How To Hike The 100 Mile Wilderness

The 100 Mile Wilderness is a place of rugged beauty. Winding along the Appalachian Ridge in northern Maine, the trail here presents a true challenge for any hiker. If you’re hoping to complete the trek, it’s important to come in prepared, and understand how to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness.

The 5 steps to successfully hike the 100 Mile Wilderness are:

  1. Study your route
  2. Train for the hike
  3. Time it right
  4. Choose good gear
  5. Prepare yourself mentally

There’s a lot to consider when planning for this trip. You need to learn about the topography, the weather, and how to pack like a pro. Read on to discover everything you need to know about hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness, so you can have the most epic trip of your life!

What Is The 100 Mile Wilderness?

The 100 Mile Wilderness is the longest stretch of continuous forest in the eastern United States. Vast and untamed, it houses the second-to-last last section of the Appalachian Trail before it ascends Katahdin Mountain in northern Maine.

The trail begins southerly at State Route 15 in Monson and ends at Abol Bridge in Baxter State Park. It’s one of the most remote trail sections in the US. It’s also one of the most beautiful, encompassing a diverse array of terrain that enchants even the most seasoned hikers.

You’ll be surrounded by majestic mountains, marshes, lakes, and forests. You’ll climb rocks and ford rivers, traversing tightropes of creaky wooden boardwalks as you breathe in cold boggy air.

Wildlife abounds here, but people don’t. If you hike this beauty at the right time of year, you may not see a soul around for days. There are no pit stops here, no paved road crossings, and no places to resupply at your leisure. It’s an incredibly demanding trek, with a total elevation gain of around 21,000 feet throughout its length.

History Of The 100 Mile Wilderness

The 100 Mile Wilderness runs through Maine’s North Woods region. Going back over 150 years, most of this land has been privately owned. Operators large and small harvested the old-growth timber here for paper production.

Despite private ownership, this land has always been a haven for hikers, backpackers, hunters, and outdoorsmen. Among them was the famous wordsmith Henry David Thoreau, who spent a few weeks attempting to scale Mt. Katahdin back in the 1840s.

Thoreau failed miserably, ending up with a healthy respect for the North Woods. He wasn’t alone in his quest for natural beauty, however. People have always flocked here, relying on the sheer remoteness of the region to provide all the recreational opportunities they could ask for.

The Start Of Conservancy

There wasn’t much conservancy going on in this area before the 2000s. However, major changes in the paper industry ignited a shift during the nineties. Land that had been privately owned for generations was sold, with much of it going to the government and conservancy groups. Nowadays, this land is more protected than ever before.

The Appalachian Mountain Club maintains the trails south of Monson. But once the wilderness begins, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club is responsible for keeping up with the trail system. They do a good job, as the trail here is marked and well maintained – as much as a 100-mile stretch of wilderness can be, that is.

How To Pack For The 100 Mile Wilderness

Your backpack and what’s inside it can make or break you on the 100MW. It’s essential to pack everything you need, but be careful not to overpack. The last thing you want is to bring along a bunch of unnecessary supplies and have to carry extra weight the whole time.

The gear you bring depends largely on your personal tastes and preferences. Generally speaking, the lighter your gear is the better off you are. However, you don’t have to overspend to get the ultralight version of everything. So, what should you be focusing on when it comes to gear?

Your backpack comes first. Choose a pack with around a 75-liter capacity to fit in all your gear. This should be enough to carry your essentials without adding unnecessary bulk to your pack. If you’re spending more on ultralight gear, you can get a smaller pack.

The Right Shoes For The 100MW

Your shoes are also incredibly important. You must protect your feet every step of the way, so your boots should be broken in by the time you set off. It’s a good idea to upsize your hiking boots by half a size, because your feet will swell on the trail. Having shoes that your feet can swell up into will minimize discomfort and blisters.

It’s also a good idea to bring along a pair of lightweight sandals for fording rivers. You don’t want to get your hiking boots wet, because hiking in wet shoes causes blisters, fungus, and eventually rot to set in. If your boots do get wet, you’ll need to wait for them to dry off before you carry on.

