If you can’t live without a recipe for campfire chilaquiles, a user review of a remote outhouse, or cutting-edge coverage of “skatepacking,” there’s a publisher looking for you.

The above topics were featured in a recent issue of Trails magazine, a thick new subscription-only quarterly publication designed to fill the ample boots of Backpacker magazine, which was closed in 2022. Ryan Wichelns, the former editor of goEast, believed Backpacker’s audience would ante up for a fresh take on human-powered adventures, so he and a small team launched Trails last February.



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“People love print magazines, they love high-quality magazines, and they’re willing to pay for it,” Wichelns says. “Our subscriber numbers have grown steadily in the last year.”

The quarterly magazine, and others like it, leans on spectacular images and creative, often long-form reporting that describes outdoor adventure in granular detail and creative ways. Noticeably absent from the team of editors and designers are advertising salespersons. There are few advertisements on the pages of Trails, a major break from the traditional publishing model which judged a publication healthy when its editorial-to-advertising ratio was closer to 50/50. In fact, Wichelns says ads are capped at 10% of the magazine, giving it a distinctively different feel.

“The big focus [at Trails] is always on creating a really great product, a really top-notch magazine. If we can do that, people are going to want to read it. If we slip up there, we’re at risk of becoming one of the magazines we replaced. If we focus on making each issue better than the last, we’re going to be just fine,” Wichelns says.

In brief, he says the magazine is written for “people who sleep in the dirt.”

Wichelns is among a fresh crop of publishers banking on a new generation of readers who appreciate deep dives into their hobbies and are willing to part with $70 or more for a subscription. Don’t ask for a sample or go looking for the magazine on a newsstand because exclusivity is also part of the game: there are no digital copies, and once any extras are gone, they’re gone.



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Michael Levy calls himself a “caretaker” of a pedigreed magazine, Summit Journal, the climbing publication founded in 1955. It was in print until 1989, involving many of the sport’s big names. John Harlan III revived the publication in the mid-1990s, then it was shuttered again. Levy had worked for Rock and Ice and Climbing magazines, and when both closed, he bought the rights to Summit Journal. Given the recent history of magazine publishing, he calls his quest “tilting at windmills.” Yet, he presses on, relying on fellow climbing fanatics to support him. His formula for success hinges, to some degree, on screen fatigue and a desire for a deeper connection to the sport.

“How you consume something indelibly affects what you take away from it and how you relate to it,” Levy says. “Slowing things down with long-form, unplugging from the screen in favor of a tactile book—that all requires a reader’s fuller attention in a different way than doom scrolling. And that leads to deeper, more profound engagement with the stories, I think. And more powerful connections.”

Passion for Print

One thing that makes these two publishers different is that the magazines are extensions of their own passions, not just jobs. Wichelns devoured copies of Backpacker as a kid and tore out pages to guide him on future adventures. Levy does all types of climbing, from sport climbing to big wall climbing to alpinism, even working as a climbing guide in Vietnam and China.

Another newcomer is Ori, a travel magazine published by Kade Krichko. “The beautiful thing about the travel world is that it is so broad—there’s a lot of space to grow. We are taking our time to grow our own way, and as that growth approaches other existing publications or content, we are adjusting accordingly. At its very core though, Ori…prioritizes local writers, photographers, and creatives to tell the stories they find valuable about the places they know the best. In this way we are hoping to inspire, but also teach our audiences how to interact with these places and these people rather than just visiting,” says Krichko.

Getting readers to invest—financially and philosophically—in the future of Ori is the publisher’s novel way to grow the audience. They put aside a fraction of each issue’s revenue as a creative grant and ask readers to vote on which magazine contributor to award it to.

“I’ve been fortunate to work in and out of publications for the last 10 years and have been probing and polling the whole time. A lot of our model is built on correcting wrongs that we have personally faced in our industry, and we hope to be part of a changing tide of publications that we have already seen taking root in our current market. I also just think we are part of a curious generation that is more untethered than ever. COVID actually helped bring that more into focus, and brought a lot of people further from home and traditional workspaces than ever before. We know our friends want to travel, we want to show them what’s out there. I would say that Ori is a product of our generation, built for our generation,” Krichko says.

The Path Ahead

Anyone who experienced the crash of the magazine industry in the last two decades is skeptical of their odds of success. Among them is Larry Bean, a longtime journalist, editor, and mass communications lecturer at Boston University. He is currently editor of the Research Department at the Federal Reserve in Boston.

“I’m skeptical about the viability of such magazines, though I wish I wasn’t, because I still prefer reading from a magazine instead of my phone or laptop, especially long-form articles. But given the cost of producing and distributing a high-quality print publication—which I hope would include fair pay rates for the writers, editors, photographers, and designers—and the absence of advertising revenue, I’d be concerned that the subscription price would have to be so high for the publisher to just break even that the magazine, regardless of its quality, wouldn’t be able to build a large enough circulation,” Bean says.

Central to his misgivings is what he sees as peoples’ short attention spans for detailed stories that can’t be digested on a brief morning commute. “I wish I were more optimistic, because long-form writing is important and valuable, and I hope there will continue to be outlets for it.” Bean says the publishers of new magazines should keep their expectations in check because they can’t expect to get rich in print journalism.

In pre-internet times, just about anyone could publish a magazine centered on a narrow subject and expect to make money from it. In that era, titles like Miniature Donkey Talk, Recumbent Cyclist News, and Lighthouse Digest actually graced newsstands. Niche magazines proliferated the way podcasts of every flavor and color do now.

In 2000, the magazine industry made about $46 billion annually, justifying the weird and wonderful print titles. Then the internet changed the landscape dramatically. In just a few years, revenues fell by at least $20 billion, and corporate consolidation shuttered dozens of iconic titles such as Life and the more-than-100-years-old Outdoor Life and Field & Stream magazines.

Just as the seismic changes seemed to settle, Outside magazine, the largest title representing hikers, climbers, and bikers, went through its own reorganization. It was sold, consolidation ensued, and several titles within the group were closed, including Backpacker, Oxygen, Beta, and Peloton.

Of the titles that survived, only those with the broadest readership and deep-pocketed publishers are still visible—People magazine, AllRecipes, and AARP The Magazine reach a combined 180 million readers a month.

The Spin

Without listicles or other content created to appease advertisers, these new magazine publishers are turning their noses at the tried-and-true formula that supported print publications for over 100 years. Yet, like all good outdoor explorers, these adventurers of publishing aren’t afraid of breaking trail or finding new approaches to a pitch. Their visions of better content—of an elevated experience for their readers—are bearing fruit: all say they’ve done better than breaking even, proving that their instincts are on target.