Book Reviews of Tricks of the Trail.

I have been a backpacker for twenty-seven years and in that time have read about as many books on the subject. This arrival, Tricks of the Trail, A Guide to Modern Backpacking ranks well into the top ten I've studied. The title is catchy, but the operative word is in the subtitle--Modern. This nifty paperback is most definitely up-to-date. It includes such references for the 90's as websites, internet newsgroups, the latest addresses of equipment suppliers and several major parks one may wish to visit. Tricks of the Trail is also modern because it puts forth the latest wilderness philosophy about care and concern for the environment and other folks, recognizing the increasing numbers of visitors to the delicate backcountry. Mr. Santoro is clear with his displeasure of people who bring pets into the backcountry--he feels dogs in particular are a pest and a potential danger--he makes no reference to pack animals, so who knows how he feels about llamas. The focus of the book is backpacking and the information related speaks to packing light, making little impact, and having a safe trip.
     Safety is a big issue with Mr. Santoro--he begins with a couple of stories about folks who ventured into the backcountry improperly prepared and paid dearly for their lack of planning...they paid with loss of life! This is a sobering way to begin, and yet sensible as the underlying theme about safety is to plan, be prepared, try to anticipate the unexpected and always be careful to not overestimate one's abilities. Adventure can be fun, but it's not fun to freeze one's toes off, or have the trip food swiped by a bear because the food was not hung in a tree!
    Tricks of the Trail stands as a genuine primer on backpacking...it takes us from the beginner level and assumes nothing. The reader will learn about equipment, how to dress, how to select foods and prepare them, and how to pack all this stuff. The packing ideas are good ideas for llama packers because packing light is right up the llama's alley. (The lighter one packs, the more days you can stay 'out'.) Other health and safety issues discussed include how to properly set a pack, how far to travel each day, as well as how to estimate travel time, hiking comfortably while avoiding blisters, avalanches, and altitude sickness. Mr. Santoro has hike a great deal in bear country. This would be particularly healthy for llama packers to read because of the importance of avoiding bear/llama encounters of any negative kind. The weather chapter is a great little science lesson on weather. In it one can learn to 'read the weather' and make the knowledge help with planning. The chapter on water is also incredibly informative. It tells the reader about water safety, purifiers, and filters. The days of drinking the fresh, cool mountain stream right from the old tin cup are long gone! The final chapter on Emergency Aid is super--the basic first aid talk. Read it before leaving on the trip!
    Many backpacking books don't tell much about navigation, which may assume people are hiking on well established trails. Mr. Santoro includes excellent information about the use of topographical maps, compasses, and figuring out what to do when one discovers they are lost. He is a real detail man.
    All in all, a great reference book--not a fun piece with cute little stories that make you want to go backpacking. Mr. Santoro assumes you already want to go; he tells you how to do it as right as it gets. (Francie Greth-Peto, Llamas Magazine, July/August 1997)

2. The author, an experienced wilderness guide, tells everything one needs to know about backpacking and hiking in the 1990s, from bear problems, ticks, basic survival skills, and much, much more. A good book for a beginner. (Outdoors West, The Official Publication of the Federation of Western Outdoors Clubs, Summer 1997, vol. 20, no. 1.)

3. The wilderness first called out to Roy Santoro 15 years ago, while he was vacationing in Alaska with his wife. "In the distance, I saw a bunch of people just walking around, and thought, 'Wow, it would really be neat to go out there,'" he recalled. "I went back the next year, and ever since then I've been backpacking all over the place." The Park Ridge resident has taken about 20 major backpacking trips, many alone. His journeys have led him to the top of Mount St. Helens and down the Narrows at Zion National Park, among other places. Santoro indicated that he has learned more about himself with each trip. Because he has also increased his knowledge of backpacking with every adventure, Santoro has written Tricks of the Trail. Subtitled A Guide to Modern Backpacking, the book provides all the information a novice would need to start pursuing the hobby. It also has plenty of information for seasoned backpackers, including details on the composition of insect repellents.

