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Andrew Skurka's The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Book Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Andrew Skurka's The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Book Review on 02/27/2012 12:59:50 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Andrew Skurka's The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Book Review

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Andrew Skurka's The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Book Review on 02/27/2012 13:27:58 MST Print View

Thanks for the review Luke.

I too would agree with you to size up with frameless packs, at least this has been my experience.

However, Andrew has stated before that with UL loads, he likes to wear his frameless packs with the belt not as a hip belt but as a waist belt, which would necessitate using a shorter torso sized pack. For heavier weights between longer re-supplies, he would choose a longer torso size to place more weight on the hips.

I hope I haven't misquoted what Andrew has said in the past but this is how I remember it.

Edited by FamilyGuy on 02/27/2012 13:28:37 MST.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Andrew Skurka's The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Book Review" on 02/27/2012 13:39:25 MST Print View

Thanks Luke for your review, sounds like a solid book.

Evan McCarthy
(evanrussia) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: "Andrew Skurka's The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Book Review" on 02/27/2012 13:56:47 MST Print View

I really love the way Andrew delineates the world of overnight outdoors-people into ultimate campers and ultimate hikers. Even though this book might not add a lot of information to those who live and breath the latest gear and skill trends, I think this book will be a phenomenal tool to excite and assist new entrants into serious lightweight hiking and backpacking. I look forward to gifting this book as appropriate. Andrew has a great voice and enticing way of pulling people into this (our) form of outdoor activity. Good for him.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Pack Question on 02/27/2012 15:29:03 MST Print View

You might be right David, hopefully he'll give us his take in more detail at some point. From comments in the book it sounds like Andrew finds hipbelts constricting for active hiking. He's probably fit enough to carry more on his shoulders than a lot of us so its probably a good trade off from his point of view.

Is it just me or do LOTS of people like the Mid? Andrew Skurka, Ryan Jordan, Erin and Hig...

Edited by Cameron on 02/27/2012 23:11:51 MST.

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Pack sizing, WP/B fabrics, minimalist footwear on 02/27/2012 22:21:10 MST Print View

First off, Luke, thanks for doing the review. I'm glad to hear that, as an experienced backpacker, you still learned some valuable things from it. But, as you pointed out, it is definitely geared towards a less knowledgeable audience.

Second, if you'd like to purchase a signed copy of the book, you can do so on my website:

To address some of the points in the article:

Pack sizing. I'm on the cusp of GoLite's pack sizing -- I could go with a Medium or a Large. I'm not sure my technique will work if you're solidly in one category or the other. For packs designed for lighter loads, I get a smaller size because the pack inevitably rides up into my waist -- there just isn't enough weight for it to stay sitting on my hips. (Notice how ultra running packs have done away with waist belts entirely, going with shoulder harnesses instead. Light packs are the same idea, less extreme.) And a shorter pack will fit me better when the melt is at my waist. For heavier loads, I go with the larger size because the pack will actually sit on my hips.

WP/B fabrics. I didn't pull any punches in this section. I think the fabric and clothing manufacturers are being very disingenuous in their marketing of this technology -- it has serious flaws, and they want to ignore them. My advice is this: when it is wet outside, expect to get wet, even if you own the latest and greatest shell. A WP/B shell only delays the time it takes to get wet. It will not keep you dry in truly wet conditions. (Dry snowfall and 30-minute monsoons in Arizona don't count as truly wet conditions.) The extra weight of fleece layers and sleeping clothes can be well worth it -- don't pack "stupid light" by forgetting them at home.

Minimalist footwear. I intentionally treated minimalist footwear lightly because the more important argument (for now) is against boots. I really like how minimalist footwear allows my foot to move how it wants to; I really dislike "corrective" (aka "support") features in my shoes. That said, most minimalist shoes don't offer enough protection for backpackers -- my feet get bruised by a 60-minute run on dirt trails, never mind a 15-hour day on cobbled river bars with a 30-lb pack.

