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How to Hike the 100 Mile Wilderness

Chairback Mountain, 100 Mile Wilderness

Chairback Mountain, 100 Mile Wilderness

The 100 mile Wilderness is a bucket list hike if there ever was one. The route is arduous but extremely beautiful, running over mountain ranges and past beautiful Maine lakes along the northern most section of the Appalachian Trail. However, it’s quite a remote and unforgiving hike if you haven’t trained and prepared for it in advance.

Here are some tips for hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness that will help you complete all 100 miles in one trip and that I learned the hard way. While useful for thru-hikers, this post is really intended to prepare section hikers or backpackers, who only get to hike a few weeks a year,  for a successful and complete journey.

When To Go

The best time to hike the Wilderness is late June thru July. Early June is black fly season and not fun. In August, the trail is crowded with other hikers and kids from summer camps. The shelters are packed and campsites are hard to find near shelter areas. September and early October are good, but the trail can also be crowded with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers racing through to finish their hikes on Mt Katahdin in Baxter State Park. Factor that in if you plan on sleeping in the shelters. The rest of the year is too cold or wet.

If you plan to continue north and climb Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, you need to do so before October 15th. After that, the park is only open from sundown to sunset and the peak is often closed because snow and ice make it too dangerous to climb.

Some of the mountains are strenuous climbs

Some of the mountains are strenuous climbs

Physical Training

If you can’t hike 10 miles or more per day, up and down 3500 foot mountains with a fully loaded backpack, you’re not gong to make to through the 100 mile wilderness in one go. Don’t try to train on the trail, it doesn’t work. There’s only one way to prepare for a 100 mile hike and that is to day hike every weekend and backpack on as many 2-3 day trips as possible earlier in the season.

When I hiked north along the AT from Monson (southern end of the Wilderness) this summer, I was dismayed by the number of backpackers who’d bailed within the first 1o miles of their hikes because they weren’t physically prepared. It was absolute carnage. I can’t imagine scheduling a 2 week vacation to hike the Wilderness, only to discover that you’re not physically fit to complete it on the first day.

Gym training is not going to cut it.  One hour workouts will not prepare you to carry a 30-40 pound pack for 8-12 hours a day up and down mountains. You need to carry a loaded pack when you train. It doesn’t matter if you go ultralight. You can’t skimp on food, which is where most of your pack weight will be at the start of your hike.

Bail Out Plan

Before you start your hike, make sure you have the phone number of someone who can pick you up at one of the logging roads that cross the trail if you decide to bail early. It happens far more frequently than you might expect. While it used to be hard to get cell phone access in the Wilderness, it’s much easier now. Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson is a reliable source of rides or shuttles if you need them, but there are others.

Get used to tree roots

Get used to walking over tree roots


The weather will be your biggest challenge in the Wilderness. Hot and humid weather, buckets of rain, or drought are all potential issues. If you’ve never been on a 8-10 day hike, the impact of bad weather can have a cascading effect long after you experience it. For example, wet boots can chew up your feet for days after they get wet. The same goes for a wet sleeping bag, inner tent, and so on.

The best hedge for bad weather is to build some padding into your schedule. If it rains for a few days in a row and you start thinking about bailing out because you’re miserable, take a zero day in a shelter and give yourself a chance to recover. Dry out, eat a lot, sleep, socialize and you may recover enough to continue the next day.

It will rain during your hike. Make sure you know how to hike in continuous rain. Practice it even.


The best maps for the Wilderness are published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and available for purchase from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (you need Maine maps 1,2 and 3). I think they’re worth carrying, but if you want something a bit lighter weight, tear out the pages of David Miller’s AT Guide that correspond with this section of trail. Don’t bring the whole book.

Although the 100 Mile Wilderness/Katahdin Map published by the Appalachian Mountain Club has excellent detail for Baxter State park, the detail for the trail is insufficient. Don’t rely on this map alone for your hike.

Section Hiking and Slackpacking

If hiking the entire 100 mile wilderness end-to-end is beyond you, section hiking a part of it or slackpacking are viable alternatives. You just need to find a shuttle service to drop you off and pick you up along the lumber roads that cross the trail.


