The best way to hone your backpacking skills is to get outside and backpack, but making free time for a multi-day hike is challenging. Inclement weather and crazy work schedules often get in the way. No need to let these life obstacles stop you from dreaming and planning your next outdoor adventure. Arm yourself with knowledge from the various books we recommend below.
Our list has something for everyone, from heart-wrenching and inspiring memoirs to must-have handbooks that will help you up your game on your long-distance adventures.
Table of Contents
- Inspirational Stories
- 1. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery
- 2. Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anderson
- 3. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
- 4. Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn
- 5. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
- 6. Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago by Beth Jusino
- 7. Hold For Hiker Trash by K.A. Hrycik
- 8. The Wilderness Idiot: Lessons from an Accidental Adventurer by Ted Alvarez
- 9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
- Hiking and Backpacking Guides
- 10. The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka
- 11. On Trails: An Explanation by Robert Moor
- 12. How to Suffer Outside: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking and Backpacking by Diana Helmuth
- 13. Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike by Liz Thomas
- 14. The Backpacker’s Field Manual by Rick Curtis
- 15. A Woman’s Guide to the Wild: Your Complete Outdoor Handbook by Ruby McConnell
- 16. The Long Distance Runner’s Guide to Injury Prevention and Treatment by Brian J. Krabak et al.
- Trail-Specific Guides
- Other Recommended Reads
- Best Backpacking Books: Final Thoughts
1. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery
Read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk and you’ll encounter the real-life folk heroine of Emma Gatewood. Her true story is legendary. She was the first woman to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, and she did it not once, not twice, but three times. She was the first person to hike it three times.
Gatewood was a survivor. Mother to eleven children, she suffered years of abuse at her husband’s hand. When her husband had passed and her children were grown, she set out to hike the Appalachian Trail at 67 years old. She entered the woods wearing a pair of keds and a satchel with a handful of items she needed.
2. Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anderson
Follow the struggles of Heather “Anish” Anderson as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at a record-setting pace.
The tale is a highly personal story and very revealing. Anderson digs deep into her soul as she powers through dehydration, sleep deprivation, and nighttime wildlife encounters. You’ll feel her agony of hiking 40 miles per day as you root for her to finish her journey.
3. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Author Cheryl Strayed lost everything – her mother, her family, and her marriage. She was broken and hit the trail to heal. She had no prior hiking experience, but that didn’t stop her from hiking the PCT. This brutally raw hiking book details Strayed’s personal redemption as she travels over 2,000 miles by foot. It’s a journey into nature you won’t forget.
4. Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn
Follow Carrot Quinn, a whimsical and free soul who left the trappings of the city to find freedom on the Pacific Crest Trail. Quinn meets up with an eclectic group of strangers who join together to complete this trek. The story is part hiking diary and part travelog. The lively stories and the beautifully written descriptions of the natural world will captivate you.
5. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Author Bill Bryson is known worldwide for his vivid and humorous travel stories. Searching for a true American adventure, Bryson decided to hike the Appalachian and chronicle that journey. Bryson grabbed an old friend to accompany him, and the pair hit the trail in Georgia.
A Walk in the Woods is entertaining, but also polarizing. Some love the comedic relief and witty observations of life on the trail. Others complain that Bryson only walked a portion of the trail and seemed to make fun of the eccentric hikers he encountered.
Eventually turned into a movie, A Walk in the Woods was a New York Times bestseller and flooded the AT with hikers inspired by the book.
6. Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago by Beth Jusino
Walking to the End of the World is a lovely hiking memoir about an average couple who embark on the adventure of a lifetime. The pair followed the ancient path of the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St James.
The trail is a pilgrimage route, created in the tenth and eleventh centuries. It ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, where the Apostle Saint James is thought to be buried.
Jusino draws us in with her awe at the landscape, and the fascinating people she meets along the way. There’s also a lesson to be learned in Jusino’s physical challenges and journey of self-discovery. She reminds us that anyone can backpack, even if they are a couch potato with no hiking experience. It just takes some determination.
7. Hold For Hiker Trash by K.A. Hrycik
Take a peek into the world of the thru-hiker and how they think in this insightful account. Author Hrycik started off as a newbie hiker who was skeptical of every hiker she met. Over time, she embraced the thru-hiking culture and ultimately became the hiker trash she initially feared.
You won’t find detailed descriptions of flora and fauna you’ll find in nature. What you will discover is a fascinating book on thru-hiking culture and the charming characters who embrace that way of life. This light-hearted story appeals to hikers and non-hikers.
8. The Wilderness Idiot: Lessons from an Accidental Adventurer by Ted Alvarez
Author Ted Alvarez’s wilderness approach is “just say yes.” He believes there is no adventure that is too hard or scary not to try at least once. Don’t believe it? Then read this collection of wilderness short stories.
