The Long Trail is the original long distance wilderness hiking trail in the United States. The trail stretches two hundred and seventy miles from the Massachusetts to Canadian border along Vermontâ€™s Green Mountain ridge. The trail served as the inspiration for the two thousand mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine as well as other long distance trails around the country. While this guide is based on experience with the Long Trail specifically, it can be applied to thru-hiking in general as well. The guide is divided into two sections, the first covers preparations to be made before setting out and the second addresses issues on the trail itself.
The beauty of backpacking is that it forces everything to be carefully evaluated in terms of necessity rather than luxury. While some things may make life in camp more comfortable, they often add weight to a pack that has to be carried over weeks of rugged trail. Every ounce of weight matters over two hundred and seventy miles, so packing has to be a very aggressive process. Everything carried on the trail has to fill one or more specific purposes, whether it is safety, food, shelter, or comfort. Often times gear can be used to fulfill multiple purposes and in doing so save weight, but without knowledge of how the gear is used that purpose is lost.
- 1 Frame Pack
- 1 Waterproof Pack Cover
While hiking the pack holds everything not currently being worn, so it has to be able to hold every other piece of gear, and do so comfortably. The pack will be worn for all the time on the trail, so likely for more than eight hours a day. It should have a rigid frame and hip-belt to reduce strain on the shoulders and back, effectively distributing the weight it holds to the hips and legs, reducing shoulder and back strain, which can make a back country trip miserable. The pack should be no larger than it needs to be to hold all of the gear being carried, extra space just means the pack is extra weight itself. Depending on the gear being used 50-65 liters is a good size for a backpacking trip, if a bigger pack is required there is likely extra gear that can be cut out of the trip. The pack cover needs to cover the whole pack to keep it dry during rain, it should be as light as possible but also durable enough to take miles of rubbing against tree branches without tearing.
- 1 Tent / Bivy Sack / Tarp
- 1 Sleeping Bag
- 1 Sleeping Pad
- (1 Sleeping Bag Liner)
On the trail there are regularly spaced shelters and tent sites, generally about six to ten miles apart, which include a water source and a shelter. The shelters are three walled and each sleep at least six people, with some comfortably fitting more than twenty. Hiking alone, one can expect to spend any given night in one of these shelters, and so can avoid bringing a full tent. However it is wise to bring at least a tarp, if not a full bivy sack in case a shelter is full or it gets dark between shelters and going on is not an option. Hiking in groups, where weight can be better distributed, a tent makes sense because it will have less impact on pack weights and a crowded shelter will not be a serious problem. Hiking alone a tent offers a good deal of privacy not found in a shelter, although it comes at the price of pack weight, so tents should be as light as possible. Most campsites do not use tent platforms, so having a freestanding tent is not required.
I do not consider a sleeping pad optional because of the increased insulation and protection it offers a sleeping bag, in addition to the increased comfort, but not all thru-hikers use them. Using a three quarters pad can save weight, and putting an empty pack at the bottom of the pad can give some insulation and support to legs. The sleeping bag should be as light as possible and rated to at least 32 degrees. A sleeping bag liner adds several degrees to the bag, increases comfort and can be washed more easily than the bag in a washing machine during any stops in town, so while not necessary is very nice to have.
- 1 Long Sleeve Synthetic T-Shirt
- 1 Short Sleeve Synthetic T-Shirt
- 2 Pair Synthetic Underwear
- (1 Pair Sleep Underwear)
- 1 Pair Nylon Shorts
- 2 Pair Wool Hiking Socks
- 2 Pair Synthetic Sock Liners
- 1 Pair Hiking Boots (Broken In)
- 1 Shell
- 1 Pair Wind Pants
- 1 Wool/Synthetic Hat
Clothing needs to accomplish two goals, it must prevent discomfort while hiking and ward off the cold and wet weather. While hiking two pairs of socks is a must even in the summer to prevent blisters which are the most likely injury to ruin a hike. The liner sock layer keeps the feet dry, and the wool socks hold up better over miles of use while drying more rapidly than cotton. Even on cold days, after ten minutes of walking all that is needed to hike in will be a t-shirt and shorts, both of which should be synthetic so they will dry off more rapidly. Odor resistance would be appreciated as well, but after a few days will be hard to notice anyway. Underwear should be synthetic for the same reason as everything else, however it can also greatly effect areas where chaffing is likely to occur, so find clothing to reduce the chance of this happening. If in doubt bodyglide or other lubricant will be greatly appreciated.
Clothing also needs to account for the elements. Never go hiking without a good wool hat, in case of cold weather the head is the most important area to keep insulated. A good rain-jacket or shell should be as light as possible while still warding off rain, and can be used as an extra layer during cold or windy evenings. Wind pants and a long sleeve t-shirt are nice in camp to keep the edge off bugs and the cold. Later in the season another layer may be needed to deal with the cold, but that will add a fair amount of weight and in camp sitting in a sleeping bag is always an option.
- Pot Tongs
- Biodegradable Soap
The type of cooking done during the hike is determined by the time spent doing the hike itself. Some people save time and weight by bringing only food that does not need to be cooked, but doing this for more than a few days seems rather miserable, so a lightweight stove seems justified even during aggressively timed hikes. There are two types of stoves, butane and white gas. I would recommend white gas stoves for backpacking because they are easier to refill off the trail, and easier to check fuel levels, although they may be somewhat heavier. In any case get a stove, a pot to cook in, tongs or some way to pick up the heated pot and a spoon to eat with. I suggest using a titanium spork because of its versatility, strength and weight, but utensil choice is of limited consequence, just donâ€™t bother bringing more than one. A cup can be nice, but is a luxury and normally not needed.
