Beyond Backpacking by Ray Jardine

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  • #1216486
    BPL Member


    Locale: SoCal

    Every hiker should at least read through this book, if not own it. Ray earns 5 stars for tackling every major issue a backcountry traveler faces with an enlightened and positive attitude. He also makes the big revelation that you don’t need to spend thousands on gear to get outdoors–you can even make it yourself. Ray loses a star with some bold, unsupported claims, and the occasional bout of paranoia. The book is good to look over every once in a while for another nugget of wisdom or a good chuckle.

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    The book is probably more responsible for generating enthusiasm of the current lightweight movement than any other volume. That’s a five star task.

    Minus a star for doing so at the expense of an intolerance for other methods, and minus another for unsupported claims.

    But yes, a classic it will forever be, and it sits, alongside Fletcher, as one of my all time favorites. The quirkiness of it all buys back another star for sheer interesting reading.

    Dane Burke


    Locale: Western Washington

    This is a low 3 stars, but I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it. It is full of good (if outdated) information and is simply a part of lightweight backpacking. However, it is the “old-school” of lightweight backpacking and is definitely not a source for cutting edge information. Think of it as more of a historical document. Ray is very closed minded about any other styles and philosophies but his own which is the biggest flaw of this book. The stealth camping and nutrition chapters were my favorite. I can’t validate any of the information in the nutrition chapter but it was quite interesting.

    Kevin Sawchuk
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    I agree with what Ryan had to say. There’s a lot of good information but the “my way or the highway” attitude lessens its usefulness. The clearly inaccurate nutrition information and other unsubstantiated ideas (presented as fact) are annoying. Read, learn, laugh, move on.

    Stephan Guyenet


    Okay, I have to put in my two cents because Ray Jardine’s book has been repeatedly maligned on this website. Simply put, Beyond Backpacking is by far my favorite book on backpacking.

    This book was so encouraging and liberating that it made me want to get out into the backcountry even more. Rather than giving us a long list of things to be afraid of and avoid, he takes a positive spin and tells us how to maximize our enjoyment while recognizing and overcoming our fears. He has a deep love for the outdoors and it shows.

    I consider this book to be more comprehensive than other backpacking books that are much larger. It covers actual techniques in more detail than most books, without wasting most of its space on discussions of soon-obsolete gear. I make this comparison coming from the position of a lightweight backpacker who has also read two books by Chris Townsend and one by Colin Fletcher.

    I disagree that he is intolerant of other hiking styles. I think he presents his method because that’s what he knows, but he deliberately avoids knocking other styles.

    Now on the topic of misinformation, I do agree that there is some interspersed in Jardine’s book. For example, he claims that tarps are generally warmer than tents and implies that “good vibrations” ward off mosquitoes. Neither of these have proven true in my opinion. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone with no backpacking experience. If you’ve been out a few times though, you have enough sense to weed out his unfounded claims.

    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest

    Just finished reading this book. As a long time hiker (as far as age, it’s downhill to 100 for me), but a relatively recent UL-er, I found this book both informative and a fun/easy/stimulating/inspiring read. Now that I’ve finished reading it. I’m going to read it again .

    First, as to the author. Does he really require any introduction? Anyone, even remotely familiar with the UL movement/philosophy has heard of Ray Jardine. I think of him as the grandfather of the UL movement. At least as far as many/most UL-ers are concerned, it was Mr. Jardine that started it all (or at the very least popularized UL trekking, bringing it to the masses). His contributions to this field are seemingly endless.

    The author has a veritable treasure trove of first-hand experience. All of which he draws upon to communicate the truths and UL techniques contained in his book. It contains a lot of great info. Mr. Jardine breaks the stereotypical mold of “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Mr. Jardine can both do (as he has amply proven) and he can teach (as he proves with this book).

    This book contains information that is indispensable to anyone wanting to learn UL trekking techniques and philosophy. Other books may have similar info, but perhaps this book had it first. The author communicates all of his points clearly and concisely; often inspiring the reader with his own and others’ experiences, and occasionally humorously. It was a fun book to read, beside being overwhelmingly informative.

    This would be the second book I would give to someone thinking about going UL. The first would be the BPL Primer on this same subject. Why? The “Primer” is much shorter and would serve as a nice introduction to Mr. Jardine’s much longer, more comprehensive book. Though, having said this, there is no reason why this book cannot stand alone without the BPL Primer. It is just my personal opinion.

