Take a hike

In an attempt to beat the heat and get away from the infamous Washington, D.C., humidity, I recently traveled with my family to the Adirondack Mountains in New York. Although a good portion of my vacation was spent lounging lakeside, I did manage to visit a variety of museums and historical sites. I paid Fort Ticonderoga a visit, entering the same archway through which such historic figures as George Washington and Benedict Arnold had passed. I also made a stop by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, reveling in the history of our nation’s pastime.

The highlight of the trip, however, was the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Adirondack Park was established in 1892, and is the largest protected area in the contiguous United States (approximately the size of the state of Vermont). The museum’s collections range from rustic Adirondack furniture to a variety of recreational watercraft used on the region’s many lakes and rivers.

One of my favorite exhibits at the Adirondack Museum was Woods and Waters: Outdoor Recreation in the Adirondacks, which allows visitors to explore the history of outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and climbing from the 1800s into the 20th century. The exhibit also featured several objects from the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games in 1932 and 1980. As an Eagle Scout, I have long enjoyed such outdoor activities and was fascinated by the methods and equipment used by early wilderness enthusiasts and athletes alike.

With my experience at the Adirondack Museum fresh in my mind, upon my return to work here I decided to find out what kinds of outdoor recreation objects we have in our collections. I contacted Jane Rogers, Associate Curator for the Division of Culture and the Arts and got the chance to see some interesting items.

Early outdoorsmen (and women) relied on pack-baskets, essentially woven baskets with backpack straps, to carry their gear. Objects in the museum’s collections reflect modern improvements, like this cloth backpack with an external metal frame used by Earl Shaffer in his hikes along the Appalachian Trail. Even more recently, innovations like nylon straps, seen here on this Boy Scouts backpack, have allowed outdoor enthusiasts to carry more gear into the wild.

Scouts bag
A backpack used by Earl Shaffer in his hikes on the Appalachian Trail (top) and a 1960s Boy Scout backpack (bottom).

People in the 1920s and 30s who wanted to enjoy the outdoors in style might have brought along one of these state-of-the-art picnic baskets. The stylish red, as well as the sturdy metal components surely made this a must-have piece of equipment for any outdoor enthusiast.

Picnic basket

In the vein of winter athletes, the museum currently has a snowboarding display in the Artifact Walls on the first floor. The display features early and modern snowboards, as well as objects from Winter Olympians Shaun White and Hannah Teter. While snowboarding was not present at either of the Lake Placid games, today it has grown into a popular component of the Winter Olympics.


Outdoor recreation is a fascinating facet of this country’s history and culture, and one that you can experience anywhere from your own backyard, to local and national parks, to museums like the Adirondack Museum and the National Museum of American History.

Adam Frost is an intern in the New Media Department at the National Museum of American History.