Anyone who has ever set foot in a state or national park has probably heard the mantra of “Leave No Trace.” Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Pack it in, pack it out. Although the concept is simple, we can all admittedly do a little better in its practice. Anyone looking for a little clean camp inspiration has to look no further than the team at Packing It Out. These guys are leading by example and jumpstarting our enthusiasm for environmental stewardship in the process.
Last year, this team of outdoor enthusiasts backpacked the Appalachian Trail, and inspired by Leave No Trace, collected over 1,000 pounds of trash along the way. Now they’re doing it again, this time on the Pacific Crest Trail. We had a chance to chat with one of these hiking supermen, Chris Moore, one week and 200 pounds worth of trash into the five-month trek.
Q. Everyone remembers the credo of Leave No Trace, but you’ve taken it to a whole new level. Where did the idea for Packing It Out come from?
A. The inspiration for what we are doing now came from Seth Orme who was leading kayaking trips for years with Paul Twedt. They would teach Leave No Trace to all their clients and tours, educating people about best practices and how to clean up. He was out hiking in North Carolina on the Appalachian Trail and the section was littered with trash. So he was hiking a little bit, stopping and picking stuff up, hiking a little bit, and kind of got frustrated with the whole thing. At that moment he thought, “If I did this whole trail the rest of the summer, I could feasibly pick up every piece of trash, so the next person wouldn’t have to do the same thing I’m doing right now.” So he contacted Paul and their childhood friend Joe Dehnert and they started last year. No sponsors, no nothing. Just three guys hiking. They ended up moving 1,100 pounds by the end of it.
Q. What does your slogan of “Five Minutes, Five Months” mean?
A. It’s a way to appeal to everyone, not just the hiking community. Whether you’re on a five-month expedition or you only have five minutes left from a lunch break in the park, every little bit counts.
Q. Thru-hiking has gained some momentum recently, not without a little help from Hollywood. How do you feel about increased interest and traffic along these long, scenic trails?
A. There are going to be some begrudging comments about there being too many people, but we really don’t entertain those kinds of conversations because for us, the more people that are out hiking and learning how to be out in the wilderness and experiencing it, is just more people that are going to care about natural spaces. The movement can become that much greater.
Q. As you’ve said, in the backpacking world, additional weight is the enemy. How do you manage the huge amount of refuse you collect while tackling all the other challenges of a thru-hike?
A. It’s really training and nutrition. I would say we are kind of hyper focused on our body care and being smart about it. We stretch 30 to 40 minutes every morning, and we vocalize any little tiny pain we may be feeling, so we can tackle it before it becomes a problem. We spent months in advance working with our sponsors to get quality nutrition on the trail. At each town, we pick up a box that has almost all of our food in it for the next hitch, so we can eat really healthy food that allows us to recover and keeps us going with good energy. We all came from outdoor and guiding backgrounds, so we’re not starting off blind. We’ve got it pretty much as dialed as we can get it physically.
Q. Your initial Appalachian Trail trek was unsupported, but you’ve begun accumulating sponsors for your PCT trip this summer. How has sponsorship helped in the effort to Leave No Trace?
A. It gives us so much more flexibility and freedom. It’s a huge weight off the mind. Financially, it made the whole trip feasible. We’re not in as big of a rush anymore, so it gives us time to spend in town, interacting with all the other hikers and being part of the community. Clif Bar and Justin’s gave us enough peanut butter and bars to get us through the whole trail. Granite Gear gave us great new packs, too. Putting all the trash in the top of the pack is a huge strain and breaks down the gear pretty quick, so having that support system is major.
The other major thing that helps is the support on social media. At the end of the day, it’s not simply just moving the trash off the trail, but getting more people thinking about doing the same thing. It’s helping to spread the word of a cleaner trail system in general.
Q. What is the oddest thing you’ve picked up off the trail?
A. We find bizarre stuff everyday. Just yesterday, we came across a dump site full of car parts and tons of shoes. The most memorable was probably last year on the Appalachian Trail when the guys found a mattress that was right in the middle of the trail. How do you get a 70-pound mattress out of the woods? They ended up finding some logs and treating it almost like a stretcher. They huffed it out!
Images courtesy of Packing It Out.
Arya Roerig is a writer living and working in Denver. She enjoys houseplants, running and all that fresh mountain air.