In my experience most thru hikers care about two things once a trail has been established. Where to camp and how to resupply.
Luckily the Oregon Beach Bill passed in 1967 works to a thru hikers advantage. The bill guarantees that the public has "free and uninterrupted use of the beaches."
This doesn't mean free beach camping along the entire coast though. There are restrictions in place along several stretches, most notably between Fort Stevens State Park and Gearhart where no camping is allowed. Camping is also not allowed on the beach within Oregon State Parks, which means any land under state park management including State Recreation Areas and State Scenic Viewpoints. And beach camping is also off limits within city limits.
That may sound like a lot of restrictions, but there are still plenty of places to stay along the Oregon coast.
Resupply, as you'll see reading the sections of this very rough, quick and dirty thru hiking guide, is a simple process made easy by the close proximity of towns along the coast.
You can't go hungry on the Oregon Coast Trail. In fact I think this is one of the few hikes that I might have actually gained a couple of pounds from eating too much food in town.
To Thru Hike or to Section Hike?
Section hikers have the advantage of packing a little lighter and avoiding many of the long road walks that make up 41% of the trail.
But a thru hike isn't that much more difficult than a long section hike. Besides, there is something about hiking the whole coast, from Washington, or the Columbia River, to the Oregon/California border in one continuous hike.
When is the best time to Thru Hike?
Summer is the short answer.
The rivers are easier to cross and the weather is usually better with less rain and storms. However, for those very reasons, the beaches and coastal towns are very much more crowded. Lodging will be more expensive unless you stick with the hiker/biker camps in the state parks.
But even those can fill up fast.
As early as June the mosquitoes can also get quite bad even as far north a Fort Stevens State Park.
May and October are the outlying months where you will find far less people but will have to deal with more frequent rain storms. However there are also far less mosquitoes to deal with.
My first thru hike was in early April, and while I had more rain and cold than I'd expected it was still a great hike without a single mosquito.
What to Pack on the Oregon Coast Trail?
Obviously you are going to bring maps, that's basically what this whole hiking guide is about.
Despite what some people will tell you the ten free maps provided by the state of Oregon are sufficient enough in detail to get you through the trail. Simply fold your cut up and marked maps in half and seal them in a ziplock bag and store them where you can easily find them for reference. By keeping the current map on top you don't even have to open the bag to check it.
Also a recent tide chart comes in handy as there are a few spots of along the Oregon Coast Trail that need to be done at low tide.
Luckily tide charts can be picked up for free at various visitor centers or purchased for less than a dollar at most stores along the coast. And I'm sure there's an app at this point.
Other than that I don't really like telling people what they "should" bring. Every hiker has different needs and tastes and that is without taking into account the varying gear budgets and experience levels. Sure we'd all like that ultralite cuben fiber tent that weighs under a pound but for me personally that probably wont happen anytime soon on my hiking budget.
On my thru hike, for instance, I did not bring a pair of pants. Not even rain pants. Could I have used them? Hell yes. Did I need them? That's a matter of personal perspective.
The Big Three
Backpack, sleeping bag and tent.
The backpack should be something that you are comfortable with. Many people go the route of the ultralite bag in the sub 12 oz area as a way to drop some pounds off of their overall base weight, but as long as it can carry your gear without causing and painful rubbing or discomfort then you should be fine.
Sleeping bag, either down or synthetic, it doesn't matter. Rated at what you think you are comfortable with.
I took a 5 x 7 foot tarp and despite sleeping through several storms I never got my sleeping bag wet when used in conjunction with my bivy. A lot of people feel more comfortable with a tent, especially when they are camped in the hiker/biker campgrounds in the state parks. If that's what works for you then go with it.
I also almost never sleep outside without my sleeping pad. It not only makes the ground more comfortable but it also helps in keeping me warm by insulating me from the ground.
A rain jacket, because this is Oregon and it could rain at anytime.
Thermal underwear, my most prized and cherished piece of gear. A warm layer. Hat and gloves, mostly because they are always in my pack but also because I often wear them while sleeping if it is a little bit cold at night.
