Ten Non-Fiction Outdoor Adventure Books Not to Miss

There are few better ways to spend a chilly fall or winter day than curled up with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. Lucky for us outdoorsy folks, we have thousands and thousands of amazing stories to choose between. From epic survival tales to hilarious accounts of everyday situations and life-changing experiences, here are ten of my favorite non-fiction outdoor adventure related books in no particular order. 

Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life by Arlene Blum
When it comes to women in mountaineering, Arlene Blum is a legend and one of my personal hero(in)es. Her pursuits in the 1970's, including all-female team ascents of Denali and beyond, challenged gender stereotypes in a field previously dominated by men. Blum's scientific achievements also broke the gender mold in that time period, and it's inspiring to read the story of a woman who truly never gave up fighting for what she believed in. She's still fighting.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is one of my all-time favorite authors. His sense of humor is refreshing and he has a unique way of sneaking it into places you'd least expect it, especially in a non-fiction book. Part Appalachian Trail history lesson, part self-depricating, yet articulate storytelling makes this book tough to put down. And it might make you think twice about the validity of Twinkies as trail food. Editor's note: read this before you go see the movie, which came out this year!

All That Glitters by Margot Talbot
Though many meaningful outdoor stories are a result of triumph over adversity, Margot Talbot's story isn't a typical one. After battling drug addiction and depression, Talbot pulls herself out of deep hole using a pair ice tools and a strong resolve. Now, she's a world renowned ice climber living a "dream life" that includes guiding clients to Antarctica and beyond. It's an incredibly honest, straightforward account with minimal prose, but plenty of emotion and inspiration.

The Last Season by Eric Blehm
Not all outdoor adventure non-fiction stories have happy endings. In The Last Season, Blehm follows the life of Randy Morgenson, a National Park Service ranger in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, up to and after his disappearance in 1996 after nearly 30 years on duty. Some of the circumstances surrounding his diappearance are still a mystery. If you enjoy stories without clear conclusions, this one's for you.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
It took me a long time to pick this book up, as I'm perhaps wrongfully skeptical of books that gain the notoriety Wild did so quickly. But Cheryl Strayed absolutely deserves all of the press. I started and finished Wild on the trip home from Acadia National Park without putting it down. It's an honest, heartbreaking memoir, and a wonderful read.
Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine by Lou Ureneck
I reviewed this on Adventure-Inspired and have recommended it to friends on countless occasions since. Unlike Cheryl Strayed, author Lou Ureneck doesn't seek a long, desolate path to help him cope with devastating life events. He seeks a more permanent solution by making good on a promise made years earlier. I finished The Cabin feeling as though I truly knew Lou and the challenges he faced. To me, that's the mark of an excellent memoir. 

High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places by David Breshears
What I love most about reading books related to Everest set in the late 1990s and early 2000s is that many accounts of events during that period overlap. Whether it's Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air or this set of incredible stories from David Breshears, it's interesting to hear different perspectives on well-known incidents like the 1996 Everest tragedy. Breashears climbed Everest four times, made countless documentary films including the IMAX film Everest, and lived to tell about all of it.

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Phillip Connors
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to spend a decade of seasons living completely alone in the middle of nowhere looking for forest fires, Phillip Connors wrote the book you're looking for. Connors gives readers a glimpse of both suspenseful events and educational forest fire-related information through lyrical prose and descriptive storytelling.

Annapurna: A Woman's Place by Arlene Blum
This, in addition to Breaking Trail, are simply must-reads for anyone with a passion for mountaineering. Arlene Blum, expedition leader, and twelve other women traveled to the Himalaya to become the first women, and the first Americans, to scale Annapurna I. This book is among my favorites because it's so special to read a story like this from a women's point of view, given that the events took place in 1978 when there was doubt that women could achieve such mountaineering triumph.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Luov
When it comes to getting kids outside, there's no better supporting book than Last Child in the Woods. Richard Luov makes the case for combating what he calls "nature defecit disorder" through scientific and anecdotal evidence in an easy-to-understand way. It's a must-read for those with children and without. Even though it came out way back in 2008, there's still plenty in the book that will be relevant for decades to come.

Thanks to Meghan Ward of The Campsite Blog for inspiring this post! I could've easily included several more on this list, but would love to hear your thoughts on any books you think can't be missed.


Meghan J. Ward said…
Great list, Katie, and I love the detailed descriptions! You've got a bunch on there that I haven't read yet...to add to my ever-growing list. And thanks for the shout out!
Heather Balogh said…
What a great list! This is my fave genre of books to read so I'm glad you gave me some suggestions. My all-time fave in this category is the ever-popular Into The Wild by Krakauer, but I also really enjoyed Savage Summit by Jennifer Jordan (re: the first 5 female climbers on K2), A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins, and Born To Run by Chris McDougall. The last one is entirely about running/this native tribe in Mexico, but it's still one of my favorites!
Justin Wolf said…
Great list! I am about midway through Last Child in the Woods and I am blown away by it. One that I would also suggest is AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller.
Katie said…
I haven't read that one, Justin, but will add it to the Reader Favorites post list! And yep, Last Child in the Woods is an amazing book. I think it should be mandatory reading for all human beings!
Katie said…
You had a bunch on your list I haven't read yet, too! Guess we both have some reading to do this fall/winter. Thanks for the inspiration!
Katie said…
I've read all of those except A Walk Across America...good choices, Heather! I didn't even think about Born to Run. glad I've got a Reader's Choice post list going :)
Gretchen B said…
You must read Tracks, by Robyn Davidson! It's my all time favorite - about a woman trekking solo across Australia with camels int eh 70's. She's an incredible writer.

Two other top picks for me in this category are The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, and Endurance: Shakleton's Incredible Voyage. Both totally gripping survival tales.

I've had the same feelings as you did about Wild. Plus EVERYONE has tole me I have to read it because I hiked the PCT in '96. Maybe I'll get around to giving it a shot.
Haley D said…
I love that you have 2 of Arlene Blum's books on the list. I loved both of those books so much. Very inspiring :) There's a couple on the list I haven't read yet, need to soon though I think. Another one of my favorites is Into Thin Air by John Krakauer. I just love his writing.
Dustin G said…
some of my favorites: Steph Davis's High Infatuation: A Climber's Guide to Love and Gravity; Peter Heller's Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave; and Mark Obmascik's Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled - and Knuckleheaded - Quest for the Rocky Mountain High.
Katie said…
Awesome, Gretchen! I haven't heard or read any of those...more for the winter reading list!
Katie said…
She's amazing, isn't she? I almost put all of her books on the list, but decided that was overkill :)
Katie said…
Of course, Steph Davis's book should definitely be on the list. I haven't heard of the rest...more reading for my list!
Katie said…
I haven't heard of or read that one, thanks for the suggestion, Allan!