Thru-hiking is an arduous and sometimes dangerous activity. Setting off for weeks, months, or even years on one’s own or in the company of just a few others is a daunting task, to say the least. Thus, it’s no surprise that thru-hiking tales can easily capture our hearts and minds, especially when told elegantly and woven together with stories of humorous encounters and unforeseen challenges.
Whether you’re a thru-hiker yourself, or more of an armchair adventurer, this list of the 21 best books about thru-hiking is sure to get you dreaming of high mountain summits, rugged trails, and endless adventure. Here are some of the best books about thru-hiking and journeying through some of the world’s most difficult terrain.
21 best books about thru-hiking:
1. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
The classic thru-hiking tale, in A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson discusses his journey to reacquaint himself with the land of his home country by taking on the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail. While hiking from Georgia to Maine, Bryson learns how to settle in the for the long haul, laugh hard, and enjoy the perpetual hilarity of life on the trail.
Bryson weaves in important tidbits about the history of the trail and why we need to conserve it into a hysterical account of his attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.
2. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Twenty-two year old Cheryl Strayed had hit rock bottom. After her mother’s death and the destruction of her own marriage, Cheryl made an impulsive decision to set out on a hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. From the arid Mojave Desert to the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, Cheryl learned how to navigate the world on her own and keep trucking along against seemingly insurmountable odds.
This national bestseller is now a major motion picture, but the original, heartfelt writing is a must-read for any thru-hiking enthusiast.
3. Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn
Addicted to the internet and stuck in the banal platitudes that mark the day to day existence of life in the city, Carrot Quin realizes she’s struggling to connect with others on a meaningful level. In a last-ditch effort to regain what she’s lost from her life, she sets out to walk the Pacific Crest Trail.
On her journey from Mexico to Canada, Carrot faces challenge after challenge, both physical and emotional. Loneliness takes its toll, but as she continues hiking, she comes upon an eclectic group of fellow hikers who form a deep bond over the trail and their goal of making it to Canada before the first snowflakes fall from the sky.
4. Bliss(ters) by Gail Francis
As her 40th birthday rapidly approaches, Gail Francis realizes she needs a change. She abruptly quits her well paying, steady job for a chance to set out on the ultimate adventure: a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. With everything she needs stuffed into an over-sized backpack, she spends the next five months trekking through deserts and mountains on her way from Mexico to Canada.
Although she started out as a solo hiker, the ways of the trail brought her closer to a large cast of characters that all set their sights on the same goal, as they learn to support each other on the trail.
5. Old Lady on the Trail by Mary E Davison
It’s never to late to teach an old dog some new tricks. At the young age of 60, Mary Davison begins her long-distance hiking career and sets herself the challenge of completing the triple crown of hiking (the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail) – something most people half her age would never consider.
Integrating herself into the trail community, she learns more about herself and her capabilities as she becomes a Triple Crown hiker at the age of 76, a feat that’s truly an inspiration to us all.
6. Thirst by Heather Anderson
Heather “Anish” Anderson was already an accomplished Triple Crown hiker, having completed all three of the long-distance hiking community’s top trails by the age of 25. A few years after settling back into a normal life, she realized that the mountains were calling her home, so she quit her job and got right back on the trail.
In Thirst: 26000 Miles to Home, Anish takes us along for the ride as she becomes just the second woman to complete the Triple Crown, twice.
7. The Sun Is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert
As a scientist working in a lab, Caroline felt constrained in such a sterile environment. Eschewing the confines of traditional work life, Caroline and her husband set off on an epic 4,000 mile journey from the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest toward the rolling tundra of the Alaskan Arctic.
Journeying by rowboat, ski, foot, raft, and canoe, the duo experienced the beauty of the natural world all while overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.
8. Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis
Like most recent college graduates, Jennifer can’t see a clear path forward into adulthood. Feeling the irresistible tug of the Appalachian Trail, Jennifer sets out to hike from Georgia to Maine, despite the reservations of her family.
As she delves deeper into what will become the most physically and emotionally demanding few months of her life, Jennifer realizes that, despite its difficulties and challenges, the trail is a place where human compassion is at its highest, especially when tragedy and sadness rear their ugly head.
9. A Road More or Less Traveled by Stephen Otis & Colin Roberts
The Appalachian Trail is a weird place. Filled with an eclectic group of thru-hikers who leave the comforts of home behind to find some greater purpose in the wilderness, the Appalachian Trail quickly and easily becomes the scene of some of the oddest happenings this side of the Mississippi.
As Stephen and Colin head out on a hike of the famed trail, they find themselves in the midst of endless absurdity, countless bouts of laughter, and stories they’ll certainly be telling their grandchildren in years to come.
10. The Barefoot Sisters by Lucy Letcher & Susan Letcher
The rugged terrain of the Appalachian Trail have wreaked havoc on thru-hikers ever since there were people crazy enough to attempt such a long, difficult journey. Imagine walking every one of the 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine with your sister.
Now imagine doing it barefoot. In this story of determination and unlikely humor, sisters Lucy and Susan Letcher tell of how they set out to hike the Appalachian Trail, barefoot, only to make it to the end to turn around and do it all over again.
