View Full Version : Companion or Guide

01-20-2015, 22:49
I was wondering which one to get for my upcoming Thru hike this year.

01-20-2015, 23:03
I have not seen the latest version, just 2013, but the AWOL guide would be my choice if I only had to chose one.

But I didn't.

While I carried the pages of the AWOL guidebook, I had both the AWOL guide and Companion in pdf format on my smartphone. Having both, while not essential, was helpful as there is some info unique to both, and also the way it is presented.

As for use on trail. I would set up the pages of the AWOL guide in a see thru dry bag (made for smartphones), for the section I needed, and if it was wet out that is what I used. But the rest of the time I would use my smartphone (they don't work well if your fingers are wet), and normally choose AWOL, but also did sometimes reference the Companion.

01-20-2015, 23:12
I read last year that were going to many improvements to Companion for this year.

That is a good idea having a a hard copy and PDF. Is the pdf printable?

01-20-2015, 23:19
I read last year that were going to many improvements to Companion for this year.

That is a good idea having a a hard copy and PDF. Is the pdf printable?

Yes it is printable

01-20-2015, 23:45
AWOL is my choice. I find it easier to use by far, much less page flipping.

01-21-2015, 00:47
This year's AWOL guide has thicker pages (almost like a thin plastic coating on them). I would think they are now water resistant (not proof!) - or at least much more sweat-proof!

01-21-2015, 01:13
I prefer the companion. It had all the information I needed about town info without doing any planning. I haven't seen either of them since 2013 though.

01-21-2015, 06:49
I bought both, I'll decide which to bring with me, and which to leave home for my gear shipping person.

Jack Tarlin
01-21-2015, 13:12
I've been looking at both of the 2015 books this past week. Both are excellent, a lot of hard work went into each one, and it really doesn't matter which one you end up going with.

01-21-2015, 23:48
I bought the 2015 Companion & compared it to the 2013 AT Guide (the one I used on my hike). Overall, I liked the AT Guide better. I don't have to do any mental math on shelter mileage up the trail (AT Guide shows mileage for 3 shelters north & south of a specific shelter; the Companion only lists the mileage of the next shelter north or south of a specific shelter). I also think that the town maps are better in the AT Guide. I do like, however, how the Companion lists all the hostels, camping, & showers in one section. I just wished they included the mileage of each location. Both guides will give you sufficient info to complete the hike.

Edit: I did a step-by-step comparison of my 2013 AT Guide & the 2015 Companion in this post back in December. http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php/108045-Comparison-of-Thru-hikers-Companion-vs-The-A-T-Guide?highlight=

01-23-2015, 18:51
Thanks for the comments.

01-23-2015, 19:01
I have both and they are both great. I think AWOL's might list more water sources, but the Companion has more town and history information. This year I am taking AWOLs with notes added from the Companion and some pages of the Companion pulled out. I'm just used to AWOLs because that's what I've been using to section hike for two years.

01-23-2015, 20:33
. I do like, however, how the Companion lists all the hostels, camping, & showers in one section. I just wished they included the mileage of each location. Both guides will give you sufficient info to complete the hike.

Thanks for the input Carl. That's an easy addition which will be included in the Companion next year.

Personally I think three shelters is overkill because you thumb through the book several times a day. I did consider adding another shelter to that feature, making two, but ran out of time. That's another feature we'll probably implement next year.

01-24-2015, 23:58
Sly, what were the improvements that were implemented for this years Companion?

01-25-2015, 05:52
We redesigned the tables to include over 200 more points, a miles from last column, and which ATC maps, along with local NH trails. The profiles were annotated to include any recent relos, as well as local NH trails. All the maps have been standardized and include a legend to give you a sense of scale.

You can also pull most of the sections, leaving the next sections intact to mail ahead.

01-29-2015, 09:19
AWOL is my choice. I find it easier to use by far, much less page flipping.

Lyle, this is the most salient point, and by that I mean “ease of use”, not specifically page flipping. A guidebook is something that thru-hikers will use multiple times a day for 4-6 months.
If there’s a choice that proves easier to use, hikers will use it. It’s that simple. And over 80% of thru-hikers end up using The A.T. Guide, in spite of the fact that The Companion gets significantly more promotion. It's one thing to examine the books in the sterile environment of your home and imagine what might be useful. Once you get on the trail, things sort themselves out quickly and you adjust.

