- Feb 16, 2019 at 9:58 pm #3578833
I’m sure everyone on here has noticed the incredible increase in backpacking popularity recently. More people especially on popular trails, a boom in cottage manufacturers, outdoor gear sales, social media channels. I’ve been frustrated this summer trying to get a JMT permit, and have backup plans now instead, since my chances are diminishing. I’m finally ready after waiting 10+ years to do it, and now it’s impossible to get a single solo permit for any trailhead, even with all dates possible. Yes, I could do short pieces here or there, but it’s expensive to travel there, and I’d like to challenge myself with a bigger hike, all at one time, try a new place.
As part of planning for that hike, I’ve joined some social media sites like the women’s JMT group on Facebook. So many posts from people who don’t even go camping, much less backpacking, and no real wilderness skills. They’re asking simple questions – which is great! – but social media is apparently their only source of info. I’d hate to take the advice of a SUL backpacker as the first choice of gear for a through hike, if I’d never spent a night outside! Just reading the BPL post on sleeping without a tent – originally posted by a seasoned backpacker – and thinking about a complete novice waking up to a scorpion on their chest…or maybe even just a nice big gentle spider. Or some creepy dude peeking under a tarp. Jumping in the deep end.
I wonder how many of those solo through-hikers who’ve never gone camping actually make it? Not that I want them to fail, but I just can’t imagine doing that starting out. I was camping before age 5, with parents who helped me adjust and learn some skills, a much gentler start to this lifelong activity. I remember one Boundary Waters canoe trip when we had rain for three days straight, 9 inches total. We were stuck on a tiny island with no letup between lightning flashes. Our tent leaked and by day 3 we were singing Row Row Row your boat to laugh away the discomfort. Thank goodness mom packed a lot of hot chocolate.
Maybe I over prepare now – actually I’m sure I do – but if you’ve never set up a tent, or cooked over a tiny stove, how well is a 200+ mile through hike really going to go? If you’ve never pushed your body to its limits in any capacity, it could be pretty discouraging. Some will be determined and do it and it will change their lives. How many won’t? They don’t listen to posts that say things like “try a 3 day first!” They want their dream come true, but then there are the bugs, the rain, the cold nights, the wildfire smoke, the blisters and sore ankles and …
In 10 years from now, will there still be a boom in interest in the outdoors? Will it last? Problem for me personally is that *I* won’t last. But I’ll be doing trails this summer many of you haven’t heard of, and not sure I’m going to post trip reports. Keep em quiet? Maybe I’ll post them to see if that draws some hikers away from the big name trails.
Just speculating. I can’t really complain, I’ve been lucky to have been able to see all the outdoor places I have, including 6 summers in Denali. More to come, wherever it is going to be. I hope all the new folks learn to love it too, as rough as their entry might be.Feb 16, 2019 at 10:38 pm #3578850
Over 203 million in the USA in 1970
Over 325 million here now. Even if only one percent go backpacking it will never get better. Good thing there are so many unpopular places that are perfectly wonderful.
And plenty people only go once or twice. I think social media just makes us more aware of the increase. Guide books use to get all the heat now it’s the internet.Feb 16, 2019 at 11:02 pm #3578851
Gary DunckelBPL Member
You reminded me of the book by Cheryl Strayed a couple of years ago. Some rookies will do nearly anything to try to achieve their goals.
I’m just thankful that I’ve nearly completed my bucket list of backpack trips. These days the trails are swamped with hikers, intense competition for the great campsites, and sadly, a bit more litter and “traces” out there. Here in CO it’s a zoo at the popular accessible trails. Everybody seems to be moving here, and they all want to hike and ski of course. I’ve come to the point of never telling anyone where my favorite trails and campsites are, for fear that they will be overtaken by the hoards of folks with good intentions.Feb 16, 2019 at 11:29 pm #3578858
Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Changes Often
People seem to go for what’s trendy. Take Arizona for example. All you ever hear is “Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon” when in fact there are many other incredible places across the state to hike where you’ll hardly ever see a soul. Many like to hike on popular trails where they can take a lot of photos to post on Facebook and Instagram.
