Backpacking During the Pandemic? Is that a Good Idea?

Backpacking during the Pandemic

Many backpackers think that “the trail” is probably the best place to avoid the coronavirus pandemic and they’re heading for the hills. But how much of this is wishful thinking, when many of the local services in rural communities that hikers take for granted may disappear? I’m not trying to be alarmist, but realistic. These are all considerations that I’ve pondered myself.

While backpackers pride themselves on being self-sufficient, most of us don’t live off the land. We rely on a loosely coupled network of shuttle drivers, hostels, stores, restaurants, urgent care clinics, EMS, search and rescue, and post offices to keep us going or bail us out when things go bad. If that fragile ecosystem of services begins to crumble because the people staffing them take ill or they shut down to protect their loved ones, how will that affect your ability to bail out of a hike if things go wrong?

  • What if you become ill on the trail? Some of you may already be infected with the COVID-19 and not even know it. Where will you go to recuperate or be cared for if you require medical assistance? No offense to rural hospitals intended, but most are understaffed and ill-equipped to handle serious cases and transfer them instead to larger regional health centers. What if those regional health centers are overrun with people infected with COVID-19
  • What if you are injured and need search and rescue assistance? Who’s going to come to your aid if the members of local search and rescue are already busy with local residents or sick themselves?
  • What if shuttle drivers stop driving hikers between the trail and towns? I’m not sure how many hikers appreciate just how vital shuttle drivers are bailing out hikers who’ve been injured or need to resupply.
  • What if “the locals” stop picking up hitchhikers?
  • What if hostels and motels along the trail close?
  • What if the stores that you rely on for resupply run out of food and close?
  • What if rural post offices close or curtail their hours?
  • What if the trail angels you rely on stop supporting hikers?
  • What if your loved ones at home become ill and require you to return to care for them? How will you get home?

We don’t know how widespread COVID-19 in our communities, but if there’s one thing for certain, you have more control over your circumstances and who you interact with at your home or apartment than in an area “on the trail” where you don’t know anyone.

Hike your own hike, but I’d encourage you to think through your assumptions before heading for the hills.

Be safe. Stay healthy. Take care of your family and help your neighbors get through this difficult time.

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99 comments

  1. You forgot one other important point, unsanitary conditions on the trail. This is most pronounced on the long trails, at lean-tos and popular camping spots. I would not hike the surge this year, for sure. Trail days? forget it! So where can we hike? I’m lucky enough to live near a few trails (the IAT, NCT and SHT) and plan on local 3-4 day, out and back trips, until this thing blows over.

    • I’m carrying copper, not to mention a few wheat pennies in my water and attached to my pant fly. I’ll be alright.

      • Copper works well as an antibacterial. C19 is a virus. While copper may be more usefull in rejecting virusses than other metals, still the C19 virus remains stable for up to 4hours on a copper surface.

        Perhaps you’ll be alright, but what about others around you?

        I agree on all points Philip just made here. Resposibility is a shared value…

  2. Good advice for anyone planning a long section hike.

  3. Good points! I know for me, going into the woods is going to be an essential strategy for staying sane and healthy (mentally and physically) if we are in for a long-term period of social distancing. But I think I will stick to shorter, safer day hikes near my house for the reasons you’ve outlined.

    • I think that makes a lot of sense.

    • Day hikes and one- or two-night backpacking trips staying in one’s own tent or hammock. Out and back or loop hikes, back to one’s own vehicle. No need for resupply or shuttles in the above. There’s always the chance for injury or emergency, even on a day hike, and the need for assistance from others, but I’m willing to take that small risk.

      • Maybe even three nights, to spend an extra night of NOT worrying. And you don’t have to hike too far to have a wonderful time. Loop is a great idea.

  4. Christian Burris

    I see nothing wrong with solo outings or going with people in your house. As long as you go to familiar spots not too remote and distance with other backpackers in the site, I see no reason you can’t enjoy being outside. As far as a thru-hike, no way! I wouldn’t attempt it this year. Too many close encounters with people. Stay safe everyone!

    • For solo backpackers, or trips with one or two trusted friends, I could see three potential issues:

      1. Travel to and from the trailhead: if you have to stay at a motel, you may be OK (although I foresee them closing before long, too – if for no other reason than it will help shut down travel.) But what about that hostel or B&B, where you can’t be as sure of the sanitation practices, and where you’re potentially in closer contact with other guests (about whom you know, well, nothing regarding their travel or actions over the last couple of weeks)?

      2. Shelters: might pose no risk – except how do you know a scout troop didn’t camp there last night, after attending the District Camporee two days before such events started getting cancelled last week? Shelters probably aren’t going to be cleaned and sanitized regularly (or ever.)

      3. Water: This is probably a down-the-road question; I’ve not heard anything about it yet. Is it possible that COVID could eventually get into the streams and ponds we drink from? Can it survive in streams? Since it’s a virus, how does that affect our water treatments? (Are there effective chemical treatments? Filters normally don’t take out viruses – do we all have to go buy an MSR Guardian?) Definitely the stuff of conjecture, at this point. But we read warnings about using purifiers overseas because of virus in the water – at what point, in this global age, does “overseas” become “everywhere”?

