Professional backpacker Andrew Skurka is constantly inspired by the US’ many wide open spaces. He tells Helen Dalley how he survives when the going gets tough
Tell us about some of your highlights of 2019 so far in terms of trips you’ve led and your own personal achievements
For the past few years I’ve had a very good work/life balance, growing my business modestly while also running 3,000 miles per year and sneaking out for a personal trip as well. This year I focused more on the guiding programme, and it’s been the best year ever: post-trip client surveys are more positive than ever, the guide roster is stronger, and we’re increasingly recognised as the premier organisation for wilderness travel education
You offer guided trips around Colorado, California, Alaska and West Virginia, and have led more than 500 clients on 80 trips. How do you inspire and motivate people when the going gets tough?
Our programme includes a 10-week planning curriculum to prepare clients, in terms of their expectations, fitness, and equipment. So, when things get hard, they’re physically and mentally ready for that. Still, though, positive attitudes and open communication go a long way, as do some small tricks, like infinite coffee, group tarps, and hot campfires where permitted.
You’ve released a book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, which has been critically acclaimed. Did you enjoy the process of putting the book together and are there plans to release more books?
I like to take on big projects, whether that be writing a book, starting a guiding business, or planning an expedition. They’re intimidating at the start, because you know it will be
a huge commitment of time and resources, but the sense of accomplishment when they’re done is equally huge.
You have a 2.28 marathon PB and have completed six 100-mile races. Are there any hikes or races you are particularly keen to take part in?
I think I could spend the rest of my life in the mountains and canyons of the western United States and never be bored. There is so much to explore here.
Who are your favourite modern-day explorers and what inspires you about them?
I appreciate anyone who pursues an outdoor goal for genuinely personal reasons. Too often I hear athletes and explorers claim that their project is motivated by something altruistic, like raising money for or bringing attention to a cause. Sometimes, maybe, but that’s often BS. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you want to be challenged and that you want a particular experience.
Tell us about your toughest challenge, or challenges, to date and how you got through them
I’ve always relied on an end goal to get me through tough times. By measuring the “success” of an effort by whether I reach that goal, I force myself to continue with the journey, and ultimately the journey is where all the meaning resides.
What do you like most about what you do?
By far, guiding trips is my favourite line of work. Imagine if your “office” was a beautiful place like Yosemite National Park, and your “coworkers” were wildly enthusiastic to be
What are your favourite destinations and why?
The Brooks Range is Alaska ceaselessly wows me. It’s a true wilderness, where man does not belong and cannot be comfortable, and the trekking is always superb.
You have helped to define modern lightand-fast backcountry travel, and have been named “Adventurer of the Year” by Nat Geo. Do you think you have inspired a new gen of hikers?
You’d have to ask them. But I’m encouraged by the increasing number of hikers who try to reduce their pack weights, with the ultimate goal of being safer and having more fun.
Hiking along the Appalachian Trail had a big impact on you. What made that trip so special, and what were the biggest challenges you encountered completing it in only 95 days?
I was 21 years old and proved to myself that you can accomplish seemingly impossible things – like walking 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine – literally one step at a time. It made me less afraid of tackling huge projects.
What piece of advice can you share with others looking to embark on a big hiking adventure in terms of gear, training and mental health?
Unless you want to learn everything the hard way, do some homework before you start. There are excellent resources now for beginner backpackers, including books, blogs, and courses. Why would you waste time and money by repeating mistakes that others have already made? andrewskurka.com