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Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking)
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Brendan Lammers
(mechB) - F

Locale: Washington DC
Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 03/29/2011 13:28:07 MDT Print View

Hey all, I'm planning a SOBO hike this coming summer, the main reason being that a)if going NOBO I would have to start pretty late (mid May) and b) I really would not enjoy hiking in the desert in the height of summer.

However, I did have an interesting idea, and I'm wondering if it would work. That is: would it be possible to carry a nice headlamp and do all of my hiking at night time, and then sleep during the day? This would ONLY be for the desert portion. I'd need a nice headlamp with lots of extra batteries, obviously.

The potential advantages I see are this: 1) it's cold at night and therefore nice for hiking (conversely, it's crazy hot during the day) and 2) since it is hot during the day, I could carry an SUL quilt or even nothing at all for sleeping in, reducing a large portion of my pack weight.

The only disadvantage I see is that (I think??) rattlesnakes are nocturnal as well, and it would be harder to see them. I also don't know how dicey or hard to follow the trail is in So. Cal.

It sounds like a win-win, since as a college student I'm basically 100% nocturnal already. What are your guys' thoughts on the practicality of this?

Brendan Lammers
(mechB) - F

Locale: Washington DC
Re: Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 03/29/2011 13:34:16 MDT Print View

One thing I thought of that I'd like to add:

Would it be inconsiderate to plop down my shelter a hundred or so yards off trail and snooze during the day? I don't want to infringe on anyone else's scenery.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Re: Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 03/29/2011 13:47:51 MDT Print View

I'm not sure that it has to be as extreme as you describe. There are plenty of hours of relative coolness by starting an hour or two before sunrise, breaking in the heat of the day and hiking the evening into the night. That approach is fairly common and to some extent will be my plan if it gets unbearably hot on my trip. (I start May 22)

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 03/29/2011 13:48:01 MDT Print View

"The only disadvantage I see is that (I think??) rattlesnakes are nocturnal as well, and it would be harder to see them."

That's OK. They can see you just fine.

Different forests and parks have different rules about where you can camp, and they typically have a distance like 100 or 200 feet that you must be away from a trail, where terrain allows. Also, they will discourage you from camping in the middle of a meadow. But, you ought to find plenty of places to sleep without going far off the trail. I tend to camp someplace where nobody else will find my tent unless they know just exactly where to look for it. It keeps strangers from sniffing around my campsite.


Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 03/29/2011 14:05:19 MDT Print View

It's actually not that unconventional at all. I know a number of people who've done exactly this.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking)" on 03/29/2011 14:11:51 MDT Print View

Hiking by headlamp at night works where the trail is readily visible, and this assumes you have a good headlamp that can really reach out. A spot is more valuable than a flood. Having your light at or below waist level helps your vision and gives better detail of what's on the ground.

Desert trails can be notoriously faint and easy to lose, in part because of the distance between ground covers. Often the best way to walk them is to keep your eyes looking ahead 50 to 100 feet, so that ground cover is condensed in your field of view and the actual trail stands out more clearly. That can be difficult or impossible to do with a headlamp at night.

The more common strategy is to rise as soon as it is light enough to see the trail (before that if you want breakfast) and start walking. Keep going until about 11:00 am when the sun gets high and hot. Find some shade and/or rig a solar shield over you. I use a 14 oz space blanket that's mylar on one side and bright orange on the other. It doubles as my ground cloth.

Eat your big meal of the day, and lie down for a nap. Begin hiking again about 5 or 6 pm when the sun is less intense and hike into the evening - maybe 9 pm or until the trail is getting hard to see. After 8 pm, don't pass up a decent camping site; you may not find another.

Edited by wandering_bob on 03/29/2011 14:16:10 MDT.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Night hiking on 03/29/2011 15:18:29 MDT Print View

Have you done much night hiking? I've done a few nights, and I can unequivocally say that it sucks. You don't see any scenery or wildlife. It's easy to trip over rocks and other obstacles. You're likely to disturb hikers camped near the trail. And if you'll be doing a lot of night hiking, you're going to have to carry extra batteries which isn't very UL.

Obviously, you've got to HYOH, but the desert sections of the PCT are *gorgeous*, and it would be a shame to miss them while night hiking. Like some above posters said, take a siesta during the hot hours. Cook an early dinner, or take a nap. Hot weather is manageable if you're smart about it.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 03/29/2011 17:00:13 MDT Print View

Hiking at night means carrying more weight in batteries. Even with a good headlamp, you're going to stumble and kick rocks more. After 2200 miles of wear and tear on your body, do you think your ankles will want the extra abuse? If you're healthy coming out of the Sierras, you shouldn't need to resort to such extreme tactics to do 20's during the comfortable hours of the day. As others have said, wake up early and hike hard until it gets hot, enjoy a long nap and then hike again when it cools.