11. Trespassing Across America by Ken Ilgunas
In an attempt to understand more about the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline, Ken got a far-fetched idea – to hike the length of the proposed pipeline in its entirety through the American Heartland. After hitchhiking 1,500 miles from Denver to the Alberta tar sands, Ken turned around and began a 1,700-mile hike to the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Traveling entirely on food and mostly through private property, Ken’s story of travel, terrain, and place is a riveting read that’s sure to get you thinking deeply about difficult issues.
12. Small Feet, Big Land by Erin McKittrick
Hiking through the Alaskan wilderness is enough of a challenge for most of us, but now imagine doing it with your two young children in tow. Lifelong adventurers Erin and Hig have hiked thousands of miles together but are now looking toward their next challenge – learning to travel and enjoy the natural world as their young family continues to grow.
Join the family as they travel along Alaska’s coastline, visiting remote villages and embracing the challenges of some of the United States’ most beautiful terrain.
13. Tracks by Robyn Davidson
The Australian Outback is a formidable place. Incredible heat, a near-complete lack of water, and a series of sparsely populated towns make the Outback one of the most difficult places to travel through in the world. In Tracks, you can follow along as Robyn Davidson sets off on a 1,700-mile adventure through the desolation of the Outback, accompanied only by her dog and four camels.
Join Robyn as she walks from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, creating relationships with this unique landscape and the people she meets along the way.
14. Walking the Gobi by Helen Thayer
Descending from the staggering peaks of the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau, the Gobi Desert is one of the driest places in the world, as the tall mountains to the south block nearly all moisture across this 500,000 square mile expanse. At the age of 63, Helen sets out to fulfill a lifelong dream of crossing the Gobi, alongside her 74-year-old husband, Bill, and their two trusty camels, Tom and Jerry.
Trekking through 126 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, drug smugglers, countless sandstorms, and a severe leg injury, Helen and Bill take us through an incredible journey through an infrequently visited landscape.
15. Wild by Nature – Sarah Marquis
For most people, a three-month thru-hike is enough to change their world and test their limits. For others, a three-year journey is the ultimate adventure. In Wild by Nature, Sarah Marquis takes us along on her 10,000-mile solo journey from the tundra of Siberia to the immense heat of Australia.
Eight pairs of hiking boots, 3,000 cups of tea, and 1,000 days after setting out from Siberia, Sarah finally finishes her hike at her favorite tree in Australia, showing us that with some ingenuity, persistence, and a whole lot of grit, anything is possible.
16. North by Scott Jurek
The vast majority of people who hike the Appalachian Trail take at least four months to complete the arduous trek. With a total elevation gain and loss of over 89 miles over 2,189 miles of trail, the Appalachian Trail is nothing short of rugged.
Now imagine running the whole thing in just under seven weeks. In the spring of 2015, this is exactly what Scott Jurek, champion ultrarunner set out to do. In North, follow along as Jurek pushes himself to run 50 miles a day, every day, for nearly two months as he journeys from Georgia to Maine in search of a new record.
17. Almost Somewhere by Suzanne Roberts
Fresh out of college and unsure of the path forward, Suzanne Roberts quickly agreed to hike the John Muir Trail with a friend as a way to distract herself from a difficult life at home. Traveling alongside two friends, the three hikers fought against snow-covered mountain passes, broken gear, strange men, and interpersonal dynamics to learn more about themselves and the world around them.
In Almost Somewhere, Suzanne takes us on a month-long adventure and shows us how we can learn more about ourselves after a month in the High Sierra.
18. Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis
On just her second night of her college career, Aspen Matis was raped by a fellow student. Her parents discouraged her from speaking up about her horrible experience, leaving Aspen to feel confused as to her path forward. After struggling through her first semester at college, she decided to leave it all behind for a five-month journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.
In Girl in the Woods, Aspen brings us along on her journey to confront her experiences and come to terms with what happened to her. Girl in the Woods is an elegant story of learning to love and trust again through the power of the wilderness.
19. The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
Although not a true thru-hiking story, in The Old Ways, famed British thinker, Robert Macfarlane brings us on a journey to follow the ancient paths that crisscross the landscape of the British Isles. Weaving together countless tidbits of natural history, geology, and literature, Mcfarlane transports us to the islands of Scotland’s West Coast, to the sacred places of Spain and the Himalaya.
Here, Macfarlane introduces us to the art of walking as a way to look inward to better understand how journeying through a landscape shapes us and our lives in so many ways.
20. Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
The little-known Ice Age Trail travels through the state of Wisconsin, following along the location of the terminal moraine from the end of the last major glaciation, some 10,000 years ago. In Thousand-Miler, Melanie McManus tells the story of her hike over 1,100 miles and 36 days on the Ice Age Trail.
Weaving through prairies, the forests of the Northwoods, wetlands, and farms, Melanie’s journey on the Ice Age Trail is the story of not just one person’s journey, but of the trail itself.
21. Balancing on Blue by Keith Foskett
England native Keith Foskett wanted to escape his life to become a long-distance hiker. Setting his mind on completing all 2,100+ miles of the Appalachian Trail, Keith journeyed from Georgia to Maine, finding an eccentric group of friends along the way.
In Balancing on Blue, Keith brings us along on his journey, weaving endless humor into a novel-like tale of perseverance, wild landscapes, and the adventure of a lifetime.
Up Next In Thru-hiking:
David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.