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PRO TIPS

10 Tips to Prepare For
Your PCT Hike in Oregon

There’s lots to do to prepare for a PCT hike, from packing your gear to getting to the trailhead. Whether you’re planning a short or a long hike, being a little planful instead of just winging it can ensure a safe and enjoyable hike. Here’s our 10 Tips for preparing for your PCT hike in Oregon.  

trailhead hiker

1. Get Excited for Oregon

Whether you’re going out for a long weekend, a weeklong (or longer) section-hike, or crossing the state on a thru-hike, there’s plenty to get excited about hiking the PCT in Oregon. The southern Siskiyou portion of the state features ridgeline rock gardens, oak savannas, and sweeping mountain views; the central Cascades area showcases a diverse landscape, ranging from wooded lakes, to alpine meadows, to vast lava fields; the northern region skirts Oregon’s two tallest peaks, crosses glacial rivers, and delves into lush rainforests. Take your time to enjoy the little details—colorful rocks, vibrant wildflowers, and tasty berries—as well as all the forest, meadow and mountain views. If you want a complete preview of the entire state, pick up a copy of Hiking the PCT: Oregon, and start your hike planning.

hiking gear prep

2. Gear Up

The best way to be prepared for hiking the PCT in Oregon is to be properly equipped. In addition to your basic essentials (tent, sleeping bag, extra socks, etc.), be sure to carry your Ten Essentials, including a water filtration device, headlamp, fire starter, and small first aid kit. While summer days are typically warm and clear, it can still get cold overnight, and it can rain at any time, so pack along your rain gear and puffy jacket. If you’re heading out with new gear, such as a new tent or camp stove, set it up and/or practice using it before you get on the trail. If you’re using new boots, take a few short hikes to break them in first. Use a checklist to make sure you don’t forget your toothpaste or stove fuel, and be sure to bring extra batteries or a charger for your electronic gadgets. 

national geographic trails illustrated pct maps

3. Get New Maps

Carrying a trail map is one of the Ten Essentials. National Geographic has just released the new Trails Illustrated Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon maps. These brand-new booklets provide the most up-to-date PCT map data gathered by the popular Halfmile mapping team, and were proofed and verified by PCT: Oregon for their accuracy. All 455 miles of the PCT in Oregon are presented in two compact booklets, South: Willamette Pass to Siskiyou Summit, and North: Cascade Locks to Willamette Pass. They can easily be carried in packs and pockets, and provide trailheads, point-to-point mileages, elevation profiles, camp locations, connecting trails and roads, resupply locations, and more. Printed on tear-proof, water-repellent paper, these are much more convenient than printing out a pile of loose map sheets.     

timberline lodge mount hood

4. Make Reservations

There are 10 resorts and lodges near the PCT in Oregon that offer accommodations, camping, meals, and other services. There are also several Forest Service campgrounds near the PCT in some areas. If you’re thinking about taking advantage of these conveniences, it’s recommended that you make a reservation in advance of your hike. These are popular destinations, so getting a walk-up room or campsite the day you arrive may be unlikely. If you’re planning to resupply at these locations—either by sending packages or purchasing as you go—be sure to send your packages according to their instructions, and/or know what items are available to purchase; call ahead to inquire about stove fuel. Permits for camping in the Limited Entry Areas should also be obtained in advance.  

trail food

5. Sample Your Food

If you’re planning multiple days, weeks, or months on the trail, you better be prepared to enjoy what you pack along to eat. After all, there’s nothing worse at the end of a long hiking day than cooking up a new dish to find out it doesn’t taste good—or causes a bad reaction! To ensure happy eating on trail, it’s a good idea to sample all the foods you’re going to pack along before you get on the trail. Also, eating the same thing every day gets tiresome fast, so pack a variety of items to choose from. This can help satisfy whatever on-trail and end-of-day cravings you may have. And don’t forget your treats. These can lift your spirits if you’re struggling, and are nice rewards for accomplishments. Here’s some of our faves if you’re looking for some new trail food selections.

hiker with umbrella

6. Prepare for Sun

The PCT thru Oregon may be known as “The Green Tunnel,” but there are still long stretches of exposed trail that can get pretty toasty on hot summer days. The longest of these stretches are in the open lava fields around Brown Mountain, and traversing the Three Sisters and Mount Washington wilderness areas. The recent burn areas in the Sky Lakes and Mount Jefferson wilderness areas also have little shade to offer. Pack along your sun protection, including breathable, UPF-rated clothing, a wide-brim hat and plenty of sunscreen. You may also consider packing along a lightweight sunbrella, which can be a handy way to stay cool and create some of your own shade when there’s little to be found. Be sure to carry plenty of water so you can stay hydrated (see next).

7. Plan Your Water

In conjunction with long stretches of sun in Oregon, there’s also long stretches of waterless PCT in Oregon—and in many places these overlap. The two longest waterless stretches in Oregon are immediately south and north of Crater Lake National Park, for 24 and 27 miles, respectively. Check the crowdsourced PCT Water Report for the latest water updates, and plan to carry extra water through the dry sections. A lightweight, collapsible bladder is good for carrying extra water when needed. There are some areas where Trail Angels maintain water caches, but these should not be relied upon, as hot, thirsty hikers empty these quickly, and it may be days—or weeks—before they get refilled. Be sure to filter all water you draw from Oregon’s lakes, creeks, and ponds. 

campsite irish lake

8. Share Your Itinerary

Before heading for the trail, share your hiking itinerary with a friend or family member. It doesn’t need to be an exact plan, but should include the section of the PCT (and/or other trails) you plan to hike, your intended camp areas, and your estimated date to finish. Give them a copy of your trail map to accompany your itinerary. Once you complete your hike, call or message your contact and let them know you’ve safely finished. If you don’t exit by your predetermined time, your contact can alert emergency services and let them know where you are. Give yourself a little padding, time-wise, so your contact doesn’t freak out if you don’t call in exactly at your estimated return time, just in case your hike takes longer than expected, or you’re delayed by weather.

storm clouds

9. Watch the Forecast

Hiking in the pouring rain is not the best of times—and it’s not unusual for that to happen in Oregon in the middle of summer. Thunderstorms are common in the southern parts of the state. Start monitoring the weather and wildfire reports at least a week before your expected hike start date. This can give you an idea of weather and temperature trends in the long-term forecasts, and may alert you to any active wildfires and smoke conditions. If the forecast is for hot, dry days, you may need to carry extra water to stay hydrated; if fires are burning nearby, excessive smoke can be harmful to breathe during prolonged exposure and exertion. Even if the forecast says sunny, it’s a good idea to pack along your rain gear—just in case—and if conditions look poor, consider rescheduling your hike. 

10. Hike Your Own Hike

Remember, the only person you are going on your PCT hike for is yourself—and maybe your hiking companions. Hiking the PCT is not a contest. Know your comfort zone and your own limits. It’s ok to push yourself, but don’t punish yourself. If you like to hike slow, hike slow. If you like to take long lunch breaks, go for it. Snap photos, enjoy the wildflowers, and take side trips. Don’t be intimidated to pack a few extra creature comforts just because you won’t be considered “ultralight.” If a little something extra will enhance your experience, make you more comfortable, or help you sleep better, then go ahead and indulge. (Our favorite extra is our ultralight camp chair.) It’s not about how far you hike the PCT, or fast you hike PCT, but the simple fact that you’re hiking the PCT in a way that works for you.   

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