I don’t really know how much backpacking popularity has grown if you take population growth out of the equation. Statistics show that Americans keep getting fatter all the time, so obviously there are millions who need to get out and really cover some trail miles.Feb 17, 2019 at 12:06 am #3578864
Tipi WalterBPL Member
One good thing about our Southeast wilderness areas like Cohutta/Big Frog and Snowbird and Bald/Upper Bald River and Citico Creek and Slickrock wilderness is that hardly anyone ever goes backpacking in the winter and I have proof. I just pulled a 17 day trip in Upper Bald wilderness and only saw one other backpacker—and that was on Day 15. I went out on a 23 day trip last year and only saw one group of backpackers on one day of the whole time.
Local Tennessee types as a rule don’t go backpacking—but a few might go car camping if they can get all their gear at Walmart. We also have the Just Right folks—people who won’t go outdoors unless conditions are perfect—not cold, not too hot, not raining etc. This thins out the crowds.
Knoxville won an award recently I think for being the most sedentary city in America. This is good news for me because with less people in the wilderness—we just had a new one added last month—we have less regulations and fee vouchers and permits and waiting lists like they do in California. And we don’t have to carry those blasted bear canisters.
But don’t discount Ken’s blurb about population growth. (Calif is exploding btw). In 2050 we’re projected to have 450 million Americans. This obviously means much more jet traffic noise pollution over our wilderness areas—more motorcycle tourism with its noisy racket, more rolling tourism and more road access. I can be in the middle of a remote NC wilderness and not see a soul for 20 days and yet hear thousands of flying ” metal tube potatoes” (airline passengers) in the sky above me. There’s no real wilderness left in the East. And this sprawl and urbanization is eventually coming to all you guys out West.Feb 17, 2019 at 12:20 am #3578868
They are talking about making Three Sisters area permit only, limited number of permits. Because it’s so crowded. They have statistics that usage has something like doubled in the last few years.
I do a trip there about once a year. There are a few busy areas like Green Lakes. Sure, that’s busy so I just go somewhere else. If people want to go to a busy area like Green Lakes, then they should be allowed to go there. I don’t see the problem. Having an experience with more people is also a good thing.
If they restrict use, where will people go? Or will they just give up because they can’t get a permit. We should be encouraging people to go out in the wilderness. They will be more likely to protect it. We own it so we should be able to use it. That’s one of the great ideas about this country, all the national parks, forests, and other areas. If usage is restricted we’re slowly strangling that great idea.
They should increase number of designated sites, make the trail wide enough to pass going both directions, make parking area bigger. Warn people about which areas are crowded.
I always pick up micro trash, but I see relatively little. I don’t see any big increase in recent years.
We should encourage more people to use the wilderness and figure out how to accommodate as best possible.Feb 17, 2019 at 12:28 am #3578869
The Feds should be increasing funding instead of constantly doing the opposite.Feb 17, 2019 at 12:47 am #3578872
@mhrLocale: San Juan Mtns.
I would really enjoy seeing a map that identified all the available hiking trails and then coded them by use. I suspect you would find most people on a relatively few, but very well known trails. If you prefer solitude over constant company, do some homework and search out those hardly-known trails. Hike in a shoulder season. Or, construct your own adventure by linking together several intersecting trails. If you will venture off the beaten path, you can still find the unbeaten path!Feb 17, 2019 at 1:53 am #3578873
Alex HBPL Member
@abhittLocale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Seems like I remember not too long ago an article here on BPL about how the number of backpackers was actually decreasing and the manufacturers were bemoaning the loss of sales. Basically the gist was the millenials and others were mostly doing front country stuff you could do in a day. The instagram, instant gratification crowd is a big factor too and I am afraid popular trails like the JMT fit right in with that group. I can tell you that in my industry (small farming) they younger group thinks they can learn everything from instagram and Youtube. I hate to tell them that it doesn’t all work that way. My guess is there will be many one and done folks just like the bubbles on the PCT and AT from Cheryl Strayed’s book and film.Feb 17, 2019 at 2:32 pm #3578937
Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Changes Often
There are vast forested areas of Arkansas, Missouri and West Virginia that contain hundreds of miles of beautiful trails, but you won’t see many people hiking on them. All everyone seems to talk about in the East is the AT, as if it’s the only trail worth hiking. Last time I was on the AT in NC it was like driving in traffic down I-95. I stopped by a shelter for rest and water resupply (I always stealth camp away from shelters). There were a bunch of hipsters hanging out and one of them fancied himself an ultralight backpacking expert. I didn’t stay long.
