Rob Burbank's Outdoors with the AMC: They wrote the (new) book on outdoor skills

By ROB BURBANK March 03. 2017 5:41PM

Beginners and experienced hikers alike will find useful information in the AMC's Mountain Skills Manual. 

PERHAPS YOU'RE FAMILIAR with the dress-like-an-onion method of layering clothing for efficient body heat management when heading out on a hike.

Christian Bisson and Jamie Hannon, authors of "AMC's Mountain Skills Manual," take the concept a step further in this new guide to hiking and backpacking with something they call the WISE system.

The mnemonic device helps hikers remember to layer from the inside out with clothing that is Wicking (such as polypropylene underwear), Insulating (such as wool or synthetic fleece), and Sheltering (such as a waterproof and windproof shell). The WISE system is completed with Extra clothes. Layers can be added or removed as needed to regulate one's comfort as weather and activity levels change.

Bisson and Hannon wrote the new, comprehensive guide, drawing on their many years of experience as outdoor educators. They teach adventure education at Plymouth State University and are National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) instructors. The manual is the first volume in the new "AMC Skills Series."

The authors cover the importance of trip planning and preparation while also focusing on injury prevention and treatment, the hikeSafe hiker responsibility code promoted by the White Mountain National Forest and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and Leave No Trace principles.

Readers will also find detailed instructions on knot tying, and advice on meal planning and camp cookery.

Sprinkled throughout are insightful "Pro Tips." Example: "Wear your rain pants over your gaiters, not inside your gaiters, in wet weather. This creates a watershed effect that keeps your feet drier."

In addition to the "10 essentials," the authors offer helpful suggestions on additional gear to bring along that can enhance comfort and safety. They provide insightful suggestions on what to pack into an emergency repair kit.

They also offer time-tested advice on how to most efficiently pack a backpack, how to choose and pitch a tent, and how to pace your hiking to conserve energy.

Ultralight backpacking gets its own chapter, in which readers can learn how to slash pack weight essentially in half. Hint: "When looking to shave weight from your equipment kit, focus first on the four heaviest and bulkiest items: shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and pack."

The authors are big fans of tarps for their ability to provide a sleeping shelter, a kitchen shelter, shade, and wind protection.

Maps get a lot of attention in the manual, and the authors provide tips on navigation with map and compass, by GPS, and by the stars. The authors even provide instructions on how to properly fold a map.

Other topics covered include health and hygiene on the trail, land ethics, trail etiquette, hiking with children, and group dynamics. Weather systems, indicators, and safety are covered, and the manual includes heat index and wind chill charts.

Information on dealing with environmental injuries, such as hypothermia or heat stroke, is here, as are instructions on treating blisters, abrasions, sprains, and strains.

The manual also includes a chapter on winter skills and safety.

Illustrations by Deb Eccleston help to illuminate many of the skills presented.

AMC has created three new instructional videos based on the skills manual. Topics are planning a day hike, the 10 essentials, and trail etiquette. They can be viewed at,, and

"AMC's Mountain Skills Manual" is available in print and e-book formats.

More information is available at

Rob Burbank is director of media and public affairs for the Appalachian Mountain Club ( in Pinkham Notch. His column appears monthly.

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