View Full Version : doing 90 minute seminar on long distance hiking.. seeking your thoughts

06-30-2015, 21:31
Hi everyone,

On September 21st I'll be doing a 90 minute seminar on long distance hiking at a local community college here in New Hampshire. The audience will be over 50 yrs in age and I am presuming with minimal backpacking experience but some day hiking experience (though nothing can be truly assumed). I plan to show some power point slides of my AT thru hike and perhaps other places as well.

What material would you suggest be covered in this time frame?

Here are my current thoughts:
Is long distance hiking for you? do day trips and weekend/overnight trips to find out.
gear (plan to only give some general feedback and not recommend specific tents, backpacks, boots etc.)
challenges and rewards

I need to fill 90 minutes or so, thus anything else to cover? how much time on the slides? and any other thoughts appreciated.


Lone Wolf
06-30-2015, 21:54
what is your longest hike?

06-30-2015, 22:09
Good for you. I have attended some of those seminars at our local community college. Based on my observation, you should assume that the audience knows nothing.

Here are some things I don't see in your outline:

"The Essential Ten"

Route finding, including what to do if you think you are lost.

The importance of letting someone know your plan.

Leave 30 minutes for questions, but have some questions you can use if questions don't flow from the audience.

Be sure to include some stories. People like to hear stories that illustrate your points.

I hope your talk goes well.

06-30-2015, 22:42
My introduction to the AT was a slide show-- I forgot most of it, but I have some rather vivid recolections of some of the photos -- including the shelters in the Smokies with the old chainlink, and some shots of the Knife Edge at the end. Slides are good.

That said, even the best power point presentations put me to sleep. Who is to say you can't invite people to try on a full AT Pack, and then open it up to show what's inside? You could even weigh some of it as you do. Heck, you could pitch a tent in the middle of the room. Or you could ask som volunteers to give it a shot. Boil water for tea. start a discussion on the merits of hiking poles. Filter som water.

You could quiz people On all sorts of things-- like how many hikers under 30 use poles vs. how many over 50? Where is the highest point on the AT? What's the most dangerous animal on the AT (the tick, of course).

Or take it in a completely different direction-- and definitely include some of your best slides. But why not add som razzle dazzle too?

06-30-2015, 22:54
I did a seminar for a scout troop once, got a lot of questions about food & water, pooping in the woods, footwear and planning.

07-01-2015, 05:56
*Perhaps include something about physical preparation.
When I was beginning my section hike of the Florida Trail and considering potential partners I was surprised that those signing up for 10-12 mile hikes had never walked more than 3 miles and that was only once or twice in their lives. One doesn't need to be a professional athlete but one should be prepared to HAVE to walk 5 miles between roads and potential rides out.

*Talk about animals and nature one night see.
Most animals won't attack unless they have a reason to. Discuss the reasons and how to avoid them.

*Please talk about LNT principles.
As much as possible, take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill only time, and maybe a few mosquitos.

07-01-2015, 06:01
Few of your audience will be candidates for long-distance hiking, as you've noted. What is this talk to them, entertainment perhaps? Stories are definitely good. Consider how Bryson structured A Walk in the Woods, stories alternated with other narrative. Demonstrations are good, maybe cook up an interesting meal (hint: boiling water for oatmeal isn't interesting.) Passing objects around for people to handle is good, maybe you have some featherweight item that they could contrast with an old-school heavy counterpart. Realize that your audience is varied in their interests, so make your presentation varied as well. Little bit of gear geekery, little bit of 10 essentials with hair-raising tales of why they're essential, little bit of how to eat/poop/sleep/navigate, etc. Some folks are visually oriented, some learn by listening. Some appreciate paper-and-pencil exercises, or at least printed material to review later.

You might consider putting together a slide show of scenery and letting it run in the background while you talk, while gear is passed around, while you set up your tent, etc.

Audience questions are good, but beware of how they can derail your presentation. You know what most of the questions will be anyway. Definitely have an outline to organize your presentation. Consider distributing it at the beginning to help them follow you from topic to topic. It's also helpful if an individual can see that the question he or she is burning to ask has already been anticipated and will be addressed in a few minutes.

To move this beyond mere entertainment, consider that this is an opportunity to open doors for your audience. Maybe one or two will begin backpacking. Maybe half a dozen will begin hiking. Maybe two-thirds of them will learn that they're not too old, too fat, too weak, too soft, too sick, or too late to take charge of their health. Maybe you'll inspire them to change their diets, lose a few pounds, begin exercising, or simply turn off the TV.

Finally, I don't know what your presentation skills are like, so please forgive me if this is irrelevant to you. Regardless of the topic or audience, please smile, speak clearly, face the audience while you speak. Don't expect them to be interested in a guy mumbling something while he has his back to them rummaging around in a tent.

Sounds like a fun opportunity. I hope this goes really well for you! :)

07-01-2015, 06:20
While each audience is different, I have found that having one or two or three shelters of different types set up, along with a working water purification demo and cooking demo (maybe prepare several typical meals for them to try out), goes a LONG way in answering their basic questions and ALWAYS inspires more. Allow the folks to climb into the tents/tarps, let them try laying on the sleeping pads or in the hammocks, let them take a turn at filtering water. Make sure to have a realistically loaded pack for them to try on. It is this hands-on that they cannot get from any book or magazine article. Exactly why vendor displays are so popular at trail events.

