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Maybe you have some of these questions rolling around in your head about a thru-hike, and you want to read accounts from someone instead of just blogs and YouTube.
I wanted to dive into the best hiking books that answer some questions and provide details, along with some hiking memoirs you may not otherwise find…
- How can I start with an edge to completion?
- Exactly what do I need to do to turbocharge my progress?
- I want to know how to build willpower like other great thru-hikers.
- Should I break all the societal norms and take months to thru-hike a long trail?
- Is thru-hiking as glorious as the YouTubers make it appear?
There are some fantastic stories from the perspective of the successful and unsuccessful thru-hiker. For those who love books, like me, having a chance to read about someone’s trek and their trials and tribulations can offer some very unique perspectives.
I wouldn’t say a book about backpacking helps relay everything about any specific thru-hike, but much like YouTube, it can only give you one angle on the experience.
What you can learn, though, is a lot about the mentality needed to complete a thru-hike if your body can hold up, which is VITAL to success.
I have bought many of these books as paperbacks, some as audiobooks, and I just wanted to compile a helpful list of the best thru-hiking books to help others look for perspectives on trail life or information on specific trails.
Books Turned Into Movies | AT Related Books | PCT Related Books | CDT Related Books
Other Thru-Hiking Related Books | General Hiking Related Books
Amazing Thru-Hiking Books Turned Into Movies
A few key books have sprung this latest generation of thru-hikers, inspiring them to GO FOR IT and live their DREAMS.
These books have been turned into movies and are excellent films (and great books) on the fantastic trails of North America.
I think these are the two most influential and best thru-hiking books, and if you haven’t read them yet, I HIGHLY recommend doing so.
I promise they will start you down a path and help change your perspective on what is possible.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Converted into a movie featuring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, this book is one of the most famous accounts of an attempt to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
Bryson is a highly humorous writer with a knack for self-deprecating wit. He doesn’t make it to Maine (he hikes about half the distance), but his account is hilarious and relatable, as many of us can attest to the feeling of being “in over our heads.”
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, is at an all-time low when she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. A journey on which she not only finds herself but adventure and danger, as well as beauty and terror.
This story is a testament to the strength in the face of adversity and will inspire you to push your boundaries like never before.
Other Incredible Thru-Hiking Tales
There are loads of other great books about thru-hiking, both fiction and nonfiction. If you’re looking for more reading material about this incredible journey, I recommend many other titles which I still have to read myself.
Old Lady on the Trail: Triple Crown at 76 by Mary E Davison
Mary takes us on her trail treks to experience encounters with the beauty of wilderness from the Eastern ranges of the Appalachian Trail.
Finding the difficulties of the desert, snow, granite, and dense forests of the Pacific Crest Trail and the harsh and remote majesty of the Continental Divide Trail as she begins long-distance hiking at age 60.
Every day’s challenges of covering seemingly endless miles, meeting new people, and frequently soloing brought Mary to the first pages of this book on a beautiful day when she sighted two grizzly bears and completed long-distance hiking’s Triple Crown at the age of 76.
Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather “Anish” Anderson
By the time she was 25 years old, Heather Anderson had hiked the “Triple Crown” of backpacking – the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail.
This means she had hiked a combined distance of 7,900 miles with a vertical gain of more than one million feet. A few years later, she left her job, marriage, and unhappy life and walked back into those mountains.
In this memoir, Heather tells the story of her athletic feats, wilderness adventures, and determination to find what makes her happy. She encourages others to be brave and take risks to find their happiness.
Walking the Gobi by Helen Thayer
When Helen Thayer was 63 years old, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of crossing the Gobi Desert. She did it with her husband Bill (74 years old), two camels, Tom and Jerry, and by walking 1600 miles in 126-degree temperatures. They battled fierce sandstorms, dehydration, dangerous drug smugglers, and ubiquitous scorpions along the way.
Helen struggled to keep moving through this inhospitable terrain for more than 60 days. Despite a severe leg injury, she continued her journey of pure discovery and adventure. She had no sponsors, support team, or radio contact.
Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts
Day One, and Suzanne Roberts was already lying in her journal. She had just finished college when her friend suggested they hike California’s John Muir Trail.
The adventure sounded like the perfect distraction from difficult home life and thoughts about the future. But she never imagined that the 28-day hike would change her life.
John Muir had written about the Sierra Nevada as a “vast range of light.” Roberts was looking for the same thing when she traveled there with her two girlfriends.
