Many people claim they venture into nature to find themselves, but Diana Helmuth doesn't buy it. In How to Suffer Outside, her helpful and hilarious guide to all things backpacking, Helmuth proposes a different reality: "In nature, everything is distinctly not about you. Wake up--no one cares. Eat breakfast--no one cares. Pack up your shit--no one cares." Instead of a strike against roughing it, this is actually an endorsement. For Helmuth, journeying into the wilderness proves her endurance and strength: "Waking up after that first night and realizing you're alive, and still have ten fingers and ten toes, is the greatest rush of self-confidence I've ever experienced." With empathetic, good-natured humor, her book critiques modern hiking culture while outlining everything beginners need to know, such as buying high-quality gear on a budget, purifying water and even pooping outdoors. "Yes," she quips about the latter, "it deserves its own chapter."
Helmuth grew up backpacking with her mother, and she attended a high school program geared toward wilderness survival. She has also hiked extensively all over the world. For these reasons, sometimes her claims that she's just like the average reader can feel a bit disingenuous--but it's also this outdoorsy cred that makes her trustworthy. After finishing this book, first-time backpackers can have relative certainty that they will not climb a mountain in jeans that will later become drenched and cause hypothermia. Instead, they'll get the chance to be alone with their thoughts--a rare gift, even if that's where the self-discovery stops. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer