Where in the NE US can a new backpacker get his backpacking wings?
April 3, 2008 10:05 AM   Subscribe

I have decided to spend my (non-hypothetical) vacation backpacking alone for the week, in the mid-atlantic or northeastern US. However, I am not sure where is best for me to do this, as I have a number of minor concerns and have not done extended backpack travel on a schedule like this -- at least not as a civilian. Specific concerns follow, and overlap somewhat, so apologies for that.

1) Legitimately in nature where I can avoid civilization as much as possible.

2) Not TOO hidden though. I'm an experienced day hiker, but not a backpacker, and if I injure myself, I'd like to be able to get to safety or somewhere I'm likely to be passed by someone.

3) I'm in NJ, and though I'd prefer to be "away", as my first real backpacking trip, I see no reason to go further away than a few states.

3b) I hate heat, by the way, and this would be Juneish most likely, so north of NJ is better than south.

4) I don't mind exceptions, but on the whole, this should be walking, not climbing. I want to enjoy solitude while getting some exercise, not beat the hell out of my body.

5) Traveling alone, I need to be able to get to the start point.

The big one that's throwing me:

6) I'm nowhere near the shape I was in, so I do not know how far I will walk per day, for 5-6 days. This is definitely a backpacking trip, not a camping trip, but I do not know what is realistic for me for a day. 5 miles? 15? No idea. And I'd like to not have to care TOO much. Which leads me to the problem - I don't know how far I will have gone by the time I'm out of time, so I'd need something with multiple points of departure - places I can just wander off the trail with nothing but some money and a bag, and be able to get a ride/flight/train/whatever home.

Obviously this is vague, but any thoughts or "take a look at"'s would be helpful. I may want to do the Appalachian Trail one day, so this is sort of my first "let's see how I do over 5 days" trial. Thanks!


(I've looked at a few previouses - 1,2, etc.)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Consider hiking in the White Mountains (NH) ... taking day "hut to hut" hikes between the AMC Huts.
posted by ericb at 10:17 AM on April 3, 2008


Hut to Hut Presidential Traverse.
posted by ericb at 10:19 AM on April 3, 2008


Rather than doing a five-day backpack, why not just backpack in to a "base camp" and do day hikes or whatever out of there for a couple days and then backpack out? It would be easier on your body, and would negate either trying to find a loop route from your start point or going in and out the same way (or finding transportation home at the end). I don't know about the east coast, but that technique is pretty useful in the Sierras.
posted by LionIndex at 10:22 AM on April 3, 2008


Well, I can recommend some places. Look at the Long Trail in Vermont (more here)- there are a number of sections with multiple lean-tos and campsites so you can adjust the length of your days. The Adirondacks, High Peaks area, would also be really good - again, a trail network with a lot of flexible options for start, end, and places to stop in between.

I hiked in both those areas as a teenager, and not a particularly fit one. I found that in both we could cover 5-8 miles a day at an extremely leisurely pace, arriving in camp in the afternoon with plenty of light to spare.

New Jersey has some great Appalachian Trail hiking, but I agree that in order to feel like you are on vacation, you probably want to be somewhere with a different landscape. Both the Long Trail and the High Peaks offer a mix of forest, swampy lowland, rocky/bouldery terrain, streams and waterfalls, peaks and ridge trail vistas. The Long Trail even has some really nice meadow in spots. The Long Trail is actually a little closer to regular civilization - there are places you can hike right down off the trail and be in a small downtown with places to eat, pubs, grocery stores, etc. It is good to know where those potential bail-outs and respite points are so you can choose to use them if you want.

I would suggest you not just 'wing it' as to your endpoint, because that is logistically very problematic. Not many trail points are going to coincide with a train/bus route. Plan your route ahead of time and decide how long you're going to make your days. Err on the shorter side - maybe if you just go ahead and plan 5-mile days, you will be sure to make your end point and remove that stress. That doesn't mean you get less out of your trip. With extra time built into the day, you are free to do spur hikes that might take you out and back on a scenic trail. You can add in the extraneous loops that trails sometimes feature. You can hike up and down a stream bed and check things out. You can loll about having lunch and reading. And you can even get to camp early, drop your gear, and explore in more directions without the weight of your pack.

If you're going in June, you have a few months to train. There shouldn't be a reason why you couldn't work up to 5-8 miles a day in the time between then and now, assuming that you have no major physical complaints other than general out-of-shapeness. It's worth doing some training now, because even backpacking a teeny 1 or 2 miles over rocky trail if you're totally out of shape is likely to make your body hurt. Load up a daypack and do some mildly hilly walks in your county parks for an hour or two on weeknds - you'll enjoy your trip more.

