An Appalachian Trail Reading List
Every now and then links to “Books EVERYONE Must Read” make the rounds on social media. My AT reading list is not one of those. Rather, it’s the compilation of most of what I read over the two years leading up to my thru-hike start date in 2023.
Most of them are available online—and may even be in your local library—should you be inclined to read one of them.
The books that started it all…
In the early part of 2021, I began researching for my thru-hike. I went online and googled “books about the Appalachian Trail.” The first book that popped up was How to Hike the Appalachian Trail: A Comprehensive Guide to Plan and Prepare for a Successful Thru-Hike by Chris Cage.
I clicked “buy now.”
I read it through and then read it again, the second time using a highlighter and marking notes in the margins. Thanks to Cage’s book, I went from dreaming about the trail to actively making gear lists and planning hikes. This book also began my insatiable desire to read anything related to the AT.
My next purchase was Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion by the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association. I needed something to get me started regarding the elevation, mileage, etc. and this was a great intro. The copy I picked up was from 2021 and a new one is issued each year.
For the history nerds (like me)
Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery, and the Rivalry That Built the Appalachian Trail by Jeffrey H. Ryan fed the history nerd in me. There are plenty of fun old-timey photos, excerpts from letters, and an incredible amount of detail about, well, the rivalry that built the trail.
One of the many cool photos in Blazing Ahead
Another history nerd book is Hiking through History: Civil War Sites on the Appalachian Trail by Leanna Joyner. This small book has plenty of maps (I’m also a map nerd) and details about each site that I will take note of as I hike.
Okay, so this one is a must-read
No AT reading list would be complete without Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery. Wow, what a woman! Gatewood endured so much trauma in her lifetime…which may be where she found the fortitude, endurance, and will to be the first woman to hike the AT—at 67 years of age! It truly is an inspiring story.
It’s a small world after all
Tales from the Trail: Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail by Sherry Blackman is one of those books that will make you giggle and then bring tears to your eyes. Blackman is the pastor of The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, PA, which houses the oldest continuously-running hiker hostel on the trail. The book consists of hiker stories and a little history about the hostel.
I bought the book and then, in one of those “small world” moments, found out that my cousin Nancy attends that church and helps prepare food for their weekly “hiker feed.” I look forward to seeing her and hopefully meeting Blackman when I pass through DWG.
Why do you hike?
A friend lent me their copy of Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail by Paul Stutzman. Following his wife’s death, Stutzman embarks on a thru-hike in search of peace and purpose. It’ll tug at your heartstrings while providing great trail insights.
A friend sent me a self-published book called A Different Existence by Cole W. Burke. Burke stepped away from his high-pressure hospital job to hike the trail and wrote about his experiences. It’s definitely a good read.
The need for speed
North by Scott Jurek was a gift from a friend. While a fascinating read, this would be more helpful for someone planning to run the trail instead of walk it. Jurek was attempting to set the FKT (fastest known time) for the trail…and succeeded. His record has since been broken but that doesn’t lessen his accomplishment.
The trail is more than physical
Pushing North: Tame the Mind, Savor the Journey by Trey Free is, in my opinion, the most important book I read in preparation for the trail. Free examines the mental challenges of long-distance hiking. There is so much intense information in this book that I had to read it twice to absorb it all. I feel more ready for the psychological and emotional aspects of the trail as a result.
Lessons to learn
As I read scads of online articles about the trail, of course I came across the troubling account of Geraldine Largay. When I found out a book had been written about her life and death on the trail, I had to read it. When You Find My Body: The Disappearance of Geraldine Largay on the Appalachian Trail by D. Dauphinee made me conscious of survival techniques I hadn’t considered but also reminded me of what I learned way back in college for my two-week hiking trip.
On the lighter side is Hiker Trash: Notes, Sketches, and Other Detritus from the Appalachian Trail by Sarah Kaizar. This is your typical “coffee table book” with fun photos and art about the AT.
This Wild Land: Two Decades of Adventure as a Park Ranger in the Shadow of Katahdin by Andrew Vietze is all about Baxter State Park—its history and what rangers have to deal with regarding everything from teaching hikers how to respect the park and her caretakers to how many lives Katahdin has claimed. It’s an informative and gripping read.
My sister had a copy of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I laughed all the way through it, and, yeah, the book is better than the movie.
Thru-hikers should have this
An indispensable little book for thru-hikers is 2023 The A.T. Guide by David “Awol” Miller. Often referred to as “Awol’s guide,” this is the only book I’ll have on trail with me. Every shelter, tent site, water source, road crossing, hostel, shuttle service, and resupply as well as elevation and mileage is listed in Miller’s book. In my opinion, this is essential gear.
Right now I’m reading The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo. He has a great sense of humor about being a big city dude on the trail. I expect to finish Lugo’s book before I hit the trail in a few weeks.
Tell me what you’ve read!
What books have you read about the AT, hiking or hikers? Drop me a comment below! I’m always looking for something new to read.
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