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Traversing Trails: Preparing to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail
Health & Fitness

Traversing Trails: Preparing to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail

Here's the type of gear needed to conquer the Pacific Crest Trail and the amount of money hikers can expect to spend during their journey.

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7 min read

January 28, 2023

Beige dirt trails extend in either direction as far as the eye can see, traversing every type of landscape, from arid deserts to snowy mountain passes. Yes, you’re about to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), one of the world's most beautiful yet challenging trails. Do you remember Reese Witherspoon playing Cheryl Strayed in the critically acclaimed movie Wild? In the film, she successfully hiked a large portion of the PCT, yet she went through the trouble mainly due to a lack of experience and preparation. All that makes you realize that you need to be fully prepared before embarking on the journey of a lifetime — this is not a short California backpacking trip, after all. But, regardless of the challenging circumstances, this journey on the Pacific Crest Trail is entirely mind over matter, and we’ll prepare you for it.

The Pacific Crest Trail stretches for roughly 2,600 miles, taking hikers on a challenging yet scenic trek through California, Oregon, and Washington.

ABOUT THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

Extending approximately 2,600 miles from the Mexican border to Canada, the PCT passes through California, Oregon, and Washington. The Pacific Crest Trail length changes annually to accommodate for better scenery, improve Treadway, and move the trail away from dangerous conditions such as wildfires. 

The trail will take you through about 60 major mountain passes and past the three deepest lakes in the country. If you shorten the trip to only the California portion, you will see just one of these lakes, Lake Tahoe, but will still hike approximately 1,691.7 miles — more than half of the PCT’s entire span. Starting at the Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus, in the small town of Campo on the California-Mexico border, allows you to travel through the whole state and provides the comforts of a less-harrowing journey. Approximately 90 percent of the trail thru-hikers go northward because the weather and additional logistics are less challenging than traveling south.  

Completing the Pacific Crest Trail can take anywhere between two and seven-plus months, depending on your experience, pace, and will.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO HIKE THE PCT?

Traversing the entire distance takes most hikers between four and six months, but some highly experienced thru-hikers have been known to finish the trail in as little as two months. To be able to complete the whole trail in two months, you’ll be looking at hiking close to 44 miles a day, which, to be fair, only a highly experienced hiker can do. Meanwhile, a less experienced hiker in long-distance hiking might be able to cover the length of the Pacific Crest Trail in approximately five months, averaging around 18 miles a day.

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THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHILE PREPARING TO HIKE THE PCT

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is an enriching experience. Still, it requires significant preparations, making it anything but a spontaneous adventure. Contrary to popular opinion among those who have yet to complete the PCT, conquering the hike does not come cheap. Trail-goers typically spend about $6,000 to trek the whole way, but for inexperienced hikers purchasing everything for the first time, the cost can easily exceed $10,000. These expenses can be broken down into several categories to help you plan more accurately.

All Pacific Crest Trail hikers must have a proper-fitting backpack, a light yet durable sleeping bag, a one-person tent, and high-quality hiking boots

BACKPACKING AND HIKING GEAR

Estimated cost: $2,000 to $4,000

  • Hiking Boots
    Estimated cost: $150 to 400.
    Having proper-fitting hiking boots is the make-or-break purchase for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, so visit one of the best California-based outdoor gear companies. Try on a couple of pairs, and get an expert’s opinion before making a final decision. Boots that are either too large or too small can completely wreck your feet, making the journey infinitely more difficult. While trail runners are another potentially less expensive option, these shoes are built with less stability and durability than hiking boots, meaning you will have to purchase more pairs and have them shipped to you more often along the trail. 
  • One-Person Tent
    Estimated cost: $150 to 500 
    Cutting down on the weight will cost you. The cheapest packs weigh around four pounds, while the more expensive ones weigh less than two.
  • Pack
    Estimated cost: $150 to 400.
    The most important thing to remember when choosing a pack is how it fits your body. The weight is less important than the way it fits. 
  • Sleeping Bag
    Estimated cost: $100 to 500.
    The cost of a sleeping bag depends upon the season and the specific features you want. For a typical three-season sleeping bag, the price is on the lower end, but the bag can weigh upwards of four pounds. The warmer, water-resistant models are ideal for wetter weather and colder temperatures — which can sneak up on you in the mountain ranges — and are also about half the weight.
PCT travelers must budget for enough food, snacks, coffee, and tea to last them the entire journey.

