Loc: Puget Sound, Washington
OK Guys, you have been singing the virtues of this book for a long time, so I checked it out of the library yesterday. It is HUGE. As I am flipping through it, it has a ton of material that I already know. The index is not very helpful (ie the "walls", the "foundation"). So what parts may be enlightning for me or what parts do you guys "go back to" as a refresher?
Loc: Portland, OR
I recommend The Complete Walker to newcomers who've never backpacked when they seem all at sea as to how to start learning what they need to know. They often plead ignorance and seem intimidated by all the details, without knowing how to sort them out.
The book approaches gear using a very simple organization principle of comparing a tent to a bedroom, cooking gear to a kitchen, and so on. This demystifies what gear is supposed to accomplish and relates it to common knowledge. A newb is likely to feel comfortable with this approach.
Secondly, Fletcher has a relaxed attitude about nature and just likes walking around outdoors. There is little gushing or romanticism in his discussions, but a deep appreciation for simplicity, with a large added dose of curiosity about his surroundings. This is an excellent attitude to inculcate in newcomers, who often have overwrought fears or overly romantic expectations about wilderness walking.
In short, reading TCW as a first introduction to backpacking will put a newbie on a sound footing that will help them make the leap into trekking with good habits and a helpful way of thinking about all the details of how to hike and camp in the backcountry. Once you've internalized these, you don't need to read it a second time to relearn these lessons.
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
Excellent post Aimless. What separates TCW from other books, other than its comprehensive amount of info is that Fletcher approached backpacking gear as systems that need to work together.
I have a feeling from reading gear posts is that many people start out buying what looks neat rather than what works with what they already have or intend to buy or they buy gear at random because it is on sale. I've got some stuff that fits both those categories that I haven't taken anywhere for a long time.
TCW isn't necessarily aimed at experienced campers, but for a beginner, it is a gold mine of info. Fletcher's other books like The Man who Walked Through Time and The Thousand Mile Summer are classics that anyone interested in the outdoors should also read. I learned a lot from TCW and bought my first copy back in the 70's. I still have TCW 3d Ed.
He spends a lot of time on the design of current gear, so those specific details are quickly outdated. However, by reading through descriptions of 10 or 15 tents, you soon gain insight into the subtle little details that make all the difference. For example, you learn that there is a difference in the way you live in a tent whose door is in the long side, versus one with the door in the end; that the vestibule design can either ensure the inside of the tent stays dry when you enter in the rain, or ensure that you'll end up with a little stream of water dripping in. Same with stoves, packs, and other gear That helps when you go shopping - and are faced with a sea of tents, a wall of stoves, another wall of packs, etc.
What I tend to refresh on is the first 50 or so pages: the "feel-how" of backpacking. I've never read anything that captures the essence of why any better.
There's lots of information on technique, too: a sample day on the trail, a sample day in the rain, etc.
And of course, since he still talks about the Svea stove, there's the chance to reminisce.
And best of all, his writing is coherent and logical, filled with complete ideas - a very far cry from the info-bytes that get pasted onto the same page to pass for an "article" in Backpacker Magazine.
Loc: California (southern)
When I first encountered Colin Fletcher, I was a fairly experienced walker myself, so there was not a whole lot that was new. Nontheless, he is well organized, and his information if accurate - there were a few tidbits that were nice to acquire. I rate his book right up there with Mountaineering;Freedom of the Hills. With those two volumes, you will not likely go wrong.
I "forgot" the best thing I learned from Fletcher, probably because it's become second nature: sleeping under the stars.
When I read the original Complete Walker, I was totally taken with the simplicity and aesthetics of just tossing down a groundcloth, spreading out my sleeping bag, and going to sleep (not to mention eating in my sleeping bag.) Of course, doing that in the summer in the eastern US makes the mosquitoes very, very happy. I willingly offered up the smorgasbord, because the pleasure I got from sleeping roofless was worth it.
However, as my style developed and matured (along with my gear budget), my shelter choice was always driven by getting as close as possible to sleeping under the stars. That eventually led to bivy sacks (and not always light ones: my favorite was the 2-pound Integral Designs Salathe) and solo tents with mesh roofs, like the MSR Hubba/Carbon Reflex and Big Agnes Seedhouse/Fly Creek - and was a major factor in my not choosing the otherwise-superior Tarptent Rainbow.
My desire for sleeping under the stars often means that I'm the only one in the group who doesn't put the fly on his tent if there's no threat of rain - the first night. By the end of the trip, I've converted pretty much everyone.