Choosing The Right Tent

You need to choose a tent based on the number of people you have with you, how heavy it is, and which season you’re going in. A freestanding tent may be a great boon here, because some of the shelters along the way provide a great place to set up in, but nowhere you can stake your tent down.

A tent isn’t the only shelter you need to think about, either. You also need a rainfly, a waterproof pack cover, and waterproof clothing to mitigate dampness. If you’re short on cash for good rain covers, my advice is to bring along several garbage bags.

You should also get some waterproof stuff sacks for food and gear. You can hang these by your tent at night to prevent animals from getting into them, and they should keep your things relatively dry and protected during the next morning’s hike.

Staying Comfortable

On the trail, staying as comfortable as possible is the only way to keep your sanity. Bringing along an inflatable mattress pad is a good idea to protect you from both the cold and the hard ground as you sleep. It can mean the difference between waking up well-rested and never going to sleep in the first place, so it’s a worthwhile investment on the 100 MW.

Many people like to bring along trekking poles. They can provide comfort, promote stability, and prevent injury on uneven ground. The poles might seem cumbersome, but they can really help you out when you’re going over rough terrain or fording streams and creeks with flowing water.

Safety Materials

Staying safe is of utmost importance during your hike. Do not neglect a first aid kit including anti-itch cream and antibiotic ointment. Sunscreen and bug spray will help to save you from the harsh elements here, and you should always have a water purification system to make any water safe to drink.

A knife works wonders for cooking, repairs, and all sorts of other projects you’ll run into on the trail. You should also have a roll of duct tape for quick fixes, and you may want to bring along a sewing kit. If you intend to sew, get sailor’s thread, because it’s much more durable than garment thread.

Planning Food

This is one strenuous hike. You’ll need between 3,000 and 5,000 calories per day to fuel yourself adequately. This equates to around 1.5-2 pounds of food per day, or 15-20 pounds in total. To minimize the burden, it’s essential to pack high-calorie items that weigh as little as possible.

Choose foods that provide all macronutrients. Focus on fat for satiety, as fat will provide maximum calories in their densest form. Foods like peanut butter, dried salami, and hard cheese are great because they provide both fat and protein. For a kick of sweet energy, protein bars work wonders.

Bring sachets of instant oatmeal along for breakfast, and try to buy as many dehydrated foods as possible. These can be in the form of instant camping meals, or they can be things like dehydrated beans or textured vegetable protein.

Don’t forget to pack some fun things. Even if the nutritional profile isn’t so great, it’s incredibly satisfying to bite into something delicious at the end of a long day. With that in mind, you should some things treats like chocolate and sugary drink mixes. Morale goes up when the candy comes out, but just ensure you bring a balance so you don’t end up crashing on the trail.

Packing Food

Pack your main food supply in the middle of your backpack in a waterproof stuff sack so it stays protected by gear while you hike. When you break down your pack to make camp each evening, you’ll have easy access to it. Use the sack to hang it up at night so it won’t be subjected to curious insects or animals.

As you pack up camp in the morning, you should take out your food for the day. Stow it in a compartment on the outside of your pack. That way, you can have easy access to snacks and lunch on the trail, saving you from breaking down your pack each time you need a boost of energy.

Things To Skip

If you want to lighten your load, skip the fishing pole, fire-starters, and cooking sets. It’s likely you won’t make any fires and just one pot will work fine. If you want fire, take some matches with you and make one by hand. If you want a cooking set, buy an ultralight backpacking one.

You also don’t need to bring along giant jugs for water. There is plenty of water along the trail, you just need to bring a filtration system or purifying tablets to make it potable. Be sure to have your main bottle and another reservoir, and you’ll be set.

A camping stove is an item you will need. It may seem tempting go overboard with extra stove-safe cookware and fuel, but it isn’t ideal. Extra cooking gas is heavy and bulky, so it’s a good idea to skip it if you can. Especially if you plan on hiking quickly, you likely won’t need extra fuel. Instead, bring along items that cook quickly like instant pastas and survivalist packs.

