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Andrew Skurka’s The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide

The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka
The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka

Contrary to its title, Andrew Skurka’s new backpacking book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide is not really a book about gear per se, as much as it is about the skills and knowledge that very experienced backpackers develop for planning trips and deciding what gear is appropriate and safe enough to bring.

That might sound like a subtle distinction, but I think Andrew’s emphasis on skills and not the latest gear fad is a breath of fresh air in an industry that has become a bit too focused on gear and less on  the self sufficiency and ingenuity that define an “Ultimate Hiker.”

Don’t worry, there is a huge section the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of gear for you gear heads, but Andrew starts the book by diving into the details of how to plan a backpacking trip or expedition, which is often the most important prep phase of a journey. For example, he covers:

  • How to use historical weather information, precipitation and snowfall information to determine what the weather norms are for the region you’ll be hiking in, as well as the impact that elevation can have.
  • How the amount of daylight can impact your pace and daily mileage.
  • The impact that ground cover and vegetation density can have on your route and whether you have to stick to trail or have to bushwhack
  • How to assess the mitigate the risks of injury in very remote regions and avoid to natural hazards such as avalanches or flash floods.

It doesn’t matter if you’re going on a weekend trip, planning a 5 day backpacking trip as a scout leader, or section hiking a long trail, knowing what to expect and matching it with the gear you bring is one of the most important advanced backpacking skills you can master.

Personally, I learned most of this backpacker voodoo the hard way, wasting hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on the wrong gear for the conditions I had to hike in. Instead, Andrew distills the knowledge you need in a very readable book that is chock full of war stories, gear recommendations, and sample gear lists, including a scout-specific list designed for the Philmont High Adventure Camp.

While The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide is available in kindle and paperback formats, I’d recommend that you get the paperback. Andrew’s publisher, National Geographic did an exceptional job formatting the book, making it equally easy to read cover-to-cover or as a reference, the next time you plan your own ultimate backpacking adventure.

The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide at Amazon.com

About Andrew Skurka

Andrew Skurka is an accomplished adventure athlete who has been named “Adventurer of the Year” by both Outside and National Geographic Adventure, as well as “Person of the Year” by Backpacker. Andrew is most well known for his solo long-distance backpacking trips, notably the 4,700-mile 6-month Alaska-Yukon Expedition, the 6,875-mile 7-month Great Western Loop, and the 7,775-mile 11-month Sea-to-Sea Route. In total, he has backpacked, skied, and packrafted 30,000+ miles through many of the world’s most prized backcountry and wilderness areas.

Disclaimer: SectionHiker.com (Philip Werner) received a pre-publication copy of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide for review. He also purchased an early draft of this book using his own funds.

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  1. Thanks for the tip, it’s never too late to learn from others. *ordered*

  2. Great review. I have been glued to this book since Amazon sent it to me last week, and you hit on why I like it so much. I keep thinking it should be mandatory for new parents in my son’s Scout Troop, and has changed the way I am evaluating several new equipment purchases. I am in charge of planning a week long backpacking trip for the Troop this summer and will be using this book extensively as part of the planning process.

    • One thing that might be useful is to plan some shakedown trips for your troop before the week long trip. It’s one thing to read about these skills and know how, particularly thermal regulation in the rain, and quite another to understand the nuances of how to keep warm in crappy weather. When I was visiting with some scoutmasters in Austin this week, they told me that they take their troops on 4 short shakedown trips before going to Philmont to make sure everyone has the right gear (and no more) and that they know how to set it up and care for it. Personally, I’ve found short trips useful for internalizing such skills, especially when my car is only 1 day away. Good luck with your trip and let me know how it goes.

  3. I just started reading this on Saturday!

  4. I’m looking forward to this book coming in the mail! Should be here any day now. Also I just looked on his website- he’ll be in the MA/RI area April 2nd-4th giving some talks. Here is the link: http://andrewskurka.com/slideshows-clinics/current-schedule/

    • I’ll be meeting with Andrew for coffee when he swings by the boston area to do an in-person interview. I’ve never seen him give a talk, but I hear that he’s a great speaker and well worth seeing in person. We met for the first time about 2 months ago in Salt Lake City.

