Points of difference: First vs. Second Editions of the The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide

Order your copy yet? It’s waiting for you.

The upcoming release of the Second Edition of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide has prompted the obvious question: What are the points of difference between it and the First Edition? Or, more to the point, “If I already own the original, is the new version worth it?”

In this post I will detail the changes. In short, I can confidently say that the Second Edition is entirely worth its price and a reread. Versus the First Edition, it:

  • Is entirely updated, through September 2016;
  • Contains more information, including new sections about hammocks, food storage, and my navigation system; and,
  • Reflects changes in my style and recommendations due to new technologies, and to additional personal experimentation and perspective.

If it’s not broken…

I wrote the First Edition in 2011, and it was published in early-2012. It has been extremely well received, with a 4.6/5 average rating on Amazon with over 240 reader reviews.

So I retained many winning elements of the book. The First and Second Editions share a similar or identical:

  • Purpose: To help readers select and develop appropriate gear, supplies, and skills for their backpacking trips.
  • Target audience: First-time, beginner, and intermediate backpackers who want to enhance their hiking experience without sacrificing their comfort or safety.
  • Table of Contents: Part 1: Why, when, and where?; Part 2: Gear, supplies, and skills; Part 3: Sample gear lists.
  • Reader-friendly layout, with at least one design element (e.g. photo, comparison chart, quick tip) on every page.

If information in the First Edition was still relevant and written well, I made only minor updates. For example, the chapter on trekking poles needed few edits, because the product category has seen few changes.

The case for a rewrite

But the First Edition was showing its age, and I decided that a rewrite was necessary to keep it relevant.

First, backpacking has changed, and the book was becoming factually outdated. Some referenced brands and products are no longer available, like GoLite and National Geographic TOPO! mapping software. And omitted are many of today’s gold standards, like Cuben Fiber, the DeLorme inReach, and Caldera Cones.

Second, I have changed, and the First Edition no longer accurately conveyed my thinking. In the five years since initial publication, I guided more than 55 backpacking trips with over 400 clients; I backpacked as often with my Amanda and with friends as I did solo; and I wrote hundreds of new posts for this website.

These personal experiences had two effects:

  • I developed a clear understanding for the challenges and preferences of “average” backpackers, not just hard-charging solo thru-hikers; and,
  • I became a better teacher, with an improved capacity to convey information in layman’s terms, but without losing important nuance.
With Amanda on the Four Pass Loop. The perspective I gained from backpacking with others, often as a paid guide, is reflected in the Second Edition. In contrast, the First Edition was written from the perspective of a hard-charging solo thru-hiker.

With Amanda on the Four Pass Loop. The perspective I gained from backpacking with others, often as a paid guide, is reflected in the Second Edition. In contrast, the First Edition was written from the perspective of a hard-charging solo thru-hiker.

Nuts-and-bolts differences

Enough of the abstract. Let’s talk specifics, chapter by chapter:

Introduction and Part 1: Why, when, and where

The first three chapters establish the philosophical underpinning for the entire text, and remain largely the same. A few quotes:

This book will most benefit beginners and intermediates who do not yet know how to pack lightly and move efficiently, and thus find hiking to be overly strenuous and unproductive. They default to camping, because it seems more fun.

This is not a “lightweight backpacking” book. I will not present arbitrary pack weight guidelines, argue that lighter is always better, turn my nose up at backpackers who carry the proverbial kitchen sink, or ignore instances of “stupid light.”

In the first edition of this book I referred to backpackers who take an all-or-nothing approach as “Ultimate Hikers” and “Ultimate Campers.” My labels didn’t entirely hit the mark, however, because they defined types of backpackers, whereas I was really trying to identify backpacking styles. In this edition, I will refer to the extremes with the more humble “backcountry hiking” and “backcountry camping.”

The “Know Before You Go” chapter was updated with current data sources.

Part 2: Tools & Techniques

Clothing. Thirty out of 38 pages are entirely new. Per Nick Gatel: “[Skurka] does something completely new, and in a sense revolutionary. He created a list of 13 core clothing items. He explains which ones you would bring for specific environmental conditions, and he explains how you would mix and match items when hiking, resting, doing camp chores, and sleeping. It is a simple to understand and effective system.”

Footwear. I simplified the list of buying considerations, to six from thirteen. My views on “extra footwear” has evolved. And I separated discussions of 3-season and winter footwear.

Sleeping bags and pads. My explanation of the EN 13537 test, used to measure the warmth of sleeping bags, is better and more instructive. All of the recommended bags and pads have changed: GoLite went belly-up; I have moved entirely to down insulation due to its superior lifespan; and after using a NeoAir I have yet to return to closed cell foam.

Shelters. The discussion of shelter fabrics is updated and more in-depth, with useful explanations of coatings, hydrostatic head, and weight. The superficial treatment of hammocks in the First Edition has been rectified, with more than two pages of information. My recommended shelter systems have changed.

