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Pacific Crest Trail | Preparation, tips and packing list for long treks

Since a few years ago I made a video on Youtube about the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA saw, I was immediately fascinated. A walk of 4,265 kilometers. Who does that, walking for months at a time? How the hell do you stand that? How can you carry everything you need to survive on your back?

It seemed impossible to me, but the idea kept running through my head. In 2020 I took the plunge and decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail myself. But as you can guess, it turned out 2020 the wrong year to be… My plane trip was canceled due to the Covid-19 bug and it turned out to be impossible to leave for America. The national borders were closed and the whole world was in panic.

There I was: ready to leave, job cancelled, but I had nowhere to go† As for so many that year, my plans were thwarted. With a lot of pain in my heart I decided to look for a new job, save some extra money and wait a year. And so said, done like this: 2021 was the year I could finally start the Pacific Crest Trail!

Also read: Grand Canyon Hike | Once in a lifetime experience

But how do you prepare for such a long-distance walk? What do you have to think about and what must be arranged? In this article you will find a lot of tips to leave well prepared for an adventure!

What is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The Pacific Crest Trail is a long-distance hike that traverses the US. He runs all the way from the border with Mexico up to the border with Canada† This is how most hikers depart, namely from south to north (NOBO – “northbound”† The other direction, from north to south (SOBO – “southbound”) is less popular and often more difficult. The “NOBO” hikers start in March, April or May at the Pacific Crest Trail monument in Campo, California. The SOBOs depart in June or July, when most of the snow in the Washington mountains has melted. On average you walk 5 to 6 months on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail - Packing List, Preparations & Tips
Long distances | The Pacific Crest Trail

The tour itself is approx 4265 km long, and crosses the states of California, Oregon and Washington. California is mainly desert and of course the beautiful Sierra Mountains. In Oregon you walk in the woods and Washington takes you into the high mountains. So a lot of different vegetations and ecosystems! Along the way you pass endless lakes, rivers, forests and parks. You rarely walk through a city or on the street. So it's a real one wilderness experience where you are far away from all civilization.

Also read: All National Parks in the United States of America | List

Preparations for the PCT

Everyone in Belgium en The Netherlands has already spent a weekend in the Ardennes or High Fens. Also in the youth movement you sometimes take a walk at camp or at a festival you sleep in a tent. But there is a big difference between camping for a few nights or camping for months on end. It mainly comes down to good preparation: physically, mentally and strategically. 

PCT | Pacific Crest Trail - Packing List, Preparations & Tips
PCT | The Pacific Crest Trail

1. Pacific Crest Trail Requirements

Very easy: As little as possible! The trick is to keep your pack light, because a heavy pack means aching joints and slower walking. Also remember that you often have to carry a few liters of water and food for a few days on top of your basic weight! It is therefore ideal to keep the weight of your backpack as low as possible. How do you do that?

Also read: Packing list tips | Hiking and walking in the mountains

A good backpack | Pacific Crest Trail - Packing List, Preparations & Tips
A good backpack | Pacific Crest Trail – Packing List, Preparations and Tips

2. The Big Four

The most important ingredients for a long hike or hike? Those are just four essential items that determine everything…

  1. A decent tent.
  2. A good one sleeping bag.
  3. A decent sleeping mat.
  4. a light backpack.

These four essential items may cost you a pretty penny, but they're well worth it. They will be your home for several months! That is why it is important that your belongings fit you well. Invest in a decent backpack that fits you well, because you will wear it on your back for a very long time. 

Ilse and her tent | Pacific Crest Trail - Packing List, Preparations & Tips
Ilse and her tent | The Pacific Crest Trail

Choose a sturdy tent or tarp that can withstand all weather conditions and that you can easily set up. There are also many factors for your sleeping bag and mat: Are you a hot or cold sleeper? Are you a bigger or smaller person?

Ask for advice in the store, read about the different types and materials and look up the experiences of other hikers. Take your budget and preference into account. Once you've made your choice and have the stuff in your house, it's time to test† The better you know your gear, the better you use it and the easier it will be on your hike.

3. Clothes

Nature is unpredictable. This way you can easily four seasons in one day experience! For just about any long-distance hike, you need to consider the elements: Rain, snow, wind, and sun. But what's the best way to dress up here? 

Clothing against wind and rain

Very important (!), a good pair of rain trousers and a raincoat not only protect you against the rain, but also against the wind† And wind can be terribly cold and paralyzing. Light rain pants also protect your legs against scratches and scars. Because the path isn't always easy… Again, try your rain gear as light as possible to buy.

Protective clothing | † The Pacific Crest Trail
Protective clothing | † The Pacific Crest Trail

Clothes against the sun

Yes, you read that right: Even though we as Belgians and Dutch are grateful for every dash of sun, you protect yourself better on a hike against the sun† Burnt skin, sunstroke and dehydration can easily mess up your hiking plans.

Invest in a good Sun hat, protective clothing, and a UV sunglasses is not an unnecessary luxury. On the Pacific Crest Trail, you'll even see hikers wearing gloves and an umbrella to protect themselves from the harsh UV rays! 

Sunny weather | Pacific Crest Trail - Packing List, Preparations & Tips
Sunny weather | The Pacific Crest Trail

Layers, layers, layers

Forget thick winter coats and fuzzy scarves: it's best to do things differently for a long trek. Immerse yourself in the world of the technical underwear† Agree, it doesn't sound very sexy, but it's definitely worth it!

