The Death of Backpacking

I don’t think I will ever be sad about the fact that Will is from San Diego. Ever.

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We spent the past weekend in So Cal during a whirlwind trip – we flew out Friday night and came back late on Sunday. Turns out, TWO of our friends were getting married on Saturday so we decided that a mini vacation was in order.

We tried our best to attend both ceremonies, but could only do so much. As a result, we made it to the ceremony of the first wedding, left, and headed north in order to catch the reception of the second. It wasn’t perfect, but Will and I were both so glad that we were able make it for their big days!



As I was curating the internet yesterday, trying to catch up on must-read stuff that I missed over the weekend, I stumbled across an article shared by Semi-Rad. In a nutshell, the author poses an interesting question: Is backpacking dying?

Upon reading the title, I grew indignant and irritated. Who wrote this thing?! Why would they even ask that question? Backpacking is alive and prospering, of course!

{Because naturally, my hobbies are everyone’s favorite….}

However, I kept reading and the well-written piece caught my attention. And then, I read some more and realized the author has some valid points. It got me to thinking: who do I see on the trail?

Death of Backpacking

Photos by my beloved. Check out his new IG account!

Here in the 303, I feel like backpacking is alive, kicking and revving its engines. We always see other people out and about, tents pitched in far oft fields and rogue hikers scrambling along the ridgelines to towering peaks. However, the more I thought about it, I realized this:

I’m definitely one of the youngest out there!

Sure, we see dozens of people on trail and many of them are in our age bracket. However, at 32-years-old, I’m not exactly the sprightliest of spring chickens, you know? I racked my brain, trying to remember the sight of teenage groups or even college kids. And you know what? I really can’t remember seeing too many of the sub-25 variety.

What is that?!

Death of Backpacking

As the author notes, the next generation is more interested in sports that involve obvious sources of adrenaline: hucking cliffs on skis, dirt biking across deserts, and rock climbing gnarly pitches all come to mind. Are those sports awesome? Of course they are {minus the dirt biking, but don’t get me started on my hippy, don’t-destroy-the-environment tendencies!} However, it does seem that the younger crowds aren’t as interested if a GoPro can’t snag sweet, puke-inducing YouTube footage.

Death of Backpacking

Our cozy home for three nights

Why is that? For the younger generations, I think the outdoor gene is sadly missing in its entirety. We’ve all heard it before, but video games and iPads are replacing that time when I used to be playing in the mud, creating “pottery” for my mom. And for the college-age crowd? I think they are just misinformed!

I hear so often that backpacking doesn’t have the “adrenaline payoff” that other sports do, and honestly, I think people are doing it wrong! Sure, the stereotypical backpacking trip appears relatively mundane: you shuffle a few miles into the silent woods, schlepping an insanely heavy pack, only to sit by your tiny tent, content with your own thoughts, while sleeping uncomfortably and singing kumbaya. Does that sum it up?

Death of Backpacking

Who says you can’t backpack in the snow?!

Backpacking is so much more than that! Yes, the pack can be absurdly heavy but the sense of accomplishment you feel after lugging that behemoth up the side of a mountain is beyond comparison. And the wildlife you encounter? Nowhere else will random Grizzlies and coyotes and mountain goats wander up to your tent, solely for the sake of curiosity. And as for adrenaline? The sport offers it up in spades! Some of the best climbs, peaks and vistas can only be accessed from a remote basecamp. Sure, you can nab the easy summit with everyone else who drove up from Denver, but why not check out the views from somewhere that few have visited?

Maybe the upcoming generations aren’t interested, but maybe they just aren’t exposed to this stuff either. Dave Skinner wrote an awesome post on Trek Tech yesterday, expounding on his methods for helping his children love the wild. Sure, they aren’t anything extreme, but maybe one of those smaller microadventures will spark something inside the mind of his kids. And maybe, we’ll have the next John Muir on our hands!

Death of Backpacking

As for me? You can find me outside, as far from society as my legs will take me. Because that’s where I find my adrenaline.


If you’re a backpacker, what are your thoughts? I’d truly love to know.

