The Palmetto Trail spans 472 miles across the entire state of South Carolina starting in the town of Oconee, and ending at the Atlantic Ocean just East of Charleston, SC. Most people don't have 5 months to conquer the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails, but don’t be discouraged; the Palmetto Trail presents you with a beautifully challenging trail that will not take the majority of a year to complete. As a matter of fact, most thru-hikers complete the trail in under 2 months, the perfect length for a summer backpacking trip. Here are some tips from our experienced RootsRated staff that will help you along the way:
1. Do Your Homework
The more literature about the trail you can get your hands on, the better. These books or pamphlets will have important information that will come in handy while you’re on the trail. Familiarize yourself with a map of the trail and area, and you will be a lot more at ease making decisions when the time comes. The Thru-Hiker's Manual for the Palmetto Trail of South Carolina is an excellent read to prepare you for the PT. You can find Literature like this near the Palmetto Trail trailhead or at Half-Moon Outfitters in Greenville, SC.
2. Pack Smart
Go lightweight, and be much happier on those long days. The less clothing the better, and the clothing you do choose to bring should be breathable like wool or Patagonia’s Capilene. You’re going to smell bad, its just part of it, but you will find that getting a little dirty as opposed to the extra weight of unnecessary gear is a good call. Protecting your feet is very important as well. Never settle for the pair of hiking boots you aren’t completely comfortable with. Find the right pair, break them in, and you will be one happy camper. Trail runners are probably better than full-on boots for the non-technical trails of South Carolina, because they're less cumbersome.
3. Comfortable Sleeping System
Without a good night’s sleep before hiking 15-20 miles the next day, you’re going to struggle a little bit. Find a lightweight, yet comfortable sleeping system that ensures you sleep like the actual log next to you on the trail. An insulated pad/sleeping bag/bivy sack combo, or a hammock with a rainguard are both super comfortable and lightweight options that our RootsRated and Half Moon staffers swear by- especially the hammock, as it gets more air circulation during those hot southern nights.
4. Food & Water
Food is different for everyone depending on what tastes good to you, but most thru-hikers will tell you to pack easy meals that will help keep you going throughout the day. A good example for breakfast would be oatmeal, or a granola/protein powder mix you can pour water over- fast and efficient. Do a light lunch that won’t leave you feeling too full for the second half of the day, and treat yourself to a cooked meal for dinner. Dehydrate some of your favorite foods while in-town resupplying. This makes a delicious meal super lightweight and all you have to do is add water to enjoy it. A good water filtration system is important as well. Iodine tablets are light and easy to use, but ingest too much and your body will start to feel the consequences. Consider a Sawyer Filter .
The Palmetto Trail winds through many small towns and even large cities, making it very easy to resupply your food. It’s tempting to stop at every single opportunity and head to town, but try not to defeat the purpose of getting out in the woods and separating yourself from everyday life while you have the chance. The more weight you shed off your gear and clothing, the more food you can carry, making it easy for you to charge through those sleepy towns and get after it on the trail. The less time you spend eating meals in town, the better that burger from Poes is going to taste at the end of the trail.
6. Have a Good Time
You are thru-hiking because it’s what you love to do, and the Palmetto Trail is one of the most beautiful trails in our nation. Don’t get caught up in meeting your mileage quota for the day. This is your chance to pay attention and be grateful for your surroundings, sleep under the massive live oaks, and lay in a cold spring or two. Bring a Frisbee or a ball if you don’t mind the extra weight, and have fun with your days. Once you reach the lowcountry, you’ll have a great time dodging alligators and counting mosquitos, I don’t know about you, but that sounds awesome to me.
These tips will facilitate your experience on the Palmetto Trail, and ensure that your trip through South Carolina’s mountain tops, forests, swamps and marsh will be one you’ll remember for a lifetime.