Trailblazing backpacker Colin Fletcher (1922 – 2007) carried his home on his back through decades of wildlands journeys and throughout the ascendancy of modern technological solutions for living on the trail. He bushwhacked new territory and left ample sign for others to follow, all detailed in The Complete Walker IV (Alfred A. Knopf 2002).
Fletcher tested myriad methods and outdoor gear solutions throughout the second half of the 20th Century, detailing their utility first in 1968, and then again and again through revised and updated editions of The Complete Walker. Field and Stream proclaimed the book, “The Hiker’s Bible.” The name stuck. The current edition, The Complete Walker IV is coauthored by outdoor professional, writer, and gearhead C. L. “Chip” Rawlins.
Increasingly, modern outdoor endeavors require learning the “art of using gadgets,” lamented conservationist and wilderness advocate Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac 1949). Fletcher coached a wildlands recreation transition from traditional living off the countryside (woodcraft) to living with and passing through the countryside geared for self-sufficiency (trailcraft).
Bonfire and heavy iron were supplanted by bottled fuel and light aluminum, hook and bullet by dehydrated foods. Today, serious wildlands journeys require stuffing gadgets into a backpack, sled, or dry bag for hiking, skiing, snowshoeing or paddling away from engineered infrastructures and internal combustion engines to live and travel self-contained, self-reliant, and low impact using gadgetry–this is modern trailcraft.
Fletcher and his numerous readers, many of them gadgeteers, tested both traditional and newfangled trail gear and shared results. Before online forums, the “hikers bible” became the equivalent of a moderated online forum sharing input from trusted contributors and edited by Colin Fletcher. Fletcher, et al. helped to set the stage for later efforts to reduce impacts in crowded backcountry and frontcountry venues.
This is a Top Ten Reference for serious outdoors enthusiasts whether or not hiking and backpacking are central themes of outings pursued. This book is where you find descriptions and commentary on a colossal variety of gear and methods and how to put them all together into systems for demanding trails. Fletcher was a walker-writer by vocation. He lived for long periods carrying his home on his back. He was less concerned with achievement records, more concerned with recording what he observed.
Outdoor ethics is proliferating in this age of engineered solutions and culture change systems. Today we carry lighter loads and leave lesser footprints in wildlands: good thing, more and more of us go there. Legions of us go outdoors and do it! And just ahead, around the next bend of trail, Colin Fletcher is there leading the way, still.
Tom Bain, Outdoor Readiness