The (New) Complete Walker
After 34 years of blazing trails, Colin Fletcher anoints a footloose, gear-crazed successor
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COLIN FLETCHER has hiked the entire Grand Canyon, walked the length of California, and seen enough action to fill seven adventure books, but the prospect of doing research to fill all 800-plus pages of The Complete Walker IV (Knopf, $40, due May 8) was enough to make him shake in his wafflestompers. These days, the 80-year-old Welsh-born author of backpacking’s ur-text is more interested in penning his magnum opus—an autobiography—than leafing through gear catalogs, and he reluctantly agreed to a new edition only after Laramie, Wyoming-based author Chip Rawlins, 54, a former backcountry ranger and field hydrologist for the U.S. Forest Service, offered to pitch in. While Fletcher tidied up the classic chapters on backpacking basics he originally wrote in 1968 and updated in 1974, Rawlins tackled the book’s immense gear sections, reviewing the avalanche of equipment that has hit the market since 1984, when The Complete Walker III was released.
No problem for Rawlins: He’s a gearophile who dove in with meticulous attention to detail. “My scientific expertise carried over to the book,” he says. “I crawled around in tents with a thermohygrometer to test temperature and relative humidity. I found a thermometer that could fit in the mouth holes of insulated cups to see how fast they cooled down. I’m obsessed with quality control and tinkering. Colin gets impatient with that stuff.”
In the preface to The Complete Walker IV, Fletcher admits his hope that “by handing over the walking staff to Chip…I’ve given the book a chance to live on, post-Fletcher.” The handoff is happening none too soon: Last August, Fletcher landed in intensive care after a car mowed him down while he was crossing a street in Carmel Valley, California. He’s still recuperating, leaving the book’s finishing touches to the new guy.