ParkVisitor.com’s guest for the week is Chris Townsend, equipment editor of TGO Magazine and the four-time winner of the Outdoor Writers’ Guild Award for Excellence. Townsend has hiked across the world and shared his stories through his photography and writing, including his newest tome, Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams, Walking America’s Pacific Northwest Trail, and his revered guidebook, The Backpacker’s Handbook, which details all the best gear and tools for any level of camper. Check out what he had to say about his time visiting parks and tips for the outdoors.
PV: How did you get interested in the outdoors?
CT: I was brought up in the countryside and played in [the] woods and fields as a young boy, so the outdoors has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. This was in a flat area with no real hills so my first love was for forests. I first saw mountains at the age of 11 or 12 on a school trip and became hooked on this bigger, wilder world.
PV: What’s your favorite part about backpacking?
CT: Everything! I like hiking, especially when the views are spectacular, and I love camping. To me, it’s a complete experience so I can’t separate it into sections.
PV: What inspired you to write your books and help people learn about backpacking?
CT: I’ve always loved books and my first long distance walks were inspired by John Hillaby’s Journey Through Britain, Hamish Brown’s Hamish’s Mountain Walk and Colin Fletcher’s The Thousand-Mile Summer. As a child I wanted to be an explorer and a writer, so the desire to write was there from an early age. Once I’d gained some experience and undertaken some long distance hikes I felt I would like to share my experiences and encourage others to venture into wild places.
PV: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen while backpacking or camping?
CT: I haven’t seen anything really strange. I guess a pickup truck in a creek in a remote part of Arizona was pretty odd. It had clearly been driven straight into the water and then abandoned. The occupants would have a very long and hot walk out to the nearest highway unless they had another vehicle.
PV: What current projects or activities are you working on?
CT: In writing, I’m looking at editing some of my magazine articles and blog posts for publication in a book and also at revising some of my older books for republication. That’s the desk work. As for hiking, next year I’m hoping to undertake another long walk linking the national parks of southern Utah and the Grand Canyon. I planned such a walk a few decades ago but never followed it up. This time I intend to make it happen.
PV: What are your top 5 favorite state/national parks, and how would you rate them?
CT: Of the ones I’ve visited, these are my favorites. I’d definitely put the Grand Canyon first, but they are all tremendous:
1. Grand Canyon National Park: The most amazing and spectacular place I have ever seen.
2. Yosemite National Park. An awe-inspiring landscape of coursem, but also for John Muir.
3. Glacier National Park. The wonderful Northern Rockies.
4. North Cascades National Park. Wilderness with volcanoes. And rain.
5. King’s Canyon – Sequoia National Park. Big big trees and High Sierra splendor. And John Muir.
PV: What are your favorite outdoor activities, and why?
CT: Backpacking and ski touring, which I see as backpacking on skis. I go into the outdoors to experience nature and see the landscape and the wildlife and these are the ideal activities for doing that. I don’t want to move very fast and I don’t want to be involved in activities that distract me from where I am, so walking and skiing suit me fine.
PV: What are your five insider tips for campers?
1. Know your gear well so you can handle it in a storm or when tired without difficulty.
2. Weigh everything. Ounces can quickly add up.
3. Check the flatness of the ground before pitching your tent by lying down on it. If there are any protruding little stones or roots or too much of a slope, you should pitch your tent somewhere else.
4. Allow time to set up camp. Unless you need to get out of the rain fire up the stove or light your campfire and have a hot drink before pitching the tent. Camping should be relaxing, not a chore.
5. In wet weather, ensure that no wet clothing or equipment goes into the [inside of the] tent so your sleeping bag stays dry.
PV: What kind of gear would you recommend both amateurs and experienced outdoorsmen have on them at all times while out in nature?
CT: That’s difficult as it depends on where you are and the time of year. In the desert, I’d say water. In wet mountains like the Cascades or Olympics, rain jacket and pants. In snowy weather, a thick, insulated parka.