Top critical review
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Heavy on the basics, light on specifics
on July 31, 2007
For those who are skeptical that backpacking relatively comfortably while carrying less weight is possible, this book does a pretty good job of making the case for dropping the extra pounds. However, if you're already convinced that lightweight or ultra lightweight backpacking is the way to go, this book feels a lot like preaching to choir.
I've been a lightweight convert for two years, and I bought this book hoping to learn some advice and techniques to shave my pack weight down even further. While the book has some useful specifics on some topics (I now swear by the bear bagging technique I learned from it, and the first aid section is very good), I found that it mostly lacked the level of detail I was looking for.
The essays all talk about how great going lightweight is and drool over expensive boutique gear. Indeed, there is a distinctly worshipful tone when discussing the latest carbon fiber and silnylon technologies. The book promotes a lot of very high end equipment while remaining seemingly oblivious to far less expensive alternatives that offer minimal performance compromises. But nothing really goes into specifics beyond what you could find on the internet for free. For example, the book extols the virtues of using a tarp tent, and has pictures of several brands, but provides only vague information on how to actually pitch one correctly, or how to pitch one when there aren't any trees while keeping it stable.
It seems obvious to me that carrying 20lbs would be better than carrying 50, I no longer need to be convinced. I was looking for more technical information and this book just didn't have it.
Also, the book is really just a collection of essays, many of which were written for Ryan Jordan's magazine/web site Backpacking Light, and as a result the book lacks a consistent voice and tone. The essays are also not really organized in an intuitive way.
Ryan Jordan also seems obsessed with light weight for light weight's sake, rather than as a means to add enjoyment to your backpacking experience. Sure it possible to get your pack weight down to 5lbs, if you're willing to shell out lots of money for lightweight fabrics and gear that's often not versatile and that you will probably have to replace every season because of its lack of durability. This might give you bragging rights at the trailhead, but I question if its really worth the added expense and inconvenience over say, a 15 pound pack, which is less weight than the average middle schooler carries every day, and can be acquired much less expensively.
This book has some useful ideas and recommendations on gear, so I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about lightweight backpacking for the first time, which is why I'm giving it three stars. If you've already shed some pounds from your pack, or are trying to enjoy the outdoors on a fixed budget, there are better and more detailed books out there, like The Complete Walker IV or Ray Jardine's Beyond Backpacking.