Inside the Pros Packs with The Real Hiking Viking

Long distance backpacking is an addiction for which there is no cure. Few people understand this better than Thomas Gathman (trail name: Jabba), otherwise known by his online persona The Real Hiking Viking.

It wasn’t until 2013 that Jabba got his first taste of the long-trail life when he took on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike.  The following year, Viking crossed the Continental Divide Trail off his list.  And this year, not only will the Viking attempt to complete the triple crown in consecutive years, but he’s warming up for the PCT with an Arizona Trail thru-hike and a 500-mile section of the Florida Trail.

The Beard

But beyond the backpacking accolades, perhaps The Viking’s biggest claim to fame is a beard that’d make Poseidon jealous.  It has seen zero razor activity since before leaving for his AT thru-hike, now more than two years ago.

“I wanted to grow a triple crown beard…but once I learned about all these lumber-sexuals trying to steal the show, I knew I had to represent for all of the REAL mountain men out there.  All natural.  No products.  No stylist to trim it.  Just the harshness of the sun and snow to weather it to a fine homeless look that you see before you today.”

So what would one find inside a Hiking Viking’s pack?  Let’s find out.

Inside the Pros’ Packs with The Real Hiking Viking

Backpacking resume

I have thru-hiked both the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail in consecutive years (’13-’14) and I am planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015

Why you backpack

I enjoy the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspect of living a simple life out of my backpack and seeing nature and the world at 3mph.

Favorite AT Story

The following is a story of trail magic that happened to me on the AT and was not premeditated in any way. So without further ado…

We started the day with the plan of hiking 23.5 miles. It’s had been getting hotter and more humid throughout the day and by 7:30pm, myself and Lt. Cookoobird (of terror) come to a major road crossing, which is on 20.5 miles on the day. I was soaked in sweat and my feet were killing me. At this point all I wanted was to give my feet a break. So we sat on the side of the road and rested for a few minutes.

I then began to scheme up food possibilities other than what we had in our packs. We decided to call pizza places and see if anyone would deliver to our location. After trying a few places, no luck. At this point we were debating just sucking it up and hiking the remaining ~3 miles to camp or to further pursue our insatiable hiker hunger into Winchester, Virginia.

We decided to attempt to hitch hike the 15 miles and to hit up a restaurant.  Hitching doesn’t prove very easy with beards like ours. So for the first 10-15 minutes, every car switched lanes to avoid making eye contact with us.

We were about to give up hope and continue hiking when finally after about 20 minutes a white service pickup truck pulled over and hollered for us to get in. A gentleman by the name of Roy invited us into his car and said he couldn’t take us very far but he’d at least get us closer. Within the first five minutes he explained that if we were a bunch of crazies that he had his side arm on him and to play it cool. I informed him that he need not be worried and that I was in the Marines and hiking with Warrior Hike. It was just after that that he informed us that he had never smelled anyone as bad as us and immediately rolled the window down, I imagine to stave off vomit.

He then asked where we wanted to go. We said any restaurant would do. He asked if we like fish tacos and we of course said we did. Then his exact words were “My wife is gonna kill me but do you wanna come have dinner at our place?”. We immediately jumped at the opportunity and before we knew it we were pulling off the highway a small country road towards his house.

He invited us into his home, let us shower, did our laundry, gave us beer and whiskey, fed us all night, let us use their UV/infrared sauna, and then they asked us if we wanted to spend the night there. We talked it over and decided that was indeed something we would take them up on. They then put a movie on and we all soon went to bed.

After a night of generosity, good conversation, and great company they asked us for nothing in return but to make sure we pay the good deed forward. The next morning they made us breakfast and gave us giant local sirloin steaks to pack out (which we thawed and eventually ate for dinner). What an awesome way to rejuvenate faith in people and in strangers.

Trail magic: it does a body good. Special thanks to Roy and Jen Van Houten. You guys are awesome and we are amazed at your open hearts and minds and trusting in two ragged strangers.

Here’s to humanity y’all!

Gear / Packing Philosophy

I would say that I am on the precipice of being ultra light but since I like to gorge myself on trail as often as possible, my food bag weighs about as much as my gear does. My base hovers between 10-12 lbs.


Gossamer Gear Gorilla

Tent / Shelter

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Platinum (fast fly only) / Gossamer Gear Q-Twinn Tarp (using on the AZT + PCT)

Sleeping Bag

Sierra Designs DriDown Cal 30 (warmer weather) / Big Agnes Bellyache SL 17 (colder weather)



Sleeping Pad

Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite


Altra Lone Peak 2.0 (no camp shoe)




Outdoor Research Ultra Trail Gaiters



Base layer

Outdoor Research Echo T-shirt

Marmot Powerdry 1/2 Zip Long Sleeve Top


Icebreaker Merino Wool Oasis Leggings 200

Insulating layer

Montbell EX Light Down Anorak

Shorts / hiking bottoms

Nike Running Shorts (2″ inseam, ladies)


Montbell Versalite

Gloves / Mittens

Outdoor Research Metamorph Gloves


Outdoor Research Echo Cap

Rain / Wind Jacket

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket

Brief explanation of preferred layering system

I lather myself with honey and then put on a cotton onesie…

I always wear my hiking shorts and a hiking t shirt. If it’s cold in the morning I will wear my merino wool baselayer bottoms and my Montbell Dynamo windshirt until the sun warms the world up and then I’ll take them off.  If it’s really cold in the morning, I will wear my down pullover until my core heats up, but I make sure I never sweat in it. I almost never hike in a long sleeve shirt. I only wear that around camp or in my sleeping bag. I am usually able to maintain a high level of warmth as long as I am moving. If the wind is biting too much I will wear my windshirt and wind pants, but usually only at higher altitudes closer to spring or fall.


Snow Peak LiteMax Titanium Stove


Vargo Titanium Bot

Hydration Reservoir


Water purification method

Sawyer Squeeze

Water bottle

Whatever I can get my hands on in a gas station (2 1L bottles)


Smartphone and Goal Zero battery pack

Luxury Items

Fujifilm X-T1 with FUJINON LENS XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

Hiking Poles

Gossamer Gear

Stuff sacs

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Dry Sacks

Knife / Multi-tool

Vargo Titanium Wharn Clip Knife

Food system


Any other notes you’d like to include?

I’m seriously fat.

A big shoutout to The Real Hiking Viking for letting us take a peak inside his pack.  Be sure to root him on as he attempts to complete the triple crown by following his blog, Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

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Comments 6

  • imin2w8s : Mar 31st

    Thanks for the tips! I’m counting down the years till I do my thru-hike. I’M looking forward to my children growing up so I can hike the AT! Best wishes on your pursuit!!

    • Tan : Dec 19th

      Me too! I’m like… Ya 18 yet?!?!! Lol

  • kait2333 : Dec 10th

    WHAT DO YOU SLEEP IN? This is one of the most confusing things for me as I am trying to figure out clothing. I would guess the leggings and long sleeves? But it sounds like you wear that hiking at times? What if it rains? It seems very important to have dry clothes to sleep in.

  • Marion : Jan 14th

    Hi Hiking Viking. We met you at Zealand Hut today and yesterday. ( Mud and Stone). On our drive home and gazing up at what looked liked ominous weather over Franconian Ridge, we wondered if you made it to Lincoln or had to camp out in a lean-to. Happy trails. You are one in a billion( maybe more). Keep enjoying your trek. May the force be with you.


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