The turning point for Darwin was in 2018. He was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and as a YouTuber with hundreds of thousands of followers, he found it difficult to get into any sort of groove. People came up to him on an hourly basis, asking for photos, gear advice and more.
“I basically broke down on the trail,” he says. “I had a horrible identity crisis. It was bad.”
One of Darwin’s Youtube videos could cause a pair of shoes to sell out, but was he really making a positive impact, he asked himself. What was he doing that actually mattered?
Darwin began latching onto the idea of “influencing people for the right reasons” and this has guided his focus and projects ever since. In the intervening years, he’s helped to raise more than $50K for public lands through initiatives ranging from a documentary on the Arizona Trail to partnering with outdoor brands (and even a beer company) on limited-edition, give-back products.
And, now, through the #giveashit campaign, he’s challenging others to do the same. #giveashit is intentionally brash, says Darwin. It’s meant to get people’s attention, to get people to care about the chronic underfunding and selling off of public lands.
“Everybody can do something to help public lands,” Darwin says. Companies that have the money need to give some of that money to the cause, yes; their entire business is predicated on the existence and health of public lands afterall, he says. But even those who don’t have the financial means, can still contribute. Sharing Leave No Trace practices with others (either on social media or in-person), joining a trail organization and/or volunteering time are few examples Darwin offers up.
“My whole hope with #giveashit is making it the norm,” Darwin says. “Of course you do that because that’s what you do.”
Darwin acknowledges that this is often easier said than done, and it can be hard to get people to tune into this message. Sometimes he feels like a “crazy person screaming at a wall,” he says.
But that doesn’t make him any less passionate about #giveashit and what it stands for.
“It’s insane to think about how archaic our system is,” he says, “Roads are shit. Signs are all destroyed. Public lands are getting pocket change compared to what they need.”
And with use on a sharp rise, the situation is only growing more acute.
“People are flooding out to public lands. That’s a good thing. That’s why they’re there. But we still have infrastructure and a funding model from the ‘60s” he says. “Everybody wants to use it. And everybody should. But something’s got to give at some point.”
So far a handful of outdoor brands have signed onto the #giveashit campaign — many of them also part of the Garage Grown Gear family of small brands, including Rawlogy, Cnoc, Enlightened Equipment, Lone Star Ultralight and Evergreen Adventure Foods.
In addition to helping amplify the #giveashit message, these brands have agreed to make substantial donations to public land causes. Darwin also uses his own platforms to hammer home the importance of active stewardship.
“I’m part of the reason why more people are on trails and going to national parks, so I also need to be the reason why they’re taken care of, funded and protected,” he says.
One of Darwin’s favorite books is Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire. He reads (or listens to it) at least once a year. In that book there’s this quote …
There will be other readers, I hope, who share my basic assumption that wilderness is a necessary part of civilization and that it is the primary responsibility of the national park system to preserve intact and undiminished what little still remains.
Darwin couldn’t agree more:
“If it’s yours, if you love it so much, be a good steward to it. Fight for it. Take care of it. Give back to it,” he says.
I have many thoughts on this issue… sadly, as we see repeatedly, when more people engage in an activity or populate a particular area the more problems we have. We are at a tipping point in my opinion where irresponsible, lazy, and selfish activities are causing the deterioration of not only the beautiful nature we desire to connect to but also of the infrastructure put in place to allow us access to the experience. The concept of leave no trace means nothing to way too many visitors to our National Parks. They litter and trample the terrain with little regard for the future of that environment. All that matters is their immediate gratification. With more people we are certain to see more rules limiting our access. I agree with Darwin when he says “be a good steward to it (nature/Nat’l Parks).” To me it all starts with individual. We need to do our part to live with nature in a cohesive balance that allows nature to thrive and allows us opportunities to experience our birthright! Cherish the outdoors! Do your part to keep it clean, safe, and accessible!
Speaking of giving a shit, Darwin was the first major blogger I heard talking about bidets as an alternative to toilet paper for backcountry bottom cleaning. He didn’t make a big deal out of it; he just mentioned that he was going to use a bidet from now on. I listened, and so, I believe, did many others. Until this year, I’d never even heard of bidets for hiking. Now I’ve heard many thru-hikers talking matter-of-factly about their bidet systems. Darwin and Andrew Skurka are among the major online influencers who’ve made bidets more (pardon the pun) mainstream.
Great stuff, Darwin, cheers.
It still feels to me like there’s something missing from this effort, though: politics. I know that’s precisely what a whole lot of people hit the trail to get away from, but if we’re talking about committing resources to a shared public purpose that is what we’re talking about.
If we want to save the national parks, and maintain outdoor access more broadly, we have to organize, fund and elect representatives that share the vision of a responsibly stewarded wild available to all – and then keep the pressure on once they’re elected, to ensure they support public investment in these irreplaceable treasures at the necessary level. In a just world, this would be an entirely nonpartisan issue, but I’m not so sure that’s the world we live in.