The book begins with two true backpacking horror stories. In one, nine out of 18 members of a school group climbing Mount Hood in Oregon died when a huge storm hit. The other tells of an experienced outdoorsman who starved to death near the Denali National Park in Alaska. Santoro started his book with those vignettes to caution people that before you undertake such an adventure, "you really need to think about it. When you go out there, bad things can happen to you. If you think you're going out there for a fun romp in the woods, you're going to get hurt. You need to be prepared."

He's not trying to scare well-prepared people away from the activity, though. Santoro insisted that backpacking can give a person "a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes it's just the challenge of going somewhere where you think nobody else has ever been before. When you go out there by yourself, you learn a lot about yourself. You learn about your fears."

Santoro gives detailed information to help people prepare for and safely complete journeys. He describes what you should take with you, as well as how heavy your backpack should be (no more 25 to 30 percent of your body weight). Santoro explained that the most common mistake novices make is "they bring too much stuff." Another frequent blunder is buying new boots for the trip which haven't been broken in.

An entire chapter is devoted to food, with the sage advice that if you don't like turkey at Thanksgiving, for example, chances are you'll like a freeze-dried version even less. He suggests some interesting alternatives, like taking along tubed tomato paste for use on pasta meals that you cook on your stove.

Included are techniques for everything from preventing blisters to crossing streams. Many pages are devoted to avoiding bear attacks; and there's advice for keeping away smaller pests, like ticks, mosquitoes, and wasps. Santoro also describes methods for dealing with emergencies.

Three of Santoro's four children have backpacked with him; his 16- and 11-year-old sons and his 10-year-old daughter. He and his wife also have a 2½-year-old son. In the book, Santoro describes techniques for preparing kids for trips, including being certain that they are able to carry their own backpack, and having a trial campout in the backyard.

Getting yourself in shape for the rigors of such trips also is emphasized. "To a lot of people when they're planning these big adventures during the winter and fall, it looks really easy looking at the pictures," Santoro said. The reality is very different, he noted, with many people doing something like pulling a muscle on the first day, and then "Their whole trip is ruined because they didn't get ready for it." But if you are prepared, Santoro stressed, you can visit places few people have explored. "Of all the people that go to national parks," he said, "only one percent ever venture more than one mile from the road. That's like a crime to me because you don't see the moose feeding with its young out in the little ponds that are just at a distance from the road."

Santoro, who is 42, has worked in television news for 20 years; currently as a producer at Channel 32. He has made no attempt to utilize his backpacking adventures at his job, though. "It seems like my backpacking is a world I don't want to have corrupted by anything else," he said. "Other than taking my camera, I've never tried to document anything." Until he wrote his book, that is.

He emphasized that when everything clicks, backpacking can be an awesome experience. Santoro called a solo climb of Mount St. Helens his "coolest" adventure "because I was afraid the whole time I did it. I had to sign a release that said, 'You're walking up an active volcano. If it blows up, you're going to get killed.' The whole time you're walking up, you don't know what's going to be on the other side. Because all you've seen as you drive in is this mass of devastation , and you're about to see the little cone of it."

Danger isn't the only thrill, though, Santoro said. "It's things that take your breath away; seeing moose walking through the woods, and watching bears slide down a glacier. It's images that you'll always remember." (Myrna Petlicki, "Backpackers' Bible: Call of the wild inspires 'Tricks of the Trail' Guidebook," Pioneer Press (Park Ridge, IL), July 10, 1997)

