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Throwing In The Towel
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Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Throwing In The Towel on 03/15/2006 22:05:34 MST Print View

Woke up this morning to yet another ho-hum peek at BPL during my usual run of regular sites that I visit. It's been more than a month since the last discussion entry about where BPL is headed and since that time only one, relatively unremarkable article other than a gear review has been published. I don't remember the last time I read with interest any article in BPL other than the discussion forum postings.

For some time now I have been seriously debating whether to continue with BPL or not. It was a difficult decision because for two and a half years now I really enjoyed stopping by here daily and learning from interesting articles and communicating with some very interesting and knowledgeable members on the forum. I don't really want to give up the community I've found here.

But I'm paying for this publication and as such expect the goods to be delivered. If my former Backpacking Magazine subscription issues had failed to arrived on the monthly schedule (and even more so if the issues had only contained gear reviews and nothing else) I would have complained and demanded my money back. For some reason members here are expected to wait for months on end while BPL staff members go out and have fun with the gear they are testing or prepare for a trip-of-a-lifetime to the Arctic (all the while getting paid advice on how to prepare for that trip) while giving excuses such as "it takes time to research and write articles" or "we are reevaluating the publication's priorities". Naturally what staff members do in their private time is completely their business, but when they show up here touting their adventures to the people who help pay them to enjoy those adventures and don't do much to earn the money, I wonder what exactly they expect of their customers.

I am a professional writer and illustrator. I do the same thing for a living as the BPL staff members, most probably part-time, do here. If I failed to live up to my reponsibilities to my editors and clients as seems to be happening here I would be out of a job in an instant. I find the excuses that the BPL staff have given here on the forums unprofessional. When you have paying customers (and the "members" here are paying customers, not just participants in some club) you have an obligation to fill what the clients have paid for. It is not the responsibility or concern of the customers if the staff members are having a bad day or can't come up with ideas or are busy with "real life things". BPL asked people to pay for the publication. Therefore they ought to deliver what was promised.

I know I'm being harsh and the community here is quite close-knit and friendly. I like the people here. Yet, if the roles were reversed and a member somehow managed to get a subscription to BPL without paying for it I'm sure the BPL staff would howl bloody murder. I'm also concerned about some kind of Ryan Jordan cult developing with no one stopping to think what their money is going toward. BPL has become like an online catalogue, like Amazon or the iTunes Music Store, with registered members leaving comments to help promote gear, only this catalogue you've got to pay for. Why? What exactly are we paying for? For the privilege of staff members going out and enjoying trying out new gear? Or the privilege of members talking to one another in the forums? You can get all that in any free outdoor discussion group, including talk about ultralight gear and methods,

As others have similarly asked for, BPL needs to get more articles out. Scheduled deadlines need to be established and adhered to. Focus on other things besides gear reviews needs to start showing fruition. If these things cannot be met on a regular, perhaps monthly or bi-monthly basis, then the publication should only be offered as a free online magazine. The British online site Outdoors Magic, as well as the British version of BPL, BackpackingLight UK are both free and yet offer much, if not more (in the case of Outdoors Magic) of what BPL offers. What exactly, recently at least, does BPL offer that warrants members paying for it?

I was hoping to be much more involved with BPL, but since things haven't even begun to improve and almost no real public announcement of what is happening has been posted on the main page, it's time to sign off. My money can be better spent elsewhere. I'll be stopping by daily still until my subscription runs out next month. It's a bittersweet parting.

Edited by butuki on 03/15/2006 22:18:11 MST.

(RavenUL) - F
Re: Throwing In The Towel on 03/15/2006 22:44:23 MST Print View

Not much to say... you covered it very well in my opinion.

All of the reasons I let my membership lapse, and then some.

remember, the forums are free... for now, and as you said yourself "I don't remember the last time I read with interest any article in BPL other than the discussion forum postings."

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Miguel's Towel on 03/16/2006 02:29:37 MST Print View

>> I'm also concerned about some kind of Ryan Jordan cult developing

God help us all.

>> For the privilege of staff members going out and enjoying trying out new gear?

BPL does not reimburse its review staff for their trips. They enjoy that privilege just like you: out of their own pockets. You don't pay for us to play. We figure out how to do that entirely on our own.

Thanks for your feedback, it's greatly appreciated. But "a month" isn't exactly a lot of time for us to punch everything out of our editorial queue and redefine what we publish based on comments from users.

