So you’re thinking of hiking the Long Trail in VT. Congrats! Planning is the first step in making this 273 (depending on the year) mile dream of yours come true.
I’ve lived in Vermont, right off the Long Trail since 2014 and have been supporting hikers with rides and trail magic ever since. Because COVID-19 canceled all my summer trips I decided to hike the LT instead and on August 26, 2020 I became a Long Trail End-to-Ender. All the tips for hiking the Long Trail VT in this post are from real life experience. I hope they help you reach your goal.
Tips for Hiking the Long Trail VT
Get the Long Trail Guide Book
The Guide Book is great for planning and I cut mine into sections to bring on the trail with me so I didn’t have to carry the whole thing and add extra weight to my bag.
Get the right Apps
There are a few apps that I had on my phone and I know a bunch of other people hiknig the Long Trail (and other long distance hikes) do as well.
Download these apps before you get out on the trail:
- GutHook: While I personally didn’t use this app, so many hikers do and the LOVE IT! You can download the Long Trail map to your phone, track where you are, and even read reviews and messages from other hikers.
- AccuWeather: I love AccuWeather’s radar and used it a ton on the trail as we ended up getting a lot of rain. It helped us plan our days and we did our best to avoid some big storms with help from this app.
- DayOne: This journaling app is great for helping you keep track of your day to day activities on the trail. After awhile the days start to bleed together and if you’re planning on submitting a journal to become an official End-to-Ender with the GMC this will help you stay organized.
Bring a Long Trail Map
If you plan on using GutHook make sure you have a Long Trail waterproof map just in case. You never know what might happen to your phone if you get caught in a down pour. Maybe it gets dropped on some rocks and the screen cracks.
Carrying the map ensures that you have an idea of where you are and can help plan in case of a phone disaster.
Look for the white blazes
The entirety of the Long Trail is marked with white blazes. In the Summer and Fall these are easy to spot – most of the time. They are mostly on trees, but I’ve seen them on posts, signs, rocks on the ground, and I even saw one on a bulletin board. If you ever think you’ve made a wrong turn just look for the blazes.
Keep in mind that the white blazes also mark the Appalachian Trail (AT), when you get to Maine Junction where the AT breaks off heading to New Hampshire look for the signs to ensure you’re headed north, continueing to hike on the Long Trail.
Hike the Long Trail NOBO
If this is your first time section or thru hiking the Long Trail go NOBO. NOBO stands for north bound.
Hiking the Long Trail NOBO is easier and for first timers safer. The southern section of the Long Trail is not as challenging as the central and northern sections. This will allow you to build up your strength and get your “hiking legs” under you before tackling the more difficult sections.
Many first time hikers that attempt the Long Trail SOBO (south bound) end up injuring themselves or quitting because they underestimated the difficulty of the trail.
I’ll be honest, at times the Long Trail chewed me up and spit me out. I came home with dozens and dozens of bruises and bumps all over my body.
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Pack as Light for your Long Trail Hike
Packing light is a challenge when traveling. Now take everything you need and you need to carry it on your back everyday all day while you’re hiking.
You want to everything you need on the trail, but nothing extra.
My best advice it to gather everything together you think you need and lay it all out. From there be really critical about every single thing you picked. Do you have a similar item that weighs less? Are you really going to use every item?
I even got my partner to give my gear a second look and he asked a lot of great questions. Because of that I was able to eliminate 3 items, which might not seem like much but ever once counts.
Only bring food you know you’re going to eat
Doing a thru-hike isn’t the time to change your diet or try tons of new hiking food because you don’t really know if you’re going to eat it. Bring food you know you love and will eat when hiking the Long Trail
This is a mistake I’ve made over and over again while hiking, and finally got it together for the LT and it was a gamer changer.
I know I’ll eat Cheez-its, crushed or not, so I always bring a box. I hate oatmeal, and while it’s a great breakfast at the beginning of the hike I just wasn’t eating so I ditched it early on and was glad I did. Chocolate makes everything better for me, so it goes in my pack. Get it?
Keep your food as simple as possible
Hiking the Long Trail isn’t a cooking game show, no one cares how good of a backcountry chef you are. After a 15 mile day over tough terrain, you’ll just want to boil some water and be done with it.
