The Ultimate Hikers's Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka
I am posting this book review on the Media Forum for your pleasure:
I just finished reading Andrew Skurka's "The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide"
I thought this was a great book. I know Andrew lurks on this forum occasionally so I hope he sees my review. I have never purchased a hiking gear guide before. Most books I have seen previously focused on rather conventional gear choices from major manufacturers, ignoring modern trends backpacking which make use of home made or cottage industry gear, when it is the best choice. Also, any book making specific gear recommendations is immediately outdated as technology changes. While Andrew does in fact make specific gear recommendations in this book, he addresses this shortcoming by not just telling us what to buy. For each category of gear, he goes through his whole decision making process to explain why he would make these decisions, and how the decisions are based on a multitude of parameters, including the purpose of the trip, the destination of the trip, and the abilities and skills of the hiker. Of course his abilities, skills, purpose and destinations are much different from mine (way different), but the knowledge base needed to make gear choices and the decision making process is universally applicable and thus does not become outdated so quickly. I also liked the focus on gear, rather than on all aspects of hiking. Other hiking skills are discussed in the book, but mainly in the context of how they inform the gear decision making process. I also like how he admitted that in some cases there are no good solutions (such as the section on the limitations of water-proof/breathable rain gear). Here are a few other observations:
At the back of the book he puts together a few sample gear lists for various trips. I wish he would have had a sample gear list for an AT Thru-Hike as this is a gear list discussed at length on this board. Of course having read the book, I should be able to put together a list for me on my own, but it still would be nice to see his.
The work "ultimate" in the title modifies Hiker and not Guide. That is, this is a guide book for an ultimate hiker, not the ultimate guide for hiking gear. He defines his style of hiking a ultimate hiking and acknowledges that the rest of us mere mortals (my words, not his) may not be at that level. But as explained above, his detailed explanation of his decision making process for HIS set of parameters can inform ours.
I found it interesting that his gear choices don't always match the conventional wisdom oft expresses here at WB. For example, he seems to be a fan of synthetic insulation and fleece over down for wet climates (like the AT). Also, he puts a bandana in his list of standard but unnecessary backpacking gear (along with white gas stoves, waterproof boots, pump filters, and double wall tents).
On the other hand, he is in agreement with many people here on WB as being a fan of the Super Cat alcohol stove, which he refers to this as a "Fancee Feest" stove, in reference to the name brand of the cat food can. However, I have most often seen this term used as the name of one of Zelph stoves of a very different design. If I'm not mistaken, I think his jargon is not well aligned with common usage in this case.
Indeed, I lurk on WB.
Thanks for the review. I think it does the book justice, and its sentiments are similar to those in other reviews.
Let me add a few points:
The book is written from the perspective of an "ultimate hiker," which I define as a backpacker who's primary trip objective is to hike. The gear, supplies and skills you need to enjoy hiking are very different than those that you need to enjoy camping, which is the preferred domain of the "ultimate camper." Most backpackers like their trips to have a more healthy balance of hiking and camping, but these individuals can still greatly enhance their hiking experience by incorporating a few ideas from the ultimate hiker. I went with these labels instead of the "lightweight"/"ultralight" labels because: (1) LW/UL puts too much emphasis on weight, and oftentimes I find myself taking heavier items because they actually enhance my hiking experience (e.g. gaiters, sleeping clothes, backpack made with 210 Dyneema, etc.); and (2) LW/UL suggests that it is an "optional" style, whereas I don't see it that way -- I see it as completely necessary if you intend to enjoy your hiking experience.
Re gear lists, there's a gear list for the Long Trail that would be very applicable for the Appalachian Trail.
Re fleece and synthetic insulation versus down, I think these items deserve another look. Fleece is the most effective insulation when wet, and since getting wet is inevitable in prolonged wet conditions (e.g. the AT), it's worth having something that can keep you warm while hiking even in cold and wet conditions. Synthetic insulations like Climashield are remarkably good. Check out the MLD quilts -- they are almost as light as down versions for their warmth, but I think that small weight difference is more than offset by the superior reliability of synthetic in wet climates.
The Ultimate Hikers's Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka
Listened to his video yesterday (someone posted a link to it on YouTube) about an hour long and covered just about everything you said & more. Check it out. Very informative.
I did appreciate the distinction between ultimate hiker, ultimate camper, and the large area in between where most of us live. As I said, this is the first gear guide I've seen that focused on figuring out what to take rather than just telling you what to take. I figured the LT gear list with maybe an additional insulation weather for an early spring start would be a good start for an AT Thru hike list. I also liked that you are not UL just to be UL (stupid light, I think you call it).
