When Julia Sheehan set out for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2019, she had little experience backpacking and almost no online presence. On a whim, she applied for a vlogging spot with The Trek, an outdoor-focused website whose YouTube channel showcases hikers’ journeys on Triple Crown trails. Her videos’ conversational tone and honesty about the highs and lows of trail life resonated with viewers: By the time she reached Katahdin, she was known by her trail name, Rocket, and had over 17,000 Instagram followers and one of that season’s most popular AT vlogs. And her audience wanted more.
“If I wasn’t sharing trail-related stuff, I would get messages asking ‘When’s the next trail announcement? Where are you going next?’,” Sheehan recalls. “It seemed like people felt entitled to my next adventure. But it was me who had invited them on the journey.”
Social media has become a way for users to live vicariously through other people, and the hiking community is no exception. Hundreds of thousands viewers flock to popular thru-hiking Instagram accounts and YouTube channels every month, seeking inspiration for their own adventures or a virtual escape from their 9 to 5.
In some ways, thru-hikes are…