a conversation with the earth guidebooks + inspiration + insight

Posts categorized “The Opinionated Hikers”.

Outdoor Gear Shops Are Off Route Without Guidebooks

outdoor storeBecause we publish hiking guidebooks, whenever we enter an outdoor gear shop we notice if it carries guidebooks. If it does, we always take a few minutes to examine how the books are merchandised. For example, when we went to Yeti—an outdoor gear shop in Montreal, Quebec—we saw it carries few guidebooks and displays them behind the sales counter where customers cannot reach them. Our intention here is not to criticize Yeti in particular. It’s an otherwise well-stocked gear shop. The salesperson we spoke with (regarding waterproof gloves) was knowledgeable and helpful. Our point is that how Yeti handles guidebooks is typical of nearly every outdoor shop we’ve ever visited. They seem to believe guidebooks are peripheral to their business and of scant interest to customers. With the exception of MEC*, the big chain stores are no different. For example, every REI store we’ve visited in the U.S. has only a small, token bookshelf virtually hidden where customer traffic is minimal. This is a mistake. Outdoor gear shops are overlooking the fact that hiking guidebooks ARE gear. Guidebooks are essential to hikers’ enjoyment and safety. Besides, guidebooks drive experience. Experience then drives interest in gear. If outdoor shops recognized this truth and acted on it by stocking more guidebooks and merchandising them more effectively, they’d boost clothing and equipment sales. (Case in point: us. We took interest in Yeti’s extensive selection of gloves because of our experiences hiking with wet, cold hands.) Attention outdoor gear shops: You’re ignoring a significant revenue stream. You’re failing to serve an important customer need. And you’re falling short of what must have been your original goal: help more people enjoy the outdoors.

*Mountain Equipment Co-op stores in Canada do a superior job of stocking and merchandising hiking guidebooks. Way to go MEC!

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How to Hike More Often This Year

(1) Invest in the gear you need for comfort, performance, and safety. Do it now, don’t wait. Gear is not an extravagance. It’s not an indulgence. It’s not fashion. Gear = tools. With the right tools, you’ll enjoy hiking even more, and you’ll do it more often.

Always packed, ready to go.

Always packed, ready to go.


(2)  Keep your pack packed, so you’re always ready. We keep ours beside the front door. Even when we don’t go hiking, seeing our packs reminds us: We’re hikers. That’s what our life is about. It keeps us focused.

(3) Find friends more committed to hiking than you are. Invite them often. Say “yes” whenever they invite you. When you’re with them, encourage them to invite you again by suggesting intriguing ventures that you’ve studied and are prepared to lead.


(4) Say “no” to distractions. Decline obligations. Sacrifice a normal life for a dedicated life. The world has become so complex, we all need a spearpoint that helps us pierce the nonsense and find meaning. Any pursuit can be your spearpoint. Hiking—because it’s physical, mental, and can be social—is ideal.

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Anti-Gravity Hiking

black holeA black hole is a region in the space-time continuum that has such a strong gravity field that nothing escapes, not even light.

There’s another kind of black hole, here on Earth. It’s exerting intense gravitational pull on all of us right now. It’s the black hole of social orthodoxy. It comprises all the forces of conventional thought and behaviour: obligations, traditions, etiquette, propriety, civility, respectability, prevailing opinion, current fashion, others’ expectations, and the puritan work ethic. The resulting, psychic gravity-field is so strong, many of us never escape to become our true, one-of-a-kind selves: brave, creative, artistic, iconoclastic, inspired and inspiring.

This is the black hole that prevents many of us from spending more time doing what we love. We alluded to it on page 81 of our book Heading Outdoors Eventually Leads Within: “A rich outdoor life requires that you never let society collar you. Because the leash woven of obligations will forever shrink and shorten.”

The first day of summer is upon us. Hiking season has arrived in the great mountains of the northern hemisphere. Don’t let the black hole of social orthodoxy suck you into a summer of missed opportunities to hike. Escape that dispiriting gravity field. Be bold. Insist on living your life.

Walk on!

— Kathy & Craig Copeland, the Opinionated Hikers

Please forward this message to anyone you think might raise a trekking pole skyward in solidarity.

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Five Things We Learned in Eight Months of Hiking

Of the countless things we learned, or were reminded of, on our recent journey, here’s what springs to mind. Nothing profound. These are just simple, personal realizations. If they resonate with you, if they serve as a cairn along your path, then expressing them here will have been worthwhile.

(1) We could hike forever. We didn’t want to stop. We would gladly have continued, even if that meant living in our rented campervan that afforded less than 100 sq ft of space for the two of us and our gear. But creating books involves more than hiking, so we had no choice but to return to a life in which we spend twice as much time pounding our computer keyboards as we do pounding trails. People say, “If you make your passion your work, you’ll lose the passion.” That’s a myth parroted by passionless people who know nothing of passion. Our passion for hiking continues to intensify. Making it our work was what lit us on fire. And constantly reminding ourselves that life is a finite experience keeps us stoking that fire.

