Play Outside? You Need to Read This Book.
Andrew Skurka’s updated guide is a masterclass in how to enjoy the outdoors comfortably
Want to learn how to maximize your enjoyment of the outdoors? How to go farther, hike faster, and be more comfortable in a wider variety of weather conditions? Want to give someone else that ability? Andrew Skurka’s second edition of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide will do just that.
In 2011, Outside named Skurka its Adventurer of the Year for his analytical approach to ultralight backpacking. Since graduating from Duke University in 1999, he’s racked up thousands of backcountry miles, including on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, a 7,778-mile “Sea-to-Sea” route that took him from Quebec’s eastern shore to Washington’s western one, and a circumnavigation of Alaska.
Through all that, he’s developed not only an understanding of how to take advantage of modern developments in technical gear, but also a unique approach to maximizing human performance outside. And he shares that information in lectures, with one-on-one clients, on his website, and now in books.
Of course, Skurka has written an Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide before. How does this second edition differ? “Since I wrote the original manuscript, backpacking changed and so did I—new products and brands, and new personal experiences and insights,” he writes.
The new book benefits from his experience training people. Through that, Skurka says he “developed a clear understanding for the challenges and preferences of average backpackers, not just hard-charging solo thru-hikers; and I became a better teacher, with an improved capacity to convey information in layman’s terms, but without losing important nuance.”
The book teaches you how to pack light, obviously, but it also dives much further into how to select the appropriate clothing, shelters, sleep systems, and more for a variety of terrain, seasons, and objectives. Skurka explains the challenges you’ll face, how the gear works, and the differences between seemingly minor variables, empowering you with the knowledge necessary to make purchasing decisions across a range of budgets. This isn’t just a list of stuff you should buy (although he does make specific recommendations if you’re looking for that): it’s the information you need to become an informed consumer and expert user of gear.
Do you really need a bunch of high-tech stuff to go camping? Last month, I had that conversation with my 71-year-old father. He grew up backpacking in the Appalachian mountains, and we’ve been on trips all over the world together. Like a lot of Boomers, he used to head into the mountains wearing jeans and leather boots. A light load for his external frame pack was in the neighborhood of 70 pounds. You’d think the old codger would be dismissive of the bright white cuben fiber backpack I was carrying or my $500 hardshell jacket, but instead he was envious. He knows all that stuff enables me not just to go farther, faster, but to have a better time, in more challenging weather. A big weekend for him was 10 or 20 miles, at most. A normal trip for me is 30 or so per day.
While the book is clearly targeted at ultralight backpacking, it’s actually an excellent guide to all-round outdoor competence. No matter whether you hunt (like me, Skurka is a big proponent of ethically harvesting the healthiest, most humane meat), ski, bike, run, watch birds, or whatever, you will benefit from a more effective approach to clothing, shelters, and water purification. You don’t need to go on a 7,000-mile hike to benefit from Skurka’s teachings: you can apply them to the stuff you already do outdoors and use them to enjoy doing that stuff more.
And because of that, Skurka’s book should also make an excellent gift. Right now, I’ve got an already-active girlfriend who I’m trying to transform from an in-bounds skier, casual hiker, and car camper, into someone who’s as confident as me in the wilderness. She’ll be reading the book this weekend.