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Death of backpacking?
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Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Death of backpacking? on 07/22/2014 20:29:34 MDT Print View

Interesting read. Are done in the day activities the "death" of backpacking? Will there be a resurgence? info about cuben fiber. ;)

EDIT: Sorry, I posted the wrong link!!! Corrected...

Edited by PaulMags on 07/22/2014 21:30:31 MDT.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Death of backpacking? on 07/22/2014 20:35:45 MDT Print View

I think this was discussed last year when the article came out. People don't want to make the time for backpacking. Bad for their short attention spans.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Not really from what I've seen (US) on 07/22/2014 20:52:44 MDT Print View

I seem to see more young people backpacking (mostly in groups and mostly heavier gear - big box = cheaper or hand me down).

Mostly on more popular trails, which I've been on since the fires/droughts, .... but spotted someone hiking up, by handlamp midnight Saturday, from the burned Panchuelta in the Pecos, thinking a young determined solo backpacker.

Also there's all those young thru hikers depriving the American hinterland stores of chips and candy...

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Death of backpacking? on 07/22/2014 21:23:12 MDT Print View

Thru-hiking is hardly indicative of an upswing in backpacking.

To cut to the chase, how many thru-hikers go on "just" weekend backpacking trips after their multi-month or even multi-week jaunts?

Thru-hiking is more live traveling or perhaps a pilgrimage vs regular backpacking.

For many thru-hikers, a few days in the woods does not give the same pleasure as this epic, multi-month endeavor.

Go to many hiker gatherings and the call is the long trail and not the backpacking.

As for everyone is about done in day activities now. Otherwise REI would sell a lot more backpacks vs day packs, mtn bikes, trail running stuff, etc. :)

Finally..this article was discussed last year? Someone must have a time machine. The article came out yesterday! :D

Edited by PaulMags on 07/22/2014 21:24:00 MDT.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Death of backpacking? on 07/22/2014 21:27:46 MDT Print View

Check the date at the top of the print article March 18, 2013

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
wrong link on 07/22/2014 21:29:59 MDT Print View

My bad Ken, I meant to post this link:

See, I may be a sarcstic pr***, but will admit when I made an error. ;)

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Death of backpacking? on 07/22/2014 21:34:32 MDT Print View

Ha. That does make a difference. Thanks Paul. I see plenty of young backpackers on the Lost Coast and the Trinity Alps. but pretty outdoorsy here overall.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Death of Backpacking: maybe not on 07/22/2014 22:04:28 MDT Print View

I'll believe backpacking is dying when permits are no longer limited for popular trips.

Some of the statistics cited in the article are misleading at best:

"a well-known trend" in outdoor gear sales, wherein day packs take an increasing share of the pack market while technical overnight packs are a declining percentage of total sales. "The same is true for heavy, extended-trip boots versus light boots,"

You mean, people finally realized that overbuilt 8 pound backpacks aren't needed for an overnight trip, and that trail runners work as well as leather waffle stompers? Hardly an indication that backpacking is dying. Sounds like retailers griping about slimmer profit margins.

The rest is anecdotes and curmudgeons grumbling.

Speaking of anecdotes ... I still see lots of young people in the backcountry, mostly enjoying themselves.

But to play devils advocate for a minute:

Let's say backpacking is dying. It's not the end of the world.

At least in USA, we got along pretty good before backpacking became hugely popular in the late 1960s. We created a bunch of national parks and wilderness areas before there were masses to backpack in them.

And deliberately depriving yourself in order to travel in the wilderness for a few days or months is still an unimaginable luxury for a couple billion people.

-- Rex

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Death overrated on 07/22/2014 22:22:42 MDT Print View

Seen plenty of younger backpackers on regular loops (2-4 day itineraries) this year. More of all ages mountain biking for the day on multiple use trails. More road bike pack types too.