A change of clothes?
Once again that is a personal matter which will also be partially dictated by the size of your bag and the amount of weight that you are willing to carry. I chose not to bring a change of clothes. I had extra socks, even a pair of sleeping socks that were never meant to be hiked in, but extra clothes? No. The one item I did concede to was what I called my "Laundry Shorts". They were called this because whenever I felt the need to do laundry they were the only thing I would be wearing besides my rain jacket.
Shoes. I used mesh New Balance running sneakers that would dry quick and they worked great. Another hiker may want a little more ankle support. Once again a personal choice. Just be sure to have something that you are comfortable with and not something new which needs to be broken in while on the trail.
First Aid Kit
You never know what's going to happen out there. So a simple first aid kit should be in your pack.
What should be in it? Band aids, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, sun block and mosquito repellent. Some people have special requirements, ibuprofen over aspirin, saline solution for contacts, personal medications, so you'll have to judge for yourself exactly what you might need in any situation.
Just don't overdo it though as there are towns close enough together that you can pick up most things that you might need at almost any point in your hike.
Like Tum's for that excessively greasy meal that isn't sitting well.
While it isn't exactly considered part of a normal First Aid kit, toilet paper is something that I usually pack in the same pocket. The thing about the Oregon Coast Trail is that you pass so many towns and state parks that have an abundance of bathrooms there is no need for you to be going to the bathroom in the woods or on the beach. In fact I hope that no thru hikers ever drop a deuce on the beach as it does not decompose no matter how deep you think you buried it.
Though I carried a water filter, the Sawyer Squeeze Mini, I used only a single time on my entire thru hike. And that was to try and remove the soapy taste of the tap water from a public bathroom. Potable water is simply far too plentiful along the trail for much to go wrong. Added on top of this is the fact that I never carried more than a liter of water at a time but frequently packed out liter of Coca-Cola.
I carried a stove for almost the first two weeks of my hike before sending it home, unused. Food is just far too plentiful along the Oregon Coast Trail and I found that even when I wasn't eating a large meal in town, the bagels, cream cheese and sliced salami that were in my food bag were more than enough. Never mind the snacks of Chili Cheese Frito's and Peanut Butter M&M's that I consumed in massive quantities to keep up that calorie intake.
Even if you do decide to cook, resupply is easy enough that you can pick up whatever your heart desires and cook after you get to camp.
Cell phone. I know, who leaves the house without their cell phone, but I thought I just mention it to keep this list fairly comprehensive.
Headlamp, I never go anywhere without my headlamp
A lighter is good if you enjoy those late night campfires. My one complaint about some of the hiker/biker camps in Oregon is that their fire pits are deep, steel walled pits. Not only is it hard to enjoy the heat or the view but the lack of air flow creates a very smokey fire.
Definitely something that needs to be redesigned.
Fire starters are optional but in Oregon it is good to know that you have the ability to start a fire from damp or even wet wood.
One night on Tillamook Head during a section hike I had failed to bring any kind of fire starter and the day had gone more wet than I would have liked or planned on. Luckily the Frito's in my bag also double as fire-starters...
Camera, because you'll want to take pictures of everything along the coast. But for most hikers your cell phone will double as your camera. Besides how else are you going to Instagram your hike?
A book or Kindle. I bring a book ever since I sat on my Kindle.
You'll notice that I didn't mention a knife or any personal self defense weapon. Most long distance hikers that I know do not carry any such item.
Myself I carry one of the smallest Swiss Army knives that they make, and that's usually only for the scissors or toothpick. A girl that I used to hike with carried nothing more than a small pair of nail clippers, and that was what she used to cut open any packaging that gave her fingers trouble.
Anytime I see someone out on the trail with a large knife strapped to their belt or pack I think that they are either very insecure, inexperienced or mentally unstable. But many people will disagree and argue that you need it for emergency situations.
Once again this is a personal choice.