10 Myths for SOBO Thru-Hikers

July 6th marked the beginning of my SOBO journey to Georgia, with the summit of Katahdin. I hit the mountain full of excitement and wonder, not only for the summit, but for what lay ahead. I had done about as much internet scouring as one might dub borderline obsessive on the AT, and I was so anxious to see how it all played out. I quickly realized that almost everything I had read about hiking SOBO was wrong, so here are my tramily’s top 10 myth busters for you other aspiring SOBOs:

1. Myth: Hike southbound if you prefer solitude, there are less people that travel that way.

Fact: This is totally wrong. I very much enjoy solitude, and I’m not getting any of it (solitude that is). There were 2 shuttles of almost 20 people the two days I stayed in Millinocket. You will be hard pressed to not find lots of people on this trail going South.

2. Myth: Not only are there a lot less people, there are very few females going SOBO.

Fact: This one I read everywhere, and you know what? We pretty much outnumbered the guys at every lean to. The group I started with had eight ladies. All of us met planning this trip solo. It’s empowering and surprising, and I’ll take it. Insert Spice Girls shouting ‘Girl Power!’ gif here.

3. Myth: NOBOs and SOBOs get along.

Fact: Found this one out the hard way. Apparently some NOBOs hate SOBOs, and there’s a lot of graffiti on lean-to’s in case you forget. No idea why, and yes I have experienced it first hand. The older mature crowd coming north have been nice, but the younger ones have consistently given false info, from water sources to trail magic. At first I thought they were all just zombies trying to get to Katahdin ( I get it, you’re ready for it to be over, it’s been rough! ) but then the bad advice started adding up along with the comments. I preferred to walk to warmer weather instead of a time crunch to a mountain, what’s wrong with that?

4. Myth: Gear lists and advice from peers will help you through the 100-Mile Wilderness.

Fact: Nope, not even your boyfriend who did it twice can help you. What worked for them will not work for you. You need to trust your gut and try it out, that’s all you can do. I read every article, practiced in the woods, you name it. By the time you get out of these woods is the only time you’ll know what you need. A girl on our group had a friend tell her she could do it in six days easy. She’s done 88 miles so far with nothing more than Vans high tops, Eno hammock, and zero rain gear. “I get it, I would never,” says you. I’m just proving a point on listening to anyone. Take advice in stride, because everyone has it.

5. Myth: You won’t get cell service.

Fact: I braced myself for the worst, no way to reach out if need be with my beloved iPhone. I put it on airplane mode and tried to take myself back to the days of dial up and no YouTube. But upon hiking up few thousand feet and resting at a viewpoint, Magnet declared, “I have 3 bars!” And lo and behold, service was attainable. We got it at lean-to’s, viewpoints, almost one spot per day. Social media embracers rejoice!

6. Myth: You’re going to get hiker hunger, aka be starving all the time.

Fact: Erm not so much. Your body is doing a lot of adjusting to your new routine. You are working super hard, but you don’t get the hunger quite until the end of 100 miles. So don’t overpack food. Your body will thank you for those 5 less pound you don’t have to rock hop for the next week.

7. Myth: 100-Miles Wilderness is very remote.

Fact: All the signs even say it “Warning, you are entering the 100-Mile Wilderness… etc etc, pretty much elevates your fear of being so isolated. But come to find out you will cross paths with many day hikers, parking lots, and cell phone service spots. Basically it’s 100 miles without a store, which is only rough because of all the big spray you will go through. Which takes us to number 8…

8. Myth: Permethrin and 100% deet aid in all bug prevention.

Fact: Nope and nope. NOTHING will prevent bugs short of the full body suit of netting (available at Abol bridge). We had 99% deet & Permethrin treated clothes and still got eaten alive. The thing is, those lovely little blood suckers just prefer some people over others. May the odds be ever in your favor.

9. Myth: You will need to beware of bears in the 100MW.

Fact: It’s rare to see any wildlife, let alone worry about a bear wanting your food. Leave the bear canister and mace at home. Believe me when I say you’ll be way too busy staring at wet roots, rocks, and where the next blaze is, to even notice a bear running away from you…. which is all that they do.

10. Myth: Plan your hike on an elevation map

Fact: Those little lines that go up and down and hover around 1k-2k feet, yes they are a helpful reference. But absolutely do not trust them. Especially in the state of Maine where switch backs are non-existent. A 15-mile day will seem totally doable, until you stumble into the lean to after 14 hours of walking up and down 100 times, experiencing a mix of emotions including tears and panic for a possible solo night hike. 10 mile days are more than enough with these elevations, trust me.

Hope these myth busting tips help! Just remember to try your best, and know there is always someone nearby to help!

