Just before the coronavirus arrived, I got the chance to hike for a month on various parts of the Israel National Trail, or in Hebrew, “Shvil Israel.” I was travelling with a large group of people, so when we reached the middle of the trail, the restrictions stopped us. The first half was incredible, and now I’m dreaming of completing the second half. Edit: I’ve completed the part from Dan to Jerusalem on October-November 2020. In this post, I’ll share some useful things to know if you want to get prepared for the Israel National Trail.
A few words about the Israel National Trail:
The Israel National Trail spreads to a length of around 1,000 kilometers, which is about 621 miles. It connects Eilat in the south to Kibbutz Dan in the north and passes through breathtaking landscapes, ancient sites, and modern-day settlements on the way. You’ll be hiking colorful mountains in the desert, passing by ancient ruins from around 2,000 years ago, enjoying natural water pools, and meeting fabulous people on the way.
After hiking the northern part of the trail, I understood that there are many ways to hike the trail. You can take it easy, hike only half a day, stop to volunteer in certain places along the way, OR you can challenge your limits, hike 25-30 km a day or more, race through the beautiful landscapes and feel exhausted, yet satisfied, at the end of the day. Of course, you can also do something in the middle, not too slow and not too fast. You can sleep outdoors the entire trip, in tents or only sleeping bags, OR you can combine some Trail Angels and paid accommodation options along the way. The options to experience the Israel National Trail are endless.
How long does it take to complete? It takes about two months to complete, but if you’re fast, you might be able to complete it within a month and a half, hiking on average about 25-30 kilometers per day. If you want to take it easy, you can spread the trail over a larger amount of time.
How does the trail mark look? The trail is marked by an orange-blue-white marker on rocks and signs along the way. You should see this marker quite frequently. If you haven’t seen it for more than a few hundred meters, you should stop and see if you’re on the right track. Though, there are some segments which are not marked very well, so it’s best to keep an eye on the paper or online map.
I’ve stumbled upon this beautiful video by Łukasz Supergan that gives an overview of the trail:
A few words about the physical side:
The Israel National Trail is full of beauty, but it isn’t easy. Even if you have hiked some challenging day hikes in the past, that doesn’t necessarily make you ready for the challenges of the trail. Remember that you’re going to carry all your belongings on your back, sleep outside of your comfy home, and hike day after day. If you’ve already done some treks in your life, then you probably know how it’s going to feel. If it’s your first long trek, here are some tips to make the hike a bit more pleasant:
- Carry as little as you can. I’m going to talk about the packing list later, but the key is to carry as little as possible. Carry only what you will definately need. This way, your back will be thanking you on the trail. It’s recommended to carry maximum 17 kilograms. If your body weight is small, try aiming towards the 11 kilograms on your back. Take into account that you will need about 3-5 kilograms of water in the north and 5+ kilograms of water in the south. That should be calculated into the total weight on your back.
- Take long walks with your backpack a few days before the start of the trek. To get used to the weight, I recommend packing all your equipment in your backpack and going on long walks with it in your nearby surroundings. This way, you’ll understand if you need to get rid of some more equipment and get used to the feeling of the backpack on your back. If I would have done that, maybe I would have felt better on my two first days of hiking.
- Listen to your body and take rest when you need it. The Israel National Trail is your opportunity to become a close friend of your body. Listen to it, recognize when it is painful, understand its limits, and take rest when you need it. You might need multiple stops throughout the day, shorter segments, or more frequent day-offs. You may have a dream to complete the trail super fast, but you need to be realistic. You don’t want your body to fall apart on the way.
- Take the difficulty level more seriously. Many segments of the trail are labled easy or easy-moderate. I also lable some of them that way. You need to understand that the segment might be easy on the paper, but the fact that you’re carrying many kilograms on your back and tiredness from the other day may make the segment a bit more difficult. The difficulty level is directed towards day-hikers, who come with a small backpack and lots of energy. Relate to your hikes accordingly.