Dozens of hikers each year tell me that they bought The Companion to begin with, but switched to The AT Guide after seeing other hikers use it. The 80% number certainly is not true at the start of the trail, but by the end, 80% would be conservative. Most thru-hikers, ridge-runners, and hostel owners simply say “everyone has it.” I went to a hostel in Vermont a couple of years ago, and every hiker in the hostel (approx a dozen) had The AT Guide. One said, with all sincerity, “What is the other book?” After hiking three-quarters of the trail, he hadn’t seen enough of the other book to know what it was.

Enough of the anecdotes. There are objective reasons why The AT Guide is easier to use, and “reason” is usually what’s absent from these discussions.

The AT Guide absolutely overhauled the way trail guidebooks are made. For the AT it provided integrated elevation profiles, better and more maps, many more data points, symbols for quick identification of services, triple shelter mileages, alternate trail names in the White Mountains, GPS coordinates at trailhead parking areas, and more. And it fits it all into a smaller book. One person in this thread asked what the improvements to The Companion are. All major recent enhancements to The Companion are imitations of The AT Guide’s innovations (elevation profiles, more maps, more data points). And in this very thread, The Companion editor promises to imitate The AT Guide’s multiple shelter distances.

Hikers don’t have to wait for lesser imitations. The AT Guide has it right now.

Actions speak louder than words. Year after year The Companion has told hikers that they have a better product. But what do they do? Every year they strive to make it more like The AT Guide. It is a tacit admission that they know what everyone else knows--The AT Guide is better--and they had been insincere in telling you otherwise just to get you to buy what they want you to buy.

In The AT Guide, all of the landmarks are aligned with the elevation profiles. As you progress down the trail and pass a landmark, such as a spring, you are simultaneously seeing where you stand on the elevation profile, and you know if you will be continuing uphill or downhill from there. In The Companion, when you pass the spring that is listed in their data table, you would have to flip ahead and find where that spring “is” on their elevation profile. The profile is on some other page. You have to poke around to find the matching profile, and once you find it, you have to scan the mileages on the profile to find the mileage where the spring is. It gets worse. The spring might not even appear on the profile, because the profile doesn’t have all the data points that are in the table. And one other thing…the mileage for the spring in the The Companion’s elevation profile MIGHT NOT MATCH the mileage for the spring given in its tables, because their elevation profiles haven’t been updated in a few years. The elevation profiles in The AT Guide are updated every year. And yet another thing…you are more likely to find the spring in The AT Guide to begin with, because it has hundreds more landmarks than The Companion (even after The Companion added 200).

There are people who will tell you that either book will work, or that there’s not much difference between the books. There is superficial truth to those statements, but try doing this elevation profile reference exercise a few times a day over 5 months and you’ll understand better why thru-hikers think there’s a big difference between the books.

When you want to use your guidebook for town info, The AT Guide is organized so that town info is most often one page flip away from where the town is located in the data table. This makes it easier to find, and easier to remove a small set of pages if you are the type to cut up your book (more on that later). Once again, The Companion has promised to imitate this functionality, but doesn’t do it nearly as well as The AT Guide. Town info still ends up being more pages away from the data table than it is in The AT Guide. In the AT Guide, a page reference is provided for the town info, so you don’t have to search for it, as you would need to do in The Companion. Once you start looking at town info, you may get engrossed in all the services listed. How do you find your way back to where you were last looking at data? In The AT Guide, there is a cross-reference—the mileage is given so you can find your way back to the data page. In The Companion, once again, you are on your own. You’ll have to scan the data pages trying to relocate the mileage where you left off.

About cutting up your book: The AT Guide offers a loose-leaf version of the book; you’d have to cut up The Companion yourself. If you intend to do a southbound hike, there is a southbound version of The AT Guide. You would have to read The Companion in a completely non-intuitive way; back-to-front, bottom-to-top. It is a ton of work to reverse all the information, so it’s understandable why it can’t be accomplished in The Companion. As they will often tell you, there are only 40-some people who work on the book, two organizations, and they outsource the elevation profile work.

