Travel | Outdoor | Lifestyle
Ranz Navvaro has been an awesome resource to meet new explorers and friends. He suggested I reach out to Luke a few weeks back and I am so happy I did. The content and travel knowledge Luke possesses is incredible, his photography skills are outstanding, and his thoughts about the outdoors and conservation as a whole are thought provoking. His stories and life experiences are so interesting, really makes you want to get out there to explore and create. Enough with what I have to say, take it away Luke!
What do you do for a living, how did you end up in that field?
I am a Commercial Photographer and Video Producer based out of Denver, Colorado. I have a degree in Advertising Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. After college I moved to Hawaii and my first job after college was working as Production Assistant on the television show LOST on ABC. After that, I spent about the next 6 years working more on the film and television side of being a creator. I moved to L.A. in 2005 and lived there for 11 years. During that time I did spend one year in 2007 working as an Adventure Guide leading tours across South America. Eventually, I transitioned out of large scale film projects and began working more and more as a Commercial Photographer. My newest venture is Outdoor Gear Geeks a website dedicated to creating outdoor gear reviews, which is something I’m totally excited about.
When did you first start enjoying the outdoors?
I believe I went on my first camping trip with my parents when I was just 8 or 9 months old. My parents were teachers and I grew up in a location in NJ close to the beach. In the summer my parents would rent out our house and we would take summer adventures together as as family. We camped out way across the country and would end up in Minnesota at my grandparents lake cabin in the woods. The outdoors is the greatest playground anyone could ever have. I’m so glad I fell in love with it at such a young age.
What is your favorite place to explore?
I don’t think it’s even possible to pinpoint one single place on the planet and say it’s my favorite place to explore. I’ve traveled to so many incredible places in the world through work and travel and each one is incredibly unique and special. From the jungles of the Amazon Jungle to the shores of Moraine Lake, I’ve loved them all. Currently though I’ve become really interested in my new home in Colorado. I’ve been her just a little under 3 years and haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of this Rocky Mountain states. There is a never ending amount of activities to do here if you seek them out.
How many of the 50 States have you visited? Favorite?
I’ve never really taken the time to count until just now. I have been to 43 states. The only one’s I’m missing are some of the middle America states. Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas, Alabama, and oddly enough Oregon. I’m headed to Oregon this Fall though for a trip so I’ll bag that one off the list soon. In terms of favorite states again its an incredibly hard question to pin point one. I love the lake country of Minnesota, the incredibly diversity of California, the coastline of Maine, and the insanely unique rock formations of southern Utah. I could say something wonderful and awe inspired from every state I’ve been too. Even the flatter states like Iowa have something special about them. Some of the fondest memories of my youth are from hours spent with the window of the car rolled down watching the corn fields pass by on out family summer road trips.
How many countries, where?
Again, I haven’t really ever counted this but I’d imagine it’s somewhere in the 20’s. I wish it were many more though. I guided tours across South America so I lived in many of those countries. I’ve been to Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama in Central America I walked across Spain once and visited many European countries on that trip. Africa and Asia are two places I haven’t been to yet but look forward to visiting if work or travel presents itself there.
The best hike you ever had?
I have a funny answer to this question. 4 years ago I hiked 880km across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. From a small town in France to Santiago de Compostela, and then onward to Finisterre and the ocean. It was one of the most special experiences of my life and I hold that hike very close to my heart but when I think back at all the hikes I’ve done in my life there is one that stands out more than all the rest.
When I was a kid, my Dad took me on a hut to hut backpacking trip in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. When you are child with 2 other siblings you hardly ever get to have one on one time with your dad, but for whatever reason, this trip was just me, my dad, and my uncle Joe. It was the first time I saw really big mountains, the first time I learned about things like trail names, and thru-hiking. I learned so much about the things that even know as an adult I am still enamored with. Really though, it wasn’t about the mountains, or the adventure. It was about being with my Dad and having shared an experience with just him and I doing something we both enjoyed.
Essential items for summer hikes/ winter hikes?
I mean I could talk gear for days. I own a gear review website called Outdoor Gear Geeks www.outdoorgeargeeks.com dedicated to all these type of topics. I’ll try to briefly unpack this without going to nuts.
For winter exploring, clothing is critical. Avoid cotton clothes as they have little insulating property and when wet essentially such the warmth right out of your body. I always wear a base layer like merino wool shirt, a mid layer (synthetic), and an insulating layer like a down puffy or fleece. I wouldn’t hike in a down puffy, they just aren’t mean for it but they are great for when you stop to take a break etc.. I also like to bring a waterproof shell. Layers keep you able to regulate your body temperature so you don’t sweat. Sweat will kill you in the cold if you aren’t prepared properly. Also of course, sock (wool), hats and gloves.
For summer, you can get away with a lot less. In the Rocky Mountains where I live the weather can change quite quickly, so a waterproof shell and mid weight insulated layer as well. It may sound silly but I usually always have a mini bic lighter and a light source like a headlamp in any bag I go hiking with. Lots of times in the mountains that sun can dip quicker than expected and trails can look much different in the dark than when you came up in the daytime. In additional to that I would always make sure I had a way to purify water. I’ve recently been using the Kataydn BeFree 1liter and love the flow rate.