Originally Posted by askurka
I must admit I am feeling better about my affinity for fleece and will reconsider blindly following the puffy down crowd. I was mostly shopping quilts from the hammock-specific closet industries (a good source for these), but none of them I found to offer the synthetic fill as MLD does.
From an At Google Talks clinic:
Originally Posted by fins1838
I found it interesting the "Adventurer of the Year" uses a Fancee Feast stove and Aqua Mira. 'Nuff said!
Last edited by Spokes; 04-24-2012 at 14:23.
I bought this for the Kindle when it first came out. As a noob backpacker I found it very well written and informative. Actually almost too informative as there is a lot of good info to digest.
Great, great book.
Typically, I hike in order to camp (secluded forests and off-trail summits).
Nonetheless, the book's concept of adjusting your gear to your goals, the local terrain, and the expected weather is applicable to day trips, overnights, multi night trips, section hikes, and thru hikes / campers or hikers.
I still bring a few luxuries on my trips but they are conscious choices.
I can definitely see the sense in fleece in wet weather. I do have a down vest, but to use it when raining, I need to use a vapor barrier to prevent my sweat from soaking it. I'm not sure if the balance in weight and warmth are optimal. A better solution might be a cuben fiber or silnylon inner layer, and maybe the outer layer too. I already use a cuben fiber quilt, although I'll be the first to admit that it's not fun when the air is humid.
I absolutely agree with thicker backpack fabric. I use my pack as a backrest or seat during my short hiking breaks. It'd diminish my experience if my pack had delicate fabric that wouldn't allow me to use my pack this way.
This book was already on my Amazon wish list, so I went ahead and finally placed an order. Andrew, thanks for providing the community with more literature on our craft.
The book has a comprehensive section on vapor barriers you might find interesting. However, you will find the author is not a fan of cuben or other UL fabrics as he feels they are not durable enough for his adventure style of trekking.
Originally Posted by leaftye
I'll agree on Cuben fibers and some UL fabrics - - I do a lot of adventures where I CAN'T get to the road in a day or two (like the AT) - I need to be guaranteed dry to be safe - - carrying what amounts to one or two extra pounds (i.g. 28 pounds vs 26 pounds) and knowing that I'll have a durable and dry product is very important. I think quite a few UL hikers are not really sustainable in the outdoors - - they carry light loads knowing that they are walking shelter to shelter and road to road. It would be an obscene risk to do the Canol Heritage Trail - - www.canoltrail.tripod.com for example with a 1 pound sil-nylon shelter and a homemade quilt - - I would say the same for even spring and fall adventures in many true wilderness areas - - Andrew likely understands this balance - - if you have every been very wet and cold and scared (like I have) you will understand this - I recommend spending some time in Alaska too.
Originally Posted by Odd Man Out
Cuben fiber is a poor choice when it comes to abrasion, which is why I don't like it for a pack material, bottom of a shelter/bivy or for stuff sacks. It does well when abrasion isn't a factor though. It's great for a shelter, especially since field repairs jobs can be duct taped or sewn, unlike silnylon that can only be sewn. It's all a matter of using fabrics where they perform well. You might have noticed that MLD uses UL fabrics in their quilts.
Originally Posted by Odd Man Out
I've not read Andrews book,but it sounds like what I'm hearing is to let your hike dictate your gear choices,an idea that I not only prescribe to,but find refreshing.
Went for the $10.87 to by Andrews book today,Purchased a new lap top(my other caught a cold and then it turned into a virus...he died)and on it came Barnes & Nobles Nook for PC,which is like a Kindle.I have only started to peruse it and it looks very interesting.At first glance I'd have to say that a lot of what I came across was some of the same info found with-in these pages at White Blaze but again haven't spent much time there yet,the difference that his is all contained within one book that I can now take with me anywhere,via my computer and not have to be on-line.I'm very excited to wander further into it and hunt for all the little treasures I have been told are there.Looks good Andrew.congrats!
This is a very fair assessment: a lot of the book's "geeky" tech talk was the result of my own research on WB, BPL, REI Expert Advice, etc. I tried to consolidate it all in the book and separate fact from fiction/opinion, while still making it readable.
Originally Posted by rocketsocks
Of course, the main selling point of the book is not the geek talk, but the application of these products and technologies. I only get geeky so that I can better understand the pros, cons, limitations, and optimal uses. Being a geek is just a means to an end -- maximizing the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of my backpacking trips.
Nothing wrong with compiling what we already know. That may be the best kind of resource, because what we think we know, we've already forgotten and need a reminder.
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