      I’m altering my own plans away from group trips, and will probably do solo trips within a few hours’ drive this year. I’m lucky – I’ve got a 35 mile trail about 15 minutes away. Not true backcountry, but it will do for one or two night trips (and I can cache water if I start hearing about problems.)

      • CDC has no information on transmission through water, drinking or otherwise. They link to a WHO document that suggests, with appropriate reservations on the lack of data regarding this new virus, that water sources are not likely to become transmission vectors, based on observations of better-known coronavirises like MERS and SARS.

      • Coronaviruses.

      • Although I agree with most of what you are saying, I’m still thru hiking although most will be completely understand supported. The 3 issues you bring up are relevant but easily avoidable. I got my brother to follow me to terminus where I left my car, and he drove me to the trailhead. I don’t use motels, B&Bs or even shelters anyway, even when the plague wasn’t around. And lastly, there’s nothing saying it can live in water. So yes, be careful, but many of these problems are completely “fixable”

  5. Life in the city will put you in more contact with people vs. life on the trail. However, thru hiking will be more of a pain than what it’s worth with the difficulty of hitch hiking and just forget about sleeping in shelters. Good luck with that one. I’m sticking with out n back (boomerang) hikes this year.

  6. It will interesting to see if AMC closes the huts. That’s the only thing that would mess up my plans this summer for my Bonds traverse and staying at Galehead. Everything else I have planned are day hikes and those I do on weekdays and most of the time I never see anyone else.

    As far as getting injured and SAR not showing up, I think if it got to that point NH would have to announce that all hiking trails are closed and post signs on the highways, otherwise I have to assume if you dial 911, Fish & Game will show up. Kind of like your house catching fire.

    What I wouldn’t be doing is, I have a friend that already has his airline ticket and is still planning to leave May 5 to Spain to hike The Camino. That one, I think I’d wait until at least Fall.

    • I think day hikes and out and back overnights are the way to go.

    • The AMC and the RMC just closed their lodging. The AMC will be closed through April 30.

      Another FYI. Fish and game only coordinate White Mountain Rescues. The actual leg work is done by volunteers.

      • I wonder how many of those volunteers work as health care providers or first responders in the “regular” lives? The extra workload they will take on as this thing grows and resolves may mean they aren’t available for SAR missions.

    • Janey E Tallarida

      AMC just closed all lodging and canceled activities through end of April.

    • AMC has closed everything. I don’t know for how long

      • April 30th but the doors will still be open at Pinkham Visitors center and the Highland Center in New Hampshire. Lodging and food service is closed however.

    • As far as assuming that search and rescue would put out a notice I can tell you that is absolutely not true in my area. Search and rescue is generally volunteers and not a paid professional group. This means that they are not doing a 40 hour work week with updates and often just responding to emergencies. People get saved but notifications to the public are not so built in.

    • Susan Bickford Martin

      Check outdoors.org
      Big cancelations until April 30

    • That is head in the sand behavior. The Camonos are effectively shut down for the foreseeable future. Currently, your friend could still walk through Spain, but no places to sleep and limited food. Even that could change by May 5 to the point that they don’t allow you to be out of your house except to go to the grocery store or the hospital. There’s also a very good chance that your friend won’t be allowed back on this country. Just crazy to go to europe at this time.

    • Anni Mai-Compter

      PLEASE tell your friend to cancel The Camino. The flight will be canelled anyway. I agree with Mike B!- Thanks to Philip Werner for his arguments. Even here in Germany we start to run out of testkits and the infection number is sure much higher than published. Hope the health system and the management of social life in the U.S. is prepared

  7. It looks like I fit into the consensus emerging here. I’ve cancelled some trips, but unless/until things get worse, I intend to keep day hiking and going on short backpacking trips with no resupply, avoiding shelters etc. Shelters are breeding areas for Norovirus and other illness even in normal years. Water is plentiful where I hike, so hand-washing is easy. Keeping two trekking poles’ distance from others should be sufficient. The wild card is that if things do get as bad here as they are already in Italy, we may all be ordered to stay put and folks away from home may not be able to get back. Circumstances could change quickly, so stay tuned to CDC recommendations — https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html — not Internet rumors.

    • Be smart about this. Doing a day hike with significant others with supplies from home and within driving distance is a safe way to survive social distancing. Wash your hands and enjoy the trek!

  8. I don’t want to panic or promote paranoia here, but I can definitely see concerns for group trips, especially of the online “meetup” variety. I don’t think the length of the trip (overnight versus, say, a week) changes them.

    The issues I see include:

    1. The Group: this is truly a situation where nobody knows where other people have been (nor will there be any tracking to see who got sick the day after the trip.) This may become a moot point as prohibitions against group activities spiral downward from 200, to 100, to 50 (with 25 probably coming today in my area.)

    2. The outdoors would normally encourange social distancing (hopefully we’ve all outgrown hiking on each other’s heels.) But what about that shelter the group is planning to use tonight – or the people planning to share tents with strangers?

    3. It will be more important than ever to remember to share snacks by pouring them into the other person’s hands instead of letting them reach into your bag – but if you’ve been grabbing handfuls from your own bag all morning, will pouring it into another’s hands really protect them that much?

