Running alongside the west coast and passing through multiple massive mountain ranges, the Pacific Crest Trail spans an astounding 2,650 miles, from Southern California all the way up to Canada.
The trail runs through several distinct regions, include wetlands, chaparral, and temperate regions, each region presenting a unique challenge, testing the resolve of those who embark on the journey. However, huge numbers of hikers who attempt to thru-hike the trail end up quitting early, and a big reason for this is that they’re not prepared with the right gear. We’ve put together an ultimate PCT gear list for your 2020 thru-hike.
Dealing with the hazards within the environment takes a high level of skills, intelligence, and proper survival gear. The goal of packing gear is to find a balance between super heavy and super light gear, and finding this balance can be very time consuming. For the sake of cutting that preparation time in half, the following gear list should provide you with a basic idea of what most people bring on a thru-hike of the PCT.
Travel and Permits
Permits are essential for a PCT-thru hike, and not having one can get in the way of your plans, so it’s a good idea to get this done before anything else. Here are some permits you’re probably going to need:
- California Fire Permit– Fire Permits are not needed for Oregon or Washington
- Overnight Permits– Overnight permits are often needed in National Forest Areas, National Parks, and State Parks
- Long Distance Permit– Only for trips 500+ miles
- Canada Entry Permit– Needed for legal entry into Canada via the PCT
Permits are usually 100% free, but can take a long time to apply for and obtain. Getting all your permits can take up to 12 months, and needs planning specific to where you’re hiking. Permits are mandatory for a PCT-thru hike.
Something to take note of regarding travel is that you cannot enter the United States via the PCT, and there is no permit available to bypass this restriction. Another thing to remember is that only 50 permits are handed out per day at the Southern Terminus, starting at 10:30 am.
The most common reason for quitting the trail early is running out of money. All expenses for a PCT thru-hike can add up to over $8000 a person, some costly examples being hotels, gear, and transportation. This is important to consider when you’re compiling your own personalized PCT gear list.
Most stores along the trail accept cards, but an emergency fund of $100-$500 should be set aside just in case. Below are some tips for saving on the pricier goods and services of a PCT thru-hike.
- Plan your hike in the off season; lower demand, lower prices
- Avoid big hotel chains (Marriott, Hilton, etc.)
- Search for deals and promo codes online
- Book in advance
- Alternative transportation (Bus, Train, etc.)
- Share gear
- Take care of your gear
- Use promo codes and coupon websites
Date and Time
Going at the right time of year will make your trip a lot more comfortable and enjoyable. Since the trail is hiked in so many different ways, it’s important to know timings for your specific route. Going at a bad time of year, especially if you’re underprepared, can not only make a trip overly complicated, but can cancel your plans altogether.
The two PCT-thru hike routes are listed below, as well as ideal starting dates and average time of completion.
South to North
- Start: Mid-April
- Why: Beginning the hike in spring gives you reasonable temperatures through the desert, and warmer temperatures when reaching colder parts of the hike
- Average Finish: September
North to South
- Start: Early July
- Why: Starting in the middle of summer clears up the trail on the northern parts, and typically allows for hikers to reach the desert region by late summer
- Finish: October
Even if you have no control over weather and trail conditions, it’s good to know what to expect. Keeping track of weather, temperature, and daylight hours will keep you safe and comfortable on the trail. It’s much easier to set up a tent in the evening than in pitch black night. A great way to stay up to date on trail conditions is by using the PCTA official website.
PCT Gear Checklist
For the entirety of the hike, you are only going to be relying on everything you packed in advance, with a few exceptions. This is by far the most important element of preparation, as unfit gear can put you and your group in danger. Traversing the untamed wilderness tops many modern activities in terms of difficulty and risk. The wild is no place to mess around, and can be very punishing to an inexperienced hiker.
Not only are there natural hazards such as rain, snow, and heat, but also a variety of animals that may be very protective over their territory. Although it’s best to avoid aggressive animal life, you should be prepared for an attack.
Keeping yourself fed and hydrated throughout the hike can prove to be a challenge. The desert is dry and baron, and the frigid mountain ranges are home to few sources of nutrition. Enough planning and research beforehand will make the whole trip a lot easier.
