Book Review – Hike Smart: Tips and Tactics for Improving Your Treks

Hike Smart
Hike Smart: Tips and Tactics for Improving Your Treks by Ann Marie Brown and Terra Breeden

4 stars.  Hike Smart: Tips and Tactics for Improving Your Treks by Ann Marie Brown and Terra Breeden draws from the authors’ extensive backpacking experience to present a readable, instructive guide that benefits novices and experienced hikers alike. Topics range from safety to comfort to gear selection to navigational skills.

What I appreciated most about this guide is its conversational tone. Most hiking guides read like a textbook, alternating checklists with dry instructional material. The authors here do an excellent job relating information on a personal level, as if they are discussing what works for them, and most importantly why it works for them. In addition to their own experiences, they relate many anecdotes from other hikers. These anecdotes blend well with the text, either illustrating the rationale of the authors or providing an experience that they analyze and use to teach.

I also am a fan of the authors’ middle ground stance on ultralight gear. Many ultralight advocates are far more willing than I to trade ounces on their backs for substantial reductions in comfort and safety and/or more investment of time in camp and on the trail (and, to their credit, they have mastered the skills and attitude necessary for that). Brown and Breeden favor an approach of understanding and evaluating the trade-offs presented by ultralight gear–shedding weight where it makes sense, yet not being shy to pack something heavier that elevates one’s hiking experience.

Brown and Breeden’s self-deprecating wit adds to the warmth of Hike Smart. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and little asides like “If you’re a worry-wort like Terra, carry both” are a refreshing break from the “ZOMG You’re Doing It WRONG!!!” attitude that’s unfortunately found in many online hiker communities.

The only real shortcoming of this book is that some topics seem biased towards the experience of backpacking either solo or duo. For example, the section on stoves can be summarized with “use a Jetboil/MSR Reactor integrated canister stove.” While that is a good solution for the solo hiker, it’s not nearly as good when cooking for 4 or more.

I’d also say that this book is very western US-centric. This would be a complaint if the gorgeous pictures of all their Sierra Nevada hikes hadn’t managed to take all my breath away! But I did notice that while topics such as how to secure a tent when tent stakes cannot be driven are covered, whereas there is no real discussion of the use of a hammock as bed and shelter, as is popular in eastern US backpacking.

Rather than the traditional hiking guide which focuses on instruction in a particular method, Hike Smart relies on teaching sound decision-making skills for hikers. I found myself agreeing with a great deal of this book. In many cases, the authors have put into words what I have discovered through experience or by accident. I checked this out from the library expecting to skim it, and found myself reading, enjoying, and learning from it.

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Book Review – Camp Sunset: A Modern Camper’s Guide to the Great Outdoors

262456353 stars. Camp Sunset: A Modern Camper’s Guide to the Great Outdoors is compiled from issues of Sunset magazine, a western US-focused lifestyle publication. It’s a breezy, pretty collection of camping tips that can’t quite decide whether to focus on camping beginners or more experienced outdoor aficionados and winds up being too generalized to be terribly helpful.

Perhaps it’s the result of being a compilation, but the sections are fairly uneven. Several of the sections are for the rank beginner, explaining basic camping equipment and skills. Others are quite advanced, especially the recipes–many of these have huge ingredient lists and are very labor-intensive. While I quite enjoy some outdoor gourmet meals, lots of them simply weren’t practical for camping unless one person who loves to cook stays back at camp all day handling the food preparation.

Some features are far too superficial to be useful, such as a two-page spread on kayaking and canoeing. These contained an odd mix of overview and instruction, combining basic boating terminology with capsule descriptions of skills that no one should try to learn from a couple sentences in a magazine such as re-entering a swamped canoe or kayak (seek hands-on instruction rather than thinking you know how to do this because you “learned” it from here!).

Camp Sunset also runs a little Pinterest-y, with over-the-top things like marshmallow animal treats that were really cute but I can’t see myself ever doing.

I found some nice tips here; the section on packing the cooler was very well done, I thought. There are links to some cool downloadables such as checklists, outdoor bingo, and patterns to make masks for kids. The photography is also lush and beautiful, making the book a pleasure to flip through.

Camp Sunset is an OK camping guide; hopefully its lovely presentation will encourage those who are interested to try a weekend campout (it really isn’t that hard). I wouldn’t rely on it as my primary guide for camping, but it’s a good inspiration to hit the Great Outdoors.