If you’re not, why not? Does it sound boring to you? Or does sleeping in the dirt just not ring your bell? 



  • Reply Johnie Gall at

    Aww this made me sad, I love backpacking!! Though I guess I just crossed over into the over-25 crowd, so maybe I’m losing touch 🙂 I think part of it could be the cost—if a young person is going to invest in outdoor gear, a rock climbing harness certainly “sounds” more exciting then a 0-degree sleeping bag. I was lucky to inherit my starter backpacking kit, but I’m sure for most people it seems daunting to begin that process!

    • Reply heather at

      You bring up a valid point: the cost. But do you think it really costs more than other, stereotypical adventure sports like MTB? Gear is definitely expensive though so you may be onto something!

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    I definitely think it boils down to lack of exposure and also the adrenaline thing. People aren’t so into slowing down and enjoying the moment and much of that’s what backpacking’s all about. (I’m guilty of the slowly down thing myself!) As a society we’re all about thinking, “What’s next?!” I surely hope backpacking isn’t dying since I’m now just really getting into hiking and such. Then again, if at least one person out there continues to do something can anything ever really die? Even if those two people are us! 😉

    • Reply heather at


      And you know, I think it’s a misconception that backpacking is “slowing it down.” It definitely can be if you want it to be, but I’ve some of my most adrenaline- filled experiences while on trail.

  • Reply Rachel @ Betty LIVIN at

    How could ANYONE call backpacking boring? That’s crazy!

    • Reply heather at

      Agreed 🙂

  • Reply Dan at

    I think there is a reasonable crop of young backpackers coming up out here in the west, but I definitely feel that there is a huge competition from other activities. I personally don’t think its dying, just being supplanted by so many other outdoor activities.

    • Reply heather at

      You could be onto something- maybe there are less participants just because there is more offered these days?

  • Reply Kayla at

    I hope it’s not dying….it’s a lovely sport. I wish I could do it more often!

    • Reply heather at

      You need to get a new backpack for the little one!

  • Reply Sarah C at

    I wish I backpacked more, but my husband and I are now getting the the point in our careers where we’re going to have more time for longer backpacking trips. Planning a three-day trip for early August. The most important thing is that we’re taking our 4 year old out into the wild spaces as much as we can – every weekend features a hike or a kayak trip. She’s a serious trooper and loves the vertical (she can get bored on a flat walk, but ask her to scramble up something steep and she’s all in!). We took a two-hour hike last weekend that featured ZERO whining from her, and this weekend when we kayaked for 90 minutes or so she wanted to practice her paddling and plan longer kayak-camping trips with us. So, that’s the key I think. Perhaps the young adults of today are out backpacking less than my generation (I’ve just hit 40) but that’s fine with me – less crowded trails are great. But I don’t think it’s dying – it may just skip a generation. Just think about what you and Will will teach any future kids you may have! I think the little kids of today are going to learn to be adventurous and awesome and we’ll be proud of what they do in nature when they grow up!

    • Reply heather at

      I am SO happy to hear that you get your daughter out there! I know so many people that cut the trips out of their life, saying that they can’t anymore because of the kids. Personally, I’m much more comfy with my kids sleeping in the dirt than some of the hotels I’ve been in 🙂 I do understand that it gets trickier and the extreme nature needs to be toned down, but it’s doable. I’m glad to hear that you think so too!

      • Reply Sarah C at

        Seriously! I never worry about the “dirty” parts of nature with my girl, but get itchy every time she touches a bathroom door handle in public places. Real dirt is good for you!

        And yeah, for a while the trips are less extreme, but after just a few years of shorter expeditions I think you can ramp back up – she’s really excited about the long camping trips we’re planning!

  • Reply Katie B. at

    Well, that settles it: you need to take me backpacking ASAP. Although I think we’re both booked until like October, so maybe a fall trip will have to do. 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      Ha seriously! We are literally booked til October but I know we’re hoping to do one at the beginning of October so Will can grab some fall color photos. I’ll keep you posted!

  • Reply Kelly @ Cupcake Kelly's at

    I don’t back pack, but my husband is legally blind so it is not a sport that is conducive to our lifestyle. That being said, our 3 year old spends as much time as possible outside. We literally have to drag him inside crying every single evening, and I am so glad, I hope he continues to feel so passionate about playing outside!

