Journey Anywhere with Adventure Archives [Interview]

Backpackers.com — The wonder of the outdoors coupled with the simple and true connection of friends is what draws so many of us to backpacking. Many experience this, but only a few are able to capture the truth of it in video. That’s what Adventure Archives has done, and continues to do, inspiring vicarious outdoor living.

If you haven’t seen the videos this team produces, you’re missing out. Adventure Archives is a group of four men — Andrew Lin, Bryan Lin, Robby Huang, and Thomas Sinard. Since 2014 these guys have created in-depth videos of backpacking excursions that show the wonder and fun of the backcountry experience. Their main platform is YouTube, where they have over 10,000 subscribers.

On the channel you’ll find full-length “Episodes,” the bread and butter of their operation — 40-70 minute videos that follow the group on a 2-3 day backpacking trip. These take you from the car ride to the trailhead, all the way into the woods, around their campfire, and back out again. You’ll also find shorter videos of small day-hikes and survivalist skills, like building a fire with kindling.

Each Episode has narration, custom music, gorgeous footage, diverse and varied knowledge of plant and animal life, and, of course, laughs. Andrew and Bryan are brothers, Robby is their cousin, and Thomas was the Lin’s neighbor growing up in Ohio. The videos are powerful because they showcase so many different aspects of backpacking. They capture the long drive out, the difficult, sometimes inclement weather, the wonder of animals in nature. Andrew has a skill in bushcraft and plant identification, so you’ll learn a lot about plants you can eat, what to avoid, and how to explore the wild with open eyes.

And, more than anything, these guys talk about stuff. You get to see them discuss real issues, like what self reliance is, or how diversity works in the outdoor world. Each is a man with opinions and perspective, and we get to see them have an intelligent conversation deep in nature, under the stars, or around a campfire. This, of course, is sandwiched next to poop jokes and shenanigans — what’s a backpacking trip without those things?

We spoke with Andrew and Thomas from Adventure Archives to get a fuller picture of the team’s process and purpose. See videos and the full length feature interview below.

Interview with Adventure Archives

Origins

As origins story go, the formation of Adventure Archives starts early. As we said above, family and location connected these four guys. Andrew says, “We always liked nature as kids. Me and Thomas would always go out to the park when we were young.”

But the actual idea for the Archives started on a family vacation in 2006, with Andrew, Bryan, and Robby. Andrew explains:

“We went up to Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, took a bunch of cheesy pictures. At the time Robby was learning film in college. He created this glorified slideshow of all the pictures that were set to music.

In 2007 we went on our first actual camping trip, in 2008 we went on our first real backpacking trip. We would take all our pictures and videos and edit them into these musical slideshows. Eventually we [just thought] we should try producing a comprehensive film, or TV show. There were a lot of outdoor shows on at the time, but they were all survival oriented. We wanted to watch something that was more calming, relaxing.

We did two attempts to start this off. First at a State Park called Hocking Hills in Ohio. As beautiful as it was, it didn’t work for an interesting video. Then we tried again at Land Between the Lakes … in Kentuky. We were backpacking, but were self conscious of how much we had to film, and didn’t get much footage.

Then after that we did our first episode in Dolly Sods. We realized we needed to take the time to set up shots, not rush through anything, not worry about the progress we were making.”

Trial and error are good notes here — to do something well, you may fail initially. And maybe again. The crew has continually stepped up the editing, quality of footage, and narration of their videos over time.

The Balance of Time

Doing this takes time, and we were curious how each member of the Archives balanced their professional lives with this endeavor. Andrew is currently a graduate student in environmental sociology — “climate change in Bangladesh and how it affects people on a social level,” he says, to be specific. Bryan works as an Integration Specialist; Robby is a freelance videographer and runs a zumba studio; and Thomas works at CBS in television ratings.

