What is backcountry?
“Backcountry” is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as any remote undeveloped rural area. Other resources have used descriptive words to characterize the backcountry such as uncultivated, rugged, pristine, barren, secluded, primitive and unaltered.
Wilderness areas are backcountry. The U.S. Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964, recognizing wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Gender bias in wording aside, these areas designated by our government provide vast land and water masses to be explored by its citizens while remaining undisturbed.
Backcountry can also include large natural public lands such as parks, forest areas, land conservancies, preserves, wetlands, coastlands, plains, mountains and other designated wild regions. These are places where, when we park our vehicle, we have to hike or backpack for a distance in order to get a full sense of being in the backcountry.
What is frontcountry?
On the other hand, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics states, “Studies have shown that the majority of outdoor use occurs along open space trails, in urban and state parks and in established campgrounds.”
The center has identified these locations and day-use areas as “frontcountry.”
They Outdoor Industry Association finds there are three times as many car campers and five times as many day hikers as there are backpackers in the United States.
Car campers and day hikers who visit city, county and state parks and trails, urban nature centers and land-managed areas near cities, recreate in the frontcountry. They tend to stay fairly close to their vehicles when camping and hiking on the trails.
The entirety of Jim Joque’s column comparing and contrasting snowshoeing in the backcountry versus the frontcountry appears in the January 2015 print edition of Silent Sports magazine. To order a copy or find a newsstand near you, call 888-706-4045. Or avoid missing another issue and subscribe online here.