Tag Archives: book

12 Steps to a Lighter Pack (eBook) Review

Having a bit of down time in the early ski season has given me plenty of time to do things. Like run, read, write and procrastinate. This little review is focused on the reading part.

“12 Steps to a Lighter Pack” is written by Steven Lowe who is an “avid outdoorsman” and has “been camping singe he was a child”. It’s a very quick read, I spent less than 45 minutes on it without feeling rushed.


The book herein reviewed.

First off, let me say that my overall impression of the eBook was generally positive. He’s got some good tips in “12 Steps to a Lighter Pack” and clearly spends time analyzing his gear. This is good.

Steven’s occasional attempts at humor seem to fall short of my expectations but perhaps we just don’t mesh comically.

some of My largest complaints stem from his unequal comparisons of gear.

The whole premise of the book is centered around reducing weight and he offers many perfectly fine suggestions to this end. However, he uses some self-confirming comparisons.

In section 5 on shelter he makes a comparison between his sub-four-pound hammock setup and his 8+ pound Kelty tent setup. This is laughably skewed to confirm his opinion (which I don’t necessarily entirely disagree with) with silly methods.

You can’t compare a 9 pound solo Kelty tent to a sub 4 pound hammock setup without first leveling the playing field of gear specifications (which may be inherently impossible as I’ll explain).

It’s important to compare the lightest available options in each category.

I could go to Wal-Mart and buy a 10 pound solo tent with 2 pound air mattress and then compare it to a Dream Hammock Darien UL with a cuben fiber A-Sym tarp and an 850-fill down UQ.

Of course the hammock set up is going to be lighter, I bought the top of the line lightest available equipment in the category!

Now, if we were comparing the lightest available cuben fiber solo tent and ground pad to the lightest available hammock setup (including tarp and under quilt) then we might be getting close to apples-to-apples.

Now we have the problem of deciding how to quantify and compare qualitative preferences and personal choice.

Do we compare the hammock set up to the lightest ground setup? In that case we’re comparing to the lightest functional ground pad (a 3/4 length 1/2″ CCF pad for most seasons) which is nowhere near the same level of comfort as the equivalent hammock set up.

Starting to see the problems with these types of gear comparisons?

Did Steven Lowe even try to prepare to write this eBook?

Now, I know I only paid ¢99 for this eBook but the number of times he admits to not having a certain item on hand lends a sense that he wrote the book in a single sitting one evening and simply wasn’t prepared but published it anyways.

At one point he admits that he lost his two-piece travel toothbrush since his last trip so he cuts a full length toothbrush in half instead to gather data for the book. I don’t know about you all, but if I was publishing and charging people to read a book with my name on it, I would prefer to be slightly more prepared.

There are multiple mentions of “my scale couldn’t read the numbers accurately enough so I rounded” in a book which is highly focused on number crunching by a self-purported “gram weenie”.

Now, let me stand accused. I have a food scale from Wal-Mart (I’d go get one from Whole Foods if I could afford it) which is not always as accurate as I’d like it to be. Furthermore, I have personally encountered the same problem when weighing items in my pack: my scale wasn’t sensitive enough to accurately read them.

Here’s the difference… I’m not selling my advice and number crunching to other people!

Were I weighing my pack items and putting it in a book that I planned to charge people for, you can bet I’d get a scale accurate enough to remove guesswork from said book.

Here’s a couple sections of the book I found alien but won’t dock the author too many points for because some of it just comes down to personal preference.

The author rambles for a page and half about his adventures with coffee cups. You can read it for yourself but let me just say this: can’t you coffee drinkers just drink coffee out of your cooking pot (before or after you make whatever you need for breakfast)?

Near the end of the book we find out that Steven does indeed carry a cook pot so I am left assuming that he either hasn’t thought about making coffee in his cook pot, or has decided against it for some god-forsaken reason.

For all you coffee drinking gram weenies out there, I’d propose my own ultralight solution. Don’t drink coffee. I don’t mean to be a jack-ass but it’s just a suggestion.

Right after the coffee pot conundrum the author launches into a section about a “fire kit”. I don’t know about all of you, but I use a stove on the trail of some sort (recently alcohol, soon to be Esbit).

These stoves (with the exception of Piezo equipped devices) require a lighter. Making a fire requires a lighter. Do we really need a “kit” for making fire? I think not. Even the Piezo IsoButane stoves themselves can be used to light a fire.

