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Andy Niekamp, a former IT professional turned long-distance-hiking aficionado, just can’t stay off the trail. As well as hiking the entire AT 5 times, he’s tackled the Florida Trail, Colorado Trail, and Superior Hiking Trail, and the first solo thru-hike of the 1,444-mile Buckeye Trail (about which he wrote a book, Captain Blue on the Blue Blazes). Though most of his personal trips are solo, he runs introductory backpacking trips through his company, Outdoor Adventure Connection, with a focus on gaining skills and confidence while learning how to travel respectfully in the backcountry. We tracked him down between trips to find out why he hikes, what he brings, and why he’s just not interested in the Pacific Crest Trail. Want to read the rest of the interview? Head over to Outside+.
Which long trails have you hiked?
My biggest accomplishment is section hiking the entire Appalachian Trail 5 times, over about 32 years. I estimate it’s about 11,000 miles of hiking, 1,000 days on the trail, or 25 million footsteps. I’ve also thru-hiked Ohio’s Buckeye Trail and the 1,000-mile Florida Trail, plus the Superior Hiking Trail, the Ozark Highlands Trail, the JMT, the Colorado Trail, and Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace.
What brought you to long trail hiking?
I started when I heard about this thing called the Appalachian Trail in the late 1980s. I decided right then to go to the Great Smoky Mountains and do a 5 day, 35-mile trip. It was a big thing for me at the time, a 35 mile journey solo. I was unprepared, but I quickly learned a lot; I had heavy gear and even canned goods, so it was physically exhausting. After that trip I got home and thought, I could do better. I trained and prepared, and went back the next summer.
What’s in your pack, and why?
My kit is set up for a variety of trails. My tent is the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 1. I know a lot of people that like hammocks, but a lot of the time I’m in areas without trees. I’ve slept under picnic shelters, in graveyards, in churchyards. I’m a tent camper, that’s my comfort zone.
My backpack is an Osprey Atmos 58, I”m on like my fourth atmos pack because I love them so much I wear them out. I’ve got a Western Mountaineering 40-degree down sleeping bag, and a Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm Pad. I usually use a trail-runner-style shoe, even on the AT and JMT. I cook on a homemade alcohol stove with an MSR Titan kettle I bought in Virginia in 1995 that I’ve used on every hike since then. It’s the piece of gear that has stuck with me the longest, and been through the most with me.
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