PCT Southbound

Go your own way

Top SOBO ADVICE

If you don't have time to read through all of the SOBO profiles (they offer much more detail and context than this page), here is a summary of the best advice from the PCT SOBO Class of 2016. 

NORTHERN WASHINGTON

"Starting your hike alone in Northern Washington can be very hard even if you are an experienced hiker. As less people start from the northern terminus expect to be on your own for a while in a very remote area. This can be mentally challenging especially when it’s cold and you get rained on days in row.  I remember the first days being horrible. The weather was really bad and I didn’t see many people until I reached Stehekin. Being wet all day long, alone and thousands of miles away from home I just felt shitty. Anyway, this was just a couple of days as the weather turned and I started seeing more people I could talk to. I guess this was the acid test. So, if you are out there and don’t feel good, give yourself some time and don’t hesitate to cry. That helps and no one will see you except for some bears maybe. "   - Wrong Turn
 

"The difference between Campo and Harts Pass was extraordinary for me on several fronts.  Firstly the terrain could scarcely be more opposite in treacherousness, in amount of human contact, and in overall tone.  I liken SOBOing to immediately starting in the high sierras. Climb up 5000, go-down 4000.  Rinse and repeat. The most dramatic difference for me however was that being so far removed from my home all at once had a deeply unsettling effect on my spirits.  The wind was cold and I was always wet it seemed. I felt far more alone SOBOing even though, in some cases I truly wasn't.  Suffice it to say, the effect was quite profound." - Karma Forward
 

"Starting in Washington was definitely challenging. It made me wish I had done better training and conditioning beforehand. It seemed more like an obstacle course with the never ending passes to climb, the frustrating unstable scree, half the forest fallen down on Cutthroat Pass (aptly named) forcing one to army crawl under a tree or awkwardly haul yourself over a massive trunk. We often thought to ourselves, “I did not sign up for this obstacle course,” but then you’d turn a corner and see an incredible view to reward you for your struggle. I think the biggest challenge of Washington though was that we began to take it for granted. After the initial excitement about the journey fades into the pain of constantly pushing your body, you can become slightly jaded. We started to look forward to Oregon, where it was rumored to be flat, or at least flatter than Washington.” - Crusher
 

The first day, even just going 7 miles, I quickly learned it wasn’t going to be all fun and games. I hadn’t even tested out my tent so it took me two hours to set up my tent. Very quickly I realized that this was going to be really hard. I wanted to quit a lot, constantly. And I just kept not quitting. That’s Washington for me. Wanting to quit and not quitting." - Carbon


Going SOBO is like riding a roller coaster straight from the top. Northern WA has some of the most difficult and isolated sections of the whole trail. Which is great, but in our case it meant a hell of time to get from Stehekin to Stevens Pass, due mostly to being unprepared physically and not having hiking poles. I ended up having to do most of that section with pain in my knees and swelling in my right ankle. The weather, which was quite wet and cold, as well as the presence of snow, fog, and bad trail conditions, made this section quite the ordeal. Having said that, those first sluggish (we probably didn't do more than 12 miles a day) and painful days were some of my favorite on the trail. Life on the trail was exciting, nature was magnificent, and the sense of accomplishment at the end was exhilarating." - The Greek

 Five SOBOs celebrate crossing the 2,600 mile mark

Five SOBOs celebrate crossing the 2,600 mile mark

PLANNING & PREPARATION

"I tend to plan things to the extreme. Months before getting on trail I had already mapped out all of my resupplies (except for the Sierras). I knew where I was going to buy food, where I was going to ship, and even which places I wanted to take zeros at. I ended up adhering to that plan almost exactly, though I would HIGHLY recommend that people stay flexible. The fact that I stuck to my plan so closely was mostly a fluke- I was constantly assessing a Plan B or C but my original Plan A always seemed to still be the best option. Most of this was probably unnecessary: apart from Washington and the Sierras, you could plan resupplies as you go. I also found that the list of resupply points from Yogi’s book (the pages where hikers list “how they would resupply”) was incredibly useful and I carried a laminated copy of those three pages on the entire trail. Other hikers were always asking to borrow it in town- it makes for a really quick way to see what your options are for up ahead, the mileage to them, etc.” - Pit Bull
 

