Staying Clean on an Adventure: Trail Hygiene 101

If you love to hike, you probably don’t mind getting a little dirty. Muddy feet, sweaty shirts, and grime under your fingernails are all part of the trail experience. But there are a few good reasons to practice good hygiene while out in the woods. Poor habits like not washing your hands can spread diseases, and excessive dirt can cause bacterial infections in even small wounds like cuts and scrapes. Not to mention, not filtering your water can cause serious gastrointestinal problems. Not to mention, on longer backpacking trips, keeping good hygiene just makes you feel more comfortable and keeps you happy. A clean hiker is a healthy hiker, and a healthy hiker will enjoy many more miles on the trail.

Hikers should brush their teeth 2 to 3 times per day, just as they would at home. | Credit: Karen Miller
Hikers should brush their teeth 2 to 3 times per day, just as they would at home.
| Credit: Karen Miller

Clean Your Teeth

Hikers have a tendency to eat sugary snacks on the trail, so brush your teeth 2 times a day, just as you would at home. Pack a tiny toothbrush and a roll of floss, or carry a titanium toothpick instead of floss. Did you know you don’t need toothpaste to clean your teeth? A good brushing with clean water does the trick. If you prefer to use toothpaste, try an all-natural brand like Tom’s or Dr. Bronner’s, or take along a tiny container of baking soda. Swallow or spray your foam to prevent large globs from sitting on the forest floor. If you use floss, be sure to pack it out!

Above the Waist

To keep your hair clean, wear a buff or bandana. If your hair is very long, braid it tightly. Give your hair a good brushing before bed to remove debris that may have collected on the trail. For general above-the-waist hygiene, use a damp bandana to wipe down your body. Bathroom wipes are okay, but be sure to pack them out. Even if the package says they’re flushable, they are not biodegradable. Scented deodorant and soap attracts animals, so leave these items behind if you can.

A bandana, biodegradable toilet paper, reusable bathroom wipes, and hand sanitizer will keep you clean and healthy on the trail.  | Credit: Karen Miller
A bandana, biodegradable toilet paper, reusable bathroom wipes, and hand sanitizer will keep you clean and healthy on the trail.
| Credit: Karen Miller

Below the Waist

Carry only biodegradable toilet paper and use it sparingly. If you have to poop on the trail and there’s no privy available, choose a site that’s at least 200 feet off the trail, away from any water sources. Dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep, and 4 to 5 inches wide. (Follow local guidelines if they are more rigid or specific.) It’s always preferable to carry out used toilet paper. If you choose not to do so, bury it. For feminine hygiene products, always pack them out in an odor-proof bag.

Take Care of Your Feet

Your feet are your greatest asset when you’re hiking, so give them the treatment they deserve. When it comes to feet, a bandana is your best friend! Dip a clean bandana in water and use it to wipe your feet, especially before you go to sleep at night. This practice will keep your sleeping bag cleaner, too. Try a pair of toe sock liners which keep your feet cleaner than socks alone—they also help prevent blisters. If you come across a brook or stream, take off your boots and socks and give your feet a good, cold soak. If you don’t have access to water or have a limited water supply, use bathroom wipes to clean your feet. You can also make your own reusable wipes, and wash them out when you return home. Boil two cups of water with a tablespoon of coconut oil and a teaspoon of vinegar. Cut bandanas into wipe-size squares and soak in the liquid. Let cool and squeeze out excess liquid. Place in ziploc bags. Use separate bags for above-the-waist and below-the-waist cleaning. Used wipes can go into an odor bag to be washed when you return home.

Mud season is especially challenging when trying to practice good hygiene on the trail. | Courtesy: Joe King
Mud season is especially challenging when trying to practice good hygiene on the trail. | Courtesy: Joe King

What About Soap?

Do you need soap on the trail? Not really. You can wash your hands and face with plain water, and use a squirt of hand sanitizer on your hands and fingers. Trim your fingernails as short as possible before your hike and your nails will stay cleaner. But if you’re a soap person, only use a biodegradable brand, and never use soap in a stream or lake. Your choice of cleaning products helps maintain a “clean” trail, so think twice about what cleaning products you carry and whether you really need them.

Should You Wear a Mask on the Trail?

Evidence has shown that the virus is much more difficult to transmit outside, but social distancing and mask-wearing should still be big parts of your outdoor activities. While you probably don’t need to wear a mask when no one else is around, wear a Buff or bandana around your neck and quickly pull it up over your mouth and nose when you pass others, especially if the trail is too narrow to maintain 6 feet of distance. Although lots of hikers prefer to stay in shelters, this may not be the best time to do that. Carry a tent, pitch it away from other hikers, and be respectful of your fellow campers.


