A Day in the Life on the Pacific Crest Trail

Thru-hiking is pretty awesome. You get to see beautiful places, eat whatever you want, sleep under the stars every night, breathe fresh mountain air. What more could you ask for? Thru-hiking is great, and it is also incredibly glamorized. It’s not like a regular backpacking trip for most people. In order to successfully finish a thru-hike like the PCT within the weather window, sacrifices have to be made. This post isn’t meant to dissuade anyone from hiking, but to show you what you actually do all day on a thru-hike. This is what a normal day looked like for me, for over half of the trail (NorCal - Washington). And after that day finished, I woke up and did it all over again. You probably know most of this already if you read all of my blog posts, but maybe not, so here it is. :)

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4:30 AM: Alarm Goes Off

*My first alarm goes off* I always woke up to my first alarm until Washington, where I struggled because of how dark it was in the morning. I’d change into my hiking clothes, deflate my sleeping pad, stuff my pad, pillow, quilt, sleeping clothes into the liner bag in my pack, take my morning meds, put my electronics away and in my pack. Look at my water bottles to remind myself how much water I had. Check Guthooks for next water source based on how much water I had. Start throwing stuff outside of my tent, put shoes on, pack food bag, take down tent, and then I was off. If I really had to go to the bathroom, that was the first thing I did. Otherwise I went right before leaving. For 90% of the time I hiked with Hot Mess & Butters, I’d wake up at 5. Sometimes we woke up really early though. But I was pretty much waking up at 4:30 after we split up bc the days in NorCal were so hot, hotter than the Desert.

5:30 - 6:00 AM: Begin Hiking, Eat Breakfast

The time I started hiking depended on when I woke up and how warm it was. I was faster at getting ready when it was warm, and if it was warm, I’d be waking up earlier anyways to hike more in the cooler weather. Some days in Washington I didn’t start hiking until 6:45. I ate my Belvita or Poptart first thing, while drinking my Carnation breakfast mix.

 Hiking as the sun rises is amazing

Hiking as the sun rises is amazing

6:00 AM - 1:00 PM-ish: Hike

I always tried to get the majority of my miles in before lunchtime (~15-17 miles). Generally, I’ll stop for water at some point in the morning, depending on water sources and how much water I started the day with. This break is about 10-15 minutes long. Sometimes as long as 30 min if there are people to socialize with. I rinse my drink mix bottle so it doesn’t get moldy, and I eat a snack. I also try to time it so I’ll be at a water source for lunch, so I don’t have to carry extra lunch water. I eat a snack every 1.5-2 hours while hiking; do not stop to eat, generally.

Think about life, have song lyrics stuck in my head, pee break, curse climbs, take pictures of pretty things, check Guthooks to see when the climb will be over, fantasize about town food, keep re-calculating my speed in my head, pee break, check Guthooks to see where a good lunch spot would be (near water). When hiking with people: talk. Sometimes talked to myself out loud. Sometimes listened to music/ podcasts.

 The PCT isn’t all stellar views

The PCT isn’t all stellar views

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM: Lunch

I made myself hike a minimum of 12 miles before eating lunch, even through Washington. Sometimes lunch would be closer to 12 pm, but I generally started it in the 12-2 pm time frame, and took an hour to sit down and eat. When I was hiking with friends, this was nice socialization time, and I took small naps in the Desert and Sierra, and our lunches were a little longer (up to 2 hours). By myself, lunch was lonely bc no one was around, so I ate faster and took a shorter lunch.

I’d take my shoes and socks off, eat lunch. I would filter water, move some into my drink mix bottle, add an electrolyte supplement to it. Sometimes drank that water at lunch, sometimes drank it first after lunch. I’d get all my trash I’d accumulated in the morning into my trash ziploc. I’d change into my second pair of socks. Right before leaving, I brushed my teeth. I’d check Guthooks to see what the afternoon looked like terrain-wise, and roughly calculated a spot where I’d want to sleep. This all depended on when I started hiking again.

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 Desert lunches always involved finding shade & taking Siestas, and sometimes would be 4 hours long!

Desert lunches always involved finding shade & taking Siestas, and sometimes would be 4 hours long!

2:00 PM - 7:00 PM: Hike

I’d generally get 10+ miles done after lunch. I was usually more tired after lunch, so I’d put on a podcast or music or audiobook to get me pumped up again, or to distract myself from how tired I was/ how hard the climb was. In the second half of my hike, I listened to some form of entertainment in the afternoon 90% of the time. I tried to keep the entertainment for the afternoon only, not the morning.

Probably have to stop to filter water again; check Guthooks to see if water is nearby where I want to camp. If not, make sure I have enough water for the rest of the day, dinner, and the morning until the next water source. If cold soaking, take the “dinner water” and start cold soaking dinner, around 4-5 PM. Check Guthooks around 5 pm to see if I’m still on-track for the campsite I’d roughly picked out during lunch. Adjust accordingly based on if there’s a climb to camp or a downhill, and how tired (or not tired) I am.

Eat more snacks when I’m hungry, get distracted from podcasts bc I start thinking about random things, take more pretty pictures, fantasize about more town food, pee break, maybe #2 break. Look at Guthooks more than I should to see how much progress I’ve made. Start really picking up the speed as 7 PM approaches - generally my cut off time for hiking, as that time allowed me to do evening chores before bed.

 Sunset came earlier and earlier in Washington. If I got to camp by 7-7:15, I’d be eating by headlamp.

Sunset came earlier and earlier in Washington. If I got to camp by 7-7:15, I’d be eating by headlamp.

7:00 PM - 7:30 PM: Set Up Camp

Send Garmin inReach message to my parents. Go #2 maybe. Set up my tent, crawl into it, blow up sleeping pad and pillow, get quilt out, plug in electronics that need to be charged. Take baby wipe shower and get into PJs. Sometimes take a Benadryl. Examine and massage feet.

 I’d like to personally thank Good Man Gramps for this, and many other campsite suggestions.

I’d like to personally thank Good Man Gramps for this, and many other campsite suggestions.

7:30 PM - 8:15 PM: Eat Dinner

Sometimes did this in my tent. If around people, ate dinner and socialized with them outside unless it was super cold, then we socialized from our tents. I always ate dinner out and away from my tent in the Sierra, because I’d have to pack the bear canister and put it somewhere far from my tent. While eating I also transferred/ filtered water, made my Carnation drink mix in my water bottle, and took out all my morning snacks for the next day and put them in my snack pocket (except in the Sierra. I had to do this part in the morning, which meant I had to wake up 15 min earlier those mornings). After dinner, I’d squirt some water into my cup and swirl it, drinking the grey water.

 Eating dinner can sometimes be the most miserable part of the day (*cough* Yosemite *cough*)

Eating dinner can sometimes be the most miserable part of the day (*cough* Yosemite *cough*)

8:15 PM - 9:00 PM: Bedtime Things

After dinner, I packed my food bag up, and other loose items/ toiletries. Put on any extra layers I needed, and then crawled into my quilt. I spent the rest of my night writing my blog post and choosing the pictures I wanted in it, then edited them and put them in my special album on my phone. Before going to sleep, I’d check Guthooks and see what the first part of tomorrow looked like, and also did some quick math to see how many miles I was from the next town, making sure I was still on schedule.

 Bedtime chores included tidying up so I’d have less to pack up in the morning

Bedtime chores included tidying up so I’d have less to pack up in the morning

So that’s that! As you can see, I basically hiked alllll day long. Sometimes interesting things would happen, but it was mostly just lots of hiking!