How Do Through-Hikers Navigate on the AT and PCT?

How Do Thru-Hikers Navigate on the AT and PCT

When making ready to thru-hike the Appalachian Path or Pacific Crest Trails (AT & PCT), individuals are likely to marvel simply how a lot navigation talent is definitely wanted to remain on the fitting path and never get misplaced. I’m usually requested how I discovered my method when thru-hiking these trails and my preliminary reply normally begins with, “I adopted the white blazes on the AT and the emblems on the PCT.” That’s my fundamental reply, and truthfully, nearly all of hikers for these lengthy trails just do that.

Whilst you actually don’t want a lot navigation savvy to efficiently full the AT or the PCT, it’s undoubtedly higher and safer in case you do have some fundamental navigation expertise.

The AT is very well marked and its easy to follow if you pay attention to the signs.
The AT could be very nicely marked and it’s simple to observe in case you take note of the indicators.

You Don’t Must Navigate A lot on the AT or PCT

In relation to thru-hiking the AT or the PCT, an important navigation expertise are realizing the place you’re and whether or not you’re headed in the fitting course on the path. That is historically finished with a map and compass and might embrace expertise like realizing tips on how to learn contour traces, timing and pacing, and total being attentive to your environment.

These are basic, fundamental navigation expertise to have. Nevertheless, to be clear, in case you had been to survey a big group of thru-hikers, many wouldn’t be carrying a map or compass. But a lot of those self same hikers would let you know they efficiently accomplished the AT or PCT with out them.

Right here’s what they’d most likely let you know:

  • The path is absolutely well-marked; it’s fairly powerful to get misplaced.
  • There are a great deal of different hikers nowadays on each trails, so when doubtful, wait till another person reveals up and ask him/her.
  • Why would I carry cumbersome maps when I’ve a GPS or an app on my cellphone?
  • Guidebooks are heavy! There’s no want for that further weight after I can use my cellphone.

And you understand what? To some extent, they’re proper. However, I nonetheless don’t suppose that blindly strolling these trails is a good suggestion.

A compass makes it easy to check whether you’re hiking in the right direction on the trail.
A compass makes it simple to verify whether or not you’re mountain climbing in the fitting course on the path.

Why You Want Some Navigation Expertise

Actuality verify: S**t occurs. Positive, the AT and PCT are well-traveled, however elements of each trails can get distant in sections within the backcountry. What in case you’re mountain climbing late within the season and nobody’s round? I bear in mind after I was within the 100 Mile Wilderness on the AT in late September and I noticed only a few different individuals on the path. What in case your cellphone dies otherwise you drop it in a river? What if it’s a giant snow yr within the Sierra Nevada part of the PCT and you’ll’t discover the path, otherwise you’re strolling in white-out situations within the White Mountains of New Hampshire on the AT (this occurred to me) and you’ll barely see a number of toes in entrance of you?

After I thru-hiked the AT, I developed a better appreciation for mountain climbing navigation expertise. I wished to really feel like an skilled hiker with extra of a capability to learn a map, contour traces, and orient. I took a category at a neighborhood clothing store to study some fundamental expertise and I felt extra empowered. I felt that if one thing occurred whereas out mountain climbing, I had a greater probability of dealing with it. For all these causes, this is the reason I consider it’s a sound thought to have some navigation expertise when mountain climbing the AT and PCT.

The Most Essential Navigation Talent

In my view, the highest navigation talent wanted to hike the AT or PCT is paying consideration. Having a way of the place you’re headed in your day, realizing what markers to search for, and being current in your environment can actually assist to maintain you on the path and maintain you secure. Whether or not I used to be on the AT or PCT, I at all times regarded forward in no matter information I used to be utilizing to know what to anticipate. This allowed me to really feel knowledgeable and extra ready by way of terrain to observe for, water sources, and so forth.

To help the talent of paying consideration, these are another instruments I’ve used or ones which have been utilized by different thru-hikers I do know.

Frequent white blazes mark the AT
Frequent white blazes mark the AT

Path Markers

The long-lasting white blaze on the AT is a 6-inch-long by 2-inch-wide white paint mark on a tree, rock, phone pole, or fence. It features as a path marker to let hikers know they’re nonetheless on track. They’re extraordinarily frequent on the AT, to the purpose that if I didn’t see one after a couple of minutes, I questioned if I missed a flip. In fact, that concerned me paying consideration, which I’ve already mentioned is an important navigation talent.

On the PCT, there are steel or wooden emblems of the PCT image put in on bushes and at junctions or intersections to maintain us hikers going the fitting method. These weren’t at all times as frequent because the white blazes on the AT and typically I discovered I may go a complete day or extra with out seeing an emblem.

To cite instantly from the PCTA web site: “The PCT is just not at all times simple to seek out. Carry maps and a compass and know tips on how to use them. The detailed turn-by-turn descriptions in guidebooks will also be useful in conserving you discovered. We suggest studying navigation expertise from a talented and skilled trainer.”

