Thursday, 5 May 2016

Twenty-Five Years of The Backpacker's Handbook


Somewhat to my surprise I've realised that this year is the 25th anniversary of the first edition of The Backpacker's Handbook. Perhaps even more surprising it's still in print. First published by long gone Oxford Illustrated Press it was quickly taken up by Ragged Mountain Press, a new imprint of McGraw-Hill. The current edition is the fourth published by McGraw-Hill. There's also been a Chinese edition, making six in all.

Looking through that first edition I see I was already in favour of trail shoes but not as convinced they were suitable for most conditions as I am now. I recommended using a staff but said that this was not an item most backpackers would consider using - trekking poles didn't appear until the second edition in 1997. For packs I suggested ones in the 90-115 litre size range that all weighed 2.5 to 3.5kg. I'd only use a pack like that for heavy winter loads now. I thought a solo tent shouldn't weigh more than 2kg - silnylon hadn't yet appeared and cuben fibre was in the distant future. The total weight of a summer load including footwear, clothing and maps I said would be around 12kg.

The gear may have changed over the years but the essential message of the book, the how and why of backpacking, hasn't. When it comes down to it the gear doesn't matter as long as it does its job. What matters is being out there, in the wild, under the stars, on the trail. My intention was to help people to do that enjoyably and with the least hassle not to tell them what tent to use or pack to carry. That the book is still available means, I hope, that I have succeeded at least to some extent.

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