In her month-long journey through the backcountry, she not only had to face dangerous animals and harsh conditions but also deal with broken equipment and strange men.
Her story is not only a tribute to nature but also a display of strength as she found her way in an outdoor experience.
Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail by Melanie Radzicki McManus
In 36 days, Melanie Radzicki McManus hiked 1,100 miles around Wisconsin. This journey made her a part of the elite group of people who have hiked the entire Ice Age Trail known as the Thousand-Milers.
Thousand-Miler takes you on a journey through Wisconsin’s forests, prairies, wetlands, and farms. You’ll also hear or read about the amazing geological features carved by glaciers long ago. And you’ll visit the neighborhood bars and gathering places in small towns far from home.
Free Outside: A Trek Against Time and Distance by Jeff Garmire
The man walked into the woods, destined to spend eight months living there. He was tired and emotionally ruined from living a fast-paced life as a successful young professional. It was easy for him to give up.
The challenges came on the adventure of a lifetime. Months in the woods were difficult, but they would provide adversity, healing, and tranquility. Setting out to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail in a single calendar year was an audacious goal.
But completing the 8,000-mile Calendar Year Triple Crown would be the story of a lifetime.
Just Passin’ Thru by Winton Porter
“Just Passin’ Thru” is a play full of suspenseful scenes. But unlike in a fictional story, the characters in this play are real people who live near the Appalachian Trail.
The author’s new life as a backpack-purging, canteen-selling, hostel-running, bandage-taping, lost-child finding, argument-settling, a romance-fixing man of many faces wouldn’t be possible without the real-life stars of this story.
There are different types of people who show up at open houses. Some come once, and that’s it. Others come again and again. Some are friends, while others might be dangerous.
Best Appalachian Trail Books
The AT is probably the best-known thru-hiking trail, with many traveling from out of the country on a Visa to complete the journey.
Here are some of our best picks for books on the Appalachian Trail:
AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller
David Miller departed his profession, family, and friends in 2003 to walk 2,172 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Miller’s story of this trek from Georgia to Maine is recounted in AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.
Listeners or readers are treated to rich descriptions of the Appalachian Mountains, the isolation and reverie that inspired his quest, and the rewards of taking a less conventional path through life.
This book is filled with introspection and tenacity, but it also has useful sections about hiking equipment and preparation.
Appalachian Trials: The Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail By Zachary Davis
This book is part memoir, part guidebook, as Zachary Davis chronicles his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and provides helpful tips for those considering a thru-hike of their own.
He includes sections on how to deal with homesickness, anxiety, depression, and more, as well as advice on how to physically and mentally prepare for a long-distance hike.
North by Scott Jurek
Scott Jurek is one of the most famous ultrarunners in the world. He is known for his amazing endurance and speed, which he has displayed by winning many elite ultrarunning events.
After many years of racing, training, and speaking, Jurek felt the need to do something new. He undertook a unique challenge that would force him to grow as a person and athlete: breaking the speed record for the Appalachian Trail.
North is the story of his 2,189-mile journey which pushed him to his limits.
Lost on the Appalachian Trail by Kyle S Rohrig
Kyle and his little dog “Katana,” take you on a 2,185-mile journey hiking the Appalachian Trail.
They face the terrain, severe weather, injuries, dangerous wildlife, and questionable characters along the way. As you follow their journey, you will learn and grow from their experiences.
Make friends for life, learn about long-distance hiking, and learn that what you take with you is not as important as what is inside yourself.
This narrative tells the story of Kyle and Katana’s adventures on the trail excitingly and humorously.
This book is about someone who hikes thousands of miles through a mountainous area. This person faces many obstacles, but they don’t give up.
The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo
New York comedian Derick Lugo never thought he’d go hiking, especially since he spent so much time making sure his goatee looked perfect.
But when he suddenly found himself out of a job with no immediate plans, he wondered if maybe it was time to try something new.
So that’s how Lugo ended up embarking on a months-long hike and discovering some surprising things about himself along the way.
He had always dismissed the idea of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail; it seemed like an impossible task. Suddenly he wondered, could he do it?
The Unlikely Thru-Hiker is the story of how a young black man from the city, unfamiliar with both the outdoors and thru-hiking culture, sets off with an extremely overweight pack and a willfully can-do attitude to conquer the infamous trail.
When You Find My Body: The Disappearance of Geraldine Largay by Dee Dauphinee
A truly sad story, When You Find My Body, is the account of hiker Geraldine Largay’s 2013 disappearance in the Maine woods.
