Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or a newbie to the woods, reading books about backpacking is one of the best ways to gain powerful insights into life on the trail, from how to survive camping in bad weather to the most idyllic places to camp. In each of these seven books, you’ll find inspiration and food for thought that will profoundly impact how you spend your time in the great outdoors.
A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson’s seminal memoir, which recounts his experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail, is a classic for a reason. You won’t want to take hiking advice from Bill or his even more inexperienced partner, Stephen Katz, but what this book offers is a reminder of the value humor brings to any backpacking endeavor. While there are serious obstacles with which to contend in the woods—from weather to blisters, wildlife, injuries, and everything in between—it all becomes more manageable when you add a sense of humor into the mix. Bryson’s work is a must-read for anyone who needs a reminder to not take things quite so seriously on the trail.
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, by Marc Reisner
Every backpacker knows that one of the most essential resources on the trail is water. In Reisner’s engaging work, he explores the ongoing “water wars” in America’s west, which put rivers and wilderness at risk. He explains why our water is disappearing and explores the economic, political, and ecological factors that are compounding this disappearance. The book will inspire you to be more mindful of your water consumption both in the woods and back at home.
The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and Camping, by Laura and Guy Waterman
This classic backpacking book was originally published (under a different title) in 1979, and it still holds powerful lessons for today’s backpackers. The recently updated guide calls on backpackers to think carefully about their impact on the wilderness into which they wander—and no detail is left unexamined. The book explores everything from the environmental impact of different types of boot soles to the downsides of campfires and the upsides of dispersed camping. The work is informed by the authors’ decades of experience hiking the mountains of the American northeast, and they present actionable advice for anyone looking to reduce their impact on the environments they love.
Journey On the Crest, by Cindy Ross
If you’re a former backpacker who worries that you’ve hung your boots up for good, then Cindy Ross will inspire you to get back outside. She had hiked the Appalachian Trail earlier in life but then found herself inhabiting a life of drudgery—so she decided to return to the woods in order to regain some clarity. Thus began her adventure along the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 2,600 miles along the western mountains from Mexico to Canada. During her trek, Ross experiences the whole gamut of “worst-case scenarios” for long-distance hikers: She and her hiking partner part ways on the first day, leaving her to hike the trail solo. She just barely survives an almost fatal fall on Sonora Pass. She experiences physical ailments, near-miss wildlife encounters, and emotional challenges as she struggles to forge on. In the process, Ross explores topics that will resonate with anyone who’s spent time outdoors, from the interactions between fellow hikers, to the pitfalls and benefits of long-distance hiking, to the question of why humans go into the wild.
Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat
In Never Cry Wolf, prolific author Farley Mowat chronicles his experiences observing wolf communities in the Arctic. Far from being ruthless killers, Mowat finds the wolves to be devoted family members and enormously intelligent creatures who have developed the skills to survive in even the harshest climates. His observations lead to a re-examination of humanity’s place within nature, a powerful call to conservation, and a reminder of the value that wildness provides to both humans and the rest of the world’s creatures. Read his work, and you’ll be inspired to treat the woods with newfound appreciation—and maybe even work to protect our country’s endangered wolves.
Not Without Peril: 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire, by Nicholas Howe
If you’ve been having a spate of good luck on the trail—perfect weather conditions, injury-free hikes, not a danger in sight—then Not Without Peril will remind you that you should never get too comfortable in the woods. The book chronicles “150 years of misadventure” on Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, which together account for more than 140 fatalities and are thought to afford some of the most dangerous hiking in the United States. The book explores what went wrong in 17 of these mountains’ worst accidents; in so doing, it serves as a powerful reminder that nature can overtake even the most experienced and talented outdoorspeople. Don’t let this scare you off the trail—but do remember to bring your first aid kit.
Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, by Peace Pilgrim
Many of today’s backpackers are obsessed with obtaining the latest and greatest in ultralight gear and other technologies designed to make life easier on the trail. But Peace Pilgrim stands as a reminder that the backpacker’s true needs are few and far between. She walked over 25,000 miles around the United States with virtually no money and no possessions save for the clothes on her back. What she did carry was a simple message: that of the importance of living one’s life with inner peace and helping to bring about peace between people and countries. Her book is an inspiration for anyone who’s looking to get outside of their comfort zone—and a reminder of how little we actually need to survive on the trail.