Where Will You Sleep?

Well, that depends. On an ordinary day on the trail, we will probably sleep in one of the following:

1: A Backpacking Shelter
(this one is in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern PA, but the ones on the AT are very similar)

or 2: Our Tent (in this case, it happens to be a Mountain Hardwear PCT-2 that we've had for some time)

Both have their benefits and shortcomings.

The Appalachian Trail has shelters (or "lean-to's in the New England states) spaced somewhat sensibly throughout it's entire length. These are sturdy, mostly dry, elevated platforms with walls on three sides and a roof. They are often crowded with thru-hikers or other hikers, and are first come first serve - as such they cannot be reliably counted on to have a space for you to sleep in. They are notoriously infested with well-fed mice, which will scurry around on your face and/or chew through your pack as you sleep. Other critters (including bears) know that these sites are frequented by humans, and occasionally visit them as well. The shelters offer no protection from mosquitos or other insects. Sometimes the spacing can be inconvenient - one shelter may be too close for a full day's hike, whereas the next one is too many miles away. All told, though, the shelters are where most of the trail's social aspects come into play, and are good places to meet people. They also don't have to be pitched on wet ground like the tent.

The tent is waterproof, and in many cases can be pitched anywhere (other times only in designated areas). This allows us to hike as far as we want to in a day without having to make it to the next shelter or stopping early to stay in the current one. It does, however, need to be pitched on the ground, which can be cold, wet, or muddy. It also has to be cleaned and dried out frequently. It is private (just for me & k) so if socializing isn't what we're feeling on a given day, we have that option - then again if it is, we can always pitch near a shelter. The tent is also enclosed (which holds in more warmth in extreme cold than a shelter would, also protection from bugs and critters - though the mice will get in if they want to). One last downside is that the tent must be carried, which means more pounds. It weighs about 5 pounds with its footprint (groundcloth) when dry, and more when wet.

In warmer weather, we may add a third option - Hammocks:

These are easy to set up, light, and super-comfortable. They have many of the benefits of the tent, but since they go in the air there's no cold, wet ground. They are open, so they could be drafty, but this is a plus in hot weather. Only downside is that you need two trees spaced appropriately that are strong enough to support the load. Where we're going, this shouldn't be a problem. You can get rainflys made specifically for the hammock, or just string up a tarp. Mosquito/no-see-um netting can also be obtained to eliminate bug problems. The one pictured above is the same type as our hammock, but the photo was shamelessly pilfered from the eagles nest outfitters website. For more info on hammock camping, check out Sgt. Rock's Hammock Camping section.

And of course, any number of hostels, hotels, motels, inns, b&b's, lodges, and the like during our town stops. These range from your everyday Super-8s to hiking community standbys. Showers, Laundry, Food, and a Bed will be had about once a week and much looked forward to.

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