Justin Lichter Publishes "Trail-Tested" Hiking Tips

Justin "Trauma" Lichter has learned countless thru-hiking tips, techniques, and gear know-how in more than 35,000 miles traveled across North America, New Zealand, Iceland, Africa, and the Himalaya. The two-time Triple Crown thru-hiker shares those insights in Trail Tested, his first hiking and backpacking skills book, which came out this spring.

Above: Lichter wrote Trail Tested for novices and experienced ultralight gram-counters alike.
: Enjoying the view while hiking across Iceland in 2008.

The publication of Trail Tested is timely, as thru-hiking books seem to be having a popular moment.

This spring, Ultimate Hiker Andrew Skurka put his own 30,000-plus miles of wisdom down in book format with National Geographic Books. And Oprah brought back her immensely popular book club after reading WildCheryl Strayed's memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Lichter wrote Trail Tested for novices and experienced ultralight gram-counters alike. In it he explains low-impact camping and hiking, campsite selection, hiking with dogs, navigating the backcountry, winter camping, weather forecasting, and thru-hiking.

He covers advanced skills, like creating hiking routes, cross-country hiking, fording dangerous rivers and other obstacles, and making a hike into a multi-sport adventure by adding in climbing, white-water rafting, or other adventures. 

Lichter also offers advice on selecting the best gear for your treks, including backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, and ultralight shelters, and making your own gear.

This editor appreciates his advice to look beyond outdoor awards and gear reviews that only cover the newest products, and consider older designs and models that may still be "awesome."

"Keep that in mind when you are reading current reviews and trying to pick what the best gear is for you," writes Lichter. "You might find that it is a pack model that is a couple of years old."

Lichter on a pass in the remote Dolpa region of Nepal, while hiking across the Himalayas in 2011.

Lichter's thru-hiking insights were learned and earned while covering more than 35,000 miles in the past decade, including:

  • 10,000 miles in one year, including the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail, with his dog, Yoni;
  • a 900-mile-plus traverse of New Zealand's Southern Alps and South Island in 2007;
  • a 72-mile unsupported swim around Lake Tahoe in 2007;
  • a 350-mile traverse of Iceland in 2008;
  • 1,800 miles unsupported through Africa, across Ethiopia, Kenya, and part of Tanzania in 2009; and
  • 2,000 miles across the Himalaya Range in 2011.

"I have learned countless things through many miles of hiking and trials and tribulations," said Lichter when asked about his motivation to write Trail Tested. "I want to share what I have learned to help as many people as possible."

We caught up with Lichter this spring to ask him about the process of sharing his trail-won wisdom in book format. 

Why write Trail Tested?

JL: I get tons of gear, skills, and tips questions weekly through my website and thought I would put the book out to help make the information and things that I have learned more accessible to people and easy to read.

When I looked at outdoor books on these subjects, they seemed so dry that even I had trouble reading them or looking at them for a long time. I want to help people get outdoors and feel comfortable in the outdoors, and if they want, then help them take their hiking trips to the next level. We have to keep hiking, backpacking, and human-powered travel fun so not everybody turns to ATV riding and dirt biking :-) 

Who did you write Trail Tested for?

I wrote this book for anybody that is dreaming of getting outside hiking and backpacking and anybody who currently goes out hiking and backpacking but wants to feel more comfortable, go lighter, or take their trips to the next level.

I think there is a lot to offer for all skill levels. Additionally because it is easy to read, all color, and filled with pictures, many people that don't even go hiking have been really enjoying the book. 

What does a book format offer that your website can't?

The book format was designed to be really fun and easy to read. I had a bunch of layout ideas and I think it helps the reader be able to glance at the book and pick up information, or sit down for hours and read it. This style would have been hard to accomplish as a web page. 

The book is structured as if someone is just starting to gear up to go backpacking. It gives them a heads-up on gear options, as well as tips and advice about specific pieces of gear. It then moves on to other skills like first aid, navigation, and hiking with your dog. Then it covers other skills like making your own gear, making your own hiking routes, and adding in technical aspects to your hiking adventures. 

How long did it take to write?

It has taken almost two years from the time that I started writing until receiving books from the printer. The book was like writing two books in one because I completed the text and then had to go back to square one and start the layout, which was a critical part of the concept. 