One of the things he opened my eyes to was the "tyranny of photography." Because backpacking was, at first, a "big adventure," I felt obligated to take pictures. It was a chore, and eventurally a pain - this was before the era of digital photography, so there was a bulky (by today's standards) camera, and all that film to screw around with.
Then I read The Complete Walker. Suddenly, I realized I didn't have to take pictures, so I quit, mostly - and, just like Colin said, I started looking and remembering and understanding. I still took a camera to the big places (the first trip to Isle Royale and Mt. Rogers, for example), but not on "regular" trips. (I've backslid a little, seduced by the simplicity of digital point-and-shoot, but still only carry a camera less than half the time.)
I find that taking photos helps me observe more keenly. I do not feel it is a chore at all! I take off my pack and look at different angles and begin to appreciate the scenery more than I would by just walking by. Every trip that I did not take my camera, I regretted. Taking photos is a small part of the day's total hours - leaving plenty of time to just walk or sit and absorb the feel of the place.
I've got a couple of hiking pals that feel the same way as you - and I never refuse their offer to give me a CD of their digital photos. I wasn't trying to knock photography (and neither was Fletcher; he was prolific photographer, and devotes a fairly lengthy section to backcountry photo methods and gear - but he also points out that, for the benefit gained, you do risk other things you may be out there for.)
It's merely a personal preference not to take photos; Complete Walker was just the first time I was able to justify not doing so, and avoid the self-imposed guilt for leaving the camera behind. (I've also never been much of a picture-taker at home; I always preferred to play with the kids instead of trying to get the great photos other people seem to have.) HYOH?
I obviously operate on a different "spiritual" level than CF does/did. He seems to require extended periods of inactivity and introspection at the start of a hike and at frequent intervals during the hike. For instance in his book River he spends a couple of days just just sitting around and getting into the spirit of the place prior to starting the journey.
I enjoy my trips but have never felt the spiritual connection he seems to enjoy. As long as we both enjoy our journey it really does not matter what our motivation or rewards may be. Both are correct for the individual involved.
I don't spend a lot of down time, myself, but I find that I do pay more attention than I might otherwise. A good example is snakes - before reading Fletcher, I hated snakes and planned how I would use my hiking staff to kill any I saw. (Which could have led to the Kim-Darby-down-the-well-whacking-at-the- snake scene in the original True Grit - with similar results.)
However, after reading his "connect, just connect" philosophies, I lost that hatred. I don't intend to go by the nickname "sleeps with snakes" or anything, but my reaction to seeing them is now more curiosity and interest than hatred and loathing.
I also find that I pay more attention to things as I walk - the swirls worn into the sandstone that can only be described as "seeing the wind," or the layers of rock and the tilting that makes me understand how the earth has moved and grown over eons.
The just-sitting-around, I can't do - but I've learned to pay attention quicker and better as a result of Fletcher. (Tried contemplating my navel once, but the most profound thought was, "Hey, lint!" )
I enjoyed the discussion about Colin Fletcher. One of the gifts he lays out in the book, is to forget about time. He talks at length about observing nature, and trying to be part of it. My favorite passage relates to the various thresholds he reaches the longer he is in the backcountry. I vaguely remember 4 days, 2 weeks, and 6 weeks as time frames that change one's thinking. I have never reached the 6 week threshold in the backcountry, but would like to hear from those that have. How does it change your thought processes?
On longer trips you have to resupply. I find it makes a huge difference if you go back out to civilization to resupply or have a wilderness resupply (ie: commercial outfitter resupply). If you read the PCT journals you soon realize that except for a few longer stretches they mostly come out to civilization every few days.
My longest time out without contacting civilization is 35 days. I was not solo - rather with a large group (NOLS courses). Some people never get really comfortable outdoors, but most need 2 weeks to quit thinking of "when I get out" and just live day-to-day with your tent being your psychological "home".
My longest time out solo, without seeing another person was 8 days. This is another entirely different experience.
Either case, the more time I am out, the less I want to go back to civilization-- that is, until winter sets in! Then I am fully aware of my preference for a few more creature comforts.
Thanks for the insight. My long trips are usually only about 10 days. I ran a tree planting crew once at 7,200 feet for the month of April in a wall tent.
everytime it snowed 10 members of the crew showed up in the Flagstaff Hilton to enjoy the wood stove. My work experiences usually tied to together trips of a week or more, but with a day or two at home in between.
Your description of not thinking of the end date resonated strongly. That is when people know they are mentally casting off the trappings of civilization. I have had many NOLS instructors and graduates on field crews and they were all really dependable. They greatly changed some of my dated opinions about women in the field even on long strenuous trips.
