Wisconsin backpacker all about the ‘Outdoors’
By Steve Barrett
Creative Content Writer, Hilltop Packs LLC
Wisconsin is home to more than the Green Bay Packers, frigid winters and cheese. It is also the home of some breathtaking scenery and a resident who not only loves the outdoors but has created his own YouTube channel that showcases his passion for hiking and backpacking.
Jason Kelly’s popular YouTube channel is called “Jason Outdoors,” and it’s not just a catchphrase … it’s a lifestyle.
He was born and raised in Wisconsin and has lived in Green Bay for roughly 30 years. He has been married for 17 years and the couple has two daughters, ages 15 and 12. The family has a dog and two cats.
For the past 24 years, Jason has been working at a machine shop, where he builds drive shafts.
As for his foray into the backpacking world, Jason said his passion for hiking started like so many others.
“I just started getting out there,” he said. “Before I knew I wanted to get vested into the world of backpacking, I just wanted to experience nature. I didn’t just want to go to a designated spot, I wanted someone to drop me off in the woods or at the start of a trail, and I would have to find my car or hike a trail from end to end.
“After a while, I realized, ‘Hey wait, I’m actually backpacking!’” he continued. “And I gradually progressed into real backpacking, not just going out in the woods.”
Interestingly, Jason said backpacking and hiking was admittedly not something he enjoyed at a young age. His first backpacking experience was at the age of 10 while he was enrolled with his local Boy Scouts troop.
“I remember that it wasn’t a great experience,” he said with a chuckle. “We were camping around a lake, in the middle of winter. My feet were frozen, I was miserable. The crazy thing is, I hated every minute of it. Funny how hiking would become so important to me years later.”
His first big hike was in his late 30s, and over the next five years he has enjoyed roughly 40 hikes around the United States covering hundreds of miles. He fondly recalled a recent trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky when he joined 27 backpackers, most of them who have their own YouTube channel.
“We set up a base camp at Hanson’s Point, and we were there for three days,” he said. “Each day we branched off and did different day hikes. It was a 30-mile trek with many steep inclines.”
He recalled that at one point the hikers came across a narrow trail right on the edge of a cliff, about a 200-foot drop straight down, and the path was just four feet wide.
“There was a fallen tree right across the trail, and if someone missed their footing it could have basically turned into a slide right off the edge. It was a little hairy, to say the least. It’s really difficult to be afraid of heights if you decide to pursue hiking as a passion.”
Jason said he has fond memories of different views and sceneries he has encountered.
“Nothing beats Pictured Rocks (in Michigan),” he said. “When you hike there, you’ll come across a nearly 360-degree view, you see so many huge and majestic rocks … it’s just an amazing view.”
He also recalled a memorable hiking trek in Cumberland Island, Georgia, which was quite far from home.
“That one was an almost 20-hour drive one way, and I met up with other YouTubers,” he said. “That was a four-day, three-night hike that covered roughly 40 miles. Great scenery, terrific company. An awesome trip.”
Jason admits that hiking can be more challenging during Wisconsin winters as the temperatures are likely to drop below freezing, so he tries to backpack close to home during those frigid months.
As for his “Jason Outdoors” YouTube channel, the initiative started when he was researching what gear to get after he decided to pursue hiking as a major passion, he started looking at other YouTube videos.
“At some point I thought to myself, ‘I could do gear reviews.’ And that morphed into more videos, especially once I started doing bigger trips and vlogging about them,” he said.
The videos on his channel include a mix of gear reviews and coverage of trips, which help provide knowledge and honest reviews and opinions. He said proper gear is essential for backpackers, regardless of their level of experience.
“I hope my trip videos inspire viewers to get out there and experience the incredible world of backpacking for themselves,” he said. “The channel has opened up so many avenues for me … I am grateful for all of the people I have gotten to meet and the places I have been able to explore.”
Currently, the channel has roughly 1,850 subscribers and there are more than 120 videos that can be viewed. Jason also has a strong presence on Facebook and Instagram.
When he is not spending time with his family, building drive shafts or exploring the outdoors, Jason enjoys deer hunting and participating in competitive shooting; he has earned trophies over the years competing in a local pistol league.
No matter how busy his life gets, however, he will always try his best to find time in the outdoors.
“For me, backpacking is about having opportunities to get away, to find and enjoy peace and quiet, on my own time and leisure,” he said. “When I’m out there, I have the freedom to hike as many or as little miles as I wait, I can choose to sit and do nothing but enjoy nature … it’s my time. I love it.”
Visit Jason Outdoors on Youtube