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This Is the Ultralight Backpack an Ex-Soldier Used to Hike 7,900 Miles

US Army veteran Will Robinson became the first African American man to complete North America’s greatest hiking challenge.

After he was discharged from the Army in 2004, Will Robinson went home to New Orleans, but the Iraq War followed him there. Large crowds sparked bouts of anxiety while depression seized control of him, making it hard to even leave home. As the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder intensified, the walls of his life began to close Robinson in.

“It got worse and worse,” he says. “At that point in life, I had to make a drastic change and do something if I ever wanted to be even remotely close to the person I once was.”

Robinson stumbled upon the movie Wild in 2016, jogging his memory from time as a soldier when he had read about the Pacific Crest Trail. From there, everything transpired quickly. In the following days, he learned all he could about the 2,650-mile footpath while beginning to amass the gear he would need to complete the trek. Only a few weeks later, he took his first step on the PCT in Southern California.

Before that moment, Robinson had never been backpacking. His battle with PTSD was still ongoing, too. That made the first stretch of the trail trying for the 38-year-old, but he slowly began to notice that life on the trail was indeed transforming him.

“People in the hiking community had a way of making me feel welcome and accepted, regardless of what quirks we all had,” he says. “I immediately saw in myself I was capable of so much. That’s how I got hooked.”

An injury sidelined Robinson that season on the PCT, but the lessons learned and the progress he made brought him back the next year. From the southern terminus, he thru-hiked the trail, and the following year completed the same feat on the nearly 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.

In September, Robinson completed the Continental Divide Trail, which snakes 3,100 miles up the spine of the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to Montana, becoming the first male African-American to complete all three trails, which are together known as the Triple Crown of Hiking. Completing the challenge is an achievement in itself; Robinson counts himself among less than 400 people to have accomplished and reported the feat to the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West, the organization that catalogs Triple Crown completions.

Robinson has no plans to hang up his hiking boots either. In February 2020, he’ll tackle the 800-mile Arizona Trail before beginning the North Country Trail, an unfinished footpath from North Dakota to Vermont that totals around 4,600 miles — only a handful of people have thru-hiked it so far.

For Robinson, the decision to keep hiking is easy — he sees it as his therapy. But he also feels that he can serve as an example of diversity and inclusion in the outdoor community. With the attention he’s gotten from his recent Triple Crown, he believes he can motivate other people of color to get out on the trails. “I’m honored to be the first African-American male to attain a Triple Crown,” he says. “What comes with that is a responsibility of making sure I’m not the last to hike the big three.”

Will Robinson’s Packing List

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider 40L

“There are no bells and whistles on this pack — just what you need. Still, you couldn’t ask for more: it’s made out of Dyneema fabric, so it’s waterproof even in torrential downpours, it disperses weight well and it’s comfortable.”

BUY NOW: $310

Merrell MQM Flex

“I average anywhere between 600 to 700 miles with these shoes. They’ve been great for every terrain type: desert, long road walks or snowy mountain tops.”

BUY NOW: $105

Zpacks Duplex

“It looks like you could easily destroy it, but it’s built like a bomb shelter. It stands up to snow, wind and extreme heat. I shared this tent with another hiker on the CDT, so it was great to have that double entry.”

BUY NOW: $599

Katabatic Gear Flex 22

“I could never do another hike without this quilt. You can use it as a blanket, or close up the footbox to have it be closer to a mummy [sleeping bag]. With the straps and attachments, it’s easy to make a seal on cold nights.”

BUY NOW: $295+

MSR PocketRocket

“Since my pack is only 40 liters, space is a premium. But the PocketRocket is tiny and, paired with a small pot, it doesn’t take up too much space. It gets water boiling fast.”

BUY NOW: $33

Merrell Ridgevent Thermo Jacket

“With the Ridgevent, I have a great temperature all day long. Unlike other jackets, I never had to take it on and off because of overheating.”

BUY NOW: $175

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite

“This was way more comfortable and held in more heat than I expected. I had great nights of sleep on it.”

BUY NOW: $97+

Sawyer Squeeze Filtration System

“It’s so convenient and easy to keep in my hip belt pocket, so I can grab it fast. It’s easy to clean out in towns when you need to.”

BUY NOW: $40

Guthook Guides

“On the app, there are all the waypoints listed with mileages so you know how far it is to the next water source or town. It’s set up to be very user-friendly.”

Download Now: Apple App StoreDownload Now: Google Play Store

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