"A reason why that first section was so hard for me was that my preparation was one-sided. I spent a lot of time choosing gear and reading about other people's experiences on the trail and not enough time in preparing my body to endure. Reading was definitely worth it, I was very satisfied with almost all of my gear and had a very good idea of what the overall experience would be but not getting fit wasn’t. You can get fit on the trail but it’s going to be painful and risky. I recovered from my injuries without much of a delay but they could have also ended my hike prematurely. Another aspect of preparation is having experience with multi-day hiking. Ideally when preparing for the PCT you would want to do at least one 3-4 day trip and if possible on a section of the PCT with the gear you plan to use. If this is not possible plan for low mileage days at the start so your body can adjust and then larger mileage will come naturally. " - The Greek

HIKING WITH FRIENDS/PARTNERS

"Make sure your goals are clear before you go. We had no idea what it would be like, everything we thought and we were discussing about was made of dreams and impressions and videos we’ve seen here and there. So we made our goals while we were walking, but we could have talked about it before. Some of us wanted to take it more chill and enjoy the trail, and some of us wanted it to be a sports challenge where you do the best and go as far as you can in a limited amount of time. Now I know the trail and that seems obvious to me (to make clear goals about expectations), but back then I’m not sure if I would have been able to clearly voice what I expected from it.”- Rainbow Trout
 

If someone is coming in to join you, you have to be ready to adjust your attitude towards the trail. I was so used to being on a rigid schedule that I’d push us and not let us enjoy things, but I learned quickly that that wasn’t going to be fun for her, or for either of us. And then if you are starting with someone, a lover or partner, you shouldn’t go in with the expectation that it’s going to be super romantic because it’s outdoors. You are walking almost every hour of the day, and when we were in the Sierras together it was freezing at night, so you couldn’t really hang out. Be prepared for it to be full of love, but not extremely romantic and making love under waterfalls.” - Delta
 

I think that our relationship worked well because we were dedicated to the relationship more than we were dedicated to the trail. I’m guessing a lot of people have relationship difficulties on trail because they are dedicated to the trail more than anything. Personally I’m lucky because of how supportive my wife was. Having done the first three weeks together she saw how much I loved it and how much of a dream it was for me, and she was super supportive of that. It’s something that we knew would only last for a couple of months and we could stick it out with me hiking and her coming to visit me every two weeks. And I would work really hard to make sure she felt loved along the way. And that meant that I would check for cell phone service on top of every ridge and I would use my one hour of breaks every day to sit on that mountain and call my wife. It was a big effort on both of our parts, and the most important part was that desire of wanting what’s best for each other, even if it meant sacrificing for each other.” - Old School
 

"Overall, I was happy to hike the trail with a friend. Fortunately, Grahamps and I had done a lot of hiking together in the past and knew that our hiking styles and personalities would be relatively compatible. There are numerous benefits to hiking with a partner; it’s safer, you can share some gear, it helps prevent loneliness, and it’s neat to share such an amazing adventure with someone else. However, there can also be many challenges; people have different hiking paces, it can be hard to stick together if one person gets injured, and being with the same person every day for 2650 miles could be a little annoying. Before starting the trail with a partner, make sure your hiking styles are compatible and have a frank discussion about what to do if hiking together isn’t quite working out. Maybe plan to hike apart for a week or two so that you can experience what it’s like to be on the trail alone." - Pippi Longstocking

GENERAL TRAIL ADVICE

Be sure that you really want to do it and be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you are ok with sleeping in a tent for months, pooing in self-dug holes, being on your own, a having little access to hygiene and bad weather conditions over days. If you are, you will have the best time of your life." - Wrong Turn
 

