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Hiking Q & A book covers all topics

BACKPACKER: MORE EVERYDAY WISDOM, by Karen Berger, The Mountaineers Books, 208 pages, $26.95.

A trial-and-error approach to hiking can be an uncomfortable experience and may even cause trekkers to fall short of their destinations.

This new book, written in a question-and-answer format, offers even veteran hikers answers and advice that can promote comfort, success and safety.

For example, can you wear sneakers instead of boots on hikes? Yes, Berger writes, as long as you're not carrying a heavy pack.

"If you're traveling light and if the trails are well-constructed and reasonably mud-free, then trail shoes or running shoes may be adequate."

Berger, who has 20,000 miles of hiking experience, has done the "Triple Crown" of hiking — the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide and the Appalachian Trail. The questions in her book are real questions from real hikers.

Berger notes that most camera bags are not waterproof and so lining a case with a zipper-lock bag is a good alternative. She offers tips on hiking sticks and says they can indeed take pressure off the knees and may be particularly helpful on steeper trails — especially for older and/or overweight hikers.

Should you use two poles/sticks? It's a personal choice, Berger writes. "The advantage to using two poles: better support when you have to take giant downhill steps; you can support your weight by leaning on both hands. Using two poles also puts your arms to work, making it a little easier to propel yourself uphill."

Water is also one of the heaviest and most uncomfortable items to carry, but fabric water bags, which are flexible, are the superior choice, she writes. Water should also be carried high and as close to the back as possible in a pack.

Have in-depth questions about sleeping bags? The book has a dozen pages on the subject and even includes advice for couples who may want to zip two bags together.

Advice on new airline regulations and how they might affect hikers is also included. Berger recommends putting knives or hiking poles (collapsible) in checked luggage. She stresses boots should be carried on a plane because, if lost, they are the hardest to replace.

She even delves into foods — how to go without a stove — and offers tips on how to make a pack as light as possible.

Berger also answers feminine questions that most men could not. She debunks the idea that menstrual periods increase bear attacks and even includes advice on gear that might fit women better.

There are several dozen black-and-white hiking pictures, ranging from the Grand Canyon to the North Cascades to the Appalachian Trail.

Berger's Web site,, is another good supplemental reference.

This is a well-written and helpful guide.