If you spend four months on a trail hiking by yourself, you’re sure to come up with a good idea or two.
Evans Prater, founder of North Carolina-based apparel company Mount Inspiration, hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2014, a trip that lasted from April 1 to Aug. 15 — with just 17 days off — that spanned 2,185.3 miles.
It was on that thru hike that Prater thought of an inspirational quote, one that also has multiple meanings: “Everything You Carry Should Be Light.” Unbeknownst to him at the time, this would serve as the start of the company he’s helmed for the past five years.
Aside from this quote, footwear was a central theme in Prater’s hike, having discovered the capabilities of the Merrell Moab along the way.
Here, Prater shares his story of the hike with FN, which includes falling in love with the outdoor brand’s classic hiking boot franchise.
How is your hike of the Appalachian Trail connected to Mount Inspiration?
“When I got done with the trail, as most people do, I felt like I had accomplished something really great — kind of for the first time of my life. I had done some other cool things but this was the most epic thing I had ever done. And because of that, I had this sense of I can do anything that I set my mind to. It took about a year but I had always just really abhorred working for other people and building other people’s dreams. I decided to, kind of on a whim, teach myself graphic design. Then, I started taking just some some fun quotes, mountain themed quotes and outdoorsy quotes and putting them on stickers. The first one I did was ‘Everything You Carry Should Be Light,’ which is a quote I came up with on the trail — sort of a spiritual, living the present moment, exude light and also literally when you’re backpacking to make sure you have a light load because your feet will thank you at the end of the day. I took that quote, made this little design put it on a sticker and went to a local gift shop and said, ‘If you sell these 10, 20 stickers, here’s my phone number, give me a call.’ Every one of them sold so they ordered more and they said, ‘Have you thought about putting some of these quotes on apparel?’ I was a wilderness therapy guide and waiting tables at the time but before I knew it was three months and I had a nice little side hustle going. I realized I would have to quit at least one of those jobs to pursue this. I also realized I’d have to come up with a name. I was on a long walk in the woods with a friend and we were just throwing around mountain-themed company names and in that conversation Mount Inspiration came to me.”
What were the most challenging aspects of the hike?
“I have really poor arches in my feet so foot pain was the first big thing I had to deal with. I discovered I strained the arch muscle in my left foot. I had to take a week off and spent seven days not taking a single step with my foot iced and elevated, taking prednisone. While I was taking that week off, I started doing research to see if there was anything I could do to actually strengthen my arches rather than just walk with arch supports and I found these insoles called Barefoot Science. I wrote the company, told them I was hiking the trail, asked if they would sponsor me with their with their insoles and they did. It’s an arch strengthening system and it took about seven weeks to really rehabilitate my arches. Once they did that, I could hike 30 miles in a day with pretty minimal foot pain.”
What were your immediate thoughts as soon as you completed the Appalachian Trail? When did what you accomplished hit you?
“As soon as I finished, I kind of thought, ‘Wow, what do I do now? I guess I just go back to the world and get a job?’ A lot of people go through post-trail depression because it’s such an epic experience and every day, even though there’s a lot of pain and suffering physically, you feel the most alive you’ve ever felt in your entire life out there. It really didn’t sink in, what I had done, until I returned to society. For a while, it’s kind of like you’re an astronaut. Every party you go to, every job interview you have, every old friend you see, everyone wants to know about the Appalachian Trail. When you go to a party or you’re out with friends, one friend introduces you to another and that’s all anyone wants to talk about for the next 20 or 30 minutes. It’s kind of like being a rock star for a while.”
Why did you end up choosing the Merrell Moab for the rest of the hike?
“When I first started, I was actually in some Brooks trail runners — and not to harp Brooks, I love Brooks running shoes and I’m wearing some right now, which is why I chose them — but I got about 400 miles in and there were holes in the side of my shoes. With Brooks not being a true outdoor company, they wouldn’t replace their shoes for free. Any true outdoor company is going to replace those shoes for free for thru hikers, all you have to do is say, ‘Hey, I’m hiking the entire Appalachian Trail right now and my shoes are busted. Can you hook it up?’ I saw that quite a few other people were in those Merrell Moabs, and I commented to one of my friends who wearing a Maob that I had been rolling my ankles a good bit — I thought it was just maybe I had weak ankles from running so much — and she was like, ‘These Moabs are the best hiking shoes I’ve ever had.’ I got to an outdoor center and I tried on a pair of Moabs. They felt like they were already broken in as soon as I put them on. Then, I started hiking and I didn’t get any blisters, they were extremely comfortable and I stopped rolling my ankles. I should have replaced them at about 800 miles on them but I contacted Merrell and they were trying to figure out where to ship me a new pair along the trail. Every couple of days I’d be like, ‘Hey, I’m in this place. Can you send them here?’ And they’re like, ‘We actually sent em here,’ and then I’d have to call this post office and get them sent to another post office. Finally, at about 1,100 miles in that first pair, I got my second pair. I think if you can hike 80% of the Appalachian Trail in two pairs of shoes, that’s a damn good shoe. I have recommended that shoe to anyone thru hiking ever since.”
How much planning did you do around your footwear selection going into the hike?
“I didn’t do much planning because I had purchased that pair of Brooks trail runners and having run in Brooks my entire life through cross-country in high school and track in college, I kind of had it in my head that Brooks is the way to go. It was kind of a brand loyalty thing for me. I had never had never worn Merrell before then, I had never actually worn hiking boots. I was much more of a trail running shoe type person.”
Are you now loyal to the Merrell Moab for hikes?
“Oh, yeah, definitely. Once you hike that far in a shoe like that, I don’t think you’ll ever switch.”
Are you still a Brooks loyalist?
“Yes, definitely. For running, it’s 100% Brooks all the way. I won’t wear anything else when I run. I’m wearing some Ghosts right now, I don’t know what the model number is but it is the most recent Brooks Ghost that came out.”
Is this your grail of hikes? Or do you have others on a bucket list?
“Yes, definitely more. I had wanted to do the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016, but I started [Mount Inspiration] in 2015 and I wanted this to be something that I really dedicated my all to and give my life to, so I put the Pacific Crest Trail on hold. We’re five years into this and it’s looking like my goal of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail by year 10 of the company is definitely going to be feasible. So that would be 2025. Also on the list is the Continental Divide trail, the third of America’s big, long trails, and there’s also the Colorado Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail and the Te Araroa in New Zealand. There’s hundreds of long trails all around the world that before I kick it I have on the list to do.