You can also stock up on energy-rich items that don’t need to be cooked like peanut butter and tortillas. Don’t pack your bag with cans of food. It’s tempting to have a fully-cooked item waiting for you, but they add a lot of weight. Additionally, avoid perishable items like fresh meat and vegetables. These can spoil quickly, and they can attract insects and other wildlife to your camp.

How Long Does It Take To Hike The 100 Mile Wilderness?

It usually takes around 10 days to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness. Hiking 10 miles per day is a reasonable rate for most people. You may take longer than this, or you may finish it faster. It will also depend on when you decide to hike the 100MW, as the terrain can change a lot throughout the year.

How To Hike The 100 Mile Wilderness

1. Study Your Route

Will you begin from the north or from the south? The terrain is flatter in the north and steeper in the south, so those worried about carrying their heavy load could benefit from starting in the more forgiving Baxter State Park. As you eat your food supply, your pack will get significantly lighter. It will be easier to carry when you hit the hardest parts of the trail.

If you’re hoping to hike up Mt. Katahdin, you may want to consider going the opposite way.Taking the northbound route from Monson will give you a period of rest between the challenging southerly hike and the difficult trek up the mountain at the northern end.

Even if you won’t hike up the mountain, many people prefer to get the hardest part of the hike over with in the beginning. That way, you can enjoy the easier terrain without worrying about difficulties up ahead.

Preparing For The Road

It’s also important to think about what you’ll face on the route itself. The 100 MW is full of natural wonders, but many of them aren’t easy to hike through. Plan on fording rivers and streams without the benefit of bridges. Expect to get wet on your hike, both from boggy marsh water and from rain.

The trail itself is notoriously full of tree roots, making it difficult to navigate. You’ll get bitten by bugs, you’ll get incredibly tired, and you’ll be hiking up and down very steep inclines. Most people slow to a crawl here, and even the most experienced hikers average just one mile per hour in some areas.

If you study your route and plan for these hardships, you’ll get yourself in a good headspace for the trek. Look at the elevation maps and pick up a trail guide from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club so you’ll know when a particularly difficult portion of the hike is coming up.

2. Train For The Hike

Hiking the 100 MW is no easy feat. However, that shouldn’t scare you away. One of the best aspects of the Appalachian Trail is that it doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can hike it. But if you want to hike it successfully, you need to prepare your body with physical training.

The best way to train adequately is to implement a scheduled regimen that you’ll follow for at least a few months before you hike. This won’t be as simple as running a few miles on the treadmill every day. It’s important to train specific muscle groups that you use for hiking.

Target Your Training

Practice strength training in the legs and core muscles primarily, and focus on the back and shoulders next. Jump squats, hip rolls, squat curls, and other targeted exercises will build muscle in these groups and gradually increase your strength.

At the same time, don’t skimp on cardio. Head outside rather than indoors, hitting your local hiking trails to practice jogging or running over uneven ground. This will help prepare you for the rough terrain you’ll be heading into.

Practice carrying your backpack with you as well. Pack it with food and gear, increasing its weight until you’re hiking with a full pack. You should head out for weekend hikes with this pack, spending as much time on local trails as you can in preparation for the 100-mile trek.

3. Time It Right

Timing is everything in the 100 Mile Wilderness. You need to think about the length of time it will take you to complete a 100-mile hike, so that you can pack enough supplies to last you. Hiking ten miles per day is reasonable for most people who attempt the trail, especially once you factor in steep mountainsides and rough trails. This means most hikers will finish in 10 days.

Many will finish faster if they’re in good shape. However, you don’t want to go too fast. Though the hike is challenging, it’s all about enjoying your time. Some people might require more than 10 days. There’s nothing stopping you from taking additional time, but carrying food for extra days could get heavy.

When Should You Hike The 100MW?

Most experts agree that late June through early July are the best weeks for hiking the 100MW. In early June, the trail is flooded with mud and difficult to pass through. Daily spring downpours can make your hike uncomfortable and dangerous, with flooding beside rivers and bogs posing a major threat.

