It's been quite a year of changes for Backpacker magazine including embracing GPS technology throughout the magazine and on the website and then, with the September issue, a launch of regional editions of Backpacker -- separate Northwest, California and national coverage.
With the publication of its April 2004 issue, Backpacker began touting itself as the "world's first GPS-enabled magazine." Throughout each issue, an Adventure Guide map, as well as select photos and the new Waypoint map cards are accompanied by UTM coordinates that can be entered into readers' GPS to help guide them to any location they've just read about.
In addition, while the website, www.backpacker.com/gps currently features a decent but limited number of hikes complete with detailed coordinates at last check, Backpacker Executive Editor Jon Dorn tells SNEWSÂ® that an in-progress website redesign will allow the magazine staff to be able to archive all the coordinates/waypoints featured in Backpacker articles, maps, photos and more. The ultimate goal is to have the GPS section of Backpacker's website, a section which is currently sponsored by Garmin, fully interactive for maximum reader enjoyment. We're told readers will be able to upload and download waypoints, notes about areas and more, as well as customize maps, engage in chats and even customize their own areas of the site to store favorite maps and regions visited.
Backpacker has also teamed up with www.offroute.com, owned by Hans Wain and Fred Williams, to offer custom-centered topographic maps from www.backpacker.com/mapstore that come with a list of all the waypoints and plotted trails from each published Adventure Guide map.
The September issue took the GPS-enabling to a new level by regionalizing coverage with three editions: California, Northwest (Idaho, Oregon and Washington) and then a national edition. Each special edition features Waypoint cards that are unique to that region only -- so California covers only that state's hikes, Northwest-only hikes in the states in that region, and the national edition offers Waypoint maps for hikes near major metropolitan areas. In addition, the cover of each features cover lines focused on that region and an Adventure Guide map starburst for the map that is specific to that region.
Just how successful the regionalization will be in the long term remains to be seen as Backpacker tracks sales over the next year, but Dorn is very optimistic from the initial response.
"While September is just off the newsstand now, I do know that from scan data from Barnes and Noble from the June and September issues, regional issues are significantly outperforming the control," Dorn said.
SNEWSÂ® View: Love it or hate it, the fact that Backpacker has responded to its latest reader surveys by providing more detailed and regionalized information as requested demonstrates that the leadership isn't going to sit back anytime soon. Certainly, we do have to tweak Jon Dorn just a little when he wrote, in a May 2004 editorial that Backpacker would be providing "precise coordinates for scenic spots only our correspondents know about." Hey, we know your editors are good, but that's one claim ya just can't back up. How about being happy with the fact that the magazine is now providing sufficient information so that anyone -- even a navigational imbecile -- can enjoy areas the magazine has written about. While a number of folks have taken the magazine to task for revealing "secret" spots, we point out that just because precious few folks in the recreational community know about a spot does not make it secret. We can promise that every geologist, petroleum engineer and other individual who might be able to exploit a site before the public knows about it already has the regions mapped and detailed ready for extractive use. We need more in the public to love all our public lands and feel comfortable visiting them and find value in them if we ever hope to preserve them, and what Backpacker's editors and staff are doing by "GPS-enabling" their magazine is a good step. Protection of wild places is the domain of sound public policy and education, not public ignorance or a cloak of secrecy. Of course, with this magazine-enabling of all who can turn on a GPS to visit wild places, we also task Backpacker with doing a much better job than they have currently of making it clear that a GPS is simply a tool and that a person has no business, and we mean ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS, heading into the backcountry without strong map and compass skills -- period.