When I was a tot, my family backpacked every summer. Pitching a tent, starting a fire, and purifying water was all part of my education. However, even after all those years of blister care and gorp, I have learned a lot from these backpacking books. (In fact, it turns out that my family was doing a lot of stuff wrong. Sorry, Mom.) As you prepare for a leap into the wild, peruse these tomes of sage advice! Knowledge is power, and when the power involved is the ability to walk the entire Appalachian trail in one go, power is fun.
One thing. There’s a serious lack of backpacking books out there by, for, or about people of color hiking. That’s because hiking can be fraught for minorities, and that sucks. It also means that this list is very white. However, it’s 100% a myth that people of color don’t do outdoorsy stuff. Check out Outdoor Afro and the Facebook group Hiking While Black to get connected to an amazing, enthusiastic community of African-American hikers. The Bay Area has a Hispanic hikers Meetup too.
Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book: Traveling & Camping Skills for a Wilderness Environment by Allen O’Bannon
There’s a whole series of these, and they’re all both entertaining and educational. The drawings give it a nice informal feel and they’re comparatively light for easy packing.
Backpack Gourmet: Good Hot Grub You Can Make at Home, Dehydrate, and Pack for Quick, Easy, and Healthy Eating on the Trail by Linda Frederick Yaffe
Anyone who’s never had to eat in the woods might be surprised to know how much math goes into this process. If you burn 1800 calories a day sitting around the office, and 2000 calories a day with a brisk morning and afternoon walk, then estimate how much energy you’ll need for a full day of strenuous hiking and cross-reference that with the weight of the grub you’ll need to fuel yourself and the amount that you can physically carry without collapsing. See? You do need this book!
The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Revised and Updated: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills by Rick Curtis
Everyone who heads into the forest should know a few basic things. For example, what do you do about blisters? Because you will get them. You just will. Also, you can’t drink out of natural water sources, even running sources in mountains, because of giardiasis, aka Beaver Fever. As in “a very serious fever and digestive infection carried by beavers,” not “a sudden reckless but endearing adoration of huge aquatic rodents.”
Backpacking 101: Choose the Right Gear, Plan Your Ultimate Trip, Cook Hearty and Energizing Trail Meals, Be Prepared for Emergencies, Conquer Your Backpacking Adventures by Heather Balogh Rochfort
This book is a nice overview for the backpacking newbie. It might seem a little basic and common sense, but there’s nothing wrong with stating the obvious. Just ask anyone who ignored the signs begging park tourists not to feed the giant, extremely strong, aggressive, sharp-toothed carnivores. Speaking of which…
Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herrero
This is the definitive book on bear attacks. Bears are an important part of the ecosystem as well as majestic mystical creatures that can also tear your arm off without much effort and also can outrun many horses. Read it and learn, because this is important safety information.
The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher, C.L. Rawlins
Here’s a classic! Make sure to get Edition 4, because this book first hit the ground in the ’80s. You’ll learn about more than just gear here. There’s an ethical, spiritual, and emotional component to hiking that everyone who enters the woods must understand. Otherwise, you get The Blair Witch Project every time. Guaranteed.
Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille T. Dungy
This is a beautiful book. Dungy talks about the outdoors, being Black, passing her values on to her daughter, and nature. It’s poetry, and, yes, it’s a guidebook. There’s more to hiking than having the right gear and knowing how to find north. This is your hiking guide to the soul.
There’s a science and a philosophy to defecating responsibly in nature. It requires courage, fortitude, and often a spade. You might be wondering what you do with toilet paper. The answer: you may not do with toilet paper if there’s a snowball or a stick around. Healthy AND entertaining!
The Hungry Spork: A Long Distance Hiker’s Guide to Meal Planning by Inga Aksamit
You really can’t plan your meals enough. The absolute last thing you want is to run out of food in the middle of the forest. By the way, don’t think that you’ll be able to snare a rabbit or dig up a wild potato or something. That is all a lot harder than Bear Grylls makes it look. Rabbits are smart, potatoes are scarce, and acorns need to be first ground and then soaked for hours.
In Open Country by Rahawa Haile
While this book is one for the TBR list, having not come out quite yet, excitement about it is building fast. Haile, author of a viral Outdoors article on race and camping, not only discusses her hiking experiences, but what hiking means to her. Read it and bring it along, because everyone needs a good book on the trail.
A Woman’s Guide to the Wild: Your Complete Outdoor Handbook by Ruby McConnell
A lot of women think that they can’t hike because of their periods. That just is not the case. They also wonder if they’ll be strong enough, safe enough, and patient enough to deal with the hiker bros who will talk right down to you as though you were a child on the trail. (Or attempt to get into your sleeping bag.) This is a great guide for people who menstruate or identify as female, but of course a lot of the advice applies across the board. Plus, she’s got one for girls!