Israel National Trail is not only a physical challenge, but also a logistic one. Its southern part (about 400 km out of total 1000 km) is the sparcely populated Negev desert, where soures of water can be located every 2-3 days.
Many hikers (especially Israelis) solve this problem by hireing local taxi drivers who bring water to a specified place, „cache”, usually on one of the bivouacs. Such deposits are a solution for those who do not want to carry a heavy backpack. It is quite expensive: the cost of water transport can be even 100 shekels for single destination.
However, it is possible to follow the Israel National Trail without such measures. This requires carrying plenty of water, but saves you time to make appointments with drivers and worries about whether the water will be waiting for you. It save your money, too.
Hiking through Negev, assuming you do it at the best time of the year (February/March) requires about 4 liters per day. The two-day stock is already bulky 8 litres. Uh-oh. Adding your equipment and food makes your backpack very heavy – take this into account and assess your strength. Luckily, such long stretches without water are rare and after just one day your luggage becomes noticeably lighter.
The following article will help you to plan the thru-hike the Negev desert on Israel National Trail, without making deposits of water on your route. Quantities given here are appropriate on the assumption, that your daily requirement is 4 litres. That is true for average hiker. If you drink more, add the right amount, taking into account your needs. When planning supplies, pay attention to the Sabbath, during which the shops will be closed (from Friday afternoon till Sunday morning).
Days 1-3 Eilat – Be’er Ora
The beginning of INT is the Red Sea coast and Eilat Field School, where the first sign INT is located. Drink plenty of water before you set off and get a supply of 6 litres. Also, have enough food for 3 days. After one day, the trail crosses an road no. 12 leading to Ejalt. If you want, you can leave your water deposit there. This section is technically the toughest on the whole the INT, with steep ascents and long stretches of dry, rocky canyons. A few hundred meters of ascent at the very beginning of the trail is demanding, so it is worth to start early in the morning and not to push yourself at the start. The end of the first day is near the road no. 12 Ovda – Ejlat.
When you cross the road, you begin to descend into the vast Ein Netafim Canyon, where you will find a source of water. Surprisingly, it is not mentioned in the guide, although it’s there all year round. If you have a filter, you can purify the water from the small pool. Take 8 litres. In the evening of the second day you will reach the Skhoret Canyon camping site. If you are lucky enough, you meet school trips camping there and get water from them. Don’t count on it, however. On the 3rd day go to Be’er Ora. A small kibbutz is located about 1-1.5 h away from the trail, but it is worth to make this detour. In the village there is a shop, water and accommodation for hikers.
I carried hevty 12 litres of water for 3 days, because of no information about Ein Netafim source. I would say that approx. 6 litres for the first day and approx. 8 litres for the next two days are sufficient.
Days 4-5 of Be’er Ora – Shakharut
In kibbutz take 3 litres of water and buy food for 5-6 (yes!) days. Through the vast plain you will reach the vicinity of a huge quarry. Cross the small mountain range and you will descend to Timna Park. In a small oasis, in the middle of the day, take another 3-4 litres. After walking through the large and exhausting Har Timn massif, you will reach the park’s gate. Take 6 litres of water there. Spend the night camping at Timna Cliffs. Next day climb the huge plateau and follow the long path to the village of Shakharut. Pass near houses and after about 1 km you will find a camping site with a water source.
Day 6 Shakharut – Ne’ot Smadar
Collect 4 litres of water and follow the path to the Ne’ot Smadar kibbutz. Here you will find a small bar and a shop, but the prices are very high, even according to Israeli standards. Water is in the kibbutz or near the bar. Take 2-3 litres. The second half of the day is a boring asphalt road between the military firing ranges. Don’t get off the road and just walk 14 km along the asphalt, untill you find desert Shittim Ashram (accommodation and meal possible).
