Shelters (also called huts or lean-tos) are three-walled structures with a roof located every 8-10 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Some shelters are nicer than others. Regardless of how they look, every hiker is pleased to arrive at one at the end of the day.

A shelter, a three-walled structure

Your guide book will provide information such as the shelter capacity, how far it is from the AT, and where its water source is located. Here’s some more general information about shelters…

Facts about Shelters

  • Generally, shelters are about .1 to .2 miles from the AT down a blue blaze trail. A few shelters can be up to .5 miles away from the trail.
  • There’s usually a sign on the AT indicating that you have arrived at the shelter or a sign indicating the direction of the shelter.

A shelter sign

  • Most shelters are small and hold only 6-8 people with additional space around the shelter for tents. You will encounter some rare shelters that are quite roomy.

A roomy shelter is a find

  • Caretakers check on the shelters periodically and make sure everything is functioning properly. Please help keep the place tidy by packing out trash.
  • Shelters usually have a log book or registry. It might be tucked away in a box in the shelter. These log books are signed by hikers who are passing by or who have stayed there overnight. Pay attention to what hikers say in these notebooks, especially information about bear activity. This information can be beneficial for hikers particularly in places like New Jersey where there is a large bear population.

A shelter log book or registry

  • A lot of shelters have a broom or small brush for cleaning the floor. Use it and your gear will stay nice and clean.
  • The water source and privy are located near the shelter. If their locations are not obvious, look for signs nearby indicating their locations. Additionally, the guidebook might have this information.

Setting Up Your Spot in the Shelter

  • If you arrive first, select a spot to set up and do it as soon as possible. You’ll be glad you did when the temperature drops.
  • Avoid spreading your things out beyond your space. It’s fine to hang things out of the way though.
  • Hikers usually keep the following items next to their sleeping bag: water, headlamp, toilet paper, guidebook, camp shoes, and other toiletries like band-aids. Additionally, hikers fill a small stuff sack with clothing and use it as a pillow.

A hiker’s set up

  • Go ahead and hang your bear rope for your food bag while it is light outside. Nothing’s worse then having to hang a bag in the dark and cold.
  • When staying in areas where there’s been no recent bear activity, hikers usually hang their food bags on hanging hooks in front of the shelter. These hooks might be a rope with a small stick or an empty tuna can that functions to keep the mice out.

A hook for your food bag

  • Hang your backpack on one of the hooks provided on the wall and leave the other hooks open for other hikers. Tip: Unzip every pocket of your backpack so that mice can check it out at night. Seriously. The mice are searching for food. It’s best to let them have access so that your pack will not be chewed upon.
  • If there are no hooks to hang your backpack, hikers might prop their pack against the wall behind their head or place it under their feet for added cushion.
  • If arriving after dark, set up quietly and keep the noisy rustling to outside the shelter.

The Pros and Cons of Sleeping in a Shelter

When staying in a shelter, you can set up and break camp quickly, you won’t have to pack out a wet tent if it rains, and you can socialize with other hikers.

Shelters can be social

However, in shelters you will have no privacy.  Additionally, you might encounter mice, bugs, and some snorers.

Try out a shelter though. It’s part of the AT experience.