Financial Barriers are Magnified for Black Hikers. Period.

Trends & Top 10Shilletha Curtis
Shilletha Curtis Gear Affordability Black Thru-Hikers UL Backpackers


“We don’t have a privilege. You bringing race into this is causing division in this community.” 

But is it really? I must ask time and time again: is bringing up racial inequalities within the hiking community worth the anguish and vile comments that may follow. My answer will always be yes. Is bringing up racial inequalities that People of Color may face while hiking worth it? You better believe it is. 

The system doesn’t discriminate between Black hikers beneath the shelter of the trees or Black folks in the inner city. Everything is intertwined. Blackness is not situational. There’s this ridiculous myth that Black folks don’t want to be in the woods. Every time I read that on some atrocious racist forum or Facebook group page, I want to rip my faded crimson dreads out!

Shilletha Curtis Gear Affordability Black Thru-Hikers UL Backpackers


It’s not that Black folks don’t want to be out in nature enjoying the rustle of the vibrant autumn leaves or the smell of a roaring fire; it goes much deeper than that. Because of Jim Crow and segregation laws, Blacks historically were not welcomed in national and state parks. Nature was reserved for the white and wealthy, not the poor and oppressed. 

Then comes the financial aspect. For many like myself, affording quality gear and having sufficient funds for a thru-hike like the Appalachian Trail is completely daunting. For Black folks in particular, the issue becomes magnified as you look at the differences in income and gender disparities, wealth, and the cycle of poverty.   

I first gained interest in this topic when I posed a delicate question on the Women’s Appalachian Trail Group on Facebook. The question was: 

“How do you feel about a GoFundMe in order to help fund your thru-hike?”

I simply wanted to know how the community felt about raising money to help fund your dreams. Fifteen minutes later, I noticed there were over thirty comments that contained a plethora of personal viewpoints. Some comments were in support of raising money through donations and saw no issue in it, but then there were the few stray hairs. Or should I say more than enough stray hairs to turn the whole discussion grey.

“I work hard for everything, you say you’re a social worker and you were a veterinary technician maybe you need to do more work”

“You shouldn’t ask for money to fund a dream, that’s rude. If you can’t afford it, you shouldn't do it” 

It was a never-ending stream of ignorant comments with the occasional glimmer of hope when one member brought up income disparities. No one else had thought to check their privilege and realize that yes, inequity is real. These disparities exist in the racist system from which all white people, whether rich or poor, continuously reap the benefits, while Blacks remain oppressed. 

It’s not to say that Black folks as a whole cannot be wealthy or afford a thru-hike, but it is an acknowledgement of economic barriers and a system that tries to keep us bound in its weary chains. To imply Black folks haven’t worked hard enough is harmful. For inner city kids like myself, I know all too well that isn’t true. I have worked in places where we were not able to disclose our wages because my white counterparts were making more. My family, like many Black families, have little to no wealth because our ancestors had nothing to pass down from slavery to our grandparents. We inherited nothing except generations worth of the sting of poverty.  

Shilletha Curtis Gear Affordability Black Thru-Hikers UL Backpackers


T
he facts continue to remain grim even into 2020. 

“According to the Racial Wealth Divide report, the median Black family, with just over $3,500, owns just 2% of the wealth of the nearly $147,000 the median White family owns (...) 

Black Bachelor’s degree and Associate’s degree holders earn 27% and 14% lower incomes, respectively, than Whites with the same degree (...)

Racial discrimination in many forms, including in education, hiring, and pay practices, contributes to persistent earnings gaps. As of the last quarter of 2019, the median White worker made 28 percent more than the typical Black worker (Racial Economic Inequalities).” 

As a Black woman, I am part of a group that faces even more discrimination in employment, with poverty hitting us even harder. 

National Women’s Law Center research shows that “while the U.S. poverty rate for White men is 7 percent, it is 20 percent for Black women, 18 percent for Latinas, and 22 percent for Native American women.” 

The system is a cruel and unforgiving monster and racism sits at its heart. With those facts in mind, let’s revisit the question of affording gear. 

Shilletha Curtis Gear Affordability Black Thru-Hikers UL Backpackers


In the hiking community we are all aware that lighter, higher-quality gear is exorbitant. Those with higher-quality, new, and ultralight gear are overwhelmingly white. Many top brand names in hiking gear target wealthy consumers, and the majority, if not all, of their brand ambassadors are white. Quality tents, packs, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags especially can be hundreds if not thousands of dollars total, and we aren’t including the cost of clothing, cookware, or the hike itself. To hike the Appalachian Trail, you’re looking at $5,000 to $7,000, depending on whether you like to party in town and splurge on town food. 