    I only give it a 4 out of 5 (would be higher, but no decimal scores are permitted) due to some minor misinformation on certain points outside of the author’s area of expertise. For the most part, these areas are probably readily identified by most readers. Also, for some readers, the injection of the author’s personal philosophical (religious???) belief system may be objectionable. Don’t get me wrong. The author is very gentle, not “preachy”, IMHO, when he mentions his beliefs (in certain respects it is similar to Daoism aka Taoism (older english spelling) and some animist beliefs of Native Americans and other more “primitive” tribal cultures). It is clear that Mr. Jardine wants others to enjoy the outdoors as much as he does and to both establish and derive a mutually beneficial “connection” (Mr. Jardine’s term) with the backcountry environment. His comments, in this area, are clearly percieved as not intended to criticize anyone, but rather to encourage all. While, this reviewer may not agree with Mr. Jardine on all points, the tone he takes in his writing is, IMHO, not nearly so intolerant as I had been led to believe by reading others’ comments before actually reading this book. So, I don’t think anyone should have a problem when reading these portions/comments – even if they don’t agree with Mr. Jardine on these matters.

    Too often, when the author and his book are referred to, the less than 1% of its content that might be questionable is focused on, while the 99+% of the content which is excellent is ignored. This is majoring in the minors.

    In a sense, and rightly so, THIS BOOK IS THE STANDARD by which all others are and will be judged.

    I can’t think of any reason why everyone interested in UL backpacking should not read this book. It’s priced right, and Mr. Jardine ships it out post-haste after placing an order.

    I’m ending this review now, so that I can start reading “Beyond Backpacking” again.

    Mike Storesund


    I believe each post have their valid points. I believe the general consensus, mine included, is that Beyond Backpacking © is something that should be on every backpacker’s bookshelf. I have read and re-read Mr. Jardine’s book numerous times and find it very useful as a reference piece. I share it with others in an effort to help them become aware of how they can lighten their load and possibly change their misconception that more or heavier is better. Much can be learned from this book, and is a wonderful resource, even if it is “more of a historical document” as Dane describes.

    I have to agree with others that there are bold and unsupported claims. I must admit that I have made comments that may have been considered as devaluing some of the “bold and unsupported claims” only because I am expressing my disbelief in some of those claims. However, I still agree, like PJ writes “as the grandfather of the UL movement” that Ray Jardine has offered so much to the UL philosophy and I believe he does “hike his own hike.”

    While for someone that has not experienced adventures yet may appreciate it more, there is some “outdated” information which I believe is to be expected. For this and because of some of the “bold and unsupported claims”, which can also be found humorous, I too give this book a rating of 4.

    brian stein
    BPL Member


    A difficult book to give an accurate rating. Why?

    There are parts of the book (especially the 1st few chapters) that are able to enthuse the reader and provide a rationale for getting out and going low weight. It encourages you to think of making your own, as well as providing some good ‘real life’ tips.

    So whats the problem? The repeated issue of not just intolerance of other approaches, not just setting up of ‘straw man’ targets, but of potentially disastrously wrong information: example par exellence–the food and water chapters are riddled with drivel. This, together with repeated bizzarisms (eg crystals made synthetically have different structure to those generated organically)totally undermine the credibility of the writer; this makes me go back to the initial parts and wonder…

    So who should read it? I think those with experience enough to sort through the detritus to find the gems.

    Who should not? Anyone with little experience of backpacking in general could be steered in some very unpleasant directions if they took ray-way as the gospel.

    Craig Shelley


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Checked it out from the library originally. I got a lot of useful information from the book. It got me moving ahead on lightening my backpack. It got me thinking. I’ve bought and read several books since that time. I wouldn’t give this more than an average rating, based on that comparison. It isn’t the worst or the best.

    Douglas Frick
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wyoming

    This is a thick book with a lot of useful information. I found it inspiring, with a fairly well-balanced idea of hiking and camping with light gear. I’ve bought copies for friends, with the simple admonition to keep in mind that these are one person’s ideas, some of which should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Mark W Heninger


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    This book was my intro to lightweight/UL backpacking. I’ve kept it close for years – its a great reference.

    Its a fascinating read, covers *everything* imaginable and really does paint a complete picture of one man’s approach to backpacking. Its quirky but its thorough and holds up quite well for its vintage.

    I always had a high opinion of the author, althought I’ve tempered that somewhat lately by his cranky and oft times acerbic interactions, but I can appreciate his crusade and his contributions to the field. IMHO, he can get overly posessive of the whole UL revolution, and that can be irksome and tiring, although some of it is well deserved.