Ease of use also applies to the PDF. In The AT Guide, phone links are active. If you use the PDF on a smartphone to look up a hostel, shuttler, or any other service, you can tap on the phone number to call. Compare that to The Companion PDF, with which you’d have to jot down the phone number, close the PDF, open the dialing screen and type out at least 7 digits.

I anticipate that you will hear these arguments in response: The Companion is “made by volunteers” and “proceeds go to the trail.” I encourage you to delve into these statements.

Volunteering to cut trail and paint blazes is a great thing. There is “opportunity cost” in using volunteer time to dabble in retail, for it is time that could otherwise be spent maintaining trails, manning the desk at ATC offices, or many other directly-beneficial tasks. Commercial retail venture shouldn’t be a priority. People are also paid to work on The Companion. As touted on the internet, “professionally drafted profiles” were added at “significant expense”. Paid staffers work on the book’s production, advertising, retail and distribution. The AT Guide just so happens to have one person doing everything (with a dozen or so volunteer info contributors). I could play the same semantic game and say that I earn money for doing the same things that people are paid to do for The Companion, and that the info-gathering is volunteer work. There is something distinctively odd about the plea “pay us, we’re volunteers.”

If funds “going to the trail” is important, then consider how best to accomplish that. When you buy a $15 guidebook, $15 does not “go to the trail.” As mentioned in the previous paragraph, payment for work on The Companion accounts for some share of the purchase price. A printer is paid to make the book. If sold through a retailer, the RETAILER OFTEN EARNS MORE THAN THE PUBLISHER. That’s in bold because it is an overlooked fact, and a point that I’ll return to in the next paragraph. If you buy the book from a retailer other than the ATC, which many do to avoid the $7.85 shipping charge, then much less than half of your purchase price will go to the trail. Becoming a member of the ATC (which should seem obligatory for thru-hikers, at least in the year of your hike) is several times more effective than buying a book. As much as the “benefit to the trail” is hyped, you might imagine that The ATC’s existence hinges on sales of The Companion. It doesn’t. The ATC has revenues of approximately 8 million dollars. Proceeds from sales of The Companion would be a fraction of one percent of their revenue.

I suggest you buy The AT Guide and join or make a small donation to the ATC. You will be happier having a book that is easier to use, and more money will go to the trail. If you’d still prefer the feel-good (but ineffective) gesture of making a purchase that also sends a little money to the ATC, there’s a solution for that, too. Recall the earlier statement about retailers making the lion’s share of profits? The ATC could retail The AT Guide, and profit from its sale as it does on the sale of dozens of other books. The ATC could raise more money by selling two guidebooks while offering hikers more choice. Probably more money, since The A.T. Guide is in greater demand. If you believe that funds for the trail is a good thing, and every dollar counts, contact the ATC and encourage them to sell The AT Guide.

01-29-2015, 09:27
Your actions spoke REAL louder than words to me when your first guide came out and even more so the 2nd. Revealed your character.

01-29-2015, 09:52
AWOL's 2014 NOBO guide worked well for me on a 260 mile section hike last year. At $15, there isn't any reason to not buy a new one every year and I'll plan to buy the SOBO loose leaf edition for my thru hike in 2016 or 2017. As AWOL suggests, I prefer to support the ATC via membership than buying products. I do buy some of their guidebooks and maps since I like having some of that detail for section hikes, but I buy the products because they are best suited for my purposes, not to explicitly support the ATC. I also have no problem whatsoever if AWOL makes significant money on the AT Guide. There is nothing wrong with earning a profit making a book that is so useful to hikers. If you compare the AT Guide to Yogi's Guides (also excellent), the AT Guide is very price competitive as well. AWOL could probably charge at least $20-25 and demand would be unlikely to decrease very much.

01-29-2015, 11:20
The ATC could retail The AT Guide, and profit from its sale as it does on the sale of dozens of other books. The ATC could raise more money by selling two guidebooks while offering hikers more choice. Probably more money, since The A.T. Guide is in greater demand. If you believe that funds for the trail is a good thing, and every dollar counts, contact the ATC and encourage them to sell The AT Guide.