It has been a really educational process for me too. I didn't realize how many little intricacies I have while hiking and backpacking that I do without even noticing them. They all came about for some reason or another to prevent injuries, stay dry, or stay sane. 

What's next?

The book was a long time in the works, so right now I am enjoying having wrapped up that project. I did a big trip last summer (2,000 miles across the Himalayas) and it usually takes quite a bit of planning to embark on one of those. With all of the time it took to finish up the book, I haven't had much time to plan anything.

So my plans are basically to relax a bit and get out on some shorter hikes this summer and then hopefully set out on another big trip next summer. 

I hope readers enjoy reading the book and feel like it was a fun and educational read. 

Have you read Lichter's Trail Tested? Share your book review with the Trailspace community.


1,731 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts
June 19, 2012 at 9:11 p.m. (EDT)

I just may have to check this book out. 

125 reviewer rep
3,557 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 12:59 a.m. (EDT)

Call me a skeptic but:

35K miles?  Come on!  Even 35K kilometers would be formidable.

With an average distance of over 27 miles a day for a year, and over seven miles a day for the other nine years, I find his bio hard to swallow, especially if he is maintaining a web site, writing books, and (probably) doing speaking engagements and gear reviews in his “down” time.  Even if he didn’t have to hold down a job to finance his comings and goings, he still needs time off the trail to re-supply, fix and repair, and travel from one trail end to the next trailhead.  I just don't see anyone keeping to that kind of schedule for ten years.


Tipi Walter
295 reviewer rep
1,443 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 11:14 a.m. (EDT)

I can always tell the quality of a backpacking website and the attitude of the person keeping the website by the amount of Trip Reports they offer to the public without paying cash for further reading in book form.  In other words, Justin Lichter's website lists dozen of trip reports but none of them have any real content except for the final trip called 2011 Great Himalaya Trip.

So, what's so special with his trips that he has to keep them off the internet for public access?  Maybe I'm missing something and these reports are on another website I don't know about??

Bill S
4,537 reviewer rep
6,037 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 8:41 p.m. (EDT)

While I am not a thru-hiker nor do I make a practice of doing long day-hikes, I do make 2 or 3 30-mile day hikes a year, mostly by joining some friends who are part of the so-called DayHikers Section of the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club. I admit readily to being slower than they are, since I start with them before dawn and usually end after sunset, while they seem to leisurely saunter the distance in daylight hours. But, hey, I have a couple decades on most of them. I far prefer climbing and skiing (30-mile days are much easier when skiing than when hiking).

From what I read about Lichter, he has been spending much of his time these days hiking. It appears that only once did he do something like a year's worth of consecutive days hiking, namely when he did the "Triple Crown" in a year, after having done the 3 major hikes in 3 successive years. Where I have been able to track down the statistics, he keeps up a fairly steady 25-35 mile a day average on his thru-hikes, which is in the range of many thru-hikers. He is not alone in doing the Triple Crown several times, though more usually it is spread out at 1 per year. There are apparently several thru-hikers who have spent many years repeating one or another of the AT, PCT, and more recently the CDT every year. Hiking one of these trails takes about 3 months at his pace, which leaves 9 months for other things. I haven't heard anything about his support network, so I do not know if he has sponsors that help with resupply points and transportation between hikes. But such a support network does not have to involve large numbers of people.

If you have a sparse website like Lichter's, especially if you use one of the template website sponsors as it looks like he does, there isn't a lot of effort to "maintaining" the website. Some people write voluminous journals during their expeditions (I have had tentmates like that), while I am lucky to get a dozen sentences written while sitting out a weeklong storm. I used to have a "personal web page" (some of you may have seen it), but a year or so ago, ATT decided to drop their support of "free personal webpages". I had several trip reports on it, and I have 2 or 3 here on Trailspace. So I guess by Ed and Walter's standards, I must not have done much in the outdoors.

Sorry, Ed and Walter, I do not understand your skepticism about Lichter having done what he says he did. While I am far from credulous, what he claims is well within the realm of possibility. Despite comments made to me after I give presentations about my treks to the effect that I must be a "Super Adventurer", it really has not taken that much to climb and hike on 6 of the seven continents in what some people (with no experience) consider horrendous weather (and lots of splendid weather as well, with many wonderful and inspiring companions). It all depends on your priorities and your support network that you build up over the years.

