The Oklahomo Hiker 

The Tulsa-based hiking expert that wants queer people to take a hike...literally

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As autumn ushers itself in and the outdoors feels less hellish, it’s an excellent time to get out for a hike. If you’re interested in hiking for the first time, it might be hard to know where to start. What gear do you need? Which trails are beginner-friendly? What should you do if you need to...you know...poop in nature? And, yes, there’s a right way and a wrong way to shit in the woods.

The Tulsa-based hiker Paul Sweet, aka the Oklahomo Hiker, shares his advice for anyone who is interested in hiking for the first time. He also chronicles his hiking adventures on YouTube and recently established an online community for LGBTQIA+ outdoor enthusiasts to demonstrate that “members of the queer community are out there going on badass adventures just like everyone else.”

Sweet, originally from Joplin, Mo., has been hiking as long as he can remember and fell in love with the outdoors on trips across southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas as a kid with his family. Today, he lives in Tulsa with his husband David and works full-time as a pianist, piano teacher, and composer.

When he has time off, he spends it crisscrossing the state of Oklahoma and surrounding areas looking for beautiful trails to explore, and he loves every moment, whatever it brings.

“There isn’t anything about a hike I don’t like,” Sweet said. “I’m well-versed in the challenges a trek might present - physical pain/exhaustion, unpleasant weather conditions, insect bites, etc. - but once you accept those as part of the experience and learn to mitigate their effect, there is little that can detract from the satisfaction I find out in the wild,” Sweet said.

The experiences do bring some annoyances, however.

“Human impacts on the trail are most frustrating; discarded trash, defaced trees or rock surfaces, illegal development within protected areas... things of that nature,” he said.

Acutely aware of his limited time on the trail, he spends it deliberately.

“What I love most about hiking is the ability to create myself, to choose my own adventure and to see it through and learn and grow in the process. We get this one life and I feel a deep responsibility to curate my own with meaningful experiences - be it in nature, in my art as a pianist, or in connections to others. On a less philosophical level I enjoy the solitude of a solo hike, the challenge of a strenuous journey, and being able to observe the wonder and beauty of the natural world,” Sweet said.

When it comes to hiking destinations, Sweet thinks there is a wide variety of natural beauty in the area, as Oklahoma contains everything from desert, to forest, to mountains.

“We have it all, even if it is a bit of a drive,” Sweet said.

The Ouachita Mountains in southeast Oklahoma are his favorite place to traverse since there are lots of challenging trails and big rewards on scenery in that area. He also finds the Wichita Mountains in the southwest part of the state beautiful and appreciates the arid, desert-like landscapes there.

Sweet decided to begin documenting his outdoor adventures on YouTube to share with his best friends, Moe and Jeff, who live in the northeast region of the US.

“It was my way of letting them come along with me on my hike. Moe and Jeff, as well as my husband David and I, spend a good deal of time watching hiking videos on YouTube and, while there are many to choose from, we noticed there isn’t a lot of queer representation in that space. Since we were already starting to make videos for each other we decided to start channels of our own so that fellow LGBTQIA+ folk could see people like themselves enjoying the outdoors,” Sweet said.

This was the origin of Sweet’s YouTube channel called “Oklahomo Hiker.”

Since part of his mission is to promote queer visibility in hiking, he wanted the name of the channel to reflect that goal. He also remembered being called a homo as a kid and wanted to reclaim the term and “wear it with pride.”

His friends Moe and Jeff have established their YouTube personas as “The Hiker Trash Husbands.”

Sweet’s love of sharing nature with others has continued to develop. In September 2021, he started a Facebook group called “Oklahomo Hikers” and has begun hosting group hikes for queer people in search of a support system and a place to learn more about enjoying the outdoors. “The Oklahomo Hikers group on Facebook is a forum for discussion about the many places we have to explore locally and regionally and for sharing the experiences we are all having outdoors. It’s been exciting to see interest in the group grow and to meet new people who share a passion for outdoor recreation,” he said.

The group hikes are intended to create a deeper sense of community, build friendships, cultivate confidence in outdoor activities, and serve as a way to learn best practices from each other.

