Books for the Backcountry

It’s time to get busy reading.

Photos and words by Lexi Dowdall

The pace of camp life lends itself well to a little rest and relaxation, especially when paired with a good book. Your imagination has an enhanced ability to run wild when you’ve packed up, unplugged, and left the comforts of home behind. With fewer distractions, a chorus of crickets, and a crackling fire, you can easily immerse yourself (perhaps more so than normal) in the universe contained between pages.

I’m so attached to the perfection of reading while camping that I often chuckle at the 2-3 books I’ve crammed in my duffel bag, knowing full well I’ll never complete them during the course of a weekend excursion. A tougher challenge is presented to the backpacker, who can’t be so frivolous with weight and space. I wish you luck on that one!

So, without further ado, here are a few books that impart themselves as valuable additions to an outdoor escape.

“A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

If you are hiking or backpacking, “A Walk in the Woods” should be stuffed in your pack. Never has a book so thoroughly busted my gut. The author, Bill Bryson, fumbles his way onto the Appalachian Trail and finds himself wholly unprepared for the challenges of a thru hike. I found myself laughing out loud at Bryson’s wit and self-deprecating humor. Find trail wisdom and amusement in this tale filled with folly, history, and the incredible diversity of characters he encounters on the trail.

“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell

Not exactly light reading, Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” will often leave you confounded. Best suited for an extended trip in the wilderness, it requires your full concentration. Revel in the opportunity to read this novel without distractions and find yourself transported across space and time with a dazzling array of characters. This book is a wild ride, and though it can be difficult to follow the sinuous course of the plot, it offers a mind-bending examination of the connections between human beings, space, and time.

“Grand Ambition” by Lisa Michaels

If a river trip is more your speed, “Grand Ambition” is a novel based on the true story of a couple’s ill-fated honeymoon float down the Grand Canyon. The year is 1928 and newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde have departed on a perilous journey down the Colorado River in a wooden sweep scow boat with the intention to set records. Had they survived, Bessie would have been the first woman to run all the dangerous rapids that haunt this deadly span of the Colorado. The unsolved mystery and pace of this story will keep you enthralled.

“The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed” by John Vaillant

When exploring the mystical forests of the Pacific Northwest, consider opening “The Golden Spruce,” a riveting tale by John Vaillant. Plunge into one of North America’s last great forests as the fate of a luminous Sitka spruce with rare golden needles unfolds. Wrought with intrigue, and emotion, the engrossing tale revolves around the complex dynamic between people and primeval nature.

“Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey

Make like Abbey and head for the American Southwest to experience the desolate solitude of the high desert. “Desert Solitaire,” full of paradoxes, remains relevant in today’s age, as many of the same issues plague the contemporary American West. Canyon country comes alive in Abbey’s mesmerizing prose. To experience the landscape through his eyes while perched atop an arid plateau is indeed a moving experience.