    4. Travel to and from the trailhead: You might consider meeting at the trailhead, instead of traveling there in a van or assigning carpools. If you have to stay at a motel, you may be OK (assuming they don’t close, too.) But, if you plan to stay at a hostel or B&B, you can’t be as sure of their sanitation practices (whether from lack of effort or supplies not being available.) You could also be in closer contact with other guests, about whom you know, well, nothing regarding their travel or actions over the last couple of weeks.

    Again, I don’t want anyone to panic. But this group issue hit close to home last week.

    I am scheduled to help lead a group of 15 from across Ohio in a couple of weeks. However, I’m seriously considering withdrawing because (a) I’m in the higher-risk demographic (age 70 and diabetes), (b) I have a wife who has nowhere to go if I get infected, so if I go, I’m making her take a risk, too, and (c) I don’t know where any of these people (including the other leaders) have been recently. I’ll probably make a final decision the first part of this week, when I have more information, but right now I’m thinking I’ll err on the side of caution and withdraw from the trip.

    • I received word from the trip leader today that Kentucky has cancelled all events in its state parks for the foreseeable future, so my possible withdrawal from the trip just became a moot point. (Interestingly enough, the other assistant leader had informed him that her grown kids had just tested positive, that she babysat for them regularly, and therefore she wouldn’t be available for the trip, either. So-travel isn’t the only thing you need to consider about the other people in a group.)

  9. Thanks for the very timely posting. I’ve been considering a local backpack trip as an alternative to internationale travel. Several of the points you bring up here I had not considered. Time to rethink things again.

    What will you do about your Scotland backpacking trip?

    • I doubt we’re going.

      • from France close
        last night infos: all restaurants, accomodation are closed. everybody stays home unless they can prove they need to get out.
        last night most markets where out of food.
        all unnecessary hospital operations have been cancelled to leave room for those infected by Covid 19.
        i had my permit for the PCT this year, i think ( if the airline does go broke in the coming month) that i will have to cancel

  10. This could have been an opportunity to take the RV off onto some of the forest service roads to use as a basecamp and do overnight hikes, however, I had rotator cuff surgery March 2 and my wings are clipped.

    Instead, we’re waiting it all out at home. Wife is organizing garage and I’m doing one armed chores… gotta practice my paperhanging! Have some bored grandkids here who are about to start online classes. Workaholic son in law is laid off all 3 jobs for the duration. He loves to grill so we’re eating well. Will probably regain that weight I lost 6 months ago for my AT section hike.

    We need use proper precautions to be safe in how we personally handle this and not let frustration cause us to act rashly. The hills and trails will still be there when this passes. Will we?

  11. I postponed my AT return hike just for all the above reasons. All good reasons….still sucks! Rails to Trails here I come!
    Trampus

    • You are not alone. I am scheduled to hike the first 370 miles of the PCT March 25. My dinning room table is full of trail food I am getting ready for send for resupply. But as of today I am 90% sure the best thing is to cancel the hike for this year. I live in Georgia and have hike the AT already so at this point it looks like I will just do 2 and 3 day hikes on the AT and BMT. This is all about staying safe and family first.

      Redirect

      • Like you, I’m bummed about not hiking the PCT this year. My dining table is also full of resupply food. My start date is/was March 26, but to stay safe, I’ll wait till next year. My AT thru hike was in ‘16, so we have many common experiences. All the best from Michigan!!

  12. Likewise, I’m sticking to short-distance out-and-back where I have more control over the transportation. I don’t think hitchhiking will work all that well right now, and having a friend pick you up from a remote community just creates another vector.

    Risk management and avoiding creating a burden on already-stressed health systems and emergency responders should be a top priority right now.

    Backpacking can be an indulgence with the illusion of self-sufficiency backstopped by a robust and somewhat invisible ecosystem of support services. Philip, thanks for highlighting other factors which aren’t necessarily factored in by many.

  13. Very timely and well-reasoned thoughts.

    Joan and I put off the planning potential longer summer hikes on hold. We live in an area with a plethora of choices within three-hours of us and see no need to venture out away from the support of our home.

    Part of my income stream is guiding here in Moab. I applaud the guiding company I work with that is telling people to stay away. A financial hit in the short term is less important than health, both physically and financially, in the long run. I suspect other tourist-type towns in the long trail corridors feel similar. Small towns do not have the resources if something should happen.

  14. My son is already on the Appalachian Trail. He is past Erwin, TN at a hostel. He is going to stay there for a day because it is a great place and the owners are in contact with other hostels up and down the trail. He is waiting to see if the next hostel will even be open so that he can pick up the resupply box that I mailed. Getting home from there would require shuttles and buses, neither of them a good idea.

  15. Only thing I would add to this discussion is the example from last year and years prior of the common Noro-virus outbreaks on trail. Here is a virus Covid-19 Corona virus that spreads if not easier then as easy as such but has a potentially higher risk of severity if not mortality.

    Think about that before you join a long hike and I wish all the best of luck in a difficult decision. So many plan or starterd a trip of a life time I will be a difficult decision to go home and post pone.

  16. I’ve cancelled a month’s hiking/tramping/rambling in the south of England for the month of May. I’m from Canada, and though we’ve only jus begun to get community spread of Covid-19 in my area outside of Toronto, I’m not at all prepared to go to England. We’re already mostly in self-quarantine here.

