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Reviews > Books > Field Guides > PGP - Hiking and Backpacking Guide > Test Report by Andre Corterier

Pocket Guides Publishing: Pocket Guide to Hiking / Backpacking

Field Report by André Corterier
Date: June 2006
Pocket Guides Publishing: Pocket Guide to Hiking / Backpacking

Personal Biographical Information:
Name: André Corterier
Gender: M
Age: 35
Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
Weight: 80 kg (175 lb)
Myopia: lenses at -2.75 diopters
Email: andreDOTcorterierATfreenetDOTde
Home: Bonn, Germany

Backpacking Background:
I have started out with backpacking slowly – single-day 24 km (15 mi) jaunts by myself or even shorter hikes in the company of my little daughter. I am getting started on longer hikes, as a lightweight packer and hammock-camper. I’ve begun upgrading my old gear and am now carrying a dry FSO weight (everything carried From the Skin Out except food, fuel and water) of a little less than 10 kg (22 lb) for three-season camping.

I have read what the masters have had to write about hiking and backpacking, from Fletcher and Rawlins over Jardine and Allnutt to Allan and Mike. I have packed many kinds of packs for many kinds of expeditions with nothing but a pencil and a scrap of paper in the comfort of my easy chair and in my inner eye kept looking back over my shoulder for Bryson - at this pace, we'd never make it to Mt. Katahdin. So I feel that my perspective on backpacking books is shaped by exposure to a fair amount of backpacking books, as well as a fair amount of backpacking. It is against this background that I will judge the perceived utility of this book.

Year of manufacture: 2006
Manufacturer: Pocket Guides Publishing
MSRP: 12.95 USD

listed weight: none listed
measured weight: 73 g (2.6 oz)
listed dimensions: 3 3/8 in (8.6 cm) wide by 4 1/2 in (11.4 cm) tall by just under 1/4 in (0.6 cm) thick
measured dimensions: the pages measure as advertised, the binding extends outward by about 6 mm (1/4 in)
Note: The copy of the Hiking / Backpacking Pocket Guide I received has an extra page - there are two copies of the last page. Without this additional page, I have every reason to believe that the weight would equal the 68 g (2.4 oz) I measured for another Pocket Guide of the same manufacturer, which I am also testing.

The Pocket Guide to Hiking / Backpacking usually consists of 14 laminated pages, printed on both sides, which are spiral-bound together (there are 15 in my copy). They are printed black on white with a few illustrations and feature tabs which list topics by keyword.

Report Plan:
I plan to give an overview of the sections of this book and my impressions of the material contained therein in the next phase of the report. For now, here's a list of the questions I prepared before receiving this book (and my answers so far) (other answers will be provided in the next phase of the report). Does it fit into my pack's belt pouches? Yes, the size is such that it does fit into any kind of pocket easily. Do I find the size of the print a good compromise between readability in the dark and weight saving? Looks good so far - the paper is very bright and the printing very distinct, giving very good contrast. What is the cover like? Will it survive a quick glance if it's drizzling, or does it take water badly? Well, it's laminated. The manufacturer claims they're testing their books by keeping them immersed for a month. I am confident at this time that rain won't be an issue. How will the book live up to being bounced around in pockets, or being repeatedly crammed into a pack with a bunch of other stuff? Again, the pages appear rather tough to the touch due to their lamination, so I foresee no problems here. Are there pages for notes? No. If so, how well do they lend themselves to starting a fire or use as TP? (Don't worry, I'll be politically correct in my report of the results. Though that does remove one of the very few photo opportunities I can envision in the ambit of this test…) As the book came with an extra page (printed and apparently accidentally included), I believe I'll skirt the edge of "destructive testing" by removing that one extra page near the end of the test period and see whether the page makes for a decent fire starter. Is it well organized? Is there a handy reference chart in the back or front or somewhere? If I'm trying to look up a particular technique, can I find it quickly? If I'm trying to find unknown solutions or techniques for a known problem, can I find them quickly? Yes to all of these. While I haven't read all the details given yet, I can already state that finding a subject in this book is made very easy by the printed tabs (and by the fact that there aren't very many pages to begin with).

And, of course, the last test: will I keep the book in my pocket after the test is over?

Field Report:
I've kept this book (and a companion volume I am also testing) in my pocket on a number of my trips - both solo backpacking and business. As such, I have often had time to peruse it at some leisure. I have not, however, had to resort to it in order to look something up I did not know how to do. I assume that the reason for this is that I've become quite comfortable with the kind of hiking and backpacking I do (not sure it's what Hendrix would call "experienced", but it's good enough for me). It seems that I already know what I need to know, doing what I do.

Nevertheless, I've read the book many times over, thought it over a lot and have discussed it with others, and here are my thoughts on some of the contents:

How To:
The book starts with a warning which sets out that possession of this book does not substitute for more detailed reading and training. The warning may be well placed. I believe that anyone who might be tempted into considering this a substitute *needs* to be told differently. For me, the warning doesn't waste too much time.

The tips given on how to pack (locations) aren't bad. In fact, given their brevity, they're pretty good - entirely accurate. I do note that the Guide seems to be written from a medium- to heavyweight packer perspective.

