Q&A with Hiking Blogger Tom Mangan

Hiking Blogger Tom Mangan

Before the term “blog” was even coined, Tom Mangan was blogging. Then he began hiking in 2004 to get back into shape. Shortly thereafter, a hiking blogger was born.

On his blog Two-Heel Drive, Mangan covers many areas of the hiking world, specifically the social media aspect. He has posts that explain how to start a hiking blog to a hiker’s guide to Twitter. He is also an expert in hiking the San Francisco and North Carolina regions.

Mangan joined us via email to discuss his two passions and how he has successfully combined the two.

You had a blog before it became an everyday term. What advice do you have for those who hike and want to blog?

  1. Make sure you really want to before you start. The Web is littered with two-post blogs from people who read somebody else’s blog and thought they needed one of their own. It’s fun the first few times; it’s work after that.
  2. Commit yourself to learning how to customize your blog so it doesn’t look like everybody else’s. You’ll have to learn some HTML and other annoying acronyms. It won’t kill you; in fact, it might make you more marketable.
  3. Ask yourself if a blog is the best way to share your knowledge about hiking. It’s so easy to start a Twitter feed or Facebook page that you might never have to trouble yourself with building your own blog.
  4. You must be able to deal with lack of feedback and days/weeks where the world seems determined to ignore all your hard work.

What makes for a good hiking blog?

Here’s what I ask when assessing a hiking blog:

  • Does it have vivid writing that conveys the experience of life on the trail?
  • Does it demonstrate savvy use of multimedia, particularly video?
  • Does it engage other hikers via comments, social media and links to other blogs?
  • Does it focus on a distinct topic and stick with it?
  • How often is it updated? I’d rather see two posts a month for years than 16 posts in one week and nothing for the next six months.

What does Two-Heel Drive mean?

Back when I was wondering what to name my first hiking blog, I was out hiking up a very steep trail and thinking “four-wheel drive would be very handy right now.” Then it dawned on me that hiking is essentially “two-heel drive,” so that’s where it came from. I added a picture of the heel ends of two hiking boots on my blog to get the point across.

Hiking for you has not only been about exploring but weight loss. What can you tell those looking to do the same?

Hiking is an excellent way to lose weight because going uphill provides resistance unavailable at ground level, and varied terrain gives you a more diverse workout than walking on a paved surface.

The challenge is that most people live too far from a hiking trail to hike regularly for fitness or weight loss. But getting into hiking can create a virtuous fitness circle: the first few times you hike will demonstrate how out of shape you are.

If the experience of hiking is truly moving, you’ll want to do it again, and you’ll need to be in better shape to enjoy it. So taking ever-more strenuous walks during the week can shape you up for hiking on the weekends. The rest is up to your ability to modify your eating habits and stay active during the week.

A snapshot from Mangan's Flickr stream from a hike to Hawksbill at the Linville Gorge Wilderness in North Carolina.

Do you often hike solo? Is it beneficial to go as a group?

I almost always hike solo; it gets me away from everybody, and lets me move at my own pace once I get to the trail. I’m a very slow walker by nature and taking pictures for the blog slows me down even more, so I’m better off solo. I always tell somebody where I’m going, stick to my itinerary, take a map, compass and GPS, and avoid the temptation to attempt risky detours. When you’re out there alone, it could be hours before somebody finds you.

Group hikes are more social and seem more secure (and car-pooling is better for the environment), but there is a risk few people consider: If you’re counting on somebody else to do the navigating and you get separated from the group, you can be seriously screwed if you haven’t been paying attention to the turns and didn’t bring a map along.

I wrote a piece on my blog called “Etiquette for group hikes: How to behave in the presence of other humans.” The substantial length of it strikes me as a solid endorsement for solo hiking.

You say “hiking is just walking farther from the neighborhood.” Where is the best place for a first hike?

Someplace that will inspire you to hike again without beating you to a pulp physically. So, a hike of less than three miles (and less than 500 feet of elevation gain) with fantastic vistas, chances to see wildlife and awesome natural features like waterfalls or redwoods.

What’s your favorite brand of hiking boots?

I’ve had good luck with Vasque, Merrell, Keen and Montrail … but boots always come down to fit, so I wear whatever does the least damage to my feet. It wouldn’t take me a half-second to dump them all for a better-fitting boot made by somebody else.

If you had to choose only three gear pieces to hike with, what would they be?

I wouldn’t hike if I could take only three things. I need shoes, socks, undies, pants, a shirt, a hat, sunglasses, a water bottle and something to carry it in.

Three things I almost always take on a hike: a map, a pad to sit on and a water supply.

6 Comments on “Q&A with Hiking Blogger Tom Mangan

  1. I have a blog that I am doing as an assignment for an English class. I love to hike; love the outdoors and do a little novice photography. I found this blog post to be very informative. I’m not sure that I will keep my blog going after this class but I have been thinking about it. It’s great that Mr Mangan says he likes to hike solo. That is my preferred experience as well. I get so much more out of it; I get so much more out of my head and into the world around me. Check out my humble little blog; a project in progress. It’s at http://valleyproject.wordpress.com. Thank you and Happy New Year!

  2. Pingback: Interview with me at tacticalgear.com | Two-Heel Drive, a Hiking Blog

  3. Jeanette: thanks for doing this, it’s great fun to be interviewed.

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