Gimme Shelter

The trail provides! We’ve hit our first month on the AT, which also means we’ve lived in a tent for a month! Or does it?

No, I’m not talking about staying in a hostel every night; the trail has a bunch of shelters every few miles

What’s a shelter?

A shelter is usually a 3 walled structure made of wood/ cinder block/ cement that can sleep anywhere between 4 to 20 people. It’s a quick way to make brand-new friends, and a good way to get practice at changing your clothes in your sleeping bag.
The longer we’ve been on trail, the more the shelters have thinned out. Our first couple days on trail, the 15-person shelters were full by 1pm. By mile 400, we’ve pretty much been able to pick and choose where to sleep; tent or shelter?
Shelters are wonderful places to hide out on wet weather and dry out your clothes; they’re also a wonderful place to get a communicable disease or learn a new conspiracy theory.
Before hiking the AT, the only shelter/hut I’d ever stayed in was in New Zealand in the Matukituki valley. And it looked like this…
I mean, come on. I didn’t expect everything on the AT to look like this of course. I’ve done my research. But for some self gratification, one more picture of that glorious hut and the best poop with a view I’ve ever had.
Ahhh, I miss it so. But maybe I could have some similar wonderful experiences on the trail? Well to be honest it’s been a bit of a mixed bag so far.

Shelter Skelter

Shelters along the AT are mainly maintained by different hiking clubs. They differ in style from region to region and have different amenities. Some have bear cables, some have privies, some sleep 12, ALL have mice. You know, standard amenities. But it means you never really know what you’re going to walk up to. When you’ve planned your next couple stops and you’ve walked 16-20 miles to a desired shelter and it looks like this…

So yeah, you and your friends have to pull out your wet tents and camp. C’est la vie baby.

To Tent or Not to Tent?

There are a couple other reasons to be forced out of a shelter and into your tent. First and foremost for being a Brit in America, is social fatigue. After a day of hiking with the gang is good enough for me, but add on meeting 8-10 new people at night is a lot. This is a reflection on me, not them. Plus, add in a massive amount of hanger??? (Hungry and angry). I am not a pleasant little piggy to be around. So setting up the tent gives you some privacy; a cave for you to retreat to and be a little hangry gremlin.

Another reason to hide out is sleep schedule. Most hikers abide by the rule of hiker midnight: when the sun goes to sleep, you do too. Vice Versa for sun ride too. It’s a nice little unspoken rule. Some people have different sleep patterns and scoot out while people sleep, which is fine when done quietly.

I’m struggling to not come off as whiny here, but hear me out. We had a group stay with us last week; part of the group would wake at 3 and leave the shelter by 4 am, while the other half would night hike, and arrive at the shelter at 5am. By night 2 my sleeping bag was soaked from my sleepless tears.

In defence of shelters however, your tent can be claustrophobic. A couple of rainy nights so far have resulted in Slinky and I spending 15 or so hours sat inside our little tent, desperately trying to stay dry and entertained. Those rainy nights in a shelter and always entertaining- the wonderful array of characters you meet out here at least give you something to talk about the next day.

The Takeaway

All of this to say, there are positives and negatives of shelters. Some people are diehard shelter people, and some folk won’t go near them. After all, you paid upwards of $500 for your tent, and have carried it 400 miles. For me, shelters have their place, in a pinch they’re wonderful things to have, but I’m not quite a people person enough to spend every night in one.

Slinky Section

‘I’ve got taters between my thighs!’

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Comments 1

  • David Groce : Apr 4th

    Great post. Thank you for taking the time to compose it. I’m an American, not a Brit, but my feelings about shelters (and, really, people) are the same as yours. Looking forward to your next post. Good luck.


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