Kraig Adams is a self-professed American digital nomad, filmmaker, minimalist and hiker. His YouTube channel is easily one of my favorites; he does an incredible job of documenting his hiking trips, showcasing breathtaking scenery through masterful filming and editing, and embracing quietness for an ultra-calm, super relaxing aesthetic. (Highly recommended viewing.)
I reached out to Kraig about a week and a half ago to ask if he’d be down to speak with me about how the pandemic has affected his 2020 plans, and he very kindly agreed to hop on a call the Saturday before last for a catch-up. He was in Idaho then after having finished a hike, and was gearing up to head to Catalina Island next; while he’d love to be traveling the world, he’s content to dedicate the rest of the year to domestic exploration.
We talked about all that and more (yes I did totally ask him about such relevant things as the odds of getting devoured by wild animals while on trail) // internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, and subscribe to his channel to stay in the loop:
So I initially discovered you because of your videos about minimalism and living in New York, and I’ve watched this transition into more hiking-focused videos. What’s that timeline been like, and how’d you get interested in hiking?
I always went backpacking and camping with my family, but it was just a year ago that I started planning and doing these trips on my own, which is way different than following someone else. There’s always some kind of leader who plans and takes responsibility for the group, so it was fun to start that. I’ve been traveling a lot, doing a lot of hikes, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot in a year.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get started doing solo trips? I think a lot of people might feel nervous about it. (Like me, for example; whether it’s rational or not, I feel like I’d be terrified of being eaten by a bear.)
I do research for every hike, so I think it’s usually pretty easy to know if there’s any risk of a bear beforehand. I suggest starting with easy hikes, day hikes. The biggest thing I had to figure out early was just how much I could hike in a day; not many people have tested that for themselves on pavement or on trail, so that’s something I suggest everyone do. Just take a day and see how long you can walk, whether it’s in the suburbs or the city. I’d look at a trail map that was X number of miles, but I wouldn’t really know how many days it’d take. So I think having that number is really helpful.
Right, and with the video that you put out the other day where you’re hiking in Idaho, you said there were a lot of cutbacks where it skewed your idea of how long the trail would take overall. You said you had about five days worth of food in case of emergency, even though I think the estimate was that it would be a three-day hike. What’s your advice for people on that front, in terms of preparedness if the estimate is misleading or something goes awry?
Yeah, the difference in weight between three and five days isn’t too considerable, but I’m definitely glad I brought some extra food, just because trails are always different than what the actual trail map says on your phone. Being over-prepared is usually a little better than being under-prepared.
Have you taken up any learning about foraging or anything like that? I feel like surely you’d have said in your vlogs if that was something you were getting into, but it seems like it’d be an interesting skill to have out in the wild.
I’ve listened to some podcasts and watched some videos on YouTube (as most people do), which has gotten me interested, so I’d like to take some courses and actually learn. I don’t think it’s something that I should teach myself, because it seems a bit more dangerous to just start eating roots and leaves and mushrooms. But I’d like to get into hunting, I’d like to get into more standard survival foraging, obviously mountaineering…there’s just a lot of different aspects away from hiking in that genre that you could venture into, whether it’s sea kayaking or rock climbing. Hiking is a really good spot to start, though, if you want to get into any of those other things.
Right. Now, tell me what happened with the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) plan. Was that thwarted by Covid?
So hiking through California, especially, and then Oregon and Washington, there are a couple of permits that you need just to backpack in general; you can’t just go and do the Pacific Crest Trail, which is over 2500 miles from Mexico to Canada northbound. So I was signed up, there’s a lottery where you try to get a spot in the lineup; I think they do 15 or so people per day, because they don’t want campsites to get jammed up, which makes sense. And a lot of people hiking on the trail at one point could actually ruin it, so you need to be smart about it with the permits. I went through all of the correct things, I got my start date, which was April 26th, and Covid happened right before that. I’d gotten rid of my apartment, I’d gotten rid of all my possessions down to just what I needed for that trail, I was so ready, and then they started sending out articles telling people that they shouldn’t do the PCT, because potentially bringing the virus to small communities was a bad idea. (You’re pretty dependent on those for bars, restaurants and other amenities while on trail, and you have no backup, so it could be dangerous.) So they told us not to go, and I had to cancel, which sucks.
