Book Review: “How To Suffer On The Outdoors: A Guide For Beginners To Hike And Backpack” by Diana Helmuth
“How to Suffer Outside” by Diana Helmuth is a hike guide packed with advice and rich in anecdotes. According to the author’s definition, “the hike is an eight-hour day that ends without a shower, without sunburn and without sleeping on the floor.” With the help of her book, you’ll learn how to layer your backpack, what fabric you want your clothes to be (and why it should never be denim), how to bandage your foot to avoid blisters, and where to find the best ones. trails for you. You will find out how to plan your route (by estimating how much it will hurt “), why you will not bring deodorant even if you are hiking with a romantic partner (” In nature, at best, it is a toy. which costs precious ounces. At worst, it’s a chemically scented beacon for insects and bears. “), how to use a topographic map (” looks like a regular map someone has scribbled on while they’re ‘bored in math class “) and find many examples of the Leave No Trace rule. There is also an entire (very enlightening) chapter devoted to poo in the woods.
What makes this hiking guide unique is its accessible, realistic and conversational tone. The introduction informs us that if there is no “right” way to backpack, this book will teach you the “probably good enough” way. I often found myself smiling and nodding at its pages, laughing frequently. It is a joy to read something so informative and humorous! Even footnotes and supporting illustrations are helpful and often provide cheerful inner jokes for readers.
It is not a guide to everything; you will need to read other hiking books. The author, Helmuth, directs you regularly to research online on issues of interest or suggests resources on a topic that she won’t cover in detail (heavy meals to prepare and suitable for a diet, for example, because Helmuth mainly brings boxed macaroni and cheese, Swedish fish and mashed potato powder on his hikes). The advice offered in this book is so practical it’s almost shocking, which is honestly a relief and adds to its general sense of “Oh, I could really do that!” “
“How to Suffer Outside” is the literary equivalent of having read a lot of serious informative texts and then finding a fantastic YouTuber filming their real adventures – or having a long date with a friend of a friend who has backpack for years. You’ll learn the real things you need to know: which stores offer refunds even after wearing or destroying ill-fitting hiking boots, how much it should actually cost you, and the real differences between water filtration systems – with many. references to ancient culture.
I wasn’t sure what I would get out of this book – I’m a disabled freelance writer of color with multiple chronic conditions, very little disposable income, and no exercise routine to speak of – but I love being in it. nature (for short periods of time, at least) and learning more about what people do when they disappear “out there in the wild” intrigued me. Being stuck indoors after a year of confinement absolutely contributed to my interest in maybe embracing this new hobby.
When I think of the backpack, I think of rich young white college students who travel for long periods of time and escape the everyday reality I am familiar with. I didn’t expect the author to recognize and question this perception at all – and certainly not with such relativity, authenticity and wit. There were some very real issues that I wondered if she would explore: the financial barrier to entry, the whiteness of it all, the privilege of being away from work, the safety aspects of being a lonely woman at home. outside, the fact that people are dying there! Helmuth tackled them all and even brought up some that I hadn’t considered: unlearning beauty standards away from society, dealing with the confusing ‘culture shock’ of coming back to civilization after a long time in nature, getting away from it all. see in a mirror for the first time since you went to the desert. The author uses inclusive language like “all genders” and advises on hygiene protocols (lower your standards; use baby wipes and soaped bandanas) with a sensitivity that readers with disabilities will find quite understandable. .
At the start of the book, Helmuth provides a list of organizations to look for to connect with backpackers of various ethnicities and races. There is an entire section titled “How to Hike with a Vagina” which provides details on menstruation outdoors and recognizes the awkward aspects of hiking for marginalized genders. While Helmuth specifically mentions the known risks of cis and trans women, I would have liked more tips for dealing with them, as I still can’t see past my fears of violent reality.
While acknowledging her whiteness, her lack of disability, her mortgage or her children, the author specifies that she writes from the point of view of someone who has “never been thin” and “grew up a little poor” . A constant message is that there is no reason to spend money on everything. Helmuth always makes a point of recommending that you borrow equipment, use clothes you already have and visit second-hand stores. She’s honest about the equipment even if she doesn’t have any; What a surprise to read a guide from someone who also can’t afford custom shoe inserts and fancy water filters that would make hiking easier, but still manages to hike in extraordinary places! Helmuth explains in great detail why there is no need to buy new items or purchase the more expensive version of most items, offering plenty of affordable alternatives.
In Chapter 4, the author shares a memory where the wrong shoes caused tremendous pain, enough that she struggled to walk. Helmuth struggled with the fact that she had spent all that money to get there, and now the trip seemed wasted. The way she describes enduring pain, weighing options, being frustrated with her body and negotiating with it is very familiar, even triggering, to me as a person with chronic pain, especially when she has had to decide. if her pain “was” worth calling out. for an airlift. What the experience elicited in Helmuth was a feminist response to a familiar emotion: At the time, she believed pain was a staple of wearing hiking gear. Now knowing that the situation could have been avoided with the right shoe advice, she reminds us that women are trained not to prioritize the truth about how our bodies feel in any given situation. “Why did I insist that the problem – the reason I was in pain – was my body, not the boots?” Well, first of all, I’m a woman, ”she writes.
Helmuth explains that as we grow up buying clothes, we are taught that “the wearable article is a norm, and we are a failing sap if we cannot sink our bodies into it.” Another example discussed in her guide is that wide leg pants are an impossible myth for people with “huge legs” like her. She preaches about leggings for many reasons: they are practical, comfortable, and available for bodies of all sizes.
“How to Suffer Outside” is fun and fascinating whether you’re looking to hike this weekend, later this year, or not at all. It’s like those delicious documentaries you stumble upon while watching TV (or scrolling through Netflix) and then don’t leave the couch until they’re done, laughing along with the playful commentary from the host and the particular struggles in breathtaking outdoor settings. While I might not be going on a weeklong hike in the mountains, I would like to take a day trip soon and share my very specific new hike ‘did you know? “
Andrea Marks-Joseph is a South African freelance writer of color. More of his writings are at https://stargirlriots.com.
Read more from the September 1-7, 2021 issue.