Gear Guides are by nature very fleeting – companies make money by putting out newer, better versions of their gear every season. So publishing a gear guide in book form may seem like an exercise in futility, but thankfully National Geographic’s new Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide avoids those pitfalls through excellent writing and an extremely intuitive organization style.
The book is, as it claims, a gear guide – but it’s also a guide to hiking and backpacking written by Andrew Skurka – Outside Magazine’s ‘Adventurer of the Year,’ ultra-light backpacker extraordinaire, and one of the few Big Names in Hiking. Skurka’s logged more than 30,000 miles of long-distance trails, completing the Pacific Crest, Appalachian, and Continental Divide Trails as well as the 4,700-mile Alaska-Yukon Expedition. The guy gets around.
In the first 20 pages, Skurka draws a line through the middle of backpackers, dividing them into “campers” – those who will pack heavy and walk slowly to have some creature comforts in camp; and hikers – those who tend to pack only what they need and forgo comfort for the experience on the trail, i.e. the early-to-sleeping bag and early-to-rise crew. Skurka definitely writes more for the ‘hiker’ side, but there’s enough information in here for anyone who enjoys backpacking to learn from.
While Skurka does occasionally make specific gear recommendations, for the most part he runs down – in tremendous detail – which tools can be used for each situation, and the benefits and drawbacks of each option. For the section on waterproof / breathable fabrics, he lays out the difference between Gore-Tex, eVent, H2No, and several other options, taking the time to point out the best examples of each fabric and which situations they’re best in. Often, this information is also presented in easy to read charts, like this comparison of different types of shelters:
Skurka goes through every single thing you could ever wonder about backpacking – how to fold and use maps, the benefits of trekking poles, boot choices, setting up a camp site in different weather conditions, water treatment options, and even how to pack your bag. Not only that, but he also provides sample gear kits for different areas of the country, including the desert southwest, eastern forests, and mountain west. At the end of the book, he’s also got a list of essential gear for hikers on a budget – and ways to track down expensive gear at discounted rates.
In all, this book is 200+ pages of advice from an expert hiker and I highly recommend it – both for novice hikers and backpackers and those of us who’ve been on a few trails, too.