I put together this guide in response to all the emails and questions I received from people who have an interest in the trail – there isn’t a lot of information online for foreigners. If you haven’t already, you should also check out the guide on www.israeltrail.net. There is also a great forum where you can put your questions to experienced hikers who have done the Israel National Trail.
How do you know how far to walk each day?
I can fully recommend buying the Red Book for the Israel National Trail. It has all the information you need, in English, to plan out your trek, as well as maps for each section. The guide breaks the trail down into sections (ranging from 14-30km a day) based on difficulty, sleeping options and water availability.
I followed the sections in the book almost exactly, with a few exceptions. The book also suggests rest days, usually in places of interest or cities. I took more than the recommended and also in different locations as I had offers to stay with friends and family. I completed the entire hike (including rest days) in 51 days. Also, I would recommend giving yourself a bit more time as I would have liked to of halved some of the sections early on, when I was not at my fittest. Plus I didn’t get much spare time to see the places I passed.
Is it all on a trail?
Yes, the entire route follows defined paths which, for most of the time, are very well defined. When they are not, you can consult the map and guide in the Red Book. Every few metres there is an Israel National Trail sign, usually on a rock:
This makes the path very easy to follow and I only got lost a handful of times the entire trip.
What is the terrain like?
The terrain is very varied. There is lots of climbing in both the south and the north. Many of the paths are rocky and uneven and there are lots of sections that involve scrambling, but nothing too technical – especially as hand rails and ladders have been installed on the difficult parts. In the centre, you have a long stretch that involves walking on the beach.
North to south or south to north?
I did the hike from north to south, which I think is the best option. The north was easier – it takes less planning, you need to carry less water and less food as you pass lots of residential areas. There are also more options for places to stay. Generally it felt like a more comfortable introduction to the trail, leaving the difficult desert for when I was fitter and more accustomed to the weather. It’s also really special being able to finish the walk running into the Red Sea, plus Eilat is a great place to have a mini celebratory vacation.
What time of year did you do the Israel national trail?
I started the walk on the 4th October and finished on the 25th November. It rained for 1 day (and only for 10 minutes!). The first 2 week were very hot with temperatures in the late twenties and low thirties. As we reached the desert, the temperature dropped to a more comfortable low twenties. Generally, everywhere was very dry following the summer.
One thing I didn’t plan for was all the holidays that took place over October. This meant that a lot of shops were shut, sometimes on crucial days that I had planned to resupply my food. Check the holidays in advance and factor this into your planning.
Where do you sleep?
The Red Book makes suggestions on where you can camp each night. Camping is allowed anywhere outside of nature reserves (these areas are marked on the maps). Common places for people to camp are in picnic bench areas where there are usually fire pits and taps. These can be noisy with locals in the evening though, so I preferred finding a spot hidden in trees or tucked out the way.
Inside the reserves, there are designated camping areas, these can be found marked on the maps. There is nothing in them, except a sign and a flat area (there is no running water or toilet facilities). You must stay in these areas to protect the wildlife of the reserve. If you get caught camping outside you can be fined. We met some hikers who had been fined previously so it does happen. It is worth noting that you often get noisy groups using the camping areas so it is worth taking ear plugs. I found this frustrating but there is a little way around it.
Another option is to stay with trail angels. These are people who help hikers and there are many that will gladly host you for a night, sometimes even throwing a meal your way. Some might ask for a small contribution (anywhere between 20-80 shekels per person) but most don’t ask for anything. This is only really an option in the north and centre part of the hike as the Negev is remote. When you pass through Tel Aviv, there are no camping options so you will need to rely on trail angels or find alternative accommodation.
Places I stayed that I can recommend are: Abraham Tel Aviv hostel, Abraham Jerusalem Hostel, Dead Sea Adventure Hostel in Arad and The Shelter in Eilat (offer 1 free nights accommodation for everyone who has completed the Israel National Trail).
How do you find out about trail angels?
There is a website (http://www.israeltrail.net/resources.html) which lists all the current trail angels and the services they offer. As well as accommodation, some offer food, lifts or there is even a doctor you can call for medical advice. I printed the list and took it with me which proved really helpful.
Where do you get water?
The tap water is fine to drink in Israel. In the north and centre of the trail, I filled up water from Gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets (basically anywhere that had a toilet sink). Some of the picnic areas have taps. These are all mentioned in the Red Book for each day.
In the Negev desert, there are 10 days where there is no access to water and you are camping in a nature reserve camp spot. On these days you will need to rely on water caching – burying your water. It sounds a lot more extreme than it actually is! Some people organise this themselves but it really isn’t worth the energy or time. We used a guy called Yanir (firstname.lastname@example.org, +972 54-2461066) who is well known on the Israel National Trail and has walked it 4 times! He hides the water in boxes near the campsite and will send you a video on WhatsApp in advance showing you where it is hidden. It works very well and he charges a very minimal fee (700 shekels in total per person). He also offers the security that if anything went wrong, he would drive to you with the water.