- Bring a good sleeping mat and sleeping bag. It’s super important to get good sleep on the trail. If you plan to sleep outdoors, make sure to bring a good sleeping mat, that will support your back, and a sleeping bag that fits the forecasted temperature.
- Bring a first aid kit. Most likely that you will need it. Most people experience blisters on the first couple of days, so bring something for that. All kinds of bandages could also be helpful, and iodine.
When should you start the hike?
There are two major seasons for hiking the Israel National Trail – spring (from February to April) and fall (from September to November).
If you start the hike during the spring, it is best to start from Eilat in the south and hike northward. This way, you’ll reach northern Israel just in time for the major flower blossom. The temperatures should still be pleasant, and the waterholes and springs will probably be full, which means you can refresh yourselves along the way. We began the hike in late February from Eilat and experienced only three days of rain while in the desert. Most days were very pleasant, even a bit warm during the afternoon, and the blossoming flowers around Ramon Crater were fantastic!
If you start the hike during the fall, it is best to start from Kibbutz Dan in the north and hike southward. The temperatures might be hot in the beginning, which means you’ll need to start your hikes early morning, but when you’ll reach the desert, the temperatures should already be mild or even cold, so make sure to pack something warm. The route from north to south is easier, as it includes less ascends, so if you’re a beginner, it might be better to start in the fall.
How to reach the beginning of the trail?
Reaching the beginning of the trail is very easy, no matter if you choose to start in the north or in the south.
To reach the trail in Eilat: Order a bus ticket to Eilat and get off at the central bus station. From there, take Egged bus number 15, which leaves from outside the central station. Get off at the station called “Derech Mizraim/ Beit Sefer Sadeh” (in Hebrew: ” דרך מצרים/בית ספר שדה”). You can ask the driver to get off at the Eilat Field School, in Hebrew “Beit Sefer Sadeh.” The trail begins behind the field school. There’s a big sign at the beginning. If you can’t find it, ask at the field school.
To reach the trail in Dan: From Tel Aviv, take bus number 845 to Kiryat Shemona and from there, take bus number 55 or 56 to Dan. From Jerusalem, take bus number 963 to Kiryat Shemona and continue to Dan. You do not need to purchase bus tickets in advance, only from the driver.
Accommodation on the Israel National Trail:
When we hiked the Israel National Trail in February-March, we mainly camped outdoors, in free designated places for camping. But another accommodation option along the trail are the “Trail Angels,” which I’ll write about in a moment.
Camping: You will find many free camping sites along the way, which do not include any facilities or include very few facilities. In the boundaries of a nature reserve, those free sites are marked by a big sign with a camping icon on it. Please camp in these designated areas while hiking in nature reserves, so that you will not disturb the wildlife during the night. In some of these free camping sites you might find water faucets, from which you can fill up water, but don’t count on it. Outside nature reserves, the camping sites are not always marked and theoretically, you can camp anywhere that looks like a camping site. There are also a number of paid camping sites along the way.
Check out my Google Map, which shows the main camping sites and hostels along the way. If you know about any more places, please let me know in the comments and I’ll update:
Trail Angels: Aside from camping, there are also “Trail Angels,” people who open their homes for hikers on the Israel National Trail. Many of them offer their showers, laundry machines, and an area to sleep. Please only use this option if you are stuck, as they are limited space and not always are available for hosting. Also, if you do choose to stay at am angel’s place, see if you can help out with house chores or at least, don’t leave a mess behind you. Get the list of Trail Angels here.
What about food?
It’s very important that you eat throughout every day of hiking. In the north, you can get supplies almost every day because there are many settlements and gas stations along the way. In the south, you’ll need to measure your portions and carry food that doesn’t get spoiled over time. Food that doesn’t get spoiled includes cornflakes, bread, peanut butter spread, halva, tuna, corn in a can, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s recommended you bring some field cooking equipment, so you can make ptitim or rice with lentils. The most important thing is to be creative.
