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 – Hiking Tennessee

Hiking Tennessee by Victoria Steele Logue
Human Kinetics Publishers, April 2015

3 stars.
The good:

-Hike descriptions are super-detailed. A few of them might even take longer to read than to hike! Emphasis is given to pointing out natural and historical features found along the trail, making the descriptions far more than simply directions on how to complete the hike.

-GPS points are given for virtually every feature identified in the hike descriptions.

-This book is an excellent guide to Tennessee’s state parks. I think every state park with a trail or path of any sort is featured, with the exception of the two newest that opened within the last few months (Seven Islands and Rocky Fork). On the flip side, all but four of the areas listed are state parks–and there are tons of great places to hike in Tennessee that aren’t state parks!

-The overview text of each park is extensive, educated, and readable.

-I like the “hike finder” chart listing at the beginning, that shows the types of terrain and natural features found on each trail.

-This is a pretty book, well organized and a pleasure to read. The author is both knowledgeable and a clear communicator.

The bad:

-The emphasis seems to be on very short trails. I count 14 “trails” under 1 mile, and 56 that are under 3 miles. In many cases, significantly better trails at a park are overlooked in favor of short jaunts. As an example, the wonderful 4.5 or so mile Cub Creek Lake Trail at Natchez Trace State Park is well worth a visit to the park for its water features, walk across the dam, combination ridge and bottomland hiking, and optional wire traverse across a stream (not to mention that it’s a loop that connects with a pair of beautiful bridges across the lobes of the lake, not a one-way trail as stated in the guide). The Fairview Gullies Trail, a 1 mile loop through astonishing erosive features, is another great choice. But this book gives a full page description of the half-mile Fern Nature Loop instead–a cute interpretive trail, but it’s not going to inspire anyone to drive the 100 or so miles from either Nashville or Memphis to hike it, whereas better choices would.

-The maps are very simplistic, just black and white drawings of roads, trails, water features, a few icons, and numbered points along the trail that refer to the legend and text descriptions. In many cases, these could be simply labelled on the map. No topo lines are shown, so ridgelines are not obvious at all, a glaring oversight. No scale is given. The overview maps of the park frequently don’t identify the trailheads for the hikes (and sometimes don’t even share any features!), which makes it difficult or impossible to match up the hike detail map to the park map.

As an example, check out these two maps from the Reelfoot Lake State Park entry.  The first one is the overview of the park.  The second is the trail map.  Try to figure out where the trail is in the park.  From the legend, it is clear that there are roads and bridges along the hike.  Why are those not indicated?

Reelfoot LakeReelfoot Lake - Airpark Trail

-Elevation data isn’t readily found. This is a must for any Tennessee hiking book!

-The book is a big, heavy 8.5×11″ package that I really couldn’t see taking on a hike. Hello, scan and print and the questionable copyright law interpretation that entails…

Probably more “Walking Tennessee” than “Hiking Tennessee”. Good for its coverage of lesser-known trails, but all too frequently these are lesser known because they don’t present much in the effort/reward ratio. This volume could have been considerably better with improved maps and more compelling hike choices.