Obviously these are just time bits but I do consider these essential items for anyone on a day hike or longer hike.
Most comical hike/adventure story?
Lots of silly things get talked about and experienced along the course of a longer distance hikes but one of the particularly memorable ones for me happened when I was hiking with my brother and cousin in Northern Minnesota. If anyone has been to Minnesota in the summer you probably know that the mosquitos up there are atrocious. I remember looking up the trail and seeing my brother swatting at mosquitos ahead of me, then a little bit more as time passed, then he at one point her was just under a full assault by a swarm of mosquitos. It was like watching someone slowly become lunatic. Soon he was running down the trail with his backpack screaming as he went. I was much younger then and I remember my cousin Sal and I rolling with laughter as we witnessed it.
Scariest hiking adventure?
I’ve been pretty fortunate to not have many scary hiking adventures. If it’s scary, it usually means it’s dangerous and I try my very best to avoid those situations in the outdoors. One pretty terrifying encounter for me happened when I was out photographing the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park. I had woken up long before the sun to catch sunrise somewhere special on the South Rim that I had scouted out the day before. Carrying your cameras into the woods in the dark is always something that sort of slightly has me on edge anyway no matter how many times I do it. I had made coffee and carried it out to the rim, set up my camera and all there was to do was wait. Shortly into me waiting I heard a heavy rustling in the bushes not too far off behind me. I had a moment where I thought, “could this be a bear?” I know that black bear sightings in the South Rim are EXTREMELY rare but the sound was just too big. I tried to brave it out as long as possible but when I heard a big stick break near me I grabbed my tripod and sprinted my butt right down the trail all the way down to my car. I missed the sunrise that morning as I sat in my car, as soon as the sun came up an enormous bull elk walked down the path where I had just come from. Not quite a bear but man was it frightening at the time.
Upcoming trips planned?
Summer usually lends itself to many unplanned and planned adventures. I am sort of obsessed currently with Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. There is so much to see and do within a 10 hour drive of Denver. At the end of the summer I’m going to be headed down to Cabo and hope to do some exploring in the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains down there.
Favorite Outdoor Gear/ Lifestyle Companies?
There are so many incredible and innovative companies that I’ve had the opportunity to work with and in the outdoor industry. So many that it would take me days to write about. Some of my favorites include. Vasque Footwear for sure! Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Zpacks, Gossamer Gear, Enlightened Equipment, Dutchware Gear, Outdoor Research, MSR, Sierra Designs, Big Agnes, Sea to Summit, Lowepro Camera Bags. The list goes on and on and on. I really have a love for ultralight backpacking gear. The idea of making things useful, durable and lightweight really intrigues me. I like the idea that the less weight you carry on your back the more enjoyable your backpacking will be.
What does conservation mean to you?
Conservation in my mind starts at home. Making conscious decisions to create less waste, use less plastic and leave less environment impact whenever we can. If am in a household that doesn’t do something as simple as recycle used cans and bottles it just blows my mind. I’m that guy that you will see pulling bottles out of a public trashcan to put in the recycling bin.
Being a member of the Outdoor Industry with a fairly large voice on social media, I try to live by the principals of Leave No Trace. In large groups of campers which often occur in Colorado, I try educate people with less experience in the wilderness that the decision they make on their weekend camping trips have long lasting effects on the environment. It’s been tricky to be an advocate for the outdoors and the places I play and not come off sounding like I’m scolding adults for not practicing good outdoor ethics. It always amazes me how even in a state like Colorado, adults can go camping or backpacking and have no idea about what is right and wrong. Education is a huge part of conservation, even if it makes you look like the Debbie Downer raining on everyone’s parade.
I think we all need to take responsibility as social media influencers who enjoy the outdoors. Specific geotagging of locations can really leave a negative impact on natural areas. I often will post a very general area for instance, Moab if I’m in a spot in Canyonlands. Part of the fun of exploring is finding places on your own anyway! I’m a big advocate of following the rules of our natural areas, stay on established paths, don’t approach wildlife, don’t feed wildlife, and don’t think that because you are an instagrammed that it gives you a pass to break any of these rules. We need to be the ones the are following the rules to set a better example for those that follow us.
What can we do to make sure that our national parks stay pure and clean forever?
I am one of those people who feels a visceral response to the moment I step foot in a National Park. No matter how many times I have been there or how many parks I’ve been to, there is this moment when you flash your yearly pass to the Ranger at the booth and this feeling of pure joy and excitement rushes through you body. These places are so incredible special and unique.
When the government shut down this year and the parks were over overrun with visitors leaving trash and trampling wildlife areas it was quite the eye opener that without the people who protect these places and keep order in them, that it could become pretty messy pretty quick.
I hate to say it but I wish that the National Parks cracked down more on people who violated the rules when enjoying them. I think giving out limited number of permits to popular locations might also limit the amount of wear and tear on some of those areas most frequently visited. All I know is that I hope they they stick around for a long long time and that we all have to do our part to keep them safe.
Luke, the attention to detail and super thorough answers are so much appreciated. Your gear site is also an awesome addition and I hope it can help guide those looking for gear for their next adventure. Thank you again, and I wish the best to you. I hope to stay in touch for years to come!