The Death of Backpacking

High Country News had an article lamenting the death of backpacking citing anecdotal  observations of baby-boomers backpacking and not younger hikers. The basic premise of the article is that younger people don’t seem interested in this outdoors tradition.  Backcountry use is declining.  There is a trend towards “Done-in-a-day” activities such as trail running, rock climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking, guided group hikes, river rafting and day hiking.

National Park Service  statistics, for example,  show an overall decrease in overnight backpacking (and overnight activities in general).  It’s reinforced by the experts who compile outdoor recreation statistics. Chris Doyle, executive director of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, describes “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.

Paul Magnanti had a thoughtful response and cited some interesting statistics substantiating the decline.  There was a  200k+  person decline in backcountry use in 2013 vs 2000. Compare the use from 1979 vs 2013 and the difference is a 700k+ person difference  As a side note, OVERALL overnight use (car camping, lodging such as huts, etc) has declined by two-million in the NPS since 1979 vs 2013.  Keep in mind the country’s population in 1979 was 225 million. Now it is 316 million. In other words, adjusted for percentage of the population, the difference is rather dramatic.

However, there are anomalies.  The amount of long distance hikers is indeed increasing as shown by trail organizations.   There are also other outdoor recreational choices. More people are choosing to do activities that were not as popular, as accessible or even non-existent, in previous years (e.g. mud runs).

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