I’m Starting a Print Magazine for Backpackers: Here’s Why

Other magazines are closing up for a reason. Trails Magazine is out to solve that.

Magazines like Backpacker have been a part of my identity since college. I started writing for that one in particular during my junior year. Then, I built a freelance writing career with it at the core.

It’s always been the example I’ve thrown out when asked what I do for work. So when Outside, Inc. (parent company for Outside, Backpacker, and others) announced this spring that they would lay off a lot of staff and shift to an online-only presence, I was gutted. 

But here’s my dirty little secret: Even I haven’t subscribed to Backpacker Magazine in years. 

Obviously, the world of print adventure journalism is changing, but almost every magazine that’s gone down — including Backpacker — has followed a similar model. Making magazines cheap, filling them with advertisements, and charging pennies on the dollar isn’t a good route to producing the high-quality content that earns you subscribers, even if they’re regular contributors. 

The whole episode got me thinking about what a backpacking-centric magazine that I would subscribe to would look like. And as we all know, the only way to really get what you want is to do it yourself.

Today, I launched Trails Magazine on Kickstarter. It’s my attempt to fill the void left by Backpacker in a way that can survive in 2022. Trails Mag is a quarterly, print-only magazine for backpackers, canoe-campers, bikepackers, and anyone who sleeps in the dirt. 

What Makes Trails Mag Different

trails mag cover magazine

Of course, it hasn’t been only doom and gloom in the magazine world lately. Publications like Adventure Journal and the revamped Mountain Gazette have proven that a different style of print magazine can thrive.

The hope with Trails is to create something in that same vein: aesthetic and design-forward, quality-over-quantity, built with high-quality paper, full of great photography and inspiring stories — and with a whole lot fewer advertisements. You won’t be able to get a year’s subscription for pennies, but you will want to read these magazines cover to cover and keep them on your coffee table for later, rather than just tossing them when the next one arrives. 

But my goal with Trails is not to create something that only appeals to “armchair” backpackers. The biggest thing Backpacker did well was provide a service to its readers who actually got out there. That’s something Trails will emulate.

It will help you add to your bucket list and give you the beta you need to get there. It will provide reviews of gear you’ve never seen before. And the mag will share information that’s going to help make your next backpacking trip more successful and fun, all alongside true, exciting adventure stories.

The first thing I noticed after the announcement of Backpacker’s demise was the number of people nostalgic for magazines like that and who still wanted something tangible to read and experience. It made it easy to think something like Trails might be possible, and that print is still very much alive.

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How We’re Building Trails

This isn’t something I decided to take on yesterday.

I’ve already focused-grouped and surveyed potential readers, mapped out everything that goes into publishing, and worked extensively with a network of skilled writers and photographers, some of whom are already hard at work reporting and putting together the stories that will debut in Issue 1.

As someone who has been pretty exclusively focused on the editorial side of magazines for my whole career, it’s been a massive learning experience figuring out the logistics and production details. 

But obviously, to make anything happen, you need funding. The tricky part, at this stage, is that readers only want to subscribe to a magazine that exists. And, advertisers only want to partner with a magazine that will actually print.

A Kickstarter was the obvious direction to determine if a project like this can succeed: Either we find the subscribers we need to get over the hump, or we don’t.

After the campaign, assuming it’s successful, it’s time to ramp up production. That includes finalizing stories, editing, designing the magazine, and eventually sending it to the printer. Trails Mag expects delivery of Issue 1 to hit mailboxes in February 2023.

Ryan Wichelns, Trails Mag founder

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