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How Kraig Adams inspired a new genre of travel video

YouTuber Kraig Adams has sparked a new trend in "calm content" with his solo hiking videos, inspiring a wave of similar content on platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

YouTuber Kraig Adams has over 700k subscribers and millions more viewers who tune in for videos of his solo, multi-day hikes around the world. Over the last three years, Kraig and his videos, with titles like “Hiking 60 Miles Alone in Hornstrandir Iceland and “Hiking 100 Miles Alone in Alaska” have become synonymous with a clearly definable category of beautiful, meditative hiking videos.

His videos have a few identifiable themes:

  1. Solo, minimalist travel
  2. Very little talking (if any), typically just a low-fi soundtrack and some ambient sounds
  3. Beautiful hiking locations, well-framed solo hiking shots, and drone footage
  4. They’re long — 25 minutes to over an hour in some cases

These  melancholy, meditative, videos stand apart from other YouTube-based travel content. You know the type: quick cuts, an upbeat electronic track (AWOLNATION - Sail, anyone?), GoPro footage, influencers talking to the camera, and the vlog style formats popularized by folks like Casey Neistat. There’s certainly a place and an audience for this style of video — influencers using this style dominate most of YouTube right now.

However, since Kraig started making these videos around three years ago, there’s been a slow but growing shift. A quick search pulls up hundreds of similar videos with titles like “Hiking in Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine (Inspired by Kraig Adams)” or “Solo Hiking 156km on West Highland Way in Scotland (kraig adams style)” In a few short years, the “Kraig Adams” style has become a clearly defined genre of travel video, all of its own.

The rise of ‘calmer content’

As a general trend, I love that this ‘calmer content’ is a growing, viable alternative for creators. Stories with more intention and less action that focus on the *feeling*, rather than high-intensity visuals. Another good example on another platform is Bryan Millar Walker on TikTok. This Scotland-based creator shares clips that are often more ‘show than tell’, and move at a stroll, rather than a run. His relaxed demeanor and (understandable) Scottish accent don’t hurt either. This 60 second TikTok is one of the best travel *ads* I’ve seen in a long time.

TikTok has actually encouraged a lot of calm content — mainly because of the way in which sounds are re-used/remixed across the platform. Calm soundtracks beget more calm content. In some respects, I’d also put creators like Nikolai Schirmer and Cody Townsend in a similar category. While there is some *spectacular* skiing (and the climbing isn’t exactly relaxing), most of their videos are really about the journey — putting in the work and hours of skinning/climbing for that 30 seconds of bliss. It feels tremendously more personal (and I’m far more invested) than your typical TGR highlight reel. These videos aren’t the only places we’re seeing a resurgence resurgence of this type of content.

Also popular on YouTube is the “low fi beats/study music” subgenre. I’m personally a fan of Studio Ghibli/low-fi jazz mixes, and of course the ultra-classic “lofi hip hop radio”. You can find tons of compilations and live streams across every possible genre, from “Relaxing Zelda Music with Campfire Ambience” to “Tavern Harp Music Fireside Crackling | Medieval Tavern”.

Over the last few years, I’ve also enjoyed several books by Becky Chambers, who writes with a style that has become known as “cozy sci fi”. Low stakes, optimistic, character driven stories that generally buck the prevailing trend of fractured empires, galactic political machinations, alien invasions, or world-ending conflicts.

Looking back on recent trends in social media (and the state of the world), maybe it’s not surprising to see this genre on the upswing. A large audience of people is gravitating towards content (across many different mediums) that is calming and relaxing. I think a lot of people are just tired. The last few years have been pretty rough for folks, and watching a chill hiking video sounds more palatable than another travel influencer couple’s drama or whatever. The style (both in music, video, and written content) strikes a tone that provides a salve to the highlight-reel content that our social feeds have turned into.

A chat with Kraig Adams

I had the chance to connect with Kraig for a short chat on his journey and thoughts about how his work has influenced other creators.

Kyle: How did you get started with video and filmmaking?

Kraig: I’ve been making videos for a long time, first vlogging college life, then filmmaking and wedding filmmaking. I was always sharing the behind the scenes around whatever I was doing. After I moved to New York I started to do a bit more traveling and travel vlogging, and eventually ended up in the mountains, hiking.  I found that hiking alone was a very different type of video that required a different style of documentation and a little more silence. That’s kind of how I landed on what people are calling the “solo silent hiking genre”. I had a lot of success with that, and made a bunch over the last three years.

Kyle: Was this an intentional departure from other types of content, or did it grow organically from the way in which you enjoyed traveling?

Kraig: Partly, I make the kinds of things I want to see. I want advice, I want some inspiration and less forced happiness and forced positivity. It just doesn’t really make sense if you’re out there hiking to fake it and make it not what it is. Hiking alone is kinda boring when you think about it. This format just made sense to me for filming hiking, it’s pretty natural.

Kyle: Why do you think your videos have resonated with people?

Kraig: From my own perspective, I think there are a lot more ambient/low-fi-esque videos these days because of a reaction against the loud, outrageous, clickbaity, crazy videos. Personally, I remembers seeing Primitive Technology years ago, which is just a guy building things in the woods. No talking, no explanations, it’s all show and no tell. (Aside: there has also been a proliferation of this style of ‘primitive building’ videos, but most of the copycats are completely staged). There’s also been more popping up in all genres — people who cook but never speak, people who build houses, all kinds of ‘show but don’t tell”.

Kyle: How do you feel about the proliferation of the style?

Kraig: A lot of what I do is enabling people to follow in my footsteps. A roadmap to do what I have done, faster and more efficiently. I have some incentive to help people because it puts me as a person who has inspired something. Some people put my name in the title of their videos, and kind of ‘pay tribute’, which actually helps for SEO…so there’s also incentive for me to enable that. It’s taken time, with a lot of people making similar videos who didn’t get that many views, but over the years some people have been replicating every place I’ve gone to. There have been a few stand-outs over the last year that have been using the style that have exploded and really making it their own, which has been pretty cool to see.

Kyle: Do you ever feel restricted or boxed in due to your association with this style?

Kraig: It was really exciting the first year. Still pretty exciting the second year.  Definitely got a little burned out last year (2022). This upcoming year I feel like I need to regain control of my YouTube and reset the expectation that it will always be whatever I want — I’m not a *hiker*, I’m just *me* and I want to make videos about what I’m interested in or want to express. I can’t let the views/money/attention dictate what videos I create.

Kyle: What’s next?

Kraig: I have a short list of places I want to go — Japan, Portugal, Glacier…but this year I’m keeping it way more loose than in previous years. I’ve gone iPhone only, production should be much easier, and hiking definitely won’t be the only focus of my channel.

You can follow Kraig on YouTube, TikTok.

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I'm Kyle Frost. Join 65,000 readers enjoying Here & There, my weekly outdoor/travel newsletter with nuance, questions, and complexity.