Books for Hikers and Backpackers

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

  • 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).
  • 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) & 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.
  • Graham, Stephen. The Gentle Art of Tramping (1927): A wonderful book for wandering spirits and outdoor enthusiasts. Written almost 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.”
  • 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.

Outdoorsy Book Shelf at Casa Honan

  • 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.”  
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).

  • Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Walking: 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.
  • 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.
  • Twain, Mark. Roughing It: 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. 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.