When Your Thru-Hike Is One Big Joke: On the Trail with Backpacker Comics

When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail last year, I didn’t have many easy days. I tried complaining about it, but as a hiking strategy, complaining was a bust. So I tried laughing instead. That worked.

When I summited Mount Katahdin on Sept. 10, I could honestly say I’d been fueled in part by laughter. By then, laughter was also a way to keep from screaming. My entire body hurt. I stood on the Katahdin sign anyway. Two days later, back home in Nashville, TN, I began the long process of trying to figure out what had just happened to me.

Pain, illness, the rainiest AT season on record—there were plenty of reasons I shouldn’t have summited Katahdin at all. Anyone else would have recognized my trauma as the start of another thru-hiking memoir. Me? Rather than writing a memoir, I put my modest drawing skills to work at Instagram. Still laughing, I called my new account Backpacker Comics.

Why Backpacker Comics?

Here’s the premise of Backpacker Comics: considered as a level-headed, responsible adult, backpacking is a wildly freakish thing to do. Sleeping outside with snakes and bears, when you could be sleeping inside with air conditioning? Walking 20 miles each day while carrying things on your back? Arguing with your best friends about gear?

These two screaming backpackers? I’m pretty sure they’re my core audience. They’ve probably left comments too, which are half the fun. The idea seems to be to improve on my jokes with much better ones.

Judging by how seriously backpackers take the things they hold most dear—their choice of a tent, for example, or whether to use trekking poles—it’s surprising they can be funny at all. Their comments prove otherwise. Not only are backpackers funny, but they get a kick out of being lampooned.

Backpackers = Easy Targets

Here are a few more examples from Backpacker Comics. You might recognize some of these “veteran thru-hikers.”Backpackers are easy targets. The more seriously we take an issue, the more absurd it seems when examined up close. The quest for a lighter pack is an endless source of fun. So is social media, which for some backpackers has become a favorite way of experiencing the outdoors.

The Serious Side

Backpacker Comics isn’t all jokes. Every so often, I stop mocking backpackers long enough to engage in their suspect behavior myself.

I’m not immune, for example, to the virus that impels all backpackers to pay homage to their own favorite gear. On the Appalachian Trail, I carried a tarp rather than a tent or a hammock. Under the tarp, I used a bug bivy. I was so enchanted by my bug bivy (and still am) that I honored it in a post.

Occasionally, Backpacker Comics takes a poetic turn. My post about “things you might miss if you hike too fast” got some blowback from those who thought I was criticizing their hiking style. I wasn’t, really. My point was a little different: if you’re going to take the time to get out in nature, spend some time paying attention to it.

My choice of comics over a memoir has been a good one for me. What began as a strategy to get me to the end of the Appalachian Trail—joking and laughing with my trail companions—has endured as a way of making sense of my thru-hiking experience. I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling a little nostalgic about my thru-hike.

And I’ll never get tired of mocking my thru-hike either—

If you’d like to follow along, please join me on Instagram at @Backpacker_Comics.

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Comments 17

  • LeoYermo : May 27th

    Ever since I first started watching your videos, you have been a huge inspiration.
    You are:
    The reason I am down to one hiking crutch, which I leave lashed to my pack 99% of the time.
    Decided to get rid of my tent and go w/ a tarp. (maybe one day the bivvy–I hope $)
    And then with all you do. The writing, the drawings, the music, your practice, etc. Sure helps me to know and to plan my time better.
    Just would like to say thanks for all I have learned. Your videos and art (cartoons are art, just ask Bill Watterson !) and all the rest.

    Reply
    • Evan : May 28th

      Thanks, Leo, appreciate it!

      Reply
    • Ryan : May 29th

      I followed you last year and celebrated when you summitted Katahdin. And these comics are HILARIOUS!!! Looking forward to attempting a thru-hike of my own in 2020. You’re an inspiration!

      Reply
      • Evan : May 30th

        Thanks Ryan–and good luck on the trail!

        Reply
    • Steven : May 29th

      I love watching the different videos on YouTube, thanks for providing a platform for the hiking community!

      Reply
      • Evan : Jun 1st

        You’re welcome!

        Reply
  • Sam I Am : May 27th

    ewolf…
    Like your vids, I love the comics!
    …the article was great, too!

    Reply
    • Evan : May 28th

      Thanks Sam!

      Reply
  • Kit : May 27th

    Evan,

    Like many of us you are forever cursed to a world of cracking Dad jokes.

    They can only get *so* good.

    Don’t push your progress, you don’t want to peak too early!

    🙂

    Enjoyed the videos and love the comics!

    Be well.

    Reply
    • Evan : May 28th

      Thanks for watching the vids and reading the comics!

      Reply
  • Jen Beck Seymour : May 28th

    As always Evan, it appears I love listening to or reading anything you have to say! You are so well spoken (both on videos and in the written form), and your comics are just the best. I particularly like the “remembrance of thru-hikes past” – YES, yes, YES to all of those!! — Chica 2017

    Reply
    • Evan : May 28th

      Thanks Chica! I’m glad you liked “remembrance of thru-hikes past.” A comic influenced by Proust, of course. I snuck a Proust quote into one of my AT videos, saying “It’s something I heard somewhere”–because I thought Proust in at AT video would be a bit much, lol. (The quote was in explanation of why I was hiking the AT: “I didn’t want to remain moored like a houseboat to a particular point on the shore of my life,” from Swann’s Way.)

      Reply
  • edward [bin' hikin'] evangelidi : May 28th

    i enjoy speed reading the jokes while i hike the width of long trails.

    Reply
  • Amy Sternheim : May 29th

    Great comics! Label me “the historian.” I hiked in 2000, there were a few cell phones, but no smart phones. Hikers actually talked to each other in the evening! LOL

    Reply
  • Aimee Arnold : Jun 1st

    I’ve watched you hike the AT, the Sheltowee, and I’ve been watching your comics as well. Your lack of complaining and your sense of humor make your videos my favorites!

    Reply
    • Evan : Jun 1st

      Thanks Aimee–Glad you enjoy the videos, appreciate it!

      Reply

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