Forrest McCarthy on Simple Living & Wild Adventures

And The Three Principles of Going Light

Forrest McCarthyExploration inspires Forrest McCarthy. A geographer by education, he seeks big adventures in remote, wild landscapes. At one point he learned to rock climb and even guided extensively for Exum Mountain Guides, all so he could fully explore the Teton Range. Then he decided he wanted to travel through the Colorado River Basin and Alaska, and so learning to packraft became a necessity.

“The sports I do are more of a means of traveling through an area than just doing the activity itself,” McCarthy says. In fact, he explains, a lot of adventure sports came into existence simply so that people could check out remote backcountry areas.

“People wanted to explore a landscape, and so utilized the technology that allowed them to do so,” he says. “But as sports matured, people got into the idea of being able to climb or paddle just for the sake of doing those things. Then they looked for places where they could just do those sports.” For example, many ski mountaineers are more focused on skiing couloirs and peaks. And, over the last decade, he says, more whitewater-worthy packrafts have led to boaters seeking out bigger, more technical rapids.

“There are these incredibly talented paddlers really pushing the limit of what you can do in whitewater,” he says. McCarthy also partakes in “roadside whitewater,” honing his skills to allow for a safer comfort zone in the backcountry. “I like combining these two things, just like I did with alpine climbing and ski mountaineering, It’s thrilling to do a big wilderness trip that includes exciting sections of technical whitewater.”

But, in the end, it all comes down to just a few things—satisfying his undying curiosity for the unknown wilderness and simplifying his life. “Curiosity has been the driving force throughout my life,” he says. “What’s that river like? What’s over that next mountain range? What’s that ecosystem like?” In order to travel to ever wilder, more remote places in a world where untrammeled landscapes have become rare, he’s honed his techniques by adhering to three basic themes. He credits Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Roman Dial with articulating these principles:

  1. It’s not just about having lighter stuff; it’s about traveling simply.
  2. Make sure you are sharing gear and/or that you’re using one item for multiple purposes.
  3. Use the most minimal, lightest technology available.

McCarthy brings only what he absolutely needs on his adventures to stay warm, dry and protected from the elements. He uses his dry suit as raingear and his throw bag, trekking poles or paddle as hardware to put up his UltaMid. He even shares a toothbrush sometimes, though only with his wife, he adds with a laugh. And he uses the most technologically advanced equipment he can find.

“Often I see manufacturers trying to out-design each other,” he explains. “They are trying to sell end users gear with too many bells and whistles because that’s what the magazines tell the end users they need. There’s a certain level of dysfunction in this. How do we educate people that they don’t need the super high-tech suspension systems? It comes back to keeping it simple.”

McCarthy brings this simplicity to every aspect of his life. “From an environmental standpoint, the first way to minimize our impact on the planet is to need less. The second way is to figure out where can we share. Can we ride the bus or a bike or share a lawnmower with a neighbor? The third way is to use the technology that makes things lighter and simpler.”

Forest McCarthy is a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador. He currently works as a river guide and naturalist in Grand Teton National Park during the summer, where he takes people on educational river trips down the Snake River. He spends winters guiding in Antarctica, where he works on geological and glaciological research projects. He’s constantly devising new, creative adventures, that combine packrafting, skiing, and exploring.