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First, backpacking has changed, and the book was becoming factually outdated.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.
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.
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.
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.