You can’t learn everything on the internet. And even if you could, you wouldn’t want to: that would mean you’re spending your time sitting in front of a computer. For learning stuff for the outdoors, the best plan is instruction. But after that it’s a good book. Here are some that will build your outdoor skills.
Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills by the Mountaineers
The classic and frequently-updated bible to safety in the out of doors, this guide covers the gamut of ice, rock, and mixed techniques, with equally valuable chapters on safety, leadership, and leave no trace techniques. First published in 1960, it’s kept pace with changing techniques, and in is in it’s eight edition, each of which has added significantly to the length. There’s a reason why most climbers have a copy on their bookshelf—or, more commonly, in their rig somewhere.
The National Outdoor Leadership School’s Wilderness Guide by Mark Harvey
There’s no better place to learn all-around wilderness skills than NOLS, often called “The Harvard of the Outdoors.” This tightly-written all-in one guide covers everything from cross country travel in deserts to leave no trace techniques to wilderness safety and group leadership.
Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation by David Burch
Navigating a sea kayak through a maze of similar-island, with changes in tide, wind, current and fog can be a complex and nerve-wracking process. Burch’s comprehensive guide covers everything from how to read charts to how to plan around currents in tidal rapids and fashion functional navigational instruments out of simple tools that can be used, battery-free, on the deck of a kayak bobbing in steep swell. The writing might not be the most fast-paced, but the information is solid gold.
Photographing the World Around You by Freeman Patterson
Most photography guides tell you what the dials and buttons do. Freeman Patterson instead tells you what to do when you’re looking through the viewfinder at an interesting subject: how to make it come alive, distill the essence of an interesting person, or even make fascinating images of routine household objects. You’ll figure out what the buttons do quickly anyway: Patterson’s guide will help spark your creativity.
Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herrero
Any visitor to Alaska, Yellowstone or Glacier will have to think about grizzlies. And most of the bear books that line outdoor shelves and Alaskan tourist stops are meant to scare you, not to help you camp at piece with bears that really just want to do their own ting. Herrero, a wildlife biologist, takes a different tack, helping readers understand what goes on in bear’s heads. You’ll sleep better.
Paddle Your Own Canoe by Gary and Joanie McGuffin
Nobody loves the canoe like folks from the Canadian north woods, and the McGuffins have mastered it. Paddle Your Own Canoe breaks down the black art of fancy canoe handling like no other, complete with detailed explanations and over 600 gorgeous images. And you won’t just know how to do the perfect Canadian‑J or cross-forward: you’ll by ready to load of up the gear and head for the nearest lake or river for a few weeks.
A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann Marsh
All this talk of climbing, hiking, paddling, and photography probably has you hungry. Unfortunately, backcountry food advice falls into two traps: one that involves such elaborate meals that they require you to catch fish or stay in camp all day to prepare, or that simply devolve into freeze-dried mush that’s easier to process than it is to enjoy. March hits the sweet spot of a middle ground: meals that can be prepared at home and dehydrated, that involve some cookery but not hours of work, and that also taste darn good.
Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness by David Musnick, M.D., and Mark Pierce, A.T.C.
Of course, mountaineering, sea kayaking, canoeing, and climbing require fitness. This is a great guide, complete with training regimens, for both novices and serious athletes whose bodies have adapted to the demands of a particular sport. More than just strength and endurance, they’ll have you working on key functional training, balance, and sport-specific exercises to get you ready for the coming season, whatever season it is.
Weather At Sea by David Houghton and Fred Sanders
Weather is something that happens to us…and when the “us” are sea kayakers and sailors, the consequences can be significant. Written by a salty Brit and a Marbleheader with years of experience on the sea and as meteorologists, it’s by far the best concise guide to how to predict weather when you’re dependent on it go get where you’re going.
Of course, books are only part of the way we learn. Friends, instructors, mentors, coaches, and serious expertise is needed to fully thrive in the outdoors. But as Groucho Marx said, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. And inside a dog, its too dark to read.”