Water on the Israel National Trail:
One of the most important things to carry on the trail is water. You’ll need at least 3 liters of water for the northern part of the trail, and more on hotter days. Southward from Arad, you’ll need at least 5-6 liters of water. The weather in Israel is usually quite hot, so most of the water is for drinking. You’ll also need it for cooking and general hygiene. I recommend buying a hydration system or reusable water bottles, that can hold together at least 5 liters of water.
There are many settlements and gas stations along the northern part of the Israel National Trail, where you can fill your water supplies. Usually, you won’t fill water in those places, because there are water faucets along the way. Make sure to check where the faucets are for each day and carry water accordingly. Southward from Arad, you won’t come across many places with water. That’s why it’s crucial to order water caches.
Several service providers bury water bottles for you at specific camping sites along the way. You should talk with a service provider at least two weeks in advance and tell him where you want them to hide you some water on the trail. After paying the service provider, he will send you photos of the water cache location as well as precise directions. Make sure to write it down on paper, so you can find it even if you’re battery will be dead. Once you’ll take the water from the cache, you’ll need to inform the service provider.
One of the most recommended water suppliers on the Israel National Trail is Yanir BaMidbar. Prices are around 10 ILS for 1 liter of water, so it should cost you about 60 ILS for 6 liters. But prices may be higher if the service provider needs to drive to a specific place especially.
Here are some of the major water cache locations:
- Be’er Milhan Camping Site.
- Nahal Barak Camping Site.
- Gev Holit Camping Site.
- Nahal Gevanim Camping Site.
- Nahal Hava Camping Site.
- Hod Hakev Camping Site.
If you don’t want to use water caches, I’ve come across a blog that tells how you can cross the desert without water caches.
Packing for the Israel National Trail:
The less you pack, the better. Here are some of the most important things to bring with you on the Israel National Trail:
Backpack: You’ll need a backpack to store all your equipment and stuff. Most people hike with a backpack with a capacity of 60-80 liters, but you can also get along with 45 liters if you won’t carry too much.
Hiking shoes: It’s important to choose shoes that are comfortable and good for various terrains. Make sure to walk with them a bit before the hike, so that they can get flexible on your foot. If you want, you can also bring sandals or flipflops for walking in water or for the evenings. It’s also important to get good socks, which will reduce the chance of getting blisters.
Flashlight: Even if you have a phone with a flashlight, don’t count on it. Buy a good flashlight which you can use after dark, for cooking and getting around the camping site.
Clothes: I would recommend minimizing the number of clothes you bring with you. I believe you can get along perfectly well with 3-4 sets of clothing and even less. Make sure to bring breathable long-sleeved shirts and long breathable pants to protect your skin from the sun. It’s also good to bring a wide-brim hat and sun glasses. For the night, you should pack micro fleece clothes and a warm hat, as it can get very cold. If you want to get into water sources, you can also bring a swimsuit, but you can enter with your regular clothes, too.
Garbage bags: It’s important to clean after yourselves, and you can also use the garbage bags to store dirty clothes or other equipment.
Laundry soap: There will be places where you can do some laundry on the way, so I recommend you bring a soap. Try to bring an eco-friendly one. If you want, you can also bring a rope to hang your laundry.
Sleeping bag: A good sleeping bag is very important. Temperatures are very cold at night, sometimes close to 0 degrees Celsius, especially in the desert. I had a hard time sleeping in early March in the desert, because I didn’t have a very warm sleeping bag.
Foldable foam mat: You can take any kind of mattress, but I really recommend the foldable egg mattress made of foam. It folds like an accordion, weighs almost nothing, and is super comfortable. Take into account that the terrain changes from one camping site to another, so one day you might camp on grass and the other day on a very rocky terrain. Make sure the mattress is thick enough, so that you won’t feel the terrain beneath you.
Tent: Not everyone hikes with a tent on the Israel National Trail, because it can weigh a lot. But if you are travelling with a number of people or have a light-weight tent, I recommend a tent. It will block the winds and give you some privacy. A rain resistant tent is a bonus. In October-November 2020, we didn’t carry tents and slept outside with sleeping bags. At first, it was very comfortable and quite warm, but as we got closer to December, it was quite cold and there were days when it rained, which wasn’t so fun without a tent. If you choose to go only with a sleeping bag, make sure to bring a water-proof coverage for yourselves and your equipment.
