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Professional Backpacking.....
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Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Professional Backpacking... on 12/13/2009 21:55:06 MST Print View

Professional Backpacker? Doubt there have ever been more than a handful who have ever been truly financial independent from this.

Colin Fletcher is the only one I can name, and I haven't read anyone in the genre as talented as he was, or even close. Not to mention that he really was the pioneer of backpacking books.

As to not needing this and that, as others have posted. My goal in life is to be self-sufficient and never have to rely on assistance for transportation, housing, or health care. That is why I work hard and try to make a lot of money, so I will never, ever need the help of others if at all possible.

James Patsalides
( - MLife

Locale: New England
Professional Backpacking..... on 12/13/2009 22:33:57 MST Print View

Well, I explored these options at length this year, and concluded that I couldn't do it and keep a viable relationship with my wife, and support my 3 year old daughter, even though my wife has a well paying job.

There are attractive options for outdoors educators and guides, speakers and consultants on leadership, park rangers etc. None of these gigs pay well, but they do involve significant time outdoors, so if that's the goal... basic starting qualification is WFR and/or some kind of outdoors or environmental certificate or degree (you know, ropes/environment/geology/botany etc) - so that you have something interesting to teach. I had thought to combine with a creative outlet - perhaps poetry on the trail or something...

If you have ability, an interesting message or valuable topic to teach, and are not constrained by family or other obligations, you should go for it and live out your dream. Just remember - "vision without action is a daydream, action without vision is a nightmare". You need to carefully set out your goals, then make a concrete plan of action to get there - just like planning any outdoors adventure! There is work to be done here. Don't assume that if you hang out a "guiding" shingle, people will just come. You need to attract people to your services. Marketing! A good exercise would be to make a "brochure" for yourself... what would you say? Why the hell would anyone hire ME, when they can hire Skurka instead!? What is MY message? How will I make a difference in my clients' lives? If you can't articulate it... it probably isn't a good path for your life! ;-)

In the end, this is your life - you get to choose to waste it or spend it wisely. If you have a passion to teach in the outdoors, combined with something meaningful to teach, if you have gift to give others - go for it! Just my $0.02.

Cheers & good luck!

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Professional Backpacking on 12/13/2009 23:43:43 MST Print View

UK based Chris Townsend may fit into this category One of the interesting things about Ray Jardine is that he has deliberately avoided sponsorship.

One other option of course is to make yourself several million by an early age and then live off that whilst you backpack. Or you could get yourself into something that pays so well you only need to work half the year or less.

ben wood

Locale: flatlands of MO
Re: Professional Backpacking on 12/14/2009 00:38:31 MST Print View

well, i have to say...
being a prefessional backpacker would be nice, don't take that job on the backs of others. sure there is the free clinic and the hospitals cannot deny you in extreme cases, but someone is paying for that health care. i think it is highly unethical to choose to not buy health insurance or pay for medical needs when you are able. renting a house is fine as you are paying extra for the added benefit of no worries, and the transportaion issue is up to you as far as how much you want to spend on a car.
anyhow, off political thoughts and onto reality, if you can find a way to market yourself, great! but as others have said, you need something spectacular and then it will still only last for a very limited time. guide services and NOLS are probably your best bet. it is possible to live cheaply so that you may work only part of the year and enjoy backpacing the rest. but don't be naive as to retirement. i used to be the ultimate anti-retirement, anti-establishment, anti-system guy you ever met. but the reality is that you need to be responsible for yourself because there might not be anyone else there for you, should you choose this path i would recommend getting a retirement acct. and health insurance because the time wiil come eventually.

just my $0.02. good luck.

Mark Stalbird
(Off-road) - F
Marry an ambitious woman. on 12/14/2009 08:52:20 MST Print View

In my mind I'm a professional backpacker,i go solo therefor i have no need to empress anyone,never considered getting radio involved or having my trips televised.
I have the time to go and do so quite often.

I married a very ambitious women who simply would rather work then go backpacking and finds it surprising that i find it rewarding.

The best part....she thinks its ridiculious that i work full time so i guess self gratification it is,i hate to argue.

Backpacking is certainly not a career move but very fulfilling non the less.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Mooching off the system on 12/14/2009 09:53:19 MST Print View

If a person's long term health plan includes the concept of using low income clinics, pill handouts and the ER at the local charity hospital BUT they are an able bodied human WHO could work a real job, they deserve to be flogged.

