Review: Day Hiker’s Handbook by Michael Lanza

Day Hiker’s Handbook

By Michael Lanza

For Backpacker: The Magazine of Wilderness Travel

©2003 The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA


I have mentioned before that I am primarily a day hiker so it made sense to follow the More Everyday Wisdom trail advice book review with a look at information in the same series that is geared more toward people like me.

Lanza has a very different style than Karen Berger (More Everyday Wisdom). He uses much less humour and more fictional examples in his writing. The black and white photos are well-placed to illustrate his points.

Something jumped out at me after I had gotten through about half of this book and it remained true for the rest of the read; there are few hard and fast rules. There are many ways of getting the most out of your hike while respecting nature and other people at the same time and most of them come down to personal style and needs. Hiking is an expanded walk and we all want different things out of our walk. We also have different body shapes, nutritional requirements, ideas about what a hike is, fitness levels. So the whole thing comes down to customization.

The use of three fictional characters to give the reader an idea of how to use the information presented in a way that is useful to them works well. The characters are based on musicians that many of us can picture (Cher, Elvis and Madonna), giving us an immediate sense for the style that the fictional character has. We can then imagine our own style in a similar way and make adjustments accordingly. Thus, Lanza not only gives us all sorts of options that will work but also helps us figure out how to pick the options that will work best for us, based on stories. Storytelling can be a very effective way of communicating information, especially potentially boring information (the point of hiking for many is to appreciate some exercise and the great outdoors, not to appreciate the nuances of various water filtration systems), in a way that will be memorable.

The topics covered are: decide what kind of hikes you want (your hiking style), no trace hiking, noise and urination/defecation etiquette, gear, essential items, how to pack your bag, how to decipher a hike description in a hiking guide, water and food, hiking with babies and children, trail safety, how to use a compass and read a topographic map, crossing water, hiking at night, weather and seasons and how to avoid and deal with common trail injuries.

The section about how to use a topo map and compass is clearly written and I highly recommend it. Lanza stresses that it is possible to get lost on a day hike, even on a familiar trail if it gets foggy and a GPS, while fun and usually useful, may not receive enough satellite signals to function properly in hilly terrain and/or in cloudy weather. Just like in many situations, when the electronic part of your life malfunctions, as it inevitably will, old-school skills and preparation are still worthwhile.

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