John Mackey, Whole Foods Co-Founder, on His Thru-Hiking Experience, Co-Owning Gossamer Gear, and Entrepreneurship (BPR #260)

In today’s episode of Backpacker Radio, presented by The Trek, brought to you by Helinox we are joined by John Mackey. On trail he’s known as “Strider”, off trail he’s known as the co-founder and former CEO of Whole Foods. In addition to being a world-class entrepreneur, Mackey is also a backpacking enthusiast, having hike the AT, PCT, Colorado Trail, and many trails abroad including hikes in the Alps, Patagonia, and more. This is a fun, informative, and wide ranging chat that covers his thru-hike on the AT while being the active Whole Foods CEO, how he saved Gossamer Gear from near extinction, his fascination with UL gear, including his own 6.5 lb base weight, how his love for fantasy novels spilled into his own creative endeavor at the AT’s shelter logs, his favorite vegan trail snacks, and much more. We also dive into some non-backpacking talk, including how to build a successful and healthy company culture, his take on labor unions, how psychedelics played a pivotal role in his life, and we learn all about his new book, The Whole Story: Adventures in Love, Life, and Capitalism. Chaunce and I were amped for this chat and it did not disappoint.

We wrap the show with a sneak peak at a new full-time job opening at The Trek, what fact is common knowledge in our field, but unknown to most of the population, the triple crown of Whole Foods foods, and Chaunce’s encounter with a ghost.

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Interview with John “Strider” Mackey

Time stamps & Questions

00:04:56 – Reminders: Apply for the Trek’s new full time role! Suggest a guest for PCT Days and support us on Patreon for bonus exclusive content!

00:08:15 – Introducing John

00:09:18 – Tell us about investigating your wife’s fridge during your first date

00:12:27 – We Love Love: Tell us about telling her how you felt

00:18:12 – Did that make you more sensitive to how you interact with people?

00:19:15 – What was the origin story of buying Gossamer Gear?

00:23:46 – Are you still involved in the operations of Gossamer Gear?

00:25:15 – How did you get to a baseweight of 6 pounds?

00:26:50 – What are your Big Three?

00:28:00 – How did Ray Jardine’s book insprie you?

00:30:30 – Tell us about getting off trail

00:33:22 – What’s it like to complete the AT and go back to being the CEO of Whole Foods?

00:36:01 – Tell us about your trail register stories

00:39:35 – What was the process for your support vehicle?

00:41:44 – Did other hikers realize you were involved with Whole Foods?

00:43:10 – What impact has psychadelics had on your career?

00:49:33 – What did your parents think when you started Safer Way?

00:54:56 – Was it hard to ask your father to leave the board of Whole Foods?

00:58:50 – What was the community’s reaction to you starting Safer Way?

01:02:18 – How did you mentally keep up with the growth of Whole Foods?

01:03:43 – Were there any books you recommend to entrepreneurs?

01:05:28 – Discussion about listening to books while long distance hiking

01:07:00 – Discussion about what John eats while backpacking

01:10:21 – What kind of cravings do you get while hiking?

01:12:20 – What do you think about alternative meat burgers?

01:13:23 – Can you explain why vegans are against eggs?

01:16:20 – Tell us about hiking with the founder of Celestial Seasonings tea

01:18:58 – What was the origin story of your step-daughter’s trail name?

01:20:09 – What sticky situations have you gotten into on trail?

01:24:00 – Tell us about hiking the PCT

01:27:39 – Tell us about the Via Francigena and Alpe Adria

01:29:50 – What has been your favorite European trail?

01:31:35 – What’s your take on REI’s recent efforts on union busting?

01:36:52 – What tips do you have for building a strong company culture?

01:42:00 – Discussion about merging with Amazon

01:43:18 – What is Jeff Bezos like?

01:43:41 – Zach’s idea for grocery store improvement

01:45:33 – Kumo Question: What is the cheesiest movie you secretly love?

01:48:26 – Tell us about Love Life


Trek Propaganda: Kristian Morgan Aims for Another Appalachian Trail FKT by Ariella Nardizzi

QOTD: What fact is common knowledge in your field, but unknown to most of the population?

Spooky Thing of the Week

Triple Crown of Whole Foods foods

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