Podcast Episode March 28, 2020

Episode 25 | Covid-19: What Does it Mean for Backpacking?




As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to sweep the world, Andrew and Ryan take a hard look at responsible backpacking in 2020. They are joined by Jeff Garmire: repeat guest, elite long-distance athlete, author, and FKT holder – and Maggie Slepian: thru-hiker, climber, freelance writer, and Managing Editor of the Trek.

Also in this episode:

  • Are group trips possible once the pandemic begins to recede?
  • Resources for managing your non-backpacking time
  • Thoughts on how to stay sane in a year of social distancing and too much indoor time


  • Introduction
  • Where do things stand currently with Covid-19
    • Updated March 27th, 2020
      • The global outbreak of the coronavirus is a little more than 3 months old
      • There have been 530,000 cases worldwide that have resulted in 24,000 deaths
      • The United States is the most infected country with 85,000 cases and 1,300 deaths
      • Particularly devastating epicenters in New York, Washington, California, and New Jersey
      • 15 states have now reported more than 1,000 cases of infections.
  • Canceled Plans
  • Why is social distancing impossible on a thru-hike?
    • The Bubble
    • Hygiene
    • Shared resources
    • Trail towns
    • Asymptomatic carriers
  • Stay-at-home orders
    • Most have an exception for outdoor activity where social distancing can be maintained
  • Is it possible to backpack ethically in 2020?
    • Jeff’s suggestions
    • Ryan’s suggestions
    • Crowded trail-heads – are more limits on backcountry recreation coming?
    • Gateway communities are begging people not to come in
    • It’s hard to cancel your plans
    • The pros and cons of getting into remote areas
    • Maggie’s suggestions
      • Don’t go – this isn’t a necessity
    • Ryan’s final thoughts about taking a trip
      • Keep it within your family group
    • Jeff’s final thoughts
      • Stay within your skillset – don’t get over your skis
  • Suggestions on how to get through the next few months
    • Jeff – take a break from your training plan (run for the fun of it)
    • Maggie – take some intentional time and do some yoga (agrees with Jeff, remove some of the performance-oriented pressure)
    • Ryan – find some new routines and do intentional thinking about finding life satisfaction in this new scenario
  • When can we return to group trips?
    • We have a model ahead of us…
    • When we do return to group trips (but before there is a vaccination)
      • Travel in your own automobile to destination
      • Don’t share pre-trip accommodations
      • Each household should have its own shelter systems, cooking gear, and communications device
      • Intentional social distancing
      • Don’t go if you are sick in any way whatsoever
      • Avoid backcountry latrine facilities
  • Final thought – err on the side of caution and respect local requests and guidelines


Feedback, Questions, Tips?


  • Backpacking Light – Executive Producer
  • Ryan Jordan – Director and Host
  • Andrew Marshall – Producer and Host
  • Jeff Garmire, Maggie Slepian – Guest Interview
  • Look for Me in the Mountains – Music


  • This episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast is supported and kept advertising-free by Backpacking Light membership fees. Please consider becoming a member which helps support projects like this podcast, in addition to a whole slew of other benefits!


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Home Forums Episode 25 | Covid-19: What Does it Mean for Backpacking?

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  • Author
  • #3638328
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Episode 25 | Covid-19: What Does it Mean for Backpacking?

    Andrew and Ryan discuss the ethics of backpacking in light of Covid-19. They are joined by Jeff Garmire and Maggie Slepian.

    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Thanks for a thoughtful contribution to the current health crisis.

    RE Stay at home orders and the statement that “Most have an exception for outdoor activity where social distancing can be maintained.”

    1) As many have noted, “Outdoor activity” would not include thru hiking. a) In Santa Clara County the shelter in place order is an order to stay in your residence. The exception is to leave temporarily to engage in outdoor activity. But the clear directive is to return to your residence.
    Second, the order also bans travel that is not necessary. You have to travel to a trail head. The shelter in place orders in California ban “unnecessary” travel which is defined in the orders. Santa Clara County FAQ on shelter in place. “Does the Order allow me to leave the County? Yes, but only to perform “essential activities,” operate “essential businesses,” or to maintain “essential governmental functions,” as those terms are defined in the Order. Otherwise, the answer is no because that puts you and others in the community at risk.”

    2) This outdoor recreation exception is likely to become even more strict in urban areas. In Paris, France today you can be issue citations for being more than 2km from your house

    3) Local parks and open spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area are closing parking lots because people are abusing the exception and not maintaining social distance. San Francisco SF.gov “You may walk, bike or go for a run near your home. If you need to get into a car or on public transportation to go for a walk or run, you’re going too far.”

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Thanks, guys! This is a good statement of what really needs to be done nation-wide.

    Here in NY, state parks are closed. Admittedly, we have two kinds, so these can be rather ambiguous. ALL DEC sites are closed to the public for any reason. I have never seen such a stringent rule in New York State:  https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2020/04/adirondack-outdoor-conditions-4-2-recreatelocal.html?utm_source=Adirondack+Almanack&utm_campaign=a75319f4b7-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b49eb0d11b-a75319f4b7-24936693&mc_cid=a75319f4b7&mc_eid=821e343f00

    Looking ahead we can expect most trails to be closed to overnights over the next few weeks. If they are not, then a responsible person should consider them so. Recreation will likely be limited to 1 mile or less. Again, official or voluntary. This sounds like a major problem with individual rights, but,  for the short term it IS necessary. I would rather see time limits on all special legislation to 30 days from it’s adoption, regardless, to protect our constitutional rights.  But, despite what our glorious leader says, I do not anticipate an end to precautions in 30 days. Rather, I expect this to continue for about 12-24months.

    By reducing the spread we reduce the fatality rate tremendously. We also lengthen the time of infection tremendously. And amplifys the importance of survivors of the disease to society. Everyone is familiar with the concept of reducing the apex of the curve to manageable levels, but we have not examined closely the overall lengthening of the duration of the disease incidence on the population. Nor, the reduction of the quality of any services due to untrained or partially trained personnel taking over at need.  There is NO clear plan for dealing with a 6 week illness, after a 2 week incubation time. Places like hospitals will be overwhelmed, but more importantly important services will also be effected. Our medical personnel need to be rationed and added sparingly to the system to insure we have enough for treatment in two months. Or, go without treatment despite having the equipment.

    Shipping (food, goods, clothing, etc,) power (operaters, power line operations, gas lines, refineries, etc,)  and so on. Example: While we can get crops into the ground and grow them, it is difficult to transport fertilizers, insecticides etc as needed. And about the time we need to harvest our crops is about the time farm workers will be getting ill. There is NO plan to cover this. This is the true failure of the political administrations “cover your ass” attitude.  We need this type of long range planning. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, as backpackers we are familiar with this type of planning. Untill we have a vaccine, this is what we need to do.


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