Glossary of Thru-hiking Terms

There are now exactly 3 weeks left until my Pacific Crest Trail adventure begins! I cannot believe how close it is, and I feel like I still have a ton of little things to do before departure day arrives. This also means that before too long, the posts on this blog will probably be filled with hiker jargon that, if you haven’t thru-hiked before, may get confusing. But never fear! I have prepared this handy guide to common thru-hiker terms to help you figure out what the heck we are all talking about.

Base weight (noun) – the weight of everything in a hiker’s pack, minus consumables (water, food, fuel, etc.)

Bushwhack (verb) – to travel off-trail, often requiring fighting through thick brush or trees

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Backpackers Bushwhacking in Donoho Basin

Camel up (verb) – to drink a large amount of water at once (usually while at a water source) in order to decrease the amount of water one has to carry to the next water source (whether this actually works or not is rather dubious)

Cat hole (noun) – a hole one digs to poop into

Cowboy camp (verb) – to camp under the stars, with no shelter (the solution to being too lazy to set up your tent at the end of the day)

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To Train or Not to Train

There are now less than 6 weeks left until I head out on my Pacific Crest Trail adventure. It’s a very exciting time, but it’s also around the time that I’m starting to stress about all of the little things I have to do before I leave. I did all of my major planning months ago, and I’ve been procrastinating on finishing up all of the little things (which have added up to quite a long to-do list!). But, one thing that I have been consistently doing in preparation for this hike is training.

Every thru-hiker has their own take on training, and strategies range from not training at all, to religiously hitting the gym. While the former may not be the smartest strategy, the latter may not be entirely necessary either. Relying on “on-the-job” training during a thru-hike might be feasible for many people, but the person whose training begins at the trailhead will likely be moving much more slowly and in a lot more pain than the person who spent months getting physically prepared. It is probably impossible to fully prepare your body for something as intense as a thru-hike. The only thing that can do that is, well, doing a thru-hike. A couple of months into the hike, someone who didn’t train may be in just as good of shape as someone who did, but there’s a good chance the person who trained saved themselves from a world of pain in the first few weeks.

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All loaded up for a training hike!

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Planning a Pacific Crest Trail Thru-hike

So, you’ve decided to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, but are unsure of what to do next? Planning a thru-hike can seem like a daunting task, and while there is a lot that needs to be done, it doesn’t have to be the super-stressful process it’s often made out to be. One of the biggest parts of preparation is putting your gear list together, so if you are still working on that, check out my gear guide. If you’re ready to move on to the next stage of your planning, read on!

Permits

Get ready to fill out some paper work! For taking a trip into the wilderness, there are quite a few bureaucratic hoops to jump through before you’re able to set off into the mountains.

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The main permit that is required* for thru-hiking the PCT is the PCT Long Distance Permit, issued by the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). This free(!) permit covers any journey of 500 miles or more along the PCT, and allows you to hike and camp anywhere along the trail. This permit is convenient because, without it, a hiker would have to apply to a multitude of different permits from the many land management agencies the PCT passes through. That being said, the long-distance interagency permits are limited to 50 people per day and some prospective hikers may miss out on nabbing a permit for their preferred start time. It IS possible to thru-hike the PCT without the thru-hike permit, but it will make the journey a lot more logistically challenging. I’d recommend finding out when the PCTA will start issuing permits, and being ready to apply as soon as the application opens (I booked the day off work to do this, it’s serious business).

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The Caffeinated Hiker’s Gear Guide

Your choice of gear can make or break a hiking trip.  Your gear is what will keep you warm, dry, comfortable, hydrated, and fed. It is important to carefully consider each piece of gear you choose to bring with you into the wilderness. In this post, I will list and briefly review each of the major pieces of gear I take with me on overnight hiking trips! Keep in mind, hiking gear is a very personal matter, so what works for me may not work for you. Lots of research and trial and error will go in to creating your own perfect gear list.

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What is the Pacific Crest Trail? (And Other Frequently Asked Questions)

While many hikers who stumble across this blog will probably already know what the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is, most of the friends/family/random strangers that I mention the trail to don’t seem to have heard of it. I thought I’d use this post to formally introduce the PCT, and to answer some of the questions I am most commonly asked when I tell people about it.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a U.S. National Scenic Trail that runs 2,650 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border to the U.S.-Canada border. The trail crosses through 3 states: California, Oregon, and Washington, following the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. Along the way, the trail passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks, as well as countless other wilderness areas.

PCT map

Map courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

In order to complete a thru-hike of the PCT, a hiker must walk the entire length of the trail in a single trip. The climate, terrain, and environment that a hiker will experience on such a trip varies widely as the trail progresses. The PCT runs through 6 out of 7 of North America’s ecozones, providing a testament to how varied the experience is.

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Views from the trail in Southern California

Most hikers start in California and walk north towards Canada, although there is a smaller group that starts at the Canadian border and walks south. This means that most hikers begin their trek with 700 miles of desert in Southern California. Hot sun, rattlesnakes, desert scrub and chaparral, and the welcome shade of trees in the higher elevation areas such as the San Jacinto Mountains.

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Let’s Talk About Food, Baby

Food. There are few things long-distance hikers think or talk about more. It is what fuels our bodies and allows us to complete these insane feats of endurance, and therefore it is all important. Many hours on the trail are spent dreaming about when you’ll next stop to eat, and what you’ll eat when you do. When you burn off five to six thousand calories a day, you’re rarely not hungry. This is a phenomenon known as ‘hiker hunger’, a term used to describe the insatiable hunger that allows hikers to consume massive amounts of food while rarely getting full.

So what do hikers actually eat on the trail? This is one of the more common questions I receive when I explain to someone what a thru-hike is. ‘What are you going to eat, and how are you going to get it?’ While the topic of obtaining food (or resupplying) needs its own post, this post will be dedicated to the glory and horror that is trail food.

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One of my favourite trail breakfasts. Instant oatmeal, instant coffee, eaten while sitting in the dirt. (Eating while sitting down is a real luxury).

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