Recording Your Thru-Hike
Not only did I thru-hike the A.T. northbound last year, I also periodically stopped to talk to a camera on a stick. Well, hiking pole actually. I then created a 26-episode YouTube channel with the footage I recorded along the way. If you’re thinking about doing something similar, I hope this article can give you some tips. I’ll tell you how I did it, recommend some things, and give you my opinion on why I think this is a worthwhile endeavor.
This isn’t a how-to guide, but I think a good first step is to ask yourself some questions – the more detailed you can be with your answers, the better.
- Can you carry the extra weight?
- Can you afford a camera?
- Can you afford to replace your camera during your hike if you need to?
- How are you going to store all that footage along the way?
- What do you plan to do with the footage and how can you make that happen with your specific equipment?
- Will you have the time after or during your hike to see the creation of your project through to the end?
- Is this even something you want to mess with?
You’re the only one that can answer these questions and your answers to them might change after you start hiking. I made a living in video production before I hit the trail and I can tell you from experience that if you just think reasonably about your approach and don’t get in over your head, then I think you’re off to a good start.
I shot everything with a GoPro, intentionally keeping my equipment really simple both to save money and weight. I also carried 7 batteries, a mount for my hiking pole, a small tripod, a head strap, a small lavaliere microphone with a windscreen, and a rotating time lapse thingy (which I ended up sending home). Looking back, I think I could’ve managed to carry a more professional (heavier) camera, but the GoPro kept it easy. This was my first long-distance hike so I really wanted to minimize the time I would spend messing with camera gear. I ended up having my camera strapped to my hiking pole most of the time because I found that I used it more if I had it easily accessible rather than stashed away in my pack.
- Don’t film people without asking. Unless they’re drunk, then film it and put it on YouTube. Just kidding, seriously though, don’t assume it’s ok to just start filming hikers.
- Consider where you are before you start filming. I slept in people’s backyards on occasion (with permission of course) and you should never assume it’s ok to record. Just put your camera in your pack if you find yourself on someone’s private property.
- Keep a detailed log of what you shoot. I scribbled notes of what I shot at the end of each day in my guidebook and mailed it home along with each SD card. This was extremely helpful during my edit.
- If you’re going to do any narration – bring a microphone with a windscreen. Because, wind.
- Research and put in place your own “footage back-up” system. I used up twelve 32 gigabyte SD cards and sent them all home through the U.S. postal service without backing up a single one. Don’t do this. All of mine made it, but this was such an unnecessary risk to my entire project. Maybe bounce a box with an external hard drive or laptop in it and transfer the footage to that. You could also upload it somewhere when you reach a town. Google is your friend here.
- Definitely do a few tests with your equipment before you hit the trail.
No matter what you shoot with or how good you can edit, you can’t truly portray what it’s like to thru-hike. If I could do this over again, I honestly would not have filmed as much as I did. Even times when I wasn’t actually filming, it was something that was on my mind like “should I be filming this?” I can see how some people might think filming your hike takes something away from it. That being said, I am so glad that I shot this footage and put this series together. It was a great way for me to relive the adventure. I feel like my memories are so much more accurate too. I had footage I knew I wanted to check out first-thing and it was also fun coming across footage that gave me the “oh yea, I forgot about that day” feeling.
I’m not trying to convince people to film their hikes, but if this kind of thing is up your alley, then why not put some time into it and make something you can be proud of? We are living in an amazing time where sharing experiences in such a way has never been easier. I look forward to seeing future AT videos and hope they can inspire others to at least get out on day hike. Hikers are some of the coolest individuals I’ve ever met and I think the world needs more of them, more trails too. Using video to help further resonate the good energy that the trail and its community brings, in my opinion, is a good thing. Creating video along the way was just one way that I hiked my own hike. Make your hike yours, even if it means sending your video camera home.
My trail name is Just Mike and I went northbound in 2015. I was born and raised in the Nashville, Tennessee area, but I don’t qualify as a true southerner because my parents are northerners. Before I hit the trail, I graduated from college and then worked in the video production business for about 5 years. I refuse to let thru-hiking the AT be the only time I decided to do something cool with my life. I’m now living and working in Australia on a work and holiday visa pondering my next great adventure. Check out my video documentary series from the Trail.
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