This guide to hiking the Israel National Trail was put together specifically to help any foreigner intending to walk the trail…either in full or in segments. Before doing the trek myself I found there was very little information online so wanted to make the process as easy as possible for others wanting to take on this magnificent hike.All my advice in this guide is based on my own experience of hiking the trail. I review the blog each year to make sure that the information is still up to date (last reviewed March 2020) You might also want to check out:
- My honest review of the Israel National Trail – while this guide focuses on the practicalities and logistics of the trail, my review gives an honest personal account of what I liked and didn’t like walking the INT
- 22 Long distance walking tips
- How to pack a hiking backpack like a pro
- 19 Fun camping games for adults
Before we start….If you are new to this blog, I’m Bex Band – a full-time UK adventurer and founder of the women’s adventure community, Love Her Wild. I’m on a mission to make getting outdoors and going on adventures as easy as possible. You can read more about me here. If you have any questions, please do use the comments box below. And for ongoing tips and inspiration on camping and adventure, make sure you follow me on Facebook and Instagram. I’d appreciate it 🙂
What is the Israel National Trail?The Israel National Trail – also called the INT or sometimes just the Israel Trail – is an official thru hiking trail that stretches the length of Israel. It’s approximately 1100 km (683 miles) long. The path was inaugurated in 1995. And has been listed in National Geographic’s 20 most “epic trails”!
When is the best time to hike the Israel National Trail?Spring is often considered the best time to hike the INT. So March, April, May time. During this period the temperatures (although hot) will be milder. You’ll also get to see the flowers in bloom and the greenery in the North of the country. Another popular time to hike is in Autumn – September, October, November, December. It is vital that you avoid the hottest months – June, July, August – as temperatures can become too dangerous for hiking in the desert. Also, January and February have the highest risk of flash flooding so should be avoided.is 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 weeks 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.
How do you know how far to walk each day?Most days I was averaging 20-25km. To work out how far to walk each day you are going to need a guide. I can fully recommend buying the Red Book – its nickname – for the Israel National Trail (the most recent publication of the book was updated in 2020). 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.
Israel National Trail day by day itinerary…Here’s the exact itinerary that I hiked. You can use this as a guide against the Red Book to see what days I adapted and where I took breaks. This should also
Is the hike entirely on trails?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. The markings are 3 stripes of orange, blue and white, like this: This makes the path very easy to follow and I only got lost a handful of times the entire trip. The colours are meant to indicate the different regions of the hike. Orange for desert, blue for ocean and white for the North (where they occasionally get snow). If the orange stripe is the highest or the one on top then this indicates you are walking Southbound….towards the desert in the South. If the white is highest or on top, this shows the way Northbound, to the snow in the North (it literally snows for a couple of weeks a year and only in the highest points so don’t get your hopes up!).
What’s the terrain like on the Israel National Trail?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 handrails and ladders have been installed on the difficult parts. In the centre, you have a long stretch that involves walking on the beach. That made a nice break from all the climbs!
North to south (southbound) or south to north (northbound)?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.
Where do you sleep on the Israel National Trail – do you camp?The Red Book makes suggestions on where you can sleep each night offering different accommodation options – camping, hotels and hosts. 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 for 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 earplugs. 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 (more details on trail angels below). I stayed with a few trail angels along the way. It was a nice way to meet people but I also sometimes found it quite intense. After a long hot day hiking, I found it exhausting being hosted and having to chat so generally would always opt for camping or staying in a hostel/hotel if I needed a break and a shower. 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 for a pit stop en-route:
- Abraham Tel Aviv hostel
- Abraham Jerusalem Hostel
- Dead Sea Adventure Hostel in Arad
- 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 on the INT?There is a website (https://www.israeltrail.net/preparation/) 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 ([email protected], +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. I was surprised by how much internet service I got along the way – although of course, you can expect some dead spots. 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. Please practice sensible hiking. Have someone that you check in with regularly with a pre-agreed amount of time (ie, once a week). Let them know your full plan and any hotels you’ve booked in advance. Twice I’ve had someone contact me via this blog because they hadn’t heard from a loved one on the trail. Both times it was just a case that they didn’t communicate or think to check in with home and while they were oblivious on the trail loved ones were getting worried.
