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I launched a print magazine for backpackers. Here’s why.

I bought my first GPS unit when I was 13 years old. I was really embracing the millennial in me at that point and was excited to play around with that piece of advanced technology: a little map I could carry around in my pocket, one that would tell me exactly where I was at all times. Like so many things—books, music, magazines—my GPS was an opportunity to upgrade from an analog medium, a map and compass. It was lighter, held more information, and was more powerful. I was convinced I’d never carry a paper map again.

That didn’t really work out for me. I still use a GPS, now just an app on my phone, but my map collection has only grown since then. Today, I have shelves upon shelves behind my desk at home stacked with trail maps, atlases, paper printouts, the pamphlets you get at the entrance to National Parks, folded maps from National Geographic magazines, and others. I quickly discovered when I started hiking with a GPS that no screen will ever be able to replicate spreading a map out across the table and just looking at it. Browsing for my next campsite. Picturing the peaks and valleys and imagining what it would look like in person.

A person wearing an orange shirt holding a magazine open; inside the magazine is a feature image of a thru-hiker Image via Trails Magazine

My job as a journalist has forced me to confront the battle between digital and analog head-on. It almost always feels better to see your name printed in ink than pixels, but print media has taken a hit lately. It feels like every year, a handful of the print magazines I’ve worked for have ceased to exist, or taken their printers offline and pivoted to digital. I started writing for Backpacker Magazine as a college student and, since then, it became one of my most treasured publisher relationships. But even they published their final print issue last fall.

I talked to countless backpackers who still wanted a magazine in print, something they could keep on their coffee table and browse. Something filled with long, deep, important stories. And something that genuinely inspired their bucket list. So I started Trails Magazine.

The cover of Trails Magazine on a rocky surface Image via Trails Magazine

Behind the Magazine

Trails Magazine, whose first issue(Se abre en una ventana nueva) is hitting mailboxes as we speak, is an attempt to create something more meaningful for the backpacking community and something that can inspire adventures in a new way.

Trails is printed quarterly on heavy paper with a greater focus on design, aesthetics, and photography. It’s the kind of magazine you keep around on your coffee table and start a collection of. It’s filled with longer, richer adventure narratives and important features, surrounded by incredible photography and art rather than advertisements. I grew up on the East Coast reading magazines and looking at pictures of the grand mountains and canyons of the West, daydreaming about finally being able to go there. I’d even cut out photos and trip reports from missions I wanted to someday repeat. Our goal with Trails has been to replicate that feeling of excitement over learning about new places, skills, pieces of gear, and more. And we’re doing that by creating the most beautiful publication we can for the backpacker, bikepacker, canoe camper, or really anyone who prefers sleeping under the stars to sleeping under a roof.

A person holding a magazine open to the first page of an article Image via Trails Magazine

Inside Issue One

Trails is independently owned and run by a tiny team. We have a very small group of editors and designers, some who I’ve known and worked with during my time at other publications, some who were introduced to me since starting this. But we all share a common passion for being outside, even if we have different experiences out there. The range of adventures and backgrounds we have has made the magazine bigger than I could have ever done on my own. We’ve all been able to learn and be inspired by each other and our contributors.

But the majority of the first issue comes from a team of nearly 40 writers, photographs, and illustrators who contributed to its pages and have adventures to share.

Stories included in the first issue include:

  • Reporting about the cliche of using long hikes as a cure for trauma or replacement for therapy, and why that doesn’t always work like it does in the movies.
  • A profile of the pioneers of the sport of “skatepacking,” which involves long distance self-supported thru-skates. The subject of the feature skated the entire Alaska Highway.
  • Photos from one backpacker’s trip into Lake Clark National Park in Alaska.
  • The Yelp-style review of a picturesque outhouse in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Thoroughly-tested gear reviews of a down jacket with a removable back panel, and women’s hiking pants designed to make peeing easier and more equitable.
  • One writer’s opinion on why “cairn kickers” and the debate around rock stacking has gone too far.
  • An illustrated map of Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
  • A recipe for backcountry chilaquiles.
  • A trip report from a hiker who decided the Colorado Trail wasn’t rugged enough, so she designed her own route across the Centennial State.
  • Photos from a citizen science backpacking trip to Bears Ears in search of forgotten cliff dwellings.
  • A cover photo from Colorado’s San Juan Mountain, from photographer Bianca Germain.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Issue One is 72-pages long and is filled with more shorter stories, photos, and art than we could list. And work on Issue Two has already begun.

A person wearing an orange shirt holding a magazine open to a feature image with text in the top right corner Image via Trails Magazine

How to Read It

Staying true to our focus on the tangible, Trails will only be available in print from trailsmag.net. Follow along with the project at @trailsmag and if you’re a creative interested in contributing, check out more info here.

As a kid, Backpacker was the first magazine I subscribed to. I looked forward to it showing up every month, looking at pictures of mountain ranges I hoped to visit someday. That particular magazine didn’t always maintain that same place in my heart, but my goal with Trails is to recreate it. I’m excited to make something that others will be excited to receive and flip through every month. Something that inspires cool, unique adventures. Something that makes it just a little easier for a few people to spend a night in a tent. Something that fosters creativity from the brands who make our gear. And something that’s purely entertaining and interesting to read and look at. The backpacking community deserves a magazine like that and I hope it’s Trails.

A person paging through a magazine Image via Trails Magazine