"Talk to anyone you meet on the trail, because they could have a beer or candy for you or something. Everyone you meet that isn’t a hiker has food and might give it to you. Always give it a try." - Rainbow Trout
 

You become able to do the trail in the process of doing it. 30-mile days sound crazy now, but when you just walk all day, that becomes a really doable distance. You will build up the mental and physical strength to keep going as you go, you don't need to have it all in the beginning.” - Huck
 

Treat your body well. Stretching every night can help prevent injuries. If you feel an injury starting to form, reduce miles or take a few days of rest to let your body heal. Give yourself good fuel; a lot of people revert to eating almost nothing but candy and junk foods, but my body always felt much better when I filled it with healthier trail foods." - Pippi Longstocking
 

Age is just a number. Do a few shakedown hikes prior to stepping on to the PCT. Take it one day at a time on the PCT. Break the hike up into many shorter section hikes from one town to another.” - Siesta
 

If it rains 3 days in a row, say thank you for sending the rain. All living things need the rain.
If you see the trees, say thank you for giving me a shade.
If you see the rocks, say thank you for letting me sit.
If the sun is hot, say thank you for giving me a breath of life.
If the wind blows, say thank you for touching of life.
They all listen to what you are saying. And they give it back to you.
Treat all the nature and animals like a friend. Then you won’t be afraid of anything anymore.” - Solar Body

 

“Take more pictures! Specifically, more varied ones [like of people, towns, etc]. One of my biggest regrets is that 99% of my pictures are of large, sweeping landscapes- do whatever it takes to remember the different aspects of the trail.” - Pit Bull
 

Hike your own thru-hike. You will meet people that will judge about how you or other hikers do your things. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting advice from more experienced hikers. But if you want to carry a bongo because you think it makes your hike more pleasant and it’s worth the weight, just do it. If you like fresh fruits enough to carry them on trail, just do it. You’ll hear people telling you what you should do or not do all the time but remember you are free tp ignore this advice. This is your thru-hike and only you know how to do it to make the most out of it.” - Hardcore
 

Have fun! Find beauty and be grateful for something every day. Yes you are in pain, yes you are hungry, yes you are more exhausted than you ever imagined. This is your life. This is your adventure. Live it. Love it.” - Candy Cane
 

Towards the end of the hike, start setting yourself up for life post trail. Of course don’t let planning for the future take away from appreciating the trail and being in the moment, but it’s a tough transition afterwards and making sure you have some of life figured out will be helpful.” - Crusher
 

Be flexible - There are so many moving parts in a thru-hike that you can’t predict or control your experience. A lot of people obsess about controlling the logistics of their experience, me included. Especially before the trail thinking too much about gear and food. At least for me it was nice to let go of that desire for control and not have super intense expectations or a rigid schedule.” - Delta
 

One more thing to expect when going SOBO is the solitude of the first few weeks. Most of the days in WA we would see at most 2 or 3 other hikers and camp by ourselves. This is a vastly different experience from going NOBO and I heard for some people it took weeks until they had a campsite on their own. If that's good or not it depends on you but it's good to keep in mind." - The Greek
 

Take it easy to begin with and don’t overdo it physically. Plan shorter days so you give yourself some time to break in your body. Don’t go out super hard each day because you’ll get an overuse injury or burn out really quickly.” - Macro and Huckleberry
 

Know what kind of a hiker you are, and make your expectations based on what you already know about yourself. So if you know you are a very competitive or athletic person, make your expectation to finish. But if you look at yourself and say I love to hike but I don’t know if I can go the distance, then put your expectations in a realistic place.” - Old School
 

“There is always going to be something wrong. Blisters, mosquitoes, a bum knee, bad food, etc. Every day there is a new something wrong. Don't let yourself get lost focusing on the negatives.” - Happy Feet
 

"Best advice I got before my first thru-hike was, "Be stubborn."  Meaning, don't give up.  Ever.  You can do it if you believe and stay at it." - Eastwood
 

“Stick it out, you probably won’t regret it.” - Nightmoves