Despite an extensive search, she was not found until years after, and the book includes excerpts from her diary that provide insight into her final days.
Going off trail, even on a heavily traveled trail like the AT, is always dangerous, and this book is a reminder of that.
More Than A Walk: The Journal of a 16-Year-Old Hiker on the Appalachian Trail by Timothy Corey
Timothy, a 16-year-old boy, goes on an adventure with his 21-year-old sister when she needs someone to go hiking on the Trail with her. Timothy writes about his experience to make the reader feel like they are with him.
He is refreshingly honest about his situation and the people he meets along the way.
From his journey of 2,100 miles, Timothy’s daily journal entries allow the reader to venture into the thoughts of a 16-year-old boy on his quest for manhood.
Final Notes from the Field: Northbound on the Appalachian Trail by Kirk Ward Robinson
After hiking the Appalachian Trail for the third time, Robinson planned to take a break until 2028. But then he had a personal loss, and the Covid pandemic happened. He returned to the trail at 62 to see if he could still do it.
Through journal entries and lively prose, Robinson explores mortality, friendship, tradition, and obsession. He tells the story of his time on the Appalachian Trail in a way that is often humorous and always honest.
This book lays bare the reality of the trail during a journey that he believes was worth every drop of sweat and blood.
Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis
In this book, Jennifer Pharr Davis tells the story of her Appalachian Trail thru-hike, which she completed in 2007 at 21.
After college, Jennifer had no clue what she wanted to do as a career. So, she took matters into her own hands and decided to hike the Appalachian Trail solo.
The 2,175-mile footpath runs from Georgia up to Maine. Even though her friends and family questioned her sanity, Jennifer felt drawn to the journey and hoped it would give her time to think about what came next.
As Jennifer hikes the trail, she becomes more confident. She meets people who are kind and generous and who make her laugh.
But when something bad happens, she learns she can rely on others to help her.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery
Ben Montgomery tells the true story of Ohio housewife Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, who became the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail alone in 1955.
Emma Gatewood, a 67-year-old great-grandmother, told her family she was going for a walk and left with only a change of clothes and less than $200.
The next anybody heard from her, and this amazing woman had completed 800 miles of the 2,050 Appalachian Trail.
A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt
Jeff Alt takes you on a journey every step of the way while hiking the Appalachian Trail. This entertaining adventure includes bears, bugs, blisters, captivating characters, skunk bedmates, and hilarious food cravings.
Jeff walked more than five million steps to raise money for his brother’s home, Sunshine. This adventure has inspired an annual event that has raised more than $200,000. The book includes hiking tips for the whole family.
Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the heart on the Appalachian Trail by Dennis Blanchard
Dennis Blanchard felt guilty for not keeping his promise to his brother. Forty years later, he found a way to keep that promise finally. He set out on the Appalachian Trail.
He learned that walking in the wilderness can connect you with different times and places. This is a time and place that seems to have been forgotten.
The difficulties of walking over 2,200 miles are frequently underestimated. People can have trouble before they even start.
Skywalker: Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Walker
This is the story of Bill Walker’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2005 at age 60. It chronicles his struggles, eventual successes, and the people he meets along the way.
Why would a middle-aged businessman attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail? Bill Walker, a former commodities trader in Chicago and London and an avid walker, was determined to hike this historic 2,175-mile footpath in one hiking season.
In the spring of 2005, he set off from his home state of Georgia, hoping to make it to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine before the arrival of winter. Immediately, he realized that he was in a whole new world.
Walker is 6’11” tall near giant, and his fellow hikers named him “Skywalker” because of his envy-inducing height.
The trail is notoriously challenging, with hikers often having to go through several geographical regions that are vastly different from each other. Furthermore, the East’s highest peaks are also located on the trail.
The Barefoot Sisters Walking Home by Lucy Letcher & Susan Letcher
The story of Lucy and Susan Letcher has become an AT (Appalachian Trail) classic. The sisters hiked the entire length of the trail from Maine to Georgia.
Then they decided to turn around and hike it again, but they did it barefoot this time! They encountered many challenges along the way but also found joys that they never expected.
Trail Magic by Louis Agoston Jr
Two years ago, Sonny Toth’s wife’s departure spurred his gradual seclusion until he finally retired to a solitary life on his small farm in Grand Rapids, Ohio.
However, encouraged by an ageless mother and three adult children to join local social activities, he made a bucket list.
His friends and family thought he was crazy when Sonny said he wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail.