Day 7-10 Shittim – Zofar
From the ashram you have 2 and a half days without water – take 10 litres. The asphalt will lead you about 15 km to a wide valley, where you can camp. Next day pass through Wardit and Barak canyons. When you leave, you will find a camping site. Some old water bottles can be found here, but be carefull! This is not certain. And don’t take someone’s deposit by accident! Spend the night near the road 90. On the third day’s afternoon you reach Zofar. There is a well stocked shop, water and accommodation (Trail Angels).
Day 11-13 Zofar – Mitzpe Ramon
In Zofar, take 8-10 litres of water and food for 3 days. Now you will have 2,5 days of difficult hiking through the most beautiful part of Negev. After a long climb, the trail crosses the Nahal Nekarot Canyon. After it you go down into picturesque valley. During my hike, a lonely, elderly man from Zofar camped there, welcoming the hikers and allowing them to take water from his tank. He’s likely to stay there in the February/March season, but better make sure he’s there. If you can’t check it, it’s better to have enough water anyway. On the second day the trail leads you along the edge of the Ramon Crater to Geranim Camp, near the road no. 40. If you’re out of water here, walk about 3km north along the road, to Be’erot Khan. Take 3-4 litres of water there. On the third day, early afternoon, you will cross the crater and reach Mitzpe Ramon. The city has a supermarket, water, several bars and hostels. I recommend a simple and cheap hostel Meever, in the northern suburbs.
Days 14 to 15 Mitzpe Ramon – Midrashet Ben Gurion
In Mitzpe, take 8 litres of water and food for 2 days. After walking along the northern edge of the Ramon Crater, Israel National Trail turns north. You will spend a night close to Nahal Khava Canyon. The next day you will reach the Gev Hava oasis. You can find water there (cold!), but this is not certain. Do not rely on this location. Accommodation in Midrashet Ben Gurion. In the town there is water, shop and accommodation.
Days 16-17 Midrashet Ben Gurion – Oron
In Midrashet take 8 litres of water and food for 5 days – until Arad you won’t find a shop along the way! After a day on the desert plain, you stay at the foot of Makhtes Gadol, in the Mador Camp. You will find a private deposit of water there – a locked box with a padlock and instructions how to contact the owner and pay for the water (10 shackles/bottle). You can use it if you have mobile coverage and are in need. The person responsible is Haim Berger (telephone +972-054-534-37-97, e-mail: email@example.com). Next day you will climb the long and narrow edge of the crater. In the afternoon you will descend to the gate of the Oron phosphate factory. A water source and a place to sleep (not very pleasant) at the gate.
Day 18-20 Oron – Arad
In the guidebook this section is described as long 3 days without water. Fortunately, that is not true.
Take 4-5 litres at the factory gate. After a long walk along the Karbolet ridge, you will descend into the Nahal Hatira Canyon. Few hours later you will cross road 227 and find yourself near Makhtesh Katan, a Small Crater. However, just 1 km before it, you will pass a military camp, with a tank of water by the gate. Take 8 litres. Go inside the crater. The camp is where a clearly visible canyon forms a gate, that leaves the crater on its eastern side.
Next day go back inside and follow the INT going north. After a few hours cross road no. 25. Here you’ll find a camp, where you have the chance (but not the certainty) to find water. Do not take any bottles that looks like new, it is almost certainly a deposit waiting for someone! Cros the vast plateau and stop for the night at the camp near the road no. 258. If you’ve run out of water here, head to the nearby quarry. It’s open Sunday-Thursday 9:00-17:00.
The next day’s section is several hours of hiking through the long, dry valleys of the Har Jahel massif. When you climb the final section to the top of the hill, city of Arad will be visible. You still have 3-4 hours to the city, passing poor Bedouin settlements, where you can also ask for water, if you don’t have anymore. Arad has shops, hotels and all the amenities you need after 3 weeks in the desert.
Behind Arad, your water problems end. From now on, you will find it every day (more than twice a day from my experience). Untill the end of INT you will rarely need more than 2-3 litres. You will also meet villages and towns with shops, and petrol stations every day.