Research can go a long way with backpacking. That is why we decided to share our favorite backpacking books. These will save you money, time, and stress while also teaching you beginner and advanced backpacking skills. We hope you find these recommendations valuable and let us know in a comment about your favorite backpacking books. Also be sure to check out our related articles, Safe Hiking Practices and Backpacking Tips.
Our Picks: Backpacking Essentials
Originally published in 1984, The Complete Walker is now in its 4th edition and it is considered the “Bible of Backpacking”. This classic book has become very popular and I believe that a great part of its continued success is the fact that it is so much more than just a backpacking guide; it is a philosophical resource for backpackers. Of all the backpacking books that I have read (too many), this is the one that best captures the spirit of backpacking. I have heard people claim that it has even changed their life. Now I know this all sounds like hyperbole, but this is a truly fascinating staple of backpacking culture.
The first edition was the first true guide for a generation of backpackers, telling them how to do it. Now some of the gear reviews in it and items mentioned in this book are a little dated. Also, some of the gear contradicts what is said in other books that strive for going as lightweight as possible. That said, there is plenty of theoretical and practical information to be found here. In addition, this book offers a glimpse into the history of backpacking and gear while providing answers to the question, “why do we backpack?”. This is a lengthy text but I find it very engaging and would have it no other way.
TLDR: This is the 4th edition of a classic that covers the history, philosophy, and instructions of backpacking. Considered the “Bible of Backpacking”, this is my favorite of the backpacking books.
“Trail Life: Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking” is the updated version of the classic “Beyond Backpacking”. This is a must-read for serious backpackers. The book goes into great detail on specifics and exactly how to go about certain techniques. In all honesty, it is hard to think of topics that aren’t covered in this text. Information provided includes, but is not limited to, knot-tying, insects, advice for women backpackers, gear, food, packing, long-distance trekking, and personal well-being. When I said that this is a must-read for serious backpackers, that wasn’t to exclude beginners. This should be read by anyone embarking on a backpacking journey.
Some critics have argued against Jardine’s advice regarding gear and organic food, although I am glad this is all included. Regardless of what readers choose to apply in the field, it is great to see Jardine’s mindset and thought process when it comes to his decisions. Furthermore, he isn’t just some guy saying some things; he speaks all of his advice from his own adventures and experiences. This is all information that he has tweaked over decades to find what works best. In conclusion, this is definitely a must-read and one of the backpacking books to bring along on your journey.
TLDR: A must-read revised classic that is full of rich advice. All the advice comes from decades of accrued backpacking knowledge and it covers all the little details in great depth.
Backpacking Books for Beginners
3. The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Revised and Updated: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills
The Backpacker’s Field Manual is basic but covers some great ground and is definitely worth using as a checklist when planning a backpacking trip. The book begins by offering some great trip planning insights. Then, it covers a wide range of helpful advice with regards to checking the weather, route difficulty, group camping, bringing proper lightweight gear, and leadership skills. The book’s content is meticulously researched and updated with each edition, so I’d recommend purchasing the most recent edition.
The Backpacker’s Field Manual makes a great gift for backpackers of any experience level and is a great reference tool. However, it does read like a manual and it isn’t the most fun in terms of writing style. It serves well as a book that can be brought along on excursions and reread to apply the concepts to your trip. I personally love how it is structured in a chronological order of questions or considerations that would come up. It starts with the planning and packing phases, then it stems into group and nature dynamics. This book isn’t so much about theory as it is a resource for giving clear and concise answers to questions that will arise along a backpacker’s journey. As far as backpacking books go, this one is very practical.
TLDR: It reads like a manual and is structured by the steps it takes to plan, pack, and orchestrate a successful backpacking trip. Good for beginner’s and experts alike.
4. Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book: Traveling & camping skills for a wilderness environment (Allen & Mike’s Series)
Allen and Mikes Really Cool Backpackin’ Book is a hilarious, informative and fun read. Written by Allen O’Bannon and illustrated by Mike Clellan, this is one of my favorite backpacking books. The content delivers great insights into what you should pack to keep things lightweight. Throughout this book, there are humorous illustrations by Mike Clellan which provide great entertainment. Also, the humor makes the read a breeze and helps for memorizing certain lessons. One thing I like about this book is the practical information. An example is the section offering easy backpacking recipes or the bit about hygiene. This book has a wealth of helpful and practical information that gets specific rather than covering just theory. I have even brought this with me on backpacking trips!
This is a light and fun read that is also a great gift for kids that love the outdoors. One of the highlights of the book for me was the section on gear selection. This book mentioned ideas that I had not previously thought of or heard about. Furthermore, there’s lessons in this book that have stuck with me that I still use on my trips. As mentioned before, I still bring this book with me on the occasional excursion.
TLDR: It is best for beginners, and great for experts. A hilarious and practical illustrated guide with specific information. Also, a great gift for kids and adults.
Don Ladigan’s book, Lighten Up is a very fun and informative read. If this book doesn’t get you excited about backpacking, then probably nothing will. Lighten Up focuses on lightweight packing theory and can help readers to avoid costly gear purchasing mistakes. This book covers the importance of packing light and features awesome illustrations by Mike Clellan. It is a quick and easy read and the illustrations make it great for sharing with kids or scouts.
This book is a great entry-level guide and it is also great to read early on in your backpacking journey (before you purchase heavy and expensive equipment!). However, even experienced backpackers can gain new knowledge from this book. Even if not much new information is learned, this is such a fun and enthusiastic book that nobody could complain much after giving it a chance. I believe that for that reason, this book is a great gift for anyone you know that who shares your outdoor enthusiasm. If you have kids, I highly recommend this book as a gift for them. I wish I had discovered this when I was a kid to fully internalize the concepts behind backpacking. You probably won’t funnier backpacking books than this. In conclusion, do yourself a favor and check this out!
TLDR: It is a cheap and fun read for any level of backpacker, offering great information about backpacking theory. Lighten Up is great for kids and should be read prior to making any costly gear purchases.
This is a great guide that covers the basics on the kind of gear you will need for backpacking and the differences between gear options. The author, Karen Berger does an excellent job in getting straight to the point and there isn’t much fluff. According to her bio, she has hiked over 15,000 miles, including the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.
The book is a very comprehensive guide, however, this isn’t an all-encompassing guide and it should be supplemented with reading that covers the more advanced topics. This book doesn’t get into super specific details, but it is a great resource for backpackers starting out. This is a very broad and idea-giving book that is more for beginner’s to get inspiration and to get their feet wet in the world of backpacking. I recommend the newest edition, because it incorporates more photos than the previous editions. In addition, it is slightly updated.
TLDR: Great broad resource for beginner’s to learn about the various considerations in the world of backpacking, although it doesn’t go very in-depth to the various topics.
Thanks for checking out this article! What are your favorite backpacking books?