Good maps are essential. We plan to use two types of maps on our thru-hike, plus a third map type to keep folks at home informed about our location.
As a public service, a hiker named Half Mile has created a wonderfully detailed set of topo maps covering the entire Pacific Crest Trail. The maps include terrain, notes, and points of interest like campsites, post offices, and water sources. The route of the PCT is well-marked on the maps, as are side trails. Elevation profiles are placed at the end of each section. Check out Half Mile’s website to download free PDF files of the maps. We had the maps printed double-sided (less paper to carry) on a color laser printer (they won’t smear if wet). We’ll send ourselves the appropriate map sections in our food boxes, so we won’t have to carry them all at once.
Even if you have a GPS, it’s important to carry a paper map and compass as a backup. The GPS might fail, and it can lose its view of the sky in steep canyons or dense forests. If you don’t know how to read a topo map or take a bearing with a compass, orienteering is a fun way to learn!