Trails Magazine — Print Publication for Backpackers to Savor

Maria Weidich
Trails Magazine Print Backpacking Backpacker


Following the announcement that Backpacker Magazine would print their final publication in May 2022, Ryan Wichelns, one of the magazine’s freelance writers and longtime subscribers, had the idea to fill the void with Trails Magazine, a reader-supported, quarterly publication geared toward those who enjoy human-powered adventures and sleeping in the dirt.

There are a number of skiing and climbing magazines on the shelves, but backpacking? “When Backpacker was gone, there was no backpacking magazine, it just didn’t exist,” Ryan said.


Trails Magazine Print Backpacking Backpacker


Subscribing since he was a tween, Backpacker had an integral and profound impact on Ryan as he went on to become an avid backpacker and climber, as well as journalism student and eventually full-time freelancer. “It was clear to me something has to fill this hole,” Ryan said.

Trails Magazine, though, takes a different approach. “The ad supported, grocery store checkout line magazine model just wasn’t working anymore,” Ryan explained. “Cheap ads come in, the product declines, fewer people buy; it’s a common theme."

Trails Magazine started with a successful Kickstarter campaign that reached its goal in just over 24 hours. After the 30-day campaign, enough support was raised to not only make a magazine, but to build a dream team, too.


Trails Magazine Print Backpacking Backpacker


“So much goes into it besides editing and taking pictures,” Ryan said of producing a print magazine. “The learning curve was huge. Fonts, line breaks, drop caps, where to put captions, how to choose the weight of the paper…there are so many minuscule design details we had to figure out.”

Ryan is quick to say he didn’t do it alone.

The Trails Magazine team, hailing from nearly every US time zone, is tiny but extremely talented. He quickly brought on his right hand, Managing Editor Stasia, also a Backpacker alum. “She was an easy first choice and has been a big part of everything.”

With the expert help of Emily (photo editor), Mike (art director) and Tori (marketing director), Issue 1 made its way into subscriber’s hands in February 2023. 


Trails Magazine Print Backpacking Backpacker


The photo-rich, 72-page compilation of top-notch adventure stories printed on 80-pound paper representing a diverse backpacking community was an immediate success. “We made many decisions on the micro scale to create the larger feeling we wanted and it was far better than what I had imagined it would be.”

Printed in Canada, the publication is shipped out to subscribers by Ryan himself from his Bellingham, Washington home.


Trails Magazine Print Backpacking Backpacker


The Trails Magazine difference isn’t completely revolutionary, Ryan admits, but he’s confident it’s a successful model. “We’re shifting our revenue from advertising to our subscribers, and that forces us to create a product that invests in high-quality writing, photography and illustration while limiting each issue to 10% or less advertising.”

The quarterly publication is worthy of living on the coffee table and growing into a collection. “We’re making the magazine for the readers, not advertisers.”

The stories are a bit longer and more enriching. They’re better reported too, Ryan said. “We’re more subtle, less flashy than the quick hit stuff.” Not beholden to their advertisers, Trails Magazine gear reviews are unique and can be trusted. 


Trails Magazine Print Backpacking Backpacker


“I recognize that we have big shoes to fill, both for the younger kids newly subscribing as well as early Backpacker subscribers. I really hope we can inspire younger kids in the way that Backpacker inspired me,” Ryan said. “We’re a different product by design, but I’m hoping we can offer some of those intangibles to people today.”

Ryan remains incredibly grateful to Backpacker for giving him a start. “When I started writing, I was very new to this world, and I felt like I was a part of something cool,” he said. “I felt very lucky to have an editor take a chance on me and lucky to work my way into this core team. We’re building that here now, and I’m excited to help other new writers, too.”

“More than anything, I love working with our contributors. I love helping them make their story the best it can be and fit in our larger product.” 


Trails Magazine Print Backpacking Backpacker


Each issue adopts subtle threads that are open to interpretation by each creator. “It should feel like one cohesive magazine on a deeper level,” Ryan said. “We try very hard not to over edit and squash creativity, and instead let the creator’s voice come through.”

Each successive issue of Trails Magazine just keeps getting better, Ryan said. “I love them all like they’re my children,” he laughed. “But in a genuine way I think Issue 4 is our best one yet. The magazine continues to get bigger in size, and while I don’t expect every issue to get bigger, we’re certainly working on every one being different.”


Trails Magazine Print Backpacking Backpacker


Even in our digital world, Ryan believes there is still absolutely a place for thriving print publications. “If you can find a way that doesn't rely on the advertiser, people will always want a print magazine that they can flip through and browse and savor and feel,” he said. 



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1 comment



This is so amazing. I loved Backpacker so much and was kind of crushed when I couldn’t find it anymore. I much prefer print to digital anything so I’m so excited to start subscribing to this! Thanks Ryan and team for making this happen!

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