Later, the author misspells what I assume to be Katadyn (as in water filter) as Katelyn (damn auto-correct) when comparing filters in the purification section.


Katelyn is that you?

Again I run into an author who counts the grams but still carries a wallet. When will people just start using rubber bands as I have mentioned a million times??? They weigh practically nothing and cost nothing.

Steven suggests using tent stakes as trowels which, I’m all but certain, will eventually leave him in the field with a badly bent stake. Not the end of the world, but it seems a poor choice of multi-use item. Personal preference, I suppose.

Steven also carries paracord with him. Someone should tell him about DynaGlide (pre-stretched dyneema fibers in a rope weighing less than a gram per foot) the stuff is super lightweight, highly versatile, and can support a smart-car hanging from a tree.

Eventually the reader runs into what I believe to be the most painful line in the book:

Steven Lowe graces us with the line “…the lightest way to make your water drinkable is to boil it. Period.”

Well Steven, let me make you aware that boiling (assuming you’re using fuel from your stove and not a campfire) is not as light weight of a purification method as it might seem.

The only scenario in which the above statement by the author is true would be if you’re boiling your water using a campfire and natural materials found on your hike. This is impractical since no one has time to build a campfire every time they need to refill a bottle. Not to mention it would be highly impactful to the landscape to build a fire every time one needs to purify water.

I drink multiple liters of water per day and can purify weeks worth of water with an ounce of bleach in my dropper bottle which takes up a space of roughly 2″ x 1″.

Let’s say you drink 4L of water a day and boil all of it. Each liter of water will take a certain amount of fuel from your stove to boil. Multiply that by 5 days of drinking water and you’re lugging around several extra canisters of IsoButane fuel to boil your drinking water, each of which is several times larger and heavier than the equivalent purification power of bleach.

Let me take a moment to be fair to the author.

Much of “12 Steps to a Lighter Pack” is filled with generally good advice. In this article I have taken time to outline what I believe could be improved in this eBook.

Steven’s three-step method of analyzing gear (whether self generated or borrowed from others) I have seen used in many forms over the years for analyzing pack belongings. It’s an effective and useful tool which the author is smart to include.

My conclusion is this:

The eBook “12 Steps to a Lighter Pack” is generally pointed in the right direction. If the bulls-eye of lightweight backpacking books were down range, the author would at least glance off the target if not stick the arrow in the white.

Sadly, however, I paid ¢99 for “12 Steps to a Lighter Pack” and, in my opinion, the author didn’t get close enough to that bullseye to make it really stand out as anything I’d recommend.

I would not buy this book again.


Appalachian Trials: The Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking The Appalachian Trail Review


Kindle Edition

Over the last two evenings I have sat down and done a little reading on my fancy new Kindle Paperwhite.

Okay, it’s not that new but I don’t always use it regularly. I’m actually becoming more and more convinced that it’s worth its weight in my pack. Perhaps I’ll try taking it out soon?

So I’ve stumbled across the website “Appalachian Trials” a few times over the years and this book is plastered all over it. Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis. Supposedly a book about how to deal with the mental challenges of a thru hike, written by (you guessed it) another through hiker.

Within the first few pages is another surprise (kidding), it’s based on the journey of yet another zero-experience backpacker who sets out to hike the AT and pulls it off. Let me just say right here that no matter who you are, finishing the AT is awesome, so congrats to Zach.

What drew me to the book is that it’s the only real source on the mental and spiritual challenges of the AT. There is plenty of scattered info out there about overcoming the internal struggles of long distance hiking, but nothing that really drives at the point. That is, other than “Appalachian Trials”.

The second thing I noticed is that the book (at least the Kindle version) is littered with small but annoying gramatical and spelling errors. I myself make plenty of these errors in my posts but, granted, I’m not selling these posts to anyone and I most certainly don’t do multiple proofreads.

What I’m getting at is this: I paid $8 for this (rather short) book. I expect a higher level of editing for $8. I mean I picked up David Miller’s “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” for $3, less than half the cost.

Just judging by the customer reviews (168 of them on Amazon) this dude has generated at the very least $1344 and I’d be surprised if that estimate covered even a quarter of his true revenue from the book.

If I was getting paid $1344, I’d sure as hell get those grammar and spelling errors out!

