Beyond Backpacking. AdventureLore Press, Arizona City, Ariz. Library of Congress Catalog Number: 99-72758 First Edition, Third printing, 2001. 517 pages $19.95 in paperback 1 pound, 9 ounces
The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook hit like a thunderclap for countless backpackers – current, wannabe and former – when it was published in 1992. Particularly for those who had missed the first go-round of ultralight backpacking in the early 1980s, the notion of heading into the wilderness with perhaps twenty pounds, total, was a revelation. Especially, the approach has enabled PCT and AT and CDT thruhikers to complete their journeys in one season, covering as much as thirty miles a day. More common loads and techniques cut that daily mileage essentially in half, making a four-month thruhike a pipe dream for all but the fittest.
The original sales-limiting title has become Beyond Backpacking and the text expanded to provide more detail and relate further refinements to the “Ray way.” What follows is a survey of this latest work, warts and all. We came to praise Ray, not to bury him. However, after a careful reading of Beyond Backpacking, we find we must do a bit of both.
Credit where credit is due: Ray Jardine has probably done more than anyone else in the last decade to alter the way backpackers approach planning and equipping their long-distance hikes. An experienced hiker, climber and adventurer, Jardine used his experience with carrying “traditional” loads and equipment to question and eventually toss out virtually every part of the accepted methodology – replacing them with new techniques and gear of his own design.
Jardine’s methods – the “Ray way” – knocked many of us out of our complacent belief that we knew all there was to know about planning and outfitting for a trip. We may once have thought of twelve miles as a long trail day, as we humped our forty-five-pound packs up and down the mountains, but the Ray way challenged us with images of as little as fifteen-pound total loads opening the door to marathon-distance daily mileage tallies. A big jump in the number of AT and PCT thru-hike finishers over the last ten years, some toting as little as ten pounds of gear and clothing, is evidence enough that Jardine has had a positive impact. This revolution isn’t limited to thruhikers (who, after all are a tiny fraction of the backpacking set). All who head out into the wilderness can carry a lightened load, increasing both their enjoyment and their range. Hence, this new book.
In response, the backpacking gear industry has merely yawned. The flood of eight-pound packs and tents and five-pound sleeping bags; and of two-pound stoves and water filters and rain parkas and sleeping pads and mess kits, not to mention the solar showers and chair kits and CD players and espresso makers and lanterns – this continues unabated. Yes, there is lightweight gear being made (including that of one company, GoLite, that is inspired by Jardine’s designs) but such gear remains a tiny niche market ignored by the major makers.
Jardine proclaims that we don’t need the manufacturers, and he backs up the claim by giving detailed plans for making everything we need to go hiking, from clothing on out. Something seems to have clicked: Beyond Backpacking is selling well: it’s in its third printing.
Jardine the man is the book’s biggest asset and simultaneously its biggest problem. The book’s foundation is solid as a slab of Sierra granite: toss out your preconceptions of how a backpacking trip ought to be planned and outfitted. Here are philosophies and methods proven to increase vastly your backcountry capabilities. Where the author gets himself into trouble is in blurring his theories – including some profoundly wacky ones – with fact.
This is a stroll through selected portions of the book, highlighting the strong, the weak and the what-planet-is-he-from-anyway? The early chapters form the book’s foundation, starting with…
The Myth of Heavy-Duty Gear
Jardine wisely begins by offering us the Grandma Gatewood model of backcountry travel, including this quote: “Most people are pantywaists. Exercise is good for you.” He discusses typical backpacking gear and the reasons we tend to over-rely on it – many of the reasons being fear-driven. He isn’t afflicted by gear-itis; many of us would like to be as free from this dreaded affliction.
Jardine calls upon his own growth as a hiker in showing the reasons for and benefits of slashing pack weight. As we follow along on his path of self-discovery, we can really begin to appreciate the vast amount of experience and willingness to tinker and try new things that led to the Ray way. There wasn’t a “Eureka” moment – it’s all the result of a lot of work over the many very long hikes that he and his wife have taken. The man has trail “cred.” But here also the dubious claims begin, including a graph that seems to argue if you can carry fifty-five pounds ten miles you can exceed forty miles a day carrying nothing. Specifically, he claims that a fifty-eight-pound pack carried ten miles requires the same energy as ten pounds carried thirty. Whatever the arithmetic, the point is well taken: less weight equals more miles. Simple. However, the lack of any sort of data to support the metrics presented remains a chronic problem throughout the book. Jardine frequently and repeatedly proffers indefensible numbers in support of various claims.
