In no particular order, I have started keeping a list of books for hikers & backpackers (or those that love reading about outdoor adventures on the trail) to read in their downtime. As I come across books I think are read-worthy, I will add them here.
I Hike – “I never set out to hike 10,000 miles. It just sort of happened over the course of a decade.” And so goes Lawton Grinter’s compelling collection of short stories that have been over ten years and 10,000 trail miles in the making.
The Last Season – Destined to become a classic of adventure literature, The Last Season examines the extraordinary life of legendary backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson and his mysterious disappearance in California’s unforgiving Sierra Nevada mountains as perilous as they are beautiful. Eric Blehm’s masterful work is a gripping detective story interwoven with the riveting biography of a complicated, original, and wholly fascinating man.
Into Thin Air – A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more–including Krakauer’s–in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s epic account of the May 1996 disaster.
A Walk Across America – “I started out searching for myself and my country,” Peter Jenkins writes, “and found both.” In this timeless classic, Jenkins describes how disillusionment with society in the 1970s drove him out onto the road on a walk across America. His experiences remain as sharp and telling today as they were twenty-five years ago — from the timeless secrets of life, learned from a mountain-dwelling hermit, to the stir he caused by staying with a black family in North Carolina, to his hours of intense labor in Southern mills. Many, many miles later, he learned lessons about his country and himself that resonate to this day — and will inspire a new generation to get out, hit the road and explore.
Thirst: 2600 Miles From Home – In her new memoir, Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home, Heather, whose trail name is “Anish,” conveys not only her athleticism and wilderness adventures, but also shares her distinct message of courage–her willingness to turn away from the predictability of a more traditional life in an effort to seek out what most fulfills her. Amid the rigors of the trail–pain, fear, loneliness, and dangers–she discovers the greater rewards of community and of self, conquering her doubts and building confidence. Ultimately, she realizes that records are merely a catalyst, giving her purpose, focus, and a goal to strive toward.
Braving It – The powerful and affirming story of a father’s journey with his teenage daughter to the far reaches of Alaska. Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to only a handful of people, is a harsh and lonely place. So when James Campbell’s cousin Heimo Korth asked him to spend a summer building a cabin in the rugged Interior, Campbell hesitated about inviting his fifteen-year-old daughter, Aidan, to join him: Would she be able to withstand clouds of mosquitoes, the threat of grizzlies, bathing in an ice-cold river, and hours of grueling labor peeling and hauling logs? Read my full review here.
Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon – Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in the most famous of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders. Two veterans of decades of adventuring in Grand Canyon chronicle the first complete and comprehensive history of Canyon misadventures. These episodes span the entire era of visitation from the time of the first river exploration by John Wesley Powell and his crew of 1869 to that of tourists falling off its rims today. Read my complete review here.
Chicas on the Appalachian Trail – Bestselling author Jen Beck Seymour thru-hiked the trail in 2017, and she understands the fears and doubts that may hinder some women from following their hearts. In this book, she gives you the answers you need to these (and more) questions.
Jen also interviews 12 inspirational women who recently hiked the trail who share their stories with all the honest, down-and-dirty details about the challenges they faced before, during, and after their hikes. Read my full review here.
Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail: 100 Tips, Tricks, Traps, and Facts – Bestselling authors Greg Seymour and Jen Beck Seymour, who completed the trail on their first attempt, share their insights and personal stories in this easy-to-use guide. Their 100 tips, tricks, traps, and facts tell you everything you need to know to plan a successful thru-hike. This book also includes a full list of thru-hiker slang words, as well as four different hikers’ gear lists for you to peruse.
The Barefoot Sisters Southbound – At the ages of twenty-five and twenty-one, Lucy and Susan Letcher set out to accomplish what thousands of people attempt each year: thru-hike the entire 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The difference between them and the others? They decided to hike the trail barefoot. Quickly earning themselves the moniker of the Barefoot Sisters, the two begin their journey at Mount Katahdin and spend eight months making their way to Springer Mountain in Georgia. As they hike, they write about their adventures through the 100-mile Wilderness, the rocky terrain of Pennsylvania, and snowfall in the Great Smoky Mountains–a story filled with humor and determination. It’s as close as one can get to hiking the Appalachian Trail without strapping on a pack.
Lost on the Appalachian Trail – Join Kyle and his little dog “Katana” as they take you along for every step of their 2,185 mile adventure hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. Confront the terrain, severe weather, injury, dangerous wildlife and questionable characters as you grow and learn as Kyle did from start to finish of this epic adventure. Make some friends for life, learn the finer points of long distance hiking, and realize that what you take within your backpack is not nearly as important as what you bring within yourself… This exciting and oftentimes humorous narrative does more than simply tell the story of Kyle and Katana’s adventures on trail. You will be inspired while learning what it takes mentally and physically to accomplish an undertaking such as hiking thousands of miles through mountainous wilderness while braving countless obstacles all determined to make you quit. Nobody said it was easy, but if you can make it to the end, your life will be changed forever.
