Hiking seems like a simple sport – put on your shoes, grab your pack, and start walking! However, there’s a lot to hiking that many of us forget about. Many hikers have found themselves on a trail and realized too late that it’s too long or strenuous for their fitness level, or tried to get some solitude only to find the trail packed with schoolbuses full of kids.
It can be hard to know exactly where you’re going, what you need, and how you should prepare before you go out on the trail – and that’s what hiking books are for! A popular and extensive genre, guide books allow you to get all the most essential details about your destination, and maybe even find some new ones.
In this article, we’ll go over the best hiking books on the shelves – and give you the low down on what to look for, how to choose, and what types of books you need. Finally, we’ll give you some suggestions on our favorite hiking inspiration, and the authors that will get you pumped to get outside.
Region-Specific Guide Books
When it comes to hiking books, most people think guidebooks. These handy books are usually specific to a region – a city, a National Park, or a wilderness area – and give detailed information about hike length and difficulty, trailhead locations, interesting features, and more. In this section, we’ll go through the pros and cons of some of the big-name guide publishers, as well as some of the littler guys.
Falcon Guides – The Big Picture for Anywhere You Go
When you picture a hiking guide in your head, there’s a good chance that a Falcon guide comes to mind. These black and yellow books range in material from identifying animal prints to wilderness first aid, with guides to every type of outdoor activity in-between.
Falcon Guides are a great option for those who want a “big picture” overview of a location. This publisher offers regional guides on popular destinations, including National Parks, National Forests, National Landmarks, and large wilderness regions. Region guides include tips for handling the typical climate, number of visitors, and accommodations, as well as detailed guides on individual hikes.
While these kind of guides are a great introduction to an area and full of useful pointers, they do have a few disadvantages over smaller publishers. Big-name guides often stick to the worn path when it comes to the hikes they choose, and you may find that the hikes and trailheads discussed in these guides are just as easy to find online. Big guide books aren’t updated as often, either – meaning you may not get accurate data on trail closures and changes.
The Little Guys – Pros and Cons of Small Publishers
While big publishing companies like Falcon Guides put out a lot of useful material, they definitely don’t have a monopoly on regional guides. If you plan on visiting a particular destination and want the very best in up-to-date, locals-only trail knowledge, look for guides published by smaller organizations.
Often, local organizations will put together annually-updated guide books on their region that are not only more accurate, but less pricey than the hefty guides. For instance, the Wasatch Mountain Club in Salt Lake City, Utah, helps to publish a detailed trail map of the Wasatch Mountains – and its accompanied by years of experience, trip reports, and local knowledge.
Smaller guides often have the advantage of accuracy and insider-knowledge to the areas they discuss. However, they can often lack in the readability and detail that more vigorously-edited volumes have. Local guides may assume a level of local knowledge already, so you may need to fill in a few gaps.
Next up, we’ll tackle some of the guides that focus less on a region and more on general skills and activities.
General Guide Books
Not all guide books are region-specific, and some of the best focus not on individual trails, but on the activities, preparation, and interpretation you do along the way. In this section, we’ll go through some specific books that we think are worth the money to take your hiking to the next level.
Falcon Guides – Again
Once again, Falcon Guides comes through at the top of the game in activity guides. This publisher features books on pretty much any activity you can think of, written by savvy outdoors adventurers and tested through years of experience.
Falcon offers several guides that any hiker could learn a thing or two from. Beginners can start with basic guides on hiking, winter hiking, and desert hiking, while more advanced explorers will find plenty of know-how with guides on orienteering, backpacking, and outdoor cooking. Once you have the basics covered, there’s plenty more to learn – with books on edible plants and mushroom hunting, knot-tying, weather forecasting, animal tracks, and more.
If you’re a beginner and need some tips to get started, or if you’re a seasoned hiker who wants to expand your knowledge even more, these guides have something for you.
While big publishers tend to have most of the big bases covered, we wanted to take a little extra time to talk about a publisher that’s a little more specialized – Mountaineers Books. If you’ve dreamt of climbing through boulder fields, hiking through alpine moraines, and summitting peaks, this publisher is your go-to for information.
Mountaineers Books offers a huge selection of titles for those with a taste for adventure and a little more experience. Here you can find detailed guides on health and conditioning for outdoor activities, as well as specific guides for healthy knees and spines through all your activities. Mountaineers offers several guides on lightweight climbing, hiking, and backpacking tailored to alpine environments.
Finally, the crown jewel of this publisher is one of the most comprehensive, well-trusted resources on alpine environments, climbing, and hiking. “Mountaineering – The Freedom of the Hills” is now on its ninth edition and has been the informing text for world-class mountaineers for decades. If you want to step your hiking game up and tackle more advanced treks, this is the place to start.
