Andrew Skurka unpacks The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide

The greatest adventures are always more about the journey than the destination, but that truism can be easy to forget when you can't wait to get that heavy pack off your back. If the actual hiking isn't the most enjoyable part of your backpacking trips, then you just might be going about the whole thing the wrong way, according to Boulder-based athlete Andrew Skurka, whose new National Geographic book The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide hits the shelves at local bookstores and gear shops this week.

Skurka is best known for epic human-powered adventures, including his 4,700-mile Alaska-Yukon Expedition in 2010 and the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop journey through the American West in 2007 that earned him "Adventurer of the Year" nods from National Geographic and Outside Magazine. He's also known for traveling light -- very light -- and giving good gear talks at local mountaineering shops. In his new book, Skurka draws this distinction between the "Ultimate Hiker" and the "Ultimate Camper":

"I wrote this book from the perspective of an unapologetic Ultimate Hiker, which I define as a backpacker who simply loves to walk. We maximize our on-trail comfort by packing light; we move efficiently from dawn to dusk; and we consider the physical and mental challenges inherent in this style as part of our backcountry experience. Our antithesis is the Ultimate Camper, who hikes only a very short distance in order to do something else, like fishing, journaling, or birding. Neither approach is superior to the other--it's simply personal preference--but our contrasting styles have major consequences for our gear, supplies, and skills."

We caught up with Skurka for more on how to make the most of getting from one place to another.

Photo courtesy Andrew Skurka
Hiking in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Westword: I've seen you give one of your gear talks at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder and have followed some of your adventures through various magazines and through your website. What was it like to go from giving your slideshow presentations and clinics to working with National Geographic on this book?

Skurka: National Geographic gave me a surprisingly long leash on editorial content. My style of backpacking is not conventional and I use a lot of products that you can't always just walk into a local retailer and find -- I'm not sure if they were aware of that from the beginning, but they sort of just went with it -- and I feel pretty strongly that the conventional, modern backpacking equipment that most people use is outdated versus what else is actually available. But in the end they let me write the book I wanted to write, and then they took my manuscript and made it into this awesome, reader-friendly, aesthetically-pleasing book. It's got a great combination of consistent, comprehensive, credible text, combined with informative captions, call-out boxes, and quick tips.

Photo courtesy Andrew Skurka
Andrew Skurka explores the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge near Brooks Range, AK during his 2010 Alaska-Yukon Expedition
Westword: You've made some very long trips, so there's plenty of reason to trust you when it comes to packing. But I'm curious what you've learned from some of those extremely long trips and how it applies to shorter trips for weekend warriors and backpackers who might be packing for a couple of nights, versus a couple of weeks or months.

Skurka: It's true that some of my trips aren't necessarily relatable to others, but the way I've presented the book is that I have become a master at learning how to enjoy hiking. On a backpacking trip there are two very separate activities: There's hiking, and then there's camping. When you're hiking you're putting one foot in front of the other and the less you have to interfere with that activity, the better. When you're camping you could be sitting in camp, birding or journaling, taking photos, cooking food, sleeping, or whatnot, and it's nice to have everything you need. But they're two very distinct activities, and when I'm on a trip I try to optimize what I call my "on-trail ecstasy." I've learned how to pack right to move more efficiently, and to rely more on what's between my ears than what's on my back.

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