In late Feb, we had a staff retreat in Bozeman and yours and other comments were brought up. The bottom line is that every one of our staff agreed that technical articles, features, and techniques will become a greater priority at BPL. We are now in the process of developing our editorial calendar for the next year, which will emphasize these types of articles relative to reviews.

But it's simply not practical, or feasible, for us to simply "switch off" all of the content currently in our queue (and which has been in our queue well before these comments were posted) in lieu of a wholesale and immediate change in editorial direction.

Bottom line: yes, we're responding to yours, and other readers, suggestions.

Carol is working on the new editorial calendar and the editorial staff is planning their projects for the next year. It will be out soon. It takes some time. It's part of the feedback loop we use to manage BPL as a team. Autocratic businesses can respond immediately to change. I'm not an autocrat. I'd rather invest some time to see what our team can come up with than levy a short deadline to pressure them into sacrificing creativity because some of the subscriber base is screaming for change.

I don't recommend that you renew your subscription if your expectation for change and response to your suggestions is immediate.

Rather, we'd like to invite you to participate in this process, be patient, and help us strive for quality.

And, to warn you, you're not going to see "changes" in the next month, two, or maybe even three, until we dump our current queue and implement the new editorial calendar.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Miguel's Towel on 03/16/2006 08:41:06 MST Print View

Thanks very much Ryan for taking the time to respond. It's not an exaggeration to say the BPL is perhaps one of my favorite places to visit online and so I really don't want to be giving it up. Since the BPL staff has always responded honestly and with their hearts in the right place (both here online and in order transactions) throughout the time that I've been a member, your words above are heartening. And I guess you deserve just as much of a break as the next guy, so I'll lay low and see what comes up. I would be ecstatic if the changes really make BPL a much more exciting publication, and would definitely like to be part of it.

Also, please forgive me for the assumption about BPL staff payment. That was wrong of me.

Edited by butuki on 03/16/2006 08:47:39 MST.

Scott Peterson
(scottalanp) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: Miguel's Towel on 03/16/2006 09:13:59 MST Print View

It is too soon to rehash the BPL credo or site content. I for one am starting to realize that financially, you either need to be selling pretty good volume of something or getting kick-backs from "linked" sites in order to pay the bills in the internet world. I don't think BPL is doing either of those. That is where the $25 for on-line membership is going. Whether that continues to be a worth while investment for folks only time will tell. I think Miguel and myself, and probably others are looking for entertainment. While Ryan is approaching this site with the honorable objective of sharing the best un-biased info. on gear and technique (heavy on the gear) he is not as focused on the fact that it is ALL entertainment. For most new entries into this world...the entertainment is learning the basics and finding the right equipment. But as time goes by, the entertainment is banter or knowledge-gathering on the message board or reading an interesting trip report. This site is a means to an "end" ...and while that "end" may be deciding which pack to ultimately is entertainment. Because none of us have to be here, the only thing I would suggest to the BPL crew is don't lose focus on how to enhance the entertainment at every turn.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: Miguel's Towel on 03/16/2006 14:50:22 MST Print View

Awesome comment, Scott. Not because we are striving to be an entertainment company, but because we are thinking about ways to deliver education and information in an engaging way.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Re: Re: Miguel's Towel on 03/16/2006 21:05:37 MST Print View

Of course this is about entertainment. Almost everyone here is talking about playing outside. This is about toys for grownups, but not in the usual `adult toys' sense.

I'll throw in my own two satang here about BPL subscriptions. From my standpoint, the subscription fee is worth it just on the member price of the cool gear and keeping the discussion boards. Some of the articles are good, some don't interest me. Not everything BPL does needs to meet my approval for me to be okay with paying for a membership.

My only gripe is that the submission process for authors is clunky. Try it. Go to the "information for Authors" link on the right-hand side of the page, and click on the "contact form" link where you are supposed to submit your article -- I end up at a "Help Center / Contact Us" page, and another link ("web-based contact center") that has a clunky little web form. Are people truly expected to submit articles this way?

Seriously, I'd probably be more willing to submit articles than BPL would be publishing them. But the infrastructure that needs to be there to submit an article doesn't seem to be thought through.

Bill Cooper
(bwcooper) - MLife
Re: Throwing In The Towel on 03/17/2006 02:02:06 MST Print View

The heart and soul of Backpacking Light has always been "analysis". Ryan J's analytical bent is what set apart his writings first on the web and later with BPL. That analytical bent is what attracted me and surely others in the first place.

I think most hard core readers of this site yearn for articles like Caffin's on cold weather stoves (part one). Or Dixon's on fabrics. Or Ryan's and Alan's progressive education re "variable girth sleep systems" long ago. And many others. All thought provoking subjects.

