Planning for weather can be a challenge, especially when you’re looking at a 5 month long journey on the PCT. To simplify this problem, I have broken the trail up into sections with a similar climate. Those sections are: The Desert, Sierra Mountains, Northern Cali/Oregon, and Washington. Each has their own climate and weather challenges.
Note: I hiked North Bound (NoBo) from mid-April (4.14.18) to early-September (9.7.18).
The Desert: Campo (mile 0) – Kennedy Meadows South (mile 709). Most people think it’s dry and hot. Depending on when you are hiking there, this can be true, however it can also be frigidly cold! The biggest concerns in this section are sun protection and finding water! It can get cold at night, especially early in the season (I saw a night with 19 degrees F on Mount Laguna on my 3rd day and it snowed on Mt San Jacinto). I saw 1 day of rain (2 hours total), and it only went below freezing at night twice.
- Leave at home: Snow Gear, Rain Pants, BearCan
- Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always carry just in case, can double as extra warm layer), Sun Protection – Hat, Sunscreen, Umbrella*, Solar Panel*, Extra Water Reservoirs (enough to carry 6 liters max)
The Sierras: Kennedy Meadows South (mile 702) – South Lake Tahoe (mile 1090). Welcome to the big mountains! You will be traveling at 10,000 ft on average for quite a while. The sun is still intense at high elevations so don’t send that hat home yet. The biggest concern in this section is going over the snow covered passes. Rule of thumb: June 1st is the earliest you should head north of Kennedy Meadows South. I had all my snow gear sent to me at Kennedy Meadows South plus some required food protection. Bear canisters are required between Kennedy Meadows South (mile 702) and Sonora Pass (mile 1017). The mosquitoes are SEVERELY horrible north of Tuolumne Meadows so bring a bug net (I just used my buff) and bug spray (I went without). Warning: DEET will eat your gear if you accidentally spill it on yourself. DEET is straight poison but there are alternatives to it (like Repel); this all a personal call. They finally let up a bit as you near Sonora Pass. I never saw rain, nights were below freezing only 3-4 times.
- Leave at home: Extra water reservoirs (only really need 2-4 liter capacity, water is abundant!)
- Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always have just in case, can double as extra warm layer), BearCan (required), Ice Axe, Microspikes, Rain Pants (wore these when it was really cold), Wool Beanie, Wool Gloves (it’s cold as crap in the mornings!), Bug Net*, Insect Repellent*
Northern Cali + Oregon: South Lake Tahoe (mile 1090) – Cascade Locks (mile 2147). Congrats! You made it through the Sierras, now it’s time to plunge into the forest in Nor-Cal. Surprisingly the highest temperatures I saw on trail (in the 100s) were in Nor-Cali near Hat Creek Rim. People were so warm they sent their sleeping bags home and got quilts (I troopered through with my 1 bag cause it’s all I’ve got!). I sent home all my snow gear from South Lake Tahoe in my Bearcan (11$ as opposed to 25$ at North Kennedy Meadows). Bear canisters are required in Lassen Volcanic National Park (mile 1343-1363). You can avoid the Lassen requirement by hiking through the area in 1 day (it’s 20 miles and you’ll be cranking by mile 1343). You’ll start to get near forest fire season by this point. I fought the smoke by covering my face with a buff, others opted for the facemask (your choice). Oregon had more relaxed accumulated elevation gain so you’ll be cranking through the whole state of OR in just 2-3 weeks. Never saw rain, nights were only in the 30s once in Oregon at higher elevations.
- Leave at home: BearCan, Ice Axe, Microspikes, Rain Pants, Solar Panel (not enough light – tree coverage from forest hiking).
- Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always have just in case, can double as extra warm layer), Extra Water Reservoirs (4-5 liter capacity is good as there are some dry sections), Sun Protection – Hat, Sunscreen, Umbrella (for sun)*
Washington: Cascade Locks (mile 2147) – Canadian Border (mile 2652). Bring on the rain! Now that you have crossed the Bridge of the Gods, it’s time to get used to big elevation gain again. Washington was true to its reputation, with rain and forest fires. Send yourself your rain pants again and be prepared to be wet. Hopefully the forest fires are dying down with the onset of rain but you’ll still have some trail closures, it’s just how it goes.
- Leave at home: BearCan, Ice Axe, Microspikes, Solar Panel (not enough light – tree coverage form forest hiking),
- Bring with you: Rain Jacket, Rain Pants, Reservoirs (2-4 liter capacity is all you’ll need), Umbrella (for rain)*
Good luck out there! The right gear can be the difference between an enjoyable trek and a miserable one!
*I never personally used the equipment with (*), however I saw many hikers on trail with it.