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Objectives in writing The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide

My first book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Guide, is officially released today. If you pre-ordered a signed copy directly from me, thank you, and you will be getting it shortly—I shipped an Amazon.com-worthy quantity of orders last week.

It has been both exciting and interesting to read feedback from early reviewers, like Kraig Becker at The Adventure Blog and Kurt Repanshek at National Parks Traveler. This feedback has helped to answer a burning question of mine: Does the book achieve the objectives that I had in writing it, as decided by unbiased readers?

This question is still unanswered, though I’ll probably know within a few weeks. In the meantime, I’d like to personally explain what I believe to have been my two primary objectives.

Objective #1: Explain the gear and supplies I use, and when

I adore chocolate, but when backpacking in hot temperatures I learned to load up on food items that are less sensitive to heat, like nuts, dried fruit, uncoated energy bars, and beef jerky.

Starting in June 2006 I hiked the southernmost 1,700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, starting at the US-Mexico border. It was my first desert trip and I had not yet learned the best gear and supplies for this environment. For example, my short-sleeved shirt, short running shorts, and visor offered little protection against the relentless sun. And my beloved chocolate bars all melted, making a mess of my food bag and my fingers.

The book should help you avoid these mistakes, plus many more. I have shared exactly what gear and supplies I use given the environmental and route conditions that I expect to encounter during a trip, like temperatures, precipitation, water availability, sun exposure, insects and wildlife, etc. Unlike a conventional “gear guide,” the book is not just a voice-less listing of all available gear and supplies. Rather, it offers an overview of available options plus detailed explanations of my preferred items and their optimal applications, e.g. “If I’m in the desert in June, I wear…” “If I am in the Arctic in March, I wear…”

Naturally, my recommendations will make you equipped to move. My target reader was a backpacker who wants to become more like an “Ultimate Hiker,” who maximizes his or her on-trail experience by packing light and moving efficiently. Weight is obviously an important consideration but I’m not blinded by it: in the long run, I’ve found that it’s best to use marginally heavier items that offer improved functionality, durability, reliability and efficiency.

Objective #2: To explain how to supplement the stuff you have on your back with the stuff between your ears

One of my camps in the Alaska Range during the Alaska-Yukon Expedition. Instead of relying on snow stakes that I would have to dig up in the morning, I made deadman anchors using willow branches and my skis. How to make deadman anchors are one of many techniques I share in my book that will save you discomfort, time, money or worse.

Between January and March of 2005 I snowshoed 1,400 miles through Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota on the North Country Trail. I vividly recall many sub-zero mornings where I struggled to chisel my snow stakes out from the consolidated snow. My hands would become so cold that I’d have to stick them down my pants after removing each of the six stakes.

A much faster and lighter system, I learned a few years later, uses deadman anchors made of sticks or a thick branch; I may also use skis, snowshoes or poles if natural materials are limited. There are two advantages of deadman anchors for winter camping: (1) I don’t have to buy or carry them, and (2) I don’t have to dig them up in the morning. The anchors can also be much more secure than 1-oz snow stakes.

In the book I explain how to make deadman anchors (page 111), plus many more techniques that will save you weight, cost, discomfort, and worse. A few other examples: how to augment the storm-resistance of an A-frame tarp by selecting good campsites; how to take care of your feet when keeping them dry is an impossibility; and how to plan your water consumption so that you don’t carry too much or too little.

If you have read the book, I would love to hear whether you think I succeeded in achieving these objectives? What else have you learned from it?

16 Responses to Objectives in writing The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide

  1. Jeff McWilliams February 21, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    I just ordered two copies of your book, and am very much looking forward to reading it. This will be the year I significantly reduce the weight I carry on the trail!

  2. Todd Foster February 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Hello Andrew,

    Thanks for the signed copy of your great book which I pre ordered from you. It seduces with a seemingly magazine like format, but is appropriately encyclopedic. Let me skip listing the many values and pleasures I found in it since this would take a whole page, but say that you have bootstrapped the beginner into the front ranks of the gear savvy in a stroke. In years past, it took me hundreds of hours reading mail lists and undergoing too many trial and error failures to get to my subset of the vast range in your book. New people can leap ahead with this book, and I will be ordering 2 more copies for gifts. My copy is already too margin annotated to loan!

  3. Christy February 22, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    I’m entering my 3rd year of hiking and backpacking. Over the last year I’ve been reading and trying to implement going light-er. This is a perfect Go-To book for my current and future ambitions.

    OBJECTIVE #1:
    gear and why aka – learn what not to do and what to do, before doing it yourself =)

    Finally a place to find content I need without hours of searching and guess work. Weather info especially awesome.

    I have to re-think some gear choices after the fabric & material enlightenment of Section II. Keeping the budget in mind is going to help me prioritize decisions based on what is needed and not just wanted. The current approximate prices gives me a better understanding of what would be a reasonable upgrade for added weight savings. Best of all, enhancing my brain doesn’t increase my pack weight, it actually makes it lighter…

    OBJECTIVE #2:
    “… the stuff between your ears”

    Getting data to mean something while in the field has been a very helpful lesson. Last year while backpacking I justified overloading on water because it was warm. I never really thought about taking weather, terrain, pace, distance, etc.. to calculate how much water I actually needed. While I did passively register that these things where important, it didn’t make it into the practical end of things.. It was easy to justify the heavier pack weight because I thought I was being “safe”. By being overly cautious, the water weight impacted my balance making me actually not so safe. Definitely a Homer Simpson moment while passing other water sources. That day ended up being more grueling than it needed to be.