Lastly, be sure to stay at Shaw’s and take a zero. Poet’s homefries are no myth ✔️


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Comments 13

  • Lucky : Jul 16th

    Too bad the author thinks so poorly of nobo advice. For what it’s worth, every sobo I’ve asked about trail conditions in next 10 miles has been wrong. (E.g. can I find water on the next ridge, and they say no, but there are three unmarked streams.) I think the trail just changes, and people keep their eyes open for different things. It’s not malicious.

    • Lucky : Jul 16th

      Glad you’re having a great hike, though, and thanks for the tips about the hundred mile wilderness!

  • Popeye Jr. : Jul 16th

    I thru hiked SOBO a couple years ago and it sounds like it has gotten busier. I started on June sixth and there were five people a day starting.

    That said once your on the other side of Vermont people will start thinning out. By the tune I got to Pennsylvania I was sleeping in empty shelters.

    Also you are spot on about NOBOs. It was weird having the vast majority be serious douches. They were better on the other side of the whites. Your trail will get much easier and there’s will get much harder and they know it.

  • Lilricky : Jul 16th

    The amount of hikers starting SOBO is definitely less than the NOBO hikers on the starting days of the respective termini, around 190 vs 50 daily. This is mainly because of people wanting to hit Trail Days on their thru-hike. That being said, neither terminus will be solitude during the opening season, not unless you start early or late.

  • Lilricky : Jul 16th

    Also these people that enjoy spreading FUD about NOBO vs SOBO, need to stop. Attitudes and kindness have nothing to do with what direction you are hiking. People are people, some good, some bad.

    • Lucky : Jul 16th

      Thanks for this. Not sure why anyone would want to malign someone who is doing the trail a little differently, or accuse them all of being jerks. Could it be that sobos in Maine are meeting nobos who are beat up and in pain, from the whites?

      Had a sobo treat me like dirt for sleeping in the dungeon at lake of the clouds (I was trying to save the work-for-stay spot for someone who really needed the meals,) but I don’t tar all sobos with the same brush.

  • Doctari : Jul 16th

    Last year I heard of a “Hiker Bar” Being closed due to NOBOs & SOBOs “Fighting” Heard it even came to blows.
    I can’t understand it! We are all out there hiking the same D**n trail, Yea, sometimes NOBO is harder, & sometimes SOBO is (what the above fight was allegedly about). I so far have only hiked NOBO on my sections, kind of related to my mild OCD, but I have met quite a few SOBOs & to me they are just other hikers,
    I will admit to forgetting about a few water sources, but Seriously, to intentionally tell another hiker wrong info,,,, unforgivable!

    There are so many myths out there about what we do:
    You sleep warmer naked. Seriously? NO!
    You will get eaten by a (Bear, snake, squirrel, etc)
    You will die horribly if you do not treat EVERY drop of water out there!
    You will get blisters if you wear / don’t wear sock X
    You won’t get blisters if you do / do not wear sock Y
    Virginia is flat!

    So I am glad you Myth busted a few for those going SOBO.

  • Larry Harrison : Jul 16th

    I don’t understand why can’t we all get along, NOBO,SOBO who cares which way you hike. I get that the Nobo hikers are all wore out and irritated by everything but why take it out on someone who you have never meet. I prefer hiking north but I’m sure not going to hate you for hiking south. Never know you might be able to let me know of danger or something good ahead and vice versa. Appalachian Trail either going N or S we are all these to have a great time and meet new people.WWJD

  • Gary (milkshake 2013 : Jul 18th

    Never ran across nobo, sobo ill will during my hike. Loved 100 mile wilderness and New England states . Enjoy your posts and maybe run across some sobo this fall on some of my some of my section hikes in ga . &’nc

  • Tracy aka Mystic : Jul 20th

    That was a great uplifting bit of blogging. I enjoyed it. Keep on keeping on friend

  • Griz : Dec 9th

    Shoots good write Raider. Have me thinking about a third time around. Maybe Sobo. 🙂

  • Ziptie : Jan 28th

    What about us flip-floppers? 😉

  • Just Rusty : Mar 27th

    I section hike (LASHes lately, ~500-700 miles each) with the intent of being “off-season” (i.e. not where the majority of through-hikers are.) People ask “why?” It’s not because I don’t like them, actually I respect what they’re attempting. I don’t want to compete with (or take away from) the through-hikers who are on a tighter schedule than me and need the resources, being a retired guy who has the flexibility and resources to do alternative hikes.

    I HAVE run into NOBOs with attitudes but there’s a little bit of confirmation bias going on. They’re memorable because they’re jerks, but they’re also a tiny minority of all the NOBOs out there. Most through-hikers are respectful of section hikers. I think it’s just that we remember the jerks because they stand out. (I met a NOBO who insisted that nobody should be on the trail who isn’t on a NOBO end-to-end through-hike. In his mind, absolutely no other way of completing the trail was legitimate, and people who were doing other hikes shouldn’t be allowed on the trail. And really, he was serious. Or an Oscar-worthy actor.)


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