Planning your first hike (the easy way)

You’re convinced that hiking can be cool and you’re ready to give it a shot. Great! A world of stunning beauty waits.

Planning a hike shouldn’t be an ordeal. After a bit of preparation, jump in the car (or if you’re lucky, a bus) and get yourself to the trailhead. First time? We recommend day trips. But this guide also works for that first overnight.

Find a trip

Skip the mileage goals. Just get out and walk – don’t plan a forced march. For a first timer, an out-and-back gives you the chance to stop and turn around before you’re tired. No one but you knows how far you’d like to walk so skip comparing yourself to the people doing 25 miles a day. Aim for something more reasonable. If you are day hiking, pick a turnaround time that will give you enough daylight to reach your vehicle in daylight. If you can hike for four hours, turn around in two, no matter how far you’ve gone. You goal should be to be around to hike another day.

Pack some maps. Explore our PCT maps page for a general idea of where to hike and acquire trail-ready maps to put in your pack. And know how to use them!

Find friends and leave a plan

Don’t go alone. Most everyone would appreciate the invitation to take a hike. Open your Rolodex and start making calls. Online, and the PCT Facebook group are two great ways to find partners.

Leave details of your trip with someone you trust. Your backup should know where you parked, where you planned to hike and camp, when you planned to return and when you are overdue. They’ll also want to know who to call in an emergency – write down your license plate number and the number of the local ranger station.

Get the gear

Beg, borrow, rent and make do. Day zero probably isn’t the day to buy thousands of dollars of gear.

Be prepared. You’ll definitely need the ten essentials and a bunch of other stuff. Aim for lightweight or ultralight equipment. Hiking’s generally more enjoyable without a monster on your back.

The fine details

Do you need permits? Check the website for the area you’re going to visit. Day hikers almost never need permits. Overnight campers, especially in National Parks and Wilderness Areas, usually do. In California, you’ll often need to pick up a permit at the ranger station (there may be quotas) but elsewhere you’ll usually just fill out a permit at the trailhead. While you’re checking, look to see if you need a special parking pass.

Check current conditions. Go to the source for weather forecasts by clicking the interactive map at Avoid big storms. Early season? You’ll need to know if the snow has melted. Look for reports herehere and here.

Want to learn more? Our partners at REI have a great guide to backpacking and hiking for beginners.


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