Five Things You Need to Read Before Your Thru-Hike

A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson

At the less-forgiving end of middle-age, and without a lick of long-distance backpacking experience between them, Bryson and his portly recalcitrant friend, Katz, set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Bryson weaves anecdotes of the trail’s history and the communities that surround and support it between stories of a wilderness misadventure with his campy (as it were) partner.

Some (myself included) love Bryson’s uniquely dry British-née-Midwesterner wit. Others find it dull, rambling, and cheeky. Be prepared for sarcasm and uninhibited criticism of the US Forest Service, residents of trail towns, and hiking buddies.

Cheyrl Strayed

An inspiring true story about Reese Witherspoon and that time she threw a boot.

This Is What Happens to Your Body on a Thru Hike
Kyle Boelte

It’s no surprise that hiking 20+ miles a day will get you fit. What’s interesting, though, is just how drastic and extensive the physiological changes can be. After all, it’s just walking.

When it comes to sports science research, hiking gets no love. This is understandable in some ways, as it’s much more of a casual, recreational, go-at-your-own-pace kind of activity than a “sport.” The only truly universal objective in hiking is to get to wherever you decided you want to get to, and to not die along the way.

Cycling, running, weight lifting, and other easily measurable sports are researched extensively, and the particular physiological changes they manifest are well known. But Boelte shows how simply walking around and carrying a bunch of stuff can increase testosterone levels, decrease heart rate and cortisol concentration, and improve metabolic efficiency. Which should really all be secondary to the classic get-places-without-dying goal, but they are an added perk.

The River Why
David James Duncan

The back cover will tell you The River Why is a story about fly-fishing. It’s not. Well it is, but in the same way that Animal Farm is a story about animals on a farm.

DJD describes his descent into depression and near-madness after leaving home to pursue a life of fishing, sleeping, and fishing. I promise it’s more riveting than it sounds.

The River Why asks the big question—the Why of it all—and answers it with wit, high-brow philosophy via low-brow prose, and even love. This book will reel you in even if you can’t remember what a Size 2 Kelly Galloup Articulated Butt Monkey fly looks like. The fly is beside(s) the point.

The Nature Fix
Florence Williams

While it is yet another lengthy evaluation of something that didn’t need to be evaluated—that being outdoors is good for you—The Nature Fix quells any fears you might still have about the health effects of spending too much time outside.

By interviewing people with occupations like arboreal therapist and signing up for weeklong forest healing programs, Williams reveals precisely what it is about being outside that makes us feel just so damn good.

However, The Nature Fix also falls into that pop-nonfiction category of books in which every study mentioned points perfectly suspiciously to anything the author wants to prove. And I found myself questioning the accuracy of any of Florence’s claims after she described Singapore as “one of only two city-nations—the other being Vatican City—in the modern world.”* In other words, get your blood pressure checked: it’s best to take The Nature Fix’s claims with a fair amount of sodium.

*On behalf of Ms. Williams, I’d like to apologize to the deprived citizens of the Principality of Monaco.

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