Transcontinental Walker Owen Martel Explains How He Walked Across 3 Continents

Walker Owen Martel

My name is Owen Martel. I grew up in Hawaii and currently live in a small town in Slovenia. In addition to shorter backpacking trips in various mountain ranges around the world and a whole lot of trail running, I’ve done three transcontinental walks so far – across Europe in 2011, across North America in 2013-2014, and across South America in 2017.

How and why did you get into walking?

I come from a traveling family that had me walking up mountains as early as I can remember. I like the freedom of heading out the door and into the forest, into the hills. I like having a simple objective and purpose to work toward each day. I grew up with stories of people on implausible desperate journeys.

How do you finance your walk?

I don’t drink.

Walker Owen Martel

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

I don’t cook on the road, and tend to eat whatever is handy along the way, usually having a snack every couple of hours or so rather than eating conventional larger meals. On rest days, I tend to eat catastrophic amounts and weird combinations of foods and feel terrible for a few hours as a result. My diet in general is almost certainly wildly unhealthy.

I usually prefer to sleep in my tent when I can, but I also really enjoy meeting people through CouchSurfing, and I still haven’t found a way to weather long stretches of rain or snow without getting a roof over my head to dry out my gear.

Walker Owen Martel

How did you bring your things with you?

For Europe and South America I used a 60-L pack, and for North America I used a modified bike trailer. I definitely prefer carrying a backpack to using a cart, but water weight adds up fast in the desert.

As for the pack, the one I’ve been using (and repeatedly repairing) for the past 10 or 15 years isn’t made any more, and I don´t have much experience with the company´s other designs. This summer’s walk across South America was probably its last hurrah. I’m actually working toward making a new pack myself rather than buying a replacement. It’s a challenge.

Walker Owen Martel

How do you organize things in your bags?

Nothing special – if it’s heavy, keep it close to the body, and if you’ll need it frequently or in a hurry, make sure it’s close at hand. Starting with the North America walk, I’ve been using modular pouches to carry things like snacks and my phone. In South America, I wore my rain jacket continuously and used it like a smock, with all the pockets stuffed to capacity. I also figure, always pack the same way once you get into the swing of things on a journey, or it’s amazing how easily things will get lost or left behind.

Walker Owen Martel

How did your bags and gear hold up?

Everything falls apart eventually. I figure a good pair of boots or shoes should last about 1,500 miles, upwards of 2,000 km, before the soles and uppers are completely done for. I’ve been using the same backpack and sleeping bag for almost half my life now, but they’re certainly not what they used to be.

I’ve found a lot of hiking pants are extremely susceptible to tearing on thorns. Always travel with a sewing kit. I’ve avoided waterproof boots and shoes since my first transcontinental walk, because waterproof membranes in boots and shoes definitely don’t last as long as the boots and shoes themselves, and then it’s a nuisance when they fill up with water. Rain pants start falling apart or tearing almost immediately, but they’re still useful for a good long while even as they deteriorate.

Walker Owen Martel

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

Once I started wearing thin gloves to keep from sunburning my hands, I stuck with it. I also decided I really prefer freestanding tents, and having a thin foam mat to sleep on. On the other hand, it took me a long time to start wearing a hat, and I still don’t like it.

What has been your best adventuring/walking-related purchase below $100?

Possibly one of those three things above – the gloves, or the extra tent poles, or the foam mat. They’re three things I initially thought of as unnecessary luxuries that really did make a difference.

Walker Owen Martel

What is your best advice for people who want to follow your footsteps?

Don’t wait until you’re ready. But taking the question literally – if you actually want to walk the specific routes I did (which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend), get in touch with me and we can talk about whatever details are important to you. I regularly hear from people who say they want to go on long walks. Some do; some don’t. The world is there.

Walker Owen Martel

What will the future bring?

I’d like to keep going with more walks across continents, but until the time feels right to try for a fourth, I am enjoying shorter weekend and vacation adventures in different parts of Europe. I’d love to collaborate with other people who do similar things. I’m curious about boats. I’m also eager to start making stuff to use rather than being content with things bought off the shelf.

Visit Owen Martel on his website and subscribe to his YouTube channel

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