Photo by: Andrew Skurka

When both Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure name you “Adventurer of the Year” and Backpacker calls you “Person of the Year,” you know you’re a pretty darn good outdoorsman. That’s the case with 31-year-old Andrew Skurka, who has backpacked, skied and packrafted more than 30,000 miles across the world. In between his major treks, Skurka finds time to teach kids how to hike and backpack, write handy guides for explorers, such as The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail, and sit down with ParkVisitor.com to share his story.

 

PV: How did you get interested in hiking, and more specifically, marathon hiking?

AS: My personal approach to backpacking — which might be summarized as “far, fast, and light” — was the natural outcome of my passion for the outdoors and my background as a long-distance runner. My first big backpacking trip was the Appalachian Trail, which I followed up with increasingly more difficult trips: the 7,775-mile Sea-to-Sea Route, the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop, and the 4,700-mile Alaska-Yukon Expedition, plus a number of “short” trips in between.

 

PV: What are your favorite parts about hiking?

AS: The most important things in life are relationships. And solo long-distance hiking favors two of the three most important: relationship with self and relationship with nature. My trips have given me an identity and a reason to wake up in the morning; they have given me self-confidence and self-comfort; and they have taught me more about the natural world through which I’ve walked than I ever could learn in a textbook or on a computer.

 

Photo by: Andrew Skurka

PV: What inspires you to go on these long treks?

AS: I’ve always been motivated by the experience in between the start and the finish. There’s too much hardship, and too little fame and fortune, to justify these trips in any other way. While the journey is the most important thing, I’ve found that it’s really helpful to have a clear destination to use as a “motivating excuse” to get through the most challenging stretches.

 

PV: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen or done while out on a hike?

AS: The first story that comes to mind is when I was buzzed by an F-16 jet while hiking across Joshua Tree National Park. It was so close that I could see the glow of the cockpit. And I couldn’t hear anything over the roar.

 

PV: What current projects or activities are you working on?

AS: Since the completion of my last big trip, the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, which was a year-long effort (six months to plan and six months to do), I wrote a comprehensive book on backpacking gear and skills, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail, and I also started offering learning-intensive courses for beginner and intermediate backpackers.

 

Photo by: Andrew Skurka

PV: What are your top 5 favorite parks?

AS: There are many ways to evaluate parks, e.g. aesthetics, access, wilderness character, etc. From a backpacker’s perspective, my five favorites in the lower 48 are:

Yosemite National Park

Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

North Cascades National Park

Glacier National Park

 

PV: What are your favorite outdoor activities, other than hiking?

AS: In addition to hiking, I’m an avid long-distance runner. My personal record for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (42 miles, 24,000 feet of elevation gain and loss) is 8 hours [and] 2 minutes. A few years ago I ran the Leadville 100, a 100-mile race that starts and finishes at 10,200 feet, and placed second in 18 hours [and] 17 minutes.

 

PV: What are your five insider tips for people new or unfamiliar with hiking?

AS: I know more than five tips but I will focus on just one important one instead. Like any activity, there are two ways to learn how to do it: through trial-and-error or through someone else. In the long run, it is more time- and cost-effective to learn from someone else. If you think you want to get more into hiking or backpacking, then, I’d recommend reading books and articles, talking with experienced backpackers, and maybe taking a course.

 

PV: What kind of gear would you recommend both amateurs and experienced hikers have on them at all times?

Photo by: Andrew Skurka

AS: I disagree with the premise that gear is the most essential thing to carry. Personally, I think it’s more important that I pack my brain. The best way to stay safe is by preemptively avoiding a dangerous situation: knowing the conditions, understanding my limits, assessing risk levels, making conservative decisions, etc. Having a lot of gear and/or all the best gear does not make someone “prepared.”

 

Want to learn more about Skurka and his marathon adventures? Check out his website for more pictures and clinics taught by the man himself!