I for one loved Carol's half dozen features last year on her trips, with descriptions of what gear worked for her and what didn't **in the context of the hike**. A good writer with an interesting viewpoint offers something more than a simple gear review.

Yet I also agree that lately there's been too much emphasis, at least by article count, on gear. Most gear reviews frankly I'm not interested in, but that's me. Nonetheless I appreciate the reviews' generally critical eye - certainly more than the pablum found on other sites and magazines. It only takes one insightful BPL review in a product category costing hundreds of dollars to more than pay for my $25 yearly subscription.

I'll be honest. I subscribed to BPL when it first went to subscription, then dropped it for a year and half. But I resubscribed last fall. At $25 I think BPL is a bargain, no less because the subscription helps support the entire universe of BPL - the parts you don't like and the gems you do.

As for me, I'm not concerned with deadlines. I'm a patient guy and don't need a constant fix. I recognize creativity is not a straightline function. There will be dead periods punctuated by bursts of energy. I'm willing to underwrite that creative process.

That said, when is Ryan going on his winter SUL, or did I miss that?

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Re: Throwing In The Towel on 03/17/2006 08:56:14 MST Print View

I like it all. It was the "analysis" articles that enticed me to subscribe the first time (I _really_ wanted to read those articles!), but I also appreciate the reviews--real reviews, not rah-rah garbage or a rehash of the manufacturer's blurb. I've saved many times the BPL subscription cost by not buying the wrong equipment in the last year. And the items I've bought, after careful consideration of the reviews and comparisons on BPL, have proven to work as expected. That's priceless. It has also been useful to read the reviews of gear that doesn't interest me, because I've been able to help my family and friends make more informed purchasing decisions.

I'm looking forward to more in-depth articles from BPL. Keep up the good work.

Bryan Redd
(lucylab) - F
Throwing in the towel on 03/17/2006 14:18:15 MST Print View

I too am evaluating the value of continuing my online subscription. For me, there has not been as much useful content the past 6-9 months as there was before. Not sure why that is---perhaps I've come to expect more or perhaps there's actually less.

On the "Ryan cult" thing, it was quite amusing to watch the extraordinary flurry of postings on the planning and frenetic build-up for his winter trip, as if Moses was heading up the mountain. The fact that the trip hasn't occurred is itself an added dimension to the story. All clean fun, for sure. But definitely amusing to watch.

As a small business, BPL will have to work through these issues, as all such companies do. Some succeed, others don't.

One of issues perhaps BPL is struggling with is balancing their time/energy/resources between being an information provider and an innovative equipment designer and seller. At some point, BPL may have to decide which it wants to be, or perhaps create separate entities so each can do what they do best without compromise due to lack of full focus on either.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Better to pick up a trowel... on 03/17/2006 15:03:44 MST Print View

and build some constructive crit, than to throw in the towel.

>>On the "Ryan cult" thing, it was quite amusing to watch the extraordinary flurry of postings on the planning and frenetic build-up for his winter trip, as if Moses was heading up the mountain...

Pretty patronizing stuff.
It was the issues brought up concerning LW Winter travel that people were focused on, not some culty fawning over Dr. Jordan. Those who were interested in changing the way to approach such a trip were well served. Those who didn't share such an interest eventually went elsewhere. Some tangible things such as ways to modify and improve canister stoves for Winter operation were the fruit of that thread. I've reduced some 20 % of my usual
Winter kit for multi-day trips on the basis of some of the ideas and issues that came up. Most of which came from various contributors to the thread, not Ryan Jordan.
Frankly, I think he is fairly modest in terms of his involvement in the forums and editorial content. He offers some original insights and promotes some controversial views. What of it? If it's a cult you want to attack, there are much juicier targets.

Marion Watts Jr
(mdwattsjr) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Throwing In The Towel on 03/18/2006 08:39:22 MST Print View

When you think about it, our subscriptions only cost about 7 cents a day. Even if you only get one tidbit a week that makes your next trip more fun and enjoyable, it only cost you 49 cents. Pretty good deal.

Phil Barton
(flyfast) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma
Re: Throwing In The Towel on 03/18/2006 09:58:15 MST Print View

This is an interesting discussion. The $25 price makes a pretty clear cut cost/benefit decision. Economics would have been a much more interesting study if we had this Internet economy way back when.

Ryan, thanks for your response. I appreciate the challenge of leading a startup enterprise. It will be no easier as you work to maintain vitality and steer the content toward changing interests.

