PERMITS & OTHER DOCUMENTS
- Long Distance Permit
- If you plan to hike 500 or more continuous miles along the PCT in a single trip, you’ll want to apply for this permit.
- The PCTA holds an open lottery for permits every year and limits how many people can start on each day, so you’ll want to plan ahead before applying for your permit. Check the pcta.org website for when you can apply.
- California Fire Permit
- If you plan on using a stove, you’ll need this permit.
- This permit is valid for one calendar year, so apply for it in the same year you plan to hike.
- Canada PCT Entry Permit
- You’ll want this if you plan to end your trip on the Canadian side of the border. ie. if you plan to go into Vancouver.
- You are required to apply for this permit at least 8-10 weeks before the start of your hike (and no further in advance than six months)
- Check out the pcta.org website for directions on how to submit this application.
- Make sure that you have a passport, and that it’ll be valid for the duration of your hike. I suggest you make sure it will be valid for at least 6 months past when you plan to finish as something unexpected may come up. Injuries, for example, can cause you to extend your stay in the US for far longer than you expected.
- No I don’t mean the credit card, though that’s a good thing to have available to you as well. What I mean is a travel visa.
- After having read through the Canadian Government’s travel.gc.ca website, what I’ve gathered is that, as a Canadian, if you plan to be in the US for less than 6 months, you won’t need a visa, however, if you plan to be in the US for longer than 6 months, you will need a visa.
- If your planned trip of less than 6 months turns into an extended trip of more than 6 months, then you should contact the nearest office of U.S. USCIS for an extension.
Go light. In my experience, the less weight you carry on your back, the more you’ll enjoy your hike. Not to mention you’ll be more likely to actually make it to the monument. With that in mind, don’t forget to be safe. You are responsible for your own well being when out on the trail. While others will look out for you too, you don’t want to have to end your hike because you didn’t think to bring warm clothes.
Below is a list of items that you may want to consider bringing on your hike.
Pick a pack last. A common mistake that people make is they pick their pack first and then buy gear to fill it. What you should be doing is buying the gear that you’ll need for your hike and then choose a pack that all your gear will fit in. This will help prevent you from filling a partially empty pack with gear you don’t really need. This method will also hep you select a comfortable pack. It’s nearly impossible to tell how comfortable a pack is going to be without having any weight in it, and you won’t know how much weight you’re going to be carrying until you’ve selected your gear. Pick your pack last.
There are a million tent options to choose from. What I suggest is something that is big enough to be comfortable for you, but not so big that you have unneeded space. Your shelter system can be one of the heaviest things you carry, so I suggest budgeting for a lightweight shelter here. It will likely cost you more money, but it’ll serve you better in the long run.
Hammocks are becoming more and more popular in the backpacking world, however they’re still pretty rare to see on the PCT. Mostly due to the first 700 miles or so where you’ll be hiking through the desert. Hammocks are generally heavier than tents, but are far more comfortable, in my opinion.
Another option you have is to use a bivvy / tarp system. This has been a staple in the military for a very long time and will work for just about anyone. The catch is you have to be okay will small enclosed spaces.
You could also go with just a tarp. Rather than using a bivvy to keep dry, try a ground cloth made from Tyvek, or Polycro. These are some super light options, but you will be more exposed to the elements. I very much recommend that you test this setup before you use it on your thru hike. This type of shelter system is not for everyone. In fact, it’s for the very few.
Cowboy Camping is something that just about everyone will do on the PCT. This is simply pulling out your mattress, and sleeping under the stars. While this is a great way to spend the night, you definitely will want a shelter where you can hide from the mosquitos or the rain / snow from time to time.
I suggest using what you’re comfortable with when it comes to a sleep system. If you sleep cold, you’ll probably want a sleeping bag or quilt rated for 10°F. A lot of previous PCT Thru-hikers suggest using a 20°F, or even a 30°F and simply layering up when it’s cold. This is something you should thoroughly test before stepping out onto the trail.
I highly recommend a pillow. Sleep is possibly the most important factor in quality of life. The better quality of sleep you get, the more you will recover from yesterday and the better you will perform today. Some see a pillow as a luxury, I see it as a requirement.
A sleeping pad is up to you. Most everyone will suggest something thick like a Therm-a-rest Neoair. Some say all you need is a 1/8″ thick foam mat. Whether it’s a 1/8″ or 3.5″ thick mat, my suggestion is to get whatever allows you to get a good quality sleep.
Darn Tough or Injinji
Food & Water
Smart Water bottles
Apps (ie Guthooks, etc)
It takes an average of 5-6 months to complete a thru hike of the PCT. Most people will start in April and attempt to complete it before October, before the snow starts.
GETTING TO THE TRAIL
Now that you have everything else sorted out, all you need to do is get to the trail and begin your hike. Here are your options.
- Public Transit
- First get yourself to San Diego. Then search Google Maps Transit directions to Campo, CA. This should take you on a trolley to El Cajon ($2.50) then Bus #894 to Campo ($5 cash). The bus driver should drop you off at the turn where Forrest Gate Road intersects. Walk south on this road to intercept the PCT and reach the Mexican border (in about a mile).
- Have a Friend or Family Member Drive You
- Once you’ve arrived in San Diego, find yourself a place to stay, either with a friend or family member, or a cheap hotel. If you plan to be at the Southern Terminus for sunrise, you’ll want to be there by 6:30am. The drive from San Diego to the monument is approx 1-1.5 hours, depending on traffic, so plan accordingly.
- Ask a Volunteer / Trail Angel for a Ride
- Contact “Scout” & “Frodo” via their website PCT Hosting in San Diego. Email them well in advance and follow whatever rules and requests they may have. U.S. hikers can stay with them at their home for 1 night, whereas international hikers can stay for up to 3 nights. They help PCT hikers out of the kindness of their hearts, so treat them well.