Who is Dixie?
“Hey y’all it’s Dixie here!”
The giddy greeting pitched in a high Alabama drawl has been heard many times by backpackers and those interested in the hobby from far and wide. If you’ve done research on backpacking, there’s a good chance you’ve run into Dixie and are familiar with her frizzled pigtails and flashy braces. Her website and vlogs are a go-to for any and all questions on backcountry backpacking, and it doesn’t take much to stumble upon her creations amidst research on the subject.
For Dixie, or Jessica Mills, the journey began the same way it would for any other thru-hiker: she had a dream. A 2012 Auburn graduate, Dixie gave up her engineering job a few years after college in search of something more profound, something more meaningful, something like the Appalachian Trail. While hiking, she found an affinity for videography, frequently taking videos of herself and others, and then editing these videos and uploading them to YouTube under the channel “Homemade Wanderlust.”
Six years later, Dixie’s channel has garnered over 380,000 subscribers and 62,000,000 views, including a video that has alone yielded 2,400,000 of these views. Following her Appalachian Trail hike, she condensed her vlogs into a comprehensive documentary, about the length of a movie, for fans to watch all at once.
She did this again when she thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail two years later, and then when she thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 2018, and again when she thru-hiked the El Camino de Santiago in 2019, and once more when she hike thru-hiked the Florida and Pinhoti Trails this year. All together, she has put in nearly ten thousand miles of thru-hiking since she began her career as a vlogger.
Not only does this woman have a wildly successful YouTube channel, but she also runs a blog, has a holistic website with detailed gear lists, and has written and published a guidebook for the Appalachian Trail. But how has she done this? And how much does she make?
How Has Dixie Been SO Successful?
Dixie is the glue bonding the thru-hiking community and those seeking to join. Countless novices have credited her to getting them off the couch and onto a trail. Second Chance Hiker, an influencer who documented his PCT weight-loss journey on Instagram, is known for crediting hikers like Dixie Wanderlust to piquing his interest in the outdoors. Her most popular video, Backpacking Basics: Everything You Need To Know To Start Backpacking, can speak to this.
I can speak to it too. Back when I was but a young squire, naïve and callow, I came across Dixie in my research for my proposed Appalachian Trail hike. My questions were rudimentary; they were nothing more than “How do I poop on trail?” or “How do I filter water?” But Dixie had answers to all these, and her videos were fun to watch. Doing so made me want to get out there even more.
I still heed her gear lists. They have served me well, and I plan to heed her Continental Divide Trail list when the time comes. I imagine the process I experienced, needing answers and then getting them in a fun and jubilating way, and then wanting to hop on a trail to thru-hike even more, is not one that is limited to myself.
This void Dixie has filled is not the only reason for her success. It shouldn’t be ignored that she stepped into the world of YouTube at a good time. As YouTube success has become more dependent on advertisement algorithms, so has the opportunity for careers in the industry. In 2015, there were few thru-hike vloggers, and those that did exist were hardly drawing a dollar. Today, there is a craze of documentation junkies, many middle-aged men, I find, who will do anything to get views on YouTube, including halting hikers in their tracks and coercing them into undesired interviews (I will be writing an article on this).
But the void has been filled. Dixie is the queen of thru-hiking vlogs, and though some have come close, including “Darwin onthetrail,” it should be understood that unless Dixie quits vlogging, it is no use trying to compete.
Dixie knows what she’s doing. There are patterns to successful YouTubers, most commonly found in the form of catchy video titles, animated thumbnails, and organized pages where the most appealing videos are the ones first shown. Dixie observes all these tactics. She also does a superb job of working all perspectives on hiking, not just her own.
In one video, she takes on the perspective of a naysayer in Reasons Not To Go Backpacking. In a recent video, she tries hiking in the fashion of Grandma Gatewood, the first female to solo hike the Appalachian Trail in 1955. My guess is Dixie sweeps the pool, sees what hasn’t been created yet, and capitalizes on what’s missing, a phenomenal formula for creating interesting and original content.
With a person as herself, it is likely she’s been swarmed with offers to test gear and give reviews, something she claims to not do. This is yet another aspect of Dixie that makes her so great; her gear reviews are free from lucrative bias. She is a professional in her work, she is passionate, and she is extremely likable (news flash: you can’t succeed on YouTube if you’re a jackass).
Some may try to pass off Dixie’s success as one from glamour, claiming she has what she has because she is charming, attractive, and young, but I say most of this is rooted in jealousy, especially from those abrasive, middle-aged men who can’t find the same success no matter how hard they try.