Wintertime hiking is ill-advised because of massive snowfall, while summertime brings out the tourists, backpackers, and day-trippers who can crowd trails. Hiking late June through early July allows you to miss massive swarms of blackflies as well as those who come for sightseeing.

4. Choose Good Gear

Good gear can make or break you during a hike. Since the 100 MW has major elevation gains and uneven ground, you want a sturdy set of gear you can count on when the going gets tough. Does that mean you need to break the bank trying to grab all the most expensive gear? No, but it wouldn’t hurt to invest in some good essentials for your comfort and safety on the trail.

Buy the lightest and best gear you can to increase your comfort and help lessen the load. Most people carry around 45-50 pounds when they begin, but you could go as low as 30 if you can afford to shell out for more lightweight gear.

Don’t be afraid to spend money on a good 3-season tent, as it’s a vital part of your gear. Think about waterproofing materials as well. Nobody really stays dry on this trail. Instead, it’s all about mitigating how wet you get. Good waterproofing will help you stay drier, more comfortable, and safer.

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s imperative to practice packing your bag before you set off on the journey. Pack it the way you want, then carry it around to see how it feels. During this process, you’ll most likely find that some things need adjusting.

Once you figure out the most comfortable way to pack your backpack, practice breaking it down and setting up camp. Practice in the dark, without a flashlight. Test all your gear out and make sure it functions properly and that you know how to use it.

Break in your backpack, shoes, and other gear by using it daily for a few weeks. This will ensure you’ll be comfortable on the trek, keeping blisters at bay and gear malfunctions to a minimum. As long as you prepare, you’ll be capable of conquering any situation you may find yourself in.

5. Prepare Yourself Mentally

The 100 Mile Wilderness encompasses 750,000 acres. It’s a true wilderness in every sense of the word, and it can get overwhelming quickly. You’ll need a good head on your shoulders to get over negative emotions caused by bad weather, bugs, isolation, and physical hardships.

Think about the reasons you want to complete this hike. Make a list and stick it in your backpack, pulling it out whenever you regret embarking on the journey. The list can ground you, helping you remember that you’re here for a reason.

If you’re hiking with companions, establish camaraderie when things go awry. Don’t blame others for forgotten gear or injuries that might occur. Instead, create a system of helping and supporting each other on the trail.  

Your Backup Plan

Those venturing forth into the depths of the 100 MW can become overcome with strong emotions like fear and panic if something goes wrong. Unfortunately, these emotions will only serve to exacerbate a bad situation. To protect you physically and mentally, have plans in place.

Things can and will happen out on the trail. Bring along a charged cell phone, keeping it off to preserve the battery. While you won’t have much service along the trail, some parts do get a bit of reception. Having the phone will allow you to call for help whenever you get in range of a tower.

Also bring along a first aid kit. Many people are tempted to leave the medical kit behind to cut weight off their packs, but this is a big mistake. Simply having an antibiotic ointment can save you from a big infection, while a bandage can keep dangerous blood loss at bay.

Bugs On The 100 Mile Wilderness

There are lots of bugs in the wilderness. If you’re venturing out this far, you need to be prepared to run into an assortment of critters great and small. Insects aren’t usually very dangerous, but they are one of the more unpleasant aspects of Maine wildlife.

The 100 MW is known for its particularly gigantic population of mosquitoes, gnats, and blackflies. There’s no escaping these insects no matter the season, and they will cause you some strife. The good news is that you can mitigate the damage they do and the annoyance they cause by coming in prepared.

What To Bring For Bugs

Bring ultra-fine mesh or mosquito netting to make a bug-net for your face. It’s much safer to navigate this 100-mile obstacle course if you can see properly, and keeping bugs out of your eyes is essential for your comfort and sanity.

Wearing lightweight, long-sleeve shirts and pants will deter some of the lazier insects. You get bonus points if you bring along specialized insect-repelling clothing, but more budget-minded backpackers can simply grab a can of bug spray.

