Fastpacking Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness
BY BRANDON CHASE
During a mid-winter run with my high school buddy, Andrew, we discussed our summer plans. When he mentioned his intention to tackle Maine's Hundred Mile Wilderness, my curiosity was instantly sparked. This renowned section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) spans approximately 100 miles through the remote and rugged wilderness of northern Maine. offers an authentic backcountry experience with dense forests, rolling hills, picturesque lakes, and rocky mountain terrain. It stands out for its isolation, lacking road crossings or resupply points, making it one of the longest sections of the Appalachian Trail without easy access to amenities. Hikers must be well-prepared, self-sufficient, and bring sufficient food and supplies for the journey. The remarkable beauty, solitude, and adventure found in the Hundred Mile Wilderness make it a sought-after destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a true wilderness experience.
Start of the Hundred Mile Wilderness
As someone who completed a thru-hike of the entire Appalachian Trail in 2018, covering the 2,200-mile distance in less than 100 days, I vividly remember being captivated by the ruggedness and splendor of this particular section. Now residing for part of the year in Millinocket, the nearest town to Baxter State Park and the northern terminus of the AT, I spend most of my summers in close proximity to the trail and have been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to spend more time exploring its beauty. After some of my own plans fell through, I proposed to Andrew that we embark on a fastpacking adventure, combining elements of trail running and traditional backpacking to cover the Hundred Mile Wilderness in a brisk three-day period.
Finishing the AT at Katahdin in 2018
Fastpacking merges the efficiency and speed of trail running with the self-sufficiency and overnight camping aspects of lightweight backpacking. Its primary objective is to cover long distances in a shorter time frame by carrying only essential gear that is lightweight and compact. This approach enables extended outdoor adventures while maintaining a swift pace. Fastpackers prioritize reducing weight, opting for ultralight gear, compact sleeping systems, and minimal food and water supplies. By adopting this style of backpacking, we can explore vast landscapes, overcome challenging terrain, and relish the freedom of long-distance journeys with a lighter and more efficient approach.
Both Andrew and I have the privilege of being coached by Joe "Stringbean" McConaughy, a renowned figure in the fastpacking community. Joe holds Fastest Known Time (FKT) speed records on iconic trails like the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, Long Trail, Arizona Trail, and John Muir Trail. He has also achieved success in ultramarathons, including winning the Cocodona 250 in 2022. I have been fortunate to work with Joe since 2018, both as a running client and together as guides for backpacking trips under Andrew Skurka Adventures.
Joe and I guiding a backpacking trip in West Virginia in 2020
Andrew and I share a deeper connection, as we both grew up near Bar Harbor, Maine, just outside of Acadia National Park. During high school, we were teammates on the football and wrestling teams, and Andrew continued his athletic journey by playing linebacker at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. While neither of us initially had a strong interest in backpacking or running, we both developed a passion for endurance athletics later in life. It was a happy coincidence that we found ourselves on the trail together nearly 20 years after our time on the field.
Beginning the 100MW at Abol Bridge
Our journey began on a humid and insect-filled morning in early July, starting south from Abol Bridge towards the terminus in Monson, Maine. Our research indicated that the section was closer to 91 miles than 100, so we planned to cover more than 30 miles per day to complete the trek in three days. We were aware that the southern 50 miles would present greater challenges, with steeper climbs and rougher terrain, requiring us to frontload our mileage to accommodate the slower pace.
With enthusiasm and a brisk pace, we maintained an average speed of nearly 3 miles per hour, interspersed with breaks for lunch and refreshing waterfall swims. By evening, we reached our campsite, promptly set up our shelter, and retired for the night, content with our progress.
Easier miles were had in the northern half of the HMW
The following day we hit the trail before 6 am, well aware of the significant climb awaiting us to summit Whitecap Mountain, the range's highest peak, and the forecasted afternoon rain. Despite encountering more demanding terrain, our spirits remained high as we fondly reminisced about football games we’d lost decades ago and races we had participated in since. As we ascended toward Whitecap, the rain began to drizzle through the trees, dampening our clothing. Donning our rain gear, we persevered, reaching the summit briefly to check our mileage and discovering that our GPX track had underestimated the route length, indicating a closer approximation to 100 miles. Undeterred, we pressed on, completing a 32-mile day with over 6,000 feet of elevation gain, eventually finding solace in our tent as the rain serenaded us to sleep.
