Rating: 5 / 5
Wow, how to rate this book?
It is NOT meant for someone who is already an experienced UL hiker. There is nothing in this book that someone like that doesn't already know or can find out in five minutes of googling or checking UL forums such as this one. Of course it is always good to get another opinion on various subjects from a guru like Skurka. And Lord knows, he is a guru! (Without condescending to his readers the way that Jardine does.) That's why I bought it. Well, that and he was signing them at a talk he gave in my current hometown...
It's is probably best as a resource for those working on going UL, or for novice backpackers who might otherwise think that the ONLY way to hike is with a 60-pound pack. Skurka's introduction goes into great depth on his philosophy regarding this choice, which he presents as "hiking" versus "camping", and it is very lucid.
So, does that lose it a star- that it doesn't target experienced UL hikers? But by definition I don't think there will ever be a book for the experienced UL hiker. The experienced UL hikers are the ones WRITING the books. (Jordan's book is very technical and thus probably a better buy for the UL elite.)
And otherwise it is such an excellent resource! Also, unlike most UL hiking books it isn't distributed by a cottage publisher- it is published by National Geographic. Thus it benefits from excellent editing and layout.
Obviously, the best measure of someone's intelligence is the degree to which their opinions correspond with your own. :) By that measure Skurka is a genius- he and I have come to many of the same conclusions for the myriad choices presented to an UL hiker, though in all fairness he has also shaped many of my conclusions via his previous writings, blogging, etc. So I suppose that you should bear that in mind- that I might be inflating this rating simply because I agree with much of what he says. (I am trying very hard not to just be some sort of fanboy but this probably is the "best" book in a very small field of competetors.)
In particular, he discourages people from going "stupid light." In other words, he is not an SUL kind of guy. Also, some of his opinions are contrary to the common UL wisdom- for example he has some good things to say about fleece as an insulation layer. And I happen to agree with him.
The subjects upon which Skurka and I disagree are usually due to a difference in style. Specifically, I will never walk 40 miles a day circumnavigating Alaska and the Yukon, so our needs do differ a bit. He is quick to point out that his needs are extreme and probably not for most hikers, so when appropriate he briefly mentions his own choices and spends more time on alternatives for the mere mortals who are reading the book.
IMO this book has replaced Jordan's book as THE one to gift to your buddy who is still carrying a heavy pack, to try to "convert" him. Jordan's book is very technical, whereas this book is more practical. Lighten Up! is also very high on my list, but if I had to pick only one it would be Skurka's book since it is more comprehensive. (I'd then gift Lighten Up! at the next opportunity.)
This book does on occasion mention specific products by specific manufacturers. Thus in a few years those recommendations will be dated. But Skurka also goes into great detail about WHY he uses them, discusses pros and cons, etc. When that information is dated it will have a fairly minimal impact upon the book's usefulness. (Jordan's book was similar in this respect, and all of the gear recommendations are now dated.)
I wish this was a 10-point scale so that I could indulge in a bit more granularity. As it is I have to give it a 5, I guess, with the caveat that one must bear in mind the target audience. And, of course, Skurka benefits from a lack of competition- there really aren't many UL books out there. In fact the publication of this book probably pushes most others down a notch in comparison. I'd probably rate the currently available crop of UL hiking books thusly:
5 The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide
4 Lighten Up!
4 Ultralight Backpackin' Tips
4 Lightweight Backpacking and Camping
3 Beyond Backpacking (aka Trail Life)
2-1 Other hiking books with little or no mention of UL
Jardine's book was groundbreaking and will probably one day be called a "classic", but he loses points in my book for his utter condescending intolerance of dissent to his way of doing things and some pretty wild unsubstantiated claims. Really not a bad book- it's rating just suffers by comparison with the others in a very small field.
Lighten Up! and UBT lost a point for their brevity and lack of comprehensiveness- others will likely think that a plus. I wouldn't recommend either as the ONLY book to buy to learn about UL- they are far better as supplimentary sources. Get one of the other three before buying them.
Jordan's 2005 book looses a point largely for being "dated." Also, most of the material is available on this website.
I haven't read Gillman's book (Backpacking Weight Reduction Guide) so I omit it. Likewise the Boomer's Guide to Lightweight Backpacking. I also left out focused works such as recipe books.
Did I miss any other major works on UL?