5 Books Every Hiker Should Read

If there’s something that rivals my love for hiking, it’s my love for books & reading. So, reading books about hiking? Yes! That is the coalition of all good things! Memoirs, guide books, historical accounts, gear reviews.If it mentions hiking or a long distance trail, I’m hooked!

Of the dozens of hiking books I’ve read, these five consistently stand out as my favorites.

Becoming Odyssa  by Jennifer Pharr Davis

The ultimate come from behind story. Jennifer Pharr Davis is a hiking legend, but she didn’t start out that way. This is her personal account of her first thru-hike is a young, inexperienced backpacker who tackled the AT solo. Through the pages you get to follow as Davis transforms from a self-consciece girl who can’t hang her food bag to the strong hiking goddess she is today. She’s hiked on six continents, thru hiked the AT three times and for years she held the speed record of the AT. On top of all that, she’s an excellent writer (she was an English major in college). Fair warning, this book will make you want to instantly stop what you’re doing and hit the trails!

A Road More or Less Traveled  by Otis & Roberts

This is not a well known book, but it should be! It’s hilarious and ADVENTURE PACKED. Seriously, these two hikers ran into every wonderfully weird block between Georgina to Maine and lived to tell about it. It’s written in quirky prose by two even quirkier hiking partners and will have you laughing until your ribs hurt. I found out about this book when I randomly met a thru-hiker in passing, he said I had to read it (he’d been on the trail when these guys were hiking and said they’d had the best experience). He took my address, a few weeks later I received his well worn copy in the mail and I’ve been saying thank you ever since. IT’S SO GOOD.

She Walks These Hills  by Sharyn McCrumb

Okay, this is so not a typical book that you think of when you think “hiking genre” but it wouldn’t disappoint a hiking enthusiast. It’s a fantastic novel that incorporates the real life story of Mary Draper Ingles, pioneer woman who was kidnapped by the Shawnee Indians. She escaped and then walked 600 miles through the Appalachian mountains to get back home. This is a really well written, exciting mystery novel that is also packed with Appalachian history, folk lore and the incredible story of Mary Ingles (who was also the ultimate UL hiker…she escaped with only the clothes on her back and foraged along the way.) Side note: another great book about this same great woman is Follow the River by James Alexander Thom.

Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis

We all know that this book excellent preparation for long distance hiking but it’s message also rings true for every other area of life: jobs, relationships, goals. Once you decide to go for something, you have to stick through even when the hunky-dory “honeymoon” phase wears away. I’m still working my way through this book, really taking time to make out my lists and linger over each chapter because I know that if I apply the advice in this book to my life, I’ll make it to Maine.

The Barefoot Sisters: Southbound  by Lucy and Susan Letcher

Okay, you’ve probably heard of the Barefoot Sisters! They walked from Maine to Georgia…barefoot! They loved the AT so much that when they got to Georgia they turned around and hiked right back to Maine! But if you haven’t taken the time to read their book…you’re missing out! They’re both gifted writers and they include so much detail that you feel like you’re there.

There are sooooo many great trail books out there and I’m always looking for new ones!

What books did I leave out that you think should have been on here?

Happy trails & happy reading!

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Comments 16

  • Ruby Throat : Jan 9th

    I could go on and on about the hiking books I’ve gorged on since deciding to thru hike. (I won’t, but here’s my reading list: https://www.rubythroatjournal.com/books/).
    You’ll recognize at least three. But now I have two more to put in the queue, so thank you for that! Hope to see you out there!! xo, Ruby Throat

    • Becca Tompkins : Jan 9th

      Thanks! I just checked your reading list out and I LOVE your site! I’m also carrying plenty of YLEO love on my thru hike! It was fun to read your list!

  • Paul Boulay : Jan 9th

    When I did my southbound thru hike in 78-79, jrr Tolken was very popular. Tolken based trail names were common in the shelter registers: Aragorn, Strider, Bilbo, Sauron, especially Gandalf. I started reading THe Hobbit in NH and continues through the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Is there ever a better setting than the AZt to read scary hiking fiction?