There’s usually quite a lot of water along the trail except when there is a drought and you need to carry extra water with you. I recommend that you bring 5 liters of carrying capacity with you although you’ll probably only want to carry two liters at a time.

You do need to chemically treat or filter water from natural sources in the Wilderness. Make sure you know how to do this before you embark on your trip. I recommend bringing Aqua Mira drops or the Sawyer Squeeze water filter because they are effective and light weight.

Olive Oil has 240 Calories per ounce - Add it to dinner

Olive Oil has 240 Calories per ounce – Add it to dinner


Figure on 1.75 to 2 pounds of food per day and carry 1-2 days of food more than you need in case you are delayed. The food should be calorically dense and average 100 calories or more per ounce.

If you estimate that it will take more than 10 days for you to hike the 100 miles, I recommend you hike part of the trail and come back the following year to finish it or arrange for a shuttle driver to bring you a food drop. Food is heavy and if you have to carry more than 10 days worth, in addition to fuel, water and gear, it’s going to really slow you down.

I recommend hanging a bear bag during your hike, even if you stay in a shelter. There are lots of bears in Maine and hanging a bear bag is necessary to protect them for becoming interested in human food. If this happens and they become “problem bears” they will be hunted down and exterminated. The mice in Maine shelters are also ferocious and hanging food in a shelter rarely deters them from eating your food even if you hang your bag under a can. Hang it in a tree. If you don’t know how to, learn before you get to the Wilderness.

Whitehouse Landing

There is a hiker hostel in the Wilderness called Whitehouse Landing. It’s expensive but you can get a roof over your head, food, and drink – about two-thirds of the way north. Some people have a good time there and some people have issues with the management. I’ve steered clear of the place. Your mileage may vary.

Bad blisters can take you off the trail

Bad blisters can take you off the trail


Your shoes are going to get soaking wet in the Wilderness. I guarantee it regardless of how careful you are. If you wear leather boots, you will regret it because your boots will never dry and it will feel like you are wearing cinderblocks when you hike. The same goes for Gore-tex lined footwear which has a hard time drying out when water comes in over the top.  Instead, wear a shoe or mid that drains well and will dry at night.

Don’t wear tight-fitting shoes. Your feet will start to swell after a few days of hiking especially if it’s hot and you may get very bad blisters. Make sure your toes have a lot of room to expand into when they swell up.

I also recommend that you wash your feet every night before bed and wear a dry pair of socks to sleep. This will help your feet recover at night.


There are lots of bugs in Maine. I recommend wearing long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a hat when you hike. If you don’t, bring lots a DEET. You’ll need it.

Backpacking Gear

Bring the lightest weight gear you can afford and make sure you break it in well before bringing it on your hike. You don’t want to discover that your backpack doesn’t fit you at the trailhead, that your water filter doesn’t work, or that can’t pitch your tent in the dark.  Seriously, practice before you arrive in the Wilderness. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you not going to have a fun time.

Any Questions?

There are many more things I could say about getting ready to hike the 100 mile Wilderness, but those are some basic things you need to know. Preparation really is everything and I don’t mean amassing a lot of gear. You need to get out and backpack before you arrive at the beginning of the Wilderness and try to hike to the other side. It’s just not the kind of place where you can learn on the job. Practice and train for this hike and you’ll have a fun and successful journey.

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19 Responses to How to Hike the 100 Mile Wilderness

  1. Robin September 21, 2012 at 5:55 am #

    Excellent article with applications for other arduous hikes.

    • Randy Chase December 29, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      Bugs? Yes big time. The worst one are the no seems. Damn things will great you up early woundering why your skin is burning. Then fly in your eye at noon.

  2. esmphoto September 21, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    I enjoyed this article, and I think it will help me too. I don’t know when I’ll make it to Maine, as you point out, not knowing what you’re doing makes for a not-so-fun time, so I may want to wait it out allitle. Your advice will definitely help elsewhere though.

  3. Liz September 21, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Thanks, Philip! Great post with lots of pertinent information. I hope I’ll get to hike the HMW someday soon.

  4. Tim September 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I’d be interested in seeing your gear list for this trip, especially for the cold wet almost shoulder season. Even more I’d love to see a breakdown of the food you brought along. Those always seem like most difficult things to decide on.