Edited by ksawchuk on 02/29/2012 14:00:42 MST.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
fleece on 02/27/2012 22:53:00 MST Print View

its official ... fleece is back in ;)

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Pack sizing, This would be great for Scouts on 02/27/2012 22:57:46 MST Print View

Thanks for the new info. Your choice in packs makes more sense to me now.

Edit - I just thought of another thing with WP/B raingear. Even if $200 raincoats did work as advertized a lot people are going to be going out with cheap raincoats that will leak even when new. Accepting that you'll get wet, and dealing with it is a cheaper, safer strategy.

Have you thought about offering some kind of discount for BSA troops that buy multiple copies. Getting a troop to buy multiple copies would boost your sales. It would also help a troop out more if multiple boys were reading a book and getting excited to try some new ideas.

Edited by Cameron on 02/27/2012 23:53:48 MST.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re Pack sizing, This would be great for Scouts on 02/28/2012 00:07:30 MST Print View

Luke, this doesn't work for cold rain but consider hiking shirtless. Your synthetic shirt won't have to dry if it never gets wet, and there won't be any sun burn risk (clouds). Stay active and you should be good. Might not be an option for females.

Andrew, I think a lot of hiking in minimalist shoes has to do with building up your muscles. I have hiked all day on scree or along river beds and never had bruising issues. I don't blame you for not going into much detail about minimal shoes. You could probably write an entire book on just that subject.

Charles Stephen Lee
(charllee) - MLife

Locale: Fort Smith, Arkansas
Thanks for the honesty... on 02/28/2012 01:30:01 MST Print View

Thanks Andrew, I really appreciate your honesty. Most writers seem to have an ulterior motive to push certain products but you tell it like it is, if it doesn't really work you don't shy away. Gore Tex has it's place but it's not the solution to the world as advertised. The big thing is that most of the general public doesn't understand different environments and the clothing associated with it. I can tell you I understand, I live in Arkansas and work in Casper, WY, two completely different worlds. Thanks again Andrew, excellent book.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: "Andrew Skurka's The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Book Review" on 02/28/2012 03:24:31 MST Print View

I really like the book. It is a good balance between catering to beginners and offering a coherent analysis of UL systems and how to use them for more experienced walkers. I think the book also covers a good range of the necessary topics.

My one complaint (so far) is with the omission of a further analysis of the Paramo system. It is the only rainwear system that I have used that actually actively keeps you dry, as in mechanically... not by heat or hydrophilic or hydrophobic chemical reactions... drawing moisture away. No other system I have used... and I've used them all here in very rainy Japan... can come close to or even compare in function to Paramo. The only two drawbacks I see about Paramo is that it is often too warm for summer use (I overcome this by using Paramo rain jackets as "rain shirts", directly over a very light base layer, or directly on my skin. If it is still too warm then it means it is warm enough not to need rain gear at all... just get wet and let your body heat dry you off when you stop) and, for long-term walking, the need to reproof the shell becomes a problem unless you can send the reproofing ahead in drop boxes.

I recently acquired Paramo's thin, fleece-like "Summit Hoodie" which is basically a Paramo waterproof without the shell, or the "pump liner". I use a Montane Litespeed Wind Jacket or a Montbell Nomad soft-shell jacket over it to act as the raindrop stopping layer, but the Hoodie still acts as the rain and sweat moving layer underneath. Hopefully this will lighten the load and allow me the ability to stay dry in cold rain and at the same time act as a light mid layer for cooler weather. If it is too warm for the Hoodie, I figure the rain and ambient temperature will be warm enough to not have to use rainwear at all, the Litespeed being enough.

Paramo was developed in Scotland, in its very rainy and cold environment, and a steadfast community, including many rescue workers, swear by it. I encourage anyone here to try the system out. You might be quite surprised. It sure surprised me back in 1997. And I'm still using the same jacket from back then (only buying newer ones because they are lighter), with no degradation in functionality or materials.