    Firstly, my private health insurance is probably not going to cover me since Covid-19 is now a pre-existing condition.

    Secondly, I am reasonably certain that the British National Health Service is going to quickly be overwhelmed. It’s as badly cut-back in funding as is the American system, though at least it’s a public system. But there’s too much possibility / likelihood of Covid-19 ‘going Italian’ in the UK, because their government has badly handled matters precisely when they should be aggressive. There would be little way that I could get full medical attention in rural England if I needed it.

    Thirdly, I have no reasonable contacts with whom I could retreat to if I was required to go into self-isolation. No hotel, no hostel, no B&B will accept me.

    Fourthly, I would have to go into two weeks of self-isolation when I get back home to Canada, regardless of whether I show symptoms or not.

    So I’m not going to England. And I will not travel internationally until I have immunity to Covid-19, either through contracting hopefully a mild version, or until a vaccine is approved. The latter isn’t expected to be until about November 2021. The former is quite likely sooner …

    My reading from epidemiology is that around the world, including here in Canada, we’ll be lucky to be on the positive side of this pandemic until well past the autumn of this year, and quite possibly not for another year or more. Scary! (I’d love to be shown to be wrong on this.)

  17. I am just a day hiker but my husband (who doesn’t hike) said that he is fine with me doing day hikes, but not to carpool to the trailhead. That’s a restriction I can live with to be able to get out in the fresh air!

  18. Thanks for the post. Backpacking is all about self sufficiency. No one should ever rely on trail angels IMO. I would recommend backpacking if you can be 100% self sufficient. No hitch hiking. No shuttles from providers. Food resupply May end up being a real issue. Interesting times.

  19. All restaurants and bars in WA. state are ordered closed by the governor.
    Oregon’s are restricted to 25 people.

    • Things are moving fast . Most Oregon restaurants are closing voluntarily. All bars are closed. All CA. bars are closed and restaurants only allowed to be half full. Not sure if they too are voluntarily closing but I wouldn’t doubt it. It’s cheaper than paying employees and utilities with so few customers. Embrace the hiker hunger. Be safe.

  20. Christine Benton

    Sound advice Philip. I was planning to fly to SC to backpack the Foothills Trail in ten days time. Here’s my e-mail conversation with a shuttle driver: Am still going back and forth about going.

    328 cases . . . and
    how many people live in NYC ? . . .

    Sent from my iPhone

    On Mar 15, 2020, at 8:14 PM, Christine Benton wrote:

    ?
    Well, here’s the thing. I live in New York City (Brooklyn) and we are constantly being warned about how dire things are going to get. I traveled on the NYC subway and through Grand Central Station yesterday (to go hiking) and would have to fly out of one of the NYC airports. (I am not using the subway every day because I am a retired person.) I would not want to bring the virus with me. Currently, there are 329 confirmed cases and 5 deaths (all people with underlying health conditions). How do you feel about shuttling someone from NYC? I would quite understand if you would not want to do it.

    Christine

    On Sunday, March 15, 2020, 07:35:46 PM EDT, …………………………….. wrote:

    I shuttled two hikers today. One from the local area, and another from Illinois. I shuttled one on Friday from NC.

    Unless you are in an area with a significant number of confirmed cases, and you have been a social butterfly, and don’t adhere to normal, everyday hygienic practices, then I would stay with your plan to come hike the Foothills Trail !

    On Sun, Mar 15, 2020 at 3:05 PM Christine Benton wrote:
    Hi …………………:

    Trying to decide whether it’s irresponsible to travel to SC in a couple of weeks time. Are you still shuttling people?

  21. It’s good advice for those that rely on the services, but I never do. I spend weeks, sometimes months at a time on the trail and am capable of foraging food in the wilderness for myself, and prefer not to use busy campsites. I will always feel safer on the trail, than in cities full of people… Happy Trails!! “

  22. Thru hiking is probably an unsafe decision… But a 2 or 3 day hike with low daily mileage I think is safe enough and I will be doing that. No resupply, no shuttle, and mileage low enough to do it sick.

  23. I think we are confusing “backpacking” with “thru-hiking”. All of the “what-ifs” you mention have mainly to do with thru-hiking. And for thru-hikes, you are, undoubtably, correct. All of those “what-ifs” deserve serious consideration! But for a week of backpacking in the Wind Rivers or some other similar venue, if I let all the possible “what-ifs” deter me from going, I would just sit in my house and read about other peoples’ adventures. No thank you!!

    • I disagree. There are plenty of trips that I take that have these characteristics that aren’t on long-distance trails. I think the distinguishing characteristic is not the place or the trail, but the reliance on local services. If I went hiking in the Grand Canyon, or Wind Rivers, or Alaska, I’d have to rely on a lots of local services to get there, buy food, transport, pickup, etc. That’s not a thru-hike on a National Scenic Trail.

      • True enough, but you probably won’t stop backpacking in the White Mountains any more than I would stop backpacking in the Winds-any of the trailheads in the Winds are no more than a 5 hour drive from my front door, and the Uinta mountains are even closer if I chose to go there. Consequently, I can still go backpacking and not need any local services (other than buying gas for the trip home-I can even take extra fuel along if it came to that). But I will still be backpacking (and having a wonderful, as well as safe, experience).

