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.