8 Reasons to Hike the Benton MacKaye Trail Right Now

A global pandemic has squelched the dreams of many Appalachian Trail thru hikers this year, but that doesn’t mean all long trails are off the table. A sister trail to the AT, the Benton MacKaye Trail (which was named after the father of the AT) spends 300 miles winding through Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, delivering a big dose of the Appalachian Trail-style scenery and lifestyle in a more manageable package. 

You should never erase the AT from your bucket list, but it’s definitely a big commitment of time, resources, and physical/mental energy. It’s also crowded, attracting over 4,000+ thru hikers each year. While the AT traverses the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountain range, the BMT goes west through some of the most remote backcountry regions of the Appalachians, including eight federally designated Wilderness Areas. There are only 3-shelters located on the trail, and group hiking is highly limited, which means you won’t need to fight for 6-feet of space hardly anywhere. So why else should you hike it?

The BMT crosses the AT and numerous other trails as it winds its way through the western Appalachian range. | Credit: Karen Miller
The BMT crosses the AT and numerous other trails as it winds its way through the western Appalachian range. | Credit: Karen Miller

1. Take Less Time Off Work

A thru hike on the AT means a 5-month commitment, which is obviously difficult for most working folks. But the 300-mile BMT is doable in 20 to 30 days based on your ability, so if you’ve earned 3 to 4 weeks of vacation time, you may not need to request a leave of absence from work. 300 miles isn’t too shabby for a thru hike, and it will give you a taste of what to expect if you’re thinking of thru hiking the AT in the future.

2. It’s a Four-Season Trail

The best seasons to hike the BMT are spring and fall, but the trail is hikeable all year. For summer hiking, be sure to carry bug spray and extra water, as some of the springs are dry in the higher elevations. For winter, carry crampons and other cold weather gear, and be sure to check weather reports daily. If you want to section-hike the BMT, consider hiking Georgia in the spring, Tennessee and North Carolina in the summer, and The Smokies in the fall.

View from Sterling Mountain fire tower, the highest point on the BMT at 5,842 feet, and the final climb before reaching the northern terminus at Davenport Gap. | Credit: Karen Miller
View from Sterling Mountain fire tower, the highest point on the BMT at 5,842 feet, and the final climb before reaching the northern terminus at Davenport Gap. | Credit: Karen Miller

3. Take in the Scenery from Atop Springer Mountain

If you begin your BMT hike at its southern terminus, you’ll be atop Springer Mountain, which is also the southern terminus of the AT. You’ll actually hike a short way on the AT until the trail splits— the BMT west, and the AT, east. Springer offers beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. If you choose to take the approach trail from Amicalola State Park to Springer Mountain, you’ll add 8 miles to your hike.

4. Get Your Toes Wet in Some White Water

At some point you’ll need to take a break, and both the Hiwasee and Ocoee Rivers offer some of the best whitewater rafting in the Southeast. The BMT actually crosses the Ocoee River in Cleveland, Tennessee, where you can take a zero day at Thunder Rock Campground, a popular destination for both whitewater and trail enthusiasts. Get some rest, then head over to the Ocoee Whitewater Center for a day of rafting.

View of Fontana Lake at the beginning of the Smokies section of the BMT. This section ends at Davenport Gap, the northern terminus of the BMT and the last of the Smokies section of the AT. | Credit: Karen Miller
View of Fontana Lake at the beginning of the Smokies section of the BMT. This section ends at Davenport Gap, the northern terminus of the BMT and the last of the Smokies section of the AT. | Credit: Karen Miller

5. Keep Your Eyes Peeled For Wildlife

Nearly all the BMT is wilderness with few amenities or facilities and is primarily on public, protected lands. Because it’s a lesser-traveled path you’ll be sure to see numerous animals like deer, black bear, bobcat, and wild boar on a daily basis. In addition, the BMT’s western Appalachian route is home to rare plants, fungi, fern colonies, rhododendron tunnels, and mountain laurel, making for great photo opportunities.

6. Pack Light Thanks to Stream Crossings

With the exception of some of the higher elevations, you’ll find water, water, everywhere on the BMT because of the trail’s countless stream crossings equipped with cleverly designed foot bridges. That means you don’t have to carry as much water, lightening your pack weight. Consider taking a dip into a stream’s icy water, or giving your sore feet a good soak while filling your water bottles. 