In short, they’re busy folks. So how do they mix their professional lives with Adventure Archives? And how much time does doing this actually take? Andrew says,

“Earlier on it was about me putting my schoolwork lower on the list of priorities, but each episode is only a 2-3 night trip, so that doesn’t take that long … A lot of the editing will happen over the course of one weekend … Me and Robby will do a lot of editing in one go. Usually a weekend or two where we work really hard at it.”

Thomas cuts in,

“Andrew is kind of understating it, they literally edit for 24 hours straight. They’ll edit together and then one of them will take a four hour nap, then switch off … occasionally go to Chipotle and get some food.”

To be clear, when not on a trail together, these guys are not often in the same physical place. Andrew and Bryan are in Columbus, Ohio, Robby is in Indianapolis, and Thomas is in Los Angeles. Andrew and Robby do most of the editing, but often remotely. Andrew says,

“Robby and I have a Google Drive where we share the process … sometimes we will meet up and do the work in person.”

The sophistication of the videos is not indicative of how spread out all these guys are, and shows how much work they really put into it. Not to mention the custom music created for each episode. Robby does 85-90% of this — the other 10-15% is Bryan, which you can hear in the acoustic guitar tracks.

Technical Growth

As we’ve said, the crew started this YouTube channel in 2014. Over time they’ve upgraded equipment — from cameras to tents and backpacks — and increased the quality of each episode. Diving right into the technical growth, Andrew says,

“When we first started we used the Canon Rebel T3i DSLR camera. Robby is the one who was always into film. We were super amazed by how it looked. Then, eventually, a few years later, these more amazing cameras came out. We switched to cameras that can shoot in 4K, they look way sharper.

One of the big troubles we had was trying to figure out audio. We had bought a shotgun mic to attach to the camera, but that wasn’t enough. By the 6th episode we decided to use Lavalier microphones. That’s one area where we’ve improved a lot. A lot has to do with the cameras and lenses that we’ve upgraded to over the years.”

Thomas chimes in,

“We’ve also got a nice portable steady cam too.”

The main cameras and lenses they currently use are Panasonic GH4, which shoots in 4K, with the standard lens. They use a Sony a7S II as well — it films really well in low light, and can “capture stars real time,” Andrew says. For that camera they have a wide-angle lens and a 50mm lens, which provides a lot of depth and field.

Thomas, who produces short individual episodes because he’s far away from the others, is about to purchase a new camera to keep up with the other guys. “I’m going to get a Sony a6000,” he says. “That also shoots in 4K.”

Financing Adventure Archives

All of these upgrades lead to one of the bigger questions of all this — how do the finances work? For people with full-time jobs or school, running a YouTube channel is a ton of work. Thomas actually runs a lot of the financial aspects of Adventure Archives, and they’ve got more funding in the works than you might have guessed. Thomas says,

“When you hit a certain number of views and subscribers you can become a YouTube Partner. Then you can monetize your videos. That means you can put ads in front of your video, and collect money. For every 1,000 views on some videos you take back a portion of that money, as does Google. From that we don’t take back a lot … but filming a small episode [like] I do, in a couple weeks it starts to pay for gas on that trip.

Basically we’re trying to get to the point where it’s self-funding. We’ve been able to make enough money from our YouTube views to pay for some new lenses and a few flight tickets. But we also have a Patreon page, which is like Kickstarter. People that like our videos and want to support us, we’ll give them a shoutout, or if they donate more we’ll give them a postcard, or early access to videos.

We earn money every time we release one of those big videos. [It’s] not a monthly contribution … for every video we release, people donate money to us. That has been incredibly helpful, we are so appreciative of those people that donate money to us. That’s where we get a big sum of money that helps us pay for the gear we use and lost time when Robby and Andrew spend literally hundreds of hours editing.

Andrew chimes in,

“I still feel like we’re not making a net positive.”

Thomas:

“But we’re definitely not bleeding money.”

Andrew says that still, a lot of the equipment has been funded by work income or out of his school stipend — out of pocket, basically.

