Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Backpacking, Survival, and Outdoor Books

I recently took a business trip to Germany and something that helped me pass the time and kept me sane was both listening to podcasts and reading books about backpacking. Backpacking is essentially a huge part of my life principally because it is a great chance to explore what many miss in their busy lives and I believe it connects me with a greater humanity which has been lost with all the frills and technology which swallow us whole. Someone also once said that nature is God's splendor and it simply can't hide His magnificence. Each time I see something I haven’t seen before, like a tiny flower deep in the bush completely obstructed from the rest of the world, I find a great peace within myself and with my own spiritual beliefs. When I can't find time to backpack, I try to find ways to still tweak my hobby through blogs, books, and videos which directly or indirectly relate to backpacking, wilderness safety, and nature.

Fortunately, there are a ton of great books, podcasts, forums, and videos on the available to keep my backpacking hobby well fueled. YouTube even has either parts or whole videos of backpacking or "how-to" films. Some of the stuff I review is strictly for entertainment and others are for education, but in the long run I take it all with a grain of salt and let my mind wander.

Speaking strictly of books because podcasts was a topic I addressed on an earlier blog and I'd like to devote another blog to videos at some point in the future, I've got several books within eyesight which I thought were a worthwhile read. I've got others scattered around the house to ensure their quick availability when the time consuming processing of a bran muffin seems to be on the horizon, so by no means is this intended to be a collection of great masterpieces and should instead serve as merely a cross-section of the types of books I read. These include:

· Lightweight Backpacking and Camping, by Ryan Jordan
· The Journals of Lewis and Clark, edited by Bernard DeVoto
· One Man’s Wilderness, An Alaskan Odyssey, by Sam Keith from the journals of Richard Proenneke
· Trail Food, by Alan Kesselheim
· The Illustrated Guide to Edible Wild Plants, by the Department of the Army Beyond Backpacking, by Ray Jardine
· U.S. Army Survival Handbook, by the Department of the Army
· Trail Life, by Ray Jardine
· Lighten Up!, by Don Ladigin
· Born Survivor, by Bear Grylls
· How to Stay Alive in the Woods, by Bradford Angier
· Walden Pond, by Henry David Thoreau
· The Maine Woods, by Henry David Thoreau
· Cape Cod, by Henry David Thoreau
· Survive!, by Les Stroud
· The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
· Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
· Various Backpacking Light Magazines (now discontinued)
· Various Backpacker Magazines
· Various Outside Magazines

Some of these are fiction, some of these are non-fiction, some are “how-to’s”, and some are in a category which I typically claim is worth the read even for just one nodule of information I didn’t know before. For example, I recently learned that duct tape offers properties similar to birch bark. It is slow to burn and can serve as a good and long-lasting candle when necessary. Whether for inspirational stories, the chance to get away mentally, or little tidbits like this, I find it all quite fascinating. Just the simple knowledge that my gear has multiple uses is worth the read to me.

Because this blog is dedicated to lightweight backpacking, I figured it would make sense to identify the books which more or less paved my path. “Lightweight Backpacking and Camping”, by Ryan Jordan is, in my opinion, the most fundamentally sound book on lightweight backpacking available. It takes a scientific approach which makes logical sense to me and isn’t otherwise based on the ole “well it worked for me” mentality which obviously leaves a lot to be desired when equipment doesn’t work out while in the backcountry. Although Jordan probably wouldn’t admit as much, I believe his book was built on a foundation provided by Ray Jardine in his books “Beyond Backpacking” and his recent release “Trail Life”. Jardine seems to have been the first to really start putting lightweight backpacking principals on paper, although his ideas were considered a little too radical at the time and he regrettably was labeled as a bit of an outsider even though the movement has come full circle. Lastly, for those of you who don’t like to read technical manuals and learn better through illustrations, get the book “Lighten Up” by Don Ladigin and illustrated by Mike McClelland. I have always enjoyed McLelland’s artwork which has been promoted on various backpacking websites. As an ultralight backpacker and artist, his pictures are often more concise and easier to understand than volumes of words on the issue.

Residing in Virginia means my go-to hiking areas are the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Great Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, etc. Despite spending thousands of hours of these trails, it never gets old. Sure I long to see new places, new environments, and experience new challenges, but when time and gas money is short, I can’t complain about what is in my backyard. One of my favorite books about hiking the Appalachian Trail is a book by Bill Bryson called “A Walk in the Woods”. Several people who read this blog from all over the world (thanks by the way) have commented on hiking the AT. If you really want to get an idea of what it is like and get a good laugh along the way, take some time to read this inexpensive book. I was 200 pages deep before putting it down on my first read because I wanted to know what happened to the various characters introduced in the true story by the author. I also really enjoyed reading about the experiences and places just a few minutes away where I had been many times. In as much as it is a story about the AT, it is also a story about finding yourself, bonding with friends, finding peace in nature, history of the trail and local community, and the general comedic value of different personalities and things in our society which are simply funny.

When the weather outside is rough, when time and career obligations strap you to your chair, consider reading one of the many great backpacker stories or listening to a backpacking podcast and I bet you’ll find a smile on your face more often than not.

Please feel free to comment about your favorite backpacking/outdoor magazines, books, podcasts, or films to hopefully encourage others to explore them too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I believe it connects me with a greater humanity which has been lost with all the frills and technology which swallow us whole."

Well said. I backpack to enjoy a simple existence, even if it is just for a few days. Lightweight hiking focuses my mind on what is truly important for existence and helps make room for the experience of being outdoors.