      • I’m lucky that way. I live about 25 ft from the National Forest Boundary.

  24. Wow! That would be nice!! Thanks for your great site. I always look forward to reading your articles.

  25. Serious thru-hikers will get fatigued, partially dehydrated, and that x chilled. All of these stress the immune system. Anyone who helps you will be exposed.

  26. Addressing the elephant in the room,kudos! I’ve altered my plans until we have more information on where this is going.
    We always have to be willing to call off a dangerous hike.
    A side note is that I will never run out of toilet paper.

  27. The thru-hikers in the bubble are forced by circumstances and regulations to be be in close contact with people. With this virus its not the unsanitary condition of the shelters as much, but the being forced to spend time around all the other people crowded in them. Other viruses already spread like wildfire during the thru-hike bubble. Why not this one?. Some thru-hikers look rather like work camp prisoners too after months on the trail. Not a good time to be fending off a major virus.

    I was on the AT when there early (pre-bubble) hikers had started. No one was talking about this coronaries then. They were talking about the hypothermic conditions. This was on the same trail and the same week that the thru-hiker died on. Wonder how much in the loop the thru-hikers are on the Covid 19 as things are changing quickly. Just car camping in a non-wifi area, recently left me behind the news. I was sleeping two tents away from someone hacking. Made me nervous. After this past week, I might have moved my tent.

  28. This post is completely. It is fine to go a little above and beyond the currently recommended social distancing and it’s fine to decide for yourself how far above and beyond that you want to go. But this laundry list is leveling a lot of criticism that seems to pigeonhole all backpackers as a certain type that will absolutely contribute to risk.

    I want to rebut your speculations with some common sense and also to identify the fact that most backpackers are not long-trail hikers that would ever contribute significant risk to community spread.

    “What if you become ill on the trail?”

    What if? Well I have gotten ill on the trail before. What I did was walk back to the trailhead, withou seeing or coming in contact with another person on the trail. Then I got in my car and drove home. And slept for a few days.

    What part of getting sick on a trail means absolutely, exposure to other people? Most of my outings I *might* see a few people total. I can go into places where I’ll see no one at all! From my house, to the trailhead, to the trails, to the campsites, back to the trailhead, back to the highway, back to my home – I can have zero contact with a single person. EASY. How is that working out for you all in the city, where community spread is most prevalent?

    “What if you are injured and need search and rescue assistance? Who’s going to come to your aid if the members of local search and rescue are already busy with local residents or sick themselves?”

    Wait a minute. Is this world suddenly just a group of 7 billion “what-ifs”? I can keep going down the what-if rabbit hole all day with you. But let me ask you this: How frequently do you call on SAR on a routine backpacking trip? Every time out, yes? Wow… It is up to SAR to make the determination if it is safe for them to make rescue attempts. I bear the responsibility for my own safety while backpacking and I never rely upon the possibility that SAR might have to come for me.

    “What if shuttle drivers stop driving hikers between the trail and towns? I’m not sure how many hikers appreciate just how vital shuttle drivers are bailing out hikers who’ve been injured or need to resupply.”

    I have never taken a shuttle in my life. All my routes are loops or out n backs. If I need a shuttle I leave a bicycle at a trailhead. Thanks for pigeonholing, once again, every backpacker as an absolute long trail hiker.

    “What if “the locals” stop picking up hitchhikers?”

    Again – making some assumptions there about who is going backpacking there, aren’t ya?

    “What if hostels and motels along the trail close?”

    See above.

    “What if the stores that you rely on for resupply run out of food and close?”

    I dehydrate my own food. Why aren’t you? It’s cheaper and less wasteful anyway.

    “What if rural post offices close or curtail their hours?”

    Never needed this.

    “What if the trail angels you rely on stop supporting hikers?”

    Never needed this.

    “What if your loved ones at home become ill and require you to return to care for them? How will you get home?”

    Lone wolf McGee here, reporting in.

    This is an absurd overreaction. It’s embarrassing.

    • Sorry I embarrassed you.

      • Hello Phillip, perhaps my prior post was over the top; I would edit if I could, but that’s not possible here. I am used to forums with an edit AKA undo button. lol. I did not mean for it to come off as offensive as it did.

        I get it, I really do – people are scared and they should be. And it’s good responsible and proactive behavior to err on the side of caution.

        But. This new normal, where those who are not subject matter experts take it upon themselves to police others’ behavior in a way that is beyond the scope of what the medical community has advised, seems a bit over the top.

        The answers to all of the what-if’s are all sensible. Does it involve contact with other people at any point in the chain? If it does, then it’s not really social distancing. If there was one I could really agree with as an absolute, it is the risk of exposing first responders i.e. SAR personnel. Again it’s already a remote chance to need this. But I can see where this risk factor could come into play.

        Luckily, my backpacking trips involve places where I am unlikely to come into close contact with anybody, always solo. The idea of socially isolating oneself by backpacking, to many hikers, is just dreadful – I understand that. So I can see why your blog post is geared towards the social aspects of this hobby which seem to prevail.