(2) Our needs are few and simple. Health, each other, nourishing food, deep sleep, agreeable weather, and wildlands to hike. That’s it. The swarm of concerns, the pile of possessions, the restricting obligations, and the frenetic busyness that seem to consume most people’s lives have, for us, fallen away. We’re completely comfortable—absolutely at home—alone in nature. Noise, crowds and urban bustle have become increasingly agitating. There’s a simplicity and focus to the hiking life—the way of the walker—that’s immensely fulfilling. Wanting so little feels liberating.

(3) We understand more by paying attention to less. Instant communication has created a world awash in trivia. Trying to keep up with it makes us shallow. But devoting ourselves to a passion is a way of piercing the surface, of learning more about one sliver of life by exploring it deeply from a committed, precise trajectory. It’s as if we’re sharpening ourselves, becoming more pointed. The finer the arrowhead, the farther and more accurately it flies, and the deeper it penetrates the target. Surely this applies to other passions, but we know it’s true of ours.

(4) Shared adventure fuels friendship. In the last few months of our journey, we met three couples with whom we hiked multiple times. The hiking itself was as much a form of communication between us as was conversation. Establishing a common goal, working as a group through physical and mental challenges en route, and accomplishing the goal together, we learned about each other instantly. And what we learned was not superficial. It was not merely each others’ stories. The essence of each of us became readily apparent to the others. And, because we all liked what we saw, we rapidly grew close. The result was a lasting bond we’re confident will endure. Thank you Paul and May, Viv and Phil, Marjan and Jan!

(5) Being is as important as learning. Our culture prizes learning. But being—that elusive state of presence in which we flood our full awareness into the here and now—is equally vital. Much of our journey was less about learning and more about allowing ourselves the freedom to just be. We’re walkers. By walking most days for eight months—flooding our attention into the rock underfoot, the sky overhead, the peak beyond, the cliff below, the vegetation all around—we achieved nearly absolute contentment. It’s different than the gratification that comes from learning. And we value it just as much.

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Ten Best Hikes on Planet Earth

Someone recently wrote us asking what ten hikes we would rank as the world’s best. Here’s what we said:

(1) Parc National des Calanques, France. On the edge of Marseille, this is the country’s newest national park (www.calanques-parcnational.fr). It’s an astonishing, fascinating massif comprising huge, fissured, white, limestone cliffs rising abruptly from the Mediterranean. Numerous, sea-to-cliff-top trails thread through the park between the town of Cassis and the sprawling city of Marseille. Vast panoramas are frequent. Several days of unique, world-class dayhiking are possible here. Ideal times: spring and fall, but winter can also be pleasant. Base yourself in Cassis. If camping, stay at Camping Cigales (http://www.campingcassis.com/). This is where we are now, having finally been pushed out of the French Alps by cold temps, rain, then snow. After touching our trekking poles in the sea near Nice, we spent a couple rewarding weeks hiking in the Pre Alps, primarily in the Haute Var. But rain and cold temps again pushed us south to the coast. From Parc National des Calanques, we’ll nip back up into Provence for a final week of hill-hiking in France, then we’ll drop into Spain. There, we’ll begin writing our Alps book and, we hope, continue hiking several days a week in the mountains along the Costa Blanca. We’ll keep blogging, of course.

(2) Berg Lake, Mt. Robson Provincial Park, B.C., Canada. You’ll find complete details about backpacking to Berg Lake in our book, Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, The Opinionated Hiking Guide.

(3) Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, Yoho National Park, B.C. Canada. You’ll find complete details about backpacking to Berg Lake in our book, Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, The Opinionated Hiking Guide. We also blogged about it: http://www.hikingcamping.com/blog/2010/07/lake-ohara/

(4) Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. Seven-day, loop backpack trip.

(5) Hermit and Boucher trails, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. We’ve blogged about this three-day backpack trip: http://www.hikingcamping.com/blog/2011/04/grand-and-deep/

(6) Paria Canyon, near Kanab, Utah, USA. Four day, one-way backpack trip through the canyon, into Arizona.

(7) Tour du Vanoise, Parc National de la Vanoise, France. Four-day loop near glaciers in the French Alps, above the villages of Termignon and Pralognon.

(8) Gioberney, Vallée Valgaudemar, Parc National des Ecrins, France. The supreme dayhike in the French Alps.

(9) Col du Gran St. Bernard, Switzerland. We’ve blogged about this dayhike on the Italian/Swiss border, between Aosta and Verbier:  http://www.hikingcamping.com/blog/2012/10/14-premier-dayhikes-in-the-swiss-alps/

(10) Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland, South Island, New Zealand. We described it here: http://www.hikingcamping.com/free-hiking-nz.php

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Hiking Makes People Better People

Long ago, the essential activity of our species was hiking.

Humans had to hike so we could hunt and gather food, so we could collect wood for fire and rocks to build shelter, so we could participate in our tribes’ great annual migrations. Hiking was critical to survival.

Today it appears hiking is inconsequential, strictly optional. But the opposite is true: Hiking is now more important than ever. The world needs more hikers, because hiking makes people better people.


