Our Explorer Steph has just set out on her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail in America. Before she left, she filled us in on what she’d already learned about preparing her mind, body, and gear for such a massive adventure.


While doing research and testing gear in anticipation of my journey along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), I discovered plenty of the hiking community’s idiosyncrasies and learned that self knowledge is ultimately the key to being prepared for a big adventure.

Quick Facts About the PCT

  • Start: US-Mexico border
  • End: US-Canada border
  • Length: 4,265km
  • Time to complete as a thru-hike: 4-6 months
  • States passed through: California, Oregon, Washington


After my travels were cut short in 2020 (who didn’t have a dream crushed that year?) I’ve been fantasising about an open-ended journey through big, wild spaces. Finally, next month I’ll start my north-bound (no-bo) thru-hike on the PCT.


What’s Thru-hiking?

Thru-hiking refers to completing the entirety of a long-distance trail without extended breaks. This sounds hardcore, and in some ways it is. However, as I began to explore the blogs and YouTube docos PCT alumni have contributed to online discussions, it quickly became clear that those of us who’ve done overnight hikes in Australia have probably experienced more remote backcountry than the PCT traverses.

Here in Aus, outside of the major cities and biggest regional hubs, towns are few and far between whereas, along the PCT, hikers are rarely more than a short hitch (or even a walk) away from a town with supermarkets, motels, and other comforts. 


Go Your Own Way

I’ll be starting the hike with Rach, another Australian woman I met through mutual friends. Our approaches to preparation have been really different. For a while, I was intimidated by Rach’s meticulous spreadsheets and her formidable food prep strategy. Several life circumstances, including a painful breakup, led me to take a less labour-intensive approach to my preparation.

I realised that, for me, the key to enjoying my PCT experience was going to be an openness to making it up as I go. That said, regardless of your hiking style, there are a few things everyone needs to organise — such as a bag. 


Choosing Gear

I’ve learned that people can get really preachy about the ultralight approach to hiking. I guess on one hand I can understand why: if you’re going to be carrying everything you need to survive in the back country for six months on your back, you want to minimise weight to maximise longevity on the trail.

Some ultralight devotees take this to extremes, chopping handles off toothbrushes and using razor blades for knives.

The usefulness of this approach depends on what kind of traveller you are. I’m adept at packing light, rarely taking more than a backpack on a weekend away and often opting out of checked luggage on longer trips.

For me, considerations like the cost of my gear and packing items that will bring me enjoyment on long days, are higher priorities. That’s why I’ve decided to forgo an extra change of clothes to make room for a couple of journals and pens so I can write about my experience. 


Photo thanks to Alex Darr

Livin’ La Vida Hoka

One of the best tips the ultralight school of thought gave me is about footwear. Instead of hiking shoes or boots, I’ll wear lightweight trail runners. An additional kilo on your feet is equivalent to hauling an extra 5kg in your pack!

I was a bit worried about finding lightweight shoes that would give me adequate support (I have unusual feet that need a lot of cushioning), but I’m pleased to report that Hoka’s Challenger and Speed Goat ranges tick all my boxes. 


Information Overload

Who among us doesn’t know that the internet can turn up a morass of pseudo-info? When I waded into the PCT social media groups, route planning apps, YouTube vlogs, and lengthy articles I quickly became overwhelmed by the amount of information and contrary opinions. This was never more apparent than on the topic of food and how to manage resupplying. A classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen – literally!  



My housemate Dan did the PCT in 2016, and his approach to sustenance was laissez-faire. He ate at diners and cafes along the route, and bought supplies for the trail when he needed to in the towns he chose to stop in. This worked for him, so he’s encouraged me to adopt a similar strategy.  

By contrast, my friend Rach who I’ve been consulting hiked the PCT in 2014 and wishes she’d pre-prepared more meals to save time and energy in town after a long day of walking. Rach is also a vegetarian. These are some of the reasons why she decided to cook, dehydrate and vacuum pack 100+ meals in advance. She’ll take them to the US and apportion them into resupply boxes before we start hiking. A Cali-based friend will then mail them to where she’ll be at various points along the trail, using a spreadsheet Rach has prepared. I’m in awe of Rach’s organisation! 

Read more: How To Dehydrate Food for Hiking & Camping

I considered copying this approach but, as I reflected on how I operate when I travel and camp, decided against it. I expect my attitude — as well as my appetite! — will shift and change as I go. All this to say that one of the most powerful insights I’ve gained is that self-knowledge and careful reflection are crucial to preparing for a big adventure. 

Read more: 5 Tips for Good Nutrition on a Big Adventure


Know Thyself

Checking in with your gut is also super useful if you choose to go down the PCT rabbit-holes on YouTube! There are endless vlogs and plenty of feature-length docos about hikers’ experiences, replete with advice and lists of dos and don’ts.

I think it can be really valuable to glean hot tips from others, as long as you give yourself permission to sift through it all and only retain what’s useful and feels right for you. As they say on the trail, above all, ‘Hike Your Own Hike’. That attitude has come in handy already, and I haven’t even taken a step on the PCT.

A Few More Nuggets of PCT Wisdom


Be strategic about your start date

Start too early and you might encounter a dangerous amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Start too late and you’ll be racing to beat the snow to the Canadian border. Planning this adventure with a buddy has been fun and helped me avoid some stupid mistakes (thanks, Rach!).


You need a visa to stay in the USA for more than 90 days

For goodness’ sake, apply for your visa as early as possible! The websites are rubbish and the process can be painfully slow, so it’s worth getting a jumpstart on that as soon as you feel the stirrings of adventure… 


Get yourself in shape before you head to the States

(I’ve been doing HIIT and weights to get strong for the trail.) But remember, a journey as physically and mentally demanding as the PCT is going to challenge even the fittest hiker. 


Check online for second-hand gear to save a small fortune

I found lots of quality stuff on Gumtree. It’s all going to get scuffed and scraped and stained anyway, so as long as it’s fit for purpose, who cares if it’s second hand? 


Test your gear

Go on an overnight hike. Eat some dinners cooked on your hiking stove. Camp in the backyard. Break-in your new shoes. All of these things have helped build my confidence.