        See, I live in a city of 5 million people. I am already grossed out by taht many people crammed together when we aren’t in the throes of a pandemic. So my idea of social isolation is *exactly* hiking in remote wilderness trails that are relatively disused.

        In hindsight I can understand the impetus of your post. A lot of people need things spelled out for them line by line. And there are a lot of social hikers out there so I can appreciate that you communicate to an audience that perhaps does need to hear it (*cough* thru-hikers *cough*).

      • Don’t worry about it. I think it’s hard to categorize backpackers. Some can be self-sufficient but others can’t either because the circumstances prevent it or they don’t have the personalities for it. I cast a wide net. Perhaps too wide. My modus operandi is/was just to try to get people to think.

    • This is in response to your second post, Wildwesthikes (there wasn’t a reply button in it.)

      I don’t think anyone is trying to police anyone’s behavior; I know I wasn’t trying to. I think we’re all just trying to think through the revised risk/reward analysis we include in any trip we plan since there are now things we need to consider that we didn’t need to consider before.

      I took a day hike last Friday, when the closings and cancellations were coming hot and heavy, because I was feeling a little anxiety. As I walked, I realized that what I felt was the same thing I felt on September 12, 2001: the world had changed (probably forever, since global population growth and increasingly-resistant diseases are a permanent condition); the anxiety is because I no longer had a “reality” I could rely on, and I hadn’t quite figured out how to build my new “reality.” By the 15th, I had thought through the possibilities, responses available to me, and opportunities that might become available – and I felt a lot better.

      I interpreted Phillip’s column and the responses (including yours) as being all of us, collectively, starting to figure out where our personal balance of risk/reward is going to end up. I really don’t think any of us intend to force our choices on others, or let others force theirs on us. I intend to keep on backpacking, too – but I’ll probably modify the trips I do a little, and I may err on the side of caution a bit more now than I will later.

      HYOH still applies, I guess?

  29. Let’s all take a breath. The numbers of people getting seriously sick are higher than the flu but the likelihood of EMS being stretched thin in rural areas, to the point that they can’t respond to your unlikely emergency is ridiculous. I mention the flu because most people have mild symptoms similar to the flu. Yes it would suck to hike feeling like hot trash but in some respects it would be better therapy for you than sitting on the couch feeling bad for yourself and encouraging a pneumonia which is the deadly complication associated with Covid19. Go hike, breath fresh air, don’t listen to the news for a couple days, be healthy.

    • The concern isn’t about sick hikers, but the people who are vulnerable to Covid19.

    • The issue isn’t sick hikers, it’s about the fact that they rely on local resources that may be preoccupied with family illnesses and unable to support them. By all means, go hiking. But don’t assume that the services you’re used to counting on will be available.
      If you don’t need any local services, good for you.

  30. Some backpackers are in the higher risk categories for Covid 19. I am currently 65. Camped last week in an area with a spigot and a quart of hand sanitiser outside the outhouse. Not normal on trails. This however was a primitive campsite in a state park. As I mentioned there a cougher camped there at the same time, sharing the same outhouse.

    I knew of a young “healthy” guy who died from pneumonia while in his 30’s (friend of a friend.) I was reading another hiker blog dominated by the assumption that the young and healthy are immune. I cringed. People need to plan ahead, consider possible complications (this post helps a lot!), strive to eat healthy food and to be scrupulous about hygiene. I think Lyme disease places one in a higher risk category. Something else to think about this summer.

    • I hope they come to their senses and start thinking about the rest of the population. If they are thru hikers. I’d certainly caution any gear brand from associating with them or champioing their cause. The negative reputation blowback risk could be huge.

  31. Hello great post, so Leantos and designated campsites are out right now?

    And is just filtering water safe or purification by tablets, boiling or using a purifier the way to go?

    Does anyone feel A one night out and back is socially irresponsible?

    The State Park nearest me is going to be slammed I am sure so I will need to go further out of town and that will mean an overnight camp.

    Stay safe.

    • Certain states have imposed more restrictions. Suggest you research your local areas first.
      Coronavirus is not thought to be passed through the water supply.

  32. I think an additional thing to consider, which I heard mentioned on a hiking podcast, is the risk to the individuals who reside in these smaller towns off of the trails. I live in Boston and am also considered essential personal, so I have been reporting to work everyday. If I were to start running around Gorham, NH right now or some other small town in the Whites I think that would be unfair to the exponentially smaller population. I will be planning on driving right to the trail head and not stopping for any food until at least Concord on the way home.

    • There are 6 ventilators in Northern New Hampshire. That’s it.

      • Phil, thanks for posting this article in the first place, and thanks for sticking up for your considerations. I admire the manner in which you carefully respond.

        I especially like your emphasis on local resources. Spot on! We do not exist on our own island. “No many is an island unto themselves.”

    • I think if we are going to be hiking this season we certainly will have to take on the added risk of being in a position to receive less than ideal medical care by being in a rural area. This is an added risk every hiker will know of before hitting the trail. I think it’s most important to protect small town residents from being exposed to people from big cities. Staying out of these small towns is something we all should do amongst this pandemic.

  33. Thru-hiking and LASHes will become more problematic as days go on. IMHO it’s just the right thing to do — for yourself and others — to end or delay these hikes.