Tipi Walter
295 reviewer rep
1,443 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 9:00 p.m. (EDT)

Bill S said:

Sorry, Ed and Walter, I do not understand your skepticism about Lichter having done what he says he did. While I am far from credulous, what he claims is well within the realm of possibility.

 It's funny how internet posts get garbled or misunderstood.  I never said Lichter hasn't done the trips mentioned, in fact the reason I want to read his trip reports is because I believe him to be genuine.  So why doesn't he let me read them?

To repeat:  What's so special with his trip reports that he has to keep them off his website for public access?

Bill S
4,537 reviewer rep
6,037 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 9:15 p.m. (EDT)

Maybe it's because he doesn't spend a lot of time writing on the web. That was part of my point about having had 2 or 3 trip reports on my "personal home page" before ATT shut off their support for personal web pages, plus 3(?) on Trailspace over some 20+ years of being on the web. People (including you, Walter) have urged me here on Trailspace to "write a book". Maybe some day I will. But maybe I am just too lazy (or busy climbing and skiing). In Lichter's case, maybe he just doesn't do more than "twitter" on the web and maybe he now has been pushed to pay part of his support by writing a book (the price quoted is pretty low, plus it is self-published, which probably means it is pretty brief - he is, after all, part of the "texting" generation. You know, limit your messages to 140 characters (while hiking rapidly along the trail?).

What's so special with his trip reports? Probably nothing other than that's his style of writing. Maybe with his miles, hours, and days of hiking, he is basically a loner (to me, the fact that he has adopted and publicizes his "trail name" is an indicator of that - "Trauma", what message does that send about his personality? I have no trail name, just some short usernames for the internet, mostly like "Bill S")

I will admit that I find people who are that obsessed with long hikes that take months to complete a bit strange. But then, lots of people find my obsessions with climbing rocks, snow, and ice, taking pictures up close and personal with wild critters, and with my (now retired) career as an astronomer more than a little strange. Makes me part of a 0.01% (nooo! not THAT 1%. a much different and much weirder one).

Tipi Walter
295 reviewer rep
1,443 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 9:26 p.m. (EDT)

Your point is well taken.  It never occurred to me that he doesn't have any trip reports. 

Alicia MacLeay @Alicia
2,386 reviewer rep
4,549 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 9:55 p.m. (EDT)

If you don't have access to Trail Tested, you can read about the origins of Lichter's trail name of "Trauma" on his About Me page.

Lichter does give talks at stores and other outdoor events and works with his brand sponsors (his book includes a short section on sponsorships). However, he doesn't have a Twitter or Facebook presence, and his website is sparer than many outdoor athletes (you can decide for yourself if that's a good or bad thing). According to his website, when not hiking, he's a ski patroller.

I'm inclined to agree with Bill, that Lichter probably doesn't spend his time creating online trip reports. Likewise, I suspect many of us would rather spend time outdoors versus at the computer.

People have individual preferences for how much to share publicly and how they want to spend their daily lives. If you can make it work for you and your lifestyle, that's pretty awesome any way you do it and however many miles you log.

Since the question of book length came up, Lichter's self-published book Trail Tested is about 220 pages. Just for comparison's sake, that's about the same length, though in a larger format, than Andrew Skurka's The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide, which he recently published with National Geographic Books. (Maybe it's the year of the super-long-distance hikers turned authors)

Perhaps we should have a follow-up with Lichter with questions from our members about his trips and trip reports.

130 reviewer rep
130 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 11:14 p.m. (EDT)

I know Justin and he's a very modest person. In this day and age, not everyone has to be out there on twitter or facebook or Trail Journals, to still be credible. I'm sure you've never heard of some of the best hikers out there. 

If you have the chance, you should try to see Justin speak about one of his trips. I saw him give a talk last summer about his Himalayan Trip, which he did with a buddy, and I was blown away. 

In addition to ski patroling, he's also a long distance swimmer who's swum around the perimeter of Lake Tahoe without a wet suit, towing a float with supplies. That lake is COLD!

I'd cut him a break. I like Trail Tested and think it's a useful reference. 

-1 reviewer rep
48 forum posts
June 20, 2012 at 11:35 p.m. (EDT)

I for one will take him at his word and buy his book, too.  He is a very special bird, a collector's item if you will.  There is a place reserved in my bookcase.

