Book plug

Following is a reminiscence incorporated into a review of:

Conversational Guide to Backcountry Equipment:
How to choose and use gear and clothing

-by Brad Groves. Lichen and Ice Press – Marquette, Michigan, 2020.

Full disclosure. I have never met the author, but my copy was a gift from his father. Maybe that affects my review, but I think I have given an objective assessment.

If selecting appropriate outdoor gear is of any interest to you – if you’re into backpacking, camping, hiking, hunting, wondering about optimal choices for your bug out bag, even just blowing the snow from a 1,000 foot driveway – you should click the link above. And you needn’t take my word for it, check out the videos.

Brad Groves has written an engaging… well what the title says. It is well and profusely illustrated. The advice on equipment is intelligent and guided by vast experience. Practical details abound. Beginning and experienced backpackers will benefit from Coach Groves advice.

Beginners will want to read straight through. More experienced folks are also likely to find new insights. In either use case it could benefit from an index, or a searchable digital edition.

For example, a book addressing backpacking will necessarily include much discussion of the weight of items. On page 65 there’s a note on the weight difference in two nearly identical down vests – almost half a pound (a lot) – 37 pages later there is a note on the weight of a pair of camp shoes. Avoidable weight is important. Easily finding these examples of how to calculate avoided weight would be nice: I can trade off this weight for this weight for this cost.

I’m a geek. I would have a spreadsheet or two on this.

Without an index you have to RTWT. Which you will do because the writing will hold your interest, but being able to easily collate various references would be useful.

This does not detract from the quality of the content.

My relative expertise in these matters is tiny and ancient, but in my younger days I did a fair bit of backpacking. I still have some of the micro-sized stoves and other ultra-low weight gear popular in the 70s.

Following is a backpacking experience of my own, where weight and camp shoes combined with youth and optimism to override intelligence and experience.

Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 1.05.38 PMYes, that pack was too heavy… read on.

My most adventurous trip was backpacking on several of the Hawaiian islands in 1975, and the most notable trek of that excursion was Haleakala Crater on Maui.

The Haleakala caldera is essentially an 8,000 foot high desert. There’s a 2,000 foot wall of mountains around it which blocks almost all the 55 inches of rain annually falling on nearby Hana. We needed to carry water for four days. So, everyone started out pack heavy.

I well recall setting off at 10,000 feet at the Sliding Sands Trailhead.Sliding Sands trailhead edit
About a mile in…
Peaty Fran Sliding Sands Trail

…I came to regret a couple of my “gear” decisions.

1- There were four of us – in our twenties. We wanted to have some alcohol along for end of day celebrations. So, in addition to my normal gear (and extra water), I was designated wine carrier. Four bottles. At two pounds twelve ounces each. As noted below, I knew the weight was an issue, but how often do you get to carouse on the caldera of a dormant Hawaiian volcano?

2- I was wearing relatively new boots. Hadn’t hiked in them before, but I’d worn them about the yard and house for a few weeks prior to the trip. They seemed well enough broken in. I did carry a pair of low cut Converse All-Stars as a backup and for use in camp. I wrote off the additional weight as “just in case.”

The first day was a 10 mile long descent of 2,000 feet – over some pretty rough terrain. I exchanged my boots for the All-Stars about half way. Blisters.Duane foot trailI worried about twisting an ankle for that last 5 miles.

On page 82, under “Footwear Height” Groves explains why my understanding of ankle support was flawed. If I was going accept the weight of an extra pair of shoes, I could have had much better ankle support.

While we’re on weight, my first comment after we had camp set up was,
“We’re drinking all this wine. TONIGHT!’

Not that I was naive about carry weight. Fanatic would be more accurate. I trimmed the edges off my maps. I pulled the tags and strings off teabags.

So, the section titled “Footwear Weight” on page 81 is in my youthful mistake wheelhouse, as are the comments on camp shoes under the photo on page 102. If I had had Brad Groves’ book in 1975, I might have reconsidered my boot break-in technique, the All-Stars, and the wine. Intelligence might have suggested replacing the wine with a single fifth of Jack Daniels. ;)

Groves’ advice about weight doesn’t go near the extent of my obsession (which started with a 70s book on backpacking). It is sensible. And professional.

I paraphrase: “Don’t carry unnecessary stuff, and here are some examples of unnecessary stuff.” The reasons for excluding that ‘stuff’ are made very clear. He gives you parameters for identifying ‘stuff’ you need not carry. The edges of paper maps and tea bag tags don’t appear on a list. The list is up to you. Groves gives you good guidance for decision making. With a touch of humor.

Next, I’m reading the section on cold weather boots and gloves, and seeking a balaclava solution that leaves my glasses less fogged: Because my old hands too easily get cold and I have a 1,000 foot driveway I must clear of winter snow.

Conversational Guide to Backcountry Equipment is a very good book, and a fine gift. I should know.