Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa grew up in rural NH where he forged his love of the outdoors and activities such as fishing, skiing, and his true love, backpacking. His time spent in Boy Scouts helped him hone his outdoor skills as he worked his way to becoming an Eagle Scout and fueled his passion for long distance hiking.
Allgood has clocked over 10,000 miles on long distance trails in the US. In 2014 he and two friends pioneered the first thru-hike of the Chinook Trail, a 330-mile route through the Columbia River Gorge in WA & OR. In 2016 Allgood left his career in the world of forest products and reconnected with rural America by successfully completing his thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada. Since this hike he has taken on a new career path that combines his love of sales and marketing with his love of backpacking and long-distance hiking by joining Six Moon Designs. Shortly after joining, he thru-hiked the Oregon Desert Trail as a way to reconnect with the state he calls home and further familiarize himself with the company’s gear.
After many years on the trail, Allgood is a sought after speaker, educating people about responsible backcountry use with their dog, ultra-light hiking, thru-hikes for working stiffs and a vast variety of hiking related topics. Despite all this, Allgood is the President Emeritus of The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West (ALDHA-West) where he volunteered 7 years of his life helping be the voice of America’s long distance hiker.
We were fortunate to sit down and speak with Allgood, who also happens to be a big fan of our X-Pac® fabrics, about how he got into thru-hiking, some of his experiences on the trail and suggestions as to how someone might want to start long distance hiking. We hope you enjoy!
DP: I understand you’re an Eagle scout. I’m wondering how that experience fueled your passion for thru- hiking or long distance hiking?
WLR: Growing up as a kid in rural Southern New Hampshire in the 80’s and 90’s, our backyard was the outdoors. So I was always really into it. When I started hiking and backpacking, I found that it kind of slowed the world down to where I could really enjoy things at human speed.
When I was about 13-14, I read a book called Dove about a 16 year-old kid who sailed around the world. I think that kind of spurred my idea of wanting to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). I just dreamed about it, read some books about it, and I really wanted to do it. When I was 14, I asked my parents if I could take a year off from school to go hike, which was insane!
DP: What did they say?
WLR: My parents are college educated. They said, we have four kids. You’re the third. Everyone’s going to college, we’re paying for it. That’s our deal. We’re going to get you a college education and then you’re on your own. They said if you can figure out some way to do it between high school and college and still go to college on time, we’ll let you go. But you have to graduate high school and you have to pay for the hike yourself. I worked all summer before my senior year and more or less full time in the evenings during high school to pay for it -and graduated a semester early!
Hiking the AT was a ‘be all end all experience’ for me. Like all teenagers, I had my own issues and my own things – a bit of a mess. The experience was very challenging and really put a good head on my shoulders. I was also surrounded by a group of mostly highly educated, highly motivated adults on the hike that I believe helped me grow up and mature a lot.
DP: How long did it take you?
WLR: I did in five months and three days. So for 1996, that was a pretty quick hike.
DP: That’s amazing! Congratulations! And you went to college after that?
WLR: I summited Mt Katahdin on August 20th, and on August 23rd, I was checking in to my freshman dorm room at Virginia Tech!
DP: So fast forward to today, you’ve clocked in about 10,000 miles long distance. Do you have a favorite hike?
WLR: I get asked that question a lot! I guess I would tell anyone that if they are looking to only do one thru-hike in their life, but can’t go away for a long time, the John Muir Trail would be a great recommendation. It’s one of the crown jewels in the United States of long distance hiking. I mean, just the amount of reward for the effort is astronomically high. So for a shorter thru-hike that one’s my favorites.
In the last five years however, the Oregon Desert Trail is probably one of my new favorite hikes. It’s in one of the most remote parts of the lower 48, so you won’t see anybody else while you’re out there. It’s mostly cross country navigation. And for me, living in Oregon for 20 years, it was a way to really connect to a part of the state I’d never really explored that much before.
DP: You’ve had so much experience preparing for these trips, what do you feel is most important in the preparation process?
WLR: Preparation is so multifaceted – figuring out what you want to do, when you’re going do it, and then determining what you are going to bring. And then from there, a lot of planning goes into what are the conditions going be like. Once I know where I’m going and when, then I really try to find the best balance of maintaining a safe kit.
There are places on my travels where there are no outdoor shops or anyone to help me. So I have to bring a bigger repair kit than I would probably like. I try to keep my pack weight by maintaining a level of safety, And then there’s food planning.
There is also the mental and physical training for a long distance hike. I try to do an hour of cardio each day and do a lot of squats and leg lunges to keep myself in relatively good shape to hike 20 to 30 miles a day.
DP: When were you introduced to X-Pac® fabrics?
WLR: Prior to my joining Six Moon Designs in 2018 , I had seen X-Pac® used in other pack designs before. So when I came here, I was like, dude, we’ve got to check to this fabric out – it’s a bomber ‘be all end all’ durable fabric!
