Citizen backpackers

The decline of the “late, great Golden Age of backpacking in America

The decline of the “late, great Golden Age of backpacking in America” is bemoaned at citizen journalism site,


NewWest, a “network of online communities devoted to the culture, economy, politics, environment and overall atmosphere of the Rocky Mountain West”:

the number of regular hardcore backpackers -- once pegged at about two million -- has decreased by 20 percent since the end of the 1990s

While the Rocky Mountains may wish for more hardcore backpackers, there is no shortage of backpackers in urban America. Backpacks—in all fabrics, in all styles and at all prices—are lining the walls of all types of urban retailers. Luxury accessories boutiques, high-end luggage purveyors, campus bookstores, and even sporting goods stores, sell backpacks and citizen backpackers are wearing them on city sidewalks, at corporate conferences, in college classrooms, and even at health clubs.

Hardcore backpacking’s decline is but one of the “dramatic transformations” NewWest covers in its mission to address changes taking place in the Rocky Mountain West: “from an under-populated, natural-resource-dependent part of the country to a fast-growing, sophisticated, service-based one.” An audio interview of the founder of New West, Jonathan Weber, is available at, covering the challenges of building a for-profit citizen journalism venture:

It is harder than you think to expect citizens to contribute for free
The citizen vs journalist conundrum
Photography as a contribution tool/service works
Raising funding for such sites
The issue of scaling in citizen media
The for-profit philanthropy venture
Local advertising and the categories which work and don’t work
Not just online, diversify offline as well

What is in your backpack? Join the conversation: “Talk Back” below to share your citizen backpacking stories.