Walking poles: It isn’t a must, but if you don’t want your knees to hurt too badly, walking poles could help. One is not efficient, so make sure to bring two.
Cooking equipment: Try to take the minimum amount of equipment you need for cooking outdoors: a small camping stove, gas can, lightweight cooking pan, and plastic reusable eating utensils.
First aid kit: Very important for minor injuries! You might also want to pack an ointment for joints pain.
Hygiene products: Pack whatever you think you can’t go without. You can pack a toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, alcagel, a small bottle of shampoo, soap, and whatever more you need.
Phone with internet connection: I recommend travelling with a phone, that can also connect to the internet on the go. This way, you can always get in touch with logistic providers, Trail Angels, and also get updated on the latest news, which might affect your trail. Read more about sim cards and phones in Israel here. You can also use it to call the emergency number – 100 – if needed.
Power bank: If you’re not going to stay at Trail Angel’s houses or hostels, you won’t have anywhere to charge your phone. It’s best you turn it on only when you really need it, like to check weather forecast before you start the day or to let your family members know that you’re alright. To make sure the battery won’t die, you can also bring a power bank.
Maps: There are maps for all parts of the trail, which are sold in every shop for travelers in Israel, but I don’t think there are any paper maps in English (correct me if I’m wrong.) At the bottom of this post I’ve given links to online maps, which do include English on them. It’s important to be familiar with the route and print the maps of the trail or have an app for navigation.
These are the most important items that came to my mind. Of course, you can also take a book or an E-book with you, so that you’ll have something to read during the night. I personally just wanted to sleep after each day of hiking! If you think I forgot something important, let me know in the comments.
Pay attention to the weather forecast:
It is crucial to know the weather forecast before starting each segment of the trail. If it’s supposed to rain, don’t hike that day as it could be dangerous, especially in the desert. Even if it’s supposed to rain in Jerusalem, it can affect the desert. Also, if the weather is too hot (above 30 degrees Celsius,) you should also plan your hike accordingly. Start your hike early in the morning and aim to rest in the hot hours of the afternoon.
Check out the Israel Meteorological Service for weather alerts.
My experience from the segments:
As I’ve already mentioned, you can divide the segments the way you want to divide them. I haven’t documented all the segments, but you can see the ones which I’ve documented here – Israel National Trail segments.
Some useful links:
Tapatalk forum – For more questions about the trail or to find hiking partners, you can check out the forum on Tapatalk.
Israel Hiking Map – This online map is handy if you want to go over the trail before you set off. You can also access it while hiking, but for that you’ll need enough battery in your phone. The map is also in English. You can use it to determine elevation change and terrain, so that you can be ready for the more challenging parts of the trail in advance. To find the beginning of the trail, you can search for “Dan” or “Eilat”. On this map, the trail is colored in light orange. Another nice online map is Amudanan, which I personally used during my hiking.
“Hike the Land of Israel” Book – Many say that this book is good for hiking the Israel National Trail. I didn’t read it, but because of all the recommendations, I’m recommending it too.
Walk About Love–For those of you who want to travel with more people, “Walk About Love” might be great for you. They bring together hikers from Israel and abroad and hike the entire trail together. You can also use their logistic services if you don’t want to carry a backpack and other equipment.
Now that you know all you need to know about the Israel National Trail, you can start planning your hike. Plan how many kilometers you’ll hike each day, make sure you know where you’re going to sleep each night, and get everything ready for your trip.
If you need any advice or help in planning, you’re welcome to contact me via my Facebook page or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact me for tours on segments of the trail 😊
If you liked this post or found it useful, I would appreciate a like, a share and a comment. If you have anything to add, you’re free to tell me in the comments (:
Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook page for the latest updates – Backpack Israel.