But after preparing with research and training, his daughter drove him down to Georgia, where his journey north would begin at Amicalola Falls State Park.
This trip purified Sonny’s soul and restored his faith in humanity and love.
Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman
After Paul Stutzman’s wife died from breast cancer, he felt he needed to do something challenging.
He left his job and traveled to Georgia, where he started hiking on the Appalachian Trail. What he learned during the next four and a half months changed his life and can change yours too.
In Hiking Through, you’ll go on a remarkable journey with Paul. He’ll walk through 14 states in search of peace and a renewed sense of purpose.
You’ll meet interesting and funny people, experience trail magic, and learn that every choice we make on the path has consequences.
A Road More or Less Traveled: Madcap Adventures Along the Appalachian Trail by Stephen Otis & Colin Roberts
A doomer stumbles across the forest, warning of the end of humanity. Because all he can afford is oatmeal, a 300-pound hiker loses half his body weight.
A Mormon suffering from dysentery attempts to rob a private detective’s dog. A brave woodsman smacks a bear across the snout with a blazing brand.
In upstate New York, two hikers enter a fanatical religious community and learn where all of the soap in the world comes from.
Along the path, they encounter uncouth beauty, collide head-on with America’s churning technology, and fight through religion in ruins. This narrative contains adventure, absurdity, belly laughs, and soul-searching nastiness. It’s worth your time to read it.
Balancing on Blue by Keith Foskett
Keith Foskett’s dream of escaping started with one step. He chose to backpack all 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
This left his ordinary life behind for five months while he endured an incredible test of physical and psychological strength.
He takes a trip through America’s most interesting landscapes and history, meeting all sorts of people along the way.
He writes about his experiences with insight, humor, and reflection.
Best Pacific Crest Trail Books
The Pacific Crest Trail is a long-distance trail running from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington states.
It is one of the most popular trails in the US, and for a good reason – it offers some of the most scenic views in the country.
Here are some of the best books about the Pacific Crest Trail:
Bliss(ters): How I walked from Mexico to Canada One Summer by Gail Francis
Gail Francis quit her job when she was about to turn 40. She decided to hike one of the great trails in the world, carrying everything she needed on her back. Francis spent five months walking along the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.
She lost her pack while scrambling over scree in the desert. She struggled to navigate high mountain passes and wore the soles off her boots, trekking across lava fields.
However, Francis’ tale is told from a unique perspective by an extensive cast of characters.
From the guy walking the incredible 2,700 miles in 26 wedding gowns to the lady making the trip with her pet mouse, Francis learned that she could count on her hiking companions for entertainment and some essential life lessons.
Hikertrash: Life on the Pacific Crest Trail by Erin Miller
Friends thought they couldn’t make it a week at first. But before they knew it, days became months as they traveled three miles per hour across America. As Carl and Erin transformed into Bearclaw and Hummingbird, they discovered that hikertrash was ideal for them.
Although they acknowledged that the journey was life-changing, it produced no major insights, no magical answers to all of life’s burning issues, and no “ah-ha!” moments when suddenly everything made sense. This isn’t a story about personal growth.
This is the story of what it is like to hike one of America’s greatest trails. It is a long journey with many challenges. You will have to deal with blisters, shin splints, and other problems. But you can also see some amazing landscapes and forests.
There will be good and bad times, but you will never forget the experience.
Zero Days: The Real Life Adventure of Captain Bligh, Nellie Bly, and 10-Year-Old Scrambler on the Pacific Crest
This is the story of how three people with nothing in common came together to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.
Captain Bligh is an experienced long-distance hiker, Nellie Bly is an adventurous 10-year-old, and Scrambler is a very large dog.
The trio faces many challenges along the way, including dealing with methodical bears, self-doubt, and physical exhaustion.
But they also find beauty in the wilderness and themselves.
Pacific Crest Trials By Zachary Davis
This is another amazing look by Zachary Davis, only this time, and he chronicles his experience attempting to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
He not only provides helpful tips and advice for those considering a thru-hike of their own but also gives an honest account of the challenges he faced along the way.
I love how he focuses much more on the mental approach as it is frequently what takes out thru-hikers, the flesh is willing, but the mind itself is weak.
Girl in the Woods: A Memoir by Aspen Matis
Girl in the Woods is Aspen Matis’ story of hiking from Mexico to Canada. It is a coming-of-age story, a survival story, and a triumphant story of overcoming emotional devastation.
