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
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
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?