Technical underwear, also called “base layer” called, helps to keep the heat in. I am a big fan of merino wool: Nice and soft, warm and prevents odors. You don't have to wash merino wool clothing often and you can wear it for a long time without washing - ideal if you go for a long walk!

A good one “mid-layer” also helps you stay warm. Here many opt for a fleece sweater or something similar. In addition, a light down jacket also help keep out the wind and cold. It is best to choose these items of clothing as small and light as possible – usually you don't wear them while walking, but rather in the evening or at night in your sleeping bag. 

4. Other Items and Supplies

You can of course also use the following 7 items. Again, the rule of thumb is: keep it as compact and light as possible. After all, you carry it all with you.

  1. Mini first aid kit
  2. Shovel & toilet
  3. Paper (or not… moss and stones are also an option!)
  4. Head lamp
  5. Pocket knife 
  6. Water filter & water bottles
  7. Outdoor cooking set
cooking | Pacific Crest Trail - Packing List, Preparations & Tips
cooking | The Pacific Crest Trail

5. Mental Preparation

Now that you know exactly what you need to go on a big trek, comes the mental part. A little weird maybe, but it's really worth taking a moment to think about what you're going to do before you get on the plane.

Walking day in and day out means getting dressed. In a “normal life” do you get up, go to work, watch TV, go out with friends or visit your family… All this falls away. You adopt a completely different rhythm: get up, eat, walk, eat, walk, eat, sleep. something like that.

Also read: Reality check: What long-term travel does to you mentally

Walking and walking again | The Pacific Crest Trail
Walking and walking again | The Pacific Crest Trail

I have this natural rhythm very well experienced: Getting up with the first rays of the sun, going to sleep when it gets dark. No obligations, alarm clocks or time pressure: you do everything your own pace† All you have to do? Eat when you're hungry filter water and, oh yes, walking.

Important!: Beware of social media. on Instagram you only see the most beautiful and nicest photos appear. However, it is important to realize that it is not enjoyable for 6 months straight.

As with any life experience, you will also experience moments of pain, boredom, sadness and frustration here. Know this and accept this: It's normal! 

I have really challenged myself physically, had to endure a painful bladder infection without medical help, suffered hunger and thirst, walked in rain and thunder without shelter… It's all part of the adventure. 

6. Physical Preparation

I had promised myself that I would do a lot of exercise and be in good shape for the Pacific Crest Trail before starting this ultimate trek, but actually I'm not much of a sports fan. I can't get any sticks at the gym and I don't run well either.

physically strong! † Pacific Crest Trail - Packing List, Preparations & Tips
physically strong! † The Pacific Crest Trail

The best physical preparation for a long hike? Hiking, of course! Instead of cycling to the store or to work, you can go on foot. At the weekend, try a long hike or even a two-day hike. See what it feels like to go for a walk, sleep in a tent and continue walking the next day.

Also read: 5x beautiful hiking trails in southern Portugal | Walking in the nature

7. B2 Visa, Vaccinations and Passport

Brr… Paperwork makes my toes curl! But in the 21st century you simply cannot ignore it. To travel to America for a longer period of time (up to 6 months), it is best to request a B2 tourist visa at. This requires some time, money and an interview at the American embassy: so plan this in time!

Also read: America & Canada | Everything about VISA, ESTA, B1/B2 & eTA

You also need a passport for all trips outside the EU. You can easily request this from your municipality, but it also costs a cent if you don't have one yet. Furthermore, Covid Traveling not made any easier: To travel to America you need all kinds of vaccinations and tests again at the moment.

Ilse in Mexico. Relaxation after regulatory matters | The Pacific Crest Trail

In July 2021, the US borders were still closed to Europeans, so I decided to take a detour via Mexico… Where there's a will, there's a way!

8. Pacific Crest Trail Permit

For the Pacific Crest Trail itself you can buy a allow to get. This permit gives you “permission” to hike the PCT. The tour goes through a lot National parks and countries that you would otherwise not be allowed to walk through. You can safely request all this separately, but it is easier to do a PCT permit online to request. Twice a year there is an online lottery on the official PCTA website† You register for this, choose a start date and end date and just wait and see! When the permit arrives in your mailbox, print it and take it with you on your trip. This way you can always show it to the park ranger, if he asks for it.

“Why walk so long?”

Well…why not? We live in a society in which everything has to go quickly and efficiently, but that is precisely why we sometimes overlook ourselves. Almost everything is for sale, except time. What could be better than taking a few months for yourself? Time to stop and enjoy the simple things? But also time for a good hard time, time for self-reflection, time for new friendships and experiences, time for peaks and valleys and… lots of sunsets!

Traveling on foot is personally one of my most beautiful experiences. You experience everything very intensely, but at the perfect pace. You consciously experience every change in the landscape and in yourself. You are grateful for the smallest happiness! This is how I learned to appreciate running water, the toilet and a shower! I have the best life lessons learned and carry it with me forever. You too soon?

Also read: Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California | UFOs, Bigfoot and Mysteries

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Ilse Praet

10 years ago I experienced my first hiking trip in Sweden. Since then I have been addicted to walking. Camping under the stars, swimming in icy lakes and tasting pure mountain water! Recently I have been traveling full time across America with my friend Ryan in his Dodge minivan. Together we write and film our adventures and enjoy everything nature has to offer.

1 comment

  • It's just not in the story that you also need a permit to light a fire in the nature reserve. You can be checked for that too!

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Ilse Praet

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