Problems aside, we’re well advised to note and retain the following passage:
“Remember that behind each piece of gear and clothing is a philosophy for using it to best advantage. And too, that the type of gear we need depends almost entirely on what we think we need.”
The lightweight gear overview comprises the Packweight chapter’s central core, and it preps the reader for a concise discussion of how to reduce that weight, including the all-important “Concentrate on heavy items first.” Management-theory buffs will recognize this as an application of the Pareto Principle. The discussion and arguments are well presented and form an effective backbone for the rest of the book.
The critical equipment discussions in Beyond Backpacking revolve around what might be called the equipment tripod: pack, shelter and bed. It’s easy to notch up twenty or more pounds for just these items (more weight than many lightweight hikers carry, total). Jardine has developed replacements for everything comprising the tripod – slashing the weight for all to as little as five pounds. An astonishing breakthrough.
Jardine describes his stripped-to-the-bone, sub-one-pound pack – essentially the pack many will recognize as the GoLite Breeze. It’s a rucksack of lightweight fabric with no frame and no waistbelt. The discussion, which touches at various points on the history of backpacks, is fascinating, and it compares Ray’s simple pack with the typical bells-and-whistles bombproof commercial backpack. Jardine begins the dubious claims as he attacks the competition:
“An internal or external frame pack with its hip belt cinched acts as a brace, limiting the natural movement of the spine, and restraining these motions. Over the long haul this saps energy. Furthermore, by constraining the spine, designed for suppleness in absorbing shocks, both the hip belt and the frame increase one’s chances of injury – for example should one step off a root or rock without thinking, and land too hard. Crunch!”
This is but one of many times the author asserts the correctness of his way by attacking what he views as the competition. He similarly dismisses sternum straps, which he calls “chest corsets,” claiming that using one prevents proper breathing.
One has to wonder, though, whether he didn’t abandon the humble sternum strap and waist belt too soon, based on his single-shoulder carry: “I found it far more comfortable and less restrictive to carry the pack on one shoulder only.” Ironically, this note may provide the strongest argument as to why a simple rucksack might not be the very best way to carry even a reduced load: the most influential proponent appears to have concluded that it’s not comfortable.
The pack-loading sequence on page 60 warrants several re-readings.
Tarps and Tents
Shelter is the second leg of the equipment tripod. Jardine is a vigorous champion of the tarp as opposed to a tent or other options. In doing so he sets the tent alternative up as a straw man. He remains far too fixated on his early backpacking experiences and fails to consider tent designs that may fare better in the conditions he singles out. This doesn’t negate the strength of his pro-tarp arguments – most are well considered and well presented – but he falls into the trap of overstating the tent’s faults, needlessly damaging the entire discussion.
Dubious claims: · “During the night the hiker’s body gives off several pounds of moisture.” Jardine is claiming here that we lose several pints of water nightly through exhalation and through our skin. He doesn’t define several (three, five, twelve?) nor does he cite quantifying research or note the relative losses from exhalation and from insensible sweating. · “Most tents have a so-called ventilating gap all around the perimeter of their rain flies; and hot air balloons have gaping holes in their bottoms. Neither ventilates the interior, since the buoyancy of the warmer air keeps it from dispersing.” This appears to be a goes-up-and-stays-put model of air movement. He stops short of proclaiming the formation of little rain clouds moving in opposing circles due to the Coriolis effect, depending on the hemisphere in which one finds oneself sleeping. Matching each piece of gear – shelter in this instance – to the destination and expected conditions is wise, but it seems foolish to accept blindly the notion that sleeping in a tent assures one of a drenching, be it a drenching in one’s own sweat and breath or in rainwater from a failing tent fly or floor. It might likewise be foolish to embrace the counterproposition that selecting a tarp banishes moisture issues.
Strength – tent and tarp compared
Jardine maintains straight out that a tarp is stronger than a tent. Tents surely can and do fail, but tarps suffer similarly, whether from ripped fabric or ripped moorings. Battened down with enough guylines and attachment points, a flat tarp will generally stay put, but I’ve seen torn fabric and pulled-out grommets too often to give tarps the unequivocal nod over all tents for strength. Match the tool to the task.