When I started this journey, the first thing on my mind was how I could afford it. To be honest, I would not be here without the sponsors and grants that I have received for my writing. That in itself is a privilege I believe every Black hiker should have access to. It is not a handout, but assistance, taken with the knowledge that the system, regardless of how hard we work, may never allow us to fully reap the benefits of our labors. 

I believe that every Black hiker should have access to the same economic opportunities to attain costly ultralight gear. Even if they prefer to purchase used gear, new and ultralight models should still be accessible. Period. 

Shilletha Curtis Gear Affordability Black Thru-Hikers UL Backpackers


Many Black hikers are working multiple jobs, minimizing spending, selling items in their home they no longer use and reaching out for grants with no avail. Having access to diversity grants and having enough companies and blog sites that offer diversity grants is crucial. These lifelines, no matter how large or small, can really be of substantial help. 

And it’s not just the companies who should make these opportunities accessible. The answer also lies within the hiking community as a whole. Allies can help amplify the voices of their BIPOC friends by listening to their stories, sharing job and contract opportunities with BIPOC candidates, and even giving up a speaking or writing engagement to give a platform to those who may have never had one. 

Shilletha Curtis Gear Affordability Black Thru-Hikers UL Backpackers

Thus, without the help of grants, sponsorships, donations, allies and even used gear, diversity and inclusion on trails may remain challenging for BIPOC as a whole. Thankfully, not all hope is lost. During this harrowing time of civil unrest regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, many companies have taken a huge step forward in healing this community. Black brand ambassadors are named with greater frequency, action aimed at dismantling systemic racism is improving, and our voices are being amplified. Hiking grants and scholarships are being generated by companies and allies alike for those in need. I believe that we can only go up from here. 

Ubuntu - I am because we all are. 

 

Shilletha Curtis is a 28-year-old New Jersey native. She’s thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2021 and plans to be the second Black woman and first Black Queer woman to get the Triple Crown. She graduated from Rutgers in 2014 and got a degree in Social Work. She loves her dog, hiking and speaking her truth. Her goal is to bring diversity to the Appalachian trail and the hiking community as a whole. She also loves to do art and skimboard in her free time. Ubuntu!

Follow Shilletha on Social:

https://www.instagram.com/_dragonsky__/

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29 comments

Kia

Kia

Screw all the stupid fragile white commentators here. This article is FANTASTIC and please CONTINUE to stretch the bounds of what GGG stands for and comments on.

ERIN ELIZABETH OBRIEN

ERIN ELIZABETH OBRIEN

I think this article is about more than being able to afford gear. It is about being welcomed and accepted in a predominately white and privileged place. I am an older woman (60) and still hiking. This summer I’ve put in over 200 miles in CA and WA. My partner and I hiked the PCT in 2013. I know from experience that we are much more likely to see white people from other countries than people of color on the trail and everyone who thinks this article is BS needs to look at that. Let’s make the hiking community a truly diverse and beautiful place for all people. That means taking an honest look at the economic reality of racism. Thank you garage grown gear for posting this on your forum. I look forward to more discussions about this and other real topics.

Thanks for sharing

Thanks for sharing

👋 John. If that’s the take away you came out with from this article, than you clearly didn’t read it or spend two seconds thinking critically about it. Trying to pretend that racism and inequality don’t exist doesn’t improve the situation for people of color. It simply allows white people to think everything is fine when it’s not. Go be ignorant on some other website, im sure they’ll be happy to see you gone.

John Phalon

John Phalon

Adios GGG. This culture of racial division and intersectional politics ruins everything. You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve had to overcome. To be told my accomplishments are to be diminished because the color of my skin or that I am “less than” for supporting my own faith is just… sad.

Golden

Golden

Thank you for the wonderful article. Last summer on the Tahoe Rim Trail, I witnessed racism on the trail firsthand. Hikers were so surprised to see a young black man, that they imagined he was holding a knife. It was a phone. No wonder he looked so frightened! Thank you for helping to educate us all.