  • Reply eric at

    We commented on this just the other day – We have a 7 day trip coming up on the FLT here and I am betting we will see no one else – We did however just come back from the ADK and not only were there plenty of young folks, but we came across two different groups of teenage girls out backpacking – On one hand, I don’t mind that it’s not so popular, I get the trail to myself – On the other I believe more people should experience and love what we do because it has given us so much – – Interesting post!

    • Reply heather at

      Even if the sports grows, I’m pretty confident I can always find empty trails 🙂 Just have to seek them out!

  • Reply Natalie @ Free Range Human at

    I had never really thought about it, but, now that I do, it does seem like there is a frustratingly low amount of younger people out on the trail. My knee-jerk reaction is to blame it on how hyper-connected teens and twenty-somethings are these days. I teach high school, and I can just imagine the reaction I would get from my students if I suggested they should step away from their phones and social medias for a few days. It may make you happy to know that last week we took my 18 year old brother on his first ever backpacking trip and he fell in love with it. I think we’ve converted at least one!

  • Reply Lynn at

    I’m probably skewed by where I live and the parents that I know, but I feel like I see young people/children out backpacking and hiking fairly often! But I do agree that it doesn’t necessarily have the immediately obvious rush of sports like mountain biking or climbing (which I also love). Maybe hybrid adventure sports/backpacking is the way of the future! I’m excited to try bike packing this summer and maybe a SUP overnighter.

    Here’s a link to an awesome short film about getting inner city kids out and backpacking:

    • Reply Dave Sandel at

      Sport backpacking? You mean alpine climbing? That’s already been invented. 😉

    • Reply heather at

      Not necessarily skewed– I mean, I live outside of Boulder! But I do think you are onto something with hybrid sports!

  • Reply Kevin at

    I also love backpacking but do not get to do it as much as I would like. I am even older than you, and finding friends to go with me is sometimes hard. They have kids, who have soccer and swimming, and all that stuff on weekends. They spend so much time shuffling their kids around to these things that they don’t take the time to get them outdoors, except for maybe a quick day hike.

  • Reply John at

    There’s certainly a big difference between the adrenaline surge when you jump off a cliff and the dopamine hit you get from accomplishing a goal like summiting a peak. I’ve never been an adrenaline junky, but am absolutely addicted to dopamine.

    I’m always taking my kids out for longer and more interesting trips. They’re at an age now where we can do the sorts of things that I’d like to do even without kids. I figure in the next six years we’ll tackle the Wonderland Trail. Well, that assumes they can carry their share of the gear.

    Perhaps what the sport needs is a little more reproduction to set up the next generation. In the future they’ll call it the Tent Boom and we’ll all be saved.

    • Reply heather at

      THE TENT BOOM!! Haha, that’s awesome! 🙂

  • Reply Jenna at

    I just turned 25, and I think the main reason backpacking trips have been few and far between for my friends and I in the past is a combination of associated costs and lack of time off. When you’re an entry-level employee you don’t often get many days off, and that means your best options for backpacking trips are holiday weekends. Not super appealing close to the Front Range, when every trailhead will be packed! And going farther afield means more precious vacation time spent in the car and more money in gas; and when you’re young, you’re cheap. We only had the tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, pads, etc. because my fiancé worked at REI through college and could afford it with the employee discount.

    To be honest, “adrenaline sports” don’t really appeal to me and my friends any more than backpacking and hiking! The associated costs are just as great, or greater, with rock climbing and mountain biking.

    • Reply heather at

      Interesting. I do understand the cost thing– I remember dealing with the same in undergrad 🙂 But, we used to go for single overnight trips wearing sweatpants! haha

  • Reply David Skinner at

    Thanks for the Shout Out! Giving our kids the opportunity to actually connect with our world in a big way is awesome and can be a lot of fun. I’ve taken local kids out on some exceptional adventures in the wild and the way they come alive with a few hours of fresh air gives me a lot of hope. What I also see often is unprepared young adults on the trail that need some guidance to make the experience something worth repeating. (True statement I’ve made: “No, you shouldn’t bring 4 pounds of gummybears and no water, also ditch the curling iron . . .”) Consider being the people that are available to give them the help to make it memorable out there in the woods! Love the blog, Cheers!

