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Sleeping in Shelters on the Long Trail

Boyce Shelter, The Long Trail
Boyce Shelter, The Long Trail

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.

Journey's End Shelter, The Long Trail
Journey’s End Shelter, The Long Trail

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.

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  1. This is a good comparison of shelters on the LT vs the AT. I agree that there is less traffic on the LT, and that may explain why the Long Trail shelters are in better condition.

  2. When you did you do the hke (May? June? July?). How were the bugs in the evening? Without a tent, didn’t you get eaten alive by mosquitos?

    Thank you.

  3. Agreed 100 percent! The Green Mountain Club also does an amazing job at maintaining and renovating their shelters, which helps keep them less decrepit than some others. The newly rebuilt shelters, or the ones that were renovated in the past ten or fifteen years, all seem so sturdy and clean.

    The crowds at some AT shelters are really the only major negative. But even on the AT, it depends on your timing. This spring and summer I’ve had many nights alone at what would normally be popular shelters on the AT. If you pay attention to when the hiker bubble is, and avoid the most popular shelters on weekends, you can almost always avoid shelter crowds.

    • yup-they are really pleasant. Some even have windows!

    • yep. what he said. We thru-hiked the AT in Mar-June ’07 and I spent just 6 nites in a tarptent. Being ahead of most the crowd was key. By contrast many AT hikers I know spent virtually every nite in a tent due to full shelters. I’m sure avoiding the bubble is similar for the LT, albeit probably less critical.

      Also agree about how awesome a shelter feels on those rainy periods. No wet tarp to break down – especially if it’s still raining!

  4. Good to hear that the Long Trail shelters are OK. I have started planning for that trip, but because of a recent injury, had to delay my start till August 9/10 or there’bout.
    The GG Murmur, which worked so well on the NPT, will give way to the GG Miniposa. That pack has a couple stays and a better hip belt for the food load I will be carrying. This is about 24lbs of mostly high density foods for 21days out. Of course, I may stay an extra week or so. I can get by on 1.1pounds per day. My belly says I have plenty of reserve! My base pack will go down a bit with the acquisition of a new stove from Roger Caffin (Backpackinglight.com,) perhaps about 7.5 pounds with another pound and a half in fuel.
    Mice? I thought these were a staple food on the AT? Yes, I have heard that the Hanta Virus can be stirred up by sweeping. I am glad to hear they are not prevalent.
    Anyway, some strange looking shelters. I am used to the typical ADK Lean-to. Your pic’s do not show that.
    Thanks, Phillip! You run a good site.

    • Jim – once you get north of the point where the AT and the LT diverge, the LT shelters get really nice – almost like summer cottages. I think Corliss Camp was probably my favorite.

      Wow – an unsupported hike of the LT. That is a challenge, but I’m sure you will do fine. I think Gutook tried that last year.

  5. Great info Phil, this trail is at the top of my list and your Long Trail trip posts are a huge help. Does the rain calm down in the fall or is it always wet?

    • I’m interested in this as well. Looking at a thruhike starting in mid september. I usually hike in mesh trail runners, but am considering something more water resistant if it’s likely to be rainy and chilly.

      • Nate – I would strongly advise you to keep the mesh trail runners. I hiked the LT in leather boots and was miserable. It is just too wet. I never wear boots anymore except for bushwhacking and winter (and I hike a lot).

    • Not necessarily-you still need to worry about hurricanes. Of course any later than September, all the rain starts turning to snow. I spent the coldest night of my life (using 3 season kit) on the LT in October.

  6. I know the shelters of the LT only too well. There is a being that haunts the Spruce Peak shelter, not far from Manchester. It is known to many as Moby Mouse. He keeps hikers awake, even on the coldest winter nights. If exhaustion sets in, even for a moment, he seizes the opportunity to gnaw his way through anything between him and good quality chocolate. He never takes enough to reduce the weight of a pack; just enough to ruin the chocolate. Over the past ten years he has eluded my harpoon, traps and poison, but I am going to keep going back until I can one bring home his lifeless corpse and mount it for hanging over my bed. (I keep forgetting to tell my wife I plan to do that.)

