Wednesday 15 February 2012

Book Review: Hike Your Own Hike by Francis Tapon

Francis Tapon is an experienced backpacker and traveller. He was the first person to hike the Continental Divide Trail twice back to back (known as a yo-yo hike) and has also hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Recently he spent three years travelling in Eastern Europe and is soon to set off on a three year journey in Africa. In between these trips he’s written a couple of books and produced an all singing and dancing website.

His first book, Hike Your Own Hike, is based around his Appalachian Trail walk. It’s not just the story of the hike however, as can be guessed from the subtitle – 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America. In fact it’s a combination of a self-help book and a hiking book, with the author hanging the “life lessons” around the story of his walk. Now, I’ve never read a self-help book and have always viewed them with suspicion. Reading or hearing occasional interviews with self-help “gurus” has confirmed my view. They seem to be a way to package the obvious and sell it, to the benefit, mainly, of the author. I do read and enjoy hiking books however and I knew of Tapon’s long hikes so it was with interest that I started on this one. Finishing it left me feeling somewhat confused and I have been deliberating over this review on and off for many weeks. Parts of the book are excellent and I really enjoyed them. Other parts appeared to be in a world unknown to me, a world of rather rigid self-analysis and programmed goals. I just don’t think like this and don’t think I want to either. The book is, thankfully, leavened with humour and a refusal by the author to take himself too seriously. If it wasn’t I would probably have thrown it across the room in fury.

I have to admit that I am probably not the target audience for any self-help book, and probably beyond any help of this sort, but it did seem to me that the advice given here is very general and mostly commonsense. In fact the most important lesson is contained in the title of the book – “hike your own hike” – in other words go your own way and live your life the way you choose. Some of the advice managed to both amuse and infuriate me, especially the financial advice, which comes early in the book. If I followed most of this I’d never have done a long walk! Saving a year’s worth of expenses as a buffer? Probably sensible but I don’t think or work like that (which may be why I’ve never had much money but then I set out to do not to earn). I think in this section the fact that the author has an MBA from the Harvard Business School comes through and the advice is how to live your life as a business. To which my response is no thanks.

Once through the money stuff the book did improve from my point of view. I’m not annoyed at being advised to “hike with passion” or “learn from trail lore”. I did read the book in fits and starts though, slowing down when the author veered away from the Appalachian Trail, speeding up when he returned to hiking. In the blurb on his website Francis Tapon says the book “provides an entertaining, flowing tale as a backdrop” and that for me is the problem. I don’t want the hiking story to be the backdrop, I want it to be the main feature. Tapon also says the book is “about 75% self-help and 25% trail narrative” and not a book about how to backpack. However much of the self-help advice is actually related to backpacking with some good stuff on trail magic, health and pack weight.

Overall I’m not sure who this book is aimed at. I can’t imagine anyone uninterested in hiking reading it while walkers and backpackers are likely to want more specific advice, information and trail stories. It’s definitely worth a look though and you can read the introduction and first chapter on Tapon’s website for free to see if you like it. I will say this for Hike Your Own Hike – it’s the most unusual hiking book I have ever read.


  1. I couldn't agree more. I had heard the author interviewed on a podcast and got snared in by the AT angle. The book, however, annoyed me and I couldn't help feeling a little patronized.

    I don't think I was the target audience but then again who is.

  2. I had to laugh as I read this review. Your reactions are exactly as mine were. In many ways I felt I was hoodwinked by the author because the book assumed that all would go well in life as long as you know how to manage it. Life just doesn't work that way, and those things which would help you get by are already commonsense ideas that most of us have learned all our lives. The author assumes too much that others don't know as much as he does. I wanted to read more about hiking and less about "the right way to live". I, too, would have thrown the book across the room were it not that I've been reading the Kindle version!

  3. Thanks for your comments. I'm not alone in my view then! I think it's a shame as the author is obviously passionate about long distance hiking and writes well about it. I've read some of his backpacking articles and they are pretty good. I'd like to read a book about his CDT or PCT hikes.

  4. Chris, a couple of days ago this British guy posted an audioboo about my book ( and it made me think of you. Sorry for being nearly two years late on commenting on your book review.

    Your review doesn't surprise me at all. That's why I sent you a PDF of the book for you to skim before sending a hardcover. A quick perusal would have made you realize that it's not your kind of book.

    I explicitly said that I "doubt that you will like it because most Europeans don't like self-help books." I told you that I didn't want to waste $50 shipping a hardcover book to the UK to someone who is not the target market. But you insisted that you wanted to see it, so I shipped it.

    As an author of many books, you understand that you can't please everyone. Although I haven't read your "Crossing Arizona" book, I imagine some people would want to throw it across the room because they expected you to spend most of it talking about geology and you didn't. To which you'd tell the critic, "Well, why didn't you preview the book a bit before getting it?"

    Anyway, I'm glad you reviewed it because it's a good warning to all to not judge books by their cover and to take advantage of the free previews that Google Books and Amazon offer.

    Although I haven't written a book about my PCT/CDT hikes, you might enjoy my 2nd book, "The Hidden Europe." About 1% of it is self-help, 99% is about travel (and about 10% of that travel takes place in the wilderness). It's quite a different book from HYOH. But don't take my word for it, try the free sample first. ;)



  5. Francis, thanks for your comment. I've tried reviewing books from PDFs and from quick perusals and I don't think it works or is fair, at least it doesn't work for me. I might decide not to read a book on that basis but if reviewing a book I want to read the printed edition. I always ensure anyone who reviews any of my books receives a printed one.

    I did like a fair bit of the book though and did finish by saying it was 'worth a look'. I'll look out 'The Hidden Europe'.

    No-one has ever criticised my books for not having enough geology in them but I have been criticised for not being funny enough, for giving too much detail, for not giving enough detail, for not describing my feelings enough, for describing my feelings too much. I've been criticised for writing about walks in the USA when I'm not American.

    I hope your African travels are going well.



  6. Chris,

    Ah, the perils of being a writer! It's a shame that American's can't handle a foreigner writing about their lands. So short-sighted. I've been similarly flogged by Eastern Europeans. And I'm sure a few Africans will do the same some day. ;)

    Keep writing. Keep hiking.