“Members of the queer community are all invited to join, regardless of location. It is specifically geared toward folks in Oklahoma and the surrounding states, but there are active members from many parts of the country,” Sweet said.

Subscribe to the Oklahomo Hiker YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/OklahomoHiker) or follow them on Facebook and Instagram for more information.


Sweet’s how-to tips on getting started:

What should beginners know?

I think the best advice is to start small so that you can learn what you like and what your body can handle. Beginners should also have a map and know how to read it so that they don’t get lost while they’re out. Going with an experienced friend or a group can be a great way to help mitigate that risk. The AllTrails app is a great resource for hikers of any experience level. It has maps for most trails, can tell you whether you’re on course or not, and has information about current trail conditions as reported by other users of the app. It’s also a good idea to study up on the weather and dress accordingly so that you don’t get caught unprepared.

What gear is absolutely necessary to get started?

One should obviously have a good pair of shoes - hiking boots or trail runners are ideal, but a pair of sneakers can also serve just as well for a first-timer on an easy trail. Again, having a map and compass and/or a trail app is important. I always suggest bringing a bottle of water and a snack, even for very short hikes; most definitely on longer and more challenging hikes. Bug spray and sunscreen can also come in handy depending on the season. Beyond that, a comfortable shirt and pants or shorts would be all that is needed to serve a beginner well in their first few hikes. My best advice for a beginner is to grab a backpack, throw in some water, some snacks, a basic first aid kit, a map, and maybe some bug spray and sunscreen and get out there.

What gear is nice to have but not absolutely necessary?

As your skill level grows you can upgrade to high-performance fabrics that wick moisture away from your body and regulate temperature, trekking poles for balance and stability, a backpack with a water bladder so you don’t have to pull your pack off every time you want a sip, and a host of other items geared toward experienced hikers. I like a good pair of trail running shoes. They handle most types of terrain well and dry out quickly if you happen to get your feet wet. Wool socks are also great because they keep your feet warm even if they get wet. Dressing in layers is great, especially in synthetic or wool fabrics, because they keep the moisture away from your skin and can be added or subtracted as you heat up or get cool. A basic set might be a form-fitting base layer like a T-shirt, something like a fleece layer for added warmth, a puffy jacket for cooler weather, and a raincoat to keep you dry. A pair of trekking poles are a nice addition, as well, as they help you with balance and stability in changing terrain.

What are the most important safety precautions new hikers should consider?

My best advice here is to plan ahead. Know the weather you’ll be facing, have a map so you don’t get lost, and stay in an area with cell service so you have a way to call for help should you need it.

What is a good distance to start with?

Keep it short when you are getting started. A mile is a good place to start. Taking a short route lets you gauge your skill level and tells you whether you are ready for more in future hikes.

How much water and food are necessary?

This really depends on the season and length/difficulty of trail. A good place to start, though, is to try and drink 16 ounces of water and eat a hundred calories or so every half hour you’re on a hike. I can burn anything from a couple hundred calories on an easy 1-3 mile hike to over five thousand calories on a strenuous 10+ mile hike.

Can hikers bring their dogs on a hike?

This totally depends on the rules of the space you are hiking in. Check the website of the park/area you are planning to hike to see if they allow dogs on their trails. If no information is available online, give them a call to find out for sure.

What should a hiker do if they need to poop on the hike?

I always try to go to the bathroom before I leave and many trailheads have facilities nearby. If you suspect you’ll need to go while on the trail, carry a small hand trowel and bring some toilet paper along. If an on-trail bathroom emergency happens, you can step off the trail at least a hundred feet and a couple hundred feet away from natural water sources, such as ponds and streams, dig a hole eight inches deep, and bury the toilet paper and human waste when you are done.

Where do you recommend new hikers go to get started?

Visiting one of the many great state parks in Oklahoma or surrounding states is a great place to start. There you will often be in close proximity to services, have good cell service, and be on the trail with other hikers in case you find yourself needing assistance. As your experience level grows, designated wilderness areas (not common in Oklahoma, but plentiful in some of the surrounding states) can be a great place to get a more secluded and often more scenic hiking experience.

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