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FabList: Three 60-Year-Old (ish) Women Backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – FAQ’s & Packing List!

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is well-known to hikers but became very popular when Cheryl Strayed wrote the book “Wild” about her adventures tackling this trail (and her demons). I (Joanne) have been hiking sections of the trail over the past 15 years and just backpacked a section in Southern California. I’m back in one piece to answer your burning questions, share my backpacking FabList, and tell you what items I can’t live without on the trail!

So, what’s the PCT?:

The PCT is a 2,653 mile long hiking trail whose southern terminus is next to the Mexico–United States border, just south of Campo, California, and its northern terminus is on the Canada–US border. It passes through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

For history buffs:  In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Trail Systems Act, which named the PCT and the Appalachian Trail as the first national scenic trails, but it wasn’t until 1993, at a golden spike ceremony in Soledad Canyon, California, that the PCT was completed as a contiguous trail from Mexico to Canada.

Do people really hike the whole thing???

Yes, they do!  “Through hikers” are those that walk the entirety of the trail at one time. They start in April and finish (hopefully) in late September.  They thread the weather needle of heat in the desert in April/May, snow in the Sierras in June/July, and potential snow again in Washington state in September/October. Most hike South to North. About 20% of those who start (est. 750 hikers) will finish the whole trail in the same year. The average age is about 30.

What is a section hiker?

Section hikers do a section of the PCT at a time.  There are 29 sections of roughly 70-100 miles each.

What section did you just hike?

I hiked Section B in Southern California from Warner Springs to Palm Springs, mile markers 109 – 209. We hiked for 6 days, starting in the hot and windy desert and ending in the snow at 10,000’ of elevation near Mount St. Jacinto near Palm Springs.

Who did you go with?

I went with 2 friends from Seattle – Barb Maher and Nicki Nelson. We had never backpacked together on an overnight trip but obviously shared a love of hiking and the outdoors. It turned out we had some weird commonalities (which you figure out during 72 hours of walking together). We all love black licorice, hate yoga, are pretty no-nonsense and low-maintenance, and all 3 of us had the same first dance song at our weddings (even though we didn’t know each other and the weddings were years apart). Read on if you want to know the name of the song!

What’s a trail name and what were yours?

Most hikers are given a made-up name by fellow hikers (you can’t name yourself) based on something random they did, said, ate, or wore. Barb is ‘Cookies’, from a wool hat she had to buy along the trail to keep warm that had “Cookies” written on it (she didn’t know when she bought it that Cookies was the biggest pot dispensary in California, #cannabis).  Nicki is ‘Zippy’ because she zips – she’s fast at everything she does.  I’m ‘Sweeper’ because I like to pull up the rear and mosey along behind everyone. Some other hikers we ran into were ‘Wrong Way’, ‘Cash’ (dressed in all black like Johnny Cash), ‘Teach’ (REI employee), ‘Pippy’ (long ponytail), and ‘Tarzan’. When we hike the next section we can choose to keep our names or take on new ones.

What were the other hikers on the trail like?  Was it crowded?

Each day we saw around a dozen people. It’s such a fun array of youngsters (except for us!) from all around the world – Poland, France, Australia, Ireland, England and many from the US of course. All are taking 5 months off of life and have been planning this trip for years, so hearing their stories of transition is really interesting. We were old enough to be their mothers (or even grandmothers!) and that made us feel pretty good about ourselves!

How far did you walk?

We walked about 80 miles, averaging 13 miles a day. Overall elevation gain was about 15,000’.

Where did you sleep?

We pitched tents (we each had our own tent) every night but one. We spent that one night in a hotel in Idyllwild, which is a fun backpacker/artist town about 20 minutes from a PCT trailhead (we hitched a ride with Vic). It’s where many through hikers take “zeros”. On the trail, we camped in “established” camp areas to minimize the impact. I would say on average we’d camp with 3-5 other hikers.

What’s a zero?

A zero is a day when you hike zero miles.  A nearo is a near zero day.  A double zero is two consecutive rest days and this could teeter to what is called the vortex – the point of no return to the trail!

Where do you do “you know what”?

In a private spot somewhere outside the trail area, preferably with a view. Dig a hole, cover it up, and pack out the TP.  Enough said.

What do you eat?

Breakfast: On a typical trip, I’d boil water in the morning and have instant coffee (Trader Joes has cute little packs with sugar and cream mixed in), oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, or anything with calories! But on this trip, because we were in a desert section with very little water and high temps, we needed to get on the trail early and not use precious water so we decided NO coffee and we ate high protein PROBARS for breakfast.