The most likely way to end a thru-hike is by getting sick from not properly washing dishes or eating utensils while living in the bush. Wash and bleach all dishes before every meal. Bleach and soap are not great for the environment, so be conscientious and make sure to use a grey water pit, but to not neglect basic sanitation.
Food will be covered later in the trip planning section of the guide, but keep in mind when packing that when fully packed, food and water account for nearly half of the total pack volume and an equivalent amount of weight. Four to five thousand calories a day weigh quite a bit.
- Hiking Poles
- Swiss Army Knife
- Hydration System
- Water Purification / Filter
- First Aid Kit
- Non-Stick Gauze
- Duct Tape
- Toilet Paper
- (book or journal + pen/pencil)
Not everyone uses hiking poles, but for a multi-day backpacking effort I consider them required because of how they reduce strain on the knees and help add daily miles. Plus poles can be used as a splint in an emergency situation and with a tarp to create a makeshift tent. A bandana helps keep perspiration out of oneâ€™s eyes and add to the badass factor, enough said. Make sure to bring some sort of multi-tool folding knife, I have found basic Swiss-army knives to be the most useful for the weight, but small leathermen can also double as pot tongs. Hydration is critical, I recommend using a hydration system of two to three liters with a tube and water bladder because people drink more if they can do it while they hike, and it is always better to be more hydrated, and with the abundance of water sources on the trail, scarcity is not an issue. Even in rural Vermont purification is very important, I recommend iodine because it weighs less than filters, but filters are also an option as well as other recent developments such as the MSR Miox, and ultraviolet systems with which I have no experience.
Hiking is a relatively safe backcountry experience, but basic first aid knowledge and equipment is still critical. For hiking trips I have narrowed my first aid kit down to Non-stick gauze and duck tape (blisters, cuts), Neosporin (blisters, cuts), Immodium (GI trouble), and Vitamin I, aka Advil, for general soreness as well as headaches and taking the edge off of other injuries. I have never had success with moleskin and prefer the duct tape / non-stick guaze combination. Basic first aid skills for splinting ankle and leg injuries, and responding to fevers and other sickness is also critical. Because the trail is well traveled and never more than a few miles from the road, most medical concerns can be addressed relatively easily. Proper sanitation is very important, so the regular use of purell is encouraged, and not all outhouses have their own supply of toilet paper.
Backpacking does not require a substantial amount of training, but the more experience used to personalize planning for the trip the better. Everything used on the trip should have been used before in an overnight backpacking setting so all of the gear is familiar. Experience will also help dictate how many miles per day one can expect to hike in the beginning of a trip, and break in boots and other pieces of equipment. Unlike the Appalachian trail for which taking a week to figure out how to hike does not have a substantial impact on the trip as a whole, on the long trail the trip would be a third over by that time, so coming in prepared can substantially improve the experience. That being said, the trail is well traveled enough with early access to towns like Manchester and Rutland so that there is plenty of opportunity for assistance on the trail.
This guide is going to assume a South to North assault of the trail, because â€œDeath or Canadaâ€ has the same initials as the DOC, unlike â€œDeath or Massachusettsâ€, the southern stretches of the trail include easier terrain to ease in to the trail and more frequent access to larger towns, and when I did the trail I went North.
The most important factor for planning to do the trail is hiking speed, it can be done in less than two weeks by putting in 20-30 mile days or done at a leisurely pace in more like seven weeks. The more time spent on the trail the more food must be carried at a time, resulting in a heavier and slower pack, while shaving off days between restocking opportunities reduces weight in oneâ€™s pack and increases mileage per day. For this reason having a good idea of how many miles one is comfortable hiking is critical for trip planning and timing.
Hiking burns an additional one hundred calories daily per mile hiked, but this number is higher when carrying a heavy pack and higher when dealing with elevation considerations, so hiking twelve to fourteen miles a day can easily burn four to five thousand calories a day. Bringing enough calories a day to account for the number burned is a challenge, and one thru-hiker I met while on the trail lost sixty pounds during his first month on the AT without trying to. Planning enough food is critical, and should be based on high calorie, low weight foods. For a trip like the long trail, nutritional considerations are secondary to caloric considerations, although it is still important to keep a well functioning GI tract.
Food on the trail should be dried and high in calories. I recommend cereal or power bars for breakfast, although cereal with dried milk can also be very tasty, although this takes up more pack space and time. For lunches we used Pitas, which are high in calories, easy to pack and breadish, high calorie spreads like peanut butter as well as nutella, cheese and tuna in packages, not cans, to create a somewhat varied, high calorie meal. Dinners consist of rice or noodles, essentially Lipton or Ramen, both of which are inexpensive, and high in calories and salt, which is important considering the day is spent sweating for hours on the trail. Snack foods should also be high in calories, GORP, including peanuts, raisins, m & mâ€™s and often dried fruit is tasty but heavy. Chocolate bars including snickers have equivalent calories to energy bars and often taste better.
There are several opportunities to restock along the trail.