The Long Trail Survey: Favorite Towns, Restaurants, Shelters, Gear, and More
A few weeks ago, The Trek’s founder, Zach Davis, completed the Long Trail, which runs 272 miles through Vermont from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border. Zach also conducted a survey on the Long Trail with 72 people who had completed the trail, either by a section or thru-hike. In this post, I’ll describe the survey findings on thru-hikes versus sections, direction of the hike (northbound, etc.), start dates, resupply rates, and favorite towns, accommodations, restaurants, and shelters on or near the LT.
For some background, the southern half of the Long Trail is also the Appalachian Trail. I’ve heard anecdotally that the Long Trail (the LT) got its name years before the Appalachian Trail (AT) existed, which is why it’s called the long one even though it is much shorter than its neighboring trail.
THRU HIKES VS. SECTIONS
Most of the hikers in our survey (86%) had completed a thru-hike of the Long Trail, meaning that they walked the whole way in a single trip, even if they did sections out of order. Fourteen percent of survey respondents had completed the Long Trail by section hiking, meaning they took more than one trip but they have completed the whole distance. Four percent of the thru and section hikers had actually done both. Another four percent of survey responders were still in progress. This means that nearly everyone who participated in the survey had walked every mile of the Long Trail.
Hardly any hikers said they were NOT satisfied with the direction they hiked. So, to get a sense of the direction they preferred, I am just reporting the direction they walked. Two-thirds (66%) of hikers walked northbound and a little less than one-third (29%) walked southbound. About five percent of hikers had done more than one section in a different direction, either flip-flopping on one trip, or taking more than one trip to complete the trail.
Nearly all hikers began their trip in July, August, or September. Only one hiker started in the winter. All but six hikers said they were satisfied with their start date.
Of the six who were not satisfied, four specified it was because they missed out on fall foliage. Additionally, one of the most common pieces of advice hikers gave was recommending a later start date, specifically in the fall, in order to avoid the mud and bugs and/or to view the fall foliage (see “Advice” below). One person set out on August 4 who did not like intersecting the AT thru-hiker bubble. Another started on August 24 and felt isolated and lonely.
In my personal experience, a winter hike on the Long Trail is much more challenging than a summer hike. A few years ago, I attempted the northern section in late November with a friend who was also a former AT thru-hiker. We had to get off the trail earlier than we planned because of a snowstorm that we did not have the equipment or energy to deal with. The views were breathtaking, but it was challenging enough that we plan to finish the rest of the Long Trail in the fall or summer instead.
Several hikers had done more than one section. For the purpose of computing resupply intervals, I used the shortest duration of a trip they reported. On average, hikers took trips of 21 days at a time.¹ Fifty percent of hikers took between 17 and 23 days. The shortest trip reported was seven days and the longest was 165.
Rather than describing how many times hikers resupplied, I figured it would be more helpful if I calculated how many days, on average, they went between resupply (which I computed based on their total trip length and the number of times they resupplied). On average, hikers resupplied every five to six days (every 5.8 days, to be specific). Fifty percent of hikers had a resupply interval between four and seven days. The shortest typical resupply interval a hiker reported was after two days and the longest was after 23 days.
¹Median was used for the average (i.e. median = 21). Mean = 23.
We asked hikers what gear they used, specifically their Big Three (sleeping bag / pack / shelter). Here are those results:
Sleeping Bags and Quilts
- Enlightened Equipment (20)
- Hammock Gear (6)
- TIE: Big Agnes and Mountain Hardware (5 each)
- Enlightened Equipment Revelation (10)
- Enlightened Equipment Enigma (8)
- Western Mountaineering Caribou (2)
The most common temperature ratings were:
- 20 degree (31)
- 30 degree (12)
- 40 degree (10)
Likely obvious, but the timing of the hike largely dictated the warmth of the bag / quilt used and the satisfaction of this rating. Most respondents were happy with their bag / quilt of choice; six respondents wish they had brought a warmer bag, two found that their systems were too warm.
- Big Agnes (22)
- No tent (7)
- TIE: ZPacks and REI (6 each)
- Nemo (5)
Worth noting—we do not recommend hiking the Long Trail without carrying a shelter. Zach mentioned there was more than one time he arrived to a shelter that was full or near capacity. This was during September, which is considered a less crowded time of the year.
- Osprey (22)
- TIE: Gossamer Gear and ULA (9 each)
- Zpacks (7)
- Osprey Aether / Osprey Ariel (8)
- Osprey Exos / Osprey Eja (6)
- TIE: Osprey Atmos and ULA Circuit (5 each)
The most common carrying capacities were:
- 55 Liters (14)
- 65 Liters (11)
- 60 Liters (10)
We asked hikers about their favorite towns, accommodations, restaurants, and shelters on (or near) the Long Trail. The “other” category for each of these includes any location that was only mentioned by one hiker.
- Manchester Center (combining Manchester and Manchester Center)
- The Inn at Long Trail
- The Yellow Deli
- Green Mountain House Hostel
- McGrath’s Irish Pub at the Inn at Long Trail
- Mad Taco
- The Yellow Deli
- Puffer Shelter
- Skylight Lodge
- Butler Lodge
Lastly, we asked hikers what advice they would give to someone who wanted to hike the Long Trail. I categorized their responses into some main themes. The following are themes that came up in more than one hiker’s advice. Since they said it better than I can; I’m including quotes instead of describing the themes.
Take your time was the most common advice, provided by 13 hikers. Some of the things they said were:
“Go slower than you need to! The magic of the trail (and Cermont) is in the quiet moments of solitude, the interactions and conversations with people, and the freedom to hike however you want.”
“It’s not a race.”
“Go slow. Cause I miss it so much! Who cares if you finish hella fast?!?”
“Take your time, Vermont is gorgeous and it’s worth stopping at all the beautiful views.”
Hike in the fall (eight hikers’ advice). Some specifically recommended September (three), some said to avoid the summer mud (seven). The words “fall foliage” were mentioned so much that “fall foliage” is stuck in my head now.
The northern section was brought up by seven hikers. I assume they mean the section once the Long Trail breaks off from the Appalachian Trail. These hikers alluded to both the northern section being more difficult and more enjoyable than the southern section.
Pack light was the best way I could describe the advice from six hikers, who either recommended carrying less gear or bringing less food and resupplying more often. One specifically mentioned that the northernmost 50 miles of the trail are the most difficult and recommended shedding gear and carrying only food for those 50 miles when hiking them.
Three hikers recommended flexibility in planning. For example, one hiker said,
“Don’t fret too much about weight and daily miles – just keep putting one foot before the other and it will all work out.”
Regarding the recommended direction to hike, three hikers said to go northbound and three said to go southbound. Two hikers recommended the Guthook app.
Congratulations to the 72 hikers who took the survey! I am so grateful to you all, and I’m grateful to Zach for setting up the survey and recruiting them. Personally, I’ve hiked the AT section and then about the next 40 miles north of that. I’m hoping to complete the rest of the LT in the next few years, so it was helpful to get a close look at these survey responses. I had considered finishing the LT in May or June some time, but now I will try to finish it in September instead!
MORE LONG TRAIL RESOURCES
MORE ABOUT ZACH’S LONG TRAIL HIKE
A day-by-day recap on Zach’s Instagram. Post coming on The Trek soon!
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