Trail Talk: Backpacking with Triple Crown Hiker Brian Lewis
WTA member and Triple Crown hiker Brian Lewis talks about his journey from day hiker to Triple Crown long-distance backpacker. Find out what lessons he's learned and get his expert advice about how to get started.
Everyone starts their wilderness experience a different way—including WTA member and Triple Crown* hiker Brian Lewis. As this year’s backpacking season approaches, we talked with Brian to learn about his experiences, what motivates him over all those miles and his advice for those just starting out.
When did you first start backpacking, and what was your inspiration?
I suppose my “introduction” to backpacking was in the Army with a 60-pound pack, steel helmet and so forth. I started recreational backpacking in 2002. I find day hikes too short, too much time spent driving to and fro. Backpacking allows you to forget your normal life and become a different person, one that’s more a part of nature.
A good trip for me is one where I forget what day of the week it is.
As you became more experienced, what lessons were quickly learned?
Typical of most beginning backpackers, my first trip involved too much gear that was way too heavy, so that even low mileage was painful to attain. In lightening my load, I learned that some of the best gear choices can often be found from small “cottage industry” companies.
What prompted you to go for the ultimate goal: the Triple Crown?
Long-distance backpacking can become an addictive lifestyle. It gives you a sense of freedom, it gets you into excellent physical condition, you surmount challenges and truly live in nature. And you meet wonderful people along the way.
In hiking locally I had met a lot of Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, and the idea percolated for some years until a friend told me that he was planning a thru-hike. That got me going.
I really enjoyed hiking the PCT in 2008, and I heard a lot about the more challenging Continental Divide Trail from friends but couldn’t fit that in my schedule until 2011. So I hiked the Appalachian Trail in between, in 2010.
What advice would you offer for those who are new to backpacking?
First, if you have fears, combat them with statistics: with common sense and a little prep, you’re safer in the woods than driving on the highway.
Consider renting or borrowing some gear items before you buy, and factor in total gear weight when buying gear. Focus not just on the camping part, but work to make the hiking part of each trip a real pleasure.
Don’t assume there’s just one approach to things. Hiking styles vary—find your own favorite style.
And finally, don’t expect everything to be easy your first trip. Learn your lessons and then get out there and try again!
*The Triple Crown Award is presented by the American Long Distance Hiking Association to those who successfully complete America’s three National Scenic Trails: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail—a total of 7,610 miles. Brian Lewis received his completion award in 2012. For more information on the Triple Crown Award, visit aldhawest.org.
- Backpacking 101
- Pacific Crest Trail Association
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy
- Continental Divide Trail Coalition
This article originally appeared in the May+Jun 2013 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.