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Reviews > Books > Field Guides > PGP - Hiking and Backpacking Guide > Test Report by Larry Kirschner

PGP Books: Pocket Guide to Hiking/Backpacking

TEST SERIES BY LARRY KIRSCHNER
FIELD REPORT
June 17, 2007

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT

INITIAL REPORT
February 19, 2007

Biographical Information
Name: Larry Kirschner
Age: 42
Gender: M
Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg) and no longer falling
Email address: asklarry98@hotmail.com
City, State, Country: Columbus, Ohio USA

Backpacking Background
I've been an intermittent camper/paddler since my teens, but now that my kids are avid Boy Scouts, I've caught the backpacking bug. I typically do a 6-8 weekend hikes per year, and had the pleasure of 2 weeks backpacking at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico last summer. I like to travel "in comfort", so I often pack a little heavier than needed, but I'm trying to cut down. With all of my investment into this trip, I expect my wife and I will continue to trek long after the kids are gone…

Product information:
Manufacturer : Pocket Guides Publishing (PGP)
Year of manufacture: 2007 (copyright 2005, though)
http://www.mypocketguides.com
Measurements:
4.5 x 3.75 x 5/16 in (11.4 x 9.5 x 1 cm)
Weight: 2.4 oz (69 g)
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $12.95 USD

PGP guide to hiking PGP book-open




This is a small book (note the 1 inch/2.54 cm grid in the photo) designed to be taken onto the trail to provide information that may be useful while hiking. The books contain laminated plastic pages, and are spiral bound with section tabs, as shown in the photo. On first glance, there is information useful when planning a trip (for example, what to pack), as well as tips that are expected to be helpful while in the back country.
To be honest, I thought the book would be a little bigger, but I guess this size is probably more appropriate to fit in the pocket. This concept is the whole basis for PGP books--they really ARE sized for the pocket, unlike most "pocket" books, which are too big to fit comfortably in a pair of shorts or pants. I'm a little concerned, because I thought the book would have more pages. There is a lot of information to cram into such a small book, so I will see if the authors have come up with something valuable.
book in hand flat book in hand side

Field Information
Since only 1 additional report will be forthcoming on this product, I will combine all my testing ideas into a single pithy follow-up.

The first part of the report will be a "book report", using my experience collecting information from a variety of scattered sources as a comparison. I will also evaluate the quality of the writing and/or illustrations, as well as how well the book is organized. Specific ideas for the initial/field report include:
  • At what level of hiker/backpacker is the book aimed (i.e., is it for newbies only)?
  • How useful is this information?
  • How was this info collected?
  • How does it compare to info available from other sources?
For the second part of the report ("Long term"), two approaches will be pursued:

1) First, to assess the durability of these books, I will take them on all of my backpacking trips during the time interval for the test. As I typically go out 1 weekend/month, I expect that this will total 3 or 4 trips (counting time from receiving the book until the end of the LTR). These will mostly be weekend trips in Ohio, so the weather can range from rainy/snowy to bright and sunny. Temperatures can range from approximately 40-70 F (4-21 C)I hope). If I do not think I am getting enough backpacking to test the durability of the books, I will lug them around in my backpack for work. I will make sure to take the books in and out of the pack, particularly if/when there is bad weather, to ensure they can take that type of use/abuse.

2) I will ask my son (age 15, going on 35) to evaluate the books. He is an experienced Boy Scout and will likely have a lot of opinions on all the things wrong with the book (He is not shy about telling me how often I am wrong, either). I will also ask him to identify items in the books which are "not terrible".

Putting all of this information together, I hope to produce a report that will provide a broad perspective on the quality and utility of these guides. Please check back in 2-3 months for the full report.






FIELD REPORT

A few words about the book's author
The PGP Pocket Guide to Hiking/Backpacking (henceforth called the PGHP) was written by Ron Cordes, who created the Pocket Guide book concept. Mr. Cordes has written a number of titles in the PGP line with a strong bias towards techniques of fly fishing (e.g., Lake Fishing with a Fly, and Fly Fishing for Backpackers). He is also a former editor of two magazines on the topic of fly fishing.


Field Location and Conditions
I took the PGHP with me on 3 weekend hikes in central Ohio. Unfortunately, the weather was generally good during this trips, ranging from highs around 70 F (21 C) and lows in the mid 40's (5-8 C). It did not rain during these trips, so I did not have any direct trail experience with this. As a substitute, I threw the book into the sink to test its rain worthiness. Aside from these treks, I have carried the book with me for the past 2 months, either in the pocket of my pants (jeans or slacks) or in the backpack I take to work.

Information to be found in the PGHP
As noted above, the book is conveniently organized by labeled page tabs, with headings on both the front and back side of each page:

Packing/Feet Dress/Sleep Food/Water
Cook/Camp Shelter (3 sides)/Tent Fire
Stick Navigate (4 sides) Weather (3 sides)
Safety/Lost Signals


Most pages contain an overall guidance statement ("Basic Strategy"), followed by a page of bulleted points covering the topic, sometimes with an accompanying diagram. Because of the space limitations, most of the information is presented in fairly general terms, and some of the topics are presented mostly in pictures, such as different examples of fireplace arrangements. Some of the topics are presented in a little more depth, such as the 4 pages devoted to Navigation or the 3 pages spent on Weather forecasting.