The BMT is so well maintained you may cross paths with more trail workers than hikers. In addition, the trail is well marked and safe for hikers of all skill levels. | Credit: Karen Miller
The BMT is so well maintained you may cross paths with more trail workers than hikers. In addition, the trail is well marked and safe for hikers of all skill levels. | Credit: Karen Miller

7. Avoid Crowded Trails and Shelters

Unlike the AT and other overpopulated trails, the BMT offers a secluded and isolated footpath. Did you know over 3 million guests visit the AT every year? That number reflects thru hikers and section hikers, along with day and weekend hikers. On the BMT you may not see another human for several days in a row, and its few shelters will most likely be empty.

8. Benton MacKaye Was a Visionary

When Benton MacKaye proposed a long distance trail from Georgia to Maine, he also envisioned a network of shorter trails branching out and rejoining the AT to make long, wilderness loops. The BMT is the only such loop that has been completed since its conception in 1975, when David Sherman, an administrator in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, revived MacKaye’s original project. The trail was completed in 2005 with the hard work of thousands of volunteers eager to share MacKaye’s vision with you. 

The Toccoa River Swinging Bridge, located in the Chattahoochee National Forest is a favorite spot on the BMT. | Credit: Karen Miller
The Toccoa River Swinging Bridge, located in the Chattahoochee National Forest is a favorite spot on the BMT. | Credit: Karen Miller

 


Tired of the Winter? These 7 Southeast Adventures Will Warm You Up

If you’ve had enough cold and snow for the season, why not plan a late-winter/early-spring vacation in the Southeast? In just a few hours you can fly into Atlanta, Georgia, or Jacksonville, and feel the sun on your face! Whether you’re a hiker, paddler, cyclist, or camper, you’ll want to check out these seven Southeast activities that are sure to warm your spirit for adventure during the Northeast’s coldest part of the year. 

Joe King gets his feet wet on the Florida National Scenic Trail. This 30-mile section of Big Cyprus is located at the southern terminus, and borders the Everglades. | Courtesy: Aaron Landon
Joe King gets his feet wet on the Florida National Scenic Trail. This 30-mile section of Big Cyprus is located at the southern terminus, and borders the Everglades. | Courtesy: Aaron Landon

Get Your Feet Wet at Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress, bordering Everglades National Park, is the southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail and offers a very challenging 3-day, 30 mile hike through an otherworldly wet cypress forest. This is considered the toughest backpacking trip in Florida, but if you can handle being wet most of the time, and don’t get too freaked out by the vast loneliness of hiking through a swamp, you’ll come away from this experience a changed person. If you want to continue north on the Florida Trail, keep going and you’ll reach Billie Swamp Safari within the Seminole Indian Reservation where you can sleep in a real Seminole Chickee hut.

Cumberland Island’s 50 miles of trails meander through pristine maritime forests under live oak canopies. Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
Cumberland Island’s 50 miles of trails meander through pristine maritime forests under live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, featuring pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marsh views. There are many miles of rustic hiking trails, backcountry campsites, historic sites, and lots of wildlife, including sea turtles, turkeys, wild hogs and horses, armadillos, and abundant shore birds. To make the most of your time on the island, set up camp at Yankee Paradise, a primitive campsite located in the middle of the island. From there you can explore Cumberland’s breathtaking seashore, Plum Orchard Mansion, Dungeness Ruins, and the Settlement, an area located in the north end of the island that was settled by former slaves in the 1890s. Make your camping and ferry reservations in advance because the number of visitors to the island are limited.

The Dirty Pecan ride and Thomasville Clay Classic are two gravel rides featuring stunning scenery beneath live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Phillip Bowen
The Dirty Pecan ride and Thomasville Clay Classic are two gravel rides featuring stunning scenery beneath live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Phillip Bowen

Cycle Through the South

The 40th Annual Florida Bicycle Safari will be held April 18-23 this year, and includes six days of riding in North Florida and South Georgia. “The Florida Bicycle Safari is much more than just a ride,” says Louis McDonald, Safari Director. “We’ve planned six days of cycling, food, games, live entertainment, and plenty of Southern hospitality at Live Oak and Cherry Lake. Our riders are from all over the country. Different routes are offered each day, including two century rides. Being the 40th anniversary, this year’s event is going to be our biggest yet!” 

And if gravel riding is your thing, the Dirty Pecan ride will be held on March 7 in Monticello, Florida, followed by the Thomasville Clay Classic on April 13 in Thomasville, Georgia. “I really love being off paved roads where there is little to no traffic,” says cyclist Cheryl Richardson, a member of the North Florida Bicycle Club. “Both of these rides feature beautiful tree canopies and spectacular scenery the entire route.”

