By T.J. Fraser
Hiking, like most endeavors, has its own “community.” We access this community in such ways as joining a hiking group, taking part in educational programs or just hitting the trail with a small group of friends. And, as everyone reading this knows, we can also “meet” each other online.
And what do we want when we come together online? Well, until someone invents “Hike-O-Vision” and can approximate the feeling of walking in the dirt and smelling the air, we want information, knowledge and to share in the experiences of others through photos, videos and stories.
And that’s where Andy Hawbaker comes in.
Andy runs the very popular Sierra SocialHub for Sierra Trading Post, one of the premiere, online, discount gear buying sites. He shares not only great information related to the overall outdoors experience but provides his own expert take on topics ranging from recipes for great camp meals and gear reviews to trail reports and “How To” tips.
We caught up with Andy to learn a bit about what it takes to be the host of such a large, online community and to grab a few gear-buying tips along the way.
T.J. Fraser: A big thanks for taking some time for Mountain Hiking, Andy.
Andy Hawbaker: You bet. Thanks for asking.
T.J.: How did you become interested in hiking and the outdoors?
AH: As a child, my family spent a lot of time in the outdoors. We hiked, camped and went on many bike rides. Those memories have fueled my desire to spend so much time outside. I became obsessed with hiking in my 20’s because it was a fun and inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors.
T.J.: You run a very active and popular blog. How do you determine the types of content you position?
AH: I try to keep it fun, fresh and interesting by focusing on topics that I would want to read. I’m constantly sharing helpful outdoor tips, talking about my own adventures and giving facts about outdoor destinations. I’m always balancing the right mix of giveaways, fun games and helpful tips. I’m lucky to have a lot of flexibility in what I can share so I try and have fun with it.
T.J.: What are some tips for hikers looking to gear up?
AH: My biggest tip is to not skimp on gear that will make you more comfortable. Sure you can go hiking with an average pair of tennis shoes and a water bottle, but a pair of hiking shoes with a sturdy sole, a set of trekking poles to remove some stress from your knees and hips and a waterproof jacket will keep you comfortable and hiking efficiently so you can cover more miles and have more fun.
T.J.: Apparel and gear can get expensive. Any advice for people who may be new to hiking or on a budget?
AH: Gear can be expensive but I would warn you to avoid the temptation to buy cheap gear at the big box store. Over time, higher quality gear will perform better and last longer, saving you money in the long run. See if you can borrow gear from a friend if you are trying out a new sport. I’ve borrowed climbing shoes and loaned out snowshoes in the past. You can’t run out and buy gear if you are just trying something out. I’d also suggest you buy gear that is the most versatile so it can be used in different situations. For example, a nice baselayer or medium weight fleece can be worn on its own in the spring and fall but they fit nicely into your layering system for winter adventures. Don’t buy niche products but focus on gear that is adaptable to many different uses.
T.J.: What is one piece of gear that hikers should consider quality over price?
AH: I think shoes or boots are the most important piece of gear for hikers. Poorly fitting boots can lead to blisters and uncomfortable days in the outdoors. Also, if you hike a lot, you can wear through a pair of cheap shoes in no time. I hate breaking in new shoes; I’d rather get a great pair of shoes and hike in them for multiple seasons before they wear out.
T.J.: Every community with a shared interest has a certain “personality.” What is your sense of those who embrace the outdoors?
AH: I hate to generalize but I think outdoorsy people are a kind group of people who love getting out for the adventure. I enjoy meeting people on the trail and at campgrounds. People are pretty relaxed and easy-going when you get them out of the city and I enjoy seeing that.
T.J: As a Dad, how important is it to you to introduce your children to the outdoors? Any tips for parents looking to do the same?
AH: I think it’s very important to get kids outside. Like I said earlier, it was my time outside as a child that has made me the outdoor enthusiast I am today. My biggest tip for parents is to always make it fun. I’ve seen people pushing kids to keep going on hiking trails and nobody has any fun in that situation. I try to make sure it’s fun so the kids always want to go exploring. We play games and make the entire experience as positive as possible.
T.J: Do you have a couple of all-time favorite hikes or regions?
AH: I live in Colorado so the Rocky Mountains are my favorite. I’m working on climbing all the peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation (the 14ers) and I enjoy exploring Rocky Mountain National Park with my family.
T.J: Any big trips coming up?
AH: In July, I will be hiking over 200 miles on the John Muir Trail. This will be the longest backpacking trip I’ve ever taken so it will be a challenge but I’m definitely looking forward to so many days out on the trail.
An added bonus? Each week Andy holds a killer giveaway contest where the winner gets to choose the item of their choice from one of Sierra’s top-of-the-line gear partners. DEFINITELY something to put on your weekly calendar!