Hiker's Highlight - Emily Pennington
Not only are we so excited to announce our new weekly Hiker's Highlight posts, but we also got to know brazenbackpacker, or Emily Pennington, a solo traveling/backpacking bad ass lady that we are living vicariously through! Emily is the ultimate "live life to the fullest" enthusiast. She's solo hiked in Sweden and in the Himalayas, but most impressively, she joined the circus as a professional aerialist!
Emily has such insight as a solo hiker and was able to provide us with so much useful information on what to expect while backpacking.
"There's something magical about how no two hikes are ever the same and that keeps me coming back"
What was your inspiration to start hiking?
I was a very fanciful child, which, honestly, probably led me to become a writer. I would daydream in the forests of Sweden outside my grandparents’ house for hours, alone and lost in visions of faeries, trolls, and Vikings. These spellbinding experiences solidified a love of the outdoors at a young age, so as I grew up and got more athletic, heading to the mountains seemed only natural.
Have you solo hiked all of the your treks?
When I first got serious about backpacking, I solo-hiked almost everything. Few people wanted to train at the altitude and intensity-level that I was interested in, and I was going through a really intense breakup. The time alone on the trail allowed me to sift through my feelings and come out a stronger, more self-aware woman. Since then, I’ve fallen into the massive outdoor community in Los Angeles, and I enjoy hiking solo or with partners and much more often.
How do you physically and mentally prepare for your packs?
I research before every trip. A lot. If I’m afraid about bears or rattlesnakes or frostbite, I read a ton of blogs and articles about them to diffuse any unnecessary anxiety. Then, I buy gear and plan for the logical and more realistic dangers. Physically, I honestly just threw myself into the fire by doing an 11 mile hike at altitude with a full pack on. I wouldn’t recommend it. Starting small by throwing a few books or extra water bottles in a backpack while you hike up and down smaller hills near your home is a much better way to get your muscles ready for big days with a 30 lb. pack.
What was your biggest fear when starting to solo hike?
Bears were a big one! Luckily, I saw 3 bears in 48 hours on one of my first big trips out. One charged down the mountain, only 15 feet in front of me on the trail! I hadn’t seen any other hikers for over an hour, and I really had to keep my wits about me as I hiked around this giant beast that was staring me down. After that, I realized that they mostly just want to be left alone, so they aren’t as terrifying anymore.
What are your long-term hiking goals?
My next big goal is the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park. My climbing partner and I are going to plan a couple of extra days to climb bigger mountains just off trail that are otherwise difficult to reach. I would love to do a multi-month thru-hike like the PCT or the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail.
What hobbies do you have other than hiking?
I write, I rock climb, and I do lots and lots of yoga. I also used to be an aerialist in the circus, so I’m never too far away from a dance floor. Dancing was my first love.
What nitty-gritty advice do you have for women looking to distance hike?
Things aren’t nearly as dangerous as your brain imagines them. Most bears are harmless, adult humans can easily survive a rattlesnake bite, and the people you meet on the trail are friendly and helpful 99.9% of the time. That being said, if it helps you sleep better at night and you don’t mind the weight, carry a tiny container of pepper spray with you. I’ll bet good money that you’ll be leaving it at home after only a few trips out there.
What is your biggest hiking accomplishment so far?
Climbing the Dana Couloir in Yosemite National Park/Ansel Adams Wilderness. It ended up being a marathon 12 hour day due to altitude, route finding, and snow melt. I’ve been getting much more into mountaineering as I continue to step up my hiking game, and riding the edge of my ability as I ascend taller peaks is thrilling.
What current adventure are you on now?
My current adventure is managing my head game while handling multiple, competing risks in the wild. I fell in love with winter mountaineering and alpine climbing this season, which brought with it a whole host of new hazards and gear to learn about. It’s amazing to me that keeping your head screwed on straight is a never ending journey as you grow into a more savvy outdoorswoman!
How do you financially prepare for backpacking?
This really depends on how minimalist you are comfortable being. There are tons of amazing websites like steepandcheap.com that I wish I had known about when I first got started. They sell tons of new, name brand gear for half off or even more! Definitely do your research before investing in any of the pricier additions to your kit, but in general, I would say a good pack, boots, and sleeping bag should be your first priorities. Those all can be found for under $600 (total) and will last you for years in the backcountry.
How do you stay in shape off the trail?
I honestly just learned the science behind over-training this week, so the answer to this question is about to rapidly change. In truth, I train off trail A TON. I do yoga 2 times a week, paired with rock climbing, trail running, and high intensity interval training here and there. I save the weekends for a big objective somewhere in the mountains.
What has been your favorite hike so far?
I solo hiked 16 miles on the High Sierra Trail last August, and it was the most beautiful piece of earth I’ve ever traversed. The Great Western Divide has always captured my imagination, and it’s the only landscape to date that made me cry at first sight. That’s why I’m going back this September to finish the whole thing. I am beyond stoked!
What clothing do you pack for your hikes?
I get more minimalist the more confident I become outdoors. These days, I pack 1 pair of hiking pants, 2-3 pairs of wool hiking socks, 1 sports bra, 2-3 pairs of non-cotton underwear, 1 t-shirt, 1 tank top, 1 thermal base layer top, and an insulated puffy or mid layer. I also bring rain gear and a warm hat if I know I’m going to be wet or cold.
What hygiene necessities do your suggest for women to bring on their hikes?
It may be an unpopular opinion, but I cannot sing the praises of face wipes enough! I bring the small travel sizes or make my own Ziploc bags full of face wipes so that when I snuggle into my tent at the end of a long, grimy day, I can at least feel like one part of my body is fresh. Beyond that, I carry a tiny hairbrush so that my hair doesn’t turn into dreadlocks. For feminine hygiene, I personally use tampons and pack them out (which is kinda gross), but I have friends who swear by the DivaCup.
You learn something new everyday by all these wonderful ladies and gentlemen on social media that are living out their dreams. It's a way for all of us to follow them on their journeys and get to know all these beautiful individuals.
Make sure to follow Emily on all of her adventures:
A very grateful,
Back Country Momma
*All photos belong to Emily Pennington/brazenbackpacker*