Snacks/Lunch:  Lunch starts after breakfast and ends at dinner. We’d snack along the way – nuts, trail mix, black licorice, Mike and Ikes, Cliff Bloc caffeine chews (necessary with NO coffee!), Stinger Energy chews and waffles, Pay Days, M&M’s, and Sport Beans. We’d try and take a longer break for lunch.  We’d have tortillas & PB with Fritos, tortillas with cheese and salami, pita and hummus, cheese, and veggies. And more candy.

Dinner:  We’d boil water (we used a JetBoil) and make a dehydrated meal. I like Mary Janes Farm Mac & Cheese and I brought bacon bits as a topper.  Barb and Nicki like Heathers Choice Spinach Curry with Chicken & Rice, African Peanut Stew, and Backpacker’s Pantry Cuban Coconut Black Beans & Rice. Barb brought olives, crackers, and cheese for hors d’oeuvres. Nicki duct taped a bag of tortilla chips to her backpack to eat with the Beans & Rice.

How did you navigate?

We downloaded FarOut, the go-to navigation app for the PCT, and downloaded a map of the trail. Using GPS it told us where we were on the trail and we route planned based on the crowd-sourced questions/comments:  Where is water?  Where are tent sites?  The PCT is a pretty well worn trail but there were definite times with many tree blow-downs, re-routes, and a day in the snow that we needed this app.

Where did you get water?
The FarOut app told us where the water sources were and if they were productive. Water was sparse in this section because the first 4 days were in the desert with very little water in May. We had to carry up to 5 liters (10+ pounds) at times because we knew the next water source was 15 miles away.  We dry camped most nights (not near a water source).  The water we came across was pretty scary looking!  We carried water filters and filtered it, but it was unappealing!

What electronics did you bring and how did you keep them charged?

We all had iPhones, that we put on airplane mode, low light, and battery save, and we used them for photos and GPS (and Barb watched movies in her tent at night!). We had spare battery bricks for extra power. I have a super small (2”, 1 ounce) MP3 player loaded with music and books – it has an 18-hour battery life. Some used AirPods and I use wired headphones because I’m afraid of losing an AirPod. We were able to recharge all devices in Idyllwild, mid-trip.

Would you listen to music/books on the trail?

Not as much as you’d think. It came in handy after lunch when we had to pound out some miles, or if we had a big uphill climb to tackle.

Did you have any way to communicate if you got into trouble?

Barb brought her Zoleo Two-Way Communicator. We shared our location with our families once a day and it had an SOS button we could press if we got into any trouble and that would send a message out to an emergency monitoring service.

What time did you go to sleep?

We’d get in our tents around 7 – which is backpacker midnight. With 5am wake-ups and some 15 mile days we were tired!

What did you wear/pack?

My complete pack list with links is below, but in general I wear a long sleeve hooded sunshirt and long pants to protect from the sun, bugs, trees, etc . . . I wear long underwear bottoms and a Smartwool mid-weight layer for sleeping.  I brought a change of underwear but that’s it.  If there’s water nearby, I rinse out my clothes each night and they are “quick dry” so they dry quick.  We didn’t have that luxury on this trip, although I did wash things out in Idyllwild.

For equipment, I’ve invested through the years in a very lightweight backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cook stove, water filter, etc . . . as ‘ounces make pounds’! My pack weighed just over 25 pounds and that included food and 2L of water.

What is your FabList of must-haves while hiking the PCT?

  1. Iphone for camera and trail maps and a battery brick for extra power!
  2. Advil: 9 a day!
  3. Sun gloves: Great sun protection and sweat absorbent.
  4. Trekking Poles: Help with balance and shock absorbent on downhills!
  5. Fritos & Candy:  Salt and sugar are must-haves!

And what was that first dance song?

Frank Sinatra “Fly Me to the Moon”.

Packing List:

