Editor’s note: we’re incredibly excited to welcome Mac from Halfway Anywhere as a guest contributor. Each year Mac conducts surveys of Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail hikers to put together the PCT Survey and CDT Survey. This year marks the 10th year that Mac has been conducting the thru-hiker surveys. The cumulative data is both incredibly interesting and super actionable for someone planning their own long-distance hike. Read on to learn what this year's surveys revealed ...
Where should I mail a resupply box? Will I see a grizzly bear? Which alternates should I take? What might end my hike? When will I reach the snow? How warm does my sleeping bag need to be? Could packing out my toilet paper make me a better person?
Prospective hikers have a lot of questions before beginning a thru-hike and finding answers can be difficult. Except for the toilet paper question… definitely pack out your toilet paper!
As a means to remedy this search for answers, the PCT Survey and CDT Survey aim to gain insights into each year’s class of hikers and to provide a resource for future hiking hopefuls. Here are five of the most interesting, and at times surprising, results from the 2022 thru-hiking surveys.
1. Continental Divide Trail hikers had heavier base weights and carried more food than Pacific Crest Trail hikers.
Continental Divide Trail hikers had an average starting base weight of 17.52 lb / 7.95 kg. Pacific Crest Trail hikers had an average starting base weight of 16.3 lb / 7.39 kg. The average number of days between resupply stops on the CDT was six (across an average of 114 mi / 183 km); the average on the PCT was 4.7 (across an average of 87 mi / 140 km).
This means that in addition to carrying heavier packs than PCT hikers, CDT hikers also had to carry more food on average. The fact that CDT hikers had heavier packs may be surprising to some because CDT hikers were also, on average, more experienced backpackers than PCT hikers. However, it’s important to remember that a lighter pack does not translate to more experience.
2. Hikers on both the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail took, on average, the same number of zero days.
The average number of zero days (a day when zero trail miles are hiked, in other words, rest days) taken by thru-hikers who completed the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail was 17. They also shared the same standard deviation, 9.
Nearo days (days when just a few miles are hiked, typically into or out of town) were also nearly equal, with 16 for PCT hikers and 15 for CDT hikers. It would seem that zero days are (possibly?) more a function of the overall distance hiked as opposed to a result of the weather, terrain, or logistical issues (where the PCT and CDT can vary greatly).
3. The Pacific Crest Trail had fewer pinch points than the Continental Divide Trail.
Some resupply stops, whether because of their proximity to the trail or their popularity among hikers, are places nearly every thru-hiker visits. The Continental Divide Trail is far more fractured than the Pacific Crest Trail as far as the actual route, due to a large number of long and/ or popular CDT alternates. However, there are 19 total pinch points on the CDT where at least 75% of thru-hikers visit.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Crest Trail only has 13 such resupply stops. A reason for this could be that because the PCT passes (generally) more densely populated areas, there are more options for hikers to choose from when planning their resupplies.
4. Hikers from both trails spent nearly the same amount on their hikes.
Despite the Continental Divide Trail being officially some 500-ish miles (805 km) longer than the Pacific Crest Trail and passing through some notoriously expensive towns in Colorado, thru-hikers who completed the CDT and the PCT reported spending nearly identical amounts on their thru-hikes.
The average total for the PCT was $9,593 while the average total for the CDT was $9,221. This could be due to a variety of factors, but a plausible one could be that since CDT hikers were more likely to have completed a previous long-distance hike, they presumably spent less on gear beforehand.
5. Thru-hikers completed the Continental Divide Trail more quickly than they completed the Pacific Crest Trail.
As with the expenses, the fact that CDT thru-hikers completed the trail more quickly than PCT thru-hikers is surprising. You would assume that given the length of the CDT, it would take hikers longer to complete it. However, unlike the PCT, the CDT has a large number of alternates that are incredibly popular among hikers; some alternates (like the Gila River Alternate in New Mexico) are more popular than the CDT itself. This can mean that a CDT thru-hike could actually be shorter than a PCT thru-hike depending on the route chosen. In addition, because CDT hikers are covering longer stretches between resupply stops (as noted above), it makes sense that a CDT thru-hiker could finish before their PCT counterparts.
Did these PCT and CDT thru-hiker survey results surprise you? Why or why not? Leave a comment below!
It would be interesting to know the differences (if any) between the ages and genders of PCT vs CDT hikers. My gut instinct is that a higher percentage CDT hikers are male and – perhaps counterintuitively – younger than their PCT counterparts.
I’m particularly interested in the data regarding why someone didn’t complete either trail. I assume you’ve been asking that question for a number of years. Do you have a rollup of that data over the 10 years? My background is in research design and data analysis and I’m also an AT through hiker. This would be very helpful for a project I’m working on.
Question #1: Are there any data/statistics to indicate whether the average hiker on either trail is generally more experienced than those on the alternate trail, (IE do most complete the “PCT” prior to the “CDT” or visa-versa) just as an example.
Question #2: Might the answer to Q1 be a factor in some of the results of your survey.
Thanks for the information, all useful good to know stuff.