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Beginner Skills

Trail Teachers: On Tour with BACKPACKER's Get Out More Team

BACKPACKER's camping experts are coming soon to an outdoor shop near you. Learn what you can expect from this dynamic couple and their Get Out More clinics.

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This summer, Sheri and Randy Propster will drive 35,000 miles to conduct 70 backpacking clinics at outdoor shops across America as part of BACKPACKER’s 11th annual Get Out More tour. Along the way, the veteran thru-hikers and gear junkies will dispense our staff’s best advice on trip preparation, recipe planning, and equipment selection—and how to do it all faster so you can spend more time on the trail. They’ll also share top-rated reader hikes near each store. I recently caught up with them as they were prepping for a long six months on the road.

JD: When you walk into an outdoor store for a Get Out More presentation, what are you trying to achieve vis-à-vis the attendees?

Propsters: Our goal is to create a nation of outdoor enthusiasts. If we can provide the appropriate information, inspiration, and motivation to our Get Out More Tour attendees, they will be empowered with the ability to safely and comfortable enjoy their time in the great outdoors. The more time they spend outdoors, the more quality they add to their lives. It’s a simple concept with powerful results.

JD: What do you do to help people get out more? Should attendees expect to walk away with actionable advice?

Propsters: Most definitely. We attempt to provide the information needed to create an educated consumer. We highlight the skills attendees should focus on while planning and preparing for their adventures, and introduce attendees to the latest and greatest gear available to enhance their adventures.

JD: If you could boil down all of the advice you give to the three most important tips that every hiker should know, what would those be?

Propsters: Our three top tips are really principles, or ways of thinking about your adventure.

1. Think Essentials: We teach something we call the Eleven Essential Systems (First-Aid, Insulation, Fire, Emergency Shelter, Hydration, Nutrition, Navigation, Communication, Illumination, Tools and Repairs, Sun and Skin Protection). These are time-tested and adventure-proven methods of ensuring a safe return home.

2. There is More Than One Right Way to Backpack: Some call this principle Hike Your Own Hike; we call it finding your backpacking balance. Backpacking is about finding a very personal balance. Consider an appropriate balance of weight, comfort, convenience, and (in this current economy) cost when creating your personal style. Some go ultralight, some go comfort-light, and some bring the kitchen sink. They can all be successful styles. As long as you enjoy the experience, Mother Nature won’t judge you based on style points…besides, see #3.

3. Function is Fashion: Backpacking fashion is based entirely on functionality. If your wicking layers don’t match your shell and your insulating fleece clashes with both but you are warm and dry, then you are a supermodel in the backpacking world.

JD: You’re basing some of the tour this year on BACKPACKER’s Readers’ Choice issue (January). Tell us what that means for the presentation and the attendees.

Propsters: BACKPACKER’s tagline is the “Outdoors at Your Doorstep,” and the Get Out More Tour is coming to your doorstep to get you out into your backyard wilderness. The January issue highlights the top day, weekend, and multi-day adventures in ten regions of the country as decided by our reader’s votes. The Get Out More Tour will bring the pages of BACKPACKER to life by visiting nine of those regions (sorry Alaska), experiencing one of the top adventures in each region, and creating a presentation that not only inspires and motivates attendees to want to experience a similar adventure, but also informs them how we went about planning, researching, and preparing ourselves to safely explore in their backyard. We will share our experiences in a multimedia platform that will utilize the tips and techniques found on the pages of BACKPACKER.

JD: Who should come to your talks? Is this for beginners, for experts, for gear junkies?

Propsters: All of the above. Beginners will be given an invaluable foundation on which to plan their adventures, experts will leave with new tips and techniques to add to their backpack full of tricks, and the Get Out More Tour is a gear junkie’s ultimate fix. Attendees will not only see and hear about the latest and greatest gear, but the experience is completely hands-on. We encourage everyone to tinker with and test out any and all of the gear we highlight on Tour. Oh, did we mention that each Tour Event includes a gear giveaway? Chances are attendees will walk away with some of the latest and greatest gear just for showing up!

JD: What are the major areas you cover in your presentation?

Propsters: We know we can’t possibly tell the whole backpacking story. The whole story consists of too many sights, sounds, smells and feelings to possible convey in words and images alone. The whole story needs to be experienced, but if we tell as much of our story as possible we will hopefully inspire and motivate our attendees to search out the experience. Our story consists of: what’s in our backpack, why it’s in our backpack, when we need to use what’s in our backpack, how we use what’s in our backpack, other options we could put in our backpack, tips to plan a backpacking adventure, tips to enhance explorations on a backpacking adventure, tips to share a backpacking adventure.

JD: How many miles and stores have you covered in all these years of doing GOM?

Propsters: We have visited 221 retail stores over the past four years, and we have driven just over 131,000 miles.

JD: How many will you drive and hit this year?

Propsters: 70 total stops and 35,000-plus miles

JD: How many people have you had in your audiences over the years?

Propsters: 11,269

JD: Do you have a favorite “success” story from your time as ambassadors?

Propsters: One of the most rewarding aspects of our role as Ambassadors for the Get Out More Tour is receiving feedback from attendees who have achieved success in the outdoors as a result of attending a Get Out More Event. One example that stands out occurred at Trail Days in Damascus, VA in 2010. While conversing with a clean-cut, middle-aged couple who had attended a Get Out More Tour Event in Chattanooga, TN and listening with delight as they explained that they had decided to attend Trail Days so they could come say hello to us and let us know just how much they had loved their first overnight backpacking trip together, how much they enjoyed the new equipment they had purchased as a result of seeing us highlight the gear during our presentation, and how much Rock Creek Outfitters should be grateful to us because they had spent a pretty penny in the store while gearing up, a young man with a scruffy three-month growth beard walked by, stopped, turned around and exclaimed, “Randy and Sheri!” The young man, now full of excitement, first asked if we remembered him, then went on to explain to the entire group that he had attended a Get Out More Event in Kittery, ME, two years ago. He described how our passion and advice had been a piece of the puzzle that led him to quit his high-stress job as a day trader, outfit himself with the essentials we spoke of, and set out on the journey of his lifetime to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. After he completed his exhilarating story, the couple looked over at us and said, “Wow, how many people’s lives do you think you have impacted?” To which we humbly responded, “a few.”