The Okefenokee Wilderness Area offers over 400,000 acres of wetlands and swamps to explore with seven overnight shelters. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
The Okefenokee Wilderness Area offers over 400,000 acres of wetlands and swamps to explore with seven overnight shelters. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Paddle the Okefenokee Swamp

A multi-day paddling trip though Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a bucket list must do. There are wooden platforms throughout the swamp where you can pitch a tent at the end of each day of paddling. You’ll see lots of alligators, birds, and rare plants—The swamp is a photographer’s dream come true. You can bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent them at the park’s concessioner. They also offer guided paddling trips to suit your needs. Other activities include fishing and hiking. The Okefenokee will leave you spellbound.

The Pinhoti Trail’s Cheaha and Dugger Mountain Wilderness areas offer an otherworldly hiking experience. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
The Pinhoti Trail’s Cheaha and Dugger Mountain Wilderness areas offer an otherworldly hiking experience. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Hike Alabama’s Pinhoti Trail

Start your 335-mile hike at the southern terminus, Flagg Mountain, and meet famous hiker and author, Nimblewill Nomad, who is now the caretaker there. The Pinhoti traverses through Talladega National Forest, Cheaha Wilderness, and Dugger Mountain Wilderness before entering Georgia, where it eventually meets up with the Benton MacKaye Trail, and onto Springer Mountain. Appalachian Trail hikers consider the Pinhoti a great practice hike before attempting the AT.

Providence Canyon is a hidden gem in the state of Georgia, with just enough elevation changes and glorious scenery to make it fun for all ages.
Providence Canyon is a hidden gem in the state of Georgia, with just enough elevation changes and glorious scenery to make it fun for all ages.

Visit Georgia’s Providence Canyon State Park 

Called Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, Providence Canyon is a hidden gem. Massive gullies as deep as 150 feet were caused by poor farming practices during the 1800s, yet today they make some of the prettiest photographs within the state. Hikers who explore the deepest canyons will usually find a thin layer of water along the trail, indication of the water table below. The hike is not strenuous but has enough elevation changes to make it fun! Guests who hike to canyons 4 and 5 may want to join the Canyon Climbers Club. Backpackers can stay overnight along the backcountry trail which highlights portions of the canyon and winds through a mixed forest. This is a great trip for families who may prefer to stay in the developed campground and take day hikes. 

South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail includes the mysterious Swamp Fox Passage, where you can expect to do a little wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail includes the mysterious Swamp Fox Passage, where you can expect to do a little wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Hike South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail

South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail is a new trail, and still in progress (350 miles of the trail are completed; the entire trail will be 500 miles long). Swamp Fox Passage is the longest section of the cross-state Palmetto Trail at 47 miles, and traverses four distinct ecosystems through Francis Marion National Forest, including swamps made famous as hideouts of Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion. This trail is both dry and wet, and hikers will enjoy wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps, along with Turkey Creek. Swamp Fox Passage is close to Charleston, so be sure to give yourself an extra day or two to explore the city.


Hiking by Helping: The Art of the Support Team

When my husband Troy told me he wanted to hike Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail with his friend Brock, I was surprised. 

Troy and I have been hiking together since we met on the Appalachian Trail in 2017, and we’ve barely been apart for the last three years. But the Long Trail is a tough hike, and I knew I’d have a hard time keeping up with those long-legged men. So instead, we decided that I would support them on their journey by meeting them at trailheads in our van, providing food, drink, clean clothes, and dry socks. The Long Trail is remote in places and it would take an entire day to hitchhike into a town to resupply, wash clothes, get cleaned up, and hitchhike back, so keeping them fed would save them a lot of time and energy. By meeting up with Troy and Brock at regular intervals, they were able to make more miles and even take an occasional day off to rest.

Brock and Troy standing at the AT/LT trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts. | Credit: Karen Miller
Brock and Troy standing at the AT/LT trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts. | Credit: Karen Miller

Our planning began with the Guthook hiking phone app (an electronic guidebook), along with the Green Mountain Club’s Long Trail paper map, and a Vermont Gazetteer geographical guide, which allowed me to figure out which roads would be the best places to meet them, along with services, campgrounds, and grocery stores near the trail itself. A day before they started their hike, we went to Walmart and stocked up on all of the food they’d need for three weeks on the trail. And on August 23, I left them at the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail trailhead in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where they would hike a few miles to the Vermont border, the southern terminus of the Long Trail, and continue north until they reached Canada.

Troy and I have been hiking together since we met on the Appalachian Trail in 2017, and we’ve barely been apart for the last three years. But the Long Trail is a tough hike, and I knew I’d have a hard time keeping up with those long-legged men.

