If we’re being completely frank, we don’t get outside enough to be able to write up all the stories filling Trails on our own—we’re too busy actually making the magazine, after all. That’s why we’re always interested in hearing story ideas from writers, photographers, artists, and other creatives like you.
Interested? Here’s what you need to know to pitch us.
What do (and don’t) we cover?
Let’s start with the basics. The focus of Trails is on backpacking and other human/naturally-powered means of sleeping outdoors: bikepacking, canoe camping, even things like rafting or mountaineering are fair game (feel free to be creative with those criteria—we covered “skatepacking” in Issue One).
But remember: Human-powered, and overnight are the important pieces. Activities like RVing, backpacking in the “backpacking around hostels in Europe”-sense, and mountain biking won’t be good fits. We’re also more interested in multi-day trips than short day hikes. Backcountry and wilderness destinations are preferred.
We also primarily focus on North American destinations. Articles that focus specifically or heavily on a destination should be focused within that region. Articles where the geography is really just the setting of a different story (profiles, adventure stories, etc.) have a little more flexibility with place, but North America is still the preference.
Is there a broad theme for Issue Two?
Issue Two is filled, but please feel free to pitch us for Issue Three, which prints in August 2023! Check back here in the next few weeks for Issue Three's theme.
Whether it’s through technology, policy, our own personal hubris, gatekeeping, and more, we as humans are constantly trying to exercise some type of control over what we can’t normally affect: our wild spaces and the time we spend within them. For Issue Two, we’re looking for stories that explore the idea of that control on the micro or macro levels—our instincts and efforts to find it, as well as the difficulties and issues that control poses, and nature’s resistance to it.
Feel free to be liberal with your interpretation of that thread and how you choose to apply it to your pitches. It’s also not absolutely necessary that every pitch you send has an obvious connection to it. We’re happy to work with you to massage it into your stories, assign your story to a later issue, or frankly, to just ignore the prompt altogether (we don’t expect every story to fit perfectly). But the best pitches will have a subtle connection to it.
What types of stories are a good fit?
We spent a lot of time during Issue One getting the magazine organized into the following rough rubrics. These rubrics are only guidelines—don’t think of them as rules. Have ideas for ideas or tweaks to them, or thoughts on totally new rubrics or columns? Pitch them anyway!
Our features are the heart and soul of Trails Magazine and can be pretty much anything you come up with. We’re particularly fans of:
- Thrilling or thought-provoking adventure stories and narratives, either your own or by profiling another person. Conflict or difficulty are important in these, as is a strong sense of adventure. These need to be more than just “here’s a cool thing I did.”
- Profiles of interesting and inspiring people in the backpacking community. People with big goals or resumes, doing important and valuable things, interesting backstories or ideas, etc. are great.
- Articles exploring provocative ideas and big questions in the backpacking and adventure space, especially those exploring the flaws and problems in our community and hobbies. We’re always excited to hear an important story that involves reportage, research, investigation, or generally informs the backpacking community of issues they should know about. Examinations of backpacking culture are also relevant.
- Histories or other tales from adventures’ past that are particularly interesting or compelling, especially ones that provide some kind of takeaway or inspiration that we can use today.
- Environmental and public lands issues and stories particularly relevant to the backpacking community. Our readership is looking for stories that matter to their specific community and as adventurers, there’s not much more relevant than the state of our outdoor world. We’re always interested in stories that explore that, the issues surrounding its protection, and other environmental topics, but the best pitches are particularly and specifically relevant to the backpacking community.
Features range anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 words.
The “Blazes” section is dedicated to short (typically between 300 and 800 word) articles, opinion, current events, profiles, and other quick-hit types of stories. These can also focus on a wide range of topics, but typically avoid personal anecdotes or destination recommendations, specific gear reviews, how-tos, or topics that would fit better into other rubrics.
Our Skills pages can take a variety of forms: Q&A, anecdotal story, post-event analysis, or others. Our goal is to create content that's useful and interesting to both beginners or experienced backpackers. We’re not interested in basic “how-tos,” “tips and tricks,” or other elaborate explainers for skills like navigating using a map and compass, finding the right campsite, or avoiding avalanches. This isn’t the Boy Scout handbook. The best skills pitches have greater depth or offer analysis that transcends backpacking demographics or experience levels. We’re looking to educate readers on topics that are unique or difficult for most people to grasp, or out of the realm of most backpackers’ experiences (but are still relevant).
Each issue features one recipe (or potentially multiple shorter related recipes), as well as various shorter (less than 500 word) food-related stories. Profiles or reviews of backpacking meals from upstart brands, profiles of the food scene in trail towns, food-related essays or opinion, etc. are all great.