My pack, the Nashville “Bridge” was drenched in rain for hours but gear inside remained dry.
When we woke up in the morning, the rain had intensified significantly. Our clothing from the previous day was thoroughly soaked, but thanks to careful planning, our essential items like sleeping bags, electronics, and food remained protected within our packs and waterproof liners. Aware that we still had nearly 40 miles to cover and realizing it would be unlikely to finish within daylight hours, we faced a challenging decision. The terrain had become extremely demanding, with the trail flooded and waterways swollen due to heavy June rain. Slick rocks and roots made each step treacherous, and we faced over 8,000 feet of elevation gain ahead of us. Despite the hardships, we pressed on, driven by our determination to see how far we could go.
Increased rainfall in June made for tricky water crossings
As the afternoon progressed, the rain subsided and the sun briefly emerged from behind the clouds, lifting our spirits. However, our pace inevitably slowed, leading us to a critical juncture. Should we continue to the southern terminus, potentially hiking past midnight, or opt for an earlier exit to rest and recover at a nearby hostel? Ultimately, we had to define what success meant for this trip. Was it completing the Hundred Mile Wilderness in its entirety or giving our best effort over three days and sharing the journey together? We concluded that it was the latter, and we used our satellite communicator to message Andrew's wife, arranging for her to meet us at the next trailhead.
A break in the rain atop Barren Mountain
In the end, we covered 91 miles and conquered 18,000 feet of elevation gain, all within 40 hours of movement over three days. Although it would have been satisfying to complete the entire route, we harbored no regrets. We valued the experience for what it was and appreciated the challenges, lessons, and camaraderie that came along the way.
At the end of three long days. Relieved and exhausted!
Though it was a quick trip once started, it took months of preparation and planning to get us to that point. In order to plan for a successful fastpacking trip like this, a few key elements are necessary:
- Route Selection: Choose a route that suits your desired distance and difficulty level, taking into account the terrain, elevation changes, and any permits or regulations that may apply. Research the trail conditions and potential water sources along the route. For beginners, a route closer to home with fewer complicating factors is ideal.
- Lightweight Gear: Opt for lightweight and compact gear, including a lightweight tent or shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, cookware, clothing, and backpack. Prioritize durability and functionality while keeping weight to a minimum. Backpacks made for fastpacking, such as the Nashville Pack & Equipment Co.’s “Bridge” is ideal for fastpacking because it is compressible, compact, and have lots of storage on the straps, much like a running hydration vest. Clothing from PATHprojects works great for fastpacking, as it is all lightweight, functional, and durable.
- Food and Water Strategy: Plan your nutrition and hydration carefully to strike a balance between carrying enough supplies to sustain you while minimizing weight. Consider dehydrated meals, energy bars, and lightweight water filtration or purification systems.
- Navigation and Safety: Carry a detailed map, compass, or GPS device to ensure you stay on track. Familiarize yourself with the route beforehand and be prepared for potential hazards, such as wildlife encounters, water crossings, or adverse weather conditions. Be sure to pack a first aid kit and any necessary safety equipment, and leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends.
- Training and Fitness: Prepare physically and mentally for the demands of fastpacking by incorporating running, hiking, and strength training into your fitness routine. Gradually increase your mileage and practice carrying a loaded backpack to simulate the conditions you will encounter.
- Weather Considerations: Check the weather forecast for your planned trip dates and adjust your gear and clothing accordingly. Be prepared for sudden weather changes, especially in mountainous or remote areas.
- Leave No Trace: Respect the environment and practice Leave No Trace principles. Minimize your impact on the trail by properly disposing of waste, following trail etiquette, and respecting wildlife and vegetation.
By taking into account these essential elements in your preparations for a fastpacking trip, you can elevate your safety, satisfaction, and overall achievement on the trail. Fastpacking offers a unique blend of the thrilling experience of trail running and the serene nature of backpacking, enabling a profound connection with the outdoors while pushing your physical and mental limits. If you seek a new way to immerse yourself in the trails and have limited time at your disposal, fastpacking might be the perfect solution for you. Happy Trails!