I used to backpack solo a lot in the Cascades when I went to forestry school at the U of WA. It was easy in the 70s to hitchhike to a trailhead even on dirt roads, do a loop and hitchhike out. Those 4 day trips felt like a week. My brother is involved in a formal Quest program. It is a spiritual journey that culminates in a three day solo trip with a s bag and a jug of water. There is no spiritual substitute for solo trips in the hills with no one around to influence your thoughts.
This summer my son an I were hiking a difficult trail (for us) to a mountain lake. After two hours of going uphill, we came to a meadow and there was a group of 7 or 8 very elderly women having a formal tea party while sitting in the meadow.
Later, I took a solo dayhike of 5 or 6 miles on a trail that had a whole bunch of switchbacks and was pretty steep. I was cooking lunch and two elderly women came meandering by while chit-chatting.
On another hike on what is said to be the steepest part of the Colorado Trail we ran across a group of elderly women chitchatting in a clearing. One of them was walking on her knees intently looking at the flowers.
On our last trip we climbed 3,596 up and only descended 34 feet in 5 1/2 miles to get to a mountain lake. The base of the trail was at 9,000 feet or so. In the early afternoon, here comes a group of elderly women in dresses talking away. By this time I wasn't surprised. They were doing the loop of 9 1/2 miles with one of the scariest trails in Colorado on it
Finally, I found an old man. I stopped at McDonald's for coffee and there was an old guy sitting in the corner with a cup of coffee. I thought he was homeless, so I bought a Sausage McMuffian for him and asked if I could join him for breakfast. He was walking to Virginia from Colorado to see his daughter. His pack was just a school bag. He said he just likes to walk. The wrinkles in his face showed he'd been doing it for years.
There seems to be a whole different plane of hiking and backpacking. One that comes after many years of doing it. It's no longer "backpacking." It's just life.
All of the people you describe have mental toughness. It was common in the 70s to see "older people" ie over 65 to be hiking in the Sierrs in basketball shoes with tiny packs that we couldn't believe were for overnight trips.
My longest time out without contacting civilization is 35 days. I was not solo ... My longest time out solo, without seeing another person was 8 days. This is another entirely different experience.
I've never been out 35 days. the longest I have been out is two weeks, and I've been out 10 without seeing another soul.
I actually find I get used to my tent or hammock as "home" *very* quickly though. a warm drink, warm food, and a warm bag in the evening keeps me pretty darn content. after about two ore three days I just sort of forget "civilization" ever existed. I get to the "when will I get out" if the weather is really bad, or I get sick and have to bail, but if I'm doing well I typically am not looking forward to "getting back to civilization.". Maybe that will change when I'm older, or can take longer trips, I dunno.
After long trips the thing I continue to notice the most, and appreciate the most when back from a longer trip is usually just running water. After a week or two out I will literally "notice" plumbing and appreciate it a lot more. I can spend a week marvelling about turning on the tap. It sounds silly, but I actually enjoy that too.. I might only have a cheezeburger pigout the day I get of trail, but I'll enjoy turing on the tap with an unusual admiration of it for weeks after.
All of the people you describe have mental toughness. It was common in the 70s to see "older people" ie over 65 to be hiking in the Sierras in basketball shoes with tiny packs that we couldn't believe were for overnight trips.
ppine, I'm glad to see this. I just put it up as an example of people enjoying the woods without any mental distress.
Let's see if this fits. On our first day on the Colorado Trail with my son, we were only going to hike 5 miles as we were expecting rain and it did look stormy. Well, it was only noon when we got to the campsite and neither one of us wanted to sit around all day. So just as it started raining, we headed out. Neither one of us remembers the rain as we were enjoying eating the wild raspberries. We'd take a few from each patch, leaving the rest for the bears, and then look for the next patch.
Finally, after we set up camp, we go tired of being in the leaky tent, so we made a fire and stood by it drinking hot chocolate. Like an apparition a solo hiker came out of a spot in the trail that was blocked by tree branches. We talked for awhile, but none of us mentioned the rain.
If I'm understanding you correctly, it's a state of mind where a person doesn't mind what others mind. If that's correct, then yes, I consider it important.
I just reread (well I picked through it)TCWIII. The conclusion that I came to is if you grew up with the first edition or the latest edition is choices. It gives such a good overview of all the systems out there it eliminates some of the trial and misery/error. The other thing is backpacking is always evolving. If you look at manufacturers in the first edition and they are still around today. I will look at doing business with them due to they're tried and true. Lastly the book reminds me as I hope others is that it isn't roughing if you know what you are doing...Philip