If time constraints do not allow for this stuff during the presentation, having it available either before, after, or both will add a lot to the popularity of your talk. May have to be set up outside the venue for the actual presentation. Most folks who haven't backpacked before have no idea how these things work, or how they could be at all comfortable. Giving them the opportunity to experience the answer to the big three questions (Where do you sleep? What do you eat? How do you carry all the water?) may help them realize that we aren't all completely crazy.

07-01-2015, 08:54
The hiking presentations I have gone to have way over-stressed how macho and crazy athletic the presenters were. They mostly left the audience thinking, well, I'm never even going to try that, it's for super-humans. I know that you shouldn't sugar-coat the difficulties of backpacking, but try to avoid making people think backpacking isn't for mortals. To this end, if your audience is mostly over 50, I'd add information about how many "older" hikers are out there, how many people do the trail after retirement, on a TKR, who were the oldest hikers to complete it, etc.


07-01-2015, 09:28
In the sort of "outdoor club" that I've volunteered with in my area, we've seen pretty high interest in collectively watching movies about thru-hiking experiences. When I did a class more focused on the "how to", I found massively less interest. It's a group with a pretty huge member base, but I've given up listing backpacking trips of over three days --- too few sign up, and too high of a last-minute drop-out rate among those who do.

Bottom line is that I think some people want to know something about it, but very very few have any practical interest. I think the sweet spot instead is in a combination of (a) Live this vicariously in some way, and/or (b) Here are focused and perhaps adjusted lessons for "normal" backpackers that come from the long distance sub-culture.

07-01-2015, 09:37
Check out Andrew Skurka's website. http://andrewskurka.com Not only is there a ton of useful information to be found, there are a few of his presentations available for streaming. His presentation to a Boy Scout troop might give you examples of information your audience might find valuable. http://vp.telvue.com/player?id=T01497&video=58257

Good Luck

07-01-2015, 09:37
Lone Wolfe.. my longest hike is the Appalachian Trail (Springer to Katahdin March 21 to September 30, 2006).

Odd Man Out
07-01-2015, 12:50
If this talk is to focus on long distance backpacking, then perhaps it might be wise to focus on what makes long distance trips different from weekend trips. It seems to me that trimming gear down to the lightest reasonable weight is important and for people over 50, it is even more critical to get that tuned in earlier rather than later as old joints are less forgiving.

07-01-2015, 14:47
I'd include some information about how long distance hiking impacted your life after your hike. What did you learn that you wouldn't have learned if you hadn't hiked, and how did that change the way you went through your normal life? How can your listeners improve their life even if they don't do a long hike?

TJ aka Teej
07-01-2015, 21:12
Mention Earl Shaffer and Myron Avery, please. Contact Laurie at ATC and get enough of those NPS AT pamphlets to go around. Mention options - section hiking on the 20 year plan, shorter thrus like the LT and Cohos (even that crazy redlining stuff!). Use your pack as a prop, pulling out stuff (maps, campshoes, filters, stove, head-lamp, 1st aid, bear bag rope, cat-hole spade) as you talk about them. Pull out some you-don't-needs from an alternate pack (cotton tee, cans of beans, Coleman Lantern, hatchet, 30-blade Swiss Army knife). Pull out a five-day food bag and unload it as you talk about it. Push shakedown hikes, cooking practice. And bring a luggage scale (I can loan you mine) to weigh some purses and backpacks from the audience - before weighing your demo pack. Have fun, Mike!

07-03-2015, 16:31
Hmm... interesting challenge.

I think it is good to have a narrative that frames your seminar (I lecture at a university). Stories, videos, and demonstrations help to keep people's interest - use these throughout.

I would think a framework could be something like "10 mistakes I made while hiking the Appalachian Trail"
Now, you might not have made any mistakes, but you can see how this might work to illustrate aspect of long distance hiking. For example you could bring a really heavy pack and a reasonably light pack, and have someone from the audience come up and try one on and walk around, and then the other. This could illustrate mistake number 1: too heavy.

07-03-2015, 17:17
In presentations that I've given, the questions that tend to crop up cove the topics of how long do you stay out / how often you visit towns, danger from wild animals, danger from other people, and how out of contact are you while on the trail.

People have been less interested in gear and ore interested in experiences.

Given that you're doing a seminar that people have to sign up for, I'd think you may get more questions about gear and planning than I've had to field.

07-03-2015, 22:56
Dont just teach them how to do it.

Make them WANT to do it.

If you can do that with 15 min presentation, you will spend 75 min answering questions.

07-04-2015, 09:53
You are a thru hiker, inspire them. They want to hear about your challenges and triumphs, the great sights and the amazing people you met. Show them some equipment because they want to see what a thru hiker uses.

For most, you are going to tell them about an adventure they will never take using equipment they will never use. They want to be inspired.

07-04-2015, 16:38
Hands-on stuff is always something to stir people's interest. Just gotta be sure you get all the stuff back. :)

I was 58 when I hiked in 2013. My schedule is in a link in the signature section of my post: dates, times, mileage, etc. I don't know if anything like that would be beneficial for your presentation.