Backpacker Magazine – March, 1989

About three months ago, Ms. A  gave me an old copy of Backpacker Magazine:

Ms A noticed the article was about the Triple Crown trails.

Though being a Triple Crowner is not how I identify my outdoor experience in total, I can’t deny the influence walking these three trails has had on my life’s twists and turns.

Take away the almost a year-and-half spent on these trails and my life would look much different.

Looking through the articles on the three trails, one thought continuously went through my mind: The gear may change and evolve, but the core of the journey has not. 

But what I found most interesting about the nearly thirty-year-old magazine issue is what has changed about the outdoors or at least the greater outdoor community.


Table of contents. My photo was crappy. Here’s a scanned image from the archive found on Google Books.

The issue itself has a decided lack of gear focus.

The articles are about outdoor skills and experiences.  Thoughts on technique and places to go.

The magazine is an issue about time spent in the outdoors rather than the tools we use in the outdoors.

The gear review section is a mere few pages. Almost as much page space is spent reviewing BOOKS about the outdoors!

And the gear is truly reviewed. The gear reviews are not a ten point listicle about TOP TENT TENTS WE UNBOXED AND CALLED GOOD AFTER USING IT IN OUR BACKYARD IN 2016 or similar nonsense.  It is gear used, tested and thoughtfully written about from actual field use. A waterproof stuck sack is looked at in depth!

And speaking of pages, there are one-hundred pages of small print. The ads are much less than the actual content.  The information has to be digested. It can’t just be thumbed through while waiting for your prescription to be filled at the pharmacy.

Even the letters to the editor reflect a different environment.  One photographer of the Colorado Plateau was imploring people not to name the canyons specifically. But rather to be a bit more circumspect when divulging information about the wild places.

Sometimes the articles are amusing. The Staying Found, Star Wars Style blurb discusses a $23,000 (or almost $45,000 in 2016 dollars) device that is a “handheld-receiver that can pinpoint your location anywhere on earth”.  Something even an inexpensive $100 mobile device can now do even without a cell phone signal. 🙂

And I was a bit saddened at one article. As recently as 2010, the Weekend Wilderness: Pawnee National Grassland subtitle was most decidedly true: The Pawnee National Grasslands force you to slow down, study the silence and redefine your definition of wilderness.   Now? Well. No need to re-hash those feelings.

Overall the magazine was substantial. It was not programmed in a way where everything is #EPIC or gear focused. It was about getting out and enjoying what nature reveals.

The magazine was written in a way that is perhaps the core of backpacking itself: Contemplative and about the experience. Not how the experience is sold to others or the tools that were used while having the experience. 

I am not trying to say Backpacker, or any magazine for that matter is not as good as today.

We, the outdoor user base, are really what have changed.

Traditional print media is not as popular. And the print media resources have to evolve to survive.  They have to cater to the wider user base.  And more ads at the expense of less written content is part of the way to survive, too.

Many people love gear, reading about gear and collecting equipment. Perhaps less so than learning about the outdoor places where gear may be used.

The #EPIC is more attractive than the merely enjoyable, beautiful and rewarding trips.  Especially, and this is only a gut feeling on my part, because it seems fewer people can go out and create trips of their own for various reasons.

What is nice in today’s world is that there are now a plethora of YouTube channels, websites, forums and other media that offers a range of choices. ( Of course, most of these resources are  #EPIC or listicle gear focused..but that’s another article for another time. 😉 )

For a shameless plug, I must give a shout to TrailGroove as one good choice.  An example of what can be done well with new media that would not be possible even fifteen years ago.

Looking back, this old issue of Backpacker Magazine portrays a different way of reading about and discussing the outdoor experience from now.

Parts of today’s experience is better.  I no longer have to wait a month to read an interesting article or have some thoughtful discussion on the outdoors.

Other parts? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯    Well, I already said my spiel above. 🙂

Both the style in which we widely discuss the outdoors and what we write about the outdoors has changed a fair amount in thirty years. And the medium for discussing the outdoors has apparently changed, too.

But much like the long hikes themselves vs. now, I’d like to think the core of the outdoors will not change no matter how or what is written about it.

We still want to be immersed in the wild places at least for a little while.

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7 years ago

One of the things I really like about TrailGroove is the focus is on places and experiences, there is almost nothing about gear. Interesting to see that Backpacker used to be like that, it is a shame it changed.

Friar Rodney Burnap
Friar Rodney Burnap
3 years ago

Would like to buy
Backpacker magazine for the March of 1989