Expert Backpacking Tips: Richard Davidian Interview

A Lifetime of Hiking and Backpacking

Here are some expert backpacking tips from our recent interview with Richard Davidian, who has spent most of his life hiking and backpacking.

When we recently began to hang out on Twitter to find other backpackers and hikers, we immediately noticed @RDavidian as one of the most prolific Tweeters in that category.

Enjoy reading about Richard’s backpacking experiences in his own words in our first-ever Expert Backpacking Tips interview.

When and how did you first discover hiking?

I can’t remember when I first started hiking. I know I was very young, probably about seven years old. I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in California. My brothers, my friends and I all hiked. There was no Internet then, and we had no TV.

Do you prefer internal or external frame backpacks and why?

I hiked for years with an external frame backpack. Then I acquired a large internal frame backpack. I think I like the latter because it hugs your back more closely and keeps your center of gravity more over your feet. I miss the ventilated feel of the external frame, however.

What was one of your greatest hiking or backpacking adventures?

I was backpacking on the John Muir Trail solo. I was putting in 25-to-30-mile days going very light and eating practically nothing except high calorie GORP.

I met this guy on the trail that I thought was rather old. He must’ve been all of 30. He wanted to hike with me, but he was a little short dude. A runt. I knew he couldn’t keep up with my long legs, so I didn’t want to be slowed down. Also, he had this huge pack. He had no clue about ultralight backpacking.

He kept insisting on hiking with me, so I agreed on one condition. He would have to keep up with me. My plan was to ditch him. So I took off, and he kept up. At noon he wanted to stop and eat. I wanted to push on, but he started cooking this yummy smelling stuff and invited me to share with him. He explained to me that he had food for two people. He was supposed to meet a friend. But, in the end his friend couldn’t make it.

So, we pushed on together, not quite making our 25 miles, but having a great time and eating like kings. He was not only a remarkable hiker with short legs, but he was funny. Once, he took out a plastic bag with powder in it and asked, “What do you think this is?” I guessed powdered milk. “Yes”, he said, “just add water”. The second bag in his quiz was powdered soup. Then he took out a plastic bag with a nondescript white powder in it. I couldn’t guess what it was. He said dramatically: “This is powdered dancing girls. Just add water”.

I never had a more entertaining hiking partner.

Is hiking more difficult now that you’re older? How has it changed for you over the years?

Yes, it gets more difficult as you age. But, that’s the beauty of hiking. You set your own distance goals and your own pace. You compete with no one and have a great time. I no longer have to make 25 miles a day to feel good about myself.

Hiking and backpacking have become more high-tech recently. High-tech innovations that make hiking more comfortable are fine with me.

What was your biggest mistake on a hiking or backpacking trip?

I hiked up the wrong side of a mountain in Austria and nearly fell down a cliff. There were warning signs, but they were in German, and I ignored them. As you have probably guessed, I survived.

You are very active on Twitter at and currently have close to 15,000 followers. How did you discover Twitter and become so well-connected with other hikers and backpackers?

The Blog Success site introduced me to Twitter. At first I tweeted about a variety of outdoor topics including environmental issues. I believe that all these topics are of interest and need to be discussed. But, I have had to focus. So I have narrowed down my discussions to hiking and backpacking, two of my greatest passions.

My strategy has been to provide top-quality information for people who enjoy hiking and backpacking in the wilderness. I also try to answer questions and provide specific information to people who request it.

What is your favorite trail meal?

I would have to say GORP with plenty of dried fruit. I like to go as light as I can. 

Have you ever had a close encounter with a bear?

Yes, it was on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My friend, Carlos, and I were doing a day hike. Someone coming in the opposite direction said that there was a bear up the trail. 

So, from then on it was take a few steps, stop and listen. Walk a bit more, peer into the underbrush. Then, we saw him, as we crest a rise, padding straight towards us in the middle of the trail. I had the routine seared in my brain: Stand your ground; don’t run; don’t drop your backpack.

Carlos tried to climb a small, dead tree propped against another tree. But, it broke with a resounding crack. Then, the bear charged, but broke off his charge at about 15 feet from me. He turned and ambled up the trail in front of us. And, that was the worst part of the whole ordeal because we didn’t know where we might find him. It was unnerving.

What is one of the favorite scenic views you have experienced while hiking?

Some of the most breathtaking scenes were on the Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, my slides sustained water damage, so I am unable to share them.

My wife and I recently hiked in the Eastern Sierras. As you can see in this photo of the top of Mammoth Mountain, the scenery was spectacular.

Your blog is loaded with helpful and informative articles. Could you summarize some of your top tips for those who are new to hiking and backpacking?

Here are some tips:

  • Wear wicking fabrics, especially against your skin. Avoid cotton.
  • Work constantly towards lightening the weight of your backpack.
  • Always take a map and a compass even if your carry a GPS.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
  • Play dead in a brown bear attack; fight back in a black bear attack. Learn to recognize the difference.
  • If you make a mistake while hiking or backpacking, and you undoubtedly will, learn from it for next time.

Thanks, Richard for taking the time to answer our questions, provide some expert backpacking tips and inspire the next generation of backpackers! See you out on the trail — or at least we’ll see you on Twitter!

Richard Davidian is a hiking and backpacking expert who blogs daily at his Free Outdoors Hiking and Backpacking Blog. He is also a prolific tweeter of hiking, backpacking and outdoors information. You can follow him at He also likes birding and kayaking with his wife, Mimi.