Ed: wc

Edited by hknewman on 07/22/2014 22:24:43 MDT.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Death of backpacking? on 07/22/2014 23:16:25 MDT Print View

Rex and HK, your anecdotal mumblings about anecdotal data appears to be wrong :) :

The link embedded in the article is no longer working, but some internet sleuthing brought up this:

Which showed a 200k+ decline in backcountry use in 2013 vs 2000. Compare it to 1979 and the difference is nearly 700k+ more. Feel free to research more. OVERALL overnight use (car camping, lodging such as huts) has declined by 2 million since 1979 vs 2013. Keep in mind the country's population in 1979 was 225 million now it is 316 million.


This links shows a slight decrease actually among youth 6-17 from 2006 to 2012.
And a decrease from from 2009 - 2012 for 19-24 yo

Don't know for sure, but I suspect 40 and under would show a similar trend.

Which was the point I believe.

I agree the trailrunner and similar comments were stupid but I think the overall idea is fairly sound. "Done in a day" is more popular.

"And deliberately depriving yourself in order to travel in the wilderness for a few days or months is still an unimaginable luxury for a couple billion people."

That's a philosophical discussion, and while an interesting one, is veering off the topic at hand. We (my family) couldn't afford to go off for a few days backpacking growing up. Your fact, and my fact, has nothing to do with the article, however.

Edited by PaulMags on 07/22/2014 23:42:47 MDT.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Lies, damn lies, and ... on 07/23/2014 00:53:25 MDT Print View


You found some good statistics, thanks. The original HCN article was lots of anecdotes and poorly chosen statistics. The author should have done at least as much work as you did, and a little more.

Looking at all the years in the Outdoor Foundation report, I see a lot of year-over-year variation. Hard to see a long-term trend in the 18-24 year olds, but the 6+ age group is trending upwards:
18 to 24 year old backpackers

6 plus year old backpackers

I've adjusted the NPS numbers for US population:
NPS backcountry visits per million US residents

Here we can see dramatic, unexplained changes in the 1980s which raise some methodology questions, but it looks like National Park backcountry camping is down significantly since 1979, with a slow decline since the 1990s.

The NPS numbers tell slightly different story for the same years as the Outdoor Foundation report, so who knows.

But these numbers don't tell us why young people might be backpacking less (depending on which numbers you think are relevant).

The Outdoor Foundation asked:
What Keeps You ...

Here, the picture gets more interesting, as the reasons change dramatically from pre-teen to young adult.

Bottom line: I hardly see the DEATH OF BACKPACKING in any of these numbers. Maybe a slow decline, hard to say.

And I'm still waiting for the death of permit limits for popular destinations. That would be real news.

-- Rex

PS - Philosophizing and topic drift seem to be long-standing BPL traditions which I will continue to tolerate and uphold :-)

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Death of backpacking on 07/23/2014 07:36:13 MDT Print View

The title reeks of yellow journalism, but "The gradual decline of overnight activities to be replaced by done in a day activities" is a hell of a long title....

As for why? Lives,are (perceived) to busier. People have a need to be connected for work or cultural expectations. A day trip is more conducive to the lifestyle vs overnight. And others....

Interesting fact I found previously :

“Whether it’s with a smartphone, a tablet or home computer, a recent survey by Opinion Matters on behalf of GFI Software found that more than four out of five employees of small-or medium-size businesses checked work email on weekends. Nearly six out of 10 kept up on vacation. “

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
2d and 3d helpings of data and gravy .... on 07/23/2014 10:10:10 MDT Print View

The numbers of backpackers are going up but think what Paul is saying is in relation to the growing population of the USA, they still may be going down. From a similar conversation using the 2014 outdoor foundation report at (note the hyperlinks do not transfer from DS post on this topic)

" ... Studies conducted by the Outdoor Foundation, which promotes outdoor recreation for the industry, have also shown year-over-year declines in camping. A 2013 report sponsored by the foundation and the Coleman Co. cited "a lack of time due to work and family commitments" as the No. 1 reason for the reduction. Olson agreed, saying "the two-week vacation has gone by the wayside."