I believe if you were able to measure the popularity of backpacking on a per capita basis, the numbers are probably down a little. However in places like Colorado and the Pacific Coast states that have seen a lot of population growth, I’m sure there appears to be a surge in backpacking. Even in those states I’d be willing to bet if you got away from the popular trails, you’d see a lot less activity. Might require a bit more of a drive though.
Outside of mountain biking, I don’t see younger people embracing the outdoors as much. I’m not sure if I-Phones, video games, and Netflix are the cause, but softness seems to be the norm. There are exceptions to the rule of course.Feb 17, 2019 at 2:53 pm #3578942
Paul WagnerBPL Member
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
I think this is just part of a larger trend of younger people who are spending their disposable money and time on experiences rather than things. Some may fall in love with backpacking and do it their whole lives. Others may simply check it off the list, along with skydying, snorkeling a coral reef, and visiting New Zealand.
It doesn’t bother me. I still know places I can go where there are very few people—younger or older–if I want solitude. then again, I’ve never been a goal-oriented through-hiker backpacker. I backpack to get away from the modern world. John Muir said something about going out was really going in!Feb 17, 2019 at 3:25 pm #3578943
Yeah, I hear that, Alex. As of 2008 thru 2010 things were getting tough, economically. While it seems counter-intuitive, many people started backpacking and the actual number of visitors to the ADKs was up, back then. Mostly, they were using older “hand-me-down” gear, buying little new gear, but the number of people visiting parks increased. As of 2011, people started buying new gear to support their “new” hobby. A few years later, we see more cottage companies being formed vying for a share of a booming market. Today we see a lot of new cottage manufacturers offering decent 16oz packs… good for them.
Yes, there are a lot of day hikers. But they do not travel the backcountry. But, many former cottage companies are no longer producing real UltraLight/SUL equipment, either. ULA, Gossamer Gear, GoLight, HMG, ZPacks and others have either sold out or “improved” weights beyond what is considered a good UltraLight pack in the interest of “durability” or “improved carrying capacity”…”improved” to carry weights from hell. Day hikers are perfectly happy with very low volume packs capable of carrying a couple liters of water and a lunch. And a couple pounds in pack doesn’t bother them at all.
There are increased numbers of groups, usually younger people more involved with each other than with what they were actually doing. Often, they play the old “macho” game “My pack weighs 63 pounds and I can travel 10mi with it” and I am gratified to see than many do not turn instantly to some electronic device to resolve that argument! But hey, at least they are out there learning more from a day in the woods than a week playing a video game. One and done? Yes always some of those. For many, they will be back to try backpacking again (carrying the weight from hell,) and, a few will become repeat backpackers interested in lightening that weight and traveling a bit more comfortably and a little further. Nothing has really changed except the number of people in the US has risen from around 200M in 1970 to 325M in 2018.Feb 17, 2019 at 4:20 pm #3578950
Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Are there any statistics to support claims of the trends reported above? I know I have seen a lot more folks on the PCT since the Cheryl Strayed book and movie.
But I recall a talk with a backcountry ranger a few years ago in the Stanislaus National Forest who reported that overall backcountry visits (wilderness permits issued X Number in party X days on permit) was trending down.
I have done trips in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, where if I stay off the PCT apart from some bow hunters during hunting season, I see no one.
Feb 17, 2019 at 4:43 pm #3578959
- This reply was modified 1 month ago by Bruce Tolley.
visits per year
This is what the Forest Service is using to argue for limited number of permits
First error is to just look at 6 years. This could degenerate to a global warming argument : )Feb 17, 2019 at 6:19 pm #3578975
Jerry, Yes. This tracks pretty well with the increase in population and the increase in publishing/advertisement about the more popular trails. I am sure that Backpacker magazine and others have noted similar trends in the past 6 years.
Most of what I recount was taken from the ADK’s in NY. Ofcourse, this has long been regarded as the largest in the lower 48 states and perhaps the most accessible. It is larger in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined with a tourist population of around 7-10million.The Catskills is about equivalent to Yellowstone and isn’t included.