This is perhaps the most eye-opening part of Awol's post. I have been an ATC member for 15 years and continue to support the good work that they do, but it defies logic that with all of the wonderful resources that they offer through their store that they would not stock and sell the guidebook that the market has clearly shown to be the best and most popular. Since their online store is for many aspiring AT hikers the "go to" source for materials to support their AT adventure, not offering this product seems to me to be a disservice. This is not to suggest that they should not continue to offer the Companion, but rather to offer both and give their customers a choice rather than, by omission, giving the less informed customer the impression that no other choice exists. It is inarguable that more hikers in recent years are buying and using The AT Guide than the Companion. Some reseller is going to make a percentage off of these sales; why not the ATC? If the ATC's intentions with their store is to provide resources to hikers and to raise funds to support their efforts, then they should stock and sell The AT Guide.

01-30-2015, 07:08
Completely agree...the Appalachian Trail Conservancy needs to find a way to work in partnership with The AT Guide for the benefit of all hikers.

01-30-2015, 11:22
It bothers me when a sales person disses a competitors product while trying to sell theirs. If the product is good it should stand on its own.

01-30-2015, 13:37
It bothers me when a sales person disses a competitors product while trying to sell theirs. If the product is good it should stand on its own.
People vote w/ their wallet on consumer goods. The AT Guide won the election by a landslide.

I think it was the author/creator of the AT Guide that 'dissed' the Companion, not a sales person. Don't know if that matters. :)

02-12-2015, 12:19
Since we are talking about the quality and amount of information in these publications, it might be wise to bring up Guthook's AT Guide as well. I know its only on devices and not paper-bound, but I was curious on how people would compare it to both AWOL's guide and the Companion. I know the downsides of electronic information, but how is the actual quality of the info in it?

02-12-2015, 12:43
Before long, we can read about each foot of travel, orientation of all the rocks and roots that poke out of the tread way, slant of the shadow at various times of the day, and where to get the best pizza and beer from each road crossing. I'ms sure before I'm done there will be a step by step video of the trail and all the possible diversions, food joints, best privies, and what each view looks like in all seasons.

After that, the only issue I see is what level of discovery remains for the hiker with all this information.

02-13-2015, 21:48
While I am but a lowly section hiker, I have used both guides. At first, I had a hard time switching away from the Data guide - as I LOVED the additional historical information; however, as a hiker, I quickly came to realize that the AWOL guide provided me with the BEST trail, water, shelter, and local town information - which is what I needed the most!!!

AWOL's guide is the BEST guide for actual hikers!

02-14-2015, 01:44
I won't buy the Companion anymore due to my own experiences with its inacurate information while I was out on the trail. In 2007 it listed Franklin NC West instead of East from the trailhead. Luckily, while I was trying to hitch in the wrong direction based on bad info, Mrs. Haven pulled up to drop off some hikers and saved me from hitching away from Frankiln. Also, when using my 2007 guide for my 2009 hike it stated for Poplar Ridge lean to in Maine "No tentsites". There are most definitely established tent sites at Poplar Ridge. The 2012 Companion also claims "no tentsites" at Poplar Ridge. This year will be the AWOL Guide for me. Not the end of the world by any means, but if I'm buying a guidebook I want the info to be accurate. I understand that springs dry up and motel prices change, but East and West does not, and Poplar Ridge lean to still had baseball bat floors so I don't think a lot had changed there in a while. That experience just came at the end of a long day where I was frustrated and looking for a place to camp since I don't sleep in shelters.

That being said I support and appreciate the ATC and will continue to donate when I can.

02-14-2015, 07:10
AT Guide for me - the looseleaf printed version so it is easy to carry just the current section, and the PDF version on my phone.

02-14-2015, 07:15
putts, I can understand your frustration, and while I prefer the AT Guide, in all fairness, did you report the inaccuracies you found to the folks who publish The Companion?

Sometimes typos get made, sometimes someone may just have a brain [email protected] when reporting info. There are thousands of data points, some mistakes are inevitable. I've found some minor errors in the AT Guide in the past and reported them, that is how these ever changing publications can improve. I would not base my choice on one or two errors that affected you.

By the way, excellent reason to carry a map - check the directional information for yourself instead of blindly following any guide. This last is just a personal mini-rant. :)