The Ultimate Minimalist

I just finished reading “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” by Ben Montgomery.


If you’re a hiker/backpacker and you’ve never heard her name before and/or read this well-researched book, I encourage you to check it out. The writer did a wonderful job of blending her often tragic personal life with her hiking experiences. Highly recommended.

In 1955, Emma Gatewood, mother of eleven and grandmother to twenty-three, bought a yard of denim fabric and sewed it into a bag. Into this bag she threw some food, a flashlight, some odds and ends of clothing, a shower curtain and twenty five bucks. Grabbing a walking stick from the woods, she tossed her bag over a shoulder and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

At age 67.

During that time, she slept on piles of leaves, walked nearly blind with busted glasses, battled blowdowns and poorly marked trail and burned through seven pairs of canvas sneakers. And she did it with one of the most remarkable never-say-die attitudes I’ve ever seen. She would go on to hike the AT twice more, once as a thru and the other as a section hiker.

She’s often referred to as the first minimalist hiker, but while today’s “gram weenies” sleep under practically see-through tarps on half a sleeping pad, intentionally cut the handles off their toothbrushes and trim down their decks of playing cards to reduce weight, for her it was simply a way of life transferred from the farm to the trail.

Her amazing story sure has given me pause as I agonize over gear lists and must-haves while contemplating my first overnight out on the trail. I look at what I already have accumulated and realize that if I took to the AT tomorrow, I’d be better equipped than she was. And be hiking a more defined, better maintained trail. With better glasses. And greater access to more hiker-friendly places. And more hikers to rely on for help should I need it. And so on.

More than forty years after her death, she still inspires. If you haven’t, read her story. And let her inspire you, too…



4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Minimalist

  1. Mountain Goat September 15, 2016 / 8:11 am

    Nice post! Haven’t read it but am putting it on my list. I have several memoirs I recommend in my reference page including Becoming Odessa and AWOL on the Appalachian Trail. Thanks for the inspiration. Happy Trails!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kddolley September 15, 2016 / 9:01 am

    Thanks! I’ve read AWOL twice, but need to check out Odessa. I appreciate the comment and the tip on another book to add to my list. Happy Trails to you too!


  3. Bette Lou September 16, 2016 / 8:44 am

    Grandma Gatewood is DEFINITELY an inspiration and Ben Montgomery’s book is wonderful!

    Besides Ben’s book, Emma is the subject of a major project to document her life by Eden Valley Enterprises and FilmAffects. Since 2009, they have completed a storytelling program w/companion e-book and dvd, a one-act play and a documentary. You can find out more about this project at

    Her hike may have been “Minimalist”, but her life definitely was NOT!

    Liked by 1 person

    • kddolley September 16, 2016 / 9:23 am

      I agree about her life. She was one tough lady. Lesser people would not have survived the life she was forced to live. Thanks for the comment and for the Eden Vally info. I’ll check it out!


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