The Great Outdoors: A User’s Guide, by Brendan Leonard (2017)

This is the perfect introduction to all things outdoorsy for that person on your list (or yourself) who wants to “get out more” but has no clue how to go about doing it. Think of this sizable tome (300+ pages) like a benevolent uncle sharing wisdom to make sure you will not only survive in the wild but will have a great time out there. The book is organized into six sections, and each one includes discussion of basic safety, techniques, gear, and some helpful tips on everything from how to drive in the snow to having sex in a tent. Not being a Canadian, of course he doesn’t touch the topic of making love in a canoe. Some things are better left to the experts. In Chapter 1, Man Versus Wild, Leonard introduces readers to the kinds of activities to consider, from hiking to sea kayaking to sledding; where these activities can be enjoyed, from city parks to BLM (Bureau of Land Management) spaces; and the gear that is required, optional, or superfluous. Chapter 2 is called Staying Alive, where I learned lots of interesting stuff, such as how to remove cactus spines and what to do if you are swarmed by bees. Next comes what was for me the most interesting and useful chapter, In the Mountains, the longest chapter along with In the Backcountry. Here Leonard provides basic info on reading topo maps, hiking etiquette, acclimating to high elevation hiking, food while hiking, and where to pee on the trail. In the Water focuses largely on canoeing and kayaking, with a bit of space for white-water rafting and swimming. One note – in explaining how to steer a boat with a motor, Leonard fails to observe the need for a licence to drive a motorized boat in some jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, or the risks of giving the tiller to a child. But extra kudos for emphasizing more than once the importance of life jackets. Chapter 5 is called In the Backcountry, but it’s still not too hard-core for novices, covering basics of camping and backpacking before advancing to drinking water and cooking on the trail. He wraps it up with a chapter encouraging readers to consider winter activities. On Snow covers the basics of sledding, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Hand-drawn illustrations by Seth Neilson are peppered throughout the book, but they don’t always offer the best instruction. For instance, photos of poison oak and poison ivy would have been an improvement over the illustration provided. I also found it a bit disorganized. Why insert the tenting instructions between how to start a campfire and how to collect firewood and split wood? When I land in a camp the first step is setting up the tent, not starting a fire. One thing missing from this book is a list of resources, such as websites and suppliers. Perhaps in a future edition Leonard could reorganize the many lists into an appendix. Finally, the table of contents lists an index but it wasn’t yet available in the advance copy I reviewed. Overall a very good selection for the novice, and worthwhile for those with an intermediate skillset. Easily accessible and of interest to teen readers as well as adults. My thanks to publisher Artisan Books for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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