  5. Dennis Blanchard September 22, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    Good advice in this piece. Recall, if you read Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods, this is where he and Katz bailed out for good. The wilderness is spectacular but is a challenge. It rained the entire time I walked it. Water was often over my ankles, and cold! River crossings were extremely cold (in late September.) I loved it!

    When I did my thru-hike, a fellow hiker, trail name, “New York Minute,” filmed our traverse of the 100 mile wilderness. I lost track of him in Pennsylvania. Due to our leapfrogging each other, he waited for me to catch up, which I did around Pierce Pond Shelter, in the wilderness. We crossed the Kennebec River the next day.


  6. Wystiria September 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Just finished VT, 24 miles left in NY and the. Sherpa and I are starting ME! Hoping to finish every thing up to th e wilderness in 2013 and then the wilderness and Katahdin in 14 (it’s our 10 year anniversary)

  7. PedXing February 13, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    Great article and in principle I totally agree about preparation and I strongly advise it also. For longer backpacks, I also advise people not to wait for a nice weekend to go backpacking in preparation, but it go out on a rainy crappy weekend as well.

    However, once upon a time (1999) when I had very little backpacking experience and not much more hiking experience and no preparation that summer, my 12 year old son and I set out on the 100 mile wilderness and had an absolute blast – learning on the job. We made tons of mistakes. I was vastly over-packed (I kept thinking, what if my son needs or wants this?), but after a couple days of getting our butts kicked it was sheer joy. It’s where I fell in love with longer backpacks.

  8. bdanzi March 25, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

    Can can you give some details about the rock climbing and river crossings so we can know what to prepare for?

    • Philip Werner March 25, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

      Why don’t you read my trip reports under the Appalachian Trail tab of my web site.

  9. Pen Godber March 25, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    Inspiring article -thanks. I do a fair amount of wet weather backpacking as I live in Wales, UK. I massage my feet with almond oil, baby oil or even olive oil every morning. I take care to go between the toes and work the oil in at pressure points. Then two pairs socks, one thin, one loop knit. I have never yet had blisters.

  10. Gordon Ripley March 26, 2015 at 6:37 am #

    I believe that the place noted as “Whitehouse Landing” has closed down. Not too long ago I was considering going there by road to do some Loon Photography and learned that it was no longer operating. I confess to staying there on my 100 mile trip and really enjoyed the break from freeze dried food. They had Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, huge cheese burgers etc. The cabin for hikers was 20 feet from the lake and loons would just drift by as I watched from inside through the big picture window. I felt at the time that it added to the adventure of the hike. Everyone to their own I say.

  11. Art Brigades March 30, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

    Great post. If you go early in the year your water crossings (I think there are only 4 or 5 in the HMW) will be more hairy, of course. Late in the year water can be low, but for 48 hours of rain! Also, when you come out of the woods at Abol Bridge (on the Golden Road) you are not out of the woods! You still have a full day to the summit of Katahdin (not Mount Katahdin, btw). The maintainers in this section have a harder time getting in there, so lots of decrepit bog bridges, washouts, roots, etc. If you get the chance to stay at Antlers on Jo Mary Lake it is a stunning point of land where you’ll get sunset and sunrise.

  12. Lithandriel May 22, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

    Thank you for writing this! Just had a quick clarification question regarding the mapset. Were maps 1 – 3, published by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club enough detail? Or are there others one should have in addition?

  13. Philip Werner May 22, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Those are the ones you want. The map published by the AMC is junk.

  14. Timothy Dannenhoffer June 29, 2015 at 6:24 am #

    I am going on 48 and LOVE backpacking in wilderness. But through the years I haven’t personally known too many other backpackers – and so I haven’t gone often enough – and so I have gotten out of shape. I have to find a way to get back into it – my spirit NEEDS to be “recharged” in wilderness every so often. I love it so much I get depressed when it’s been too long since the last trip.

  15. Charles February 24, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

    What is the best way ti get from wi to main. Where is the best place to start the 100 mile going north and do you have a contact number of someone that can transport me to the start and bring me back at the end. Thanks. Underdog

    • Philip Werner February 24, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

      Buy David Miller’s AT Guide. It has all of the options available.

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