Shelters or lean-tos (depending on which state you’re hiking in) are usually three-sided, wooden structures that may sleep anywhere from 6 to 18 or more. Some date back to the early years of the trail while others have been erected in the past decade. Even though shelters do not provide any of the amenities of a hostel or lodge, some can be quite comfortable. While some are only the three walls and a floor, others may come equipped with picnic tables and occasionally a bench on which to relax. Some have privies; others don’t. A few even have wooden bunks which allow the earliest to arrive, refuge off the floor. Some shelters were constructed with two levels and a few are made of stone.
If the exhausted hiker decides that he prefers the privacy of his own tent, then he is also charged with the task of finding the appropriate level spot, preferably located away from any dead branches hanging precariously overhead. The tent, of course, must be set up as well, which also means that it must be taken down the next morning. For most this is of little concern; however, for the novice hiker, set-up and take-down can require a considerable amount of time, at least in the early stages of the journey. Rather than tents, some hikers may prefer hammocks or mere tarps. Some even sleep in bivy sacks these days.
Then when the opportunity arises, there is that other means of overnight accommodations…..the hostel or more to my liking, the motel. Even though I love to hike, I’m not that enthusiastic about sleeping in the woods every night. Realizing, however, that there will be on occasion three or more consecutive nights that I won’t have any other choice, I’m trying to make good decisions regarding which sleeping bag and what tent to include as part of my gear. Still, if I’m within a few miles of a room with a shower, laundry, and restaurants nearby, I’ll always opt for a night in town over another night on the trail.
As the hike continues I’m sure I’ll get more accustomed to camping and just might eventually prefer a night in a shelter over a night at a Best Western. Then again, I might eventually prefer a Lipton side over a burger, fries, a soft drink or a milk shake. It’s not likely that either will happen while I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I’m going to try to keep an open mind and entertain all my options. After all, a rested hiker is a hiker more apt to keep moving on. And moving on is what I hope to do.