Download pdf for tons of additional stats on all manner of activities.

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 3 Year Change
Backpacking Overnight -More Than 1/4 Mile From Vehicle/Home (thousands)
7,067 6,637 7,867 7,647 8,349 7,095 8,771 9,069 4.0%

Hiking (Day)
29,863 29,965 32,511 32,572 32,496 34,491 34,545 34,378 1.9%

Camping (Within 1/4 Mile of Vehicle/Home)
35,618 31,375 33,686 34,338 30,996 32,925 29,982 29,269 -1.7%

Climbing (Traditional/Ice/Mountaineering)
1,586 2,062 2,288 1,835 2,198 1,609 2,189 2,319 5.1%

Fishing (Freshwater/Other)
43,100 43,859 40,331 40,961 38,860 38,868 39,135 37,796 -0.9%

Skiing (Alpine/Downhill)
n/a 10,362 10,346 10,919 11,504 10,201 8,243 8,044 -11.0%

38,559 41,064 41,130 43,892 49,408 50,713 52,187 54,188 3.1% ..."

So over three years, there's been a 4% increase but then we'd have to figure the increase in the USA population for all these sports as Rex has shown above.

A little extra data

However, going beyond anecdotal evidence, there's also a geographic component as more backpackers and other users tend to squeeze into fewer "desirable" areas (due to drought, fire damage, popularity,etc...), then the actual experience becomes more crowded (i.e. more users per coveted area or, more personally, more on my particular trail or a nice camp-spot). That'd be a lot of geospatial analysis someone would have to pay me to do (however, I can be bought -little plug there if any rich person is reading, interested, and willing to pay to digitize all this goes partial vs. population data). May make off-season the way to go for solitude seekers.

Edited by hknewman on 07/23/2014 10:18:33 MDT.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Death of backpacking? on 07/24/2014 15:03:03 MDT Print View

My response to all this on here and other forums, fb etc

Some copying and pasting as I am a lazy person. :)

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: 2d and 3d helpings of data and gravy .... on 07/24/2014 17:40:07 MDT Print View

May make off-season the way to go for solitude seekers.

Yep. Also, go mid-week during the summer. Tuesday,Wednesday and Thursday seem to be the least crowded. Avoid the big three (Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekend) like the plague. And save the big blockbusters, such as the Four Pass Loop, for mid-September.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Death of backpacking? on 07/25/2014 10:27:57 MDT Print View

I think it's natural for older generations to roll their eyes at the younger ones. When I was going through basic training, the Drill Sergeants kept calling us the "Pepsi Generation." Still not exactly sure what that means but had something to do with a commercial long forgotten.

When I left the Army before 9/11, I was of the opinion that the young soldiers coming in were soft and didn't have the mental toughness when it came to winning in combat. They've done nothing but prove me wrong since then.

When it comes to something you're invested in along with a legacy you've contributed to, and you start to see the end of the road for your career/days on the trail/life, it's human nature to think "they'll never do it as good as we did," even if that perception isn't based in reality.

I'm not going to bother looking at the stats. I see young men and women on the trail on a fairly regular basis. Like my generation and generations before, some of them will leave beer bottles in the wilderness and other ones will be good stewards of these natural treasures.

Adam Klagsbrun
(klags) - MLife

Locale: Northeast US
good on 08/04/2014 21:43:47 MDT Print View

More quiet trail for the rest of us... but I don't see less young people where I backpack. I see more.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: good on 08/04/2014 22:37:19 MDT Print View

I've been thinking that for this whole thread, but was afraid to say so. Thanks. LOL

Nice to have a misanthropy support group. But nobody ever shows up for the meetings.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Grumpy hiker? on 08/04/2014 23:15:42 MDT Print View