You’ll shake your head at the ridiculous situations in which author Ted Alvarez finds himself. You’ll also find yourself yearning to test your own limits to see how far you can hike or high you can climb.
9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The book that minted a million (or more) vagabonding youths and broke just as many hearts. Jon Krakauer’s seminal account of Christopher McCandless’ epic, spiritual quest across the US and into the Alaskan wilderness in pursuit of “something” is perhaps the most impactful backpacking book of the past few decades.
Hiking and Backpacking Guides
10. The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka
Andrew Skurka is a legendary backpacker and guide with thousands and thousands of miles under his belt. When he shares his knowledge of lightweight backpacking gear, you should listen.
Skurka also is a superb storyteller, intertwining gear advice with colorful tales from the trail. He tells you what you need and why you need it for a successful multi-day hiking trip.
Though some of the specific gear choices may be older, this book is a good starting point so you don’t waste time and money on gear you don’t need. Take Skurka’s advice and use that knowledge to generate your own list of hiking gear.
11. On Trails: An Explanation by Robert Moor
Most guidebook writers focus on the logistics of a long-distance hike, but not Robert Moor. Moor takes a different approach asking the “why” and “how” about walking and hiking trails.
How are the paths formed? Why do we choose to follow them? Moor traveled the globe studying the science, history, philosophy, and natural history surrounding the footpaths we walk. Moor weaves these ideas into a story celebrating the natural world. It’ll inspire your mind and your body.
12. How to Suffer Outside: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking and Backpacking by Diana Helmuth
How to Suffer Outside takes a humorous approach to hiking advice. The book covers everything you want to know and those things you don’t want to know about hiking. It covers those “delicate” topics you may be afraid to ask, like how to poop in the woods and not step in it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a casual hiker or beginning backpacker. If you want a good laugh while learning to hike long distances, this is the book for you.
13. Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike by Liz Thomas
The Art of the Thru-Hike by author Liz Thomas provides hard-earned, practical advice on completing a thru-hike. It’s written by an experienced hiker, a Triple Crowner who hiked the big three – the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail.
The backpacking guide includes tips on scheduling your journey, planning resupplies, and more. She also includes snippets from other long-distance hikers who offer alternative advice and strategies for a successful multi-day hiking trip.
14. The Backpacker’s Field Manual by Rick Curtis
More than just a list of must-have gear, this field manual by Rick Curtis includes backcountry survival skills and trail-tested tips from experienced backpackers. You’ll learn how to treat common injuries, bear-proof your camp, monitor the weather, and more. Though the gear list may be outdated, the tips stand the test of time.
15. A Woman’s Guide to the Wild: Your Complete Outdoor Handbook by Ruby McConnell
A book by women and for women who aspire to camp, hike, or backpack in the wilderness. This fun and practical guidebook covers women-only topics like how to pee without soaking your shoes and dealing with your period on a long-distance trek. It’s a must-have read before you venture into the great outdoors.
16. The Long Distance Runner’s Guide to Injury Prevention and Treatment by Brian J. Krabak et al.
Though written for long-distance runners, the tips in this guidebook also apply to long-distance hiking. You’ll find reliable information on hydration, nutrition, and injury prevention. There’s an excellent section on foot care, which is critical for a successful hike.
17. The A.T. Guide by David Miller
The A.T. Guide is a must-have for thru-hikers planning to tackle the Appalachian Trail. You’ll find trailhead information, shuttle and hostel services, elevation profiles, and more. It’s available in digital format for your phone or a pocketable paperback version for use on the trail.
The paperback features tear-off sheets, so you only have to carry the pages for a specific section. You can discard pages from completed sections and place upcoming sections in mail drops.
18. CDT Planning Guide – Digital Version
The Continental Divide Trail is unlike any other long-distance trail in the United States. The 3,100-mile trail meanders from the deserts of New Mexico through Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. It eventually ends at the Canadian border. This guide is a must-have for those considering a trek across this remote wilderness.
19. The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker’s Companion by Karen Berger
The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Companion is more than a trail guide. The book shares the trail’s history, and the natural world all hikers will see. It’s a great starting point for those who want to tackle the PCT someday.
Other Recommended Reads
- Shantaram by David Roberts
- AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller
- Just Passin’ Thru by Winton Porter
Best Backpacking Books: Final Thoughts
A long-distance hiking trip can be the adventure of a lifetime or the worst outing you’ve ever experienced. Lay the groundwork for a successful journey with our list of the best backpacking books. Get informed and then get outside on your own adventures.
Did you enjoy our list? Is there a book or guide that deserves a mention that we missed? Please discuss them in the comments. Also, share our post with experienced backpackers, budding backpackers, or anyone else who could benefit from this list. Shopping for a hiker friend or family member? These hiking books make an excellent gift for outdoor enthusiasts.