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.
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.
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.