    But if you want or need to get out in the woods, perhaps choose a multi-night backpack on a trail known to be pretty dead most of the year. One that is a circuit or could be a circuit in combo with other trails. One with natural water sources and no shelters. That way you hike back to your vehicle (no shuttles required) and no resupplies required. Rinse, repeat on other nearby similar trails (resupplies could be kept in your vehicle or you could drive to stores in between hikes to buy more).

    The other points are still valid but at least you would be self sufficient.

  34. I’ve been towing my motorcycle and using it, along with my vehicle, to leap frog along the trail. Section hiked over 1300 miles of the AT in this fashion. Totally self supported. I am my own shuttle. This is the solution in my opinion. I’m only 10-20 or less miles from one of my vehicles at any point along the trail. Regular resupply point closed? No problem, drive a little farther and/or load up more food etc in the vehicle. This approach is truly self supported. I don’t rely on anyone. Ever. At least so far.

  35. One thing to consider too is how sudden the onset seems to be. Or am I missing something? Whatever outings one takes, one needs to get to be able to make back quickly to one’s vehicle easily. Some sedentary people first noticed they had Covid19 by being significantly short of breath. Nothing more. Not sure if the disease would sneak up someone who is actively hiking. I have no idea. That said, being 20 miles from a vehicle would make me nervous . I am trying to plan hikes, but am thinking of shorter day hikes. My doctor is encouraged me to keep walking.

    • The good thing about section hiking with a motorcycle/vehicle combo is that you have much more options and choices. If I am feeling conservative/uneasy, about anything, I can find a nice 5-7 mile section and just knock that out. I can always come back later and complete longer sections where the distance between parking areas is more expansive. I’ve really enjoyed riding the motorcycle to the start of the hike, hiking to the Subaru, and then driving the Subaru back to the motorcycle and then leapfrogging along the trail in this manner. It breaks up the monotony of hiking. Sometimes the motorcycle ride is much more exciting and interesting than the hike! This was especially true at Shenandoah National Park. But it might not be for everyone. Just last month my little 250cc Café Racer barely made it up a steep, rugged mountain road that was covered with snow and ice but it sure was fun. Initially, I tried leapfrogging with a bicycle/car but biking 20-30 miles and then hiking up to 20 miles proved to be a little tiring, especially in the Whites.

  36. Use good health practices but don’t panic. I know it will get worse before it gets better. March 21, 2020, 276 deaths, we are at 1.8% of the deaths caused by the Swine Flu 09-10 (remember that?) and 0.5% of the deaths caused by the regular flu in 2017-2018
    This page has stats on WuFlu cases and deaths It is updated on a regular basis.
    https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

  37. I just got off the trail at Unicoi Gap. My section was over and had to go home. I stayed at Above the Clouds hostel in Suches three nights and slack packed to Neel, Hogpen, Woody. Stayed at three shelters on the trail in GA. Airport was empty in Atlanta. Half full plane to RI. Originally I thought trail was safe place to be, but came to conclusion that every hiker had to come from somewhere. One guy was from Germany. So, thinking you are isolated from the virus is probably an illusion. After I got home ATC recalled the ridge runners. I met at least four of them along the way. I had a terrific time hiking GA for the first time but I wouldn’t want to make anyone sick or get sick in the woods. So it was fun while it lasted! Clementine

  38. Hi Philip,

    from New Zealand, this is a world wide problem we have to grapple with and you have put the case very well for us all to consider. However here the over 70’s are told to stay home and not go out at all so the situation is dire. If we are isolated and loose fitness and suffer the shack nasties we become even more susceptible to Covid 19, depression and degenerative conditions requiring attention from an already over stretched health system. For many of us, we have decided on days out without using public transport or shared cars etc with no or minimal contact with others and to rely on social media, cell phone or PC contact to stay in the loop.
    UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE MULTI DAY HIKES ARE OFF THE AGENDA.

  39. Community cooperation is vital to controlling covid 19. Day hikes are OK. Longer multi day hikes should be avoided for at least a month. Then reassess.

  40. I was going to complete the PA Section of the AT this spring, and tackle Virginia come fall; as a happy but curmudgeonly solo hiker….both the Domestic Commander (my wife) and I are thinking “perhaps not” at this time. So your plans were curtailed by the virus, and you’re sitting there wringing you’re Purell-scented hands, wondering just what the hell to do? Please, if possible, consider dedicating some time to the resources you love and use. Speaking as a retired US Fish and Wildlife Service Officer, I recommend that you look into volunteering your time and experience. Almost all federal and state land management agencies will accept volunteer Trail work…..not to mention countless municipal and county agencies! Additionally, there’s not an NGO out there, that doesn’t need help. If the virus is shutting down even volunteer projects (and it likely will), grab your kayak or canoe and clean a mile of shoreline of cans, bottles, plastic. Walk a few miles of trail with some gloves and pick up the crap left by the thoughtless, selfish ones among us. Grab a chainsaw, and clear winter storm windfall on a favorite trail near your home. Since my plans (at least for this spring) have changed, I volunteered to ”island sit” off the coast of Maine; ten glorious days on a Maine island in May, at my expense…..to watch over early nesting threatened and endangered seabird colonies….all by my lonesome. No people…..only fresh air, the sun and the sea….and the occasional hungry raptor or gull to harass. Pick up drift garbage on the shore by day….and maybe, come nightfall, a sip of bourbon and a steak over a fire…..no Coronavirus news…..and stars that go on…..forever.