    I had a hiking buddy down as far as Front Royal. But he took a bus home due to pneumonia on 01/10/1979. So I was alone from that point onwards – while reading the Tolken books.

    Orcs live in the snowy dark woods of the VA Appalachians, especially just to the south of the Priest, south of the Montebello River. I know this. I could hear them moaning at night; I could smell them. I could just glimps them not too distant in the woods after dusk unexpectedly. Likely they were staulking me. Possibly some of this was black bear but more than likely these were fleeting encounters with Orcs. If you are hiking alone and off season on the AT be very careful.

  • George Turner : Jan 10th

    I would also recommend Walking With Spring by Earl Shaffer. It’s great to compare the trail now with how it used to be when thru hiking was impossible

    • Becca Tompkins : Jan 10th

      My sister actually just gave me Walking With Spring and I’m really eager to start reading it! Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Chuck McKeever : Jan 10th

    -Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, Carrot Quinn (especially for PCT folks)
    -Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

    Great list!

    • Becca Tompkins : Jan 13th

      Thanks, Chuck! I loved your article the other day about 6 Inexpensive Essentials! I’m going to clip safety pins on my pack now. Thank you for writing it!

  • Chris G. : Jan 10th

    Lost on the Appalachian Trail, Kyle Rohrig, the parts about the dog he takes with him makes the book awesome, a little long but worth it in my opinion. A walk in the woods by Bill Bryson is also a classic that is pretty good when he discusses the story of him hiking the trial. But as you said there are so many and so little time!

    • Becca Tompkins : Jan 13th

      Chris, thanks for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed!!

  • Ria : Jan 12th

    I’m so glad I read this article and that you wrote it!! I finished my AT thru hike this past October and haven’t stopped thinking about the trail since. To keep the spirit of the AT alive I started reading book of others experiences on the trail to day dream and to keep it close to heart (Just got The Barefoot sister’s book from the library!!) Thank you for adding to my list 🙂
    Blind Courage by Bill Irwin -inspiring story of a blind man who hiked the entire AT with his seeing eye dog.
    The More of Less by Joshua Becker- although not a book about hiking, it was helpful when I had the “I don’t need so much stuff” epiphany when I got home!

    • Becca Tompkins : Jan 13th

      The More of Less sounds EXCELLENT!!! I’m actually really into pursing a minimalist lifestyle so thank you for the recommendation!! And, congrats on your thru hike! I hope to one day be as cool as you!

  • Brother Blood : Jan 15th

    My problem with Jennifer Pharr Davis, is that she is such a hateful person. She derides weekenders, section hikers, and anyone who doesn’t share her religious beliefs. Not a good person at all.

    • Kurt : Dec 5th

      Hmm. She was honest about her feelings at the time, feeling like she as a thru hiker had earned first right to the shelters. She was wrong, of course, but real. And she was real about her Christian faith. It is not hateful to hold a set of beliefs. (Referring to “Becoming Odyssa”)

  • Nikole : Jan 20th

    AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller is one I read on kindle when I cant handle real life. My husband says im off hiking when he finds me re-reading it. Its definitely worth a read and re-read just to hike it all over again.

  • Leah : Jun 29th

    I really loved Where’s The Next Shelter by Gary Sizer about his AT hike, plus Alone But Not Lonely by Annie Gibavic about her hike one the Long Trail. AWOL on the AT is good too 🙂

    As much as everyone loves to hate on Wild and A Walk in the Woods, those two books are the ones to start with for people just getting into reading about walking because they talk about emotional growth as part of the journey and include some important history as well. Those books got a ton of people interested in the outdoors too!

    I liked Jennifer Pharr Davis’s Called Again as opposed to a Becoming Odyssa because she’s even mentioned that some of her opinions from that first book have changed and she thinks a bit differently than she did then. It was hard to read her negative comments about basically anyone who wasn’t a thru hiker, but I have to say my admiration for her is endless.

  • Doctari : Jul 30th

    As far as the eye can see by David Brill.
    My wife has hiked about 50 feet on the AT, total. So 50 feet farther than Bryson. IMHO skip that book, unless you like (admittedly) funny fiction.


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