We’ve gone over the nitty-gritty of hiking books; the guides, trail maps, and how-to’s. Now, let’s get into the hiking books that will get you psyched to read your guides – the inspiration.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve already made the decision to hike. However, if you’re on the fence about it or want even more inspiration to get out on the trail, these books are perfect. This section goes over six of our favorite books about hiking, nature, and the wilderness that are sure to get you excited to get out on the trail
A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
We start off our list with one of the most popular contemporary books about hiking. While this isn’t exactly a deep cut, it’s earned its spot on any list for it’s ease to read, lighthearted humor, and emphasis on adventure for everyday people.
A Walk in the Woods is an autobiographical novel about author Bill Bryson’s decision to hike the Appalachian Trail. Accompanied by a long-lost friend and woefully unprepared for the trials ahead, Bryson will inspire you to keep going – no matter how much of a novice you might be.
This novel is short, light, and fun to read through every page. It’s a perfect companion for any hiking or backpacking trip and is sure to make you appreciate the little things around you. If you don’t want to read cover-to-cover, check out the 2015 film adaptation.
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
Our next book is another best-seller that’s made headlines in the last few years. Wild is the story of a young woman who also attempts a thru-hike – this time on the Pacific Crest Trail on America’s West Coast. While Wild contains plenty of humor and moments of fun, this book is less about the absurdity of the hike and more a journey of self-discovery.
Strayed’s journey is an inspiration and is perfect for those who might be trying to find a bit of themselves out on the trail. She details a rough past and a rough go of one of the world’s longest treks, but with positivity and introspection that are infectious. This book has definitely earned its spot on the top-seller lists.
Desert Solitaire – Edward Abbey
Edward Abbey is known for many things. He has been hailed as an influential beat author, a naturalist, a romantic, and an anarchist, but Desert Solitaire needs no genre or politics to define it. This book features a collection of stories from Abbey’s time working for Canyonlands National Park, then in its infancy, but work is far from the focus.
Abbey writes provocatively about his experience with extreme isolation in the deserts of Utah. From befriending snakes to de-friending human companions, he focuses on both the beauty and harshness of the wilderness. This small, intense novel is perfect for slow nights by a fire – especially if you can look up at the stars.
A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold
A Sand County Almanac is known to many as one of the cornerstone books in early conservation. Aldo Leopold, a successful conservationist in 1930’s, writes a series of essays that are far from academic. He wanted to write a book that would bring the message of conservation to the public by highlighting the connection between people and nature – and he succeeded.
The Almanac features short essays – or stories, more accurately – about his encounters with all types of birds and beasts, plants and landscapes. Ranging from light and funny to intense and dire, this book is sure to make you feel a deep connection to the natural world around you. This book is perfect for short breaks and reads more like a book of short stories than anything else.
A Million Steps – Kurt Koontz
A Million Steps is another trekking classic which follows author Kurt Koontz on his journey along the Camino de Santiago route in Spain. Like Wild and A Walk in the Woods, Koontz wasn’t prepared for the way that his journey would change him, and this novel comes off with both humor and depth that are inspiring and interesting to read.
This book isn’t just another travelogue of a long-distance hike. It inspires us to feel connection with our surroundings and accept change in our lives with humility and humor. This is a great book for those who want less of an intense, naturalist read while still finding a sense of connection and natural wonder.
A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf – John Muir
Our final book on our list of inspiration comes from a true master. Considered the father of naturalist writing, John Muir was much more than just an author. He helped conserve some of the most important wild spaces that we still use and wrote about Yosemite National Park in a way that shapes our understanding of nature to this day.
A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf documents some of Muir’s earliest days as a nature writer and conservationist as he walks through the American South in the late 1800’s. His essays are bright, honest, and beautiful, with a delicate balance between nature and his connections with other people along the way.
While A Thousand-Mile Walk is one of Muir’s most influential and highly-regarded books, any piece of his writing is a perfect inspiration on the trail. His essays are sure to rekindle your love of nature and wonder in the wilderness.
We end our list of inspiring hiking books here, but there are plenty more! From Walden to more modern books about mountaineering disasters, to classic young adult fiction like My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, there’s sure to be something out there to inspire you.
Summing Things Up
We’ve given you a bunch of suggestions for books about hiking. From guides to specific regions to how-to books on foraging, fitness, and more, you’ve got all you need to prepare for your next adventure. We also gave you six of our favorite hiking novels to get you inspired out in nature.
Do you have any favorite hiking books? Tell us about them in the comments!