Larry Rogers

Larry Rogers

Stop It ….. When I was young and in Boy Scout we had a very integrated group of young men from basically the same social economic families.
Yes we had different races and ages in our troop, we all faced the same issues when it came to money for gear and uniforms. We are worked together to buy our equipment and made sure everyone was taken care of.
Now days I see a generational divide more than a racial divide in all aspect of society. I still go out with many of my life long friends from Scouts and we still find it mind boggling that someone would pay $ 600.00 for a tent. Not everyone is a thru hiker, many single parents struggle to enjoy hiking because of their responsibilities. Get up get a job, save your money buy the gear you need. Simple

Kyle

Kyle

My first thought was “Wait a minute? How does race keep you from getting outside? It’s outside!” It doesn’t seem about that in the end. A Go Fund Me to help you get the best gear and funds for such a trek is fine. Very few people can take that kind if time of time off from work and still afford to go. I understand. But most PEOPLE can’t, though they’d love to. You can’t be surprised when they don’t agree with essentially asking for charity for something that isn’t necessary. We all have to do the best with what we have no matter how we got it or lost it. I personally wince at these kind of Go Fund Me proposals. My sister in law set one up for my son and I after my wife had a sever stroke last June at age 37. She’s still in a coma and we’re not allowed to see with covid restrictions. We only asked for half her annual earnings to help while I figured out how to get by with half our previous income and the obviously increased medical bills. We’re doing ok due in large part to Medicaid but after over a year and a half the goal still hasn’t been met. Go Fund Me is full of worse stories than mine. Best of luck to you but forgive me for not being able to help with your dream. I now have to make new dreams for my family.
Just to show I’m not making up such a heinous excuse:
https://www.gofundme.com/f/bekah-kellum039s-road-to-recovery?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&rcid=c892f53fa8a144d3a08ec4ef1bdfbdb3

Ed

Ed

Its pretty gutsy to start a gofundme for an personal trip.
Garage, Dump the race bait writers. Ill check out if this keeps happening. I don’

Tom B

Tom B

I’m really disappointed that GGG is posting this. This is opening a can of worms which is not what GGG is all about. While I support people who have suffered discrimination, this is the wrong forum for GGG. PLEASE stick to what you do best… selling gear to all people regardless of race.

Laura

Laura

A lot of fragile white responses here…
Instead of sharing your stories about how you “pulled yourself up from your bootstraps”, maybe take a second to acknowledge that people of color might face different barriers than you? That just “working harder” doesn’t acknowledge the deep systemic racism that makes financial success more difficult for people of color? Before you come blasting on comment sections full of hot air, read some article about white privilege, listen to some podcasts on reconstruction, remember that black women couldn’t vote until 1965, and try and open yourself to seeing a perspective that is different from your own.

Jorah

Jorah

Yikes – The amount of intolerance and lack of introspection coming out of this comment section is truly disheartening. Acknowledging the existence of white privilege is NOT saying that everything white people accomplish is unearned or easily come by. It is simply acknowledging that (unlike with BIPOC), one’s whiteness is not a socially inhibiting/financially limiting factor. BIPOC in the United States face more barriers to success than white people. Fact. It doesn’t mean White people don’t work hard, it just means that BIPOC have more hurdles to overcome. That makes everything more difficult… including affording a Thru-hike!!!!

Thanks for sharing your truth Shilletha.

X Subermann

X Subermann

Lynda – Very well stated. This young lady is making the rounds – she is pleading her case on multitudes of hiking websites. Personally, I’m getting a little tired of the sales pitch. I am a bit put off by anyone who ‘seeks entitlement’ by starting off their article stating their race and sexual orientation. I, nor a vast majority of hikers…care. I don’t recollect anyone ever asking those types of ?‘s ’on trail’.
I, too, was raised to not see color, BTW. I believe, Lynda, you were taught well.
Here is my white privilege story. I grew up in the poorest county in the state of Ohio. I was encouraged by my family to get good grades, go to college and basically ‘get out’ of that area. There was no future for a young person there. I had 10 kids in my graduating class even go to college….10, & I’m pretty sure none of them went to Rutgers… When I first started hiking I carried my Dad’s old army gear and army surplus stuff I could find or scrounge for cheap. I am quite sure this is how many of us got started. I know of NO ONE, who has ever gone out and spent thousands of dollars on gear, even today….not one single person. So it chaps me just a tad for anyone to seemingly have the expectation that someone ‘owes you’ so you can hike ‘in style’ w/all the latest gear and gadgets. This is not a race thing, this is a greed thing…
It’s about paying your dues and making the necessary sacrifices to achieve a goal or do that thing (whatever it is) that you dream of doing.
I would encourage anyone to go on any of the through hiking sites and read some folks stories of what they had to do to just have the opportunity to hike the AT or another Long trail. It is mind boggling in many cases.
There are no free rides in life, and for most people, working to achieve your dream or your passion, makes that achievement all the sweeter.
I would recommend the author try that route, if she is truly passionate about hiking. I’d also love to hear about her hiking experiences to date – In lieu of perceived biases she obviously already has.