The PCT Gear Checklist will be divided into two “lists”, one with general types of gear and another one with specific suggestions.
The Ultimate PCT Gear List
We’ve compiled our ultimate PCT gear checklist, along with a link to our favorite product for each gear item. Enjoy!
- Tent – Keeps bugs and animals away from sleeping area, can provide insulation as well
- Sleeping Bag – Warm and essential for camping
- Tent Footprint – Increases warmth and comfort, protects tent
- Sleeping Pad – Durable, lightweight, practical, comfortable – you’re gonna want this
Clothing and Accessories
- Waterproof + Insulated Jacket – Important for the northern trails
- Waterproof T-Shirt – Soft, lightweight, practical
- Long Sleeve Shirt – At least 2
- Thick Socks – Quick drying/ waterproof
- Shorts – Light shorts with pockets are ideal
- Waterproof Pants –Wear over warmer pants; uncomfortable material
- Pants – At least 2 pairs
- Hiking Boots – Very important to find durable and waterproof boots
- Flip Flops – Comfortable, convenient
- Gloves – Find thick, warm gloves for cold protection
- Sun Hat – Preferably one that provides shade for the head and neck
- Waterproof Snow Hat – Best with waterproof material lining the outside, insulating material on the inside
- Sunglasses – Comfortable, dark
- Large Backpack – Big enough to fit everything, and some extra space
- Hygiene – Toothbrush + paste, biodegradable toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap, deodorant, extras depending on who you are
- Chapstick – Comes in handy in the dryer regions
- Foot Powder – Essential if you’re with a group
- Nail Clippers – You don’t want to grow talons
- Wash Bag – Super easy to use and absolutely essential for cleaning clothes
- Water Filter – In use for the entire trip
- Lighter – Safely stored lighter for fires
- Flashlight – Makes night hikes much easier
- Silverware – Washable utensils for messy food
- First Aid Kit – Tylenol, hydrogen peroxide, gauze, medical tape, bandages, emergency contact info, poison oak cream, safety pin
- Knife – A good knife can come in handy in a lot of situations on the trail
- Lightweight, Dense Food – Oatmeal, ramen, peanut butter, raisins, yogurt, trail mix
- Stove – Small and lightweight, easy to use
- Water Storage Container – 1+ Gallon
- Watch – Replaces constantly checking your phone
- Solar Charger – Allows use of phone on the trail
- Phone Cables – Chargers, blocks, etc.
- Satellite-Equipped Handheld GPS – Essential for a number of safety reasons – we’ve written an article about our favorites here.
- Waterproof Storage – Safe for all your electronics
- Trail Map – Used for mid-trip planning, but your handheld GPS may be able to eliminate some of the need for this
Some of the best sites to buy equipment are REI, Amazon, or Ebay; they provide the necessary gear for reasonable prices. This does not include travel expenses, hotels, etc. Take good care of your gear, and you just might save tons of money next time you go (yes, people do thru-hike multiple times. Crazy, we know). You may find that stuffing a pillow into the bottom of your backpack can provide some protection for the more fragile items if you happen to drop your backpack.
We’d recommend, above all else, Amazon if you’re looking for high-quality gear at a low price. We’ve compiled some of our favorite gear in this article, so go take a look!
With all your gear set up, the rest of planning is schedule related( eg. finding time off), and should be pretty straightforward. Don’t leave unless you’re 100% sure you have everything you need, and you’ve notified family and friends where you’re going and for how long. All this preparation may be stressful, but when you finally get on the trail, you’ll realize it’s worth it. Venturing through the California Chaparral, climbing the Sierras, and leaving behind the stress of everyday life is a life-altering experience for those who’ve embarked on the trail.
You may have noticed that bear spray was not on the PCT Gear list, and that’s for good reason. Yosemite National Park does not allow entry into the park with it, so you’ll have to ship it to a further location or just leave it at home.
Hopefully you found this list to be to the point and informative. If you learned anything from this list, it’s served its purpose. Thanks for reading, and good luck!