Guess who pays for that "health plan"? Us people who pay taxes, who have real jobs.

Those clinics and charity driven hospitals are for people in true need - the ones who cannot work due to health or don't make enough due to circumstances (such as having been unemployed, etc). Just because a person doesn't want to work a real job or buy insurance doesn't cut it!

More so, if you believe that you will get equal care as a paying customer you are way off. They are only required to save your life, not make it better. If you get cancer you will find you cannot get proper care, if you fall off a cliff they will fix your bones but send you home asap - even though you might have internal issues that need more in depth care - such as expensive scans. I grew up poor and going to a Doctor meant getting substandard care in clinics where people hacked all over you, you waited 2 to 3 hours and got only the minimum in help. In college I had strep throat so bad that it took 3 runs of antibiotics to kill it and by the time we got done I also had bronchitis. A simple Dr. visit a month before would have stopped that!

About the only people who get stellar free care are pregnant women - due to there being two involved.

I cannot imagine not having health insurance currently - I have an extremely high risk pregnancy. For example I recently had to have an ultrasound that out of pocket would have cost over $2500. My current pregnancy will by end most likely run over $60K if I avoid premature birth - which most likely I won't. I cannot imagine asking tax payers to foot a $100K+ bill for my baby to be born healthy. So my husband works a job that has stellar insurance benefits to provide for us.

Call me what you want, but I believe in personal responsibility! One can have pleasure in life but it has to be tempered with reality. That means knowing that you can provide for yourself for the 'what-ifs'. People who choose to save for rainy days and for retirement should not be penalized and forced to pay higher taxes for those who want to be lazy little ants.

(And frankly, we still get outside more than most even with dollars in our eyes.)

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: "Professional Backpacking....." on 12/14/2009 10:44:09 MST Print View

I would love to be paid to backpack. That would be a dream job, wouldn't it.

As for health care, I have a real job and tax payers pay for my health care. I think it's ridiculous that in the richest country in the world we have 46 million people without health care. I spent 4 years in the US Navy and I'm in the VA system; which, even with all my complaining is still one of the best health care systems in the world. It's not entirely free. It's income based. But, tax payers pay for it. I also know what it's like to be without health care because even though you have a real job, you still can't afford a private plan. I lived for many years like that. It is extremely difficult. The insurance companies make it completely unaffordable for people at certain income levels. And, I went to college too.

Edited by socalpacker on 12/14/2009 12:56:21 MST.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Re: Mooching off the system on 12/14/2009 10:47:07 MST Print View

How about this thread doesn't degenerate into an argument over responsibility and health insurance?

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Re: Mooching off the system on 12/14/2009 11:13:45 MST Print View

@ Sarah,

The topic of professional backpacking is a good one. No need to "invigorate" it by side-tracking into something that looks like politics. Please let's give the original topic a chance to run its course before getting into that can of worms.

Edited by artsandt on 12/14/2009 11:15:27 MST.

Ken Ross
(kross) - MLife
Re: Professional Backpacking..... on 12/14/2009 11:17:50 MST Print View

The best plan is to do something stupid or careless that almost gets you killed, then write a book about it and give motivational speeches.

Another idea: equipment companies that print gaudy logos in conspicuous places on their equipment should pay an advertising fee for every trail mile hiked!

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Professional Backpacking....." on 12/14/2009 11:32:08 MST Print View

"The best plan is to do something stupid or careless that almost gets you killed, then write a book about it and give motivational speeches."

Well played.....and true!!

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Re: Mooching off the system on 12/14/2009 11:51:13 MST Print View


The topic of professional backpacking is a good one. No need to "invigorate" it by side-tracking into something that looks like politics. Please let's give the original topic a chance to run its course before getting into that can of worms."

Agreed. BUT Sarah didn't get there by herself. She's not even the first person to open that can in this thread....

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: "Professional Backpacking....." on 12/14/2009 11:51:41 MST Print View

My apologies to everyone for my part. I've been in these forums long enough to know better.

Edited by socalpacker on 12/14/2009 11:53:48 MST.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: "Professional Backpacking....." on 12/14/2009 11:57:31 MST Print View

Ah Kendall, it's just good to see you around again!