Navigation. CalTopo, GaiaGPS, Guthook’s apps, and GPS watches did not exist in 2011. Need I say more?

Trekking poles. Updated, but mostly the same.

Food. My thinking has changed some, particularly in regards to metabolic efficiency and protein intake. More importantly, six new pages are dedicated to food storage techniques and wildlife avoidance.

Six pages about food storage and wildlife avoidance were added to the Second Edition.

Cooking systems. Updated and more appreciative of non-alcohol stove types, especially upright, remote, and integrated canisters.

Water. Updated, and subtly different product recommendations, but mostly the same.

Small essentials. This catch-all chapter needed a reorganization as well as update, since no longer are 100-lumen headlamps, 12-megapixel digital cameras, and the SPOT Gen3 cutting edge.

Backpacks. After co-designing a backpack with Sierra Designs, I brought much more insight to this category for the Second Edition. Also, many more “sweetspot” packs are now available: lightweight, but purposely featured and capable of heavier loads.

Part 3: Lists

The First Edition contains five gear lists, each specific to a location and season, e.g. the Long Trail in June, the Sierra High Route in September.

I took a different approach for the Second Edition, creating separate lists for each product category. This structure allows for more mix-and-matching, and avoids duplicating selections across gear lists because many are standard, regardless of the trip objective and conditions.

For example, I included clothing systems for five locations (Mountain West, Desert Southwest, Pacific Northwest & Alaska, Northeastern Woodlands, and Southeastern Woodlands), each with three seasons, for a total of fifteen lists.

For other categories that are less location-dependent, I included lists of favorite or recommended setups, like my solo alcohol stove, a budget-friendly 3-season sleeping bag and pad, and my modular tent system.

Sneak peak

If you’re still on the fence, download this 20-page preview to better understand the book’s philosophy, writing style, content, and layout.

Finally, I’ll make you this promise: If you judge the book not to be worth its price, I will buy it back from you.

Order your signed copy now!

Posted in on February 13, 2017


  1. Juha Ranta on February 13, 2017 at 10:20 am

    I recently bought Kindle copy of the first edition, and though I have barely browsed through it, I’ll probably get the second edition as well. Will it be published in Kindle or other electronic formats? If yes, does it include things such as those lists?

    • Andrew Skurka on February 13, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Yes, it will be available for Kindle. And, yes, the lists (and all of the other content) will be included.

      The e-book can be pre-ordered now.

  2. Uncle Tom on February 13, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    I readi Colin Flietcher’s biography the fall. I wistfully recalled how interesting he became to me when he begain to review specific gear and shared his knowledge. I read your first edition and have this one on order. As a Maine Guide who leads clients on longer jaunts in my home state I look forward to reviewing the updates. Thanks for sharing what you know so openly. Your book was my first recommendation for hikers to go to for real knowledge. I applaud you for putting the concept of ” stupid light” out there. I expect this edition will help me bring them, and me, up to speed in a most informed manner.

  3. Andrew Veres on February 24, 2017 at 8:12 am

    I found the first book to be great and point me in the right direction.I have read it and reread sections of it many times before i purchased any of my gear. It has easily saved me hundreds of dollars knowing what I truly needed and what to avoid. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second edition. I had it preorderd the day I found out about it.
    Thanks Andrew

  4. Greg on March 3, 2017 at 5:21 am

    Hi Andrew, I’m interested in this quote from you above: ” I have moved entirely to down insulation due to its superior lifespan.”
    I know you have the SD video about insulation, but might you consider a blog post talking about this shift and how you now manage the down, specifically for environments where you used to rely on synthetic insulation due to the humidity and lack of opportunities for the “reset dry?” Or maybe that’s already covered in the new edition? 🙂 Thanks and congrats!

    • Andrew Skurka on March 3, 2017 at 3:54 pm

      It’s a good topic that deserves a longer post. I’ll add it to my list.

      The moisture concerns really only apply to the sleeping bag. You can push out most of the moisture inside a puffy jacket (and pants) by wearing it to bed, wearing it in relatively dry conditions during the day, or wearing it near a fire.

      Sleeping bags are harder. A few suggestions:

      1. Take a warmer bag that the conditions might otherwise require, under the assumption that you will lose some warmth due to moisture degradation. Since a premium synthetic insulation is still only equal to 600-ish fill down, you can carry a warmer down bag for no weight penalty.

      2. Use water-resistant down. It resists moisture better and dries out faster. Buyer beware: Not all water-resistant down is equal. Some are no better than untreated downs. DriDown and DownTek are both reliable.

      3. Take advantage of any opportunity for a reset dry.

  5. Joie Gahum on September 17, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    Roadeavour products are pretty good. Worth checking out.

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