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November 2010

Top 10 Page Turners: The Best Backpacker Stories Ever

Our editor-in-chief's picks for the finest writing in this magazine's history.
best of backpackerRead some of the best stories in BACKPACKER's history here.

THE DEATH OF EMPIRES, THE TRIUMPH OF TREES
Edward Abbey, August/September 1981
Classic Abbey, this one-page ode to solitary living and conscientious landscaping is pithy, prickly, and pissed off.

MUTINY ON THE BACKCOUNTRY
Tim Cahill, December/January 1981
Beer, bragging, and black-market Asian sex potions feature prominently in this rollicking essay by the Outside columnist-to-be.

THE MOUNTAINS SHOW NO MERCY
Mark Jenkins, February 1996
Among the many fine stories by our former Rocky Mountain editor, this heartbreaking eulogy stands out–in part because I found a dog-eared copy of it in the very hut where Jenkins encounters his subject, a dying climber.

MORE THAN A DAY’S WALK

Colin Fletcher, winter 1975 issue
Founded in 1973 by William Kemsley, Jr., BACKPACKER rode a hiking boom whose singular celebrity was Fletcher, an eclectic Brit who captivated millions with his guide to wilderness tramping, The Complete Walker. A regular in our pages, Fletcher limned this elegant 20-stanza verse with his favorite themes: self-reliance, the timeless grandeur of wilderness, and the gift of personal discovery for those who explore nature alone and on foot.

ELDER OF THE TRIBE: Aldo Leopold
Roderick Nash, June/July 1978
Early on, our authors, many from the burgeoning conservation movement, grappled with thorny wilderness issues: how to define it, protect it, and understand man’s place in it. In this essay–imagine Noah profiling Moses–we featured two heavyweight thinkers whose ideas still resonate.

"I CRIED OUT ALOUD FOR YOU"
Jeff Rennicke, June 2002
In his poignant evocation of Rev. Mike Turner’s last days–spent trapped under a boulder in the Wind Rivers–Rennicke explores the ways wilderness can test and enrich one’s faith, a recurring BACKPACKER theme in the past decade.

THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
Multiple authors, June 2003
The leash comes way off in essays by writers handpicked for their familiarity with bad backcountry behavior.

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING SCOTT WILLIAMSON
Steve Friedman, May 2005
Our current writer-at-large’s portrait of the first man to yo-yo the PCT digs deep into the yearnings that propel him and the demons he can’t outhike.

FREEFALL
Annette McGivney, June 2007
Our longtime Southwest editor risked life and limb to bring home this searing expose of a murder in paradise.

THE SOURCE OF ALL THINGS
Tracy Ross, January 2008
This award-winning memoir of redemption (another recurring theme in recent years) spurred more letters than any story in BACKPACKER history. The book version hits stores in March 2011.

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