TRAIL-SUPPLY EXPENSES

Estimated cost: $2,600 at $1 per mile, or approximately $20 per day.

  • Food Supply
    The cost of food, healthy snacks, coffee, and tea will vary depending on how much you expect to eat and drink in a day, the quality of the items, and whether or not they are purchased in bulk. The best thing you can do when planning food expenses is to overestimate and add variety rather than try to save money. The daily calorie intake should compensate for all of the calories you burn on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is likely higher than you might expect. With so much activity, the body needs all the necessary nutrients and food to sustain such prolonged, intense movement. 
  • Resupply Boxes
    Tradition — and necessity — drive hikers to pack and ship resupply boxes to specific destinations along the route. This allows hikers to pack lighter and switch out books, food, and clothing without too much trouble during the long excursion. Depending on how much you decide to ship, how far you are traveling to get to the PCT, and how often you choose to send the resupply boxes, it can get quite expensive, so make sure to factor it into your overall budget. 2
When walking through towns along the PCT, hikers often want to lay their heads and recharge at a local hotel or hostel, so plan accordingly.

TOWN-SUPPLY EXPENSES

Estimated cost: Approximately $75 per day.

  • Lodging
    Hotels and hostels have a wide range of prices but can provide much-needed comfort along the trail. Choosing cheaper options or sharing rooms with fellow hikers can make a huge difference, so factor in these things when planning, but expect to pay more so you don’t run out of cash. 
  • Restaurants
    While it can be very tempting to purchase food from restaurants when walking through each town, the cost of these meals adds up quickly. Consider grabbing something from the grocery stores, or ordering something small, so you can still treat yourself while staying within your budget. If you’re in the PCT California portion, you can try one of the state’s fantastic food trucks
  • Trail Angels
    This is serious business. “Trail angels” allow hikers to stay in their homes for free, feeding them and giving them a chance to shower, do laundry, and rest. Make sure to donate $20 (or more, if you can) to these gracious hosts; while it may seem like a considerable expense, it is far less than you would pay to stay at a hotel, and you will likely get much more out of the experience. 

 

Due to unpredictable and varying weather conditions, it's not uncommon for PCT hikers to get rerouted at the last minute, so always carry a map.

MISCELLANEOUS FEES

  • Emergency Fund
    While nobody likes to assume the worst-case scenario might occur, it is better to plan for it ahead of time instead of getting caught off-guard. Since the expenses outlined above are only estimates, your exact spending may be drastically different than those of other hikers, necessitating an emergency fund. Hopefully, you won’t need to spend this money on an actual emergency that prevents you from continuing along the trail, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. The funds can also be reallocated if you make friends along the trail and choose to elongate the trip, travel off the Pacific Crest Trail map to see something different or decide to attend an event. 

  • Contingency Cash
    The PCT is constantly changing to accommodate for wildfires and other natural disasters, so there is a chance that there will be a massive detour on your trip, which means you will need to hike much further than anticipated or you will need to pay for a bus ticket to go around the hazardous area. Having some contingency money on hand will make these hiccups seem less monumental and allow you to focus on the reasons you are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the first place.

  • Safety Cushion
    Finishing the trail is a huge accomplishment that shouldn’t go without recognition. But chances are, it isn’t as cool as the people you left behind or the job you abandoned to start this adventure. Returning to regular life and re-establishing a routine can take a toll on your mind and body, so if you can, plan to have some adjustment time after you return and set aside the necessary funds. This safety cushion should be enough to cover your rent, food, utilities, and anything else you might need for two to four weeks — and even longer if you are looking for a new job. 

 

If you already have many of these essential supplies and are financially prepared to take on the challenge, the rest of the experience depends on patience and determination. Before you embark on this life-changing journey, be familiar with the permits necessary for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

 




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