Jardine’s more-engineered tarp with “beaks” is an improvement over a flat tarp if you’re committed to the basic A-frame pitch. It’s going to be stronger and more rain-resistant and it should flap less. I get a little concerned about his many, many guylines, as well as the complexity of the bug-tent-under-the-tarp combination that he offers up for insect season. The combination blurs the line between tarp and tent and has a kludged look that raises questions about its ease of use. Still, his knack for clever innovation shines through and gives the backpacker new options to consider.
Warmth – tent and tarp compared
The section begins with a discussion of perspired and respired moisture and what happens to it underneath a tarp. Jardine notes that the moisture will condense to liquid when the dew point is hit – on what it condenses depends on the temperature and relative humidity. If the temperature is low enough, condensation will form in the sleeping bag’s insulation. He maintains that the humidity in a tent on a cold night will necessarily reach one hundred per cent and at that point, all this moisture will stay put, eventually soaking the occupants. He concludes: “The net effect is that on cold nights a tarp is warmer than a tent.”
This is a bold claim. Thermometer readings routinely show a tent as being 10 deg. F. warmer inside than out. Add the reduced wind chill and you have a strong argument for a tent’s being warmer than a tarp, not colder. While it’s likely that in specific conditions moisture accumulation overwhelms these advantages and tilts things in the tarp’s favor, we’re left wondering how commonly that crossover point occurs.
Jardine really stacks the deck discussing tents in the rain – spinning a tale of dumb tent user and dumb tent design to show that the tarp wins in a head-to-head rainy-day comparison. Regardless, his tarping process is well thought through and can be considered required reading for the proto-tarper: several readings would be about right. But in all fairness, tenting in the rain can and does work too, without the misery related here. Thousands do it every night. Enough said.
The information on the many different tarp configurations and pitches to accommodate a variety of sites and weather conditions is terrific. It might be good to photocopy (half-size, of course) these pages, with their instructive diagrams, and take them along. Advanced tarpology is learned over time under many conditions, and some crib notes could be just the thing to facilitate the pitching process on a cold, windy, rainy night.
Dubious claim: “Black (tarps) lose more heat at night.”
This is Jardine’s first of several mentions that dark colors lose more (radiant) body heat in the cold and dark. Along with a test of the theory that black cooking pots are more heat efficient, I’d love to see some data from the field to back up the claim. My suspicion is that, even if it is measurable in the lab at all, the effect is phantom in the field.
In “A sense of connection” Jardine shares a little secret: sleeping under a tarp or under the stars puts us more in touch with our surroundings. He’s got a point – it can be wonderfully liberating. Still, it’s not easy for everyone to give up the cozy tent environment – any kid who has a cardboard-box fort immediately understands the sheltering joys of that little nylon envelope. Hikers need to decide for themselves which they prefer. You can carry a tent and still be “lightweight.”
Groundsheet and Pad
The topic is handled well, and Jardine takes the opportunity to reinforce the importance of site selection. There’s a visit from what I call Bizarro Ray too:
“To me the shortcomings of a thick mattress go far beyond its weight and bulk. Due to its thickness it lessens one’s connection with the earth. Heavy boots do the same. They reduce the communication from the earth into our feet and on up our body and into our mind and heart. The connection works in the other direction too: from the heart and mind, to the body, the feet, and down into the earth. I believe that we are meant to walk on the ground by day and lie on it by night. The earth communicates with us in ways that science is only beginning to discover, and the less we insulate our feet and bodies from the earth’s vibrations, resonance and energies, the more we benefit.”
Am I alone in thinking that the reason Ray isn’t a practicing aerospace engineer is that his his bark-and-maize rocket designs wouldn’t fly?
Jardine describes achieving his minimum pad size and thickness through trimming, trimming and trimming until he could trim no more – ending up with a torso pad. Yet he also notes that on longer trips, one must guard against losing critical core body heat over time, and this may entail retaining more of the pad. He’s absolutely correct in this, all the more so when at times caloric intake isn’t adequate. Pervasive cold can devastate morale and turn an otherwise wonderful trip into misery. (My recommendation to the mixed-weather ultralighter is to consider packing one obscenely warm clothing item, despite the hit on packweight and bulk. A small indulgence, it could be a trip-saver.) Really he’s right both ways, that the ultralight hiker should carry no more pad than necessary, but also no less.