  5. Reading the book now, also.
    We are lucky he is coming to Iowa in April! Just the wrong side of the state, but, to hear about his adventures and learn from him in person, is defiently ‘vacation day worthy’.
    Looking forward to your blog when you meet him.

  6. I just finished this book and agree that it is one of the best books around for getting your hiking game on. Everything from gear to prep with lots of skills to work on as well. I am now recommending this to all my friends. Thanks for the great review.

  7. Thanks Philip for this review. I’m glad that the title did not mislead you — the book is really about “tools and techniques” instead of just being a gear guide. Skills are especially important for backpackers who love to hike, since we need to know how to stay comfortable and safe with a minimum of gear and with gear that is often not foolproof (e.g. tarps, alcohol stoves, frameless backpacks, etc.)

    If you’d like to purchase a signed copy of the book, you can purchase one through my website: andrewskurka.com/product/ultimate-hikers-gear-guide/

    • Andrew,
      What would a person get from your 90 minute gear presentation that wouldn’t come from reading the book?

      • The content in the gear & skills clinic is a boiled down version of the book. But it’s a very different experience. At the clinic you can ask questions about topics that weren’t covered or, more likely, weren’t covered in as much detail as you might have liked. You can see the gear I’m talking about, instead of just looking at pictures. And, finally, I think the clinic is really helpful in showing you one complete kit that is specifically applicable to a trip that the audience makes up — imagine if the entire book were written about just one of the gear lists included in the back.

      • He’s got to make a profit, doesn’t he? Isn’t that what it’s all about?

      • You need to meet Andrew to understand just how wrong you are. He’s not making money on the gear,

  8. “knowing what to expect and matching it with the gear you bring is one of the most important advanced backpacking skills you can master”

    Amen, brother.

    Looking forward to learning what he considers luxury items and what if any he brings.

    I always bring a camera and a paperback on my trips. Recognizing that they are luxuries was an epiphany.

    • I also carry a camera, Tom, though that’s probably the extent of my luxuries. I’ve learned to stay plenty safe and comfortable with the minimal amount of gear that I have. For example, I try to find virgin campsites that are covered in soft materials (leaves, needles, moss, sand, etc.), which compliment my 5/8″ thick foam pad. I sleep just as well as a backpacker who brings a cushy 3″ air pad so that they can camp on rock-hard dirt at a campsite that has been denuded of soft materials by hundreds of other campers.

  9. I can attest to what Andrew says about the gear clinic…specific insight is not always in the book. Go see him, ask him questions…he’s very into specific questions & will show/tell you anything. Am still working on the trucker’s hitch instead of Line-Locs & still resisted the temptation to seal the SoloMid. Thx again Andrew!

  10. Just a small note – The book is also available in the Barnes and Nobles Nook store, as an epub file (No drm attached – can be viewed on any e-reader after download).
    I guess it’s identical to the Kindle edition, but if anyone cares about that sort of thing, it is also an option.

  11. Just bought the book, and it does have some things in there that I’ve found useful. Not sure its worth 20 bucks for the paperback. I plan to re- read it.
    I like the formatting. Even though it has different fonts and colors they don’t work against each other, like some of the recently unreadable sections of Outside magazine, and the worst offender of all –>Bicycling magazine, which I no longer subscribe to do to their repeated black on grey productions.
    I think the best nugget in the whole book is on page 17 regarding his reaction to his encounter with the Porcupine caribou herd. I also like the distinction between the Ultimate Hiker vs. the Ultimate Camper.
    Looking forward to comparing my own gear lists to the several different ones listed in the back of the book.
    I would appreciate yearly updates after paying the full price; some type of code that you could enter that would allow you to access periodic updated gear recommendations on the web.

    • That’s the problem with publishing gear recommendations in books – they’re out of date as soon as the manufacturers change the colors! Seriously, I doubt Andrew wants to emphasize the gear in this book – his focus has always been on skills far more than any specific gear type or weight. I’d recommend you check out his blog, which is quite good, for updates and opinion. He’s also exceptionally accessible and gets back to people.

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