Whats my favorite thing to do when I am not hiking? Read, of course! Once I started getting really into hiking, I wanted to think about it all the time. I went on a binge to find the best books about hiking, from the AT to the PCT and between.
Read on for my reviews of some of the most iconic books about hiking!
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Best Books about Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The Unlikely Thru-Hiker
Summary: Derick Lugo, a self proclaimed NYC “metrosexual” who has never slept outdoors a night in his life, decides to tackle the Appalachian Trail.
Year Published: 2019
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I really liked this book. Derick writes in an easy-to-read style that really brings you along on his journey. He’s got a great sense of humor and well before the end of the book, it felt like we were friends. The cover is also the most aesthetically pleasing of all the hiking books I’ve read. I was glad to read the paper copy of this, despite usually preferring e-books.
I felt like this was the most relatable of the books I’ve read about thru-hiking. Derick and I both love showers, dogs, and are (were, in his case) afraid of sleeping outside. This is the first book that has really made me think “could I hike the Appalachian Trail?!”
I also loved reading about his friendships with his trail family (or “tramily” to use the thru-hiking term). It’s amazing to see the relationships that form and merge and change throughout the journey. It’s great to see how quickly people connect over their shared experience, despite coming from many different walks of life.
I wish he had discussed his experience as one of the few Black men on the trail more. It feels like some of the interactions where people call that out are somewhat glossed over, but maybe that was the whole of the experience. I also wish he had delved into his personal life in more detail the way Cheryl Strayed does in Wild, but it didn’t take away from my experience. I subtracted a half a star for (minor spoiler) Derick not adopting the dog he found on the trail. I just really want to know if the dog is okay.
Overall, I highly recommend this book.
A Walk in the Woods
Summary: Reluctant adventurer Bill Bryson tackles the Appalachian Trail with his recently sober friend, Stephen Katz.
Year Published: 1998
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
I know that everyone raves about Bill Bryson’s book. It has inspired many to tackle the AT (and is often at the top of every best books about hiking list). However, I just couldn’t get into it. Bryson starts off being rude to his friend, Katz, who he is relieved has joined him on the trail. Once the pair are on the trail, Bryson continues to ridicule every person he meets on and off the trail. It was very obvious that the book was published at least two decades ago with the massive amount of fat-shaming. Bryson was clearly using fat commentary for humor and the attempted “jokes” just seem lazy and crude in present day.
I did like when he discussed the science of nature and the forest. I learned more than I expected from this book. Bryson and I both share distaste for the American need to build, tear down, and rebuild better. He discusses the former New Hampshire hotels in a section on the White Mountains that were torn down once visitors discovered they had the ability to drive further for vacations. He brought up some good criticisms of the National Park Service. However I think writing off the entire organization is short sighted. This is America – if it weren’t for the NPS, some of our most beautiful sites would likely have theme parks and condos.
I listened to this as an audiobook and I wonder if that colored my experience. If I had been reading it and been able to give Katz his own voice instead of the slow voice the audiobook narrator gave him, perhaps I would have liked it more. But honestly, Bryson just seems like kind of a hater and I don’t know if I need that kind of negative energy in my life.
AWOL on the Appalachian Trail
Summary: Software engineer David, trail name “Awol”, decides to leave his job, wife, and three daughters to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Year Published: 2006
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
This was the first book in this decade I read about thru hiking and I really enjoyed it.
I know reviews usually say that “A Walk in the Woods” is the better Appalachian Trail, but I don’t agree. The criticisms state that Awol is too boring and Miller complains too much. He doesn’t have Bryson’s humor, but he has empathy where Bryson doesn’t.
I love Awol’s descriptions of the other hikers and why they are on the trail. It’s clear in the book that Awol is well liked on the trail and genuinely cares about building relationships with other hikers. My favorite anecdotes involve his stories about some of the crazy things that happen on the trail.
As someone who is the midst of their career, Awol’s story was more relatable to me than someone who was just out of college or retired. In the hiking community, Awol’s choice to quit his job to hike the AT is seen as normal, but for someone like me who considers myself a pretty basic “regular” person, it would be crazy! Give up career and family for six months to hang out in the wilderness?!
Looking to learn more about hiking? Check out my article on the Ten Essentials for Day Hiking!
Best Books about Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart
Summary: Carrot Quinn, a dog walker with limited hiking experience, takes on the Pacific Crest Trail after becoming disillusioned with her life.
Year Published: 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5
Carrot is one of the thru-hiking authors I relate to the most. I feel addicted to the internet. I feel like “what is the point of everything that I am doing in my life?” I too, am always hungry. Carrot and her friends seem like fun hangs and I think that’s why I liked this book so much.
One thing I enjoyed about this book is that Carrot only refers to people by their trail name. It adds to the illusion that thruhiking and the PCT create this whole other universe for those who hike it. Thru-hikers like Instigate and Spark have complete left their “real life” identities behind when they choose to tackle something like this.
Many other reviewers on Goodreads complained about the book after (spoiler) Carrot falls in love. I think that’s kind of an unfair criticism. Falling in love seems inevitable when you’re dealing with a shared experience of that magnitude. While I thought her lover was annoying, her story of falling in love felt genuine and relatable.
My biggest complaint about the book is how annoyed I was with some of Carrot’s choices. I could not get over how much she complained about being hungry when it was her own fault for not carrying enough food. She discusses her childhood and the trauma she endured when her schizophrenic mother wouldn’t feed them. However, she then subjects herself to triggering this trauma – all because she doesn’t want her pack to be too heavy. Same thing with her decisions to not bring warm clothes to Washington – a choice that could have turned extremely dangerous for her. I am concerned about others who read this and think some of these choices are the right ones.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who isn’t going to be annoyed that this is basically a food diary turned novel.
Looking for more books about hiking? Check back to see what else I’ve read as this post will be updated regularly!
Post Updated July 16 2022