You need to plan this and get in touch with Yanir at least 2 weeks in advance of begging the water cache.
What if you get lost or get into trouble?
Having access to the Internet means you can make the most of Google Maps which has the Israel National Trail marked. It is always smart to carry a compass and map with you plus emergency items (spare food, water, shelter and a torch) in case you get stuck. In an emergency, call 100….this will put you through to the emergency services, including search and rescue.
Is it safe?
I had no safety issues on the Israel national trail and never felt threatened or at risk. The conflict in Israel never affected my walk and I was never away of it. In terms of dangerous areas, like all cities and rough spots in the world, use common sense – don’t walk at night and don’t flash any valuables.
You need to be wary of snakes and scorpions which can be dangerous. Always shake your boots upside down before putting them on and be aware that both like small dark spaces so might hide under your tent. Wild boars can charge if they feel threatened so keep your distance if you see one.
Heat stroke is another safety concern. Drink plenty, but sip regularly rather than gulping huge amounts infrequently. Always have 1 litre extra than you need, just as spare (most days I took 4 litres, more on a hot day). I would strongly recommend taking a first aid course before doing the trip, being self-reliant if something did happen is essential, especially when carrying out adventure activities like hiking that lead you to remote places.
Flash flooding can be dangerous in the desert. Check the forecast for each day you are hiking in the Negev.
How did I use a phone in Israel?
If you are coming from the UK, get a Three network phone. You can use this free of charge in Israel. I could call and text home (UK) unlimited times and also had browsing data so could use WhatsApp, the Internet and Skype. Signal was very good.
I also bought a SIM card in Israel which allowed me to make calls to other Israeli numbers.
How do you charge your phone and electronics?
I charged my electronics in gas stations and supermarkets mostly. They were all happy to let me do it free of charge, even if I didn’t buy anything. I also carried a portable solar charger for the remote sections, although I didn’t find it that effective as it was slow to charge. The most useful item was a power bank and in hindsight, I would have bought 2 of these instead of the solar charger.
Do I need to learn Hebrew?
English is a national language in Israel and is widely spoken so you can easily survive without any knowledge of Hebrew.
What preparations do you need to make before the trip?
Other than booking your flight and buying your equipment there is little to do. It is worth doing a couple of test runs with all your equipment and doing some training if you can. The best training is going for long walks with your bag fully packed. Having said that, I didn’t do any training beforehand. I wasn’t in great shape and, although the first 2 weeks of the walk was tough, I got fit quickly.
Buying the Red Guide will break down each section for you. The Trail Angels usually only ask for a day or 2’s notice so you can plan these as you go. The only other preparation you will need to consider is booking your water caching, although this can be done when you start the trail.
What should you take?
I have put together a full packing list with everything that I took with me, click here.
What are the rules of the nature reserves?
I learnt these as I went along, but it would have been helpful to know them from the beginning!
– don’t camp in a nature reserve outside a designated camp (if caught you will be fined)
– Take all litter with you
– When camping, put all your food in one bag inside your tent to keep the foxes from getting them (I even had one try and get into my tent one night!)
– Don’t have a fire outside the camp areas and, if you do have a fire, only burn items that have been brought in from outside the reserve
– Only walk on the designated paths
– Don’t walk at night
Where do you buy food?
In the north and central part, you will only carry food for 2 to 3 days at a time as you pass many gas stations and shops. I was on a budget so didn’t eat in restaurants. Occasionally I’d have a falafel which is very cheap street food (15 shekels). During the desert stretch, you had to carry up to 6 days worth of food. To work out how many days I needed to carry, I would look at each section in the Red Book. Looking to see where my next resupply point is.
I carried a stove, so in the evenings cooked pasta, couscous or rice with stock for flavouring. Gas canisters are easy to come by in shops on the Israel national trail, although I only needed 2 the entire trip. Often at the picnic places there was space to make a fire. Breakfast and lunch were then made up of snacks such as pretzels, nuts and dried fruit. There was lots of good hiking food available.
Some great hiker snacks that are widely available include sesame paste (mix with water, salt and lemon to make tahini), nuts, dried fruits and halva ( a sweet snack made from sesame).
How much will it cost?
I have put together a full breakdown of my budget here.
How busy is the Israel national trail?
Compared to other hikes I have done, I found the trail to be very empty. I often went days without passing other hikers. For some sections, I met a lot of day hikers, especially on the weekends. Overall I only met about 20 doing the full trail. All of them men in their 20s and I only met 1 other foreigner! I still managed to make some friends along the way but mostly through trail angels, stayed with.
For more information on the Israel National Trail, you might also be interested in:
An honest review of the Israel National Trail
22 tips for thru hiking
Israel National Trail: budget breakdown
24 pictures that will make you want to walk the Israel Nationals Trail
Israel National Trail: Kit List
My Israel National Trail Itinerary
Did I miss something out that you want to know? Just let me know in the comments below and I will get back to you.