So when did you start planning other places that would be more viable to travel for hiking? I saw you went on one hike with your brother, and then there was another in there (I can’t remember where), and obviously you recently set up shop in Idaho…
The trip to Alaska that I took was the thing that got me out of New York, because I spent a good month and a half in my apartment just not going out very much. My friends convinced me to go on a small plane up to Alaska, which was very far from the pandemic.
Right, and it seems like pretty much everywhere you’ve been so far (and kind of in general) has been very low traffic. What’s your sense of responsibility in terms of staying safe on these trips, especially when it comes to your own personal safety? It seems like so many people across the country are living in vastly different realities when it comes to how seriously they’re taking things, so even if you’re doing everything right, there’s the potential for someone else to screw it up.
I follow all of the regulations, whatever those may be, and of course social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks, and just genuinely staying away from people. I think it’s not that hard; it’s really not that hard to stay away from people and to be respectful, especially of the elderly. I’ve just been pretty smart about it. And out in nature there’s definitely less people. I treated it a little differently in New York City as opposed to the wilderness of Idaho.
Of course! And do you have any other immediate plans for travel at the moment? Or are you pretty content to stay in Idaho for a bit? I know you’re renting a car, so theoretically you could wander.
I usually operate a week out; I’m pretty spur of the moment and I keep my plans loose, but I did book a campsite and a hotel and an entire trip on Catalina Island off the coast of LA, so I’m flying out tomorrow and starting that hike tomorrow. That’ll be a three or four day trip, and I know California’s kind of a hotbed right now, so I’m going to go on that trip and then fly out of LAX immediately after the island. That’s going to be an interesting hike because it’s so bougie; it’s way different than most wilderness hikes since it’s so close to LA. And it’s definitely an expensive trip, so it should be an interesting video.
What’s it been like to be in any sort of airport environment lately? I think probably a lot of people haven’t been on a flight since early March or before. Is it weird?
I’ve definitely traveled way more than anyone I know since all of this happened. I was in Hong Kong in February when I started to see all the borders close first, and that’s when I immediately booked a ticket to Nepal just to quickly escape Covid, because I didn’t want to get stuck. Then I saw things getting worse on the news, so I immediately went back to the US. I feel like I’ve gotten very lucky. I treat airports the way they’re supposed to be treated, so mask on the entire time, the entire flight. They space the seats with one person per row per side, which makes sense. But yeah, I’ve seen people fully suited up in airports with the face shields and everything. Some people are taking it more seriously than others, but I feel like airports are where people should be trying to be extra safe. Lots of hand washing.
Totally. Okay and lastly, if you could travel outside the US right now, or even just looking ahead to when we’re able to safely travel internationally again, what’s the first place on your list? And while we’re sort of “stuck” in the US (which is kind of a lucky place to be stuck in terms of good places to hike, anyway) what do you feel optimistic about on that front, and/or where are you planning to go?
Good question. So I have a list of over a hundred international hikes I’d like to do. I want every hike to be a little different than the last, so I guess that makes me travel a little more than I should efficiently. Things also depend on the weather. Right now, I really would’ve been in Italy doing the Dolomites. And I’d have been hiking Switzerland and France and Spain, and I probably would’ve gone up to Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Scotland in August. So that was my plan, and I’ve been checking websites to find out where US citizens can fly, and it seems like things are slowly opening up. Places like Croatia and a lot of Eastern European countries are starting to open up, so it’s making me do some research in those countries. I know Turkey is allowing, and there are some hikes there, but I feel like I still feel like I should just dedicate this entire year to domestic; the national parks in the US are completely overflowing, which is why I did the Idaho wilderness. I’d never been to Idaho before that, and I don’t think a lot of people know about the Sawtooth Mountains, but they’re equally as beautiful as some of the national parks that people are used to. I’m doing Catalina Island, but then I also have plans for the Pacific Northwest to tackle some of the longer thru-hikes. I don’t think international flights will open up this summer, so for now, domestic is fine.
Subscribe to Kraig’s YouTube channel to travel along with him on his adventures.