Pack List
Ounces Pounds
Equipment
Backpack Deuter 60 + 10 https://sovrn.co/17grt7d 67 4.19
Backpack liner Trash Compactor Bag https://amzn.to/4c0SRb2 2 0.13
Backpack Cover Rain Cover 4300 cl. https://sovrn.co/clf94vh 4.8 0.30
Sleeping Bag Western Mountaineering https://sovrn.co/hqy81m7 32 2.00
Sleeping Pad Nemo fold up https://sovrn.co/1j6gnq5 14.5 0.91
Pillow Sea To Summit https://sovrn.co/ogtkp9f 2.7 0.17
Tent Big Agnes 1 person https://sovrn.co/1dgew7z 40 2.50
Bladder Camelback 3L https://amzn.to/3KudbFX 6 0.38
Jet Boil no fuel https://sovrn.co/pql37yy 16 1.00
Tupperwear bowl/mug/spork 3 0.19
11.75
Packed Clothing
Fleece Marmot https://sovrn.co/wtgl7zb 9.4 0.59
Merino layer Smart Wool https://sovrn.co/s08mtwb 8.3 0.52
Down Coat Mtn Harwdare https://sovrn.co/piptipl 6.9 0.43
Rain Coat Patagonia https://sovrn.co/1hj3il4 12.4 0.78
Long Uwear Bottoms (PJs) North Face https://sovrn.co/tdwa8qh 7.3 0.46
Rain Pants Marmot https://sovrn.co/l5cyp6h 7.2 0.45
Wool hat Smartwool https://sovrn.co/c895wq3 3 0.19
Gloves OR https://sovrn.co/1ia43bf 1.5 0.09
Wool Socks & Liners Darn Tough Socks https://sovrn.co/s04a8cs 2.8 0.18
Ininji Liners https://amzn.to/4c3bNGl 0.00
Crocs Crocs https://amzn.to/4e4XfYk 11 0.69
underwear top/bottom Briefs – Ex Officio https://sovrn.co/1773rev 2 0.13
Bra – Smart Wool https://sovrn.co/7todwys 4.49
Foot Repair/First Aid
leuko tape/gauze https://amzn.to/4aHCY8g 4.8 0.30
neosporin https://amzn.to/4aJoGEv
band aids https://amzn.to/4bBFYVd
Toiletries 12 0.75
brush face/body lotion
bug spray hair ties
sunscreen ear plugs
chapstick camp suds
toothbrush/paste/floss nail clippers
qtips
Meds 5.1 0.32
advil/aleve/aspirin dailymeds
antibiotic course benadryl
immodium
pepto pills
Misc
water bottles Smart Water 1L bottles 2 smart water 1l bottles 32 2.00
water filter Be Free https://sovrn.co/ykj4j5y 2.2 0.14
trowel & TP https://amzn.to/3yOHMeQ 2.9 0.18
swiss army knife https://amzn.to/3wKKXUw 1 0.06
headlamp/batteries Petzel https://amzn.to/4bEz81e 2.7 0.17
reading glasses 1.1 0.07
sunglasses/crokies 1.4 0.09
pen/paper/map 6.8 0.43
bandana 1.2 0.08
3.21
Electronics
power bank/plug Anker https://amzn.to/3KnP6AL 6 0.38
phone Apple iphone 11 pro 9.2 0.58
earphones Apple w/ cords 0.7 0.04
MP3 player San Disk MP3 https://amzn.to/3Vmx7RG 3 0.19
1.18
Food ProBars/Bfast 14 0.88
Snacks 8 0.50
Dinners 15 0.94
Tortillas/Peanut Butter 13.4 0.84
3.15
TOTAL 25.14
clothing to wear
Underwear Ex-Officio https://sovrn.co/1773rev
Bra Smart Wool https://sovrn.co/7todwys
Socks Darn Tough Socks https://sovrn.co/s04a8cs
Sock Liners Ininji Liners https://amzn.to/4c3bNGl
Shoes Altra Lone Peak https://sovrn.co/1dy2ws0
Gaiters Altra https://amzn.to/4bC7Yb7
Shirt Patagonia Cool Daily https://sovrn.co/1cko9r0
Sun Hat Tilly https://amzn.to/3VmrV05
Sun Gloves Outdoor Research https://sovrn.co/1q2ovkq
Convertible Pants Outdoor Research https://sovrn.co/1jaez6k
Trekking Poles Black Diamond https://sovrn.co/hhss4u7
Fanny Pack Patagonia https://sovrn.co/k00s1cw

 

3 thoughts on “FabList: Three 60-Year-Old (ish) Women Backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – FAQ’s & Packing List!”

  1. Joanne and Chrissie: Thank you for yet another fabulous post. They just keep getting better and better with so much useful, interesting and fun information. I especially loved reading about your trips and the summer clothing suggestions. 🙂

  2. Greetings I am so thrilled I found your blog,
    I really found you by accident, while I was browsing on Google
    for something else, Regardless I am here now and would just like
    to say thanks for a remarkable post and a all round exciting blog
    (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all
    at the moment but I have book-marked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to
    read much more, Please do keep up the awesome work.

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Joanne & Chrissie

Chrissie and Joanne love discovering, curating and creating. They developed FabList as a place to share their favorite finds with you.

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Joanne & Chrissie

Chrissie and Joanne love discovering, curating and creating. They developed FabList as a place to share their favorite finds with you.

3 thoughts on “FabList: Three 60-Year-Old (ish) Women Backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – FAQ’s & Packing List!”

  1. Joanne and Chrissie: Thank you for yet another fabulous post. They just keep getting better and better with so much useful, interesting and fun information. I especially loved reading about your trips and the summer clothing suggestions. 🙂

  2. Greetings I am so thrilled I found your blog,
    I really found you by accident, while I was browsing on Google
    for something else, Regardless I am here now and would just like
    to say thanks for a remarkable post and a all round exciting blog
    (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all
    at the moment but I have book-marked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to
    read much more, Please do keep up the awesome work.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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