Books for Hikers and Backpackers (Revised & Updated)

All of the works listed below have a place in my library at home. They represent a mixture of educational and philosophical texts; with a sprinkling of humour, poetry and social commentary thrown into the literary mix. The books are listed in alphabetical order according to the last name of the author:

Outdoorsy bookshelf at Casa Honan.

  • Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire: A thought provoking compilation of vignettes about life in the wilderness. He may not be everyone’s cup of literary tea, but there is no denying Abbey’s love and passion for America’s southwest:

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”

  • Auerbach, Paul. Medicine for the Outdoors (6th edition, 2015): I first picked up a copy of this book in the late 90’s. Excellent reference text. According to Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the USA, Auerbach’s book is the “most comprehensive and authoritative work in the field.”
  • Burns, Bob. Wilderness Navigation (3rd Edition, 2015): Clearly written, useful for beginners as well as veterans looking for a bit of a refresher. Includes some handy practical exercises at the back of the book. Written by the co-author of the ‘Navigation’ chapter of the classic, “Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills.” (see below).
  • Cicerone Press Guidebooks: For more than four decades, Cicerone Press have been producing highly regarded guidebooks for hiking, trekking, climbing and cycling. Over the years their focus has primarily been on the UK (where they are based) and Europe, however, in recent times they have been increasingly featuring other areas around the world such as the Himalaya, Andes and Atlas mountains.
  • Clelland, Mike. Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips (2011) 153 tips on going lighter, courtesy of the same guy who did the excellent illustrations for Don Ladigan’s book (see below). Practical information mixed in with liberal doses of quirkiness and humour. Makes ultralight backpacking sound fun and enjoyable. Thumbs up.
  • Curtis, Rick. The Backpacker’s Field Manual (2005 edition): Arguably still the most comprehensive “how to” backpacking guide on the market. An excellent reference book that deserves a place on every hiker’s bookshelf.
  • Fletcher, Colin. The CompleteWalker 3 (1984), River (1998) and The Man who Walked through Time (1968): I’ve re-read CW3 a couple of times over the years. Whilst the gear sections are understandably dated, Fletcher’s dry sense of humour and his passion for the natural world remain as fresh and poignant as ever.

“If you judge safety to be the paramount consideration in life you should never, under any circumstances, go on long hikes alone. Don’t take short hikes alone, either – or, for that matter, go anywhere alone. And avoid at all costs such foolhardy activities as driving, falling in love, or inhaling air that is almost certainly riddled with deadly germs………And never, of course, explore the guts of an idea that seems as if it might threaten one of your more cherished beliefs. In your wisdom you will probably live to be a ripe old age. But you may discover, just before you die, that you have been dead for a long, long time.” (Complete Walker 3).

For fans of Fletcher’s work, I highly recommend picking up a copy of “Walking Man“, an excellent biography by Robert Wehrman.

  • Graham, Stephen. The Gentle Art of Tramping (1927): A wonderful book for wandering spirits and outdoor enthusiasts. Written some 90 years ago, it contains some memorable nuggets of wisdom such as:

The less you carry the more you will see, the less you spend the more you will experience.”

  • Grinter, Lawton. I Hike (2012). A collection of short stories derived from more than 10,000 miles of hiking on some of America’s finest trails. Funny, poignant, thought-provoking and entertaining. Reading “I Hike”, makes you feel like you are sitting around a camp fire, swapping yarns with a bunch of long distance hikers over a beer or three.
  • Gros, Frederic, The Philosophy of Walking (2014).  An insightful look at how the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, can effect our way of thinking and quality of life. Gros examines the essential role that walking played in the work of philosophers and writers such as Thoreau, Kant, Rimbaud, Rosseau and Nietzsche:

“When there is really nothing left to do or believe, except to remember, walking helps retrieve the absolute simplicity of presence, beyond all hope, before any expectation.”

  • Honan, Cam / Gestalten, Wanderlust: Hiking on Legendary Trails (2017). Yep, you read that correctly. I wrote and co-edited a book earlier this year. I’ve been meaning to mention it for a while, and now seemed like as good a time as any. In a nutshell, it’s a 256 page coffee table book that features 32 terrific hikes from around the world (e.g. Tibet’s Mount Kailash Circuit, California’s Lowest to Highest Route, Tasmania’s Western Arthurs Traverse, Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit, Italy’s Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites, and the legendary Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt). The book contains background history, trail descriptions, overview maps, and most notably, scores of spectacular wilderness photographs:

“Whether it be through far-flung deserts, luxuriant forests, or majestic alpine terrain, when we choose to walk rather than fly or drive, something wonderful happens: our awareness and appreciation of the natural world begins to grow. It can be the faint sound of a gently meandering stream, the distinct smell of decaying leaves on a crisp autumn morning, or even a bowl of cereal that never tasted better than when eaten on a mountaintop at sunrise.” (Excerpt from the Writer’s Note / Introduction)

The ‘Lowest to Highest Route’, from Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney, is one of the 32 hikes featured in ‘Wanderlust’.