Dixie affirms her looks do have an influence in Clay Bonnyman Evans’ Trek article “Is YouTube Good for Long-Distance Trails?” She said, “People who get offended by that, or try to pretend they are not aware of that, are playing dumb.” All this would be to little use, however, if she didn’t create entertaining, quality content. As with most YouTubers, this is the main reason for her success.
How Has Dixie Affected the Community?
For many years, books were the only outlet for the vicarious. YouTube changed all of this. With the emergence of a new outlet to live vicariously through someone as they take on such a demanding challenge as a thru-hike, comes an increase in those who attempt. This has been seen before in the community. In 1998, Bill Bryson published his book Walk in the Woods. Even today, it remains the most popular book written about a thru-hike attempt. Subsequently, in the 2000s, more people thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail than in the entire twentieth century.
A similar pattern can be seen with Dixie. In 2017, the year she took on the Pacific Crest Trail, 548 people registered completed thru-hikes. The following year, in 2018, the number more than doubled, with 1,186 hikers registering their thru-hikes.
To my surprise, this correlation can not be seen in Appalachian Trail statistics, but the amount of hikers who have attempted the Appalachian Trail in the past ten years has increased exponentially. I imagine these numbers would have continued to rise on the PCT, but the mandates brought on by the pandemic hindered this growth. This year, I was one of only about four hundred to register a thru-hike of the PCT.
So How Much Does Dixie Make?
It’s hard to say. I tried using a YouTube income estimator, but even this required information that is not to my access. Not even views per day is easy to estimate, another variable the calculator requests. Another huge factor is audience engagement, a statistic private to Dixie, and on top of all this, YouTube takes their cut of advertisement revenue, so it’s difficult to get a feel. Dixie also accepts money from patrons, or donors who in return reap a small reward or recognition.
Let’s just say this: Dixie probably doesn’t make as much as you think. YouTube is notorious for underpaying its content creators, and even with astounding statistics, the calculator still suggested an income of under fifty thousand per year.
It is possible that Dixie still works a regular job, though not definite. I referred to her LinkedIn profile to determine this, but it’s disappointingly ambiguous. The renowned backpacker has a lengthy description of her work history, none of it mentioning her work with Homemade Wanderlust, though her tenure with the business can be seen in her work-history timeline. She speaks of a job in a drilling industry as if it is a position she has recently taken on. What’s unclear is whether or not this description is referring to a new job or the one she worked before leaving for the Appalachian Trail, one that was also with a drilling company.
Some may see it as a libel, but in 2018 a thread on the PCT’s Reddit section questioned Dixie’s ethics in her decision to hoist a confederate flag pin on her shirt, which can be seen in several of her videos. Dixie responded to the thread, as she likely felt she had to, attempting to justify her mistake. She claimed that her friend gave her the pin, which was in duo, and he kept the other one. As they separated, the pin served as a reminder of their friendship.
When someone made a comment about it in person, she decided it was finally time to ditch the pin. Responses to the outing were mixed in tone, some accepting her apology and poising the Reddit blogger as an attention seeker, others condemning her for her lapse in judgement. Within the thread were also comments about her potential unlawful use of drones to film her videos, but it’s hard to determine whether this is a legitimate claim or rather some frivolous attack rooted in jealousy.
Where Will Dixie Go From Here?
Unless Dixie has a complete change of heart, it is unlikely she’s going anywhere, except to a new trail, of course. This woman has created a beautiful entity not only for herself but for hundreds of thousands of people. She is a heroine of hiking. A modern-day Grandma Gatewood, if you will. She will continue to hike trails, and she will continue to vlog.
In a world where production companies, streaming services, Hollywood, and cable television rule the world of video entertainment, it is reassuring to see a videographer achieve so much with only her willpower and dedication. She will continue to draw people into the hiking community, and for her and the community as one, not even the sky is the limit.
Thank you for reading! Please note that this article was written with little familiarity to Dixie’s actual video content. I’m not apt to watch YouTube videos on hiking. It’s just not my thing. As someone who regularly hikes, I’d rather get out there and see it first-hand without any foreknowledge or expectation derived from videos. To me, hiking vlogs are trite and uninteresting; they don’t provide a worthy perception of the magnificence of immersing in nature. If I do find myself watching videos on thru-hiking, however, I find myself watching Dixie.
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Dixie’s Effect on the Community