Unlike many hardcore outdoor purists, Ashley Hill didn’t spend the majority of her childhood in nature. She grew up in the suburbs of a large city. She never got to fully explore the wilderness. Later in life she yearned for the simple, minimal experiences the outdoors offered. So with the help of some ultralight mentors, she began her thru hiking adventures on the Pacific Crest Trail. Now her deep-seated curiosity of the natural world and the mysteries it holds drive her to continue to wander. “There’s so much out there in the world, I realize I don’t know anything,” she says. “I’ve got this lust for more.” Hill recently finished New Zealand’s Te Araroa, and will soon be embarking on the Sierra High Route in California.
What gets you up in the morning?
I wake up with the sunrise; and as soon as I wake up I just hike all day.
When and why did you adopt a minimalist philosophy?
I was lucky enough to start off ultralight, thanks to mentors who helped me on very first thru-hiking trip. So I never really had the classic overburdened first-time backpack. Thanks to them, I can go faster and further both on the trail and in life. I am still trying to get even lighter. I cut straps off my packs, and when I recently lost my rainjacket on the Te Araroa, I used the Echo II Beak as my poncho. There’s nothing more I need! I wrap it around myself and then use the guy lines to tie it off around my waist.
In what ways have you applied this philosophy to the rest of your life?
All my belongings are in storage. I only bring what I need when hiking. And by going light I have more room for the really cool sentimental items that mean a lot to me, such as bones I find (not in National Parks) or my San Francisco Giants pin.
How do you achieve your optimal self?
For me it is all about approaching life with a positive mental attitude. That’s all I need to perform at my peak. During the first part of one of my hikes, there was a long flat beach that people were complaining about. But I embraced it, and while everyone else was suffering and whining, I thought that it was truly amazing.
What gets you to your Zen moment in the mountains?
As soon as I get into nature I am in a Zen state; I feel at home. But one specific time really stands out to me. Three months into my Pacific Crest Trail thru hike, I started to get sick in the High Sierras. I decided to camp above tree line at Evolution Lake because I knew it would be too cold right next to the lake. I wasn’t feeling healthy enough to pitch my tent, so I decided that the best course of action was to just cowboy camp beneath the full moon. And as I lay there with ice on my sleeping bag, I realized that I had made the choice to be there, and it was the best choice I had ever made. I was meant to be there alone in nature, days away from towns and other people.
On a given day, what absolute necessities are in your pack? What extras?
My favorite shelter system is a Hyperlite Mountain gear Flat Tarp, which is always my go-to choice if the conditions allow it. I always bring my sleeping pad and sleeping bag, of course, and extra dry clothes. I had hypothermia once, and I would like to avoid that in the future. On my trips I also always bring a camera so I can document the fantastic nature that surrounds me. My first aid kit is super minimal; I only bring Ibuprofen, duct tape and a sewing needle. If I get injured I’ll head into town. Other stuff isn’t really a necessity, but I still like to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste. I also tend to bring some extra sentimental items, such as a picture of my father and sister, a rock from some friends and a little crystal from my best friend.
What issues are you passionate about and why?
I think that part of why I hike and explore is to find out what things I am super passionate about, and hopefully pursue them into the future.
What sports do you primarily partake in?
What’s your favorite piece of Hyperlite Mountain Gear equipment and why?
I love the Tarp because it makes me feel cool and minimalist and still manages to get the job done. It’s also so versatile it’s hard not to love. I got caught in a rainstorm once and didn’t have time to set it up. So instead I put the foot of my sleeping bag into my Southwest Pack (which I also love) and then wrapped the upper part of my body in my tarp like a burrito. And it actually worked to keep my dry!
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