Is the Israel National Trail 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 aware 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. Heatstroke 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. This is vital! Do not underestimate how dangerous flash flooding is. It can be hot and dry where you are but rain elsewhere can sauce a sudden rush of water that will flood and wadi’s. If you see water – even a tiny trickle – coming towards you. Drop everything and get to high ground fast!! Weather forecasts are accurate in Israel so that’s why you need to check it daily. If you’ve not seen flash flooding before….this is footage taken from the Negev desert:
How did I use a phone in Israel?If you are coming from the UK, get a Three network phone plan – just pay as you go no contract one is fine. 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. If you are coming from outside the UK then just get a SIM on arrival that also includes the internet.
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. I wouldn’t bother taking a solar charger if I did the hike again. The most useful item was a power bank – Anker Power Bank. It was a great bit of kit and I was amazed by how much charge I got out of it. It kept my phone, camera and kindle charged. In hindsight, I would have bought 2 of these instead of the solar charger.
Do you need insurance cover for hiking the Israel National Trail?Yes! Always when you are travelling! For all my long distance treks I use World Nomads. They offer special adventurous cover for trekkers as well as long periods of time away. You can get a hiking quote with World Nomads using this link. Another big advantage of World Nomad is that you can purchase insurance while abroad so it’s great for long term travellers if your plans change on the road.
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 Book 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 for the Israel National Trail with everything that I took with me. You might also want to check out my tips for thru-hiking for my advice on long distance trekking and staying safe and healthy. As well as my guide on how to pack a hiking backpack like a pro.
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 does the Israel National Trail cost?I have put together a full breakdown of my budget here.
How busy is the Israel National Tail?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 other people doing the full trail. Almost all of them Israeli men in their teens and 20s (fresh out of army service) and I only met 1 other foreigner! I still managed to make some friends along the way but mostly through trail angels who I stayed with.
My honest opinion on the trailThe Israel National Trail is incredible…..but by no means perfect! If you want an honest account of what to expect, the good and the bad, then check out my summary of the Israel National Trail.
Want to spend longer visiting Israel?I can really recommend adding some time before or after your hike to enjoy Israel as there is a lot to see and do. The trek gives you a great feel for the country but you miss out some really amazing historical and religious places. If you do have the luxury of a bit more time I’d recommend a couple of days in Tel Aviv, 3 days in Jerusalem and a few days at the end of the trek in Eilat (especially if you enjoy diving or snorkelling). I also loved doing a tour of West Bank and you can also do a tour to visit Petra. I’d suggest booking both of these through Abraham hostels as their tours really are great. For more help putting together travel plans check out my blogs:
- 1 week Israel itinerary
- 2 week Israel itinerary
- Top things to do in Israel
- Jerusalem in a weekend
- Tel Aviv on a budget
Did you keep an Israel National Trail blog and journal as you hiked?I did! You can read them all here 🙂 Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28
Any final tips for hiking the Israel National Trail?Yes! I’d tell anyone heading to Israel to go with an open mind. If you are used to walking in Europe and the USA then the trail may feel a bit rough around the edges in parts. But really this is just part of the charm of the country. The litter dumping in some areas is infuriating. As is seeing the quarries in the desert (and sometimes being forced to sleep next to them as the only camping option!!). But the food is incredible. The views are stunning. The hospitality (though full-on) demonstrates generosity at a different level. And the history and religion along the way fascinating. I’d also suggest taking all advice – including my own (but with the exception of safety advice) – with a pinch of salt. This is your hike so do it how you want and when you want. Everyone’s got an opinion on how fast you should be walking and where you should be stopping. Just smile, ignore and follow your gut! Hopefully, this guide has answered most of your queries regarding the trail. I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have – please do use the comments box below though as it saves me repeating myself as others can see my answers. For more advice, you should also check out the official Israel National Trail site for advice or check out the Hike Israel website. There is also a great forum on this site where you can put your questions to experienced hikers who have done the Israel National Trail.
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*Any women reading this?* I founded a women’s adventure community called Love Her Wild (shotly after finishing this hike – it inspired me!). Check out our private Facebook page and see what adventures we have coming up.