    Lesson learned. I took more water because I couldn’t answer the question, “How many litres do I need?” More water was not an answer, just a general fix-it-all solution. When reading the example provided in “the ultimate gear hiker’s guide:…”, it helped me define what questions to ask and then answer to get a result. I can now take my past experiences and gather relevant information to help safely predict a more accurate volume to carry for this years trip.

    Knowledge + thinking ahead = lighter pack weight + more fun = priceless.
    I’d say objectives completed… but that’s just my humble opinion.

    • Christy February 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

      correction – “the ultimate hiker’s gear guide: …”

  4. Rockin' February 25, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Just got your autographed book in the mail and posted on my blog a quick recommendation. You are an inspiration to our family! Thank you.

  5. Jennifer February 27, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    I bought your book primarily to support you and to take some notes for when my 3 boys are old enough to handle the backcountry. What I didn’t expect is that your book is fun and inspirational to read. You’re not selling gear (quite the opposite), you’re breaking it down and educating thru personal experience. My memory of 50 lb. packs was holding us back. Looking at gear in a different light, or should I say 30 lbs lighter, has made me think backcountry with the kids could happen sooner than I thought…great stuff!

    • Chris Zeller April 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

      Jennifer,

      Backcountry with the kids can happen sooner than you’d think and I gurantee you will find it rewarding as will they. I backpacked with my kids when they were as young as 2 and now they both want to have “backpacking birthdays” for the one thing they get to pick to do throughout the year. Some tips:

      1) Pick a short hike that you can drive most of the way into the backcountry. Our first trail was 1/2 a mile but it put us in prestine solutude on the contenental divide. This place was special but sometimes looking at maps for locations that are scenic but not accessed by trails can be easier to find solotude in a short distance.

      2) Treking pole pyramid tents (Like Andrew’s) can be light and come in sizes large enough for the whole family.

      3) Make it fun for the kids. Incorporate short explorations from camp, glassading (sledding) down snowdrifts, making simple toys (bows and arrows are great for boys) fishing etc.

      4) Consider a one-on-one trip. My kids liked it best when it was a one on one experience. Consider this with your oldest.

  6. Dylan March 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Andrew,

    Your book has been a huge help! I especially love the personal experiences all through out the book. I also love the sections entitled “SkurkasPicks” It cool to know what gear you use and how you use it. I think you accomplished that objective very well.

  7. Chris Zeller April 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Andrew,

    I really appreciate the book. It is remarkably balanced and thourough. Rather than an ultralighter’s fanatical diatribe it really does an excellent job of explaining the pros and cons of ALL the gear out there. What I really like are the Skurka’s Picks. As an avid hiker/backpacker I find myself skipping to the end to read your bottom line. I’m glad you are not shy about listing brand names and specific models.

    I have also read Mike Clelland’s series of books which is also excellent (heck they taught me to telemark!) However, as thourough as these books are, I still found a lot of useful new information in your book and your experience is invaulable.

    Now that you have the gear covered, I look forward to a second edition that focuses on technique. The whole subject of “what you take with you between your ears” as you put it is more than fodder for a whole new book.

  8. Beth April 23, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    I ordered your book from Amazon and accidentally ordered the kindle version. It’s my hubby’s kindle but he graciously turned it over to me. I really love your book and I HAVE to have it in hard copy (I’m a wicked cheap Yankee (New Englander), so this sort of kills me). This book is a bible to me and having it on kindle is just not cutting it. I love your book – thanks so much for writing it!

  9. Tara April 23, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I’m so glad I found your book!! My son just joined boyscouts and is going on his first overnight hike. I have never been on an overnight hike and had no idea what he needed. Your book was EXTREMELY helpful in helping me figure out what he needed for his trip and what to expect. I feel I am sending him off completely prepared for his trip and not overloaded. I enjoyed reading your stories about your hiking experiences. The information about Philmont Scout Ranch and Gearing up on a Buget was very helpful. Actually every page had tons of great information.
    What a GREAT book!!
    Thanks

  10. Louis Brooks May 1, 2012 at 4:45 am #

    I wanted to thank you for writing this book, it has been invaluable for me as I get back into hiking after a 20 year hiatus. When I first got interested in taking up long distance hiking again as a hobby I started reading the various forums and buying books to try and learn what type of equipment to buy. Boy had things changed with the whole UL movement but trying to find good solid information based on fact and experience was proving very frustrating.

    Your book has been very helpfull because it goes beyond recommending what gear to buy and explains why you make a specific gear choice. Unlike a lot of hiking books I have that once read they go on the shelf I find myself constantly referring back to your book and rereading sections as I plan my trips and purchase gear.

    Thanks,

    –louis

  11. Daniel Thornburg May 29, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    The section on planning is golden! Best backpacking book since Colin Fletcher!

  12. Shawn K. October 6, 2016 at 9:48 am #

    Andrew, are you planning a 2nd edition?

    • Andrew Skurka October 6, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

      It’ll be out in the spring, March-ish.

      • Shawn K. October 6, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

        Very good to hear. I hope you have a pre-order campaign so I can buy myself a copy for Christmas.

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