Hibou Rouge

Hibou Rouge

Shilletha, thanks for sharing your story. Since there are white people airing their “white credentials” of saying how hard they worked to get where they were. I’ll throw out the same. I’m white, well off. I was once tens of thousands of dollars in debt a while ago, and I currently work for a fortune 50 company, but I’m currently well off. The reason is a lot of luck, a lot of hard work, and yes, because I’m a white male. For those of you who doubt Shilletha’s story, you need to take a harder look. Dive into perspectives of people from different cultures and backgrounds. Do really think that because you see far more white people than people of color on the trail is because you worked harder than they did? Or because they’re inferior in some way? You think there may be a reason why black people are saying “no damn way” when asked about hiking on the AT? This thinking was prevalent not long ago with woman (and it hasn’t really gone away). “They’re too weak to carry the gear”, “They don’t have the ruggedness of men for the outdoors”. So many comments here rehashing the same lame reasoning, because it’s easier to blame those oppressed. Extending empathy to others, to realize BIPOC are in a system where they are frequently shorted throughout their lives, and to realize that you’re a person of privilege doesn’t make you a bad white person. It makes you an enlightened one.

JIm

JIm

Stop playing the race card. Just stop, already. Jim Crow, slavery etc, existed decades if not centuries ago. Plenty of people have come to this country with nothing but their clothing on their backs, and have made successes of themselves, even when facing ethnic , religious etc opposition. The Black community needs to stop blaming its current failures on past practices
If you want to have something than the advice you received to work for it was indeed the correct advice. And yes, there ARE plenty of minorities who believe that getting an education and working for what they have are not pre-requisites for success

Razor

Razor

I hiked for years without higher end gear. And when I did buy it I didn’t do it all at once. I saved, all without a degree, and bought a piece here and there. I’m just a blue collar guy, I have to work. I can’t get more then 30 days off once a year to hike, because I have to work, I can’t afford to take 6 months off to hike. I cherish my time alone on the trail. I see a lot of people on trail, just out of school hiking, and they aren’t using high end ultralight gear. Why do you believe you’re entitled to things other hikers aren’t. Sounds like black privilege to me.

Wow

Wow

What a load of utter BS. Why is it the ones who scream about racism the most \ loudest are the MOST racist. So tired of struggling myself in life and being told that since I am white that it cannot be that bad. Well, I am no better off than my neighbors and coworkes of ANY color. So stop with the ridiculous self pity already!

Brian

Brian

The author stated what kinds of comments she receives in other forums for posting and bringing up these issues, and then the commenters on her article here basically did the same thing! I think we can all benefit a lot from “walking in another person’s shoes” as the saying goes. I try to soak up and observe the perspective of someone not like me to broaden my understanding, so I thank Shilletha for her courage and openness.
People as a part of societies like to try to simplify large complex issues down to simple concepts that are easy to communicate and understand, but it’s not possible. Issues of access, which the author is trying to communicate, are all too real, but the barriers to that access are not easy to see. We should all take the time to seek to better understand our fellow human beings rather than view and judge them through the lens of our own life experience.

Lynda Lastinger

Lynda Lastinger

The Author of this article and I have spoke via msging each other a few times when she first started posting on the AT Trail sites. I really want to see her side of things. I have no disagreement that Blacks still struggle for equality in most areas of society. My take away from those conversations and reading this post and many other of her post is that the racists remarks she continues to make in regards to those of us who have white skin makes me want to tell her to look in the mirror. She is being racists as well. I told her that I grew up learning that you see no color – meaning you treat every one equal no mater the color of our skin, our sexual orientation, our nationality, religious beliefs. This she disagreed with. She told me I should see the color of her skin and that I basically should treat her different. I really have thought about this long and hard. Does she have a point ? Do I now change what I have been conditioned to see and evaluate someone based on their skin color ? Honestly I cant wrap my brain around it. So my answer to that is no. I will always look at you without prejudice and I will treat you the way I would hope you would treat me. Everyone should get out there and enjoy nature. You dont have to have $5,000 worth of gear to do that. My daughter just finished her 2020 thru hike of the AT. She search online sales on market place, watched for gear to go on sale she got a job at REI so she could gain knowledge of gear and also received discounts from being an employee. She traded or sold off items she had to get her gear. This was all obtained over a few years of planning for her hike. None of that is color related. Anyone can do it. Seems the author is getting grants to fund her hike. Good for her. This is a clever way to fund it, but not race related. She is just finding options to pay for her hike. I am sure her putting her writing skills to work is helping her too, as she has been able to get several of her writings published. Again this is just using her skills to her advantage. Seems she feels if a person of white skin was to do this then its some kind of privilege. Her comment that white people have wealth because it has been passed down to us from our relatives really gets my bristles up. My daughter had no wealth passed down to her to do her hike. We are not wealthy people. She worked her ASS OFF to save for her hike. If there is a rich white long lost relative out there looking for me, please contact me. This authors views are very jaded. For that I am sorry. Maybe some of my view points are jaded too. I am not too white to admit that !