The initial sections of the book (Packing, Dress, Food) are devoted to topics for consideration before setting out. There is another group of topics (Feet, Water, Cook, Shelter) that deal with issues that might arise on the trail. Finally, there are a set of more general topics (Navigate, Safety, Weather) that are more or less in-between. These might be of use while hiking, but are probably better read and remembered before leaving.

The utility of the topics is quite variable. Some of the points seemed rather obvious and should be learned before undertaking a backpacking expedition (e.g., "keep your water bottle clean and free of bacteria and mold" or "layer clothing"). In contrast, I found the brief discussion of food selection to be quite informative. Given that only 1 page is spent on this topic, though, I felt that there was a lot more to be learned beyond the quick tips provided here.

Some of the more practical sections, such as how to select a campsite or build a trail shelter, were interesting, but the space limitations prevent the author from explaining much. I would have liked to know what situations might be appropriate for each of the shelters shown. The author also advocates the use of a "Ball and Wire device" to attach nylon cord to the shelter material, but does not explain why this is better than other methods, or even where such devices might be found.

Some of the information included struck me as rather puzzling. For example, there are 2 pages describing different ways to set up a fireplace for cooking. As a Boy Scout leader, I thought this section was interesting, but I don't think I can imagine cooking over an open fire while backpacking. From my (admittedly limited) experience, open fires are strongly discouraged (if not outright forbidden) on most trails, and are certainly in violation of Leave No Trace principles. There is also a strange page regarding the use of a walking stick. For myself, I use trekking poles, and I wouldn't hike without them. But, I don't need a book like this to tell me that you can use a walking stick to test your footing or to probe a rock for snakes.

The section on Navigation is very basic, but potentially of use to someone that has not had to use a map and compass before. The part about weather forecasting was another section that I found interesting, but would have been much better with more detail and better explanation. The book describes how warm and cold fronts work and includes diagrams, but I'm not sure how I could use this information without better background and some practical training.


Durability and trail usefulness
I have carried the PGHB with me for most of the past 4 months, and found that it has held up like a champ. The pages are sturdy enough to take a banging, and I have not found any problems with the spiral binding. It is as easy to flip pages now as it was when I received the book.

Because of the structure of the book and the fact that it has fairly little text on each page, it is easy to read, even in low light. The diagrams are simple enough to interpret, although I have to confess that I did not have any opportunity to test out items like the snow cave shelter. The pages are plastic and easily cleaned with a little wiping.


Value of the information
Most of the advice found in the PGHB is pretty useful, although most of the basic information I learned after 1-2 hikes with an experienced friend. The level of detail is kept low in order to keep the size and weight down, but this limits a lot of the book to giving advice without significant detail or good explanations for most of it. The Guide to Hiking/Backpacking has a significant overlap of topics with PGP Pocket Guide to Outdoor Survival, although this book seems to contain more that is practical.

Most of the information presented here would be valuable for beginning hikers, although some of the parts (particularly weather forecasting) would be worthwhile at any level of experience on the trail. However, given that the book weighs 2.4 oz (69 g), I think more value would be obtained from reading it at home, and maybe copying the 1 or 2 pages of useful trail info to take with me. Although this book has value, I would probably recommend getting something a little more comprehensive (the Boy Scout handbook jumps to my mind, but there are many others including internet resources) and reading THAT before striking out. Or, go out a few times with someone that knows what they are doing and learn the basics in a practical way.


Summary

Things I liked about the PGOS
  • Good list of topics and some valuable advice
  • Weather forecasting
  • Fits easily in my pocket
  • Durable
  • Easy to read
Things I didn't like about the PGOS
  • Not enough valuable information to make worthwhile on the trail
  • Too many statements without good explanation
  • Because of lack of detail, difficult to adapt a lot of tips for practical use
In summary, I think the PGP books concept is a good one, but I don't think that there is enough valuable information presented in this book to make it worth its cost or weight on the trail. This is clearly the better of the two PGP books I reviewed (The Guide to Outdoor Survival being the other one), but it tries to cover too much ground in too small a space. If I ever found myself out in the wood with no equipment and no plan, this information would probably become quite useful. However, as the authors acknowledge, "this book is not...a substitute for comprehensive reading or training." Hiking and/or backpacking should be an activity that is planned in advance, meaning that most of the information in this book will probably not factor significantly into my hiking/backpacking future.

Once again, my thanks to Pocket Guide Publishing for making this book available for testing, and to BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to make this my inaugural equipment test.

-larry kirschner

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Reviews > Books > Field Guides > PGP - Hiking and Backpacking Guide > Test Report by Larry Kirschner



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