Aspen was raped by a fellow student on her second night of college. Her parents discouraged her from telling anyone, so she was confused and ashamed.
She was desperate, so she made a daring decision. She would travel to the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada, to find healing.
Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn
Carrot Quinn breaks away from society to walk the Pacific Crest Trail in order quit her addicting use of the internet. The city life had numbed her, and she continually lost connections with others.
Consequently, she walked 2,660 miles from Mexico to Canada on the trail as a means to find herself again.
Carrot is confronted with numerous challenges in the sandy desert of Southern California, both physical and emotional: agony, injury, blisters, aching cold, scorching heat, dehydration, and weariness.
Best Continental Divide Trail Books
The CDT, or Continental Divide Trail, is a long-distance trail running from Mexico to Canada through the Rocky Mountains.
The CDT is one of the most challenging trails in the US, and only a small percentage of hikers who attempt it are successful.
Here are some of the best books about the Continental Divide Trail:
Where the Waters Divide by Karen Berger & Daniel Smith
In this book, Karen Berger and Daniel Smith chronicle their experience thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail.
The book is filled with beautiful photos and helpful information about planning a thru-hike of your own.
It’s also an inspiring story about what’s possible if you set your mind to it and never give up.
Scraping Heaven: A Family’s Journey Along the Continental Divide By Cindy Ross
The Continental Divide Trail is a difficult trail along the Rocky Mountains. It is 3,100 miles long. People must be careful on this trail because there are tricky mountain passes, and it can snow a lot.
In 1993, Cindy Ross and her husband went on a journey with their two toddlers. They used llamas as carriers for the kids and packers. Over the next five summers, they hiked the entire Trail.
In 1998, they finished the last 700 miles on mountain bikes.
Hiking the Continental Divide Trail: One Woman’s Journey By Jennifer Hanson
This is the story of a woman’s hard-fought journey to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail.
The author chronicles her experience in great detail, providing helpful information for anyone considering a thru-hike of their own by using examples from her flip-flop hike in 1997.
Jennifer’s hike was tragic when she found out her father had cancer. Three weeks later, her husband was forced to stop hiking due to an injury. Jennifer finished the last nine hundred miles by herself.
She also offers an honest look at the challenges she faced along the way, which is refreshing and inspiring.
General Hiking and Exploration Beyond The Normal
For those books that are extraordinary and should be in any hiker, backpacker, or outdoor enthusiast’s collection.
The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds by Caroline Van Hemert
Caroline Van Hemert, during her graduate studies, conducted experiments on the beaks of chickadees in a sterile lab.
However, she felt stifled and lost her passion for research. She needed to experience wildness again.
This time, she followed the trails of animals and was guided by the sounds of birds.
In March of 2012, she and her husband traveled 4,000 miles through different terrains like the rainforest, the Alaskan Arctic, and more.
They did this by rowboat, ski, foot, raft, and canoe. They faced many dangers along the way and experienced moments of joy and grace.
Trespassing Across America: One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland by Ken Ilgunas
Ken Ilgunas started with a crazy idea – to hike the entire length of the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline. But as he thought more about it, he realized there was more to it. He wanted to do it to raise awareness about the issue.
He decided to go on an adventure to bring attention to global warming. He also wanted to explore what he was capable of.
So he put on his backpack, stuck his thumb on the interstate just north of Denver, Colorado, and hitchhiked 1,500 miles to the Alberta tar sands.
He turned around and began his 1,900-mile trek to the XL’s endpoint on the Gulf Coast of Texas. He walked across private property almost exclusively.
Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home, and Family on the Edge of Alaska by Erin McKittrick
Small Feet, Big Land follows a family as they explore Alaska’s vast and remote parts. The family is made up of Erin McKittrick and her husband, Hig. They have trekked their whole lives and want to explore Alaska with their two young children.
Erin and Hig have walked through the harsh and beautiful wilderness together. They are now adjusting to a toddler’s short attention span and short legs and the newborn baby’s weight.
They are walking Alaska’s rapidly changing coastline.
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane
Robert Macfarlane leaves his home in Cambridge, England, to follow ancient paths that cross the British landscape and its waters and territories.
The result is an exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, the stories our tracks keep and tell, and pilgrimage and ritual.
Final Thoughts on the Best Thru-Hiking Books
The above list is in no way exhaustive, but these are some of my favorite books on the subject. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! There are loads here to learn and grow from!
Happy Trails! All my best gear is listed on this page if you are looking for any gear choices.