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Are maps required for PCT thru-hike?
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(adamconfair) - F
Are maps required for PCT thru-hike? on 12/10/2010 09:53:31 MST Print View

I'm thru-hiking the PCT this year and was wondering what people think about carrying maps? I figure I need them through the Sierras along with a compass but is it necessary to have them anywhere else? I did the AT last summer and only used AWOL's guide book (which I highly recommend for any AT thru-hiker, it was the best from what I've seen used on the trail).

I bought the PCT data book, can I get away with just this for the majority of the hike? I know Eric the Black's book is highly recommended, but it's a little too pricey for me.


Kevin Haskins
(kevperro) - F

Locale: Washington State
I'd get maps on 12/10/2010 10:42:05 MST Print View

The trail itself was marked pretty good in the early 90s. I assume it is even better now with more thru-hikers.

I'd get maps. I've only done the lower 500 miles of the PCT but there are times when the maps are useful for getting off the trail (supply, town). The AT is much more civilized/populated than the country the PCT goes through. The AT is like going backpacking through Europe. You are always around people. The population density is much lower out west and there are areas that are much more remote than anywhere but maybe Maine on the AT. In the south you need to know water points too. You don't have 30 mile waterless sections on the AT but you will in the first couple hundred miles of the PCT.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
You want maps on the PCT on 12/10/2010 10:51:08 MST Print View

I carried a compass but I didn't use maps on the Appalachian Trail. I would do the same if I were to hike the AT again.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a whole different experience however. The PCT is often poorly marked and you may go long distances with no indication you are on, or off, the right trail. Even major intersections are sometimes unsigned or unmarked. You will use your maps a lot. I used Eric the Black's books and liked them. You can also print out Halfmile's maps:

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
PCT Maps on 12/10/2010 11:52:22 MST Print View

Having hiked the PCT in 2009, I would not hike it again without some sort of maps. Not every junction is well marked and there are no blazes on the trees to follow like the AT has. I managed to get misplaced off trail a few times and the maps definitely helped get back on (should have used them more to avoid the problem in the first place). I also had to use my compass to figure out which direction to go on a few dirt roads as it wasn't always obvious to me. If there is alot of snow in the High Sierra when you go, you definitely would need good maps for that.

Many people have gotten by with just the maps included in the 3 Wilderness Press Guidebooks, but there are better maps. There are more expensive guidebooks with much better maps such as Blacks PCT Atlas and I think is now offering a map book. Halfmile has a complete set of free topo maps for the PCT that you can print out from his website Whatever you end up carrying, please carry something other then just the databook which is useless without the WP guidebooks.

Edited by Miner on 12/10/2010 11:54:27 MST.

(adamconfair) - F
maps on 12/10/2010 12:38:06 MST Print View

Thanks everyone for the advice, so it seems maps are needed. I'd love to get my hands on a used Erik the Black's Atlas set (anyone?), I've only read good things about it. But if I can't find, would the databook and halfmile's maps be a sufficient combination?


Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Are maps required for PCT thru-hike? on 12/10/2010 13:50:56 MST Print View

I consider them a critical safety item. If you want to die, wander around on unfamiliar mountain trails without a map and compass. If nothing else, think about your family and those who might risk their lives trying to find you (or what is left of you) when you don't show up.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
maps on 12/10/2010 13:59:20 MST Print View

"would the databook and halfmile's maps be a sufficient combination?"

I'm not positive that Halfmile's maps are complete yet (?), maybe they are now. I personally would suggest that if you're not happy paying for Erik the Black's stuff that you see if you can find used copies of the PCT guide books (three of them) from Wilderness Press and go the traditional route of cutting those up. Note that these include colored maps, as well as (a lot of) text.

I do, however, think that Halfmile maps plus data book would be sufficient, though I would augment that with Yogi's guide. Don't cheap out too much on a 2600+ mile trip.

Note that has essentially the data book online for free, albeit I'm not sure if the mileages match up exactly between the two sources, nor would either necessarily line up exactly with what Halfmile has. If you want perfect correspondence, go with with Erik the Black (self-contained) or the Wilderness Press guidebooks and associated data book.

David T
(DaveT) - F
pct books. on 12/10/2010 14:19:38 MST Print View

I don't know much about the other new offerings, but in 2004 I was happy to have sections of the PCT guidbooks, along with the data book, along with me. The databook was the usual item in my pocket (just a page or two in a ziplock) for knowing when I would arrive at the next whatever, and I usually just read the guidebook pages the night before so I knew what was coming up. Kind of a nice thing to do after dinner and before sleep (along with journalling). Either way, although the PCT is obvious and well-marked in most cases, I know of a few of my co-hikers who took HUGE wrong turns here and there.

If I did it again, I'd probably just go with a databook style guidebook, along with larger format topo maps. One thing that's nice about using larger maps (8.5x11 or whatever) is that you can see more of what is around you, and also have more info on bail/hitchhiker/etc. routes (vs. the little topo info in the PCT guidebooks)

(adamconfair) - F
Erik the Black on 12/10/2010 14:42:47 MST Print View

Erik the Black's atlas set is pricey at retail, but also not available now as he is working on the third edition and is sold out of the second. I would consider buying a used set if I found one reasonably priced. I'll take a look at what postholer has, thanks for the suggestion Brian. If not I'll stick with the data book, halfmile's maps (he is updating them for the 2011 hiking season, I read somewhere), and maybe also get the wilderness press books, I think I can get them for 25% off currently.

