When I started my end-to-end hike of the Long Trail, I planned to avoid sleeping in shelters. This is an attitude shared by a lot of other backpackers, especially those who hike the Appalachian Trail, where shelters are often infested by mice and crowded with other smelly, loud, and snoring backpackers.
However, as I hiked north on the Long Trail my attitude toward shelters changed and I started to sleep in them whenever I could. Looking back, my change in attitude was influenced by three factors: rain, pack weight reduction and the fact that the Long Trail and its shelters have far fewer backpackers using them than on the Appalachian Trail.
In the 22 days of hiking I did on on my end-to-end of the LT, it rained over 50% of the time. After hiking 8+ hours in the rain, there is nothing as welcoming as arriving at a dry cabin or lean-to. Once you get under cover, there is little incentive to go back outside and set up a tent, hammock, or tarp in the pouring rain. I can clearly remember arriving at Rolston’s Rest, Sunrise Shelter, Eliza Brook lean-to, Tillotson cabin, Corliss cabin, and MontClair cabin on Camel’s Hump in torrential rain and being incredibly relieved to have a dry place to spend the night.
Sleeping in shelters also enabled me to significantly reduce my pack weight. Instead of carrying a 32 oz. single walled tent, I could get by carrying a 9 oz. tarp in case a shelter was full or unavailable when I decided to stop for the night. However, I never came across a shelter on the Long Trail that was close to full, even on summer weekends. Plus, some careful planning of my sections ensured that my days would end near a shelter. There was only one shelter, Jay Camp, that I planned on staying at but couldn’t, because it was boarded up for maintenance, and I had to sleep under my tarp, instead.
Finally, the fact that there is far less hiker traffic on the Long Trail than the Appalachian Trail makes a huge difference in the attractiveness of its trail shelters. Fewer backpackers means fewer mice and I never even saw a mouse in any of the cabins or lean-tos I stayed in. It also became increasingly rare for me to have to share a shelter for a night, the farther north I hiked, especially after the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail split and go their separate routes.
This physical isolation may have further motivated me to stay at Long Trail shelters, simply to create a psychological respite from the vastness of northern Vermont near the Canadian Border. The emptiness of the north country can become overwhelming, especially when you don’t see anyone else on the trail for a day or two.