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Reviews > Books > Field Guides > Allen & Mikes Backpackin Book > Owner Review by Derek Hansen

Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book

Traveling & camping skills for a wilderness environment

by Allen O’Bannon; illustrated by Mike Clelland

Owner Review by Derek Hansen

DATE: July 15, 2008

Backpackin’ Book Cover

Inset photo courtesy


NameDerek Hansen
Height5’ 10” (1.78 m)
Weight165 lb (75 kg)
Email Address derek·dot·hansen·at·mac·dot·com
City, State, CountryAlexandria, Virginia, USA


I began serious backpacking in 2005 after becoming a Scoutmaster for a local Boy Scout troop in Virginia. Now, I overnight camp at least once a month with two or three week-long high adventure treks every year. I am venturing into lightweight backpacking and keep my base weight under 18 lb (8.2 kg). I use a hammock year-round, trees or no trees.


Publisher: The Globe Pequot Press, Inc.
Year Published: 2001
Edition: First edition, seventh publishing
Weight Listed: N/A
Weight Measured: 8.35 oz (237 g)
MSRP: US$14.95
Dimensions: 6 x 9 in (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
ISBN: 1-56044-912-8
Pages: 162
Binding: Paperback


Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book by Allen O’Bannon, illustrated by Mike Clelland, is a heavily-illustrated book on backpacking basics from trip planning and equipment selection to travel techniques and predicting weather. The comic-style illustrations accompany nearly every page of the book and are equally silly and informative with nice captions and commentary.

Chapter titles include Dressing and Packing for the Outdoors, Equipment, Travel Techniques, Campcraft, Trip Planning, Outdoor Hazards, Weather, with appendices on Leave No Trace techniques, recommended resources, and gear tips.


I first saw Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book on display at a Scouting training event in 2006. The illustrations quickly grabbed my attention, and after a few minutes, I couldn’t put the book down. After getting home, I ordered the book as a reference, and I continue to flip through it occasionally even today. I rarely take books like this backpacking, but I did take it on a few recent trips, including my trek to the Rockies with my brothers. The book provided moments of humor and insight as we chatted around the campfire, sharing snippets from chapters and comparing techniques with each other and the authors.


Opposing Goals

This is one of my favorite books on backpacking, partly because it is so fun to read and it explains backpacking basics in an approachable way. I’ve loaned it out to family and fellow Scouters on occasion when I’m trying to explain a backpacking method or technique or (in the case of family) trying to pique interest. This book works where text-heavy field guides tend to bore.

I have often put the techniques explained in the book to good use. On one five-mile backpacking trip with the troop, one of the Scouts was struggling with a poorly packed bag. I remembered the explanation and illustration on page 16 that described the “bounce” method for pack compression. In a matter of seconds, the lumpy pack was reset, and we reduced the volume by more than a third. The Scout’s pack was now balanced on his shoulders and he was able to complete the hike with less complaining.

When I was preparing for my trek into the Rockies, the image of the two backpackers with opposing goals (p. 103) kept popping into my mind. It really helped solidify the message to me of picking realistic goals the team can achieve and not being selfish about my motives.

My own children especially enjoy the illustrations, which are fun, informative, and fun. Did I mention fun? Artist Mike Clelland is brilliant and hilarious in his style and technique. The illustrations help when handling some more delicate outdoor subjects, like what to do with human waste, in a way that is approachable and not distasteful (our family favorite is the “one hand back with rock assist”).

Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book does a great job for three-season backpacking, including chapters on dressing in layers and preparing for weather, but it does not cover winter camping.

Waterproofing Your Pack

One of the most influential chapters for me was Dressing and Packing for the Outdoors. It was here that Allen and Mike tag team with prose and picture in excellent style. I picked up the most tips from the section on “The ABC’s of Pack Packing” where I began to cut down my heavy 40 lb (18 kg) pack to a mere 15 lb (7 kg) by honing my own personal system. Some of the techniques have helped me to slim down what gear I use by making things multi-use, and in other cases, just streamlining and “packing with style.”

The authors do a good job of approaching backpacking–a topic which tends to focus heavily on gear–by focusing more on general concepts and approaches. Allen and Mike almost avoid mentioning any piece of gear specifically; however, there are a few times where the author’s opinion overshadows other options, like when they compare camping stoves. It is obvious the authors love the MSR WhisperLite stove, which is about the only one that seems to matter in the book (even the illustrations almost exclusively show the MSR WhisperLite). The page on stoves is short, and the comparisons between alternatives is slim with a quick “opt-out” sentence in the end: “…there are lots of choices out there, so look around for the stove that suits you best.”


My copy of Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book is well-worn, including a nice burn hole on the cover when the Scouts were reading too close to the fire. The authors do an excellent job of getting to the point with tons of clear–and often funny–illustrations. Some topics are covered very lightly (like stoves), where others (like handling human waste) gets close to nine pages! Overall, I highly recommend this book to both beginners and pros alike. Some of the illustrations hit close to home and allowed me to laugh at myself and how I backpack. This book was obviously written and illustrated by people who know the sport and are active backpackers.


  1. Tons of brilliant illustrations; fun and entertaining.
  2. Simple and to-the-point text, not overly heavy or condescending.
  3. Leave No Trace ethics are an integral part of the text and illustrations.


  1. Some topics, like stoves, are covered very lightly.
  2. Does not cover winter camping.
  3. Trip planning and travel techniques does not cover “time control plans” or methods to determine how long a trek will take.
Updated: Tue, Jul 15, 2008 at 07:26 AM

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