Monday, August 6, 2007

Book Review: Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook

Full Title: Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook: Innovative Techniques and Trail Tested Instruction for the Long Distance Hiker
Author: Ray Jardine

If you've been seriously into backpacking for any length of time, the name Ray Jardine will be as common as Martha is to homemakers. Not content to rest on his laurels after changing the face of rock climbing, Jardine set his sights on backpacking - or, more specifically, long distance hiking.

Until the publication of the Hiker's Handbook, the rules of backpacking were simple: sturdy boots, bombproof backpack, waterproof clothing, and equipment to overcome any obstacle nature could provide. Ray Jardine blew all these rules out of the water, and offered up a new set of guidelines that took the backpacking community by storm.

The Hiker's Handbook has probably stirred up more emotion among backpackers than any other publication. Reading reviews, you will find descriptions ranging from genius to ignorance, insightfulness to arrogance. One thing is sure though, any book that can get a rise out of so many people must be worth reading!

The version available in my library is from 1998, so I opened my mind to the state of the industry at that point, ignored the reviews and descriptions I had previously read, and sat down to read the Handbook from cover to cover. The first thing I realized is this is definitely not just a Pacific Crest Trail Handbook, but a book that can be applied to all aspects of backpacking. Even a weekend warrior can use much of the advice offered.

Part One deals with Planning and Preparations, including goals, training, equipment, and food. This is the technical part of the manual, and immediately begins to dissolve any preconceived notions you may have about gear. Industry advertising and magazines are spared no punches, and every bit of planning a trip is covered from head to toe.

Part Two discusses The Journey, and how to survive the myriad of obstacles the trail will throw in your way. Sun to snow, ticks to cougars, each section is well thought out and discussed from a technical and philosophical standpoint.

Parts Three and Four are more specific to the PCT, and discuss itineraries, resupplying, and other trail-related issues.

The final chapters of the book wax a bit more poetic, and allow a window into the author's political views and feelings. Advanced techniques are discusses, as is the potential problem of re-entry after an extended stay in the wilds.

I think any backpacker could learn from reading this book. You don't need to agree with everything Jardine talks about - in fact, there's nothing wrong with adamantly disagreeing with some of his philosophies. I found the most important aspect of this read was that it got me emotional, passionate, and excited about backpacking. My complaints about the Handbook aren't to do with the ideas and criticisms, even if I don't agree with them, but only that Jardine insists on repeating some of his more controversial ideas to the point they seem like a joke. Ever chapter mentions umbrellas and corn pasta. Both might be amazing ideas, but I had enough of them by chapter 3. That, and a few unnecessary discussions about religion, politics, and ethics aside, I can definitely recommend this book to everyone.

In my next few posts I will discuss some of the specific ideas presented in the Hikers Handbook, and how they have influenced my hiking. Specifically, I will be taking some of this newfound advice (and my new tarptent!) with me on the West Coast Trail in a little over a week.

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