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Backpacking on the PCT & What I've Learned Along the Way

I fell in love with backpacking in 2015 in the mountains of Peru, where my kids and I hiked with a guide to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. There is a peace that comes with leaving the modern world behind and connecting with nature. It certainly brings the perspective that all the little things I worry about are not so important in the long run. Backpacking makes me appreciate clean water that comes from my faucet and showerhead. It also brings a sense of physical and mental achievement - I can thrive with only what I can carry as I push through mile after mile.

Since that incredible trek in Peru, I have been backpacking sections of the 2,650 mile long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which runs from Mexico to Canada through the western United States. Two of my teenagers and I just returned from backpacking 47 miles on this trail through the eastern side of Inyo & Sequoia National Forests.

As we hiked the last handful of miles, I realized that I had come a long way from that first backpacking trip - literally and in my understanding of how to have a successful trip. This is a photo of us still smiling at the end!

Here's some of what I learned:

  1. Prepare physically: Exercise often and consistently doing things you enjoy. This time I trained with weight lifting (moderate weight with lots of reps), high intensity aerobics, and some hiking. I also worked on getting good sleep before we left.

  2. Listen to your body on the trail: Take breaks, drink lots of water, snack often, and apply mole skin before a blister forms. When planning your trip, give yourself more time than you expect. This way you can have rest periods or set up camp early when you need to. I find 8-12 miles a day is a really reasonable pace depending on how steep the trail is and the weather.

  3. Reduce irritations and risks: Bring lots of bug repellant and some itch cream. Bring an inflatable sleeping mat and inflatable pillow. Use good quality mole skin. Know the weather before you leave and dress accordingly. Leave non-essentials at home so your pack is light as possible. Know where you are going and let others know before you leave.

  4. Look up: Yes it's important to keep an eye on the trail so you don't trip or roll an ankle but if you're constantly looking down, you'll miss the view, the animals, the trees, the meadows, the creeks, the waterfalls, the flowers, the bees, etc.

  5. Be friendly and conversational: Take your earbuds out and say hi not only to the hikers in your group but all the others on the trail. You'll remember the people you meet and will be glad you took the time to get to know them a little. This also helps with safety on the trail. This trip we lead a hiker to water while another hiker shared her bug repellant us.

List of essential items:

  • Trail map/guide book: Find one that is full of details about your trail - where water is, elevation info, maps, distances, where you can park, alternate paths, where to restock your supplies, good camping spots, and landmarks. I highly recommend "Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail" by Shawnté Salabert. She has never led us astray and even talks about the wildlife of the area which I love. I cut out the pages I'll need, staple them together and put them in the easily accessible pocket of my pack.