Quilt and Sleeping Bag
Jardine details the development of his quilt system – quilt and pad forming the third leg of the tripod of major gear items. The philosophy, design, construction and use are all well presented, and the system comes across off as a very intriguing option. Since we flatten a sleeping bag’s bottom insulation underneath us, why not dispense with a traditional bag and rely on a quilt tossed over a foam pad? It’s an ingenious option, and it can be quite versatile under varied conditions while being efficient in both weight and bulk. Jardine chooses to use synthetic fill, citing down’s susceptibility to moisture. Fair enough, but he also claims that down compressed into a stuff sack is irretrievably harmed. This flies in the face of the limited life of synthetics, generally recognized, and down’s ability to last decades:
“The first time you cinch down those compression straps, you snuff out, permanently, approximately 10% of a sleeping quilt or bag’s loft. And you can subtract an additional 2% for each subsequent compression.” Do the arithmetic: after forty-five nights, your down bag’s stuffing has – pfft – disappeared.
In a catchall section, Jardine touches a variety of gear and clothing. Surprisingly, he spends little space on the kitchen hardware, and he discusses cookfires separately.
Jardine prefers little wood fires to stoves. Nothing wrong with that, presuming you have adequate fuel and skill – there’s certainly less to carry and to break down. Having to melt snow or boil drinking water, or hiking where wood fires are not permitted (including stretches of the PCT) means a stove or cold food. He argues that his little fires are more environmentally responsible than carrying fuel:
[On stove cartridges] “Still, we cannot escape the fact that the empty cartridges are an ecological disaster, considering the huge quantities of them going into the landfills. Some types are recyclable, which is nice in theory but rarely practiced.” First, to claim there’s a grievous mass of backpacking stove cartridges appearing amidst our urban detritus is silly. We also can’t presume that recyclable cartridges aren’t recycled: since most backpackers are very responsible with their trash, why presume that they can’t toss an aluminum cartridge into the recycle bin? It’s insulting. Saying “ecological disaster” is hyperbole. Wouldn’t it be better and more ethical for Jardine simply to state why he’s opposed to stove-cartridge use? Something like “they are the least efficient of the many ways to carry stove fuel” would make the point nicely.
Ray surprises me, given the many reports of his espousing a raw food diet, that he doesn’t recommend it in Beyond Backpacking: “Jenny and I have experimented extensively with non-cook foods. And we have hiked for weeks without a stove, eating pre-cooked and dehydrated foods. So it can be done, but we have never found it satisfying. Nor have we found it particularly energizing. In our minds, the energy and vitality provided by freshly cooked meals is well worth the trouble.”
He launches an attack on nonstick pans: “Yet, I wonder whether even these coatings are safe. I have seen reports that indicate that most types of plastic are themselves health hazards, when used with food and water. However, I am not quite ready to start carrying glass water bottles.”
Proof please, before wrongly frightening the large percentage of readers who have used Teflon and other nonstick pans. Even should one accept the odd premise about “most types of plastic,” it’s a Gumby-esque stretch to condemn approved pot coatings. I’m surprised he doesn’t bring up aluminum and Alzheimer’s while he’s at it. Ironically, Ray neglects to note the PAHs (polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons) his cooking fires add to the food. He’s got to be aware that smoking wood puts carcinogens into your dinner. Bon appetit!
Compass and Navigation
There’s a lot to take away from this discussion, including Jardine’s cautionary tale of completely circling a mountain while trying to descend in the clouds. Even experienced wilderness travelers get lost! We must pay attention to where we are and where we’re headed. Bizarro Ray boldly steps forward with this note, following a discussion of certain animals’ ability to follow magnetic north: “Scientists say that humans have the same type of gland. Obviously, modern mankind has lost touch with this little device, but many of the more primitive earth-connected peoples apparently used it very effectively. It might be possible for modern-day people to get back in touch with this long-lost skill.”
Let’s leave my glands out of this.
And this from the discussion on doing without a flashlight, “Using this method, you can find your way even in complete darkness.”
Ray has evidently neither been deep in a cave nor unloaded film in a darkroom. Believe me on this point: in the complete absence of light, no primitive ability emerges allowing you to see.
Ray dismisses poles: “In actual fact the poles add to the total stress, because of their weight. Let’s say that each pole weighs 16 ounces. Two pounds lifted from the ground between each of 2,000 steps equals two tons of unfavorable stress that the poles add – per mile – to your entire body.”