  • Jardine, Ray. Beyond Backpacking (2001) and Trail Life (2009). Basically the same book with a different title. Jardine was the man who popularised the current movement towards going lighter in the early 90’s. Whilst some of his ideas may not be for everyone, there is no denying that his innovative approach is founded upon extensive personal experience in a wide range of environments.
  • Kephart, Horace. Camping & Woodcraft (1906): Although gear may have changed, the philosophy & skills described in this wilderness classic are still relevant: “To equip a pedestrian with shelter, bedding, utensils, food, and other necessities, in a pack so light and small that he can carry it without overstrain, is really a fine art.”  
  • Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums (1958). Possibly my favourite Kerouac novel. I first read it in the late 1990’s, not coincidentally during the same period I discovered the writing of Gary Synder (see below), who was the inspiration for one of the book’s main character’s, Japhy Ryder.

“I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.” 

Mike Clelland, author of ‘Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips‘ also provided the illustrations for ‘Lighten Up‘.

  • Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac (1949). I recently revisited Leopold’s classic work some 26 years after first reading it. For anyone interested in the nature of human’s relationship with the environment (and I hope that encompasses most folks who follow this site) I highly recommend it. It’s a relatively short book, and although it was first published some 68 years ago, the themes it examines remain more relevant than ever today.
  • Lichter, Justin. Trail Tested (2013). Lightweight backpacking techniques and gear advice from a guy who has walked the walk for over 35,000 miles.
  • Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (8th edition, 2010): This enduring mountaineering text (it was first published in 1960) also has lots of information relevant to hikers and backpackers (e.g. snow skills, wilderness first aid, knots and navigation).
  • Muir, John. My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) and The Yosemite (1912). The father of the conservation movement. I first read Muir’s works as a teenager growing up in Australia. More than quarter of a century later, he remains my favourite wilderness writer.

“After ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.” (The Yosemite)

John Muir

  • Skurka, Andrew. The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide (2017; 2nd Edition). A thorough overview of lightweight backpacking gear and techniques from one of the sport’s leading authorities.
  • Snyder, Gary. Turtle Island (1974) & The Practice of the Wild (1990): Thought-provoking poems and essays. I didn’t get into Snyder until my early 30’s, when I randomly came across a copy of ‘Turtle Island’ in a used bookstore in Queensland, Australia. I’ve been a big fan of his writing ever since:

“Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.” (The Practice of the Wild).

  • Thomas, Liz, Mastering the Art of the Thru Hike (2017). Over the past decade, Liz “Snorkel” Thomas has hiked a lot of long distance trails around North America. That well of experience, combined with an attention to detail and a knack for communicating ideas in a down-to-earth manner, has resulted in a book that represents an excellent resource for aspiring thru-hikers.
  • Thoreau, Henry David. Walden (1854) and Walking (1861): Old Henry David makes an eloquent case for the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of spending time in the wilderness. I especially enjoy reading Thoreau when I’m backpacking, rather than when I’m indoors. The simplicity and directness of his words seem to resonate that little bit more.
  • Tolkien, JRR, The Lord of the Rings (1954). The story of a diverse bunch of guys who went out for a multi-month walk, got up to lots of memorable adventures, met some cool trail angels, took some zero days, had some differences of opinion in regards to route selection, lost one their members due to chest pains, split into separate groups, stood by each other when times were tough, finished their trips at different termini, and, finally, all met up for celebratory beers on the Field of Cormallen at journey’s end.

“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and a string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell.” (Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring – Ed’s Note: I couldn’t resist including this quote with Chrissy just around the corner!)