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Professional Backpacking .... on 12/14/2009 12:36:02 MST Print View

As I've been mentioned I thought I'd point that professionally I'm a writer and photographer. I don't get paid to go backpacking, I do get paid for my words and photographs about backpacking, day hiking, outdoor gear and more. I also give talks and in the past I've done a fair amount of instructing and guiding.

I've been self-employed in this field for nearly 28 years. I've never made much money (not that I expected to) but I have been able to spend long periods in wild places, which was my aim. I also spend even longer periods of time sitting in front of the computer! Which wasn't my aim but books have to be written and photographs sorted and edited.

To anyone wanting to do this I would say do it because you love it and because you feel you have something to offer. Don't do it if you want to be financially rich. And be prepared to work hard - good writing and good photography require learning the skills and always trying to improve.

I'm finishing a book at present and spending more time at the computer than I would like!

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Mooching off the system on 12/14/2009 12:40:08 MST Print View

@ Douglas,
That's true. Apologies, Sarah, to single you out.

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: "Professional Backpacking....." on 12/14/2009 12:49:10 MST Print View

Douglas - Thank you. It's good to be back. :)


I think what you're saying is that it would better for us to find something specifically related to backpacking or 1 or 2 things specifically related to the outdoors; and, get paid to do those things which would require us to go backpacking. Is that right?

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Professional Backpacking..... on 12/14/2009 13:05:07 MST Print View

Kendall, that's exactly it. That's what I've done. The only other way would be to find sponsors who will pay you to go backpacking - which means every trip has to have something newsworthy about it - longer, tougher, faster, never been done before. And you are beholden to sponsors and have to satisfy their needs. I've had sponsorship in terms of gear and some cash from gear companies for some of my longest walks but these have never covered the full costs. I wouldn't want to do high profile trips all the time to maintain sponsorship either.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Professional Backpacking..... on 12/14/2009 13:07:43 MST Print View

"Or as my husband puts it - he would rather work a stress filled IT job that pays extremely well and spend his days off out having fun - knowing that we can do that and plan for our early retirement - where we won't have to worry."

That's really sad. For me the balance in life is to have, as others have said, a job I love and that I can do for the rest of my life. Add to that a job that gives me six weeks paid leave each year, plus annual holidays, and only asks a 37.5 hour week of me, and a job that I can walk or bike to, and living in a country with mostly socialised medicine, and living frugally so we own our home without busting a gut or having stressful work situations, and I can honestly say I would take my lifestyle any day over being a 'professional' backpacker.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Professional Backpacking..... on 12/14/2009 13:23:18 MST Print View

Why is it sad? He doesn't think it is sad by any means to have the ability to provide for his family and still have time left to enjoy. He enjoys his stressful IT job frankly - it encourages his thinking and he gets to travel a lot out of it. He gets bored when not using his brain to solve problems.

The point being is that we don't want to be doing a "job the rest of our life". So we are making money while young and preparing for our retirement - all while still having a fun time on our days off. You all can work till your 95, thanks.

Not everyone wants to live a UL lifestyle off the trail either. I sure don't. Neither does my husband. Simply being a light hiker doesn't equate the other.

But back to the whole 'pro hiker' thing - yes, a person can do it with enough planning and that was my point: you can do it but don't make yourself a burden on society by thinking hiker trash instead of able bodied adult. If a person wants to give up on a lot of things, yes you can do it. You won't make much more than food and a place to sleep - after all, to earn that money you have to keep moving and being better than everyone else.

Frankly, at the end of S.W.'s most recent yo-yo his lady had a fund online to help raise money for his trip so he could EAT.

There are only a tiny few out there that stand out so much that they will get sponsored enough to even pay for food and if you do get lucky and get more, well you will have to sell out as well.

Don't let it stop someone from trying - for example writing books is very rewarding emotionally. SO is blogging or doing a website. Or movies. But here is my advice: start slow, build yourself up, build a following. You can make money this way - but realize that leaving the corporate world isn't going to be easy if you want to be self sufficient and not a burden. The 10 year plan to freedom on the other hand allows one to build that part of them selves and all the while save money, buy that cabin in the woods, etc and be prepared.

Frankly, I see it like starting a business. Would you start a business with no money?