Andrew did admit that he had never used the Paramo system because it isn't available in the States. That is unfortunate, because I think a lot of American walkers would love the system. I live in Japan and have often bought Paramo gear online.

(I have no affiliation with Paramo, just love their products)

All that being said, this is but a very small note on the book. It is nonetheless a spring of valuable and hard-won information and wisdom that could only have been put together by someone with as much experience out in the wild as Andrew has. Very much worth a read and a permanent part of my outdoor library.

Edited by butuki on 02/28/2012 03:44:07 MST.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Pack sizing, WP/B fabrics, minimalist footwear on 02/28/2012 09:24:28 MST Print View

Aha - I am not as forgetful as my wife suggests. I knew remembering how Andrew wears his packs would come in hand one day (I need a life).


Andrew, I loved the video trailer. Any thought in developing a DVD on UL techniques in the backcountry?

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
New Hikers on 02/28/2012 14:45:39 MST Print View

As Evan said, the great value of Andrew's book is to clearly explain to new backpackers the general direction to go in gear, preparation and other aspects of longer distance backpacking.

Hopefully this book will be picked up by most people just getting into backpacking. They need to know that "light is right" and beyond that what their choices are when getting that first backpacking outfit.

BPL constantly sees newcomers to this sport asking what to buy. Often their questions are painfully naive. For 3 season backpacking "The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide" is the answer to at least 90% of those questions.

Good job Andrew. This is now a gift book for a friend of mine new to the sport.

Edited by Danepacker on 02/28/2012 19:23:54 MST.

Thomas Trebisky

Locale: Southern Arizona
Valuable review on 02/29/2012 09:32:04 MST Print View

When I first saw this, I thought "Oh heavens, another UL backpacking book - sigh".
After reading the review I am now thinking that this is a book I should get,
so thanks for the review!!

First we have the author, and I am reminded of one math professors advice,
"Study the masters, not the students", and clearly Andrew is a proven master
if there is such a thing in the UL backpacking world. And the review assures me
that his approach in the book would hit right on target for me.

I don't know why the reviewer beefs about minimalist shoes. I own and run in
five fingers, but have ruled them out for UL backpacking for the same exact reasons
Andrew does.

Also as for pack sizing, I think there are different styles and schools of thought,
my view being if you are really ultralight (maybe sub 25 pounds), you can get rid
of the waist belt entirely. Up around 30 pounds and above the game changes
somewhat for me and I appreciate the waist belt at the end of a long day as shoulder
muscles fatigue. All in all I think the reviewers complaints are more because he
has a different backpacking "style" than because of faults in the book itself.

I can sense from what I have read that Andrew is telling us how he does things,
which is exactly what I would want from a book like this - it is on my shopping list.

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Re: Valuable review on 02/29/2012 10:04:16 MST Print View

In the introduction to the book I specifically state that this is NOT a "lightweight backpacking book." Instead, I present this book as a manual for backpackers who want to enjoy *hiking* more. The gear, supplies and skills you need to do this are notably different than what you need to enjoy *camping*.

The *weight* of your gear is an important consideration if you wish to enjoy hiking. But I believe that the LW, UL, SUL classifications put too much emphasis on weight. My experience is that when I have taken the LW philosophy ("lighter is better") to its extreme, my hiking experience declines. For example, if I load 35 pounds into a frameless pack, my shoulders hurt all day. If I take too light of a sleeping bag, I don't sleep well and I'm tired the next day. If I don't wear gaiters, I'm stopping constantly to get debris out of my shoes.

In other words, weight is just one variable in the quality of my hiking experience. There are other important characteristics of gear, like durability, efficiency, and reliability. Likewise, your skills are really important too. For example, if I know how to take care of my feet, I can pound on them 15 hours per day, even if they are soaking wet. If I know how to select campsites, I can find a spot that is softer, warmer, drier, and less buggy than where most backpackers camp. If I know how to pack my pack well, it will fit comfortably on my body and I won't lose time looking for things.

