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BACKPACKER, Back in the Day

A look at backpacking history through the archived issues of our magazine

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Looking at pictures of yourself when you were younger can often be an embarrassing affair—dated haircuts, awkward physiques, and the ubiquitous naked baby photos can make secure, grown men and women alike blush. But much to our surprise and pleasure, we looked pretty great, even 36 years ago.

The ultra-righteous bloggers over at the camping lifestyle blog Cold Splinters unearthed a cache of old-school BACKPACKER issues, from the 70s on through the early 2000s, all located on the Google Books archive. True, things have changed since then: We’re a lot less bearded now (unfortunately), and the plaids and stripes of old have naturally been replaced by brightly-colored Gore-Tex and polypro. But I’d argue that even though everyone looks like an old-school telemarker, the issues capture the spirit of DIY wilderness adventure we still try to deliver today.

That said, watching the passage of time through the lens of backpacking history offers some fantastic archaeological insights:

Backpacking in the 70s: Hiking in snow is an absolutemust. Conventional wisdom says snowshoeing and cross-country will likely replace skiing as the winter sport of the future. Beardsarenotoptional. The more things that are made out of wood and cotton, the better. Bandanas will never go out of style. Never. Ultralight…ultra-what?

Backpacking in the 80s: Matching neon socks and top are perfect for hiking. External frame packs are here to stay. Save that trucker hat for your kids. Forget snowshoeing—getonaboat. Jeans are OK to hike in, as long as they’re high-rise. Mustaches are almost as cool as beards. Bikepacking is the future of the sport. Remember: For safety, always wear the brightestcolorspossible!

Backpacking in the 90s: Clean shaven is the way to be. Everyone loves a close-upof aboot. The booming economy will never end. Ain’t nothing wrong with a scenicshot. Khakishortsrule—can you believe anyone ever hiked in jeans?

Which brings us close enough to recent history, which you can find all over (often enhanced with photos, videos, GPS tracks, maps, and other wonders of the Interwebs). Also: Word on the street is that the earliest issues come from our editor Jon Dorn’s personal collection—so you’ll want to blame him for that missing cover from ’79.

Have a favorite remembrance from BACKPACKER back issues, or from your backpacking past? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

—Ted Alvarez

via Cold Splinters

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