Surface mass balance (SMB) is the net input of mass on a glacier's upper surface, composed of snow deposition, melt and erosion processes, and is a major contributor to the overall mass balance. Pine Island Glacier (PIG) in West Antarctica has been dynamically imbalanced since the early 1990s, indicating that discharge of solid ice into the oceans exceeds snow deposition. However, observations of the SMB pattern on the fast flowing regions are scarce, and are potentially affected by the firn's strain history. Here, we present new observations from radar-derived stratigraphy and a relatively dense network of firn cores, collected along a ~900 km traverse of PIG. Between 1986 and 2014, the SMB along the traverse was 0.505 m w.e. a−1 on average with a gradient of higher snow deposition in the South-West compared with the North-East of the catchment. We show that along ~80% of the traverse the strain history amounts to a misestimation of SMB below the nominal uncertainty, but can exceed it by a factor 5 in places, making it a significant correction to the SMB estimate locally. We find that the strain correction changes the basin-wide SMB by ~0.7 Gt a−1 and thus forms a negligible (1%) correction to the glacier's total SMB.