Review: Lightweight Camping by John Traynor

Ok, let’s get the main points out of the way first.

If you are a walker thinking about camping for the first time then this is the book for you. If you are a walker whose only experience of camping is a huge frame tent carried in a boot box or trailer, the this is for you.

If you are already a hiking person who carries their home on their back — and who is interested in lightweight hiking — you will probably be disappointed.

This book can be very useful, but it is not what you might think that it is.

I’m glad Cicerone sent me this to review. If the book had gone to any one of a number of other bloggers there would be flame comments everywhere. Why? Well look at this. Here is Traynor on ‘lightweight’

“It (lightweight camping) is certainly not a dark art, but it would be easy to think so if you roamed around internet forums for too long. After a while you could almost be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled onto a strange subculture”.

Bollocks — but I’ll come back to it later. But let’s look at what the book does that is good.

Essentially Traynor has produced a book which really does evangelise about hiking and backpacking. His aim is to get people out and camping and walking, whether this be using campsites or whether it is about encouraging people to try wild camping.

Traynor is very good at describing the sheer joy and walking and camping. The text is splattered with feature boxes which describes camping experiences on long walks. These are well written and enjoyable. If you have never carried a tent on a long distance footpath what Traynor does is give you a real feel to what you have been missing.

So, this is a book for the novice. Consider the chapters:

  • Using a Base Camp — i.e. a campsite;
  • On the move — a tent in your car or on your back;
  • Out in the open — a good introduction to camping wild;
  • Shelter — basically gear — we are talking about the tents you should see in any discount or mainstream store — they may be light they may not be.
  • Homemaking — kitchens stove, etc — including full Trangia sets.
  • There are appendices which help deal with subjects like buying a tent and camping with kids.

To be fair to Traynor the advice here is very good. If you are buying your first backpacking tent then there is good stuff here. If you are looking to camp wild for the first time then there is good advice here. If you are wondering about what you eat on a trail, then there is good advice here.

But there are real niggling doubts for me.

Lightweight gear has now become mainstream, just look at any of the major manufacturers. They are now trumpeting the kinds of ideas and techniques that many of us were being derided over four or five years ago.

You could follow the advice in this book and end up with a base weight that was needlessly heavy.

Traynor looks at the philosophy of going lighter and correctly reflects that this is a journey. You work out your staring point and then as you build up technique — and confidence — you realise how you can shed weight. Too true, but …

The starting point for this journey could start quite a way down the track.

Think about a stove. Do we need to carry a Trangia. No. A micro alcohol stove that weighs very little would be  better place to start. Canisters? well yes, but why not concentrate on the lighter varieties? The same can be said about the sections on packs and on tents.

You may think us ‘lightweighters’ are being too extreme, but you would be wrong. We are not really dispensers of the dark arts. I — like many bloggers — have a really heavy email post back. Lots of people send private emails as they try to understand what magazines and the like are telling them. I end up having phone conversations with many of them because they are nervous, they want to talk to someone who has done it. They want to make the most of what they do. There is real interest in lighter gear from mainstream hikers, more interest than you would think from reading this.

The real point of going lighter I feel gets lost a bit. The philosophy is simple. Carrying less weight is more comfortable. It allows you to go further and go longer. It is just more fun!

Consider Colin Ibbotson our more famous bloggy ultralight person. Colin explored all of this because he was carrying too much weight on a Lands End to John O’Groats. Lightening the load improved the experience. He just carried on experimenting. And he’s right about it all!

Reading this you might think that Cicerone have got this one wrong. I’m not sure they have really. Perhaps my reaction is based on what I assumed I would be reading.

Traynor has produced a book full of good and sensible advice for those who have never hiked/backpacked before. If this is you — and I know there are a lot of you out there reading the blogs — then I would recommend that you start here. You won’t regret the purchase.

But I’m left with a lingering feeling that this is somehow pitched in the wrong way. A couple of months ago I reviewed Smarter Backpacking by Jorgen Johansson. This is a very minimalist book that really does cover lightweight hiking and if this is what you were hoping to read well start here.

There is though a place for a Cicerone title that goes further and I guess a lot of people would like to see one. These books are, after all, beautifully presented, very well sub-edited and the whole range is very carefully put together. But I think we could do with something commissioned that looks at the whole world of lightweight hiking. This isn’t it. But it is a very good book if you are in the category I talked about earlier. And, to repeat myself, I know there are a lot of people wanting this kind of advice. But I hope I have helped people avoid buying something that is not what they think it is!

So, mixed marking here. Lots of good practical advice on camping if not on shedding weight.

One final and puzzling thing. Before I noticed John’s pops at us bloggers I did spot that he has his own website. Having read his comments on our work I decided to have a look: The site is Canny Camping:

This is something disappointing about the site as it really seems to just a blog of gear press releases. It certainly is light on additional information!

I really don’t like giving Cicerone books iffy reviews. To be fair they rarely are anything else other than excellent, but …

…if you’ve read the review you probably understand the problem!

You might want to stick to bloggers !!!

Post Revised by Editor 2nd Feb 2011



  1. I looked at this book at the outdoors show and couldn’t see anything of interest in it for me.

    As for the ‘dark arts’ comment maybe he’s worried that the book won’t sell, as there is more that enough ‘free’ information on this on the web, not to need to paid a RRP of £12.95.

    As for the dead weblink maybe its another dark art that’s not understood 😉

  2. Well done Andy – a well constructed review.

  3. As you say, Andy, there’s nothing frightening in going lightweight or experimenting with lighterweight gear. I guess most of us are constantly testing the trade-off between weight and comfort. None of us is going to be the same, but it’s a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

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