AWOL on the Appalachian Trail – In 2003, David Miller left his job, family, and friends to fulfill a dream and hike the Appalachian Trail. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is Miller’s account of this thru-hike along the entire 2,172 miles from Georgia to Maine. On page after page, readers are treated to rich descriptions of the valleys and mountains, the isolation and reverie, the inspiration that fueled his quest, and the life-changing moments that can only be experienced when dreams are pursued. While this book abounds with introspection and perseverance, it also provides useful passages about safety and proper gear, showing a professional hiker’s preparations and tenacity. This is not merely a travel guide, but a beautifully written and highly personal view into one man’s adventure and what it means to make a lifelong vision come true.
Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. One Step at a Time – In April 2008, Ed Stafford set off to become the first man ever to walk the entire length of the Amazon. He started on the Pacific coast of Peru, crossed the Andes Mountain range to find the official source of the river. His journey leads on through parts of Colombia and right across Brazil; all while outwitting dangerous animals, machete-wielding indigenous people as well as negotiating injuries, weather, and his own fears and doubts. Yet, Stafford was undeterred. On his grueling 860-day, 4,000-plus mile journey, Stafford witnessed the devastation of deforestation firsthand, the pressure on tribes due to loss of habitats as well as nature in its true-raw form. Jaw-dropping from start to finish, Walking the Amazon is the unforgettable and gripping story of an unprecedented adventure.
Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback – Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company. Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.
The Long Green Tunnel: Notes from the Trail – A young man flew from Philadelphia to Maine to follow his dream. This is not his story. Instead, it is the story of another young man in search of his dream. Through the mud, the mosquitoes, and face-to-face moose encounters, he found the path to take him from where he began to where he had to go – and that made all the difference. It is a story of wrong turns, failed relationships, courage, and fear. It takes place on a hike, but this is no more a book on hiking than Huckleberry Finn was a book on navigation. The Long Green Tunnel confronts the challenge of two people working together without first agreeing on a shared vision, and without testing that vision against the hardships any journey will bring. Truth or fiction? The hike really did happen, the people are real – only the names of the dogs have been changed. It is not just a hiking book, but a book about journeys.
The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself on the Pacific Crest Trail – When Dan White and his girlfriend announced their intention to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, Dan’s parents—among others—thought they were nuts. How could two people who’d never even shared an apartment together survive six months in the desert with little more than a two-person tent and some trail mix? But when these addled adventurers, dubbed “the Lois and Clark Expedition” by their benevolent trail-guru, set out for the American wilderness, the hardships of the trail—and one delicious-looking cactus—test the limits of love and sanity.
Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail – After graduating from college, Jennifer isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life. Through inexperienced and unprepared, she feels drawn to the Appalachian Trail and sets out along on the long-distance footpath that stretches 2, 175 miles from Georgia to Maine. The next five months are the most physically and emotionally challenging of her life—coping with blisters and aching shoulders, hiking through endless torrents of rain and a blizzard, facing unwanted company and encountering tragedy. The trail becomes a modern-day Odyssey that tests Jennifer’s faith in God, humanity and herself. But even at her lowest points, it provides enduring friendships, unexpected laughter, and the gift of self-discovery. With every step she takes Jennifer transitions from an over-confident college graduate to a student of the trail. As she travels along the ridges of the ancient mountain chain, she realizes that she isn’t walking through nature—she realizes she is part of nature. And she learns that the Appalachian Trails is more than a 2,175 mile hike: it is a journey that will change a person forever.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit – Many people dream of escaping modern life. Most will never act on it—but in 1986, twenty-year-old Christopher Knight did just that when he left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the woods. He would not have a conversation with another person for the next twenty-seven years. Drawing on extensive interviews with Knight himself, journalist Michael Finkel shows how Knight lived in a tent in a secluded encampment, developing ingenious ways to store provisions and stave off frostbite during the winters.
The Trail Provides: A Boy’s Memoir of Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail – Disillusioned by the corporate lifestyle, David finds himself unemployed and desperate for change. Bradley, his older, more adventurous, and slightly-wreckless college fraternity brother presents an enticing offer. Just a few weeks later, the two inexperienced hopefuls abandon society and plunge into a soul-searching sojourn to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile Mexico-to-Canada footpath–barefoot. At the trail’s mercy from day one, the two hikers face the endless pains of walking, rising tensions, and falling behind to the coming winter. The Trail Provides is a thru-hiking memoir filled with stories about companionship and lessons learned, dreams and reality, and leaving everything behind for the desire of transformation, insight, and self-discovery. Now, let’s begin the journey…
Divided: A Walk on the Continental Divide Trail – Once a person hikes a long trail, they catch the bug, but does it get any easier the second time around? Four years after starting the Appalachian Trail with his brother, Brian takes to the Continental Divide Trail for his second thru-hike in familiar company. However, trail life is not always as rewarding and romantic as the pictures you see or second-hand stories you hear. “Divided” provides an accurate account of life on trail: what hikers ponder, eat, love, loathe, and the questions they tire of answering. Some moments are too short, some are painfully long while others are whisked away unceremoniously with the wind. Follow along on the journey as Brian navigates difficulties, successes, and everything in between while attempting to walk from Mexico to Canada.