Long Trails with Liz Thomas

by Liz Thomas for Backpacker Magazine
328 pages, paperback: $24.95
Falcon Guides, 2017

We both have Japanese mothers, a love of the outdoors and Ivy League educations. But when I first met Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, I discovered one major difference between us, besides, er, gender: She is an ultra-light hiker. I, on the other hand, tend to pack anywhere between 30-50 pounds of camera gear on my hikes.

Which makes Thomas difficult to keep up with.

A couple years later, I’m finding the same to be true, only off the trails, where Thomas has gobbled up more than 15,000 miles in blazing fashion. She has released a book for Backpacker Magazine, “Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike,” which recently won a National Outdoor Book Award for Best Instructional Book, and now Thomas seems like she’s everywhere.

My ego likes to think I helped put Thomas on the map with my story for Outside about her urban thru-hiking. Truth is, the other thing I learned immediately upon meeting Thomas is that she has a big-time following. When she did her urban thru-hike of Seattle staircases, she had an entourage in tow. The first piece I commissioned her to write, “Hike Like a Girl,” went absurdly viral and was one of the most-read stories on the High Country News platform – for the entire year of 2016.

The takeaway: People listen when Liz Thomas talks, particularly about thru-hiking, which is ambulating long trails, continuously and end to end. You shouldn’t be any different.

The attention Thomas commands has something to do with her record for thru-hiking the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail and the fact that she’s trekked nearly every other long trail in this country. It also has to do with her firm sensibility, accessibility and attention to detail – all of which come in handy while solo hiking long trails and doing so as light as a feather. And all of which is on display in her wonderfully illustrated and easy-to-follow book.

After all, the National Outdoor Book Award judges wrote, “Every so often a book comes along, finds broad acceptance, and becomes the bible of a sport. This book is destined to rise to that position among long-trail hiking guides.”

The “why” of that declaration comes through on every page. Fact is, Thomas has encountered just about everything there is to encounter on a long hike – and she’s troubleshot it all. Plus she knows people. And she asks for and shares their points of view as well.

From planning to packing to even pooping, a vast majority of the book applies to hikers of every level and hikes of any length. Chapter 10 even addresses making friends and socializing on the trail. I enjoyed a rift in Chapter 8 about “Hiker Entitlement” so much that I’m tempted to copy and hand it out to folks.

Long Trails is destined to be a reference to which you’ll return many times in years to come. It’ll be like having Liz Thomas out on the trail with you. Which is something I’ve discovered that would make for a lot of happy hikers.