As for any discussion regarding his rationale for sharing or not sharing or making a book or whatever, the way I understand it Justin is a professional trekker and an intrepid adventurer, so it seems pretty reasonable to me that he would seek remuneration for sharing his story and methods.

He made a book.  A man has to eat.  Good for him, maybe good for more than him. 

Bottom line:  I look forward to his book and wish Justin all the best along whatever trail he tackles next.  

Top shelf, left. 



Raina Ferran
0 reviewer rep
1 forum posts
June 21, 2012 at 10:51 a.m. (EDT)

It seems you are wondering how Justin has accomplished what he says and why he doesn’t have data and journals on his website to back that up, so I am writing to explain why. I am Justin’s girlfriend and have been living with him for many years. I have stayed home and cared for our dog many a time when he is out hiking. As time has gone by he has used the increasing outdoor technology to help keep track of his trips. When he first started it was a disposable camera and a pay phone, later it was Pocketmail, then SPOT and then the satellite phone at my insistence on his hike in Africa. It has become easier to track his trips with the satellite phone as he can use his map or GPS to find his coordinates and then text them to me every two days or so. I subsequently map them on Google Maps which tracks his trip as he goes. It wasn’t until a few years ago that he started using Word Press which makes it much easier to blog during his trips. As it is, he still sometimes has to e-mail or text me or his friend, Russ, his updates which are then posted if he doesn’t have time.  His earlier trips, that have less journals, WERE done, at the pace he says and I’ve seen all of the pictures from them (even the ones that aren’t on his website). The fact of the matter is, Justin spends tons of time (much to my chagrin :-) communicating with people about logistics and writing up logistics, information, and map sets (all for free through the website or by contacting him) to make it easier for people to follow and set out on these trips. He never claims to be a professional hiker and he works all winter saving up to do his trips.

Finally, if you ever get a chance to hike with him you will realize how much endurance and mental strength he has.  The fact of the matter is that he is a unique individual who is not terribly interested in being in the public eye (unlike some other people in the industry), but truly enjoys being outside for days on end, finds joy in hiking long distances and pushing his physical limits.

Alicia MacLeay @Alicia
2,386 reviewer rep
4,549 forum posts
June 21, 2012 at 2:07 p.m. (EDT)

Raina, thanks for joining the discussion and providing an important perspective in the life of a thru-hiker — the personal support team that helps make it possible. I'm sure there are many of us who'd want to read that book too...

I've never met Justin, only communicated with him via email, but from those interactions and everything I've heard secondhand from others who've met him or attended one of his talks, he seems like a genuine nice guy who's in it to get outdoors and help others do the same.

I say, good for him!

1,613 reviewer rep
443 forum posts
June 21, 2012 at 6:59 p.m. (EDT)

If John Muir were alive today, I wonder what we'd be saying about his books, website, blog, twitter, and Facebook page, lol.

I for one appreciate that Justin is a unique breed of individual, intimately engaged with the natural world around him (sorry Raina). I think it is easy to want to read things without investing in them (our money) because of the nature of the internet (and this site), where we are constantly accessing information we desire. I for one look forward to buying and reading Justin's book, in addition to many others on my list.

I do want to say as well that I appreciate immensely the free content afforded me in this great TS community...

-1 reviewer rep
48 forum posts
June 21, 2012 at 8:49 p.m. (EDT)

Ordered the book last night after reading/posting here and dusted the bookshelf, too.  Looking forward to the read.

I especially like that he self-published it.  The real deal, that's my take on Mr. Justin Lichter.






129 reviewer rep
142 forum posts
June 22, 2012 at 9:22 a.m. (EDT)

Too bad any time one of these guys come here to do an interview, the threads always devolve.  Human nature or just nature of the internet?

Alicia MacLeay @Alicia
2,386 reviewer rep
4,549 forum posts
June 22, 2012 at 11:18 a.m. (EDT)

Drake said:

Ordered the book last night after reading/posting here and dusted the bookshelf, too.  Looking forward to the read.

I especially like that he self-published it.  The real deal, that's my take on Mr. Justin Lichter.


Let us know what you think, Drake.

I hope you, and anyone else who ends up reading his book, shares your thoughts about it in a review: https://www.trailspace.com/gear/justin-lichter/trail-tested/

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