Shelter or Tent?

The Tricorner Knob Shelter, just below the sum...
The Tricorner Knob Shelter, just below the summit of Tricorner Knob (el. 6,120 feet/1,865 meters) in the Great Smoky Mountains. The shelter is one of the most remote structures in the state of Tennessee, being a 9 mile hike from the nearest parking lot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Appalachian Trail shelters and tents

In January 2012, I posted about whether it’s better to shelter or tent. I’ve reproduced the discussion below. But now there may be a big disadvantage to sleeping in a shelter versus choosing a tent. Hantavirus! This nasty affliction is spread by rodents, especially mice. Mice habituate shelters, and hikers tolerate them.

In the picture above, hikers can hang their food, but hikers are exposed to mice scurrying around during the night. Hantavirus is a severe illness.

Most hiking trails don’t provide shelters. The Appalachian Trail and The Long Trail (Vermont) have many shelters.Hiking and tenting on long-distance trails

They are convenient, but a tent, especially for sleeping, has advantages.

Privacy – You aren’t a stuffed sardine when it gets crowded.

Warmth – A tent with a rain-fly is warmer than an open shelter.

Better Sleep – You are not poked, or kicked, or outsnored.

No Mice – Those critters can drive you nuts!

So why choose a shelter to sleep in?

Convenience – Less hassle. No need to unpack and set up a tent; no need to dismantle and re-pack the tent in the morning, possibly in the rain.

Clothesline – Many shelters have them already. Easy to rig up, or simply hang garments from nails and hooks provided. Clothes are protected from outside weather.

Ease – Can sit and lean against a wall to read, journal, contemplate (I’m sore, I’m tired, I wish I had pizza and beer.)


Published by Ray Anderson

Hiker and writer. Have hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, The Long Trail (Vermont), and some of the Continental Divide Trail. My trail name is "HAMLET." Have written three hiking novels (thrillers). The first one, "THE TRAIL," was traditionally published in 2015. My second hiking thriller, "SIERRA," released Oct 2016. Book three in my AWOL hiking-thriller series, "THE DIVIDE" releases from Turner Publishing 8/18/2020.

15 thoughts on “Shelter or Tent?

    1. Cats! I met one Appalachian Trail thru-hiker whose cat rested on the top of his pack. Don’t know if they made it all the way, but in the shelter that night the cat caught some mice.

  1. I am not a hiker, but used to love camping out in the Adirondacks every fall with my family, and always in a tent. I thoroughly enjoy all your blogs, pictures and good advice. Thanks, Joan

  2. I wrote this same kind of blog post early on in our hike, and then, much later on, we discovered the reason to stop sleeping in shelters altogether- GIANT spiders. I mean the biggest you have ever seen. Pretty much scared us off of shelter sleeping from MD on!

    1. Yikes! That unnerves me just reading about it. The only thing that startled me in a shelter was the time I rolled down my bedroll, lay down on it and looked up to see a bat hanging upside down right above my head!

      1. At bat! That is awesome! I don’t think I ever saw a bat inside a shelter but I am surprised that doesn’t happen more often!

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