Jardine is perhaps confusing stress with work: to be sure, carrying the poles’ weight is work, more work than if you leave them in the store and go without. (If the poles, however, are also replacing tent or tarp poles you’d otherwise be carrying, they may represent no extra weight/work at all.) Regardless, poles reduce stress associated with impact shock to your knees, ankles and hips. But instead of considering the benefits, we’re handed an argument, with metrics, that simply misses the point.
Clothing and Footwear
The Clothing section is solid. I especially appreciated the value Jardine places on routinely cleaning clothes while on the trail. The Footwear section discusses swapping traditional hiking boots for lightweight hikers or running shoes. There are a couple of chuckles in the hiking barefoot and moccasin segments, and I think his assessment of hiking in sandals is right on target. Re: wet feet – considerable discussion is offered on the futility of keeping one’s feet dry while hiking in the wet, and on how to cope with wet shoes and socks. Good stuff. Jardine also covers fit, insoles, orthotics, shoe construction, and in-field modifications. He’s certainly gone through more than his share of shoes. He makes an excellent point about avoiding injury by retiring worn-out shoes that still appear okay.
Up to this point in Beyond Backpacking, as I read along for the first time, I was completely willing to forgive Ray his eccentricities, since I was easily able to separate the wheat from the chaff and had learned a lot and gained a number of things to try. But in the literary equivalent of throwing a car into reverse on the freeway, the book then headed on to discussing food and water, and my outlook changed. Nothing encountered up to this point adequately prepared me for the Food section except, perhaps, for this early passage back on page 36:
“Locate a line of ants marching towards who knows where, and dribble a bead of white flour across their path. This will confuse them greatly, but eventually they will find their way around the flour and resume course. Now pour a bead of freshly-ground [sic] whole-wheat flour across their path. Immediately they will start feeding on it. They know real food when they find it.”
Thus Ray sets up the noble ant as spokesbug for his viewpoints on food and nutrition. So far so good, if just barely. But next Spaceship Ray blasts off and takes us along on a fear-and-loathing cruise through the Galaxy of Industrialized Food. He doffs the gloves right away with “Not all ‘food’ is food.”
(Please note: Much of the discussion is moot for the typical hike of a week or less, during which most could probably make do with thirty-seven Ho-Hos and a fifth of Jack Daniels.)
People planning thruhikes, high-daily-mileage hikes and severe-condition hikes need to pay close attention to their food: what and how much to take, and how to prepare it. The problem in Beyond Backpacking is that Ray spends so much time attacking the food and agriculture industries that he buries what useful information he presents. In short, denigrating these industries is more important to him than helping his reader. Some excerpts: · “These food companies are large and prosperous, and they use every resource in their arsenal to sell their wares. We, the consumers, are their prey.” · “Processed flour is the nation’s most popular food staple. Americans eat more if it than anything else. Yet it is so lacking in nutrition that it hardly qualifies as food.” · [Endosperm!] “This lifeless part of the grain is then further processed, refined, bleached and treated to become the nutritionally desolate version of wheat known as white flour. It has a long shelf life because microbes cannot subsist on it very well, and neither can we.” · [On Paul Stitt] “He says that the food giants do their best to stifle these types of studies because ‘too often these tests show their “foods” are incapable of sustaining life.’ ” · [On semolina] “Consumed in such high quantities it will sap your energy, and it can turn your summer’s journey from one of enjoyment to one of drudgery. [Here it comes.] Many long-distance hikers, myself included, have eaten corn pasta for nearly every meal while on journey, and with excellent results. Not so with white-flour-based pasta.” · [On “excitotoxins”] “Many types of foods popular with backpackers contain chemicals designed to make our brains interpret the foods as tasting good. In fact [sic], most commercial foods contain such chemicals. Neuroscientists call them ‘excitotoxins’ because they excite the neurons in our brains to the point of killing many of them, causing brain damage to varying degrees. Evidence suggests that MSG, aspartate and a whole class of similar chemicals play a major role in degenerative brain disease, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s. When these chemicals appear on a packaged food’s list of ingredients, which they rarely do, their names are almost always disguised. Yet, despite their damaging effects, the food industry finds them enormously helpful in bolstering profits.” Reread this last passage. For someone trained as a scientist (engineer), the author has emptied a sack of extraordinarily wild and dubious claims and accusations. (Replace excitotoxins with alien technology and the food industry with the Pentagon and you’ve got a good three- or four-part “X-Files” episode.) How are we supposed to take the book seriously after reading this screed?