Hiking Makes You More Creative

Anything that gets you outdoors—out of your home, your office, your car, out of your mundane routines, out of your fixation on trivial detail, out of the clutches of so-called news and shallow entertainment—makes you more creative. But most outdoor sports keep your conscious mind engaged. They can be thrilling, but they require you to fixate on technique and terrain, so they don’t let you go deep into yourself. You can’t hear your subconscious mind. Hiking, because it’s not a sport, allows you to mentally relax. Your subconscious mind becomes dominant. And the subconscious is your greatest source of problem-solving creativity.

Hiking Makes You Smarter

In a recent study, a large group of randomly selected people was given a task intended to exhaust their attention capacity. They were then divided into three groups for a 40 minute break. Group A went walking in a local nature preserve. Group B went walking in an urban environment. Group C sat quietly and read. 40 minutes later, they were all given identical proofreading tests. Group A, the nature walkers, did far better on the test. That’s because hiking both relaxes and stimulates the mind.

Hiking Makes You Healthier

It’s the perfect exercise: aerobic, low impact, inexpensive, gentle on the environment, viable at any age, so simple it requires no instruction. And hiking, because you do it in natural surroundings, is more than exercise. Hiking has the power to heal. Studies show that patients in hospital rooms with windows providing views of nature require less pain management and heal faster than do patients in rooms with windows overlooking parking lots. So you can imagine what a potent healing therapy it is to actually be in those natural surroundings, hiking through them.

Hiking Makes You Calmer

Hiking quickly makes you aware of your breath. You begin paying attention to the rhythm of your breathing. And breath awareness is an element of many forms of meditation. That’s why hiking balances and centers you, inducing clarity, focus and calm. Studies support this. Daily doses of “green time”— time spent outdoors in natural settings—alleviate symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Hiking Improves Your Love Life

Hike with your partner, and two things will happen. First, the locust-like swarm of details, obligations and responsibilities that typically keeps buzzing around you will not follow you up the trail. You and your partner will find your awareness returns to each other. You’ll begin enjoying each other more, relaxing into your love. Second, you’ll find hiking becomes shared adventure, which sharpens you and your partner’s sense of mutual purpose. It will bond you. It will galvanize your relationship.

Hiking Makes You a Better Friend

That enormous, infinite space, the great outdoors, that you enter when you go hiking? You can bring some of that space back with you, inside you. And you can offer it to others, in the form of openness, empathy, patience, compassion, simply being a better listener, all of which will make you a much better friend.

Hiking Makes You Happier

Hiking is fun. But the word fun doesn’t do it justice. When hiking, you’re admiring our planet’s grandest scenery, you’re exploring wild lands, you’re negotiating tumultuous terrain. It makes you feel intensely alive. It brings profound joy. Profound because it’s not just your joy you’re experiencing. It’s the pleasure of the infinite spirit.

Hiking Makes You More You

The excited conversation that begins at a trailhead when friends go hiking together gradually subsides into more personal, intimate talk. Sometimes that distills into discussion of loftier ideas, but it always slides into long periods of silence. So even if you always hike with friends, you often end up hiking alone. And if you can dive into that tranquility, if you can swim into that solitude, you’ll probe the depths of your soul. You’ll come away with a better understanding of who you really are and where you want to go in the larger journey of life.

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Following Impulse, Instead of the Trail

“Not today.”

“I don’t want to. Not today, at least.”

Very rarely do I feel and think that. But it has happened. Halfway up a mountain, even.

In the past, I’ve ignored it. Pushed onward, upward.

But I recently learned that heeding this impulse can be wise and rewarding.

Wishing my companions strength and success, describing to them my new, alternate plan, I peeled away from the group and began traversing rather than ascending.

Suddenly, it felt like a dance instead of a chore. Creative rather than submissive. More energizing, less depleting.

I began an unanxious traverse, following my bliss, ultimately looping back to the trailhead having discovered a new cross-country route.

Walking the Earth, I was reminded, should be impulsive. An act of inspiration. Not a colour-strictly-within-the-lines duty.

Turn-around points. Veer-off points. I watch for them with more awareness now, just as I do cairns.

— Craig

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The 12 Qualities of a Superior Hiking Guidebook

bookshelfYou intend to hike this summer. You need a hiking guidebook. You go to your local bookstore or outdoor shop. You find several guidebooks on the region that interests you. To determine which book will best serve you, look for…


Originality. A unique title suggests the book offers you a fresh, valuable perspective.


Creativity. An artful, contemporary cover design shows the authors’ enthusiasm for the subject.


Clarity. The directions are so precise that when you read them, you can visualize the trail.


Conviction. To plan an optimal experience, you need opinionated advice, not just directions.


Personality. An engaging voice. You’re choosing a companion. It should be lively, not dull.


Great writing. The authors are your guides. You want them to be intelligent and articulate.


Beautiful photography. A variety of revealing, full-colour panoramics and close-ups.


Ease of use. An inviting, spacious, logical layout. You want a comfortable companion.


Inspiration. Just flipping through it should fuel your desire to go hiking.


Commitment. How frequently have the authors updated the book? How recently?


Generosity. Are the authors giving back? You should see evidence on the copyright page.


Dialogue. Authors with an email address, website and blog are inviting two-way communication.

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Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.