Sean Gobin was on his third tour in Afghanistan when he embarked on a plan of hiking the Appalachian Trail. The plan was to hike the A.T. between completing his active duty service in the Marine Corps and his enrollment in graduate school at the University of Colorado, and use the hike as a fundraiser for wounded veterans in need of adaptive vehicles.
“But the hike became so much more than that,” Gobin says. “It was a really transformational experience for me personally, and I decided right away that I wanted to help other veterans experience the same thing.”
After completing his thru-hike in 2012, Gobin founded Warrior Hike, a non-profit that sponsors military vets back from active duty who want to tackle a long trail. Gobin sets them up with gear, money and support in hopes they’ll have the same positive experience that he had on the A.T.
“Active duty soldiers are either training for deployment or on deployment. We never have time to decompress or process the experiences we have,” Gobin says. “All this trauma makes its way to the surface when we come back home, which is why you see an epidemic of PTSD. Hiking eight hours a day gives your brain time and space to process all of your experiences. That active thinking and processing helps come to terms with any trauma you faced.”
Gobin and Warrior Hike helped 14 veterans hike the A.T. in 2013, and expanded the program last year to include the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. This year, Warrior Hike will support 30 vets hiking six different long trails across the U.S.
Veterans are able to develop strong bonds with other soldiers during the course of the thru-hike, while also slowly re-socializing back into “normal society,” says Gobin. “Some of these veterans saw the worst of people overseas. To have this exposure to all these wonderful, helpful people who support thru-hikers rekindles a basic respect for humanity.”
During Gobin’s hike with each soldier, he teaches them the lessons he learned the hard way on his own thru-hike.
“I had no experience in long distance hikes, other than forced marches,” Gobin says. “I started the A.T. with a 47 pound pack, which I thought was ultra-light and took off like a bat out of hell. I forced marched myself for three days, then couldn’t get out of the tent.”
Here are five of Gobin’s favorite pieces of gear, in his own words.