    • Reply heather at

      I remember removing hair gel from a friend’s backpack while packing the Camino in Spain 🙂 I was like, what are you going to do with THIS?!

  • Reply onewhohikes at

    when i was young, my father worried that classical music was finished. i can assure you both are alive and well 🙂

    • Reply heather at


  • Reply Katie at

    I know around Philly, you have to go a few hours to find half-decent options! So I know for me, general trail access plays a role. Good dialogue on this, though!

  • Reply Alyssa at

    Sleeping in the dirt is right there next to dental work in terms of my personal hell. But my friend is backpacking all week. So it can’t be totally dead! Kids these days are totally lazy. I’ll vouch for that. They all Facetime instead of going down the block to actually hang out. Not even joking.

  • Reply Steve at

    yep. definitely dead.

  • Reply Dawn at

    Very Sad. I am in my mid 30’s. Started backpacking in my 30’s. Living in Wisconsin we do not have the glory of the mountains, but do have some beautiful trails. I feel very alone in my love of backpacking. People find me crazy. Yet the peace and beauty you find where few others have traveled is difficult to place into words. I took my steppie on her first backpacking trip (two Overnights) a few years ago. She loved it. I can only hope I have made an impact in her and a love for outdoor adventures. Very nice post.

  • Reply Haley D at

    I am not a backpacker, I’ve backpacked in to get to some alpine climbs that weren’t doable in a day, but that’s the extent of my experience. I have to say I hate hiking too. If it isn’t getting me to the base of an awesome climb I just can’t get into it. I’ve tried, but I just need more adrenaline than hiking provides.

  • Reply Backpacking Tips for Beginners - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] think it through in an email response to her, but then I got a couple more emails after I wrote “The Death of Backpacking.” It appears y’all are interested in backpacking but are looking for a bit o’ help; happy to […]

  • Reply misszippy at

    Love this post–I think you are absolutely onto something and I think it’s sad. As a parent, I can see that loss of outdoor time among our younger generation and can see how all the gadgets lead to the “need” for extreme sport gratification, instead of just getting out and appreciating nature. It’s really quite sad.

  • Reply Sarah M. at

    My personal experiences are a bit different in regards to backpacking “dying-off.” I’m a 21-year-old college student who’s just gotten into backpacking in the last year or so. I’m from the 303, but attend college in Oklahoma. My school requires participation in PE classes every semester. One class they offer is backpacking. It is literally the most difficult class to get into out of every single class offered on campus, let alone PE classes. It fills up in about 45 seconds. Anyway, within the micro-culture of my university, backpacking is extremely popular, and due to the fact that we can only take each PE class twice, quite a few people get exposed to it every semester, and lots (myself included) can’t wait to do more outside the context of class (and in a place better than OK…*cough cough…Colorado).
    Another place I see, at the very least, a lack of dying of backpacking is with recent movies, specifically Wild and A Walk in the Woods (although geared toward a different demographic). The sheer amount of additional thru-hikers that have attempted or will attempt the AT and PCT because of these films is crazy, but people appear, at least to me, to be hungry for this kind of adventure. Maybe these are just my experiences and maybe backpacking really is dying off (though I still don’t think it is). If it is, then that means less crowds for the rest of us!

  • Reply Pat at

    Hi… I am 64 years old and have backpacker this country East to west and back… Most of my trips have centered on the kekekabic trail in MN. My focus has always been the kek. This goat trail has always brought me to my knees. The physical experience is one thing… The solo feel of total dependence and vulnerability is quite another. Just some thoughts from my goat trail tonight. Boring…. Let’s think….

  • Reply Heather Rennae at

    I don’t think backpacking is dying, but I do see it as a sport for the more mature person who has learned over time to appreciate nature and all its simple beauty. Today’s younger generations may not have much interest in backpacking now, but it will still be around for when they are ready to enjoy it.

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