    Love the DIY stuff, love the philosophy, love the loving attention to every little detail – take what you need and be happy!

    So four cheers (and stars) for Ray, the mecurial hiker with an umbrella and pusher of less than pleasant tasting corn pasta!

    Elliott Wolin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia

    A year or so ago I had thought backpacking was beyond my abilities, 23 years after my glory days in the Washington Cascades. I figured my back, knees, and ankles were no longer capable of hauling the old loads they used to carry.

    My discovery of Beyond Backpacking changed everything. More than any other book I’ve read it convinced me of two things: 1) One didn’t have to carry heavy loads, and 2) I could outfit myself and family without breaking the bank.

    Other books lead you to believe you MIGHT be able to go lightweight or ultralight, and hint that it MAY not cost a king’s ransom. Jardine’s book makes it absolutely clear that you CAN go lightweight, and that you can do it inexpensively.

    His ability to convince you rather than simply make ideas seem plausible is due to his unusual and often criticized narrative style and approach. I will be forever grateful to Jardine for adopting that style, and convincing me and innumerable others that the ultralight approach is safe and that it works.

    I rate the book with a 4 only because it is somewhat out of date, and that you have to take some of his statements with a grain of salt. I consider it a classic.

    Doug Johnson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Sure, it’s quirky. Sure, there are some unsubstanciated claims. Sure, some of the gear is now outdated.

    But Beyond Backpacking created the Ultralight and especially the SUL backpacking movement that we’re all enjoying today. Ray Jardine’s ideas led to the birth of Golite, quilts, backpacking in running shoes, new tarp designs, hibbeltless packs…backpacking with an umbrella…a book with this much influence should be forgiven it’s faults. FIVE.

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    This book (and the earlier PCT Guide) have played a pivotal role in the development of the modern ultra-light movement. Jardine has extremely strong opinions which aren’t always back by solid logic. He has a tendency to set up strawmen, tear them down, and say “See, they are wrong, I am right.” There are times that Jadine is bit extreme / intolerate , and at times he seems to head off into la-la land… but the book contains valuable information which will provide a good framework / perspective on backpacking. This book is now out of print. I think Lighten Up! provides a better more accessible introduction to ultralight backpacking which can be deepened with a read of Lightweight Backpacking edited by Jordan.

    John Williams


    Locale: Southeastern US

    To everyone that is complaining about this book: Backpacking is as individual a skill as anything you will ever do. Things that work great for one person don't work for another.
    Because of this, you need to take every book with a grain of salt. Draw great ideas out of it and leave the rest behind.
    For example: Ray outlines the way in which he and Jenny hike 30 miles a day. Great for them, but we are not able to do these kinds of distances. But – we can draw ideas like cooking supper, then getting another hour or two down the trail.
    Becky and I were inspired to build our own 2 person quilt for our AT Thru hike last summer (out of a ray-way pattern and materials). It came out great and served us well.
    Basically, the book opened our eyes to new ideas and we appreciate many parts of it. It has transformed much of the way in which we approach the trail.
    Highly recommended!

    edgar desert rat


    Ray and Jenny Jardine are the man! These folks are inspiring in their lifes adventures, accomplishments, inventions, etc… I have the original copy and the last run of them as well. I am amazed at how many books out now rehash techniques that Ray was the first to put in print. The new folks write as if they are the first to come up with the idea when it has been in print in Rays book for 20 something years. I like how Ray pays homeage to Grandma Gatewood. Other ultralight authors on technique never pay respect to the front runners of this style of wilderness travel. And the corn pasta info is just incredible! I would like to see more graphs linking miles one is able to hike in relation to how much corn pasta was consumed the night before. Yay Ray! and Jenny. oh yes, by the way when I was hitching into Etna last year a woman who was Jenny Jardines sister. She asked if I knew who the Jardines where and I went crazy! Of course and I asked her to please pass along that I for one was loving my first PCT thru hike as a result of all the info and gems of wisdom I was able to garner from Ray and Jenny's book.

    George Matthews
    BPL Member


    In 2004, after reading the beginning of Beyond I knew that this was going to be a great book. I felt like he was writing directly to me. I was new to backpacking and was one of those poor souls who had bought a 7 lb pack (Palisades). But I saw the light, within a few days and a few more chapters, I bought a Breeze pack. The nutrition information is good, too.

