The Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins
Words: Rodney Wills
The Complete Walker IV is an in-depth guide to backpacking. It can be read as a book or as a guide, but I will get into that later, more importantly, this is the book that I tell people that it saved my life!
Back in 2007, I broke my neck in an off-road motorcycle accident and for a period of time (4-6 months) I did not know what my physical condition outcome would be. LUCKILY, I knew I would be walking, but what I didn't know is what type of activities I would be able to pursed afterwards. Instead of dwelling on the unknown, I needed something positive to looks towards to, so hiking it was going to be. I needed something to soak myself mentally into (positively) and began reading every possible thing I could find on hiking! In my quest to find the backpacking authority, I discovered this book.
For me personally, this book is great in that it can be use this book multiple ways; like a traditional book from cover to cover or as a resource guide using the index as it organizes topics specifically and you can reference where in the book that topic is discussed.
I like Colin's writing style as he tells you more than just the material makeup of a product, he will give you his personal opinion of the product, good, bad, or salty. He also gives in great detail how he is using it within nature and he typically engages you in a way that has you wanting to be with him in that moment or location. While I have not read this book in a while, I still use it be it a specific technical reference, or for some quick inspiration as it sits at by bedside table. I can now simply pick it up and open it to whatever page and just start reading it is a very entertaining read. With the years of experience from both Fletcher and Rawlins, this book is largely credited with launching the modern-day backpacking movement.
Since its first publishing in 1968, this book has been one of the most used sources for hiking and back country information, so classic in fact that Field & Stream magazine called it “the Hiker’s Bible.” But when Fletcher talks about “carrying your house on your back” his writing captivates you beyond just the nuts and bolts "how-to's" of backpacking.
Mr. Fletcher wrote. Although “the best roof for your bedroom is the sky,” a light tarp is better than a tent. Among his other suggestions: trim the handle of your aluminum pot and even that of your toothbrush thus making impressions upon anyone captivated by the outdoor life. “Colin was sort of the founding father of modern backpacking, the first person to write about going out for an extended period and being self-sufficient,” said Annette McGivney, the Southwest editor of Backpacker Magazine.
But for me personally it was a passage Fletcher wrote on page #5 talking about how he felt he had gone as far as humanly possible into the depths of nature, when out stepped two men from the dark depths of the "unknown!"
When I was laid up with a broke neck (literally) this was the type of inspiration that I needed! Even now, fully healed, this is what I seek out!
Colin Fletcher, (now deceased) was almost 80 years old when this 4th edition of his classic book was published in 2002. The IV edition is updated and enlarged, mostly due to the efforts and contributions of Fletcher's co-author, Chip Rawlins. From Chip, I learned more about minimalist backpacking and the art of just getting out to any spot, even if it is to just sit by a tree on a hillside vs having to do the "big adventure." While Colin inspired me, Chip made me see the reality and to not "over big" it and just go get out there.
According to David Strevenson of Backpacking Tips, here are the three reasons why you should read The Complete Walker IV:
First, the contents of this book reflect the years of experience in "walking" -- what we now call backpacking -- by the man who years ago walked the length of the Grand Canyon and then wrote about it in a series of books, launching the modern-day backpacking movement. Fletcher describes in detail everything from how to pack your backpack for crossing a river, to what snacks are best to take with you, to measuring humidity, to calculating the right mix of food for the energy output you need, to real-life example of the dangers of dehydration.
Second, Fletcher's sometimes brutal reviews of the latest backpacking equipment don't just give a simple Yes or No review, but actually go deep in discussions about the science of the fabrics and technologies used. Sometimes, where the two authors disagree, you'll find each of their opinions labeled with their names, and the back and forth dialogue is simply fascinating and very educational.
Third, we know of no other book on the subject of backpacking that is so in-depth and also so full of practical advice and examples from real-life treks as The Complete Walker IV. We guarantee that you'll find this book loaded with very helpful information if you can set aside some time to read it. At over 800 pages, you won't finish it in a day or two, but you'll find yourself coming back to it again and again, and it's great for reading several months ahead of a major backpacking trip.
With regards to the history of Colin Fletcher, it seems https://colinfletcher.com/biography/
The Complete Walker and Colin Fletcher’s other nine books are reviewed by Schwert who also weaves in some of his early backpacking experiences: https://outdoors.magazine.free.fr/spip.php?article281&lang=en