Dale, I absolutely hike with a map when I need to, but I was asking my question based on my experience on the AT where it was impossible to lose the trail and hardly anyone carried a map - it's only useful purpose seemed to be to find the shortest route to road walk.

Again, thanks all for your suggestions, it's good to hear what's worked for others.

edited for typo

Edited by adamconfair on 12/10/2010 14:43:55 MST.

David Loome
(DavidLoome) - F

Locale: American Southwest
AT = not the PCT on 12/10/2010 15:43:57 MST Print View

The AT is probably not a good gauge by which to measure other trails. The AT didn't even "feel" like backpacking to me at many times. There's just so many people, trail traffic, and development that calling 90% of it a "wilderness experience" is a misnomer, IMO. It's entirely possible to thru-hike the AT (even multiple times) while developing very little real backcountry skill.

The PCT on the other hand is generally a well-trodden trail, but you'd be nuts to do it without maps. And why would you? The guidebooks are inexpensive and good.

There are numerous ill-traveled and overgrown sections, many unmarked trail junctions, snow obscured trail in the Sierra and potentially other places, and unplanned reroutes are much more likely on the PCT vs. AT. For example, I had to work around a forest fire in WA that took me WAY off the PCT route, and in several other places was booted off the PCT route by uncontrollable conditions. Doing this kind of stuff without maps can be scary and is just silly if good maps are readily available.


Edited by DavidLoome on 12/10/2010 15:44:28 MST.

Evan Chartier
maps on 12/10/2010 18:59:54 MST Print View

"required" is an interesting word...
Hiked a bunch of the PCT this summer (5 months) and used Halfmile's maps and Yogi. It worked out great! I didnt use the maps most days but I was glad I had them. I met a bunch of people with no maps though and they were fine. Some had just Yogi, some did not. It depends on the person. Required? Not at all. Reccommended? YES!
Most people I met and spoke to were happiest with Halfmiles maps beyond any other (Erik The Black or WP). Probably depends on the year but I also found it hard to navigate with ETB's maps on snow. Easier with halfmile. I love the idea of ETB though and maybe it will change with the new addition?
Have fun!

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: AT vs PCT on 12/10/2010 19:36:47 MST Print View

Adam recountered: "Dale, I absolutely hike with a map when I need to, but I was asking my question based on my experience on the AT where it was impossible to lose the trail and hardly anyone carried a map - it's only useful purpose seemed to be to find the shortest route to road walk."

That's why I responded. I don't want to see SAR scrape you off the side of a rockfall in my back yard. It's not the AT. The foothills here are the height of Mt. Washington. Even a well used section on the PCT can be wiped out by the last winter's storms. The photo below shows a typical Washington trail with snow run-off in early June at 4000 feet. The terrain is steep, covered with many feet of snow over the winter, and damaged by avalanches, floods, and landslides. It isn't all like that, but it's no daisy-pickin' session either.

Rough trail -- not for night hiking!

David Williams
(dcw6363) - F
Re: Are maps required for PCT thru-hike? on 12/10/2010 21:29:08 MST Print View

My two cents:

I hiked it this past year (heavy snow year). I had the WP maps and they were pretty good. I looked at them often. I heard some complaints about ETB maps.

Everyone I talked to who had Halfmile's maps said they liked those.

In the high Sierras when the trail was buried, maps were essential (I had the Tom Harrison maps also, these were very nice, and essential IMO in a snowy year--the WP maps are not enough in a high snow year).

Outside of the snowy areas, maps may not be essential but they are a very good idea. As people have noted, some intersections are not well marked. If you're not a purist you can use them to blue-blaze. Plus it's nice to have bailout options mapped out.

Have a good hike!

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
An example on 12/10/2010 21:50:34 MST Print View

This was a sign on the PCT to mark a junction in the section between Gov't Meadows and Snoqualmie Pass:

While most of the PCT in say Washington and Oregon is overall marked there are areas lacking...such as this section, where one crosses old abandoned roads quite often. You do need to pay attention.

But more on maps on why I do feel they are good to have: it isn't the PCT but rather the side trails and roads that become important - so that if you do get turned around or need to walk out you know where it is going in WA/OR. Just my 2 cents!

I'll also add that while many sections have the PCT logo on trees nowadays this isn't complete. You will walk 20 miles with tons of them and the next 20 have none. Or they are old ones dating back to the CCT and the trees have swallowed them. Or nothing and then out pops a fallen tree with "PCT" cut into it.

Or you get this:
Nice trail sign
That literally is a weathered piece of wood stuck in the ground. It signifies Scout Pass. The torn paper on the ground was stapled onto the wood by the FS. The 11th essential is a freaking Sharpie Marker and filling in for what isn't done. This example someone wrote it in 2008, in 2009 it was still there.
Pimping sign.....

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
As for maps on 12/10/2010 21:52:19 MST Print View

The ones put out by the FS are actually quite nice - the whole series is done now, they are waterproof. They are not the lightest but work well. The PCTA sells them.