First Last
(snusmumriken) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Hike with the pack instead on 03/29/2011 17:41:03 MDT Print View

Night hiking through southern California sounds like an extreme and rather lonely solution to scheduling problem.

Instead figure out where the pack of the hikers are in mid May (maybe at the Saufleys) and start there. When you get to the Canadian border you can call it good or return to your start point and hike from there southbound to the Mexican border.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 03/29/2011 19:47:22 MDT Print View

It will probably be difficult to actually sleep during the day. By sleep I mean get the deep and restful sleep you are used to getting at night. Reason is, if it's hot and sunny it'll be hard to sleep. There won't be any windows to put tinfoil on to simulate the dark of night.

I personally have found that it can be hotter just sitting still under a pitiful bush than it is to keep moving. When I walk I generate a little bit of a breeze which cools me off. Sitting still it's just stifling heat. And the heat makes those giant ants go nuts!

Also, you will be walking from sky island to sky island and not always on the hot desert floor. Much of the time you will be walking in the trees and at altitude where the temperature is pleasant. I was a lot more uncomfortably hot hiking in Northern California than I ever was in Southern California. Most of the time the first year I did it (2008) the hottest daytime highs were in the 80s and 90s. When I did some of it again in 2009, it was downright cold and raining in much of the hottest desert from the year before.

It's worth a try if you are interested. I'm betting you'll find enough cool hours during dawn, daylight and twilight to get your miles in.

Brendan Lammers
(mechB) - F

Locale: Washington DC
Thanks for replies on 03/29/2011 23:07:05 MDT Print View

Thanks all for your replies. I am familiar with the recommendation of hiking during the early morning / early evening hours through the desert, and that would definitely work well. I was mostly intrigued by the idea of sleeping only during the day, since when I look at my gear list it appears a huge amount of the weight is devoted to staying warm while sleeping. I just wanted to propose the idea since I haven't run into it in a lot of months of PCT planning.

If I drop all of the extra gear devoted to sleeping warmth (warm sleeping bag, thicker pad, microfleece pants, etc.) I find that its really easy to break the sub-5lb barrier using gear I already own. It's more "elegant" than anything else I suppose, but an attractive idea nonetheless. The main problem I do see is being able to sleep well during intense heat, but maybe if I were to find one of the cooler spots you mentioned, Piper.

I have done some night hiking before: I did a good part of the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains at night, which was OK but I wouldn't do it normally. I do really like tromping around nearby trails in the woods here in Michigan at night, but albeit not usually by myself. I guess it would be a lot more fun if I had a partner. To me, it makes the wilderness feel even more "wildernessy". Sleeping from, say 10am-6pm would allow me to hang out with other people in the mornings and evenings, if I were to do it that way.

The points about scenery, and sleeping while its hot are very well taken. I just wanted to float the idea, and maybe I'll try it sometime here at home before I do it anywhere else.

Also: I have a question about the emergency blanket. Would it be possible to tape/bond the mylar blanket to a layer of ripstop nylon/M90 type material to make a nice comfy blanket against the skin, or would the presence of the nylon ruin the functioning of the mylar material? I'd expect it wouldn't, I just don't really know how the things work.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Thanks for replies on 03/30/2011 13:37:45 MDT Print View

Also: I have a question about the emergency blanket. Would it be possible to tape/bond the mylar blanket to a layer of ripstop nylon/M90 type material to make a nice comfy blanket against the skin, or would the presence of the nylon ruin the functioning of the mylar material? I'd expect it wouldn't, I just don't really know how the things work.

There's already a company that does something like this with their cuben hybrid fabric in their packs. The big concern is about shiny layer causing a poor bonding surface.

I don't see the need for M90 when you already have a waterproof mylar layer. If you can find a non-DWR fabric that weighs and feels the same, then you should go for that. Not only that, but the DWR treatment itself might cause a poor is supposed to be slippery after all.

Christopher Mills
(Hiker816) - MLife

Locale: Denver
Re: Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 03/30/2011 18:50:06 MDT Print View

In 2000, I started a thru-hike of the PCT on May 21. That was a normal year as far as snow and weather, if I recall correctly. It was hot, but with good sun-protective clothing, I managed just fine hiking during the day. And I didn't take any siestas. I just don't like them. So, day hiking is very do-able. I would hesitate to leave the equipment you would need to sleep during the night, since it's almost inevitable you'll end up having to sleep a night out at some point during that stretch. Also, like Piper said, I can't imagine how anyone can sleep soundly through the heat of the day.

I think the bigger problem with starting that late is 1) the availability of water, and 2) getting to Canada before the snow hits Washington. 1) probably won't be a big deal this year since it is a high snow year (meaning more water later in the season). If you are fast and can avoid getting injured, I think a late May date will work to get to Canada, too, but you'll have to be efficient (especially with town stops).

