The Beauty of Taking Camp Zero Days

Shilletha "Dragonsky" Curtis


The Teton Crest Trail alternate started as a mission at first, one to race through for the sake of making it to the Winds, so that I could flip to Colorado to complete my 2023 Continental Divide Thru-hike before the snow intensified. That was a mistake. Not only did I get extremely sick, it wasn’t authentic for me to rush. Nature demanded more from me, something different.

Each step I took on the Teton Crest Trail captivated my soul and eyes like nothing I had ever experienced before. Like an owl, I could not stop turning around, inhaling the views of the serrated Tetons from every angle.  It was here where I took my first trail zero by choice alone. I say by choice as sometimes torrential rain can force a hiker to take a trail zero, a.k.a. a day where you take a zero-milage day along the trail and not in a town.


After traversing the Death Canyon Shelf the day before, a meadow called out to me. Blue Asters, Dandelions, Lilacs, and others danced in a sea of colors, painting a vivid landscape. As the trail weaved back into the Jebidiah Wilderness, it presented me with an opportunity: a campsite made for one tent, its path lined with wildflowers. No permit required. 

Facing the Tetons, I found myself in a wonderful position to take a trail zero. In my backpack remained ample food and the essentials for a camp zero: beer, my Kindle Paperwhite, and headphones. In simplicity, I found an abundance of hobbies to keep me busy.



One of the deterrents of taking a trail zero is the lack of “things” to do. There’s no laundry to run, delicious town food to down or cell phone service most of the time, but that is the beauty of it. Less money spent, more money to use down the line when I really want that bed. There’s something about sitting in the stillness of nature. Afterall, my biggest reason for thru-hiking is to camp in beautiful places every night. Places that aren’t accessible by vans, 4x4s, or any mode of technology unveil the greatest secrets.

Nature is alive, a show that hypnotizes me and gives just enough stimulation. And in it, I simply have to exist. Time is a manmade construct, and I’ve learned this by sitting in the Tetons. What is an hour, a minute? Nature has been shown in studies time and time again to be recharging for the soul. Meanwhile in town, I hardly rested on day one, scurrying from chore to chore and opting for the double zero rule in order to give my body a true recovery before charging up the mountains again. Although that is necessary for trail survival, the occasional camp zero is refreshing.

The world is always on go, but I have gotten so much from pausing and watching the world turn. Seeing the clouds stack up into thunderheads, releasing their fury upon the Earth, then soothing the eyes with a rainbow as wide as a smile stretch across the landscape, the mighty Tetons in the back; this was a memory that stays with me forever. 



Socializing is another advantage to taking a trail zero. Crossing paths with amazing hikers traversing their way down the trail. The trail has a way of providing, and in the Tetons I met backpackers who were just as excited to be in nature as I was. We exchanged pleasant conversations while watching the lilac sky fade into the darkness. When a rainbow came, I heard their screams of excitement which radiated down on me. It was a magical moment. Sitting and witnessing the vibrant show of nature is not something that can be bought. It can only be experienced by those patient enough to wait for it. 



In my past thru-hikes, I had never had such patience nor considered such a trail zero due to hiking with others and my own experiences. When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2021, there were times when I was forced into a camp zero as I awoke to heavy rains and winds battering down my tent. Those were not great times. Peeing, eating, and leaving the tent seemed nearly impossible especially in Black Bear country. Laying down on my sleeping pad with my Kindle, I’d read books while desperately wanting to stand up, move around, and be free. But I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be like that. There is no need to suffer.

Maybe my first camp zero was a corrective experience, one that I wanted to reclaim, and that I did. The Grand Tetons opened the door to many more camp zeros such as at Knapsack Col in the Wind-River Range and a day in Yellowstone. At those sites, I wandered the Earth around me like a curious child, sniffing, touching, and climbing on rocks. Sometimes it's easy to forget that I was a child once, and that I am the one to make my own rules. Nature allows me to do just that, expand on that urge to run, jump, and play.

When backpacking, I am focused on my feet, the elements, and terrain, but at a camp zero, nature gets more interactive. I am the bold trees, a drop of the rushing river, and a leaf twirling in the wind. To have that experience is something that cannot be bought and something that I hold dear to me. Town is always there waiting, but the trail always provides.



Shilletha "Dragonsky" Curtis is a professional hiker, Disney-published Author, and influencer from New Jersey. She is poised to become the first queer Black woman to Triple Crown: she recently completed the AT in 2021, CDT in 2023, and plans to hike the Camino and PCT in 2024. Her book, Pack Light: A Journey to Find Myself, is now available here or wherever books are sold.




I’ve been following Dragonsky since her AT thru-hike. I love her!

GGG Moderator

GGG Moderator

@ Travis, A “zero day” is a term hikers use to describe a day when you hike zero miles. Most hikers do this while staying in a town so they have time to do laundry, resupply, rest, etc. A “camp zero” or “trail zero” is a zero mileage day taken along the trail somewhere, so it’s a situation where you get to spend extra time in a spot to enjoy as this writer describes so well here. Let us know if you have any other questions!

Travis Spangle

Travis Spangle

what is taking a trail zero?

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published