“Essential Gear” article for Geographical magazine

In the June 2012 issue of Geographical, the official magazine of the Royal Geographical Society (IBG), I wrote about the gear I used on my Alaska-Yukon Expedition. But the article is not a colorless evaluation — the model for this “Essential Gear” series is to embed a discussion about gear within a story narrative, which makes it a more engaging read. And since I generally struggle to get excited about gear, I also tried to expand the scope of the article to include topics that excite me more — like skills, Nature, and humility.

Have a read and let me know what you think. Is anyone now even more disappointed that I probably won’t get around to writing a book about this adventure?

Northern Exposure (PDF)

Posted in , on November 16, 2012


  1. Craig on November 16, 2012 at 11:43 am

    One piece of advice: you need to write a book about that trip as soon as possible. Enjoyed the article. Great thoughts on respecting nature in lieu of muscling through the conditions to make more progress.

  2. Jeff on November 16, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Great article. I really like reading about the gear choices you made and what did and didn’t work. This past year was the first year I did a lot of backpacking. Before that I just dabbled. Determining what clothing to buy is the hardest gear decision for me. Articles like this help me immensely. If you wrote a book on the Alaskan-Yukon Expedition I would buy it in a heartbeat.

  3. Dianne on November 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Hi, Andrew. I was one of the lucky participants on your August Ultimate Hiking trip in RMNP. (For those following along at home, I recently left a 20+ year publishing career. I celebrated by hiking with Skurka.)

    So I’m interested in books.

    Your first book is an absolute best-of-breed for gear books, highly deserving of the National Geographic branding. Your advice is concise, detailed, and reliable, without a trace of pomposity or rigidity. I’m middle aged, relatively soft, can walk forever but am slow and not remotely athletic. I wouldn’t be able to hike more than a few hours with a pack over 20 pounds. Your advice didn’t make backpacking merely enjoyable for me; it made it possible.

    What made your first book interesting, however, rather than merely useful was precisely these kind of stories. I was most deeply moved by the story of your weeping on the Yukon trip, the moment you realized you are–any one of us is–just another animal on this planet. If you leave gear and how-to advice behind and write about what draws you out there, I think you have a better than average chance of writing a memorable book, a better than average chance of finding the right editors to support the book and you.

    But writing a book is, of course, a job of its own; it may or may not be a job that draws you. I would never try to talk anyone into writing one. I can only say that if you wrote it I would be one of the first to buy it and read it. The larger world: humility: intelligence brought to bear on a difficult challenge–sounds like the makings of a memorable read.

    Best wishes,


    • Andrew Skurka on November 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Well said, Dianne. I’m aware there is a larger market for an Alaska-type book than a gear/supplies/skills book. And I think I could probably satisfy that market with an adventure book. But do I want the “job” of writing that book? For now, I get more excited about going on trips with people like where I can share my knowledge and enthusiasm in a very personal and intimate way.

  4. Chris and Anna on November 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks Andrew for these gear suggestions. On our Pacific Crest Trail thru hike, my partner Anna and I shared a tent. For our Appalachian Trail and Te Araroa thru hikes, we are considering a tarp instead. What are the benefits of a pyramid shelter like you used in Alaska, versus a rectangular tarp?

    • Andrew Skurka on November 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      The pyramid I used in Alaska is full-sided, so it offers more protection than a flat or A-frame tarp. But it is also heavier and less ventilated, and it can only be pitched in one shape.

      For the AT, I’d recommend an open-sided or A-frame tarp, along with a water-resistant bivy or a bug nest, probably the former since there are two of you and you’ll probably want some communal living area. Never should you need full-sided protection on the AT — if the wind is blowing that hard through your camp, you probably picked a bad campsite — and you’ll appreciate the 5-star ventilation given the East’s humidity.

    • Jason on November 17, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Chris and Anna, if you take a tarp on the Te Araroa (I did) please bring along some kind of serious bug protection, the South Island black flies are a nightmare.

      And Andrew that was a good article.

    • Bigfoot15 on December 21, 2012 at 8:31 pm

      I think the tarp would be fine on the AT. On really bad days you can likely get into a shelter and I have used a tarp to close the opening on really cold days or if there is rain blowing in. Will want some thing for occasional bugs.

  5. Luke Schmidt on November 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Andrew I hope you’ll write that book soon. First I’d like to read it but also because it might finance another adventure for you.

  6. Bigfoot15 on December 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Great article. Would enjoy a book but know it is alot of work. The Ultimate Gear Guide was a big help to me as I try to lighten up. thanks

  7. Manu on March 24, 2013 at 4:51 am

    Hi Andrew!
    Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    I’m looking to buy a new tent for backpacking (I have a sort of ultralight backpacking tent) and I’m really really interested by the duomid you used. Light, easy and quick to set up, some spare room for my gear, really resistant. It just sounds like the perfect deal!
    My plan would be to backpack from Vancouver to the cap horn. I’ve not plan my rout yet, but from all the different type of environment i’d be in and the time it’s going to take me ( a year or so), I’m looking for something really solid, quite confortable and on the top of that, light!

    My main concern with the duomid is the condensation due to poor ventilation.
    Any thought?


    • Andrew Skurka on March 24, 2013 at 4:56 am

      Pitching it off the ground and, when conditions permit, sleeping with the door open is helpful in solving the condensation issue.

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