There’s a lot of written material about the PCT, and most of the information out there is redundant. In practice, very little documentation is required to prepare adequately, so in my opinion it’s not necessary to read all of the available material, unless of course it’s for the pleasure of reading in anticipation of the hike. On this page I’m sharing the resources that I think are the most comprehensive and relevant. They are the ones that I used to prepare for my trip.
Blogs & web sites
The websites I’m sharing here are those that offer immediate relevance to prepare for the PCT, and more generally for any thru-hike. I’m sparing you the Wikipedia page as I’m sure you don’t need my help to find that, plus it gives general information on the trail but won’t provide with much help in the preparation. There are also a lot of journaling blogs out there, where authors share their day-to-day impressions on the trail. They can be nice to read for those who like travel stories (although I have to say not all of them are of very high literary value) but again, they won’t be much help when it comes to preparing yourself for the trail. If you only have limited time to do your homework, I might as well point you directly towards the useful and relevant information. I feel the same about websites that give extensive technical details about every single day on the trail: mileage, walking time and resting time, elevation gain and loss… none of this will help you make your choices, and planning a thru-hike right down to the day, from home, months before it actually happens, is a waste of time anyway.
pcta.org, the PCT Association’s website
This is THE website you can’t do without. The PCT Association does an amazing job of promoting the PCT, informing past and aspiring hikers as well as maintaining the trail with a small army of volunteers. You’ll refer to this website all the time for your PCT experience:
- Before hiking the trail: that’s where you’ll find all the resource that’ll help you understand the PCT, what life on the trail is like, how to best prepare for it, rules to follow to protect the environment etc. That’s where you can download and print Halfmile paper maps if you choose to use them (see the page on navigating the PCT). And that’s also where you’ll apply for your permits, including the indispensable thru-hiking permit.
- On the trail: the site provides real-time information on the state of water sources along the trail (the Water Report) as well as on wildfires and potential subsequent trail closures and/or detours imposed by the authorities for the safety of all hikers (the Fire Report). During hiking season, those reports are updated on an almost-daily basis.
- After the trail: the PCTA animates the community of hikers year-round by regularly publishing posts about the trail, plus a newsletter.
- Halfway Anywhere
Mac is an American hiker and on his website he shares a myriad of super-useful information about the PCT but also other hikes and trails, in the US and elsewhere in the world. The site itself is a mix of travel blog and purely informative pages. Finding the exact information you need might take a little time (and maybe not even so, as Mac’s posts all come very high up in Google searches), but it’s really worth the effort because this website really is a goldmine full of accurate, relevant information, provided by a seasoned thru-hiker. It also has that very interesting section on trail statistics: every year after hiking season, Mac organizes a poll to know what gear hikers have used on the PCT and what they’ve liked or disliked about it.
- Clever Hiker
This website is not dedicated to the PCT per se, but it’s still a very useful resource as it offers plenty of gear reviews with yearly updates. Their reviews are quite thorough, all technical specifications are duly reported, their likes/dislikes are well explained and they provide links to commercial websites where the products reviewed can be bought. It’s a great way to shortcut all the gear research and to accelerate the selection process. This is particularly interesting for the Big 5, maybe for clothing it will be a less crucial resource.
Among all the other very interesting documentation they provide, I found those two articles particularly useful: one is about the classic mistakes most green hikers do and how to avoid them. The other provides a handful of good advice for a successful thru-hike.
Just like for websites, there’s a lot of material available when it comes to books about the PCT. Autobiographies, travel stories, fictions about or around the trail, thru-hiking guides, data books, bibles of every sort… much has been written about this mythic adventure. Read what you will depending on the time and appetite you have for that, what I’m giving you here are the must-reads for your preparation. All this paper is heavy and takes space though, so I strongly advise you to learn as much as you can from those books and then leave them at home or pass them to a fellow hiker.
- The Pacific Crest Trail (Brian Johnson, ed. Cicerone)
A clear and comprehensive book, the mini-bible on that topic if you will. You’ll find there a lot of context elements, fauna, flora, climate, geology, history, and of course all the technical advice needed for a good preparation.
- Pocket PCT (Paul Bodnar)
It’s a data book that lists all of the PCT’s waypoints, mile after mile (water sources, tent sites, river beds, dirt tracks, roads, pipe fences etc.) as well as all the towns near the trail and what you can expect to find there. Having a pdf version of that book stored in a smartphone would be ideal, even if you won’t really need it if you purchase Guthook’s PCT App. To my knowledge, such pdf version doesn’t exist, but the book remains a precious tool to draw the outlines of a planning.
The problem with YouTube is that when you go there looking for something specific, you get sucked into the vortex and end-up spending hours binging videos of “paramount importance” about topics you suddenly need to know everything about. The advantage that goes with it, and that’s why we all still go, is that there truly is A LOT to learn there. When it comes to the PCT (and more generally the world of hiking and outdoor living) there is an INFINITY of material on YouTube, some really good and some not so good to be honest. Not all videos are good quality, but most importantly not all videos are relevant to the topic they intend to cover.
If you choose to use YouTube for your PCT preparation (and I encourage you to do so!) there are two channels that I think you really shouldn’t miss. Both from very experienced thru-hikers, they have hundreds of very well conceived, funny, very relevant videos. Watching them all would be very time consuming, so maybe you’ll need to pick & choose the topics that are the most critical to you, but really both channels are worth the detour.