensive and self
conscious when I come skipping by them after 40 miles, backpack on one
shoulder, smiling and grinning, seemingly effortlessly.
I think that going light through life increases
vitality and energy while decreasing effort and stress.
One doesn't need to work so much because there is NO debt to pay off.
I think that just as with hiking light, living lightly one needs to be
more aware and more skillful.
though, because our social and commercial institutions are not set up
for you to be independent. People will call you irresponsible for
living simply without debt. Do not neglect your life. It
flows every day. If you're not liking what your doing, if you're
not the change you want to see in the world, then you are wasting your
life. What more pitiful thing is there to do than waste years
being where you don't want to be.