In 2019, I needed to select a pack for an expedition hike and decided to go with one made with X-Pac® because I knew it be more abrasion resistant than other materials. I have been using it ever since! I have a pack made with X-Pac® VX07 Ripstop – a lightweight fabric that is incredibly durable. I carried that pack on a 600 mile hike on the Blue Mountains Trail and the amount of bush whacking we went through was second to none. It’s the kind of terrain that’s really difficult on pack fabrics. I’ve been nothing but impressed with how that pack has worn and how X-Pac® has held up.
DP: What would you say makes X-Pac® so special?
WLR: I think the weight to durability equation, it’s second to none. Another big benefit, for a long distance in particular, it that it doesn’t absorb water, so it doesn’t wet out. With X-Pac®, I don’t have to be as nearly concerned that my pack is going to leak in a driving rainstorm. Nothing will get all wet.
It’s important to think about abrasion resistance when going off trail. There are going be times when you drag your pack across granite, and there are going to be times when you’re just scraping through brush for hours on end. You don’t want to worry about the fabric’s abrasion or puncture resistance. It’s mandatory for keeping your gear safe. I own $600 down quilt I stash in the bottom of that bag. I don’t want anything poking through and putting a hole in that. It’s a matter of survival too.
Lastly, packs made with X-Pac® don’t delaminate like some others. My pack still looks really nice, no matter how much I’m shoving stuff in and out of it. To me, that’s a huge factor.
DP: Can you share a couple of shocker gear failures or thru-hiking experiences?
WLR: Yes! On the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), we were leaving Ghost Ranch and in a box canyon and then we were going to be up on a high plateau. We knew there was going be a lot of snow – and with that snow and setting up the tarp for shelter, we needed two trekking poles. I was hiking along and took a step, tripped and fell snapping one of my trucking poles in half. We knew this next section was the last section until we got to Colorado. This was one of those moments where level of panic rises and I’m like, “what am I going to do?” I don’t want to go back. Luckily there was this young guy hiking with me at the time who offered to go back to Ghost Ranch and see if he could get me one of their loner trekking poles. He ran two miles back to Ghost Ranch and then two miles back to me – a four-mile round trip jog during what became a 20 plus mile day to bring me back a trekking pole. That was a really great moment.
DP: I’m sitting here drawing all these comparisons between thru-hiking and all of the long distance offshore racing that I’ve done where there are many similarities in planning months ahead of time. You know where you’re going to go and there’s a weather window. We come across very similar situations from where we sit in sail making. We try to figure out how to deal with all possible adverse situations. That’s actually how X-Pac® originated – from important situations where failure can happen.
It’s also similar with regards to the camaraderie you build with the team on the boat or on the trail. That’s a big part of it. I’m sure there’s a strong connection with the people you’ve hiked with that you’ll have forever, which is really special.
WLR: Those are some good parallels you draw up. You never know what to expect when you are long distance hiking or offshore racing. I believe thru-hiking is a great equalizer. Regardless of people’s education, political orientation, we are all doing the same thing and exhaling the same air. I’m probably more open and honest and raw with those friends of mine than anyone else in my life.
DP: Sailing is much of the same way in terms of having a diverse group of people in very close quarters for a long period of time. I mean, you might have a boat owner who’s a CEO of a fortune 500 company, and then you could have guys that are boat builders, sail makers, and all kinds of different crew in between. So after a few days out, you really get to know one another and open up. You don’t really have the energy to have any kind of filter. We’re out here sleeping for four hours at a time over four or five days with each other, so there’s no more facade! I’ve formed some amazing friendships as a result.
So, I have one last question, what is some good advice for people who are eager to do a thru-hike, but are feeling intimidated or nervous about it?
WLR: I think the first thing is that people need to realize that a long distance hike or a thru-hike is just a series of long weekend backpacking trips strung together. So if you’re used to going for three to four days, the four to five days is not much different. It’s pretty rare on any long distance trail that you’re going to go more than five days between a re-supply point.
My next suggestion is that before you put your entire life on hold, sell a bunch of stuff and quit your job, go on a shorter long-distance hike to see if this is something that really want to do. The John Muir Trail as mentioned before is a great one for that option.
Also , it’s important to do your research! Be prepared with gear, learn how to set up your tent and how to use your stove before you leave. I recommend picking up and reading Backpacker Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike by Liz Thomas who is a close friend of mine.
And lastly, I would just tell people that thru-hiking is not as scary as you think!
In case you are wondering how Whitney got his Allgood nickname, he says, “Because it’s all good in the hood! I try to be a pretty positive, upbeat person and take it all in stride. I’ve always said, at the end of the day you don’t need much – just in a relatively flat, dry place to sleep, warm food to eat, and clean water. With that you’re better off than 90% of the world. So I mean, when you’re out there, how much can you complain about? So, Allgood stuck and became my name!”
You can find Allgood walking the trails around the U.S. in need of a shower, a cold beer, and a pint of Salt & Straw Ice Cream.
Featured Image: Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa enjoyng the view and upcoming roller coaster of terrain in the NM Bacl Range of the CDT. Photo by Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa.