What books have you read that have given you a better understanding of an outdoors activity?

Ideally I would like to compile a list for all activities. e.g.:

  • Climbing
  • Canoeing
  • Backpacking
  • Backcountry cooking
  • Bike touring

For instance:

Note: I know that this question is subjective and there is no definitive answer. If someone can think of a way to change the question to make it have a definite answer please feel free to edit. Otherwise, can someone change this question to 'community wiki'? Thanks.

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    Might get a little out of hand... but there is a start below... (not sure that the powers that be like these kinds of questions... but we'll let the people decide!)
    – Lost
    Jan 28, 2013 at 22:58
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    I'm not sure this is a great fit for the site since it essentially asks for a list - I know you point this out, but I think this would still be better served in a tag wiki or FAQ rather than a question.
    – berry120
    Jan 28, 2013 at 23:15
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    If this question is going to stick around, I really think a Community wiki is the way to go: outdoors.stackexchange.com/a/3600/86 -- otherwise it will become a pain to follow
    – Lost
    Jan 28, 2013 at 23:48
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    We'll make it a wiki and convert it to a FAQ when it is has enough good content. Jan 29, 2013 at 16:10
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    I'm voting to close this as off-topic because it's opinion-based and too broad. Also, it's clearly related to similar questions which are also closed. For example, outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/7059, outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/1493, outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/1330. Nov 24, 2017 at 22:00

6 Answers 6

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    Unfortunately out of print, so adding as a comment rather than answer - for Canoeing is Bill Mason's "Song of the Paddle" amazon.ca/Song-The-Paddle-Illustrated-Wilderness/dp/155013082X/… if you see one in a used store - buy it!
    – sdg
    Jan 28, 2013 at 22:59
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    @DonBranson A friend of mine makes awesome pizza dough at home... his recipe: NOLS cookery.
    – Lost
    Jan 28, 2013 at 23:41

Ray is one of the pioneers of ultralight backpacking, if not the pioneer, not to mention expert kayaker and freeclimber. This book changed how I see backpacking from the Boy Scout/Army way to a better way. Ray's guidance made backpacking fun for me.

Okay, here's one that's not factual. Well, there are some facts, but that's probably an oversight. It's a pretty funny account of a couple guys that almost through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, except for a little yellow-blazing somewhere in the middle. There are hovercrafts and aliens.


This book covers it all. Do you need to know about that snake that bit you? Look in here. Did someone fall and break their ankle? This has you covered. Do you have rampant diarrhea? How dangerous is that rash? Will eating snow fix your dehydration?

This book will have you covered if you're a dirt bag, weekend climber or a serious, career-long member of search-and-rescue.

Admittedly, this book is over 2000 pages long, so you can't take it with you backpacking. And it is no-joke expensive. But if you're committed, this book is the most authoritative source out there.

I haven't studied it all, but before going to Joshua Tree I intend to study the Hell out of the chapter on snakes. That is how I use this book, and I have found it very helpful.

If you want to climb hard, you have to train. This is THE book you need to read. It covers the mental, physical, and technical aspects of climbing. It gives a clear path to improving your climbing and defining your personal training needs.

  • Oh, excellent on the Wilderness Medicine. Now that I have friends tagging along with me, it seems that there's some responsibility that I have to increase my knowledge. Jan 28, 2013 at 23:46
  • @DonBranson Exactly. And good for you. Please notice what I said about 2000 pages. And the book is dense, too. I am also taking some CPR and wilderness first-aid classes at my local REI this month. If you live by a University, they frequently have the same classes. Stay safe. Jan 28, 2013 at 23:51
  • It's also pricey! Jan 28, 2013 at 23:57
  • @DonBranson I almost forgot that. I added it to my post. That is important information. Jan 28, 2013 at 23:59

This is essentially a huge catalog of all the mistakes you can make while climbing and being in the mountains, supported by statistics and scientific tests. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an English translation of the book, which is a bit weird given that I have read a Czech one. If you can read German and didn’t read the book yet, certainly go for it.


The bible for UK mountaineering is Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir (often simply referred to as 'Langmuir'). This is an amazing book. It is published by the UK Mountain Leader Training Board and used to form the basis of training for official Mountain Leader qualification. If you only read one outdoorsey book, make it this one.

I would also recommend Hill Walking, which is the book that replaced it as the official qualification handbook.

If you are going to Scotland in the winter you should read Chance In A Million which is a great book about avalanches, although is mainly aimed at Scotland.



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Based Chris Townsend's decades of experience as a walker and equipment reviewer, this is the most comprehensive guide to walking trails. Although the author is British it's written for the US market, but anyone who spends time in the outdoors will find much to learn here.


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A 620 page monster, this tour-de-force has been the go-to resource for over half a century. Drawing on the collective expertise of The Mountaineers club of Seattle, it covers just about every outdoor topic with all the detail you could wish.

My ancient edition contains one of my all-time favorite quotes:

A true mountaineer is never lost (though they may be temporarily disoriented for a few days at a time...)


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If you lead groups into wild country, you owe it to your party to study this book with care. As the handbook for the UK's mountain leadership certification, it has evolved over a number of editions into the Bible of it's field.


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Widely regarded as the definitive resource on the topic. Brotherton is a highly respected expert who trains SAR teams and Special Forces around the world. The book is based on this experience.

It covers every aspect of land navigation with authority and lucidity, and also recommends safe and effective ways to develop and practice the techniques.

It's lavishly produced and a pleasure to use - but avoid the Kindle edition as the layout is a mess.

I thought I was an expert navigator before I read this book - now I realise I'm a mere beginner. If you venture into wild country navigation can be a life-or-death skill, and The Ultimate Navigation Manual is the fast track to high-level expertise.


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If you stretch yourself in the hills, this is the book for you. A comprehensive guide to training for mountain adventures, and by far the best in its field.


I'll take this opportunity to alert people to a classic that's little known outside of Scotland:

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Written by Everest pioneer Bill Murray on toilet paper in a German POW camp during WWII, this is an extended meditation on why we are drawn to the beauty of the hills. Poetic, witty and gripping by turn, it entranced me as a schoolboy and belongs in the very top rank of mountain writing.

Still in print, and available on amazon.co.uk as an inexpensive Kindle edition.

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