I have good news and I have bad news: The newly released 2014 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion is bigger and better than ever.
This sucker is jammed with pragmatic and essential data and details about hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). The 2014 edition has maps to about 50 towns along the trail, many more than last year. Best of all, there are "professionally drafted elevation profiles of the entire route."
The print is large enough for an old man to read and it's on paper that doesn't glisten (like Southern belles) in bright sunshine. The elevation maps are oriented in such a way that you're not forever turning the book sideways and back. Many pages have clear listings of what services are near the Trail between points, and how far each one is from both Mt. Katahdin and Springer Mountain.
Produced by the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA), in conjunction with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the 2014 Companion is a compilation of information from scores of people who constantly update the book and post edits online between printings.
The bad news? This bigger than ever Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion is bigger than ever. Our old copies fit nicely into quart-size baggies. Not this one. Sorry, but you'll have to spring for one that's gallon-sized -- which, if you want my opinion, doesn't look any where near four times as big as a quart-size baggie.
Looks can be deceiving, as you know. There's a lot of talk about how the excellent (dare I say "competitor") alternative to the Companion is so much smaller. Until I placed them side by side, I would have agreed. Not now, sorry.
David "Awol" Miller and his crew have put a ton of work into the 2014 editions of The A.T. Guide -- A Handbook for Hiking the Appalachian Trail. I was surprised when my AT Guide didn't fit into a quart-size baggie either.
The Companion is 6" x 9". The AT Guide is 8" x 5.25". Mathematically and visually, the AT Guide is smaller. Again, side by side? Not so much. The AT Guide is a few ounces less than the Companion -- something that is highly important to thru-hikers who obsess over trimming ounces. The difference is probably equal to the weight of the mud and grime a hiker's boots will gather. Compared to how many pounds will be lost over the first mountain range or two, the difference will be irrelevant -- in my humble opinion that doesn't have to carry either book 2,185.3 miles.
Please Note: Kindly address your written complaints to: Complaint Department; 123 Anywhere Street; Your Town, USA 00000. Thank you.
The AT Thru-Hikers' Companion has more information on its 45 or so extra pages, but the AT Guide doesn't give the sense of providing less vital guidance. The ATC website says the Companion has 312 pages. (Those mysterious pages might be in there somewhere, but my copy ends on page 270.) The AT Guide has 224 pages.
Thru-hikers rarely sit around the campfire inspiring one another by reading one guidebook or the other aloud. These are reference books. Some people will want more reference material and others will tell you they never once even glanced at maps or trail guides, ever. Besides, as long as you don't hike alone, you'll find someone with a copy.
If I were a Spartan "throw away your Jeep's doors and rip out the rear seat" thru-hiker who didn't give a rip about what spots along the Trail had shuttles to places I had no intention of visiting, I'd prefer Awol's AT Guide.
If I were a non-minimalist section- or thru-hiker, I would keep a Companion with me instead. Some people prefer letters (written missives that your grandparents used to send through the 'post office') to texts. The AT Guide is plenty. The Companion is more.
Either guide will get you from Springer to Katahdin. They'll both help you figure out where you are, where you were, what's up ahead, and how far you have to hike for your next Snickers, meal or spot to recharge your gizmos.
Every year there are folks on the Trail who must be done by a particular day -- to attend a wedding, get back to a job or to avoid being jailed for not paying school loans. Those folks will do well with the AT Guide.
For almost everybody else? My guess is you'll find the Companion more interesting, more helpful and "a good read."
On the Trail, if only for writing stories, the Companion is my trusty companion.
Tags: Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Hiking Gear, News, Appalachian Trail Clubs, Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer
For every thru-hiker, there are 1,000 hikers who hit the Trail for shorter distances. All could benefit from the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion.
Day-hikers, section hikers and anyone looking for hikes along the Appalachian Trail should carry the 2016 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion.
David "Awol" Miller wrote "The A.T. Guide: a Handbook for Hiking the Appalachian Trail" after completing his own thru-hike. This resource is priceless.
Make plans to attend the 33rd Annual ALDHA Gathering in Williamstown, MA, October 10-12, 2014, if you love hiking and you would like to meet other hikers.