Announcing our Pacific Crest Trail thru hike to family and friends was a multi-stage process. The first was the smiling and nodding phase. Most weren’t sure whether to take us seriously or not, and I can’t say I blame them.
The second stage entailed slightly refined skepticism, with statements like, “the desert is really hot,” or “2,600 miles is a long way.” If you’re planning a thru hike, I hope, for your sake, that you’ve already thought about these pressing basics before announcing.
By the third stage, we were so close to our departure date and in serious planning mode that it was difficult for people to ignore the fact that we were actually, really, seriously going to attempt it. This was when the questions started.
So we’ve compiled the answers to our top frequently asked questions about the Pacific Crest Trail thru hike.
#1 most asked question of all time, no contest.
Of course we’ve thought about bears, who hasn’t when they’re hiking through bear country? We have hiked through bear country before, in peak hungry bear season, with ample evidence of bear activity, without ever seeing a bear. Even so, we still take every precaution, the main one being to properly secure food. Always.
Why do bears attack humans?
They don’t, usually. The important thing to remember about bears is that they just want food. People aren’t good bear food, but people food is. 99% of the time bears are much too afraid of humans to try getting their bear paws on human food, and the other 1% the bear is desperate enough to try to get into some unsecured food or trash. This is why hikers and campers are required to use bear safe food containers in places where bears are active, for their own and everyone else’s safety.
Yes, it all sounds pretty scary, but just put it in perspective and know that bear attacks are extremely rare. Statistically it’s just so unlikely to have an encounter with an aggressive bear. Thousands of people go out into the backcountry every year, and hundreds complete the PCT each year, completely unscathed from bear maulings.
I’ve even pointed out that I am more likely to get struck and killed by lightning than attacked by a bear, what I thought would be a more frightening proposition. But still, not enough to dispel the disproportionate fear of bears.
How long is it?
As far as hiking trails go, it’s really, really long.
Length: 2,650 miles
Landmarks: from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border
Time: Between 4 and 6 months
Where do you sleep?
Outside. In a tent. With a sleeping bag. Check out our gear for the trip to learn what else we’ll be taking to survive in the wilderness.
How will you get food and water?
You have to carry your entire trip’s worth of food with you. Most people recommend using a horse or a donkey to carry your food and water, and another one to carry it’s food and water that will die of starvation before the end.
Kidding, of course!
The PCT intersects plenty of towns between Mexico and Canada. You have the option of resupplying in town, or shipping your next supply of food in “resupply boxes” to places in those towns.
We are going with the first option.
Most people resupply an average of every 5 days. Water can be found in some parts on the trail, but like water in the wilderness everywhere, has to be purified before being drinkable.
How are you going to cook your food?/Are you bringing a bunson burner?
We are bringing a lightweight camp stove that we have used successfully while backpacking the AT for the past 3 years. It should cook our ramen well.
How will you protect yourself against wild animals?
We honestly haven’t thought about it because it’s that much of a non-issue. Mostly, by not being dumb and doing things like leaving open containers of unsecured food out at night, poking at snakes hiding under rocks, or chasing anything that moves.
Lucky for us, we’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and not wandering the Sarengetti where vicious apex predators and some of the world’s most venomous snakes are known to be. I know people don’t care, but we have to protect ourselves more from the elements than from wildlife.
And really, animals in the wild aren’t out to maul you and eat you. Respect nature, but don’t fear it.
What will you do when it rains?
Put on your rain jacket, pull your waterproof cover over your pack and keep walking.
Will you bring a gun?
To shoot at what? A tent intruder? A bear?
I don’t have the feeling than I’m in constant need of protection by firearm. I’ve gotten along just fine so far without it and I think it’s more likely that I’ll injure myself or someone else on accident carrying a gun around than actually have the circumstances align just right and be able to stop something from harming me with it.
There’s also the problem that a gun is completely out of sync with the golden rule of long distance hiking- pack light. Guns are heavy contraptions that you (hopefully) won’t be using all that much. Not practical for real thru hikers by any means.
No. No gun.
How are you going to shave your legs?
Even outside of wandering around in the wilds, I wouldn’t shave my legs or armpits if society didn’t freak out every time I didn’t. I think it’s a pointless, sexist double standard that women need to stop being held to. The only reason I do is because I let my armpit hair grow free for a while and people had the hardest time noticing anything else about me.
With leaving most of that behind, I am so excited to let it all grow (like every MAN on the trail would anyway), and I give zero f—s what anyone else thinks about it.
What will Sally do about her time of the month?
Men ask about this as much as women.
I would just pack out tampons along with the rest of my trash if I used them, but I don’t. I’ve been using a device called a menstrual cup for over 5 years now, and before I even started this whole sleeping outside business.
A menstrual cup is simple, easy to use, produces no waste (that I would have to pack out), and saves me a lot of money. Like many women, I realized how disgusting pads were after trying tampons, and the cup is the next step in that evolution. I will never go back, and it’s just an added bonus that it aligns perfectly with my backpacking and traveling lifestyle.
If you’re interested, as most women are after hearing about this for the first time, I recommend this livejournal to learn everything you want to know, and to go about finding the cup that’s right for you. I’ve never heard of someone trying it and regretting it.
Won’t she attract bears during her period?
I don’t know who keeps making this stuff up, but it seems like they’re afraid of menstruating women as much as they are of bears.
Menstrual blood has not been shown to attract bears OR sharks. Seriously.
Again, bears are attracted to the smell of human food, not human flesh or lady blood.
What will you do if you get hurt?
Prior to the trip, we became Wilderness First Aid certified and will treat minor injuries to the best of our abilities and tough it out. Anything else, we will treat and make our way to where an ambulance can be called. If it’s immediately life threatening, we have a satellite phone to use to call for help.
How will you charge your satellite phone?
We have a solar charger that we will use to charge the satellite phone, as well as other electronics we’ll be bringing. Gotta stay connected.
Are you going to keep up with your blog on the trail?
No one’s actually asked me this, but just wanted to clarify: yes! I’ll be writing posts at night on my phone when I’m not totally exhausted, and posting to the blog when I have cellular service. It will all be part of our Trail Journal as well as our Instagram. Please follow along!
Any more questions? Ask us in the comments section!