Deet-based bug spray is one of the most important things to remember. Even if you usually prefer a gentler repellant, you’ll be wishing you had the strong stuff once the bugs start biting. People with sensitive skin types can spray it over their clothes instead of on the skin directly.

Hiking The 100 Mile Wilderness In Winter

Are you brave, crazy, or an eclectic mix of the two? Hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness in winter may be exactly what you need to feel alive. If you’re seriously considering a wintertime foray into Maine’s most unforgiving length of trail, think first about your fitness level and how seasoned you are.

You don’t need to be Hercules to hike the 100 MW, but you do need to be realistic. This hike is hard in the summertime, and it just becomes more difficult with everything draped in snow and ice. Only the strongest and most experienced hikers should be attempting this.

There is no library of resources you can turn to in preparation, either. Only a few people on record have ever attempted this hike during snow season, and the general consensus seems to be that it’s an incredible challenge. However, there’s nothing stopping you from trying your hand – but if you do, you need to keep some things in mind.

Start It Cold

If you’re doing a wintertime hike, don’t wear too many layers at the outset. It’s a good idea to bring adequate clothing, but start with less on than you think you need. Hiking in this area is incredibly taxing, and you’ll soon be sweating.

If you start with too many layers on, you’ll drench your clothes in sweat right away. This will cause them to stay wet, which saps warmth from your body and decreases your temperature overall. Wet skin and clothes can also cause chafing, which is very uncomfortable on those long winter hikes.

Pack Strategically

Winter temperatures in the Hundred Mile Wilderness tend to stay below freezing, and there will be a deep layer of snow on the ground. You’ll be carrying a lot more gear to stay warm, and it’s important to pack strategically so you can actually complete the hike.

You won’t get away with this without wearing snowshoes. You’ll also need to bring extra insulation for your wet foods and water supply to avoid it freezing as you hike. When you pack, make sure you have food supplies easily accessible on the outside of your pack.

You need to be able to grab food quickly so you don’t stop moving for too long. You should also have extra layers in a convenient location, so when you stop to rest you can quickly put them on for warmth. You don’t want to be digging around for trail mix or a shirt when the temperature drops.  

Fuel Your Body

Wintertime hiking burns more calories. You may need up to 4,000 calories per day depending on your body weight and hiking style. If you don’t pack enough food, you’ll be in big trouble. But how can you pack enough food for this arduous wintertime hike?

Calorie-dense options are the way to go. The more fat you have, the better off you’ll be, because fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient out there. Bring along a bottle of oil for cooking, and munch on nuts and cheese during the trek.

Hiking The 100 Mile Wilderness With Your Dog

Want to bring your best friend along for the ride? The good news is that dogs are allowed on the 100 Mile Wilderness Trail. However, it’s important to think very carefully before you bring your canine companion with you. Consider the health of your dog and how well you can care for them on the trek. Even if your pup is an experienced hiker, the 100 MW will be very difficult for them.

Paws can get cut by exposed roots. Changing temperatures and extended physical exertion will be rough on your dog. The hardest aspect will be the water crossings, because you never know for certain how high they will be. If your dog can’t swim across and you can’t help them out, you’ll have to wait for the water to go down.

You’ll also need to carry along your dog’s food. This could be an extra 15 pounds depending on the weight of your dog, and he or she will need extra calories for the hike just like you do. If you’re going with human companions, you can share that weight, but solo hikers may struggle with the extra load.

With all that said, many people do hike with dogs on the 100 MW trail. It’s all about your pup’s personality and how much they enjoy the great outdoors. If you don’t mind taking extra steps to hike with them and spending extra time preparing them, I say go for it! But if your dog struggles with a walk through the park, it may be best to leave them at home – for both of your sakes!

Final Thoughts

The 100 Mile Wilderness is one of the most rewarding hikes in the entire country. It’s a difficult but beautiful trail, winding through ancient mountains, forests, and marshes. Hiking the 100MW successfully  is all about preparation and choosing the right time to hike it.