If I could describe my approach to backpacking in one word, I would say, "practical." I've mastered how to enjoy hiking, and my hope is that I can share some of my lessons with others through this text.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Valuable review on 02/29/2012 10:26:28 MST Print View

Just finished reading it a couple nights ago. Actually was a pretty quick read. Very enjoyable, and with any well written book I learned a few things.

One thing I want to point out, since Andrew mentioned Colin Fletcher in his book. Fletcher's books were a "state of the market" review. Even the last edition touched on UL and Ray Jardine's influence.

Andrew's book is about the Ultimate Hiker... his definition of those who do multi-month, multi-thousand mile trips. It reviews the gear and techniques used to be an Ultimate Hiker. What he does well is show how gear and techniques can be used by those who want to be less than an Ultimate Hiker, but be more than an Ultimate Camper.

Given this perspective, he cannot and does not touch on all the gear options, ala Fletcher. But he does look at a quite a large swatch of material given his perspective. The gear lists in Part 3 should be excellent references for beginning, seasoned, and Ultimate Hikers alike. Many if not most of the techniques should benefit any hiker who goes out for more than just a day hike.

Additionally, most of the gear he uses or reviews can be bought off the shelf. Not a lot of high priced cottage stuff here.

Good Job, young man!

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
shoes on 02/29/2012 11:02:11 MST Print View

Andrew said "...most minimalist shoes don't offer enough protection for backpackers -- my feet get bruised by a 60-minute run on dirt trails, never mind a 15-hour day on cobbled river bars with a 30-lb pack."

I'd like to see more discussion of this. I don't recall seeing a lot of this mentioned in BPL's voluminous material on minimalist footwear. Not that it has not ever been mentioned, I just don't remember much support (no pun intended) for addressing the issue.

Thomas Trebisky

Locale: Southern Arizona
Mister Practical on 02/29/2012 11:20:47 MST Print View

Funny that Andrew should call attention to the word "practical".
I was ready to add a note that I sometimes label myself "Mr. Practical".

So, I am eager all the more to get the book, since I see he addresses high
level "philosophical" issues like this. Going light is a means to an end,
that end being to enjoy being outdoors (for me anyway). I have made some gear
adjustments that move me away from what might be the cutting edge in ultralight
because what I am seeking is a way to maximize my overall enjoyment of a trip.
Some people may maximize that by hiking a short distance and having a luxury camp.
That is absolutely fine, but what I am really enjoying is going really light and
covering a lot of ground - so I think I am in harmony with what Andrew is calling
the Ultimate Hiker - which is why I think I will enjoy the book.

I am reevaluating some of my anti-fleece thinking -- but I think this goes hand
in hand with evaluating expected conditions in a given area in a given season.
I sleep cold and also find that I don't do well if I cut corners on amount and
quality of sleep. Others are different, and God bless them -- but each person
has to work out what works best for them. I am always tuning and fiddling and
welcome a cross pollination of well tested ideas.

I have a copy of Colin Fletchers giant book and have been through it many times
with great enjoyment - clearly it is dated as far as gear, but it is written so
well by people (can't leave out Chip Rawlins) who love the outdoors.
My copy has given me many pleasant evenings, motivation, and enjoyment - and is falling

Boots? When was the last time I wore boots (think big snow), can I even find mine?
Boots were the "big lie" back in the old days ....

Edited by trebisky on 02/29/2012 11:26:21 MST.

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
I Heart BPL on 02/29/2012 14:57:46 MST Print View

I just gotta say how much I love this community. How many places can you have so many knowledgeable people gathered up to have a good convo with the author? So cool. Can't wait to pick up this book, and will probably grab extra copies to hand out to my son's Webelos den as they get ready for boy scouts.

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Nice review on 02/29/2012 20:55:04 MST Print View

Looks like a great read based on the review and others comments. I will have to get a copy too. Should learn more than my $20 worth.