Our 18th year of publishing has brought some exciting new things to our community! Here’s a review of our top highlights from the last year, and what’s coming up in 2019.
Two new staff joined our team in 2018:
- Andrew Marshall was hired early in the year, and is producing the new Backpacking Light Podcast, managing our Gear Review program, is one of our technical content editors, and editing the Learn to Packraft video instructional series and other video projects that will be released in 2019!
- Chase Jordan was hired this fall as our new article production editor and staff writer. He has some neat projects in the works for 2019, including trip reports and a new series about creative arts in the backcountry.
These new additions round out our little team of 10. If you’re new here, we are:
- Ryan and Stephanie Jordan – founders, owners, publishers
- Brenna Kotar – publishing assistant and bookkeeping
- Jessica Ulary – customer support
- Erica Gage – webmaster
- Andrew Marshall – content development
- Chase Jordan – production editor
- Kevin Fletcher – trek director
- Roger Caffin and Matthew King – community moderators
Of course, our community wouldn’t be complete without also including and acknowledging our trekking guides, contributing authors, part-time contractors, and of course, the thousands of people who purchase memberships each year and support Backpackinglight.com.
Before the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Backpacking Light published a podcast. We released more than 50 episodes about stories, gear, and more when advertising dollars dried up and we had to shutter the program.
In 2018, we re-launched the podcast! Andrew is producing it, and Andrew and Ryan are co-hosting it. It’s been met with a terrific response from our community – check out our 5-star ratings in iTunes and subscribe today!
Our 2019 podcast calendar is shaping up to be even better, as we add new episode formats (shorts!).
Listen to our top 3 podcasts of 2018:
- Episode 002 | Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF aka “Cuben Fiber”)
- Episode 003 | Backpacking Food & Nutrition
- Episode 007 | Trekking Poles
In response to requests from our members to provide more in-depth technical instruction behind topics of interest to the backpacking community, we launched our new Outdoor Skills and Tech Webinar Series in 2018.
Our first three episodes were a huge hit. In case you missed them, here they are:
- Synthetic Insulation in Lightweight Outdoor Apparel and Sleep Systems
- Dyneema Composite Fabrics
- Backpacking Food and Nutrition
Don’t forget, all webinars are FREE if you’re an Unlimited Member, and very modestly priced if you’re not.
Our next webinar, to be available in early 2019: Backpacking Stoves: Science, Design, and Analysis for Selecting a Stove and Saving Fuel Weight!
2018 saw our most successful year ever with our Wilderness Adventures guided trekking program up in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
In 2018, we launched a new Guide’s Training Program and conducted our first ever Whitetail Trek – a comprehensive program to help people plan and execute challenging, off-trail routes in a mountain environment.
2019 Enrollment has started off with a bang – save your spot now and join us on a trek in Montana!
In 2018, we experienced the largest % growth in our membership since the financial crisis hit in 2008, and the highest fraction of membership renewals ever! This is great news for us, because it serves to stabilize our revenue, re-invest into new programs (like the podcast, webinar, new staff, and more content!), and *best of all* – allows us to make some very welcome changes when it comes to advertising (see below for more info).
Your memberships and renewals are critical for our long-term financial stability and contribution to the outdoor industry – we are grateful for you being a part of our community!
Top Reviews of 2018
Gear Reviews have always been and will continue to be, a core part of our content strategy. In 2018, we made a very strong push to publish reviews that were timely, technical, and free from the bias that’s inherent in so many gear reviews published online.
The primary problem with gear reviews today is that publishing them is motivated by the dangling carrot of affiliate revenue.
As such, gear review headlines are written for click bait (“Best stoves/tents/backpacks of 2018!”) and feature lists (listicles) of popular gear that will deliver the publisher good revenue. However, seldom do these types of articles feature trustworthy comparisons by writers who actually use the gear or have an in-depth understanding of gear design and performance.
