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What’s In My Pack: Comedian-Thru-Hiker Sean Powers

Essentials include custom toilet paper with my face printed on it and a blow-up mic.

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Thru-hiking is a relentless battle against pack weight, time, and pain over thousands of miles. The gear and sparse luxury items you’ve spent hours justifying are all that prepare you for the quixotic war of attrition. And it’s the only activity where others are impressed with how tiny your pack is.

Throughout the journey, your gear becomes a part of you and, like the scars in Jaws, carry stories of their own. You proudly show off your hat’s layers of psychedelic sweat stains, regale the story of the fall that left your trekking-poles bent, or boast about the rain pants you found in a hiker box during a storm. 

The only way to make a thru-hike harder is by making it funny and relatable. In 2021, I decided to do just that by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to my own thru-hiker-themed comedy show in Bellingham, WA, called The Walk of Shame

The gear in my bag was akin to my comedic style: silly, unnecessary, and quirky. 

Ultralight comedic props 

A thru-hike is absurd, and absurdity is a breeding ground for comedy—I felt like Carrot Top showing off my prop tiny hand for stand-up practice. The added weight of a Big Foot mask or mime make-up for skits I wrote and recorded on trail was justified as long as it was funny. (Laughing at me still counts as laughing…right?)

As a thru-hiker, it’s truly shameful to bring the kind of extra weight I packed for my on-trail comedy, which explains my trail name, Shame. The tradition of taking on a trail name is fitting, because people who thru-hike are usually having an identity crisis anyway.

Walmart’s finest fanny pack 

For thru-hikers, it’s function over fashion (most hikers look like dads on a jungle safari, or, in my case, Family Guy’s Lois Griffin). But the practicality, performance, and pleasure of a fanny pack is undeniable. The ability to offset coveted ounces from my back to my front, fight off hiker hunger, and flex the PCT logo button on day hikers? Sign me up. My whole trail family donned them, prompting the name: The Fanny Pack.

Z Packs 20F Classic Sleeping Bag
Z Packs 20F Classic Sleeping Bag (Photo: courtesy)

ZPacks 20F Classic sleeping bag

It’s important to get good sleep on a Walk of Shame. When I started my hike, my base weight was a whopping 35 pounds. Yikes. I needed a gear shakedown (that’s where you let a professional unpack your bag and shame you for what’s inside). I dropped a lot of unnecessary gear, including a 3.5 pound sleeping bag. But I’m a cozy-boy, so a comfortable, light-weight sleeping bag like the hoodless Zpacks Classic was a high priority item. 

Big Agnes Fly Creek — Not another basic pitch 

Between shopping exclusively at REI to the point where you look like a green-vested mannequin to the ultralighter who ridicules the “unnecessary” weight of your Smartwater’s label, you have to be wary of trail judgment. But after buying the ZPacks sleeping bag and a Gossamer Gear Gorilla, my budget for the latest, greatest ultralight gear was tight. 

I decided to keep my older, one pound, 13 oz Big Agnes Fly Creek, but had “trail shame” pulling it out in front of other thru-hikers who all seemed to have the lightest, non-freestanding tents available. I felt inferior, believing the myth that gear makes the hiker, and had to remind myself that people have been doing this long before ultralight gear existed. 

It took 500 miles for me to understand the meaning behind the trailosophy, “hike your own hike.” I initially joked that the phrase was a passive-aggressive “go f*ck yourself.” (Hiker 1: You shouldn’t listen to music while hiking!” Hiker 2: “Hike your own hike!”). But it grew on me. The PCT fulfills a different purpose for everyone regardless of how far you get, what brands you use, or why you’re out there. Once I got outside my own judgmental head, I felt free. Plus, I was happy that I had the freestanding tent in the snowy San Jacintos and 40-mph winds of Tehachapi Pass and the Timberline Lodge.

The Sean Powers kit
The Sean Powers kit (Photo: Sean Powers)

Walk of Shame custom toilet paper

I’m a new comedian, and self-promotion is the only way people will hear about my show. I started with fliers and matchboxes with my face and info, but thru-hikers weren’t happy about the added weight (one even asked how many grams the matchbox was). I settled on custom toilet paper with my face printed on it. It felt weird to give out TP, but it was always in demand and made people laugh. I would put 4-5 squares in ziplock bags and hand them out after practice shows on-trail. Four PCTers ended up bringing the TP to the show in Bellingham…still unused, thankfully. 

It also prompted the rejected trail name, “sh*t ticket.” To which I responded, “hike your own hike!”

The hiker box Special: blue Nike running shorts (probably mens?)

For those who don’t know what a hiker box is, picture the worst of a thrift store’s athletic section in a church’s lost-and-found, littered with stale oatmeal and crushed ramen crumbs—a Treasure Island for dirt bags (so basically any Treasure Island Resort & Casino). But over a five-month journey, the hiker box can come in handy.

After falling and glissading 150 feet down what is now known as the “Death Chute,” I was left with a ripped backpack, broken ego, and shorts/ boxers that now looked more like an open-air hospital gown. Whether it was serendipity or a lucky night at Treasure Island, the hiker box had shorts, the first-aid I needed, and Gossamer Gear replaced my bag (shout out to GG!). The trail provides, but the shorts reminded me that one mistake could cost me the hike… 

…But how can you be careful when you’ve got a bus to catch? 

Extremely supportive Leki Makalu Lite Trekking Poles

The Fanny Pack wanted to catch the 10:16 AM bus into Yosemite Valley. Despite snowfall that lasted through the night, a 3:30 AM wake up, 17 more miles, and Dorothy Pass to summit, we were ambitious (a word often synonymous with “stupid”) about making it. Looking like a hiker-trash Rube Goldberg machine, we kept a consistent 4 mph pace until I slipped on an icy rock on the edge of a frozen waterfall. Falling backwards, I extended my pole to catch myself. A friend grabbed my shirt and pulled me away from Death Chute Part 2. We laughed, brushed it off, and ran the remaining 6 miles with 10 minutes to spare…only to find that buses weren’t running as a pandemic precaution. The poles (now bent) held up all the way to Canada. Now I have Nike shorts and a bent pole to show for my stupidity. I mean ambition. Ambition!

A journal 

For the first thousand miles, hikers who saw my journal declared I’d never keep up with it. When they saw me still cataloging the last thousand, hikers told me they wished they’d kept up with theirs. The journal was my solace; I’d spend mornings reflecting, afternoons writing joke premises, and nights practicing for the show—it’s a puzzle you’re constantly refining. I was able to push through tough emotional and physical days because I was reflecting on the support I received from my family, girlfriend, and trail friends. The trail taught me a lifetime of lessons that I’ve just begun to unpack (from my tiny pack). 

Sean Powers with his blow-up mic
The blow-up mic (Photo: Sean Powers)

The blow-up mic

From my limited comedy experience, stand-up is a balancing act. No one wants to see you perform material robotically, or see a sloppy idiot working it out live. They want a slightly robotic, slightly idiotic comic (so…should I perform as Siri?). It takes years to find your voice as a stand-up comedian, so it’s important to work on writing, performance, and stage presence whenever you can…like on a 2,650-mile hike—hence the blow-up mic.   

Reflecting on my pop-up trail routine and slightly insane goal of hiking to a comedy show, I’ve found that people love to laugh and are supportive of the ambition (this time not stupidity). My time practicing paid off: Both shows in Bellingham sold out and the audience left happy. Whenever I get comedic advice, it’s to keep going. Work through the good and the bad without letting either go to your head. So comedy is like the PCT: You just have to keep pressing forward.