Book Review: The Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka

Earlier this winter after a #STPLive event, the good folks at Sierra Trading Post hooked me up with a free copy of the book ‘The Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail’ by Andrew Skurka.

Since Andrew Skurka is kind of a big deal in the outdoor community I was excited to check out his book and see what it was all about.

I could do a recap of the book, but that would be ridiculous (just go buy the book). Instead here are a few points that really stood out to me.

  • As I dove into the book on a flight from Minneapolis to Denver I was somewhat thrown off by Part 1: Are you a hiker or a camper? I felt like Skurka was trying to lump people into 3 categories: Ultimate Hikers, Ultimate Campers, and Campers-by-Default. I realized that according to Skurka’s definition I have a lot of Ultimate Hiker tendencies but motherhood has morphed me into an Ultimate Camper. Gulp, a tough pill to swallow (or is it?)
  • I breezed through the sections on clothing, footwear and gear. But there was one part on boots that made me pause and think. On most trips Skurka prefers a hiking or trail running shoe instead of a boot. I have a love affair with my Asolo hiking boots. Skurka claims that constricting feet to boots limits the foot and ankle’s natural movements, thereby making the hiker less agile. (p.68) Maybe it’s the years of my life that I spent wearing combat boots but I like the support, stability, and traction of a good boot–especially if I’m carrying a heavy pack or a 30 lb. toddler on my back up a really steep and rocky trail. But, my mind has been opened. I need to give hiking shoes a try.
  • My favorite sections of the book were on food and water. I dig Skurka’s approach to food. He eats a lot of small meals throughout the day and isn’t a fan of hot meals that take a lot of time to prep and cook. Now I don’t feel bad for feeding my family Top Ramen cooked a la Jet Boil on every trip. He’s also got a thing for butter and chocolate, both of which are delicious (but melty).
  • I’m always a bit squeamish thinking about all of the gross things that lurk in mountain lakes, rivers and ponds. When I read that Skurka sometimes drinks directly from unpurified water sources I was both amazed and a little bit grossed out. He’s not dumb about it though, he looks for water where the contaminants are diluted, water turbidity, flowing water, and from the top of stagnant sources that may have been purified by UV light. I don’t know that I’ll ever drink stream water just for the heck of it, but these are all good things to know in a survival situation. (p. 158)

Skurka’s book concludes with several trip plans to various geographic regions complete with a gear list. While we do more day hiking than backpacking, this section left me thinking about the importance of planning a trip and assessing everything from weather and water sources to other hazards on the trail. Sometimes we just put ourselves on auto-pilot thinking about the trails we need to hike to build our trail guides. I liked the reminder to put a little bit of thought into all of the “other” things, even though I don’t think that was Skurka’s intent.

Overall, this book was full of information great for both rookie and seasoned hikers. But, like any outdoor related book what works for the author may not work for everyone else. It’s just a matter of being receptive to learning and trying new ways to do things. I’d recommend it, you can buy it here: The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trail (we are Amazon affiliates).

Has anyone else read this book? What do you think? Would you challenge Skurka to a stagnant pond water drinking competition?

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