What do your favorite guides and guidebooks have in common? Let me guess. They are relevant to where, when, and how you backpack. They are comprehensive, yet succinct, and not so detailed that they spoil your sense of adventure. And their forms and formats are extraordinarily user-friendly.
In developing my guide for the Wind River High Route, which I released earlier this year, I tried to check all of these boxes. What were my most important takeaways?
1. Know your Audience
When creating anything — a book, presentation, or even an email — this is sound advice. In this specific case, surprise, not everyone backpacks like me or knows what I do, nor wants to. I always knew this, but I didn’t thoroughly understand the full range of preferences, abilities, and knowledge within the backpacking community until I began guiding trips.Now, when I present information I do so with former clients in mind.
How can I make this useful for Albert, Cindy, Kolby, Krishna, Lisa, Nitro Joe, Vic and nearly four-hundred others?
With the Wind River High Route Guide, I wished to make the route accessible to those who have little familiarity with the range and who may not have the necessary time, fitness, skills, and ambition for an end-to-end thru-hike. In the Guide I included extensive planning information, and route descriptions, data sheets, and topographic maps for the 97-mile Primary Route and eight Section Hikes ranging from 37 to 67 miles. Information for ten lower-elevation alternate routes is also provided, for those with firm dates who can’t hold out for an extended forecast of perfect weather.
2. Annotate the Maps
Route descriptions are not particularly useful, especially lengthy ones. For example, a guidebook may read, “The first 200 vertical feet below the pass are very steep,” or, “When you reach the three-way junction on the lake’s north side, turn north towards Jackass Pass.” In both cases, a topographic map can more efficiently convey such information, plus much more.
To make matters worse, route descriptions are frequently mixed with tidbits of history and natural science, and sometimes personal anecdotes from the author. I enjoy this extra color, but it can be frustrating to sift through it for an immediately relevant detail, like whether to turn left or right.
My solution was to extensively annotate the topographic maps, using CalTopo, a powerful online mapping platform. With just the topographic maps, an experienced backpacker could probably complete the entire route. Most, however, will appreciate having a complementary text with general information about each section and in-depth explanations for tricky parts.
3. Self-publish as a Digital Download
I have considered approaching publishers like Falcon Guides, Mountaineers Press, and National Geographic to discuss their interest in publishing the Guide. But, at least for now, I’m not interested. Instead, it can be downloaded directly from my website.
This was not a monetary decision. Overall, that’s a wash: yes, royalties are less when a publisher is involved; but the publisher also takes over editing, layout, production, marketing, and sales.
Instead, I think that a self-published digital product offers a better user experience. It offers far more functionality than can a paper book or e-book:
- Updates can be made and shared easily.
- Materials can be viewed on any electronic device, or printed out, depending on user preferences and the application, e.g. prep or field.
- If hard copies get ruined from extensive field use, they can be replaced without having to buy a new guide.
- The topographic maps can be printed on 11 x 17 sheets in full-color and in high-resolution.
- The included .gpx file can be uploaded to a handheld GPS unit or a smartphone with a GPS app like Gaia or BackCountry Navigator.
A final perk of self-publishing is that I retain control of its format. When I compare Steve Allen’s definitive Canyoneering 3 versus Guthook’s apps, I can’t help but feel that the former is a dinosaur, created for an era that is nearly past. Even if Allen wanted to adapt his guide, his publisher could decline if they lack the expertise or financial incentives. In the rapidly changing publishing world, only one truth seems to remain: Content is king.
Sample resources from the Wind River High Route Guide
- Topographic map of the Dinwoody Glacier area
- Guidebook — Part 2: As go you, pages 1
- Datasheet — Primary Route, page 1
Feedback or Comments?
Here’s where I could use your help. What could I do to make the content in my Wind River High Route or similar trips more useful and easier to use? I’m curious about what additional pieces of information or content you’d find useful.
About Andrew Skurka
Andrew Skurka is a Colorado-based adventurer, guide, speaker, and writer. He is the author of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide and a National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year.” More information, www.andrewskurka.com.