Alright, now, harshness aside, I think the book was (largely) worth my time to read. His insights on how to mentally prepare and maintain healthy mental hygiene while hiking were at least mildly valuable. Being a long time backpacker and thru-hike attempter though, most of what was covered was at least unsurprising.

To an aspiring hiker with little or no experience of what to expect on a trip of this magnitude, however, his insight and advice would be eye-opening.

Gear Advice

As I reached the end of the book I really looked forward to the section on gear written by Zach’s friend Ian Mangiardi. Being a long time gear junkie myself, I was at least curious to see what was in store from (as Zach had made it sound) this mythical guru of inexhaustible gear knowledge.

I was sorely disappointed. Let me give a few examples:

The section on stoves has this direct quote: “The best stove for me will always be a screw-on IsoButane stove. These will always be the lightest weight…”. I was slightly stunned by this comment. For those of you who are not aware, canister stoves are not the lightest weight stoves (alcohol stoves far surpass IsoButane as the lightest stoves).

Off hand his low-end canister stove weight figure was 2oz, my alcohol stove weighs .6oz. Misleading information at best, poor research or blatant disregard for facts at worst. Perhaps the section on stoves was meant to be abridged and intentionally left out any mention of lighter weight options with misleading preference given to canister stoves?

Ian Mangiardi makes a pass at the “too-good-to-be-true NeoAir”. The NeoAir pad (I can only assume he means the xLite as I believe it was the only model available at the publishing of this book) is indeed less durable than many other pads on the market. I can take a closed cell foam pad and sleep on broken glass, the pad will still function in the morning. That’s not the point, however. If you’re repeatedly breaking your NeoAir, you’re using it wrong.

I’ve used my own xLite for multiple seasons now and I have yet to have a puncture. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s been slept on for a total of ~90 nights. It was my sole sleeping pad while leading trips on the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and is still my all-time favorite. I also snagged it brand new for somewhere in the $90 range off eBay.

What many fail to recognize is that as gear gets lighter and more purpose-built, it becomes increasingly imperative to use it properly. Yes, it’s true, if you sleep on a bed of dry pine needles, you’ll pop your NeoAir. If you pitch your cuben fiber tarp next to a broken jagged branch and it gets pushed into your tarp by wind, it’s going to puncture. This is not a failure of the gear, but an oversight of the operator.

In the shelter section, Ian mentions that NEMO Equipment “will always be [his] go-to brand for quality, lightweight tents”. There’s a pretty good chance that this is because he’s sponsored by NEMO (see photo) which he fails to mention in the book.


Ian talks up his sponsors.

Perhaps, however, Ian genuinely loves NEMO and always has. Thus he became sponsored by them. It’s equally likely, however, that his sponsorship by them resulted in this shameless plug. We’ll never know (unless Ian comments or emails me).

What we do know, for sure, is that NEMO most certainly ranks very low on my list of recommended brands. I’ve never seen any products by them that are worthy of being included in my pack, let alone a section of gear-advice consumed by hundreds of will-be hikers.


Lightheart Gear’s “Lightheart Solo – Standard”

Let’s take one example, the NEMO Veda 1-P. It’s a “trekking pole tent” weighing in at 33oz retailing for $350. It has an integrated bug net and bathtub style sil-nylon floor. Now we’ll put it up against the Lightheart GearLightheart Solo – Standard” weighing in at 29oz with the same features and a $245 price tag.

That’s a $105 less for (in my opinion) a superior, lighter weight, product from a cottage manufacturer.

I have personally met the owners of Lightheart Gear and spoken to them at length about their products and their construction. I trust their gear more than I trust NEMO because I know if anything (even the smallest error) goes wrong with a Lightheart tent, they will repair or replace their work without question. Cottage industry manufacturers rock. Period.

What’s clear is that this book was not written primarily to give gear advice and Zach would have been much further ahead to leave the section out as it seems to heavily work against the reputation of his book.

Read Zach’s book “Appalachian Trials” if you can borrow it from a friend, get it on the cheap, or find it in a book stash at the back of a shelter but do everyone a favor and tear out the gear section. The book’s primary purpose and best assets lie in the mental preparation of an Appalachian Trail hike. If you can look past the poor editing, I think you’ll find content thats worth your while and valuable to an aspiring thru hiker (or avid long distance hiker).

NOTE: I did not get compensated in any way for this review by any person or company mentioned (or anyone not mentioned, for that matter).