The Most Influential Backpackers Of All Time

10:14 a.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Has it ever been debated on who are the most influential backpackers of all time (Top 5 )?  With the creation of the A.T. Museum, I know there was discussion about the most influential Appalachian Trail backpackers of all time (ie. Earl Shaffer), but what about in general? 

I'd argue that Earl Shaffer makes that cut for pioneering the first "official" thru-hike, but what about someone like "Flyin' Brian" Robinson who became the first backpacker to conquer hiking's Triple Crown in a calendar year? He definitely took thru-hiking to an entirely new level? Curious to get your thoughts on this....

GA-ME 1994

2:18 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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People who arguably deserve a place in the top five for their overall influence, at least in the US:

Greg Lowe, who arguably had a highly significant influence on backpacking today by inventing the internal frame backpack.

Colin Fletcher, outdoors writer who authored "The Complete Walker," a pioneering guide for backpackers.

William Kemsley Jr. founded backpacker magazine and helped found the American Hiking Society.  One of the people who helped make modern backpacking popular.  his gear/advice guides were a kind of early bible for me. 

reaching back a ways, Charles Ernest Fay played a leading role in the Appalachian Mountain Club in the late 19th century and founded the American Alpine Club in 1902. 

4:22 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Leave it to the philosopher in me to start loosening definitions, but would John Muir be considered a backpacker here?

Guy was pretty influential...ah, to hear the conversations he had with Roosevelt around those campfires...

6:17 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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I'm not hugely into ultralight myself, but you've got to admit that Ray Jardine has had an enormous impact.

1:14 a.m. on February 19, 2012 (EST)
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Yes Pillowthread...for sure John Muir counts as a backpacker, the most ultralight backpacker of us all!

How about Chris Townsend? 

4:11 a.m. on February 19, 2012 (EST)
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Lord Baden Powell, who started the Boy Scouts, where many of us were first introduced to backpacking. He also founded the Girl Guides, which became the Girl Scouts in the US. There are various scouting organizations around the world.

Next on my list-Colin Fletcher, for popularizing backpacking through his books.

4:00 p.m. on February 19, 2012 (EST)
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Colin Fletcher was a great man.  I wrote an obiituary for him ( and was moved to tears, thinking of the time I had spent reading The Complete Walker again and again.

Bill Kelmsley is a wonderful guy too.  In addition to helping to found Backpacker Magazine, he created American Hiking Society, The Florida Trail Association and Big City Mountaineers.  What a huge footprint to leave!

4:04 p.m. on February 19, 2012 (EST)
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I should also say welcome to birdshooter. Welcome to Trailspace and what an excellent question!

10:33 a.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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Thanks for the welcome, Seth.

I posted this question on a few backpacking forums with plans to write an article on the topic.  If you are curious, here are the names that come up the most:

Colin Fletcher
Ray Jardine
Robert Baden-Powell/The Scoutmaster
Ed Garvey
John Muir
Earl Shaffer
A Family Member (Dad, Brother, Ex-Wife, etc.)

So far, Colin Fletcher is leading the charge.

2:23 p.m. on February 24, 2012 (EST)
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For me?

None of the above.

I started hiking, backpacking and camping around 1955 (near as I can tell ... maybe earlier?).

Sooooo ... the answer would be "ME".

Not that I am an expert, or anything like that; nor have I worked in any outdoor-related career vocations (other than construction) for a government agency, or via research under a grant; nor, for an equipment manufacturer.

Did it "the old-fashioned way".   Learned by "trial & error", with lotsa "errors" along the way.   Did a lot of research on gear and backcountry lore (waaaay before the internet).

 Probably, like most members here at Trailspace,  every nickel and dime I spent on travel, equipment, clothing and gear came out-of-pocket.  NO vouchers or subsidies, or "freebies".  Could not afford to be stuck with "junk", though ... so, bought the best I could afford at the time.   Still have a lot of it ... and, still use it.  "Classic" gear ... worthy of a "Hiker's Hall-of-Fame", with many "Honorable Mentions".

I would give much credit to the Boy Scouts of America, and its founder, Mr. Powell.   

My scouting activity began with the Cub Scouts.   My copy of the "Webelos"  manual ... (  "We'll Be Loyal Scouts")  was my "bible".

It's been "A Great Ride" ... and the journey continues.   And, so it goes ....

                         pax vobiscum

                              ~ r2 ~

June 21, 2018
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