We like to highlight one especially unique, out-of-the-box adventure in a 500- to 900-word trip report. Imagine the trip reports you used to read on your favorite hiking forum, but especially well-written, unique, and creative. These should be written in the first person, either by the person who did the adventure, or written in “as-told-to” style. Trip reports should not cover well-known trails or routes. They are focused on unique experiences in less-than-unique places. They should focus on creatively-planned trips.
We’re looking for reviews of unique, interesting backcountry outhouses that shine a light on the larger destination it’s located in. The best ones are both unique as outhouses themselves (great views, unique location, interesting construction, etc.) and are located in captivating, little-known backpacking destinations. These reviews include a roughly 400-word first-person introduction to the location and a selection of “out of 5 star” ratings for various aspects of the outhouse, with short explanations.
Essays are 500- to 1000-word articles with no skills value and are instead focused on reflection and creative writing. These can take almost any form and are intended as an outlet for creativity from the writer.
“Unreviewed” is our gear section and is intended as an aeclectic medley of gear-related stories: Profiles of unique gear makers, reviews of out-of-the-box gear items, historical anecdotes or reflections, are all options for these pages. Stories can range from 400 to 1000 words. We are particularly interested in small, niche, independent gear and manufacturers. We’re not interested in reviews of products from the big, well known brands, or of items that have been regularly reviewed elsewhere. Find us something new.
We’re interested in all manner of outdoor-related opinion, especially provocative, unique, or challenging opinions. This is also a great place for humor. Shorter, lighter opinions will often become Blazes, while lengthier (up to 1000 words), more critical, or more heavily reported opinions will end up in a separate Opinion rubric.
I’m a photographer. What should I pitch?
Obviously, photography is going to be a huge part of Trails, and that means it needs to be more than just something pretty next to a written article.
Trails will include features that are photography-first: The photography will be the primary element driving the narrative or delivering information, and whatever text or other elements ride alongside the photos are there for context or deeper information.
That said, our hope is that we can go beyond the standard “photo essay” format. What does that look like? We’ll leave that up to you. We’re looking for real creativity, value to our readers, and beauty through combinations of photography, text, or other elements.
Each magazine includes a selection of photos known as Vantage Points. The photos take up a single or double page and feature a variety of different photographers and styles, but they all feature a different perspective on the “thread” we outlined above. Accompanying each photo is 50- to 100-words of context from the photographer. Don’t just send us photos for Vantage Points—pitch us the story you would like to tell through both the photo and the text, as well as how it relates to our thread. We’re looking for interesting, thought provoking images that tell a story and illustrate humans engaging with the elements or interacting with the landscape.
Who do I email?
Before sending a pitch, think about what topic it covers, not necessarily what rubric you would like it to fit. Send your pitches directly to the editor responsible for that topic, as closely as you can.
For gear-related stories (including Unreviewed), stories that center on specific adventures adventurous anecdotes (including Trip Reports or adventure-related features), stories focused on sharing a place or destination (including Outhouse Reviews), as well as opinions, send your pitches to:
Ryan Wichelns, Editor-in-Chief: firstname.lastname@example.org
For stories centered around people and personalities (including profile features), skills (including the Food and Skills rubrics), as well as essays, send your pitches to:
Stasia Stockwell, Managing Editor: email@example.com
For Photo Features, Vantage Points, or just to receive emails about specific photo needs as they arise, reach out to:
Emily Sullivan, Photo Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org
When you’re pitching, the more detail you can provide the better. Give us a sense of what you want to write, why it’s important, how you’re going to write and organize it, and what it will look (and read) like when you’re done. Also, whenever possible, include your thoughts for that story’s art and photography, whether or not you have photos available already, or if you have recommendations for artists or photographers who you think would be a good fit for the story you’re hoping to write. Pitches are always preferred (and more likely to be read) compared to manuscripts.
We promise we read everything and do whatever we can to get back to as many people as possible, but we get a lot of pitches and sometimes things get lost (sorry, in advance). If you haven’t heard from us in two weeks (that’s how often we have our internal pitch meetings), follow back up.
We only accept pitches via email. We are not responsible for unsolicited artwork, photographs, manuscripts, or any other original materials.
How much will I get paid?
We pay our writers a minimum of $0.50/word—that climbs based on the story and your experience. Rates for photographers are as follows:
It’s not New York Times Magazine money (or what we assume is NYTM money—we don’t actually know), but as one-time freelancers ourselves, we’re committed to paying our creators fairly, even as a startup, and we hope to treat our creatives even better as time goes on. This is important to us.
Trails issues payment to contributors upon publication.