The notes on blisters are pretty good. The guide suggests carrying sneakers in addition to the hiking boots worn, which I no longer agree with (as I'm now hiking in the lightest sneakers I can find).

Dress in layers. Yes. In this volume, it suggests wearing a hat to cover exposed skin. To my mind, this point might have been expanded a bit - the other volume of these Guides regarding Survival mentions how singularly important a head covering is for conserving heat. I personally believe that this bears pointing out to everybody who ever leaves the house.

Sleeping Bag:
Yup, everything it says seems true.

Yes, except - it states that in higher elevations, water boils at a lower temperature but takes longer to boil. I consider this misleading. Yes, water boils at a lower temperature and this means it starts boiling earlier. However, food which requires boiling (and even more so water which requires boiling to disinfect) must be boiled longer because it requires being at a very high temperature. The highest temperature I can reach outside of a pressure cooker is the boiling temperature of water, and if this is below 100 C (212 F), then I must keep the food/water at that lower temperature for a longer period of time in order to reach the same result. Then again, maybe a book of this size isn't the place to explain basic physics, so the statement made may well be good enough.

Something I liked is that the book advises to monitor the colour of one's urine in order to gauge one's level of hydration. It's a pretty good rule of thumb which some people I've discussed hiking and survival techniques with haven't even wanted to hear about (strange how some physiological functions create such a stir with certain people). So I'm glad the author went ahead and put it in writing.

The statements made here aren't bad. They cover tents and poncho shelters (no hammocks, though). There's a bunch of pictures in here of various improvised means of creating shelter. They're amazing in that they manage to convey a lot of information with very few words next to the pictures. However, I have my doubts that if I hadn't already read about these methods I would have been able to deduce everything I needed to know from the pictures. Yes, the entrance/exit to the snow cave pictures is lower than the sleeping shelf. But I'm hesitant to guess whether I would have paid enough attention to this factor if I hadn't read about the significance of this spatial relation before attempting to build a snow cave .

Okay - four small pages on how to use map and compass. That's a tall order. The author manages to sum it up in rather concise terminology. Then again, I do not believe this would have helped me if I hadn't been somewhat familiar with the concepts already. As an example, the book has this to say on declination:

"The difference between true north and magnetic north (declination) must be taken into account if using a compass with a map.
On topographic maps, magnetic declination is usually indicated in the bottom left corner." (That's it.)
I wasn't aware of the declination problem until I began reading up on navigation. In Western Germany, declination is (currently) close to zero and most maps don't even account for it. I do not believe that this statement would have allowed me to figure out what is wrong with my compass in, say, Northern Canada, at a time I did not know about the difference between magnetic north and geographic north.

I'll stop here and summarize, because my points in case seem to end up all pointing in the same direction, which I can sum up. Put in a nutshell, the book summarizes a lot of information I already know. This means that reading through it, for me, provides reminders (which is good), but not more (which makes me doubt that I would want to carry it on a long hike). This does not make it a bad product, but very likely a product whose target audience I'm not. There are a few "Safety Reminders" in the back of the book which I consider a good idea - although, again, they presuppose some knowledge which might make taking the book along superfluous, like when it says "Avoid snakes by keeping away from where they go to get warm or go to stay cool". That is, without any doubt, good advice. But if I've learnt enough about snakes to know where they go to get warm or stay cool (I don't, we don't have snakes around here), I likely won't need to be told this. Not knowing this, being reminded only serves to remind me that I do not know enough to follow the advice.

The latter, of course, is a very valuable realization. If I should go where snakes are endemic, I should read up about their habits. Good point. But, again, not something that needed to be pointed out to me.

In short, this is the sort of book I'd give to someone who prepares to go out on a venture with what I consider too little knowledge. It would serve as a decent primer on many things and might spark more interest in certain areas which the book, due to its size-imposed brevity, cannot adequately cover. Of course I'd first want to educate the person in question, but if that is not possible for whatever reason, I feel this book might come in very handy (there's a person in Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" I feel might have benefited from this book a lot). And, it might bear pointing out again that the author of this book is aware of the book's limitations, as indicated in the "How To" notice at the top. This book isn't meant as a substitute for training. I'd say there is no substitute for training. As the book isn't long enough to contain the kind of step-by-step instructions and pictures I'd need to base my own training on, the remaining utility of a book like this is by its very nature limited. I find that it does a very good job at maximizing what utility can still be gleaned from a small book such as this.

A note on durability: I've read this book in the bathtub and in the rain. It's waterproof, which is nice. Of course, this requires particular writing implements to make notes (and I usually carry only a soft pencil in my kit, which was unable to leave notes on these pages). The book's been bounced around a lot and I feel that no amount of bouncing around is going to adversely impact this book in any way. Oh, and the pages won't burn, either.

I'd like to thank Pocket Guides Publishing and for the chance to review this book. I'll be passing it around a couple of friends who I am in the process of infecting with the hiking bug and hope that it will spark interest and start some good conversations.

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Reviews > Books > Field Guides > PGP - Hiking and Backpacking Guide > Test Report by Andre Corterier

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