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Partnerships with hiking show pay dividends for brands

This booming adventure travel series inspires backpackers around the world and offers outdoor industry companies a unique platform for creative collaboration


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 authentic stories of the people, places and cultures surrounding the world’s top travel destinations, explains host Eric Hanson.

The result? An engaging and experiential TV show and digital presence that makes viewers and followers feel like they’re along for the hike. Hanson and the cinematographers adapt readily 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 [crew] was amazing. They worked so hard in every condition, combining filming with carrying heavy equipment and handling less than ideal weather…It was such a pleasure to host them in NZ and I would absolutely welcome them back anytime!” says Hanna Reynolds, PR Executive for Tourism New Zealand, Manaakitanga Aotearoa.

Connecting to Both a TV and Digital Audience

The first full season of Epic Trails kicked-off four years ago, and the show now proudly reaches more than 100 million U.S. households, through Outside TV, Fox Sports, PBS, 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 51,000 adventurers who subscribe to the BackpackingTV YouTube channel. An additional 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 of marketing; whereas with television, the reach is broad but tracking behaviors isn’t as easy as tracking online. A brand that works with us gets both and reaches a broader demographic,” says show producer, Brendan Mark. “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 all of 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 show’s 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 honoring diversity. Heliconia, the production company behind Epic Trails, is a proud partner in Tomorrow’s Air, a global collective to clean up carbon from the atmosphere through permanent storage. A common theme throughout all episodes is celebrating a destination’s local culture. Hanson says that Epic Trails is seeking partners who also value diversity and breaking the mold of white-centric stories. “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 favorite episodes transports viewers to the culturally and geographically rich landscapes of New Zealand’s North Island. Here, Eric met up with local Ngati Porou guide, Monty Manuel, who taught him about the Maori legends born from the landscape. Together they hiked Mt. Hikurangi, a spectacular summit recognized as being the first place in the world to greet the morning sun. While in New Zealand, Eric also hiked the Pouakai Crossing, met up with local surf legend Daisy Day, and learnt about the epic exploits of Fanny Fantham, a pioneering mountaineer breaking gender barriers back in 1887.

After a pause in filming due to the pandemic, the Epic Trails team is back and currently shooting episodes for Season 4. The crew just returned from a film shoot in Uganda, where they learnt about the incredible conservation work being done to protect the local gorilla population. “It feels so good to be filming once again, even with all of the stringent COVID-19 protocols,” reflects Hanson. “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.

James McBeath, Marketing Director for Jackson Kayak, confirms, “Heliconia has, in one shooting season, placed our products in environments we could never have dreamed of. Their constant delivery of diverse photos and videos after each shoot enable us to be a global brand that speaks to inclusivity within our marketplace, giving us a market position like no others.”

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