He’s not done though, by a long shot.
· [Quoting Blaylock] “More and more diseases of the nervous system are being linked to excitotoxin build-up in the brain. For example, disorders such as strokes, [blah, blah, blah – lists several] and even AIDS dementia [!] have been linked to excitotoxin damage.”
At least Ray manages to stop before blaming AIDS itself on food additives.
He’s still not done, because he needs to attack: · Energy Bars · Sugar and candy · Coffee · Alcohol · Freeze-dried foods · Grains that are…”dead”
If you make it that far, you’ll find that Ray does sanction certain foods late in the chapter. He makes an important point on caloric density, using an analogy to rocket fuel. He extols fresh foods – certainly we all crave them after a few days on the trail, and with good reason – but can’t refrain from suggesting eating potatoes raw. He slips in attacks on the meat and dairy industries and genetic engineering: “Frankenstein food and Terminator technology.”
Corn gruel is suggested to those for whom corn pasta isn’t corn enough. He says a positive thing or two about powdered milk. Attacks granola bars. Attacks dehydrating. Says some useful things about home packaging tools and techniques.
The gaping flaws in Jardine’s food theories are exposed each thruhiking season by many, perhaps most, of the finishers. Do yourself a favor and read some of the many fine online thruhiker journals – it’s amazingly common for successful finishers to have subsisted on diets of Pop-Tarts, ramen, mac ‘n cheese, Lil’ Debbies, and Stovetop Stuffing mix, supplemented by pigouts every time they hit town, on anything that can’t run away fast. A common, perhaps the prevailing, thruhiker philosophy is to shovel in as many calories as possible and let the body sort it out.
Somehow it works. Recommended? Only your stomach knows for sure.
In short, this chapter leaves the future thruhiker needing some educated, well-reasoned and applicable information. Any decent textbook on nutrition will be more useful than what is presented here.
Food leads inevitably to…
I’m a big believer in the value of hydration and, of course, Jardine has me outdone. After declaring we’re all “walking waterbags” he recommends drinking a quart an hour. Well. In a ten-hour hiking day that means knocking back twenty pounds of the stuff. Whether this is even possible depends in part on whether you have to carry your day’s water along with you (ironically, likely to be in conditions where you actually need that much: e.g., the desert). Further, it is not unlikely that anyone consuming two-and-a-half gallons of water without scrupulously replacing electrolytes would experience some problems.
Bizarro Ray takes his rightful place on stage: · [On the Batmanghelidj book about water] “The book’s subtitle is ‘you are not sick, you are thirsty! Don’t treat thirst with medications.’ In particular, if you know anyone who suffers back pain, neck pain, headache, migraine, anginal pain, high blood pressure, hypertension… hand them a copy of the ‘Batman’ book.”
Thanks, but I thought all those maladies were caused by excitotoxins?
And this, on the “shortcomings” of water purification: · “While training for our fifth thruhike we drank directly from clean, natural sources, a few sips at first, then gradually increasing in quantity over the weeks and months. In this way we helped condition our bodies to the water’s natural flora. Then, during the actual journey we drank all our water straight from the springs, creeks, and sometimes the lakes – after carefully appraising each source. And for the first time in years I remained symptom-free…”
In wrapping up the water section, Ray eulogizes The Force:
· …being able to drink freely of the earth’s life-force provided a refreshing connection with the natural world.” · “Normally spring water is safe to drink. And in many cases the algae growing in it is [sic] safe to eat.” · [On springs] “I have come to think of them as sacred – as did many Native American peoples. I did not perceive them as such when relying on water filters. But now when I drink from a pure, flowing spring, I feel like I am making a closer connection with the earth and its life-force. And I think anyone could feel the same, whether they filter that water or not. I see pure spring water not merely as another commodity, but as a priceless gift from the Creator for the continuance of life. And I always give thanks for that, in appreciation of the water’s true worth.” · “Previously, when people and animals ingested the protozoa or cysts they were not nearly as prone to disease and illness. [Ray seems unaware of diarrhea’s role as a leading cause of death in the third world.] This is because they produced antibodies that fought off the microbes or at least staved [sic] their effects. But within the past several decades, two factors have contributed to the increased risks of our contracting giardiasis. · [Ready?] “As a result of living in civil sterility, our bodies have essentially quit producing the antibodies necessary to maintain our natural immunities. This civil sterility comes from drinking municipally treated tap water or bottled water that is free of giardia (in most cases), and by taking medicinal antibiotics, eradicating any pre-existing giardia parasites in our bodies.”
