Preparing for a Long Trail Thru-Hike
Hiking Vermont’s Long Trail (LT) is not for the faint-hearted or the weak-footed. At 270+ miles, it is a relatively short long distance trail (compared to the 2,650 mile PCT and 2,180 mile AT). It may not be uber long but what it lacks in miles, it makes up for in ruggedness.The Long Trail (LT) is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the US, constructed between 1910 and 1930 by the Green Mountain Club. The route is 272 miles long and runs along the ridge of the Green Mountains. The southern 100ish miles coincides with the Appalachian Trail, then the two trails diverge in Killington VT and the LT continues north while the AT juts east and continues on to New Hampshire and Maine.
I hiked the LT with Andrea (trail name: Bowtie) my former roommate and badass outdoors-woman whose day job is as a strength and conditioning coach. I had just hiked on the PCT and was more accustomed to western trails. The Long Trail is it’s own beast and requires specific consideration.
So how does one prepare for an LT thru-hike? No permits are necessary to hike the LT. If you have backpacked or thru-hiked before, you know that you have to think about the usual suspects: gear and food – where to get it, what to send, how much to bring, etc. Aside from the essential gear and food components, some prep is physical but much is mental – consider what you’re getting into. Also be prepared for awesomeness. The LT is a little different than other trails (especially for me after hiking on the PCT).
Here’s what to expect:
The LT can take anywhere from 2 weeks (for the record setters or extreme hikers), to 3 weeks (for the average focused and time conscious hiker), to 4+ weeks (for the relaxed or slower paced hikers).
June-July is a common time to hike the LT, but it can be rainy, muddy, and buggy. For those reasons it’s gaining popularity as a later summer to early fall hike – think July-August-September.
If you have hiked the Appalachian Trail or lived out East you probably know what to expect: humid and moist air, sweat, and persistently wet clothing. As a newby to east coast long distance hikes, I knew the trail would be humid. Sure, there would be sweat and it wouldn’t be high and dry like a western desert. If you hang things they will not dry – be prepared!
Wear an ultra fast drying shirt. Avoid wool – it will stay wet. It might sound crazy to the ultralight hiker, but bring an extra shirt.
Granted, not every year is incredibly rainy… but it can be. Last summer was rainy. It was one of the wettest June on record in VT. Be prepared. Bring a rain jacket or poncho and rain pants. A trail umbrella can help you avert downpours, but mostly you will find it frustrating as bumps into trees, bushes, and your head – so ditch the umbrella.
If the rain just ended…stay in your rain gear! Some trails are overgrown and you will get soaked if you’re not donned with waterproof goods. If you get drenched, you can become hypothermic quickly, so do your best to stay dry. Know where the next shelter is so you can hunker down.
Inevitably – you’re going to get wet. Accept it. Make sure you have warm clothing to bundle up once you reach the safety of a dry shelter. Bring extra socks. Consider hiking or hitching to town to dry your clothes.
The ol’ Vermud… Mud in the state of Vermont is a special thing. Sticky, pervasive, gloppy, brown. Andrea and I took to calling the Long Trail the “Long Swamp” as it more aptly resembled a swamp than a trail in many places.
How to prepare? Mentally accept the mud. You can’t change it. Physically prepare: work on your core strength and bring trekking poles. This will help you navigate the swamps better.
The right shoes: waterproof or non-waterproof? That is a tricky question…waterproof will keep your feet dry for a certain amount of time, but almost always they will inevitably get wet. And then they wont drain and your feet will be stuck in puddles. Non-waterproof will drain better but your feet will immediately get wet. And if it’s cold you will be really uncomfortable.
On our hike, I swore by waterproof Merrill Capra low hiking shoes (after switching from my non-waterproof Brooks Cascadias with gaping holes – great for California desert but miserable in Vermud). The Merrills kept my feet dry, warm, and as an added bonus they have sticky “mega grip” vibram outsoles which get excellent traction on wet rocks and roots! Andrea, my hiking partner stayed true to her non-waterproof Merrill All-Out-Charge trail runners. She said her feet stayed warm enough and the cushion underfoot protected well against jabby roots and rocks.