4. Tricks Of The Trail: A Guide To Modern Backpacking provides current information on outdoor products from water filters and insect repellents to stoves and synthetic fabrics. Readers will learn what works well, what doesn't, and why. A handy reference guide at the end lists names, addresses, phone numbers, and internet sites of selected national parks in the United States and Canada, equipment suppliers, outdoor magazines, great backpacking and outdoor websites, and all kinds of practical help to plan a successful backpacking adventure. Tricks Of The Trail is a veritable compendium of "tips, tricks and techniques" that will enhance the backpacking experience. (Jim Cox, "The Backpacker's Bookshelf," Wisconsin Bookwatch, May 1997)

5. "OK, campers--do you know how to estimate your travel time on back country trails? What to do if you run into a bear? The best rule about eating in a tent? The answers can be found in a useful new book released by a small Northern California publisher, Tricks of the Trail: A Guide to Modern Backpacking, by Roy Santoro (Happy Camp, Calif., Naturegraph Publishers, 192-page trade paperback, $9.95).

"Roy Santoro is a TV newsman in the workaday world in the Chicago area and an avid backpacker on his own time. What he has produced here is not another trail guide that tells hikers where to go, but a comprehensive manual that tells them how to go there. Santoro says the notion that would become Tricks of the Trail began taking shape 12 years ago in a Chicago bookstore when he was annoyed to discover that he couldn't find a backpacking book that brought all the basics together. What he was looking for was one that would tell him when it's safe to drink the water, what to do when bears are near, how to handle hypothermia and dehydration, how to pick a water filter or insect repellent, and what you should absolutely, positively NOT do if you're caught out in the open in a lightning storm. So he wrote his own.

"Tricks of the Trail began with journals Santoro kept on the trail for years, jotting down things he learned from rangers, guides, other backpackers. The result is far from being a mere compendium of opinions. Santoro's strong suit is research. Like any good reporter, he talked to experts: National Park Service officials (at Denali, Boundary Waters, Mount St. Helens, Rocky Mountain, Zion, and Glacier parks), chemists (about insect repellents), college professors (about bees and snakes), hydrologists, the Centers for Disease Control, bear experts, a paramedic, a zoologist, a chef, and a host of others. The result is an up-to-date reference useful not only for beginners but for those who backpacked in college, maybe, which all of a sudden is 10 or 15 or 20 years ago and they could use a little help with the latest in backpacking stoves, synthetic fibers, and freeze-dried foods.

"Inevitably, there are a few quibbles. Those who are trying to teach no-trace camping do a slow burn at advice like, 'When you are done eating, burn whatever paper you can,' or talk about 'sitting around the campfire.' There's even a bit on 'building a fire pit,' for pete's sake. Attention Roy: It's not the 1950s, please! But minor glitches come with the territory, and they don't obscure the first-rate job Santoro has done.

"Oh, about that camper's quiz. To estimate your travel time, figure about 30 minutes per flat mile, then add four minutes for every 100 feet elevation gain. Check your hiking book or map, and watch for hidden elevation gains en route. If you encounter a black bear, there's no point in trying to outrun, outswim, or outclimb it. Talk gently and back away. Current advice on black bears--unlike grizzlies--is not to lie down if it attacks. Shout, bang pans, fight back. And the best rule about eating in a tent is, don't.

"If you could pick just one book to get a beginner started, or help a veteran brush up, this wouldn't be a bad choice." (Bill Varble, The Mail Tribune, Medford, Oregon, March 30, 1997)

6. "A quart of water weighs 2.083 pounds. There are 30,000 chemicals and natural elements that people claim can repel mosquitoes. Try to limit your packing weight to 15 to 20 percent of your body weight. These are some of the tips from Roy Santoro in "Tricks of the Trail" ($9.95, Naturegraph, 800-390-5353). Santoro draws from 15 years on the trail, bouncing from one quick-hit comment to another rather than lengthy philosophy. He offers tips on crossing streams, bear repellents, lightning, navigation, starting a fire without matches, and charts on weather forecasting. He also includes a section on Internet sites useful to hikers." (Sharon Wootton, Outbound editor, The Herald (Evertt, Washington), May 1, 1997)