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by Diane Spicer
There are not many history of hiking review opportunities.
That's because there are not many books (or Broadway musicals, now that I think about it) covering the history of hiking.
Through the magic of email, Hiking For Her learned about the existence of this book from the author's wife, Kathy.
Hiking For Her purchased a copy of Ramble On from Amazon to write this review for only one reason:
There is no affiliate or business relationship between HFH and the author.
All comments and opinions belong to Hiking For Her.
If you purchase a copy of this book through the links on this website, HFH as an Amazon affiliate will receive a small percentage of your purchase price without adding to your cost.
It is only available in paperback at the time of this writing (2018).
Two of the three female hikers are attired in "male" type clothing, with unencumbered arms and legs, and tall boots.
The third woman?
Not so lucky: a voluminous skirt just above her ankles, short shoes, and a broad brimmed hat that probably impeded her peripheral vision.
They appear to be standing at one of my favorite spots in Mount Rainier National Park, with the Tatoosh Range behind them.
So it's logical to assume they would have traveled across snow and ice.
Which brings me to my very first question I hoped would be answered for this history of hiking review:
Judging by this photo, not always, but the book delves more deeply into this question.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
First, as promised by the title, some history...
Cover photos aside, this book raises and answers many other interesting questions about why people willingly pack up some stuff and carry it on long rambles.
The evolution of hiking from outdoor (alpine) time which only well off Europeans could afford, to current day equal opportunity trail time, was well covered.
Most of the book is spent tracing the rise of hiking as a group sport, via hiking clubs, established trails and national parks.
As such, it is aimed at a North American market, specifically the United States.
The last part of the book turns its attention to current day realities on the trail, with some proposed solutions and directions for change.
The writing is clear and pulls you along from one historical period to the next, until it all adds up to what we have today in the U.S.:
These content snippets were chosen to give you a taste of the "fact banquet" you'll enjoy if you read this book:
Lots more historical facts were clearly laid out, many of them falling into the "I didn't know that" or "wow, that's pretty humorous" categories.
In no particular order, these were the best parts of the book through the lens of an older female North American hiker:
The author located old copies of hiking club newsletters.
What a fascinating glimpse into what was going on in the world at the time the newsletter was released - great context and details!
Examples of this:
This book provides excellent overviews of decisions and historical trail development in the current U.S. national parks, including (pick your favorites!):
You might recognize the origins of some of the more famous place names in the outdoors if you like to hike in the United States.
And you will definitely recognize the politicians who were also hikers, including F.D. Roosevelt, William O. Douglas, and Nelson Rockefeller.
Tramping was the word use to describe the recreational sport we now call hiking.
Which meant that a respectable female tramp(er) wore a walking costume in the 1880's which included a pair of gray flannel trousers well hidden by not one, but two, skirts:
Such a burden!
It's a relief (literally) to note that corsets were optional.
This section of the book was enjoyable not only for the details about what was "in" during certain time periods, but also for the chance to examine historical drawings, photos and illustrations.
It was somewhat hilarious to read about the paradigm shift to internal frame packs in the 1970s, 'cuz I was there, backpacking with my external frame pack which you can see here.
And the dawn of ultralight hiking?
The author cites 1992 as the year when it started to dawn on us (thanks, Ray Jardine) that we were carrying too much stuff.
If I sound a bit cranky, it's because some of my best hiking memories are now in the history books ;)
Ramble On concludes with an examination of the reality of hiking in 2018 and beyond.
If you've done any hiking lately around urban centers, you know that you're just one little drop in the vast ocean of hikers exploring the outdoors.
More people, accessing more places more times, increases the stresses on all of us:
American and Canadian hikers and backpackers appear to be loving their trails to death.
Not only does this intense, concentrated usage degrade the sometimes fragile terrain, it leads to social problems which many an old timer or veteran hiker bemoans:
The author addresses these problems, and also proposes some remedies.
It would make an interesting topic for discussion, no?
Ramble On presents the history of hiking through mostly white American eyes.
It was delightful to see the topic examined through a gender inclusive lens wherever possible.
But it was disappointing to note the lack of historical information about long standing established native trails and routes, many of which serve as the foundation of today's hiking trails and place names.
If you're a book skimmer, the index makes it easy to find a topic quickly.
irrelevant irreverent side note:
The title makes me think of Led Zeppelin every single time I see it. C'mon, you hear his voice too, right?
If you're looking for something to scratch your hiking + history buff itch, this is the book for you.
Would this gift make an unusual and excellent gift for the hiker in your life who has everything?
Pick up a copy to give her, or gift one to your hiking buddy.
History Of Hiking Book Review
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