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Thanks for replies on 04/01/2011 07:28:58 MDT Print View

Brendan, you are likely to have a rude awakening if your plan is to carry only a space blanket or something like that. In 2008, this is what it looked like in the so-called "desert" on Memorial Day weekend (I really really hate it that everybody calls the entire southern California section "desert" when it isn't.) I hope linking to my image works:

Snow near Wrightwood

Note that this is during the daytime, not at night. It snowed for 3 whole days non-stop.

In 2010 my boyfriend attempted to hike the PCT and was laid up in Warner Springs waiting for a snowstorm. Granted this was earlier than you plan on hiking but you just can't tell what is going to happen. Much of the so-called "desert" is at high elevation. That people believe it's all slogging through the sand like a cartoon is the cause of a lot of people's trouble. The coldest I've ever been on the PCT is in southern California.

Here is a picture of some hikers in 2008 on June 2 resting under the Cottonwood bridge on the day you actually do walk across the floor of the desert.

under the Cottonwood Bridge

Oddly I was able to nap a little under a tree nearby without getting out my sleeping bag, but in the shade it was freezing cold and the wind was blowing hard.

In 2009 I was again on the PCT. From Hikertown in the Antelope Valley to Lone Pine in the Sierras, it rained or hailed almost every day during the day. This was between June 1 and the middle of June. I finally had to buy a warmer shirt because I was freezing during the day. I thought summer would never come.

Edited by sbhikes on 04/01/2011 07:29:35 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Unconventional PCT hiking method? (nocturnal hiking) on 04/01/2011 09:51:30 MDT Print View

Have you checked the recent snowfall in Washington? We just got a bunch! Check the trail reports at too. You might have a snowy start for a SOBO PCT trip.

There is a snowpack report at that you might find useful too.

Edited by dwambaugh on 04/01/2011 09:55:27 MDT.

Brendan Lammers
(mechB) - F

Locale: Washington DC
Re: Re: Thanks for replies on 04/01/2011 10:41:31 MDT Print View

Piper, thanks again for your practical advice. I realized this probably wasn't a viable long-term hiking method for the PCT, but the idea popped in my head so I thought I'd see what people think. I still don't dislike it for a short hike in someplace like Michigan and when I know ahead of time what the weather will be like. It just seems like fun to me. (Also, what pack is that? It looks comfy!)

That said, my plan from the start has been to go SOBO, and I've already talked to a few people who have similar plans. I need that gap time between graduating college and starting the trail to get in better shape, go on some practice hikes, do some extra planning, etc. It's a bit of bad luck that there's a lot of snow this year, but hopefully by July 1 or so a lot of it will have melted. Dale, what's your experience with the snow cover in Washington? Even in a heavy snow year, do you think most of it will be gone by July 1st or so?

I don't have enough money for many motel stays and such anyways, so I plan on taking only a few zero days outside of staying with family and friends at various points along the trail. That should help me save time so I can compensate for a late start.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Thanks for replies on 04/01/2011 10:53:01 MDT Print View

Definitely check with the folk at, where you can get first hand reports on conditions. I'm not experienced with the higher elevations of the trail. The snowpack for the area at the northern end of the trail is 120% over average *today* and we may get more snow this weekend. Highway 2 (Stevens Pass) has been closed a couple days due to avalanches and big snowfall. The accumulated depth at the top of the Stevens Pass ski area is 166" (5,800 foot elevation).

Edited by dwambaugh on 04/01/2011 11:43:33 MDT.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Re: Thanks for replies on 04/01/2011 11:27:30 MDT Print View

Don't know what pack that is. That's not a picture of me.

I hiked through Oregon in July in 2009 and there was still some snow. I'm betting that this year there may still be significant snow in Washington in July.

The mosquitoes ought to keep your pace fast.

Sky Horne

Locale: Vagabonding..
Lucky Me on 04/17/2011 18:47:53 MDT Print View

I won't be the only one hiking through Washington on the snow.

Travis Naibert
(outwest) - F
Not that late for NOBO on 04/17/2011 20:18:31 MDT Print View

I just wanted to weigh in that I started my 2009 thru-hike after finishing grad school. I left Campo on May 18th. The first three weeks of my hike were hot (90's to low triple digits) during the heat of the day (11am-4pm) but the long lunch break strategy works very well and getting up at/before dawn is the best part of the day.

Any year, but especially in high snow years (this year?) there are some advantages to starting in May instead of April. 1) If you don't want crowds in the wilderness there will be few 2) there will be little chance of snow in the San Jacintos/San Gabs 3) All the water caches will be full after the nice trail angels refill them post-pack (don't rely on caches) 4) You'll get a bed at the Saufleys' 5) and your choice of hammocks at the Andersons'. Possibly the best benefit is that you will get to cruise through the sierras with less snow and more heavily loaded JMT hikers to yogi food from.

I also agree with Piper that the coldest nights of my trip were in S. California. Don't ditch your warm sleeping bag.