This doesn’t show up in many national searches, it is a state park. You can find most statistics and numbers at https://www.dec.ny.gov/ and related sites.Feb 17, 2019 at 6:43 pm #3578977
Alex HBPL Member
@abhittLocale: southern appalachians or desert SWFeb 17, 2019 at 7:10 pm #3578981
Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Is Mt Jefferson closer to a population center, written up more in the blogosphere?Feb 17, 2019 at 7:27 pm #3578983
Three Sisters is closer to Bend. Jefferson and Three Sisters equally close to Eugene. Jefferson closer to Portland. But, overall, I don’t think that explains it
I think Three Sisters has more places to go. One side of Jefferson is cut off by Indian reservation. Without counting, I think Three Sisters has more trailheads and miles of trails. I go to Three Sisters once a year, a couple trips over the years to Jefferson.Feb 17, 2019 at 7:39 pm #3578986
“If you prefer solitude over constant company, do some homework and search out those hardly-known trails. Hike in a shoulder season.”
This has seemingly worked for me over the last year or so. Did an overnighter on the Black Forest Trail in PA in November, saw no one else on the trail. Did a recent 3.5 day trip in Joshua Tree, pretty much saw no one once a mile or so away from trailheads (except one dayhiking group at Samuelson’s Rocks). Did a trip in the Sierra last August over Kearsarge Pass, saw a bunch of people camping at the bottom of the pass, and again at Rae Lakes area, we just kept going and saw only one other person after we left that area (I’ve done a couple of other Sierra trips with Tom K in the past where, after we got over and away from Shepherd Pass, we saw virtually no one until we got back near Shepherd Pass on the way out). Did an overnighter with Nick in Mojave, saw no one until we were near campgrounds. Hiked in Henry Coe for a couple of days before last year’s GGG, saw, I think, one other person. Did a trip with Jerry in Strawberry (Mountain, Wilderness, I forget) where we saw no one for the three days we were out until we got near the trailhead. Did a trip with Greg M. in the Winds last September, saw plenty of people around Titcomb Basin and on the way out of that area, but very few people for the rest of the trip until we got near the trailhead. Etc. Etc.
So plenty of places still to hike without being around swarms of people, just choose a time when most people aren’t there or choose places where most people don’t go. This does take away many of the more ‘famous’ spots, but I haven’t yet backpacked somewhere that I didn’t think was absolutely beautiful, so I’m not so sure those famous spots are really worth the hassle anyway.Feb 17, 2019 at 9:19 pm #3579012
Katherine .BPL Member
I’m wanting to get my winter act together to avoid the crowds as well as the wildfire risk.Feb 17, 2019 at 9:25 pm #3579013
W I S N E R !BPL Member
“This does take away many of the more ‘famous’ spots, but I haven’t yet backpacked somewhere that I didn’t think was absolutely beautiful, so I’m not so sure those famous spots are really worth the hassle anyway.”
I agree Doug. I’m very content with obscure locations, side canyons, off-seasons, and generally finding the hidden gems that don’t attract much attention.Feb 17, 2019 at 9:30 pm #3579014
Mostly, I agree, but sometimes it’s fun to experience an over used famous spotFeb 17, 2019 at 9:52 pm #3579018
Yes, I like the out of the way spots that are hard to get to, generally. There was a recent article by Ike Jutkowitz that mentioned one of my my favorite week long hikes between Long Lake, Moose Pond and back. Three years running and I have only met one other person on the three days up that route. ‘Cours, I always have to stop and fish a bit…Feb 18, 2019 at 7:14 am #3579114
Rex SandersBPL Member
@rexLocale: Central California Coast
Under “the more things change …” category:
In the 1970s my friends and I took up winter backpacking in the mountains around LA, because the summer crowds were getting out of control.
Like many others, I seek out lesser known areas or shoulder seasons. I’ve gone days without seeing other backpackers within a one-hour drive of 7 million people.
— RexFeb 18, 2019 at 2:44 pm #3579138
Vivian Creek trailhead vs. Quaking Aspens on any Sunday. Same mountain totally different experience.
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