ROOTS AND ROCKS AND UNSTABLE FOOTING
Footing is unstable. Rocks faces are steep. Rocks underfoot are precarious. Roots are pervasive. Add rain and mud and everything gets slick and slippery. How to physically prepare: work on that core strength for stability, use trekking poles, and wear proper footwear. For shoes: go for sticky rubber and underfoot cushion to provide maximum traction and protection against underfoot hazards. For a few shoe ideas, see the footwear review just above under “Vermud”.
The beaver dams are everywhere. It is a really amazing sight to see. Some are small and simple, others are elaborate and tiered water systems. Occasionally you will see a beaver. If it slaps its tail on the water, it means get away!
You can sleep in shelters along the way! It can be very cush. Especially if it’s raining constantly and you don’t have to set up or take down a tent every day in the rain. But be prepared for full shelters especially in the southern portion where the AT and LT overlap, and bring a tent or tarp. You might even find a shelter full of boyscouts and have to seek alternative sleep arrangements. Make friends in the shelters! And prepare for the inevitable mouse attack…
MICE, MICE, MICE
Keep those critters away from your food! In shelters, mice are everywhere. And they are habituated to people and their delicious calorie-dense trail food. There are even horror stories out there involving mice giving birth to babies inside hiker’s boots. Be extra diligent. They will find a way in.
Keep your food inaccessible – I find Loksak odorproof bags to be pretty good at deterring smells. They aren’t perfect or indestructible (I will use duct tape to hold my together after the inevitable failure) but they do deter smells and therefore keep away hungry critters. Consider an Ursack. But if you’re going to do anything, at the very least hang your food in a bag (it can be a stuff sack or grocery bag) from the contraptions in shelters which usually consist of a rope with a can lid and horizontal stick.
FOOD & BEER
If you’re going to be in Vermont, take advantage of the amazing food they have to offer! Pack along a block of Cabot cheese. Carry UnTapped maple syrup packets. Can’t find the packets? carry a small jug of maple syrup! So many amazing breweries are in Vermont – carry along a beer or two (some of my favorites: Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, Heady Topper, Focal Banger, Oscar Blues…).
QUAINT, ADORABLE VERMONT
I have to admit it – I’m a sucker for Vermont. It’s quaint, cozy, and adorable. Every town has character, chain stores are despised, community still exists, and people are nice. Hitchhiking is easy.
A quick and incomplete town rundown:
Manchester Center: The Palmer House Resort Motel has a good hiker rate! Their air conditioning is lovely. There is a laundromat in town and a beer/liquor store nearby. “Up For Breakfast” has delicious hiker breakfast foods and their coffee will keep you going into the next day…
Killington: The Long Trail Inn is a good place to stay and is right on the trail. Food is decent but if you can hitch your way to the Long Trail Brewery definitely do it – amazing food and beer.
Hancock: The Gathering Inn is the coziest Inn/B&B with fresh eggs and nice people. Bring cash if you want to eat at the one restaurant in town.
Waitsfield/Waterbury/Warren: Do laundry, eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and get more amazing food and beer at the Prohibition Pig. Stock up on beer right around the corner from the Prohibition Pig! Stay at the Hostel Tevere in Warren – very nice people, very nice place to stay. Walk into town, you must stop at the Warren General Store for breakfast and/or lunch and if you have time go to the Warren Co-op too. If you can time it right – be in Warren for July 4th! I didn’t see it, but it’s allegedly the best place to be on Independence Day.
Stowe: A little more touristy but still a great place to stop. The people in the laundromat will be the only rude Vermonters (until they realize you’re a hiker and not homeless). Refuel on burgers and beer (they have Heady Topper!) at the Blue Donkey.
Johnson: Stay at Nye’s B&B! They are sweet, nice, and love hikers. They will pick you up at the trail head, put dryer sheets in your stinky shoes, do your laundry, take you to town for dinner, and drop you back off at the trailhead. Very cush.
Journey’s End: Ok, there’s nothing here! But after your hike, drive back through VT and stop at the Kingdom Taproom in St. Johnsbury for good food and great Hill Farmstead beers.
Take a hike! And enjoy your hike on the Long Trail!
A few more references:
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