Hiking in the USA from a European Perspective

I’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time in the USA over the past few years. Working at a summer camp in New York state in 2010 and 2011, road tripping in 2014 and Thru Hiking the AT in 2015. There are some points in here I think many Americans may not realise about their wonderful country. Feel free to agree with me, disagree with me and question me in the comments.

Photo by @cheesebeardhikes

Photo by @cheesebeardhikes

It’s fun to try weird and new American foods, it’s also little disturbing

Trying new foods is one of my favourite things to do when travelling. Some of the weird, wonderful and frankly disturbing options available at the grocery store in the US never ceases to amaze me. For example something I’ve never seen in Europe is “Chicken in a bag”.

chicken-in-abag

It was a great option on the AT, a shelf stable and tasty protein option for mixing in with your evening meal.

Chocolate never gets boring on a long hike so trying all the different candy bar options was great fun, plus when else can you eat as much chocolate as you like! There are a few things I’ve tried and have zero desire to sample again. Kraft Easy Cheese. Cheese in a can? No. I’m good thank you very much. Corn Dogs. I just don’t understand it, I don’t even really know what it is.

doughnuts

Everything in the US costs less

Compared to the areas of Europe I’ve lived in, the cost of living is a good bit lower in the US. This is a difficult one to quantify as salaries vary, exchange rates change and standard of living varies. Alcohol is a good example though. On a zero day on the AT I’d often pick up a six pack of craft beer to sip on and was surprised how little it cost. A single craft beer from the store here in Helsinki costs around €4 or $4.27, I found tasty six packs for less than $10 in most towns in the US.

The Heat and Humidity in the Summer is no Joke

It rains in England, we all know that. We don’t get big swings in climate like in the US, it pretty much just rains more or less depending on the season. Living in Finland for the past four years has toughened me up to the cold so I was prepared for the freezing temperatures at the start of the AT. What I wasn’t prepared for was the savage humidity of the summer. Being hot is one thing but having almost 100% humidity as well made for some miserable days on the AT.  Being soaked through from rain when hiking is one thing but soaked through because of your own sweat for a few days in a row was not my most enjoyable experience.
Photo Courtesy of @nicholasreichard

Photo Courtesy of @nicholasreichard

The Availability and Variety of innovative Ultralight Gear is much higher in the US

I can think of just two or three Ultralight Backpacking Companies that are based in Europe. More than 15 spring to mind that are designed and/or built in the USA. American companies are really leading the charge in the Ultralight Backpacking community. This point combined with the lower cost of gear in the US means that whenever possible I wait to pick up new gear whenever i’m in the US.

Six Moon Designs, Enlightened Equipment, ULA. All excellent examples of American Ultralight Gear. Photo Courtesy of @nicholasreichard

The Amount of Unspoiled Wilderness in the USA is Astounding

The US has beaches, mountains, desert and such a wide variety of climates. The Appalachian trail is known as the green tunnel but I saw things on the AT that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The CDT is going to be wildly different in it’s scenery and have epic views and truly unspoilt wilderness. In the area of the UK I grew up it would be difficult to find a green area to walk in without running into a road or building, we simply don’t have the wide open spaces. It’s so important for us all to treasure the wilderness and go out and explore it because it may not last forever.
Photo: @cheesebeardhikes

Visas

Saving up money, quitting your job or finishing school and then heading out on the trail is hard enough as it is. For a foreigner though we have to add in one frustrating level of red tape. Visas. US customs are already notorious for being quite tight but when I entered into the US to start my hike I was met with some heavy questioning from the border control. “You came to the US to go hiking for 6 months?” Yes. “Where will you be staying?” In my tent. “How much money do you have?” Enough. In all the confusion I ended up leaving the desk with a five month visa. My Hike took six months and ten days. I had to apply for a visa extension which cost me an extra couple of hundred dollars on top of the fees I’d already paid. All I wanted to do was go hiking.

Public transport sucks, the US isn’t designed for foot travel, people drink and drive

All three of these go hand in hand. As hikers we’re used to human powered transport but when we did need to move around in larger trail towns on the AT, public transport was pretty much non existent. Several times when walking through town the sidewalk would just end, relegated to the gutters , where all thru hikers belong. Having a lot of space means towns in the US are often pretty spread out, the bar is WAY over on the other side of town, there’s no public transport and cabs are expensive, walking is out of the question. I’ll just drive, i’m not that drunk. Drunk driving makes me really sad. It also makes some people really dead.
hitching

Americans are pretty Awesome

America and Americans often get a lot of undeserved bad press. In my experience Americans are some of the most hospitable and warm people I’ve ever met. I’m fortunate to have met some amazing, inspiring people on the AT that to this day remain great friends.

These are just some of the things I’ve noticed in my time in the US, there are so many more small details and differences, as there always are when we travel.

For me wherever and whenever I travel the small differences are what really interest me. The tourist attractions or epic scenery are always essential but seeing the ways people communicate with one another or trying the local delicacies (Easy Cheese) is far more important.

I’m intrigued to see if my perspectives change later this year after spending six months on the CDT .

All the best

PIE

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Comments 7

  • Esme : Feb 11th

    Awesome insights Paul, the idea of the towns not being made for foot traffic isn’t something I’d ever considered! Driving down from Seattle to LA in May, over two weeks, and looking forward to experiencing the US for myself then ?Thanks for a great read!

    Reply
  • Rock-Hopper : Feb 13th

    Oh boy! I can relate to so much of this article! I lived for 3 years in NYC (French citizen here) and I took advantages of the nearby AT and had a blast! I have to say though, there are a lot of European brands now in the UL community even if I am more used to US brands now (but cant use them anymore… customs costs are prohibitive!).
    I wan to do the PCT next year and I am not looking forward to go through the VISA process….

    Reply
    • Pieonthetrail : Feb 13th

      Hey Esme!

      Yeah it’s a crazy thing, with the country just being so huge and spread they just don’t have the same approach to planning the layout of a town. Your trip sounds awesome! First time in the US?

      Reply
    • Pieonthetrail : Feb 13th

      Hey Rock Hopper! Glad you can relate. I’m not aware of many European companies, got any cool links I should check out? You totally should get on the PCT, a bunch of friends did it this year and loved it, good luck with your visas ?

      Reply
  • Dilra Tours : Feb 28th

    Superb post loved it…thanks for sharing… pictures are amazing looks so realistic.. views are stunning…and how about sharing some do nuts

    Reply
  • Kevin : May 1st

    There’s no humidity on the PCT or CDT. One of many reasons why the PCT and CDT doesn’t suck like the AT does.

    Reply
  • Mary : May 27th

    Excellent post BUT I do have to comment that you’re probably embracing American culture to a degree you haven’t realized. From England and referring to yourself as European?

    Also, the beer is cheap because it’s garbage. 😉

    Reply

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