Will

Will

I found this article on Instagram and I noted how the author stated that she loves blocking racists. So do I. No worries about her showing up in my feed again. There are several things in this article that bother me. To start, the tone just feels like it is berating white people for being white. Sounds pretty racist, if you ask me. As far as the content goes, there is no doubt that there are income inequalities between black and white people in the US. But there are several things not factored in, other than just wages. We’re willing to blame white people for income inequality, but we’re not willing to talk about the lack of a solid family unit in the black community. This is rooted from systemic racism, but it is a cycle that can be stopped. As far as saying that whites should give up their opportunities for speaking and writing engagements for people of color to have them? That is ridiculous. If there isn’t a platform for those voices to be heard, create that platform. The reality is that trying to get ahead by making other races step down is quite racist as well. Imagine is a Facebook marketplace post was up for a used backpack for $100. Can you imagine showing up and it is some white guy who says “oh, you’re black. It’s only $80 for you”. Wouldn’t that be incredibly offensive and disgusting to you? Seriously, that is the type of garbage this article is wanting. This line of thinking is precisely why things are getting worse, not better.

Anon

Anon

Lmao, I’m white and i hike in $20 Ross dress for less sneakers i bought 2 years ago and wear everywhere. You need $5000 to hike for a few days? Come on.

Mary Davison

Mary Davison

Thank you for sharing your truth.

Shilletha Curtis

Shilletha Curtis

I really appreciate the kindness and y’all reading it truly means a lot. I did not start a GoFundMe but rather I am working on a Patreon!

steve

steve

Spot on James!

Aaron

Aaron

What about all the other people of color who have hiked and made their dreams come true on their own. This is an insult to them and every one else that found their way to the trail.

Soul mom

Soul mom

I so support you on this. I thank you for writing about this. Where is the go fund me link? Keep up the good work.

Micheale

Micheale

I just don’t buy it. I have friends who are poor and have little gear… and they hike and backpack. Now if you would like to discuss why darker skined people are at higher risks for heath issues which leads to chronic issues which leads to unemployment…that would help the black community speak their truth.

Ra’shawndra

Ra’shawndra

Thank you for sharing! ☺️

Dave

Dave

hey james? you’re embarrassing yourself. you’re well-off and aren’t interested in helping people fulfill their dreams like you had the opportunity to do? i can’t imagine being that selfish. very cool that you had a car available to sell, not everyone has the same access to those kinds of assets. who else supported you on your hike? a family or network of friends (i’m just going to guess — all/almost all white people) that had the financial stability and flexibility to take time off work, send packages, etc? you work in a data center and are surprised when the people around you aren’t the most outdoorsy types. i’m curious how many white people at your job you asked and what their responses were. moreover, you totally missed the point. black people face more barriers to the outdoors — and you are one of them, apparently.

James Dean

James Dean

I see I am the first to respond, so here goes. I’m white, male, educated, privileged, upper middle class and drive a Benz. Now that we have that out of the way, you bring up some good points mixed with some tangential stuff that just isn’t helpful. 1) No one needs ultralight anything to hike anywhere on the planet. I hiked with a guy fresh out of the Army. Every.Single.Item.He.Owned. was in his backpack. All 51 pounds of it. 2) I started a GoFund me for my hike-made 75 dollars. I’m a WASP, A NIMBY, and a lousy marketer. I wouldn’t fund your 6 month vacay. I see all but 3 of my friends think the same of me. Ya tell me you have cancer? Different Story. No harm done there. 3) I work in a Fortune 50 (not 500) data center, so all of us make a LOT more than the average american. I asked all the black folks there what they thought of hiking in the woods for 2200 miles on this thing called the Appalachian Trail. The replies toggled between “no damn way” and “that’s for white people”. SAID…by black people. I kinda concur. I hiked in 2015 and recorded seven black thru-hikers. Day hikers-a lot more but didn’t record their numbers. How did I afford my hike? I dreamt about it for a full 40 years. That’s 4 decades. Then I sold my car.

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