To evaluate our performance over the past 35 years, we convened a review board, made up of our most dedicated subscribers, and encouraged them to pull no punches. Gulp.
"I still have all my old copies, going back to at least 1994. The funniest thing I ever read in Outside was an excerpt from Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods ('You Gotta Have Friends. Which Is Damned Unfortunate.' April 1998). I subsequently read the book on two occasions and listened to the unabridged version on tape. Today, I still read Outside cover to cover, except for three things. I'm not into fashion, so I don't read the Style section. I have no interest in alpine skiing, so I don't read those stories. And I don't like articles about free-soloing climbers, because I just can't imagine what their families go through when something happens. I mean, how onerous is it really to rope in?"
—Kevin Baldwin, Atlanta, 20-year subscriber
"I got my first subscription to Outside when I was 15. The first thing that drew me to it were the photos in the Exposure section. They were among the best photographs I'd ever seen. And I still remember the Everest issue in 1996. My twin sister and I read it out loud to each other as we drove to a whitewater-kayaking school, which was seven hours away. I still gravitate toward the features, because I love that Outside has great writers who tackle deeper issues and don't treat me like I'm stupid. I had a subscription to a surfing magazine for a year. I think the average writer had an IQ of 80."
—Sarah Giles Orleans, Ontario, 19-year subscriber
"I first became a subscriber because I had a young, energetic employee who was selling magazine subscriptions to earn some extra cash. I wanted to help him out. Obviously, I've enjoyed the magazine, because I've renewed ever since. What I always read is the adventure stories, the survival stories. The story on Reinhold Messner ('Es Est Mein Bruder,' January 2006) was fascinating. I'm sure there are people with bigger egos, but I don't know who they are. And the kayaker who was eaten by a crocodile ('Consumed,' March 2011)—I loved that story. The Everest stuff, I always read that, too. The gear items I don't much care for, and the fitness stuff is only mildly interesting. Let me put it this way: I have preferences but no complaints."
—Michael Stott, Richmond, Virginia, 24-year subscriber
"I've always loved the variety, but the articles that seem to be more about attacking people or organizations, like the Livestrong article ('It's Not About the Lab Rats,' February 2012), don't belong here. To me, very simply, the test of any story should be: 'Will this inspire or educate a reader in a way that will encourage him or her to get outdoors?' Hopefully, you can keep that focus."
—Robin Blakely, Pacific Grove, California, 14-year subscriber
"There's a reason I've been around 20 years. When I get the magazine, I always turn to the Exposure section and Parting Shot. And I've always liked the long-form stories. There was this great one about a Native American reservation using the land to store nuclear material ('In the Valley of the Shadow,' May 2000). Another great one was about Bill Stone's attempts to explore an underwater cave ('Bill Stone in the Abyss,' November 1994). The magazine seems more ad heavy than it used to be, but with so many folding I'm just glad you're still around."
—Timothy Sieck, Cleveland, Ohio, 21-year subscriber
"I don't care about Lance Armstrong's or Kelly Slater's 43rd cover shots. And I know more about gear than you can show me in a sexy photo spread. What I want is 14-page stories that inspire me. I remember one about a cave diver's obsession with bringing back a young man's body from the depths for his family ('Raising the Dead,' September 2005). I was supposed to be teaching my kids how to ride their bikes, and instead I was holding them off and thinking, I've got to finish this story. When Outside inspires, it's one of the greatest publications of all time. Nothing has made me respond like your writers have over the years."
—Colin Preston, Woodinville, Washington, 16-year subscriber