The 1970s Backpacking Boom, Conservation and Photography

February 13th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

What is your favorite place to hike or backpack?

The Role of Landscape Photography and Backpacker Magazine in the 1970s Backpacking Boom and the Combined Impact on Conservation

At the Celebration of Philip Hyde’s Life in May 2006, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Jack Dykinga said a 1975 article in Backpacker Magazine by Gary Braasch about Philip Hyde called “Conservation Photographer” began Jack Dykinga’s journey to leave photo journalism in Chicago, move to the West and become a landscape photographer.

(See photograph full scree: Click Here.)

David, Ardis and Philip Hyde on Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, 1972, by unknown bystander. The last photography visit to Point Reyes before the Sierra Club re-issued "Island In Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula," in 1974 in the Exhibit Format Series. The first issue was released in 1962, the same year as Eliot Porter's "In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World," and Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." Eliot Porter's book consisted of all color photographs and Philip Hyde's book contained half color and half black and white. The second edition of "Island In Time" had more color plates including the most well-known image of Drake's Beach. "Island In Time" played a significant role in the campaign to make Point Reyes National Seashore. The Sierra Club published the second edition in 1974 to celebrate the creation of the National Seashore and announce that more funds were needed to complete the purchases that would make the final boundaries. On backpacks, Philip Hyde carried mainly photography gear and the campfire grate or cook stove, while Ardis Hyde carried most of the food and related supplies. This was about the age that David began to carry more of the food too. Hence the glum facial expression.

“We were delighted that Philip Hyde was willing to do an interview with a virtually unknown magazine at the time,” said Bill Kemsley, Jr, founder of Backpacker Magazine. “We were still at the beginning of the current environmental movement. Virtually every issue of the magazine was a soft-sell promotion of conservation. We carried an article stating our position on the role of the backpacker in conservation.” The article was titled “Backpack and Camera: the Battle Tools of the Conservation Movement.” In the first two years Bill Kemsley said they worked hard “at building a constituency for the environment.”

The first issue of Backpacker Magazine came out in spring 1973, which took three years to put together. Bill Kemsley, Jr worried that America in the early 1970s did not have a backpacking community large enough to support a magazine. He wanted Backpacker Magazine to support itself through subscriptions rather than through advertising. By 1973, the Baby Boomers had taken up backpacking. “The number of new backpackers alone in that year exceeded the total number of all backpackers on the trails just four years earlier,” Bill Kemsley said in “How the 1970s Backpacking Boom Burst Upon Us” in Appalachia Magazine. The total number of backpackers between 1968 and 1973 nearly doubled in just four years to more than 15 million. It took another 24 years until 2007 for the total number of backpackers to double again to 31 million.

In 1963, Bill Kemsley had observed a group of teenage backpackers leave their camp without putting out their camp fire. He went over to put out their fire and discovered they had “scattered tin cans, paper plates, cups, forks, spoons, scraps of food, assorted plastic containers and wrappers all about their campsite.” It took him nearly an hour to clean up the mess. Bill Kemsley began to ask himself the question, “What could be done to get newcomers to be more respectful of our backcountry?” He had mixed feelings because he was glad more people were enjoying the outdoors, but many of them were “careless and inadvertently despoiling the backcountry I loved. It struck me that one way to influence newcomers would be to fuel their fantasies with heroes they would like to emulate.”

“One of my heroes was David Brower,” Bill Kemsley, wrote recently in an e-mail. “One of the main influences for my including photo interviews in almost every issue was David Brower’s use of coffee table books for promoting the preservation of wilderness. I had lots of cooperation from nature photographers because of our mission.” The second issue of Backpacker Magazine featured Eliot Porter and the list went on: Galen Rowell, Ed Cooper and many others. Besides the Spring 1975 article on Philip Hyde, Backpacker Magazine featured Philip Hyde interviewing Ansel Adams in the June 1976 issue. You will see this article by Philip Hyde and the interview of Philip Hyde by Gary Braasch in future blog posts.

Bill Kemsley, Jr sold Backpacker Magazine in 1980. It went through several owners before Active Interest Media, the current owners, bought it in 2007. Active Interest Media, based in Boulder, Colorado, also publishes Yoga Journal and American Cowboy Magazines.

For the story of Ardis and Philip Hyde backpacking a decade before the trend on the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona from Rainbow Lodge down to Rainbow Bridge see the blog post, “The Making Of ‘Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side.'” For more about landscape photography and wilderness travel and living see also the blog post, “Backpacker Magazine Interview: Conservation Photographer 1” and the blog post, “Backpacker Magazine Interview: Conservation Photographer 2.”)

What is your favorite place to hike or backpack?