Thomas says at the end of our discussion on the money aspect of Adventure Archives,

“We’re not doing this for the money. We’re doing it because it’s something we love to do.”

You can help support Adventure Archives via their Patreon page, which offers one-time donations, or donations per episode released. They include tons of prizes for different tiers of support, and doing so will only increase the frequency and quality of their content.

Find Your Park Project

As we’ve stated, the YouTube channel as 10,000 subscribers. That’s a lot. Recently, Andrew got to participate in a National Park Foundation project in conjunction with Find Your Park. This year is the 100-year anniversary of the National Parks, and each year the Foundation selects individuals in the outdoor community to work with them. Andrew has produced two Adventure Archives episodes about his experience: National Park Foundation’s 2015 Find Your Park Expedition – Part 1 and Part 2 — What Makes our Parks Unique – Mesa Verde National Park.

Andrew says of the application and experience,

“Every year the National Park Foundation holds an expedition … This year the focus was on millennials and people of diverse backgrounds. One of the four of us found the link to the contest on the website. They were looking for people who had social media influence … somehow we got it.

I’m hoping that we can do more with the Foundation in the future.

Plans for the Future

Despite their busy lives, Adventure Archives projects are in full force. We asked them about future projects, and with a little hesitation and some conferment, they let us in on what’s next:

“We’re going to Yellowstone!” Thomas says.

Andrew chimes in,

“We did just film another full length episode in a National Forest in Ohio … I think it’s going to be a good one. Once I get more free time we’re going to focus a lot more on the channel and go to places like Yellowstone, [which] a lot of people are looking for on YouTube. Yellowstone, you think of the bison and the geysers, but backpacking in Yellowstone is something people don’t talk about as much.”

Thomas continues,

“I’m trying to get Andrew to come out here (Los Angeles) for a couple days. We want to try and hike Mt. Whitney. I don’t know if we’ll end up filming that. The way they film … you end up doing the hike twice because you set up the camera, then you run back, then you run to the camera, then you pick it up. You’re walking back and forth three times. Whitney … you can’t do that as much.

I have a story about this. When I went and filmed with them during Yosemite, I just realized how crazy they were. We’d be walking, Robby would shout ‘Stop!’ and then he would take 40 seconds to run in front of us, set up the tripod, another 30 seconds to walk back, he’d say “OK, go!”

We’d have all these hikers pass us and wonder what the hell we’re doing. It was great the first two or three times, but when you do it around 50-60 times, it gets really kind of annoying if you’re not used to it. Definitely something if you’ve never done before, you have to learn about it. Andrew and Robby and Bryan are crazy about going the extra mile to get a great shot.

It shows. The level of shots they get border on nature documentary. They are backpacking into places that people don’t often take high-quality cameras into, then taking the time to get clear, beautiful moments out in nature. It’s priceless footage. Andrew says,

“Yeah, and actually that’s one of the philosophies we went into with this whole thing. There’s so much talk about traveling to National Parks and going to these scenic overlooks and sites that you hear about in tour books … but you don’t have to go to all these famous areas to have a really great time in the wilderness. A lot of the beauty of the time out in the wild is just being immersed in it during a backpacking trip. It doesn’t have to be a big name park, as long as you’re sleeping outside.”

Adventure Archives are the real deal — and they have a ton of content on their channel. If you haven’t checked them out, watch the videos we selected in this article, or go to their channel. Donate if you can — supporting a passionate project on this level is worth it.

All videos and images courtesy Adventure Archives

dbzweier bio pic 2018

Daniel Zweier

Daniel Zweier is Editor-in-Chief of Backpackers.com. Beyond orchestrating the daily flow of Backpackers.com, Daniel writes surrealistic short fiction and novels, adventures into the backcountry and abroad, surfs, reads, drinks tea, and obsesses over gear. A lot of gear. Visit his website if you want to learn more about his authorial pursuits.