Andrew Skurka is a stud. In 2016, both National Geographic Adventure and Outside magazines named him Adventurer of the Year and Backpacker named him Person of the Year. His entire life is about using gear to push the envelope as to what is possible in the outdoors. So, when he writes about what gear to use and how to use it, anyone interested in the outdoors should take notice. This brings us to the Second Edition of Skurka’s Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide.
Maybe you’ve heard of Skurka. He’s embarked upon some epic adventures, including an unsupported 4700-mile trek through Alaska and the Yukon, his 7775-mile Sea-to-Sea hike from Quebec to Washington, and various other epic adventures. He’s used more gear in a month than most of us will use in a lifetime. And, he’s traversed the entire universe of geardom, from his first, overpacked steps on the Appalachian trail to ultralight high routes in the Sierras. His experience gives him insight necessary to help anyone up their gear game, whether a complete newbie on a first overnight or an experienced hiker looking to upgrade.
Skurka’s guide really covers the gamut of gear. He breaks it down into chapters about each of the essentials and systemizes his approach to each. Starting with clothing, Skurka breaks things down into his Core 13 – thirteen essential items one can mix and match for any backcountry adventure. Each subsequent section discusses what factors he, himself, uses to choose his gear. He recognizes that the right gear is different for everyone and suggests a process by which to find what best suits the reader, rather than just telling you what to buy. (Not that he doesn’t suggest specific pieces he knows to be functional – more on that below.)
Within the sections, Skurka weaves in pertinent tales of his adventures. The stories he picks recollect the mistakes he’s made (and learned from) in the outdoors. Ignoring hot spots on the John Muir trail taught him the importance of proper footwear and foot care. An inadequate sleeping pad on the Appalachian trail almost forced him to spoon with a woman whose trail name was Wild Boar. Poorly anchoring a shelter led, thankfully, to a warm cabin and now-lost tales of frontier history.
Beyond advice for selecting essential gear for backpacking adventures, Skurka provides great advice for everything from food planning to gear checklists for different environments to suggestions on where to save weight and where such sacrifices may threaten your life.
I can’t say the guide is perfect, but my critiques are small and take nothing from the overall quality of the guide. Skurka’s specific gear suggestions fall short a few times. For example, he suggests the Stoic Alpine Merino Bliss shirt as a long-sleeve hiking base layer. He’s right – it’s a great shirt that I happen to own and love as well – but it’s no longer available for purchase. He also has a tendency to suggest gear on which he collaborated with Sierra Designs, one of his sponsors. The SD gear isn’t bad. On the contrary, it’s well designed and functional. But, it seems like a slight conflict. Of course, if one takes Skurka’s philosophy to heart and finds gear that suits their needs and the requirements of the environment in which she will be traveling, my critique doesn’t even matter.
Which also brings up another point: Skurka is a dude. Just as I struggle to write about women’s gear and the specific features women want and need from their equipment, Skurka tends to focus on men’s gear. While his process is applicable across genders, you can tell that he sometimes gives women’s gear a cursory mention only because he feels he has to for equality’s sake. Maybe for the Third Edition, he can bring in Anna McNuff or Sarah Outen to discuss women-specific issues.
If you already have the first edition, should you get the second? Depends, but most likely yes. As Skurka discusses on his blog, there are some pretty big differences between the two. Two major things: he wrote the first edition in 2011 and gear has come a loooooong way since then; and he, himself, learned more about the needs of the average backpacker and how to translate his experience and advice into something both digestible and useful for that person. If you’ve become your own expert in the intervening years, maybe you can skip it. But, even for the expert, Skurka offers value. As far as I’m concerned, it’s always good to get advice from experts, even if you consider yourself an expert in the same field.
Overall, Skurka’s guide is a great read for anyone headed into the backcountry. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced hiking expert, the Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide has something for you. Take Skurka’s gear wisdom to heart so you’ll never have to spoon with Wild Boar. Pick up your copy from Amazon.