PCT vs. AT – How PCT Differs from AT the 7 Major Differences


PCT vs. AT, which is the trail suitable for you? As a hiker, you need to know the difference between the two paths. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Appalachian Trail (AT) are two great trails in the United States. The location of the two trails are on the far part of the country, the PCT is on the west coast, and the AT is to the east.

I have tried hiking on the Pacific Crest, and I feel my skills in hiking has improved a lot after that. Hiking on these trails can also boost your confidence and health. It is essential that you do your research before deciding which path to go. I have written this post to give you some ideas on how the two trails differ. And to determine which is the right trail for you – PCT vs. AT.


Terrain Changes

via agence-des-ocres.com

The terrain is the most apparent difference between the PCT and the AT. Let’s start with AT. You will pass through deciduous forests for most of the trail. There are instances you will go through cattle fields and cropland. Along the White Mountains, you will need to pass the coniferous forests in the alpine regions.

The PCT, on the other hand, has the Molave dessert. The area has limited water, sagebrush, and scarce water. Sometimes you will see Roadrunner. Upon reaching the Sierra Mountain Range, the desert fades.

On the High Sierra you will be greeted by snows and not far behind is the heat from the desert. You will find a temperate forest upon reaching the mountains. Mainly in PCT its wilderness to snow to rainforest while in AT its green tunnel syndrome.

Weather Conditions

PCT thru Oregon

via instagram.com/pctoregon/

PCT have so many different types of terrain thus you need to adapt to the sudden change of climate as you hike. Passing the desert, you need to deal with the blistering heat, but when the sun goes down, the temperature drops significantly. Every year the snowpack in the mountains varies greatly. In the Cascades, the weather is unpredictable.

You will not encounter any drastic changes in weather on AT. However, you still need to be prepared for any weather as you will never know when will the severe weather strike. As compared to PCT, the AT can experience more rain. A thunderstorm can ruin your hiking adventure, and it looks like not a right place to be taking in the views

Physical and Mental Strength

Others think that AT is more demanding physically as compared to PCT, but for hikers who have many years of experience feel that they are the same.

Mentally the AT is more comfortable than Pacific Crest. If this is your first time, this is an important thing to consider.

The PCT is tougher mentally because it is longer and the weather is more extreme as compared to AT. The number of hikers is smaller as compared to Appalachian Trail. For beginners, the recommended trail is AT, before taking that more challenging Pacific Crest.

Before taking on the Pacific Crest Trail think the long journey in PCT carefully is difficult for hikers, but for others, this is what they need.

Monetary Cost

The cost of PCT and AT are almost the same, and it depends on various factors. You need to prepare around 3K to 8K on either trail, depending on the gear you buy, your means of travel, food, the amount of money that you end up spending in the side towns, and the hotel to stay.

The AT has more towns on the trail, so there is a possibility that you can spend more money because of the many opportunities.



via pinterest.com

The AT is more straightforward to navigate as compared to PCT. Recommended for beginners is AT or those who prefer to take the challenge in hiking for the first time without being afraid of misinterpreting the map and end up in the middle of nowhere.

The PCT is not as terrible as you think, but it is not as marked as the AT. To keep on the track, you need to follow the maps and your instincts.

Essential Gears

Climbing Technology Nuptse Crampons and Alpine Tour Axe

via ukclimbing.com

Due to the changes in terrain and climate, there is also a change in gear. Items that are not considered necessary on the AT are crucial items on the PCT. Crampons and ice ax are vital for the High Sierra.

A GPS can help you determine where the snow-covered trail goes and if you are in the right direction even if there is no visible trail. While walking on the Sierras, you will need a bear canister.

If the snow is not heavy the trail on AT is much visible. It is where crampons and ice ax can be helpful. Go to the extreme lengths on the PCT to lessen your pack weight. The weight of packs on the AT is more than that what you would see on the PCT.

The Way to Approach Trail Technically

Trail-Running Shoes

via switchbacktravel.com

The path's grade will depend on some of the factors that affect your approach to the trail technically. On the PCT, you have the same amount of time to put down more miles as compared on the AT. It requires higher mileage days on the PCT.

The PCT is graded based on pack mules, while the AT was no such intentions. It means that there will be more climbs on the PCT but not as steep as on the AT. The PCT requires more mandatory planning, mostly when it comes to mail drops.

On the AT, there are some areas which could be advantageous to send yourself a mail drop but is not a must.


After comparing the two trails, you will notice that both PCT and AT are very challenging and is time-consuming. Therefore, hikers must take both paths seriously. Personally, I find the PCT more challenging than AT. One reason for this is the changing of weather and the different types of terrain. So, if you are not a serious hiker, it is best to choose the one that is less challenging. Never take the trail unprepared if you are not mentally and physically ready to take the PCT.

Hikers will love both hiking trails especially those who seek the adventure of extraordinary challenges. Those hikers you will meet along the way will provide some mental and physical help to get through the trail you choose. The feeling of completing the path is fantastic. Trust me. You will love every minute and step you take.

About the Author

Lauren Reese

I'm Laura. I have a huge passion for hiking and camping. Lying under the star beside the tent and camping fire with my team is the ultimate nature getaway to me. I wish to share my experience during the adventure with you through this blog. Feel free to read my stories and leave some comments if you like.

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