New eBook guides to National Park trails

eBook CoversA new series of trail guides in eBook format has been published by Summerthought. Designed for Kindle readers, tablets and iPhones, and utilizing the free Kindle app, the series works as an affordable alternative or supplement to the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.

Each guide includes trail summaries, descriptions, and km-by-km distance outlines from the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide plus two features lacking in the print edition—a colour photo and  map for each individual trail.

Titles are available from amazon.ca in Canada and include complete coverage of trails at Lake Louise ($2.99) and Lake O’Hara ($2.99) and a selection of the best day trips in Banff National Park ($4.99) and Jasper National Park ($4.99). By clicking on these links, you can view a sample of each title. The eBooks are also available from amazon.com in the U.S. at a cost adjusted for the value of the dollar.

Print guidebooks vs eBooks

As someone who has spent his entire life surrounded by print books, it is often difficult to embrace books on an iPad. There is something special about the feel of a “real” book and its value as an object on my bookshelf. It is a memory of turning pages and discovery made years before. Even if I seldom remove it from the shelf, it still holds great significance.

But I also remember a trip to Europe and making my way around Switzerland, Italy and France with a backpack. Riding the rails between the best mountain hiking in the Alps, I lugged two trail guides and a pair of general guidebooks that weighed in at just under 2 kg and gobbled up space in my bulging pack.

Compare that to a tablet that weighs 308 g and slips into a small pocket inside your pack. A tablet can carry as many guidebooks as you fancy, an endless variety of maps, and more recreational reading (travel lit, histories, novels, etc) than you’ll ever read on a single trip. Not to mention news, weather, music and all the other stuff we use every day at home or on the road.

More eBook advantages

Most visitors are only interested in a few half-day or day trips and don’t require a comprehensive guide to all the trails or remote backpacks. Summerthought’s eBooks provide a selection of the most rewarding trips to specific parks and areas.

Hikers have been photocopying pages from the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide for years. Some even tear pages from the book rather than carry it with them. But with an eBook, you can quickly print off the distance outline or a map or the entire trail description.

When something changed on a trail in the past, we would have to wait for two or three years for a reprint to get new information into a description. Now we can input new information whenever it’s needed.

The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide has always been printed in black & white to keep the retail price reasonable. With an eBook, there is no additional cost in providing colour photos and maps.

We can provide links to a wide variety of supplementary information about specific trails, park policy, the latest trail reports and weather. While you can always look these details up on your own, the links are a quick, direct reference.

Need a guide for tomorrow’s hike? All you have to do is go to Amazon and make a purchase with a single click. The book will be on your computer, tablet or phone instantaneously. (I’ve often used this convenience when visiting a new area and looking for hiking trails.)

And eBooks are always less expensive than print editions since you’ve eliminated the cost of production—composition, paper, ink, binding, etc.

And a few cons

While eBooks are great for doing research at home, they don’t work quite as well in the field. Battery life for tablets and phones is always a hassle. Though screens and brightness controls have improved in recent years, I never find it as easy to read a tablet outdoors as I do a print edition. And even when my tablet is in a protective case, I’m reluctant to toss it into a pack with the same abandon as a paperback book.

Plus, my brain has yet to totally adapt to the digital world. I don’t visually process a digital book or map the same way I do on paper. For many of us, there is comfort in a well-thumbed book with a disintegrating cover and a myriad of bookmarks rising from its pages that mark the trails we’ve hiked and the ones that lie ahead.

But in the meantime, even though I’m the co-author, I’m happy to pay the shot and download all the new Summerthought titles. For the price and convenience, it’s worth it.