Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Review - The Backpacker's Handbook (4th edition) by Chris Townsend

I was offered this book for review. I used the 3rd edition a lot but inevitably much of the content has become out of date. I had read it avidly and found it to contain much sound and practical advice and so was interested to read and compare this latest edition. One of the first things I did was to try and catch the author out and find something he hadn't covered. I chose hammock camping, prompted to do so by having received one as a Christmas present from my daughter. In fact, he covers them in half a page, both in this book and in the earlier edition with only a couple of sentences added in the present edition. However, he still hasn't tried hammock camping.

The new book comes with brand new information on hiking gear and techniques. It is full of sound practical knowledge, which comes from an experienced backpacker who will be well known to many through his other books and, in the UK, TGO magazine. It is crammed with a depth of information on anything related to hiking, backpacking and even winter hiking. Whilst it is called a "handbook", it is so much more than that; a whole library of knowledge distilled from the author's years of practical, first-hand experience. If you are looking for theory then look elsewhere. This is essentially a practical book.

Since the 3rd edition appeared, there have been great technological advances in GPS devices, personal locator beacons, smartphones, digital mapping and digital cameras while "lightweight" has evolved from something considered a bit odd to a mainstream philosophy.

The book is broken down into nine primary chapters:

Preparing for the Trail

The Load on Your Back

Footwear and Wilderness Travel

Carrying the Load: The Pack

Keeping Warm and Dry: Dressing for the Wilderness

Shelter: Camping in the Wilderness

The Wilderness Kitchen

Comfort and Safety in Camp

On the Move: Skills and Hazards

Each chapter combines detailed and essential knowledge with the author's personal experience. While much of the content is relevant to conditions in the UK, it is aimed also at the American market and worldwide. Each chapter contains many photographs, diagrams and drawings which help clarify and highlight both the techniques and the author's experiences. There is also a comprehensive set of appendices covering everything from a useful equipment checklist to an exhaustive reading list and internet resources.

For anyone with an earlier edition it's worth the investment to upgrade to the 4th edition for the new content covering technological changes whilst for anyone who hasn't previously purchased it your bookshelf simply isn't complete without it. Having said that, although it can be read from cover to cover, this isn't really the point of the book and nor is it a book to carry in a backpack (certainly not for the lightweight backpacker) as it weighs in at 765g. No, it is a book to read and refer to at home and it is excellent for that. It is well written, up to date, and covers every aspect of backpacking and hiking. Get this book...it's money well spent.

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