Wooden Trail Emblems are also used to mark the PCT.
Wood Path Emblems are additionally used to mark the PCT.

Navigation Units

The favored development nowadays is to make use of a navigation system as an alternative of carrying a map and compass or a GPS unit, by utilizing a Smartphone app like Guthook or GaiaGPS. In reality, I hardly ever noticed anybody whip out a paper map after I was thru-hiking the AT and the PCT. Though, after I met my now boyfriend, Potatoes, on the PCT, I used to be fairly impressed he was carrying topographic maps of the path and never utilizing Guthook.

Guthook's AT Guide - Elevation Profiles
Guthook’s AT Information – Elevation Profiles

Utilizing an app has many benefits, akin to being simple to have in your cellphone with much less bulk. Guthook’s AT and PCT Guides (generally known as ‘Guthook’) are helpful as a result of you may learn different hikers’ feedback about issues like whether or not a water supply continues to be flowing or updates on path situations, which a map can’t let you know. But bear in mind: what in case your cellphone dies? Having a back-up type of navigation and realizing some expertise can forestall a state of affairs from turning bitter.

I used Guthook whereas on the PCT in 2019 and don’t have anything unhealthy to say about it. When Potatoes and I completed the Sierra Nevada Part this previous summer time, I had Guthook on my cellphone and he put GaiaGPS on his. I loved utilizing Gaia as a result of it’s a topographic map, so we may see landmarks like lakes and study the names of mountains round us. It allow us to respect what we had been taking a look at greater than Guthook, which is way more trail-specific.

Utilizing a bodily, hand-held map or GaiaGPS lets me do issues like learn contour traces and use my mind a bit extra in different methods. For instance, if I noticed a river arising, I may very well be pretty positive that will be a dependable water supply. Nevertheless, in a low snow yr, I used to be fairly sure a small creek could be dry. I discovered I may determine issues out with out different hiker feedback.

Navigation apps are nice instruments, but utilizing a map mixed with the talent of paying consideration makes me really feel extra engaged whereas mountain climbing.

The At Guide is available as a PDF or in printer book form
The AT Information is accessible as a PDF or in printed e-book kind


Having a guidebook to enrich the path markers and additional help navigation could be very useful. On the AT, I carried The A.T. Information — A Handbook for Mountaineering the Appalachian Path by David ‘Awol’ Miller, which can also be now obtainable in digital kind on your cellphone. It was a useful useful resource for me by way of realizing distances, when a shelter was arising, the subsequent city cease, and most vital, when the subsequent water supply could be.

It additionally has an elevation profile, so I knew what to anticipate for my day’s stroll. If I ever questioned the place I used to be, I may reference the e-book and ask myself if I handed such and such shelter or water supply, for instance. Once more, this made it vital for me to concentrate to my surroundings as I hiked, and I might usually maintain observe of my timing to have a way of how far I used to be between markers. Should you get an thought of your individual private pacing, this can be a good software for measuring the place you’re at on path distance-wise.

One other standard guidebook for the AT is the Appalachian Path Information E book by the Appalachian Path Conservancy. For the PCT, a basic is Yogi’s Pacific Crest Path Handbook by Jackie ‘Yogi’ McDonnell. All of the talked about books are up to date every year.

Find a to learn map and compass at REI or a local outfitter
Discover a class to study map and compass at REI or a neighborhood clothing store

The Wrap-Up

Whilst you technically don’t want severe navigation expertise to hike both the AT or PCT, it’s useful to have some, simply in case. See if an REI or native clothing store close by you presents an intro class on map and compass navigation expertise. There’s additionally a wealth of assets obtainable to show your self on YouTube.

On the naked minimal, know the place you’re in relation to the cardinal instructions (N, S, E, W) whereas on path and develop a eager sense of being attentive to your environment. Should you depend on your Smartphone for GPS, at all times carry further batteries or a battery pack. You may additionally need to take into account mountain climbing with somebody in case you don’t have a back-up type of navigation as a result of there’s no assure your cellphone gained’t die, break, or get misplaced.

Lastly, in case you don’t see a path marker for a extremely very long time, simply flip again and retrace your steps till you do. Each the AT and the PCT are somewhat simple to observe with out heavy-duty navigation skills, however realizing the fundamentals will make you are feeling smarter and safer.

Concerning the writer

Heather Daya Rideout has been a life-long outdoorswoman. Her pursuits and fervour for mountain climbing and tenting have taken her all over the world for a lot of long-distance journeys; akin to backpacking in Nepal, India, South America, Morocco, Europe, and North America. Heather has hiked the Appalachian Path, 2,250 miles of the Pacific Crest Path, and a route of 1,500 miles combining a number of Camino routes by Spain and Portugal. On any given day she would somewhat be open air than anything and her way of life is a direct reflection of that deep love affair with nature. Heather presently lives in Idaho and she or he’s having a wondrous time experiencing the sweetness it presents. You possibly can learn a few of her different writing at www.wanderyoga.com.

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