Backpacking Light receives affiliate revenue, of course, but since our core revenue comes from Membership Fees, we are in the fortunate position to provide gear reviews that are more in-depth, based on extensive field use, and provide you with information that helps you make wise buying decisions – not just getting you to click a buy button for the sake of putting affiliate revenue in our pockets. In addition, our membership fees help us review gear from non-affiliate vendors, allowing us to represent the overall market in a more meaningful way.
Here’s a list of our most popular gear reviews, gear guides, and state of the market reports from 2018:
- Garmin inReach Mini Review
- TarpTent Notch Li Review
- Publisher’s Gear Guide
- Synthetic Insulated Jacket Reviews and State of the Market Report
- Ultralight Backcountry Electronics
- Nunatak Skaha Apex Review
- Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody Review
Learning Backcountry Skills
With the introduction of the podcast, the webinar series, our Wilderness Adventures Guide’s Training and Whitetail Treks, and new video series about trekking poles and canister stoves on YouTube, we’ll be continuing to emphasize teaching solid backcountry skills to our community in 2019.
In 2018, navigation skills proved to be our most popular area of interest:
- Resources, Tools, and Processes for Planning Nontechnical, Off-Trail Backpacking Routes
- Navigating Without a Compass, Map, or GPS
- Case Studies: Using Google Earth to Plan Wilderness Trips
Four stories, in particular, proved to be wildly popular with our community in 2018, so if you haven’t had the chance to view some of this beautiful photography and read some of the most engaging trip narratives of the year, don’t miss these stories:
- Vancouver Island: Trauma on a West Coast Trail Backpacking Trip
- Wandering in a Thirsty Country – Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
- Crossing the Adirondacks
- Wilderness Adventures 2018 Whitetail Trek
In response to user feedback for improved website navigation, we created a new sticky, responsive, website navigation menu and took it live in 2018. This has had a huge impact on website usability and has significantly improved the time that our users spend on our site.
We’ve continued to work under the hood on website performance. We are experiencing substantial growth in traffic, and it’s vital for us to make sure the website keeps running smoothly by maintaining, optimizing, and upgrading the performance of our server platform and codebase. Increases in membership revenue in 2018 have allowed us to make substantial improvements in site speed. As an example, our Recent Forum Posts page (one of our most popular pages, that requires a heavy database query), requires an average of 2.1 seconds to load. Compared to where this page was in 2015 (12+ second load times), we’ve come a long way!
The primary problem now with website performance is network advertising. But, we’re fixing that in 2019. See below for more info!
What’s in Store for 2019?
We have lots of exciting things already in motion for 2019:
- More video! Especially skills instruction, gear analysis, and trip reports. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, the videos will appear there first.
- We’re adding a short-format episode to our podcast feed! Look for our first short episode to drop in early spring.
- The live online premiere of the 2019 Backpacking Light Adventure Film Festival will be January 25 at 6pm US Mountain Time! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay informed of the details.
- We are launching a huge program initiative about backpacking stoves in January. New articles, technology discussions, reviews, gear guides, video skills instructions, and more. We’ll be kicking it off with StoveBench – a new protocol for comparing the performance of different backpacking stoves, along with our Upright Canister Stove Gear Guide in January, featuring more than two dozen canister stoves!
- New content initiatives: BPL*TV! BPL*NEWS! That’s all we can say about these things right now. ;)
And how about those awesome network ads?
How about “saying goodbye to them”?
Network advertising – ick. You know, like Google Ads. We’re transitioning away from all network advertising in 2019, and reducing the number of impressions we are serving dramatically.
We are moving towards a site sponsorship model where site sponsors participate in our community in a more meaningful way, rather than just blast their banners to our community. Stay tuned as this program kicks off in January – which is when you’re going to start seeing a decrease in tasteless, annoying, and irrelevant ads!
During this transition, you’re also going to see website page redesigns come into our forums and articles, to improve readability, clean things up and make them more aesthetically appealing, and make the site more functional and easy to read across all types of devices!
Thank you for being a part of the backpackinglight.com community, and we hope you enjoy a healthy and happy 2019 with lots of trail miles!