The Long Trail traverses almost all of the Green Mountains’ major summits, including Glastenbury Mountain, Stratton Mountain, Killington Peak, Mount Abraham, Mount Ellen, Camel’s Hump, Mount Mansfield, and Jay Peak. Our first meetup was to be at Kelly Stand Road, after 3 ½ days that included their first major climb, Glastenbury Mountain. The two hikers had big smiles on their faces when they saw me at the van with snacks, beer, and a cleanup station. We discovered a small camping area just down the road, where I served the hungry hikers barbecued chicken and coleslaw before turning in for the night. In the morning, Troy and Brock filled their food bags for another four days while I cooked them breakfast, and they were back on the trail in no time at all.

Troy and Brock filled their resupply boxes with food and supplies before they set out on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller
Troy and Brock filled their resupply boxes with food and supplies before they set out on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller

Our next meeting point was Clarendon Gorge, just a few miles from our friends’ home in Rutland. They had invited us to stay for the weekend, which was plenty of time for the hikers to take showers, rest, and resupply their food bags while I washed their clothes and shopped for our next meetup. After their “zero” day, I dropped them back on the trail and they “slackpacked”  nearly 18 miles into Killington, where I met them at the Inn at Long Trail for dinner. At this point the weather was turning colder and wetter, and Brock was getting discouraged. By the time the two had hiked into Brandon Gap a few days later, Brock was ready to head home. We were sad that he wasn’t enjoying his trip, and we hated to say goodbye, but that’s all part of life on the trail. Troy immediately got back on the Long Trail and hiked to Middlebury Gap, our next meeting place.   

By meeting up with Troy and Brock at regular intervals, they were able to make more miles and even take an occasional day off to rest.

Middlebury Gap is about halfway to the Canadian border, and this is where the hike becomes more difficult. Troy decided to take two days off before he would do the big push to the end of the trail. We stayed at Branbury State Park where we took walks, napped in our hammock, ate shrimp and grits, and watched an old Danny Kaye movie on my laptop. Troy was feeling well rested and strong as I dropped him off on the trail again. 

The next few days he would summit Mount Abraham, Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen, and Camel’s Hump. On September 11, when I met him late in the evening at the Winnooski River, I could see he was exhausted, and cold. I cooked him a pot of Italian tortellini soup, and he slept long and hard into the next morning. I suggested he take another day off, but he was eager to go on, so after a breakfast of bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers, he got back on the trail to do 37 more miles to our next meetup, climbing Mount Mansfield’s infamous Forehead, Lips, and Chin, along with Madonna Peak and Whiteface Mountain.

Nothing better than a cold beer after several days on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller
Nothing better than a cold beer after several days on the trail. | Credit: Karen Miller

When we met at VT15, we took a day off at Elmore State Park, and after getting cleaned up we drove into Waterbury to visit the Green Mountain Club, Ben & Jerry’s, and a laundromat. At this point, Troy was well into the groove of the Long Trail, and eager to finish his trip. After going over the maps he decided he wanted to hike straight through to Canada, where I would meet him at the northern terminus, a place called “Journey’s End.” So the next morning after a hot breakfast, I left Troy at VT15 for the last 51 miles of his hike, while I hung out at Millbrook Campground in Westfield, just a 12-mile drive to the trailhead.

I felt closer to him than ever, knowing that being there for him helped him hike longer and stronger, and brought him back to me safe and sound.

On September 15, Troy hiked several short but steep climbs before his last big summit to Jay Peak. A few miles later, the trail became smoother and greener. “It’s like everything was improving as I got closer to Canada,” laughs Troy, remembering his last hours on the Long Trail. He arrived at the northern terminus at 5:11 p.m., and then took the approach trail to the Journey’s End parking lot where I was waiting for him in the van. My hiker man looked tired and cold, but he smiled broadly when I ran down the trail to embrace him.

To celebrate his success, we drove to Jay Village Inn for the night, where Troy enjoyed a well-earned sauna, shower, and a hearty meal of seafood and fine wine. After a good night’s sleep in a soft, warm bed, we talked about our hiking/supporting experiences over the last three weeks. I felt closer to him than ever, knowing that being there for him helped him hike longer and stronger, and brought him back to me safe and sound. We’re not sure where our upcoming adventures will take us, but next time, perhaps he’ll be supporting me!

Troy’s trail angel waits for the hikers’ arrival at Brandon Gap. | Courtesy: Karen Miller
Troy’s trail angel waits for the hikers’ arrival at Brandon Gap. | Credit: Troy Allen Lair