I picked up the September issue of Backpacker hoping for a quick glimpse of what I'll be missing -- some gloriously panoramic pix of a lush landscape, for instance, or a recipe for a non-binding trail mix. Instead, I happened upon a dreaded "Special Report." Uh-oh, Belinda, clear my calendar for the afternoon. Time for another shrill lecture about the environment -- excuse me, about "The Future of Wilderness."
Haven't you heard? The ice caps are melting. The forests are burning. All the plant species in the Joshua Tree desert are gonna totally disappear, which could really put a damper on my next peyote escapade.
These are all legitimate tragedies - well, except for the possibility of less fall foliage in, and thus fewer football-frustrating weekend excursions to, New England. I just don't know why Backpacker feels the need to address them. Yes, the mag's readers tend to be a bit more eco-conscious than your average multiplex monkey. At the same time, nearly everything in this special report has been covered ad infinitum by publications much more comfortable with the science underpinning climate change.
Only in "Can A Lime-Green Vegetable-Oil-Powered Beetle Save the Earth?," which wittily chronicles a road trip in the titular vehicle, does Backpacker present a new twist on the save-the-world motif. Just about every other word in the September issue comes across as redundant at best. An explanation of carbon offsets, a note about endangered species in the Everglades, a report on the soon-to-be-de-glacier'd Glacier National Park -- I can count on two hands and one foot the number of times I've seen similar stories in other magazines, in most cases nine months earlier.
Backpacker's alarmist tone also takes me aback. Again, I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't be alarmed (no more moose and wolverines? Say it ain't so, respectively, Bullwinkle and Hugh Jackman!). I just think Backpacker ought to be taking a smaller-picture look at these problems, as it does in the piece about what hikers can do to combat climate change. Instead, the mag attempts to spook readers with bits about "bigger, itchier poison ivy," newly wussified winters and wildfires, wildfires, everywhere wildfires.
By the time you reach the mag's dependably sturdy "Gear" section, you'll find yourself practically begging: Please, sweet lord, let there be nothing more here than a simple pair of cotton shorts, even if they're manufactured by blind children in a poorly ventilated Malaysian sweatshop. No dice. The mag sticks with the save-the-universe theme and presents a best-o'-class thermo pad made with carbonized bamboo, designed for those backpacking barbarians whose thermo pads have reduced the South Pole to a pile of slush.
On a different front, it wouldn't hurt if Backpacker's design staff switched to decaf. The masthead is dotted with a handful of bright-yellow blurbs detailing the actions that staff members have taken to slash their emissions, like selling a second car or cutting back on the burritos. The hyperactive design renders the environment-friendly vacation tips all but incomprehensible, drowning the information in a sea of blue, yellow and green circles. And not for nothin', but the September cover image is a thematic rip-off of Sports Illustrated's own the-environment's-going-to-pot cover, which featured Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis up to his waist in water.
Anyway, I'm chalking this one up as a fluke. The Backpacker folks have produced better issues than this in the past -- I've been a fan for some time -- and they will produce better ones in the future. I just hope this serves as a cautionary example for other enthusiast pubs inclined to force an Important Issue That Demands Your Immediate Attention down readers' throats. Backpacker could've gotten its point across in about 75 fewer pages.