Classic Outdoor Reads for Everyone

It’s cold and get­ting dark ear­ly. Win­ter is the per­fect time for set­tling in next to the wood stove with a good book. And when it comes to out­door books, the fol­low­ing are out­door clas­sics. If you haven’t read these ten, your out­door expe­ri­ence isn’t com­plete.

Desert Soli­taire by Edward Abbey (1968)
Abbey was a Penn­syl­va­nia kid work­ing as a wait­er in Hobo­ken, NJ, when he land­ed a job as a sum­mer ranger in the new Arch­est Nation­al Mon­u­ment in Utah, back when Moab was still a ura­ni­um-min­ing town. Desert Soli­taire is his lyri­cal love affair with the won­der, mys­ter­ies, and harsh­ness of the slick­rock desert. Writ­ten about a land­scape large­ly undis­cov­ered by the out­doors-lov­ing pub­lic, Desert Soli­taire mix­es his love of the land­scape with his fear of large-scale tourism he saw in the future. The Park Ser­vice, dis­pleased with his cri­tique of man­age­ment, exiled him to a dis­tant fire look­out. If they want­ed to silence Abbey, it was the worst move pos­si­ble. He had plen­ty of time to write his incen­di­ary next clas­sic, The Mon­key Wrench Gang. And Desert Soli­taire had already left its mark: count­less out­door adven­tur­ers packed a copy along with their sleep­ing bag on jour­neys through­out the south­west.

Into the Wild by John Krakauer (1996)
Into Thin Air may be Krakauer’s most-read book because of the draw Ever­est, but Into the Wild strikes a more uni­ver­sal chord. Krakauer’s account of a vagabond kid who seeks, like Huck Finn, to “light out for the ter­ri­to­ries ahead of the west and even­tu­al­ly meets a mys­te­ri­ous end in a remote sec­tion of Alas­ka is more than the answer to a rid­dle. He taps into a deep­er mys­tery: what exact­ly is it that we seek in adven­ture? Why do some crave it so intense­ly? Even if you already know the sto­ry, the book is riveting…and way bet­ter than the movie.

A Sand Coun­ty Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)
Leopold’s mag­num opus fol­lows the sea­sons near his farm in Wis­con­sin, notic­ing the sub­tle changes around him. It’s enough to make any­one want to find a patch of land some­where and trace the sea­sons going by. Unlike the rest of these books, it’s set not in the moun­tains of Alas­ka or the canyon coun­try of Utah, but in the hum­ble land­scape of the Mid­west. Don’t let that fool you. The final chap­ter, The Land Eth­ic, packs a punch that made it the foun­da­tion­al doc­u­ment of the mod­ern envi­ron­men­tal move­ment.

Arc­tic Dreams by Bar­ry Lopez (1986)
Few regions are as unknown, and maybe as unknow­able, as the high Arc­tic. Lopez brings it into your liv­ing room or tent. Spend­ing count­less hours fol­low­ing muskox, sci­en­tists, polar bears, and native peo­ples, Lopez makes this aus­tere region come alive. He dives deep into the shapes of ice­bergs, the migra­tions of birds, the his­to­ry of Arc­tic cul­tures and mod­ern attempts to make sense of the region. You’ll want to pack up a warm par­ka and go.

The Snow Leop­ard by Peter Matthiessen (1978)
On the sur­face, The Snow Leop­ard is about a writer about shad­ow­ing ecol­o­gy George Schaller as he trapis­es around the Himalaya study­ing wild sheep and the elu­sive Snow Leop­ard. But the real jour­ney is inter­ward. Matthiessen writes about griev­ing for his late wife, his encoun­ters with East­ern phi­los­o­phy, the lives of the Nepalese, and his own strug­gles fig­ur­ing out why its’ so impor­tant to tramp through the snow to see one elu­sive crea­ture. It’s about the most fun­da­men­tal ques­tion for adven­tur­ers: what’s the nature of quests?

Com­ing into the Coun­try by John McPhee (1976)
Com­ing into the Coun­try put Alas­ka on the spir­tu­al map for climbers, riv­er run­ners, and any­one seek­ing the romance of the Last Fron­tier. McPhee embraces the lives of sub­sis­tence home­stead­ers, riv­er run­ners, bush pilots, prospec­tors, and politi­cians. McPhee’s book also delves into the chal­lenge of what Alas­ka is for: oil, fish, min­ing, or wilder­ness. Com­ing into the Coun­try drew thou­sands to the romance of the Last Fron­tier, and led many to focus on the last chance to “get it right the first time.” If you need proof that the pen is might­i­er than the sword, the Alas­ka Nation­al Inter­est Pub­lic Lands Act passed four years lat­er.

My First Sum­mer in the Sier­ra by John Muir (1984)
The most influ­en­tial book by the patron saint of the wilder­ness move­ment, Muir’s lyri­cal book about explor­ing the Sier­ra Neva­da radi­ates the joy of explor­ing the Sierra’s high coun­try. The Moun­tains of Cal­i­for­nia was writ­ten when the Sier­ra was still large­ly unheard of oth­er than as an obsta­cle to gold rush set­tlers head­ing west. Muir com­bines both his jour­neys to the high peaks with an under­stand­ing of ecology—a ground­break­ing con­cept at the time. Thou­sands flocked to Yosemite in the years that fol­lowed.

Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can Mind by Rod­er­ick Nash (1967)
If you’ve ever won­dered why we love wild places, this book is for you. Nash’s book, which began as his doc­tor­al the­sis, asks, and answers that ques­tion beyond the typ­i­cal “because it’s there” ques­tion. Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can mind brings a his­tor­i­cal eye to the long arc of how Amer­i­cans see the out­doors. Inad­ver­tent­ly, Nash launched anoth­er move­ment: the envi­ron­ment seri­ous pur­suit worth of study and careers. Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can Mind soon grew into the nation’s first Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia in San­ta Bar­bara.

Touch­ing the Void by Joe Simp­son (1988)
Joe Simpson’s sur­vival after a fall, bro­ken leg, and plum­met into a crevasse on Siu­la Grande in the Andes is the most amaz­ing sur­vival sto­ries in climb­ing. But Touch­ing the Void is more than just an incred­i­ble sur­vival sto­ry. Simp­son expos­es the read­er to the life and death deci­sions in the moun­tains, the ones we hope we’ll nev­er need to make. He shares the risk, skill, endurance and mani­a­cal dri­ve of peo­ple who climb at the high­est reach­es of the world. The great-grand­dad­dy of “moun­tain epics”, it’s still the best.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine Saint-Exu­pery (1939)
You’ll nev­er think of “going postal” the same way again. Saint-Exu­pery recounts his days fly­ing mail planes between over the Sahara from France to Dakar in the 1920s and 30s. At the time, deliv­er­ing the mail was every bit as risky as climb­ing in the Himalayas is today. Saint-Exu­pery is an adven­tur­er-philoso­pher at the height of his form, con­vey­ing the beau­ty, fear and cama­raderie of adven­ture-fly­ing in North Africa in terms that still res­onate today.