  7. sleeps with nature

    To sleep in a shelter that is pre made? Is that what being in touch with ones elements is about? I don’t think so, but that is one’s opinion. Easy yes those shelters may be, and that is the way most take. Sleep 35 days in a bivy sack and you will appreciate life a bit more my friends.

    • You’ve obviously not backpacked the long trail. There’s too much rain to sleep in a bivy sack/under a tarp every night. Even the most hardened tarpers are driven underneath the shelter of a roof periodically, including me. HYOH. :-)

      • I spent about three years using a bivy as my primary shelter. About 2 years ago I started using shelters on the AT for a variety of reasons. I can honestly say I feel more connected with nature sleeping in a lean-to as opposed to a bivy. Bivy’s are so confined, and on a hot summer night then can be suffocating!
        Sleeping in the open air under a shelter is much more rewarding!

      • sleeps with nature

        Bivy, tarp, tent, tipi use them all. Sorry I go to nature to be alone or with my friends. Sharing with others I did not learn in pre-school. Yes I do HMOH, but I would underline the word OWN. Hearing life stories, what one does for a living, or how much they miss their wife has been done in before in “shelters”. It ain’t fun. Plus I can tell you just about every time in a shelter I have been asked. “Can I borrow X?”

        So don’t get hung up on the word bivy.

      • The social aspect of shelters is an entirely different animal! While I generally enjoy meeting like minded people on the trail, and I even enjoy the life stories, I have been chased from more then 1 shelter by “bad roommates.” The biggest colporate being boy scouts!

        My comment was more regaurding the connection to the elements in a lean-to vs a tent, bivy, or hammock. I enjoy sleeping in the open air and that’s what an AT lean-to provides. I also did a lot of cowboy camping out west which was exhilirating

      • um …

        1. humans are natural
        2. so are the wood structures they build

        3. the snythetic material in your bivy … uh … well, humans made it, so i guess it is natural in a sense.

        but, uh, you see the irony here.

  8. The appeal of a 4-wall shelter to me would be if there’s a bear resistant latch on the door. I just saw a Youtube video about a bear that visited a shelter on the Appalacian Trail several times in one night. I’m thinking of making hiking a hobby but I’d be a little scared to sleep. My shelter mates might not like my string of cans across the entrance that would warn me to grab my pepper spray.

  9. a black bear no more dangerous than a mouse,
    unless you get between her and the cubs.

  10. How are the shelters before the AT and LT diverge? More AT- or LT-esque?

  11. Sébastien Chagnon

    Loved Taft Lodge on Mt Mansfield. The caretaker kept to himself but was friendly and more than available for any questions. The only minor drawback was… yup, the mice. As soon as it’s lights out, they come out within minutes. I slept in the bottom right hand corner and they ran along the wall at my right and behind my head all night. They don’t really freak me out but the noise of them trying to get to my pack (I caught one actually on my pack which was hanging!) was annoying and made for an uneven night of sleep.

    Let me point out, though, that the place was clean and seemed well kept. We were seven people in there including the caretaker, and we had all cooked hot meals which probably drew them inside… that and the pouring rain outside coupled with 50 mph winds

  12. The only time I stayed at a shelter on the LT was at the Batelle Shelter in summer, and it filled up early, leaving about 5 people to sleep under a tarp in the rain. But the comments in general seem true. Most shelters that I have passed seemed pretty empty, and were generally clean.

  13. I share your appreciation of the LT shelters.

    Uncrowded shelters are great for moisture management when there is a good deal of rain. The last time I hiked the LT end to end (2013), it rained 16 of 17 days. The ability to open up my pack and air out my things for 10 hours at a stretch was huge. Had I not had the option of shelters, I would have gone off the trail a number of times just to dry and air my things.

    A 3 walled shelter offers far more in the way of openness to the elements than does a tent, or many bivy/tarp combinations. A well hung hammock and tarp or bivy and tarp can provide some of the same openness to the sights, sounds, smell and feel of the the elements that you get in a three walled shelter, but is physically much more constricting.

    There are some fantastic structures and some wonderful views. There are couple of other ski related structures can be great to stay in as well.

    The one place my experience differs from yous is that I have run into crowded and noisy shelters – even north of the AT.

  14. When would be the best weeks to go to avoid the rain?

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