  • Townsend, Chris. The Backpackers Handbook (4th Edition; 2011). An excellent backpacking resource written in a personal, down to earth style by a man who definitely knows his stuff.
  • Trailblazer Guidebooks: Along with Cicerone Press (mentioned above), the main hiking guidebook company for the UK and Europe over the past couple of decades. As with their counterpart, they have also expanded their geographic horizons over the past decade, and now also feature books for South America, Asia and other destinations around the globe.
  • Twain, Mark. Roughing It (1872). Personal recollections and tall tales from the author’s time in America’s West. My favourite of Twain travel narratives, just nudging out The Innocents Abroad. Not exactly a wilderness book, but what the hey; I love Mark Twain, I love the American West and his stories never fail to bring a big smile to my face.
  • Wallis, Velma. Two Old Women (1993). An Inuit legend of courage and survival. I first read this book while spending a summer up in Alaska in 1998. Not about hiking and backpacking per se, but instead about how spending time in the wilderness can remind us that when given no other choice, many of us are capable of more than we consciously realize.

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Comments

Books for Hikers and Backpackers (Revised & Updated) — 12 Comments

  1. I forgot to mention that blue and yellow book on your shelf….. “101 Glorious Spam Recipes – Volume 2”. Other than that a very nice list. Will second the Wanderlust reco, an outstanding book that will give the reader dozens of cool trips for the future.

    • Thank you for the kind words about “Wanderlust.” I’ll disregard the spam comment. Just the thought of it makes me want to dry heave……….

  2. Congratulations on publishing a book!

    For guides, I really like the Trailblazer ones. Their hand-drawn maps are often more useful than topographical maps, and I like that they include the bus and train schedules to get to certain points on the trail.

  3. Ah Lord of the Rings- love it! Also loved the Lord of the Rings and Bilbo’s (and your) reference to relies and Chrissy day. May I expand a wee bit?
    It’s Chrissy day and everyone’s talking about the Boxing Day test, next thing you know -Uncle Chas has too many sherbets -“pull my finger and see what happens”, Auntie Merl gets on the turps and biffs Nolene ha-the great Ausie Christmas tradition (er nightmare). You are a wag boyo.

  4. If you love the canyon country of the southwest, don’t miss, “David Rust; A Life in the Canyons” by Fredrick Swanson. Rust, born in Caineville, Utah around 1880, built the first trail down the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, builT first cable ferry across the river, was one of the first boatmen in Glen Canyon, and spent most of his life taking tourists from the East on month long horse back trips to every scenic visita in the Four Corners. For those of us who love this country, he is an inspiration, forgotten by the Utah he cared so much about. Take a look, you won’t disappointed.

  5. Thanks Cam for sharing your list. Unfortunately it appears you are not familiar with the books of H.W.Tilman particularly the Seven mountain Travel Books. Nothing but full-on mountain vagabonding through the Karakoram, Himalaya and Tibet. For me his travel style and writing style are the gold standard.

  6. G’day Cam, the Twain reference got me thinking. I am just reading AB Facey’s “A fortunate life”. If you have read it you’ll know he is lost for part of the book in the wilderness of Western Australia as a 13 year old, for 4 days in 1909 and he paints an astonishing picture of his struggle and meeting with some indigenous Australians. Not a walking book per se. but a wilderness book certainly. I highly recommend it to everyone.
    A great humanist book also, this bloke knew how to tell a yarn and describes the Australian psyche and the wilderness in a way others could only dream about. Maybe Tim Winton?

    • “A Fortunate Life”……….I love that book! I read it in my mid-twenties, but after receiving this message, I’m thinking it might be time for a revisit. In regards to Tim Winton, the only book of his that I have read is “Cloudstreet.” Of his other works is there one in particular that you would recommend?

      • Facey is a natural yarner and a incisive observer like Twain. I have read AFL a few times now and each time gain something more. I find this book utterly compelling. Winton is a hard one. Cloudstreet was on so many senior school booklists, I think it may have turned many people off him to a degree. It is my least favourite. I wouldn’t say anything other than these are my most favourite (and again allowed me to learn something more about my own country)and suggest if you should read them do it cold.’The Turning’ is a collection of short stories and evokes rural coastal life. ‘Dirt music’ also has similar themes. ‘Breathe’ is about to hit the big screen and has similar themes. ‘The Riders’ broke all the rules and won him many enemies but it grabbed me. I am not trying to be inscrutable but don’t want to give too much away. If you can, start with ‘The turning’.If Winton grabs you, it would be here I reckon. If not you will not likely regret the few hours you spent. If you have any connection with the sea as a place of “wildness”, “wilderness”, and after all what is a bushwalker but a surfer on land, Winton can be revelatory. Happy Christmas, all the best.

          • Forgot this one-“the Bush” by Don Watson 2014(he wrote the Redfern speech for Paul Keating) a stunning philosophical take on understanding the nature of the Australian bush. One of Australia’s eminent historians and writers. Read it after your Winton if you haven’t already ha ha. Cheers.

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