Hiker, Backpacker, Trekker – Writer – Outdoor Legend – Meet Chris Townsend!

He is a living hiking legend! Hiker, backpacker, trekker and author, Chis Townsend has ample reason to be called a living legend. He has hiked thousands of kilometers in all corners of the globe including many long distance treks in North America such as the Pacific Coast Trail (Mexico to Canada) and the Continental Divide […]

Written By Clayton Kessler

On June 17, 2010

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He is a living hiking legend! Hiker, backpacker, trekker and author, Chis Townsend has ample reason to be called a living legend. He has hiked thousands of kilometers in all corners of the globe including many long distance treks in North America such as the Pacific Coast Trail (Mexico to Canada) and the Continental Divide Trail. In addition to co-authoring several books and being the equipment editor of TGO Magazine, Chris shares his outdoor experiences in 17 books, of which most are illustrated with his own photographs. One of the favourites being the Backpackers Handbook

I am deeply grateful to Chris Townsend for taking the time to complete the following interview with Tracks And Trails . I specially liked the perfect camp experience as noted in the interview and your advice on why a backpacker needs a quality map when you were “Temporarily unsure of your whereabouts”. :-) – Thanks again Chris!

How and where were you introduced to the outdoors?

As a child in the countryside around the village of Formby on the Lancashire coast in northern England. Here I explored woods and fields, sand dunes and beaches, and grew to love nature and wild places. The area is flat – twenty foot sand dunes being the only hills – and certainly not wilderness but with enough woods and wildness to impress a young boy.

What has been your favourite outdoor recreations area?

Impossible to answer! There are so many. If I was forced to pick favourites I’d go for the High Sierra, the Grand Canyon and the Scottish Highlands which are all very different and offer contrasting experiences.

Please share an outdoor story related to one of the above areas.

When I hiked the Arizona Trail I couldn’t predict the date on which I’d arrive at the Grand Canyon (I hate rigid itineraries anyway!) so I didn’t have a permit to camp in the Canyon, which I wanted to do. When I reached the South Rim I stood in line for one of the permits issued on the day, hoping one for one of the campgrounds on the Bright Angel or North Kaibab Trails. Unsurprisingly these were all taken. The ranger suggested going off on a side trail to where I could camp wild. This turned out to be a wonderful idea as it resulted in the finest camp of the whole hike. I left the popular routes shortly past Phantom Ranch and took the Clear Creek Trail as darkness fell. After several miles I stopped and simply laid my sleeping bag down away from the trail on a flat patch of stony ground. All around dark cliffs rose into the star-filled sky. The silence was immense. Dawn came with the sun slowly lighting up the multi-coloured rocks as the vastness of the Canyon was revealed. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else. It was a glorious morning.

Have you ever experienced a wilderness medical emergency or been lost in the wilderness? If so please describe this adventure and any lessons learned.

I dislike the word “lost”. “Temporarily unsure of my whereabouts” sounds much better! On my walk the length of the Canadian Rockies I did spend a week when I couldn’t have found my position on a map to within twenty miles. But I knew that as long as I walked northwards I would eventually hit a road and I duly did so, feeling very relieved as I’d been out of food for several days. What I learnt was to have decent maps. My supply box had failed to arrive and I’d only been able to get small scale black and white maps locally. I should have gone to a bigger town and bought proper topo maps. Still, it made for an interesting experience.

Can you share any unique encounters with wild animals?

I don’t think any of my encounters with animals are unique but many are memorable and important to me. My first meeting with a grizzly bear is still sharp in my mind 22 years later. I was above timberline in the Canadian Rockies on a rainy day, hiking with my hood up and head down and not paying enough attention to my surroundings when I caught a movement off to one side. I looked up and saw a grizzly bear coming towards me. I’d never seen a grizzly before but I was in no doubt. This dwarfed the black bears I’d encountered. I moved along the trail, made a noise and the bear turned away and disappeared into some brush. So nothing really happened. But I was thrilled just to see one of these magnificent animals in its natural habitat.

If not previously mentioned, have you ever completed a thru-hike or multi-day backpacking trip and what nuggets of wisdom did you glean from it?

I’ve completed many long-distance trips. What I’ve learnt is that there’s a qualitative as well as a quantative difference between a short trip – a month or less – and a long one. A short trip is a break from everyday life, a long trip becomes every day. Hiking and camping is what you do, day after day, week after week, month after month. And this means that the mechanics of living in the wilds become automatic so you can experience nature more deeply without concerns over practicalities getting in the way.

What is your favourite outdoor website?

www.tgomagazine.co.uk. I’m biased here as I write for TGO. I’ll also mention www.backpackinglight.com. And admit another bias as I’ve written for that site as well.

What is your favourite outdoor hiking gear store?

On the web it’s backpackinglight.co.uk. In bricks and mortar it’s Mountain Spirit and Cairngorm Mountain Sports in Aviemore in the Cairngorms, which are the nearest to my home.

Please visit Chris Townsend’s Blog


Thanks again for the interview Mr. Townsend! Not wanting to abandon your years of wisdom and thousands of miles of experience with just this interview, I have purchased my first Chris Townsend book, Backpacker’s Pocket Guide
. While I am an avid hiker, searching through the viewable pages online, I realized that even I need to review the basics of hiking and backpacking and glean any nuggets of your wisdom and share them with any backpacking companions.


  1. Tony

    Great interview, thanks for sharing.

  2. Renz

    How long was it before he finished the Great Divide?


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