Think dehydrated meals and other just add water food. My personal favorite is instant mashed potatoes with pepperoni.
Bring a good quality water filter when Hiking the Long Trail
Luckily, most of the time water is easy to find on the Long Trail, but that doesn’t mean you should just drink the water right out of the springs, rivers, or streams. We have a large beaver population in Vermont and you don’t need to leave the trail with giardia as a souvenir.
I recommend bringing the Sawyer Squeeze Filtration System. It’s lightweight, can be put into a water bladder line with the right equipment and if the bags break it be used with any small mouth water bottle.
Take care of your feet on the Long Trail
Your feet will be doing a lot of work on the trail, so make sure to take of them.
When you do get a blister make sure you keep it dry and DON’T pop it! If for some reason skin comes off while hiking clean the spot thoroughly and keep it covered so it doesn’t get infected.
Having wet feet means you could develop trench foot, and it can happen fast.
Make sure to keep your feet dry as much as possible. Stopping to dry your feet every few hours if your shoes are wet can help, as well as changing your socks regularly.
You don’t need a new pair of underwear every day
Remember earlier when I was talking about packing as light as possible? This is one of those ways because carrying enough underwear to change them every day it a waste of weight and space.
I bring 2 pairs of underwear, yes only 2. My favorite brand is Exofficio because they’re lightweight and quick drying. This way I can wear one for 2 days and the other can be washed and dried. Click the photos below to get yourself a pair on Amazon.
Avoid black fly season when Hiking the Long Trail
Black fly season usually happens in June and is done by the end of June or early July. Avoid planning your hike at this time unless you plan on wearing a bug net over your head for an entire month.
You never know who you’ll be sharing a shelter with. While hiking the Long Trail I sometimes had shelters all to myself and other times I shared the space a people who snored extremely loud.
When sharing pubic spaces for sleeping it’s always best to bring a soft pair of earplugs with you.
At one shelter I found the below note and earplugs in a bag. While it made me chuckle, it’s not OK to ask someone to leave a shelter because of their snoring, just bring some earplugs.
Don’t feed the chipmunks (or any other animals)
I wish I didn’t need to include this, but since I saw people on the trail feed chipmunk I’m writing it down.
The more people feed chipmunks or any other animal the more they become accustomed to humans. The chipmunks along the Long Trail have some serious guts and will come right up to you, especially the ones that hang out at shelters.
Especially for larger animals, this could cause them to rely on humans for food and cause them to be euthanized.
DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS!
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Stretch at the beginning and end of each day
With all the hiking you’ll be doing stretching before you start and when you’re done at the end of the day will keep you from getting stiff.
I’m a big fan of doing just a little bit of yoga on the trail. Here are a few yoga poses for hikers that will keep your body feeling great.
Be Bear Aware on the Long Trail
Seeing bears and moose on the Long Trail can be a highlight for hikers. However, as hikers we should do our best to limit our animal interactions for the safety of not just us, but the animals too.
Over the past 5 years human bear interacts have increased along the Long Trail and several bears have had to been euthanized. To prevent more bears from coming to harm make sure to:
- Always secure your food away from your tent or shelter (I’ll talk about this more later)
- NEVER feed a bear
- Make noise while hiking by talking to your hiking partner, clapping every so often, or wearing a bear bell.
- Don’t approach bears
- Don’t step between a mother and cub
If you do see a bear make yourself look big by raising your hands and hiking poles above your head. Then yell and make loud noises to scare it away. I usually yell, “Go away bear, people are scary!” you know as if the bear actually understands what I’m saying.
For more information about bears and what to do refer to this short post from the Green Mountain Club.
Bring extra socks
Like I talked about earlier your feet will get wet, and that includes your socks. Wet socks are the worst, even if they’re wet because of your feet sweating.
I’d recommend bringing 3 to 4 pairs of socks with you while hiking the Long Trail. this way you’ll always have a dry pair of socks to put on.
If you get to the point you only have 1 pair of dry socks save them for the end of the day, and do not wear them hiking. You’ll want to dry pair to put on after your feet have been wet all day.