    • Lots of good reading, lots of good advice. I’m fortunate, I live 75 feet from the trails of the Middlesex Fells Reservation just north of Boston. It’s not the White Mountains, or Adirondacks, but it is a really nice place for day hiking. I hike and walk my dogs there daily, and have noticed in the last couple weeks, I have seen more folks with their dogs, kids, and grandkids. It’s always a friendly “ Hello” as we step aside each other with noticeable distance between each other. Occasionally, getting asked for directions, as many are new to theses trails. I’m happy folks are getting out, getting fresh air and exercise. I do miss my short hikes without seeing a soul, but it’s OK. I’m glad people are out during this crisis. I’m sure as the weather improves, I’ll drive north for a weekend backpacking trip in WMNF. Let’s hope the weather, and the virus improve soon. Sadly, will probably not be using the beautiful AMC Huts this season, but…we shall see? Hike on, be safe!

  41. I plan to backpack in my nearby Spring Mountains that form the northwestern rim of the Las Vegas valley. My favorite campsite is at about 9,800 feet by a stream. It’s just so beautiful and peaceful.
    In my “gezeerhood” I always carry my SPOT beacon. The USFS rangers are still on duty there. Also the nearby mountain fire department is on duty and not currently strained with COVID 19 runs.

    BUT, I want to backpack the northern Nevada Ruby Crest Trail, called “Nevada’s Yosemite”. That trip is a 7 hour drive from Las Vegas and with no motels open (and NO desire to stay in one at this time) I’ll sleep in my SUV. However once I finish the trail I’ll need to hitch a ride back to my car. I plan to hitch wearing my mask around my neck and then on my face in a vehicle. Hopefully my pack and I can ride in the bed of a pickup truck back to my car.

  42. BTW, speaking of crowded, mice-infested AT “snore shelters”, after using a few in Virginia when section hiking I vowed NEVER to use them again, and I didn’t.
    To the above mentioned problems add thru hikers getting up at “zero dark thirty” and waking all others with their rudely loud conversations, as though they were privileged to do so! In fact I once even stealth camped in the Shenandoah National Park B/C I knew there was no flat tenting area next to the upcoming shelter.

    • Eric B. Im sure there are some bad huts out there. But from my perspective, the AMC does a really good job in the White Mountains. They are clean, and the food is great, guests are really nice, the Croo who take care of them are super nice people. There is not much you can do to About folks snoring, except use earplugs, or airbuds, and listen to some music ( which is what I do) but, they are definitely not for everyone.

      • Oh, after a re- read, I see you were talking about “ she,tears” not Huts.. I don’t use shelters, I agree with you on that. If not planing a hut hike, I take a tent and camp as well. Most shelters in the White have adjoining tent pads or platforms… I prefer to go off and find a quiet place instead, it the terrain allows.

  43. Great advice, I really appreciate your articles

  44. Good advice Phil, I canceled my section hike on the AT in Virginia that was planned for the middle of April. Read this today from the President & CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Sandra “Sandi” Marra. She says it well, “There is an unfortunate truth about this virus: unless everyone is safe, no one is safe. So, take a walk around the block. Spend time with your loved ones. And, please, stay home”.

  45. Philip, thank you so much for this! As we have seen in NYC, people can spread the disease without even knowing they have it. Your thoughtfulness in this article will most likely save lives.

  46. What if, what if, what if, what if….’what if’ none of those things happen? The ATC sent an email that is telling everyone to stay off the trail and ‘just walk around the block’ at home. When I hike or backpack, being around people is the last thing that I want…I will leave the crowds, use my tent and find a spot alone. No shelters for me, pandemic or not. Common sense is needed, but being outside in nature, where the air is fresh and clean, and you can find places to hike where there might not be another soul…that sounds really good to me. Not only will be restored physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. I think there is a lot of fear-mongering going on. Again, common sense…yes…irrational fear…no. If you happen to be feeling ill before you hike…stay the heck home and call the doctor. If you have no symptoms and meet no one…then no one is infected. No harm, no foul. You might just get well out there.

  47. I’ve watched a lot of forums over the past few weeks, and this is one of the more civil conversations on this topic. I ended my thru-hike, and came home for many of the reasons above. I’m late to the game with my comment here, as I just discovered this chain, but just wanted to say thanks for the good civil, thought provoking discussion.

    Ellie

  48. Traveling, especially out of state, or out of one’s city or town, is simply not a good idea with the Covid-19 virus going around. Shelters, hotels, inns, camping grounds are all breeding grounds for all kinds of viruses and bacteria, and one never knows what they’ll pick up in those place, especially right now, with the Covid-19 virus crisis. There’s no telling whether or not one will meet people who are infected with the Covid-19 virus without knowing it, because one can harbor the virus without being sympathetic. Moreover, Covid-19 is much more deadly–and far more contagious than the regular seasonal flu that comes around each year, either.

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