    Carol Brown


    Locale: Idaho

    It was my mother that got me Jardine's book "Beyond Backpacking". When she turned 70, she was finding it harder (and harder) to carry traditional backpacking loads. So she "went to the light" before me. I read the book and got re-energized about backpacking. I made a tarp following the instructions in Beyond Backpacking (and I don't really sew). Mom and I hiked up into the Wilderness and pitched that tarp. We were so proud of ourselves. We were a little worried too because it just wasn't what we were used to. No floor! No doors! Would we stay warm and survive the night without a real tent? The temps dropped to about 20 degrees that night. Just as Jardine had promised, we were warm and safe. And I was a convert. I just pulled out the book to re-read it. It still rings with such authenticity and originality. Looking for a good book to remind you why you backpack? This is the one. It belongs on everyone's bookshelf.

    Jeremy Greene


    Locale: North Texas

    I knew this book was out there and would have benefited from reading it 10 years ago.

    The techniques could have saved me some trial and error. My gear "closet" (more like piles in several locations) would look very different.

    I have already, on my most recent overnight, benefited from his suggestion of sleeping with my head downhill. Though I'd had the idea, finding it in print helped me to test it in a shared tent.

    His informal voice is amusing. Where it isn't the book is structured well enough that the passage can easily be skimmed (the magic of print). The repetition of information from one section to another could be taken as a memory enforcer, or as a fault.

    Attacks on the validity of his information seem overzealous. Jardine tends to make explicit the experience or source which led him to his opinions. The critical reader has enough information to filter these. Furthermore it is not presented as a scholarly work and needn't meet that standard.

    Beyond Backpacking will improve my future trips. Even the expert backpacker could find reading it useful, if only as an aid for teaching companions.

    Joel Fleischer


    I agree that there's a bunch of stuff in the book that needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but this is the book that really got me interested in lightweight backpacking as well. I had read a couple of other books on Light and Ultralight backpacking before, but none turned me on like Ray's book did.

    In reading about Ray, I have never understood the suggestion that he's intolerant to other styles of hiking. Over and over he says, both in the book and on his site, "hike your own hike." Take what you want from the book and do your own thing.

    Great book and so many great projects, the book more than pays for itself.

    BTW, thanks for a great forum. This is my first post and I'm looking forward to getting a premium membership for Christmas. ;)

    Joel F.
    Marquette, Michigan

    Zachary Zrull


    Locale: Great Lakes

    I give this book a 3+ because it is an above-average backpacking book with plenty of useful information, but some advice is better than other.

    The chapters on hygiene, first aid, pace, and conditioning are especially helpful. It's interesting, though, that these don't have much to do with lightweight hiking. But as someone who has hiked many thousands of miles and dealt with injury and sickness on his treks, Jardine can make some great suggestions for people who carry minimal first aid gear.

    The photography and gear chapters are out of date, but if you're on this site you're likely up to date on these. The gear chapters in particular, though, are very helpful. The first half of this book is devoted to principles of weight reduction, options for lightweight gear, and peoples' reading it would probably reduce BPL forum topics by 50%!

    I like some of Jardine's food suggestions, I only wish he would have gone fully new age and recommended raw vegan. He mentions "excitotoxins" in preserved food, but fails to mention opioids and carbolines in wheat, milk, and cooked foods (three of his recommendations). Whether the research is controversial or not, he is not consistently new agey. Nor does he seem to remember that sugar and fat are the body's preferred sources of energy. This may also be a controversial topic in hiking food, but the fact is that sugar can help meet your caloric needs for relatively little weight.

    I recommend this book. I would even say one could easily learn to go ultralight by reading only this book, and never logging on to the internet. Beyond Backpacking offers guiding principles from a very experienced UL hiker, and if you learn to think like Ray (or just think), you might not need to read anything else. Sure, research gear before you buy something new, but going UL comes from experience and evaluation of your own technique.

    Peter Boysen
    BPL Member


    It has been just over 10 years since the first review was put up for this book on BPL. I read the book after already working for Enlightened Equipment, which like many companies making ultralight gear owes a good deal of inspiration to the book. It's also interesting to me that the Ultralight ideal has moved away from minimalism somewhat (not completely of course), but it struck me especially how much the materials and science used in our gear has caught up enough to add back in some of the structural ideas about gear (frames in packs, huge advances in fabrics allowing for more comfort with lighter weights, etc.) Overall the philosophy of minimalism seems to have been more critical back then, but still shows up especially in SUL gear lists. Most of his claims about nutrition are obviously unsubstantiated, and much of his focus is obviously better suited to some types of hikes than others, but overall it was entertaining to read, and fun to see the UL movement in hindsight.

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