Don’t hike the Long Trail during Mud Season
Mud Season occurs in Vermont in April and May (sometimes into June) each year. It’s the time of year when most of the snow has melted at lower elevations and the trails are super muddy and gross.
Every year the Green Mountain Club asked hikers to avoid hiking trails during these months because lots of hiking through very muddy areas makes for more trail maintenance.
There’s more to the Mud Season story of why you shouldn’t go on the Long Trail, but this cartoon by Emily Benning says the rest.
ALWAYS secure your food when hiking the Long Trail
After a long day of hiking it’s really easy to hang your food up in the shelter on one of the many tin cans hanging from the ceiling. Those are NOT, I repeat are NOT for food. They are for hanging your backpack so mice don’t get in them.
Hikers that don’t properly hang their food are my biggest pet peeve while on the trail. It isn’t about your safety along the Long Trail, it’s about the safety of the bears.
At Kid Gore shelter a few years back a bear had to be euthanized because people weren’t hanging their food properly and he kept showing up. One day a hiker threw food they didn’t want to carry anymore in the pivy and the bear got stuck inside.
Secure your food with a bear hang and encourage other hikers to do the same. The video below is great to help you learn how to do a few different bear hangs.
And if you’re a beginner I recommend getting this little bear hang kit.
Join some Long Trail Facebook groups
If you’re on Facebook I highly recommend joining some of the many Long Trail groups.
I was able to ask questions and gain lots of information about hiking the trail before I even started walking.
I recommend this 3 groups:
Always carry a portable shelter just in case
You don’t know how difficult a section is going to be until you get there. Along the Long Trail a short 5 mile section can be extremely challenging because of terrain.
Pair difficult terrain with some bad weather and you’re in trouble. Which, while carrying a tent adds weight to your pack, I recommend always carrying one.
You never know how you’re going to feel day to day either. If you have a tent you can stealth camp (set up a tent off trail) wherever you need to.
Bring your rain gear
I got rained on a LOT and my rain jacket kept me warm and dry the entire time!
Practice Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace helps people enjoy the outdoors responsibly by following 7 simple principles.
All hikers should practice these 7 principles to ensure we keep the Long Trail in as good of a shape as possible.
Rides to and from the Long Trail
If you have friends and family to help you with rides for getting to and from the trail that’s great!
However, if you’re on your own you can contact the Green Mountain Club. They have a full list of Trail Angels that help hikers with rides each year.
Some people ask a small fee for rides while others are free.
Plan your route for Hiking the Long Trail
Before you leave to hike I recommend making a rough plan. This is so people at home know approximately where you’ll be each day and you’ll know how many times you’ll need to resupply along the trail.
It will also help in planning that savior of a person who is going to drive all the way up to Journey’s End to pick you up.
But don’t be afraid to change things up
Plans change when hiking, and that’s OK. The weather sucks, you really need a shower, you twisted your ankle and need to rest, or you just don’t want to hike; however you’re feeling it’s ok. Take that zero day, just hike to the next shelter 4 miles away. This it your trip, do it how you want!
There will be mice in shelters
While you won’t see them when you arrive they’re there. But once the sun goes down and everyone in the shelter goes to sleep they come out.
If the idea of hearing mice scurry around the shelter all night freaks you out, bring your tent.
The Long Trail is Difficult
I purposely put this at the end because I didn’t want to scare you, but hiking the Long Trail is hard.
I’ve been told by people who have hiked the Appalachian Trail that the Long Trail is a humbling experience. The further north you go the more challenging the terrain, the fewer shelters and easily accessible road crossings you’ll find.
The long and short of it, the Long Trail kicked my ass. It was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Don’t underestimate this trail.
You will be uncomfortable when Hiking the Long Trail
If you’re trying to get out of your comfort zone you picked the right adventure.
At first being uncomfortable will suck, but after a while being uncomfortable will become the new normal. Just keep reminding yourself that you’ve got this!
The entire experience hiking the Long Trail will be unforgettable
Hiking the Long Trail has been one of the best experiences of my life. Not only has this been on my 40 before 40 list for years, but it also changed me as a person.
My body made this possible. I carried everything I needed and once I was on the trail I made this adventure happen.
When you reach Journey’s End you’ll have the same indescribable feeling.