Three aspects of BPL’s value come to mind for me:
1. An engineering approach to outdoor gear. It’s just the way I think. Jordan’s and Alan Dixon’s writing have always interested me.
2. Field experience with gear and its performance in the context of a backpacking trip. Ryan's trip report from Yellowstone and Carol Crooker's field reports from 2005 are excellent examples of this type of information.
3. Content at BPL isn’t solely from the staff. The blend of editorial content with the forums is a great feature of BPL. Where else can we see the creativity of Bill Forsnell or insightful comments by Glen Van Pelski, Dan McHale, Ron Moak and other inventive folks?

Years ago Backpacker magazine represented the most timely and experienced perspective on our sport. Now BM has colorful advertising but puff content. BM and other print media can't compete with the content delivered on BPL. The same trend is happening in other interests that I have. Media on dead trees can’t keep pace with communication on the Internet.

I find helpful info on a number of sites. But here at BPL, I’ve learned about pitching a tarp, using a frameless pack, treating water, and a host of other topics. I continue to take weight off my back while having even more fun outdoors.

Ryan, I’m looking forward to the changes you’ve outlined.

Glenn Roberts
(garkjr) - F

Locale: Southwestern Ohio
Random thought on 03/18/2006 10:26:50 MST Print View

Let's see, BPL subscriptions cost $25 - about half the cost of a fill-up at the gas station, and maybe even less environmental impact! (Sorry, couldn't resist ;>)

Edited by garkjr on 03/18/2006 14:10:48 MST.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Subscriptions on 03/22/2006 07:00:24 MST Print View

I send in $15 a year for another forum (entirely
different topic) just to keep the forum going and
it doesn't have reviews or other features. $25 isn't
bad especially if you get a discount on an item or

Bernard Shaw
( - F

Locale: Upstate New York
Only place for light not heat! on 03/22/2006 07:40:51 MST Print View


BPL is one of the few places where smart, logical, experienced, knowledgeable people use scientific analysis and methodology to advance our knowedge of equipment and the sport. There are so many places where dogma, personal experience, however limited, and just plain manufacturer hype are promoted.

BPL has growing pains, this is simply a part of the stages of growth we all go though. Why have unrealisitic expectations of them when in all fairness, we spend money elsewhere with little or no expectations? Could it be we criticize the most those who we trust and value.

Constructive criticism is great but trash people by impuning negative motives has no place imo.


John S.
(jshann) - F
Geez on 03/22/2006 08:38:56 MST Print View

I say go cry somewheres else. Ryan and crew are doing an outstanding job.

This post was even added to the forum heat listing in the newsletter. What company would do that? Impressive testicular fortitude I say!

End of Rant.

Edited by jshann on 03/22/2006 08:44:11 MST.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Author submissions, David on 03/22/2006 09:35:27 MST Print View

Hi David,
Send author submissions to:

We'll get that address linked to the Info for authors page. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

(RavenUL) - F
Re: Subscriptions on 03/22/2006 10:39:47 MST Print View

$25 is a hell of a lot of money for some people.

People here might feel high enough on their horses to make jokes about how $25 is a tank of gas, but its not a joke when your living paycheck to paycheck.

Its alot of money when $25 is ALL thats left when youve finished paying the bills and need to decide if you buy gas or food this week.

Frivoloties like access to a totally intangible website dont rate very high on the priority ladder...

It rates even lower when the outdoors are your life and every spare penny you have goes into buying many of the things you need to get out more.

So for the 16 year olds who still get an allowance from Mommy and Daddy or the people who have forgotten what its like to struggle to pay the bills, enjoy your $25 gear guide.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Subscriptions on 03/22/2006 11:08:53 MST Print View


I understand where you are coming from. 25-27yrs ago, for ~2yrs we needed to live in an inner city HUD project. More than once food was lacking. I would have a quart of milk every other day (or a pint a day), so that my wife and kids would have something more, until the next payday.

We needed to prioritize. Non-essentials were not possible.

I could only work one low paying 40hr/week job as I was using my Vietnam Era GI Bill benefits to go to school in the evening - needed time for class and studying.

The reason why I am telling you this is 1) so that you know someone out there understands the points that you are trying to make, and 2) if you feel that you would like and use a membership to BPL on-line, and can't afford one, please post back. I'll be happy to contact BPL and see how I can obtain a membership for you - for me, now, at this point in my life, $25 is not an issue, so feel free to take me up on my offer if you would like to.