Ray closes the water section by suggesting we leave “some small token of nature” as a gift in return for having accepted the gift of water. I’ve taken to leaving pinecones in the office sink.
Returning Gently, Gently to Terra Firma
After the boulder-strewn rapids of the Food and Water sections, things smooth out considerably in the rest of the book. The depth of Jardine’s experience comes through in the chapters on physical conditioning, hiking pace, foot care, walking-related stress injuries, stretching, hygiene, and first aid supplies. Get yourself into hiking shape and care well for yourself once you begin. Limit your and others’ exposure to disease. Keep your body and clothing reasonably clean and in order; in return, you can accomplish your goals in good health.
In the Obstacles section, Jardine talks about dealing with rain, lightning, snow, creek fording, and heat. He tackles poisonous plants (oak and ivy) and critters of all kinds: flying, crawling, biting – eight-, six-, four- and finally, two-legged. Bottom line: knowledge and some realistic fear management can see us through these encounters. Most here is well worth reading, despite moments like Ray’s quote of someone who declares we can overcome mosquitoes by controlling our smell and our “vibrations.”
Jardine is perhaps at his best in chronicling the nitty-gritty details and the positive mental attitude that are paramount to pursuing our dreams of a long hike. Everything from finances to drift boxes to partners to “supercharging mileage” is here. A great deal of the success of any military campaign lies in supplies and logistics (my metaphor, not Ray’s). It’s conceivable that a person might thruhike the AT with a minimum of planning and supply by simply hopping off-trail to stock up and perhaps “decompress.” The approach won’t cut it on the CDT and PCT. Regardless of what other Jardine techniques you may embrace, supply and logistics methods are necessary to success.
If you’re handy at all with a sewing machine, Beyond Backpacking will earn its $19.95 price if using it you complete just one of the several plans presented. Sew a pack, a quilt, a pair of shell pants, a tarp…here’s how to create nearly all your major gear and clothing at a tiny fraction of what you’ll shell out retail. You’re likely to end up with gear better suited to your frame and your needs than you can possibly buy on the open market. (It may take a few tries though, especially with the clothing.) As a non-sewer, I very much admire those who craft their own gear.
There is a solid 400-page book between Beyond Backpacking’s covers, and a less-detailed review might focus on the best of it, legitimately declare the book a success, and issue a cover blurb. Because of the estimable reputations of both the book and its author, it deserves a closer examination than that. It is Jardine’s very stature in the backpacking community that brings the magnifying glass to bear on the book’s shortcomings. The Food and Water sections are a train wreck. Not only do they fail to inform, they sidetrack the reader on a journey into the author’s peculiar mind. Taken by itself, Ray’s nature-boy philosophy might provide a homespun and quirky charm to the book’s solid technical core — perhaps the inevitable outcome when somebody’s been out in the woods a bit too long. But Bizarro Ray with his fear and loathing of the food and ag industries throws the book completely off track. He hates the trappings of modern life (like municipal water treatment and sidewalks) and the way they have suppressed all our good Primitive Man abilities. This, along with his zeal for the teachings of charlatan health “experts,” demonstrates Ray’s willingness to travel with two yardsticks: the steely one he holds up to the trappings of modern western life and the fuzzy live-grained one he uses to measure advice from various faddist gurus. This would be merely annoying in a fireside conversation but, presenting himself as an expert and a leader of the inexperienced, Jardine risks taking on the mantle of fraud. How did this happen? My guess is that, as a lifelong DIY’er, he doesn’t avail himself of an editor. This is a book in need of an aggressive edit.
Does this mean I don’t recommend Beyond Backpacking? No, there’s too much good information presented to dismiss it. Instead, I recommend it to all experienced backpackers and to beginners who’ve completed one of the more established backpacking books, such as The Complete Walker IV or Backpacking, One Step at a Time. Jardine’s methods and philosophies are better read after one has first developed a frame of reference. It’s not a book for beginners, or the squeamish.