New Zealand’s Hut System
I’ve been in New Zealand now for 3 weeks. If you’re unaware, New Zealand has an extensive system of backcountry huts throughout the country. These huts serve a variety of purposes but their main priority is conservation. By keeping campers in shelters, New Zealand protects its land from unofficial campsites popping up on its fragile soil.
Just like on the Appalachian Trail, these shelters have a culture behind them. You’re expected to clean up after yourself. Courtesy to other hikers is expected. And that’s where we come to the topic of snoring.
Here’s What I’ve Heard
I first got a bad impression of this topic when I watched Dixie’s Appalachian Trail Culture video that said snorers should just stay out of shelters. She said that it was “not fair” for snorers to keep others awake in the shelters and therefore they should tent outside the shelters.
On the other hand, I saw Reddit posts and other sources that said the shelters were for everyone. If someone was a light sleeper, that was their own problem and they should bring earplugs.
I found myself wondering, ‘Where was the line of courtesy?’
Anxiety and Sleep Loss
I can speak for myself and my husband and our experience in these huts in New Zealand. Frankly, the whole experience created a load of anxiety and sleep loss for me. My husband would typically fall asleep and snore loudly first and I could hear our bunkmates’ reactions. This included frustrated tossing/turning to selfish attempts to wake him up, not realizing they were keeping everyone else awake. One woman got so fed up with her lack of sleep, she finally grabbed her whole sleep system and went into the kitchen area.
My husband would describe the same behaviors when he heard my snoring in these huts. This created a fear of falling asleep for me. I wanted to be considerate of my bunkmates. Yet, I also wanted a good night’s rest. We tent-camped whenever permissible. But some trails did not allow this. After about a week, I began to dread these backcountry huts and the nighttime experience I would have in them.
These huts, just like the AT shelters, are made of wood. So every sound echoes, creaks, and moans. That pain in your side that could be relieved by turning over? Not without waking at least 6 people. Midnight bathroom break? Plan on interrupting half the shelter’s dreams to do so. But if you’re a heavy snorer, rest assured your bunkmates will have no rest. Not without earplugs or some heavy sleep drugs.
One night at the Luxmore Hut could only be described as a Symphony of Snoring followed by a Fugue of Flatulance. I seriously heard 5 farts in a row from 5 different adults and simply had to chuckle to myself. I was in a summer camp situation with a bunch of full-grown adults and their aging bodies.
Serenaded by Bullfrogs
But wait a minute. We hear all sorts of sounds in the woods: coyotes, owls, cicadas, crickets, and frogs. Why don’t we find them unbearable? It’s probably because we see them as part of the tapestry of nature and therefore beautiful. But a snoring camper with sleep apnea? It’s not exactly what anyone goes to the woods to hear. But regardless, humans are a part of nature, too, to some degree.
A funny story I remember is when my mother and I went camping and found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of bullfrogs. Their low, characteristic croaking (or “jug-o-rum” sounds) serenaded us to outright laughter. We were reminded we were surrounded by a bunch of amphibians trying to score mates as well as establish territory over the wetlands we were in. There’s just something about that “jug-o-rum” that reminds you of a horny amphibian. These sounds were loud and obnoxious, and they went on all night. But these ridiculous sounds didn’t bother us even though they were keeping us awake. Why?
Now, let’s talk about snorers for one sec. When you picture a snorer, what do you see? You probably picture someone old, overweight, or someone with sleep apnea. My point is people don’t associate snoring with…let’s call it ‘the beautiful people’. And is that one possibility why this bias against snorers in the shelters exists? Perhaps it’s simply because people get a bit selfish when it comes to sleep, knowing it’s essential to our health.
But think about it. Can someone really help that they snore? No. Nobody does it on purpose. Do we exclude anyone else from shelters for something they can’t control? Disabilities, race, gender, sexuality? No. So why snorers? Because it’s easier to exclude what we perceive to be the minority for the convenience of the majority. But history has told us time and time again this is not the right path to take.
Most of the behaviors I witnessed were microaggressions such as trying to wake the snorer or talking badly about them the morning after. Microaggressions are destructive and difficult to spot sometimes. It’s as simple as when another hiker shows frustration, impatience, or dislike at the presence of another. But that’s not the inclusive, supportive environment everyone sets out to find in the woods. After witnessing these behaviors in the New Zealand huts, I knew I didn’t want to be a part of such behavior or inflict such behavior on anyone else.
- Simple. Lightweight. Cheap. They won’t drown out the sound completely, but they help a lot.
- Sleep drugs
- Be careful with these as they can be addictive and cause long-term sleep problems.
- Sleep elsewhere
- Yes, I know I just turned the tables. But it makes sense when you accept that the shelters should be for everybody and if you can’t sleep in that environment, then you’re the one with the problem.
Look, I’m on both sides of the fence here. I snore, but I’m also bothered by the sound of snoring. I wear earplugs and I try to avoid disturbing others’ sleep when possible by sleeping elsewhere.
To answer a question you may have in your head, I will not be using the shelters on the AT. I can’t afford to lose any precious sleep to this issue. But I had to bring up this topic because I feel for the other hiker snorers who want to use the shelters but don’t feel welcome.
For the hikers who are welcoming to all, snorers, farters, and all, thank you for your humanity. For the rest of you, I urge you to practice some empathy. Step into the shoes of your sheltermates. You may not be the one losing the most sleep in this situation.
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