One caveat about destinations north in June: black flies. I think that is when they come out and damn, are they vicious. I unapologetically use DEET, but others don't. Just be prepared for bugs. Bugs enjoy June.
posted by Miko at 10:27 AM on April 3, 2008


Pennsylvania has a number of good hiking trails. I'm not sure which one might be right for you, but check out the DCNR site and the Keystone Trails Association. There are some loop trails (Black Forest, Susquehannock, Quehanna) which are nice in that you don't have to find a way to get from the end of the trail back to your car, but those trails are also fairly isolated so they might not be right for you at this time.
posted by maurice at 10:36 AM on April 3, 2008


Don't forget the AT.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 10:41 AM on April 3, 2008


I'm nowhere near the shape I was in, so I do not know how far I will walk per day, for 5-6 days

This depends on lots of things, such as the weight of your pack, and your physical condition. I suggest filling up your backpack with the amount of weight that you're planning on carrying, then using one Saturday afternoon to take a day hike. Do, say, 5 miles, and see how you feel at the end. This will give you a better idea of what you're facing.

If you're looking to try to get in shape before then (and you really should train a little before a semi-serious trip), there's no better way, IMO, than putting on that 30 pound pack and doing flights of stairs. It simulates hills pretty well, as far as your muscles are concerned and will whip you into shape real fast.

Also, consider what kind of backpacker you are ahead of time. Need lots of creature comforts? You may be looking at a 40 pound pack. Going to have nice weather and enjoy roughing it? You might be able to go ultralight and get as low as 10 pounds.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:57 AM on April 3, 2008


If you're out of shape and there's some uphill, I'd plan for 1 mile / hour of hiking (this average includes water and food breaks). People who are in shape, or someone out of shape on flat terrain, might actually do 2 miles / hour of hiking (even with breaks). 3 miles / hour of hiking, with a full pack, is pretty hardcore. If I remember right, me and a friend, wearing only light day packs, did 2 miles uphill and 12 miles downhill in 5 hours, and that included a 45 minute lunch.

So, I'd plan for 8-12 mile days if I were you, and if you want to be walking the whole day. A flat 7-mile day would mean you'd have a few hours off in the afternoon to watercolor or read or whatever. A 16 mile day with about half being uphill would mean you'd better plan to get going as soon as you wake up and you'd pull in around 7 pm.

But hopefully other people will give their opinion on these numbers -- ymmv, literally. Have fun!
posted by salvia at 12:19 PM on April 3, 2008


Maine and Nova Scotia are amazingly beautiful places, as well.
posted by nevercalm at 1:02 PM on April 3, 2008


Plenty of good location suggestions here, so I'd like to add something else:

Some people say you should never backpack alone. While I disagree with the "never," I just want to point out that it's riskier than it may seem. Even what would be a small injury at home can be a major ordeal when you're even a couple miles from civilization. For example, I have a friend who was on a dayhike, just a few miles in. He took a bad step and broke his ankle. Despite the fact that he was with others, it still took many hours and, ultimately, a helicopter to get him out. Had he been alone, it could have been a very bad scene.

I'm not trying to scare you away from doing this, because there is a lot to be gained from backpacking alone. I just want to encourage you to realistically calculate and manage your risks (especially as a beginner). Make sure others know your route, when you're going in and when you're coming out, and what to do if they don't hear from you on the designated day. Bring good first aid and a little extra food. Find out if your cell phone will work where you're going. Consider a personal locater beacon, or a satellite phone (which you can rent pretty cheap).

Yes, some of these things are a bit heavy and/or diminish the wilderness, away-from-the-things-of-man experience; you have to decide which items are worth the sacrifice.

Alternatively, there are a whole lot of clubs out there with backpacking options at all levels and lots of cool people to go along with. Myself, I have hiked and backpacked extensively with the NY/North Jersey chapter of the AMC, both as a participant and as a leader.
posted by SampleSize at 2:20 PM on April 3, 2008


Definitely some great advice here. I think the part that really made sense is Miko's:

Err on the shorter side - maybe if you just go ahead and plan 5-mile days, you will be sure to make your end point and remove that stress. That doesn't mean you get less out of your trip. With extra time built into the day, you are free to do spur hikes that might take you out and back on a scenic trail. You can add in the extraneous loops that trails sometimes feature. You can hike up and down a stream bed and check things out. You can loll about having lunch and reading. And you can even get to camp early, drop your gear, and explore in more directions without the weight of your pack.

I think that makes excellent sense. Somewhere with a lot of side paths. If I'm making excellent time, add side paths, if not, cut them out.

Now I'll start looking for places that fit that, including among the other suggestions above. I love this place.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2008


You should be aware that June is peak black fly season in the Adirondacks and New England. It can be bad that time of year.

Doing a hut trip - as people have suggested above - could work well for you if you're not in great shape. Staying in a hut means you don't have to carry as much stuff, but it is more expensive. Another benefit (or drawback) of staying in huts is that you will meet other people in the evenings.

In New York's Adirondacks park, there are lean-to shelters available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Planning your trip to use (or camp near) the lean-tos would be another way to know that you'll be near other people.
posted by betterton at 1:55 PM on April 4, 2008


« Older Buddy needs a car!   |   Free crosswords for small newsletters? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.