A few of my favorite maps

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.

Paper maps

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.

A Half Mile map page with notes

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!

Trail Lingo

During their long treks, distance hikers have developed a unique shared vocabulary. Here are some of the terms we have learned from reading about the PCT:

  • Thru hiker – Somebody who hikes a long-distance trail from end to end.
  • Section hiker – Somebody who hikes portions of a long-distance trail, in separate pieces at different times, which eventually add up to the full trail length.
  • Trail name – A name given to you by the trail community. Each name is unique and often reflects an aspect of your personality or a memorable event on the trail. Some examples: Rockin, Wired, and Chinchilla. Once you receive a trail name, you assume that name, and that name only, for the duration of the hike, and for future hikes.

Food: Mail or Buy?

When we tell people about our PCT hike, they often ask how we will handle the food aspect of the trip. Fortunately, we won’t have to carry 5 months of food all at once. Instead we will replenish our food supplies periodically, either by buying food from grocery stores near the trail, or shipping ourselves packages to post offices convenient to the trail. Both options have pros and cons.