JD: Do you have a favorite retail store, hike along the route, surprise or whoops moment?

Propsters: We would certainly have to include stores like Midwest Mountaineering, Half Moon Outfitters, and Great Outdoor Provision, but there are also some amazing experiences being generated in stores like The Trail Store in Louisville, KY, Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, VT, Mosquito Creek Outfitters in Apopka, FL, and Apex Outdoor Gear in Grand Rapids, MI. All of the stores on that list create connections with their community, motivate growth of outdoor sports, and maintain a staff filled with outdoor enthusiasm. Another addition to that list would most certainly have to be Massey’s in New Orleans. Blake, one of Massey’s managers, generates a fun, almost playful atmosphere amongst the Massey’s employees. Massey’s requires a personal connection with their community built on exceptional customer service, expansion of local trail networks for foot travel, bikes and boats, and Blake was the only manager we spoke with on Tour in 2010 that interviewed us to ask, “you guys have seen so many outfitters, what are we not doing, what can we do better, what do you think we are doing right, or wrong?” The way we see it, by simply taking the time and energy to genuinely ask those questions, Blake displayed the pride and passion that directly leads to Massey’s success.

Life on the road/trail is certainly never boring. It’s certainly not boring to pack up your tent at three o’clock in the morning to leave an Angeles National Forest campsite where your campground neighbors have decided to unload an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons. It’s not boring to wake in the night as an entourage of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars pulls into the Stonelick State Park campsite across from you to pull a woman from a locked car in an attempt to derail her suicide attempt. It’s anything but boring to have an attendee interject into our presentation to declare that we had mistakenly left out an essential item, that item being a large caliber revolver, a revolver that was in his opinion an essential because, and we quote, “you just never know when you’re going to come upon a rowdy group of teenagers out there in the woods.” It’s certainly fun to watch the light bulb go off in an attendee’s brain when you explain that he could carry a lightweight water filter in place of that case of liter water bottles he purchased pre-trip at Walmart. It’s almost comical to repeatedly wave back to the vehicle next to you thinking they were fans of the magazine (an almost daily occurrence) to eventually discover that they had been attempting to point out that your boots were on top of the Subaru for the past few miles. As we said, it’s never boring!

JD: Having seen hundreds of retail stores and interacted with salespeople all over the country, what’s your advice to readers about shopping—to get the help they need, to find great deals, to know which questions to ask?

Propsters: Do your homework. Manufacturers offer tons of information on-line. Read the tech specs and compare the features offered in specific gear choices before you ever step foot in the store. Once in the store, get the right help. Retail salesmen and saleswomen are usually made up of outdoor enthusiasts; that’s why they work in a retail store. Remember though, they will usually have individual specialties. Don’t talk to a biker about climbing gear or a backpacker about bikes, find out about their individual passions and work with a salesperson that has experience in your desired activity. Also, give gear a test drive. If it’s boots you’re after, put them on and walk the store for a while. If it’s a tent you desire, set it up, break it down, and then set it up again to ensure it can be done quickly in a rainstorm. If it’s a sleep system you need, inflate the pad, get in the bag, roll around, take a nap even. Make your visit to the retailer an extended experience, not just an impulse purchase. Don’t rush into a purchase just so the gear can collect dust in your gear closet, if you won’t need that new bag until next month, find out if a sidewalk sale is in the retailer’s upcoming plans. Inquire about rental programs. You may be able to take last year’s model out for a test drive before investing in this year’s model.

JD: Have you learned anything while living out of a car that you now apply to hiking?

Propsters: Life in the car is similar to backpacking in that you truly have to evaluate your wants and your needs when it comes to what “stuff” makes the trip. If you don’t use it every day, or if it’s not required for health, hygiene or safety’s sake, it simply won’t make the cut. The required detachment from unnecessary “stuff” that coincides with life in a car translates seamlessly to life on the trail.

JD: Having been all over the country, is there a place that’s jumped to the top of your hiking life list—and that you just can’t wait to have some free time to backpack?

Propsters: Without sounding spoiled, we must say we’ve become particular about choosing our destinations. We want the right place—at the perfect time. Give us the trillium blooms and bear sightings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in late March, the flowing waterfalls and camaraderie of excited thru-hikers starting the journey of a lifetime in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest in April, the mud-free conditions on the Devil’s Path in New York’s Catskills after Memorial Day, the warmer days and endless views on New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington in mid-July, the sights and smells of the kaleidoscopic blooms near Aspen’s Maroon Bells in Colorado’s White River National Forest in late-July, the elk, blacktail deer and black bear sightings that peak with the huckleberries in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness in August, the easier permits, smaller crowds and bigger rewards on the Lyell Canyon Trail of California’s Yosemite National Park in early-September, the bug-free conditions and the fall equinox for an intense glow of the Aurora Borealis as viewed from northern Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park in late-September, the changing of the seasons with a rust and gold blanketed oak canopy in Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest in October, and the most vibrant reds as the maples change colors and reach their peak in Texas’ McKittrick Canyon in November and you will see smiles from on both of us. Fortunately, we’ll be hiking all of those on the Tour this year!

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