There are more than 42 million hikers in the United States, but until recently there was no television show made for them. That changed in 2017, with the launch of Epic Trails, a multifaceted media project that uncovers incredible treks across the world, from New Zealand to Dominica to Canada. The media project’s mission is to share “nutritional” adventure content that goes beyond surface-level interactions, says host Eric Hanson.
The result? An engaging and educational TV show and digital presence that makes viewers and followers feel like they’re along for the hike. Hanson and the cinematographers—parkour athlete Max Stussi and mountaineer Lukasz Larsson-Warzecha—adapt to the conditions they find, relying on nimbleness and an authenticity-first approach. No helicopter drops to cut mileage. No half-empty packs for show. They’re willing to get dirty (very dirty) and travel through the most challenging environments while emphasizing human connection and professionalism. “The entire team of Epic Trails was amazing to partner with from start to finish. We would welcome the team back anytime,” says Kara Tetley, Destination Marketing Manager of Travel Juneau in Alaska.
Connect with a Growing Audience
The first full season of Epic Trails kicked-off three years ago, and the show already reaches more than 100 million U.S. households, through Outside TV, Fox Sports, and Amazon Prime. Plus, it’s delivered to viewers in 134 countries through National Geographic. The show’s core audience is aged 18 to 44 with 75 percent identifying as male and the other quarter as female.
The reach goes beyond television, as well. The Epic Trails media project draws another 41,000 adventurers who subscribe to The BackpackingTV YouTube channel. And 90,000 followers scroll through the media project’s Instagram and Facebook feeds, boasting 86,000 engagements per month.
“A lot of outdoor brands care about the digital, trackable leg; whereas with television, the reach is broad but tracking behaviors isn’t as easy as tracking online,” says Hanson. “A brand that works with us gets both and reaches a broad demographic. Our program does a great job of reaching a general audience. The show is not extreme content, but it captures people’s attention and funnels them across our channels.”
Collaborate and Integrate
The Epic Trails media project has a proven model for partnering with brands, both integrating them into the storytelling and providing valuable assets that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive. From footwear and packs to water filtration and GPS devices, a range of products naturally tie into the format. Tourism boards also find a great fit with the show.
“We want partnerships that are meaningful and to work together for multiple years,” says Hanson. “Rather than a quick product placement, we are focused on alignment with brands that are going in the same direction that we are and reaching an audience together.”
That direction includes prioritizing environmental sustainability and inclusiveness. Hanson says that Epic Trails is seeking partners who also value diversity and breaking the mold of white-centric stories. “We want to work with local guides and POC. As a white host, I do not want a show about conquering a mountain or landscape—it’s about learning, curiosity, and becoming a well-rounded adventurer,” says Hanson.
One of Hanson’s all-time favorite episodes transports viewers to the 60-mile Kokoda Track, in Papua New Guinea, where the hike goes village-to-village through rugged jungle and remote communities. A handful of the residents Hanson met were one generation removed from family members who’d been the first to experience contact with the outside world. Filming original projects in such off-the-map places leads to the most compelling storytelling and footage—but the legwork isn’t easy.
“Organizing a shoot in a different country is expensive and complicated. One advantage for brands is that they get access to all of the assets of this storytelling in exotic locations—including social media snippets, edited product imagery, and selected clips—there’s a lot of value,” explains Hanson.
Kristen Bonilla, Domestic Public Relations Manager of Visit California, confirms, “The team’s attention to detail have made the entire process smooth. They clearly lay out needs and timelines from the beginning; and perhaps best of all, they package up all of the (amazing!) assets—hi-res photography, b-roll, and short videos—for maximum value. We were able to easily amplify the content and social posts on our own channels, as were our partners.”
After a pandemic pause, the Epic Trails team is gearing up to shoot Season 4 in spring and summer 2021, with both domestic and international destinations. To support the health and safety of host populations and the crew, the entire production team is committed to following COVID-19 regulations. “It would be irresponsible to travel unsafely and interact with others. We are taking a scientific approach,” says Hanson. The production company is working with the Canadian federal government (their origin country) and the Adventure Travel Trade Association, as well as local governments, to develop a secure plan.
Interested in partnering with Epic Trails? Schedule a call to get involved with the upcoming season.