  1. Steve Sieren says:

    That looks like a cinder block on your back. I take it you didn’t have a choice to stay home. You can probably see the glum expression a little better than we can.

    David, My favorite place would be California! I know it’s pretty general but the Sierra is where most of my backpacking is done but I really enjoy the Channel Islands and the Mojave Desert where you can drive until the road ends and hike for miles. I haven’t tried any desert backpacking trips longer then an over night because of the amount of water one has to carry and there aren’t many water sources you can depend on besides the Colorado River, everything else to the west of it is bone dry.

    Backpacker was an unknown magazine? And now each and everyone one of us is now one in 31 million, that is a lot of backpackers. I seem to lose an item every now and then when backpacking, it’s by accident but it is still littering. I should really pay more attention to properly securing items on my pack and stop using my loose pockets to put things in that will likely get lost. The wind is also a contributor to this unintentional littering.

    The funniest thing I often come across out there is broken mylar balloons.

  2. Hi Steve, my pack looks heavy for my size in that picture, doesn’t it? It probably was, but nothing compared to Mom or Dad’s. They could pack a lot of weight, had mostly wooden chairs at home and in the field preferred to sleep on the ground with a thin pad or none at all. I didn’t complain very often because it did no good. If I ever did grumble, Mom and Dad would sort of laugh it off. Nonetheless, don’t get the impression I would rather have stayed home. Not in a million years would I miss a backpack with my parents when they had arranged for me to be able to go along. Our backpacks are some of my fondest memories and most enjoyable experiences of my life, despite the heavy packs. I completely forgot about the pack weight, until I saw this photograph. In the old days we never had to carry water. We did carry iodine tablets but never used them. I remember distinctly at Point Reyes that there were lots of springs coming out of the cliffs and fresh water streams that we drank from. While at camp, Mom usually boiled the water we drank with meals and cooked with, but while on the trail during the day, we drank from natural sources, sometimes at most using a Sierra Club cup.

  3. Oh gee, I got on a roll talking about my parents and backpacks and forgot to ask you, Steve, where in the Mojave Desert you go, if it’s not a secret? We used to have certain backpacks that were secrets. I have always been interested in visiting the channel islands too.

  4. My favorite spot would be the Big Bend region. Favorite hike there could be any, really…. but for now I’ll say the chimney hike is my favorite.
    The chimneys are off the beaten path (even for Big Bend), and are a unique geological formation in the middle of the desert flats. American Indians have used the chimneys for, well, forever to get away from it all and think. As do I.

  5. Thank you, Derrick. I can’t wait to get back to look up the backpack I mentioned previously in Big Bend National Park that I went on with my parents. I remember it was high elevation and very cold for that time of year.

  6. Richard Wong says:

    Hi David. My favorite hike would have to be the Cataract Trail in Marin County. It isn’t a long hike but is rather strenuous since it is very steep and can be slippery in the winter. It is truly a magical place given how close it is to a major metro area.

  7. Hi Richard, Mount Tamalpais, or Mt. Tam as locals call it, was one of the places my dad first hiked back in the 1930s, one that he liked the most before he started backpacking in Yosemite at age 16 in 1938. I have yet to hike on Mt. Tam. I will have to try the Cateract Trail some time.

  8. Steve Sieren says:

    I sure wish my parents took me backpacking but they did take me to a few national parks so I got to love them for that. Never the same place twice yet. I don’t do much broadcasting on the open net about most of the places I head off into out in the Mojave unless it’s Death Valley or one of the other well known places. Some of the places it just seems it would be difficult to explain where they are. The Channel is like desert backpacking because you have to carry all your water their too.

  9. Thank you, Steve. I understand not broadcasting on the internet your favorite backpacking places, particularly specific locations. You have provided just what I was curious about, a rough idea of the general areas you like to go. My dad was always against backcountry guidebooks and especially photographing guide books. He didn’t understand why people would want to ruin the joy of making their own discoveries on the land, or through buying their own topo maps and using local agency trail maps. He was not much for connect-the-dot camping. He advocated in-depth learning about a place.

  10. Liz Warner says:

    as for me, my fave place is Krabi, Thailand! I actually wanna go back to Thailand, but this time I might try chiang mai ^_^

  11. Hi Liz, thank you for your suggestion, quite exotic. I will have to look that up. Have never been to Thailand, but hear it is well worth visiting. Do you travel a lot? Have you backpacked in many other countries? What was the highlight of backpacking in Thailand?

  12. Liz Warner says:

    Hi david, i’ve been to asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Well i must say you have to visit thailand and try their local dishes and most importantly go to their lovely beaches 🙂

  13. Thank you for another comment, Liz. Thailand is definitely on my list. I have heard it is a paradise.

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