Books bring stories to life in a way that no other medium can compare. I read about the Appalachian Trail for the first time in The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. Two years later, I completed my first thru-hike of the same trail.
Books are motivating. They’re inspiring, illuminating, and filled with pearls of wisdom. Gilbert’s book transformed me from a paper-pushing purchasing agent to the athlete that I am today.
From classic adventure books that get our hearts pumping to nuanced tales about the consequences of dreaming, there are dozens of life-changing books to captivate our interests. On my literature journey, so far, these are the six best thru-hiking books I’ve encountered. May you also enjoy the stories they spin and the questions they compel their readers to ask.
Journeys North by Barney 'Scout' Mann
“Scout” and “Frodo” have been PCT trail angels in the San Diego area for nearly two decades. But thru-hiking the entire trail changed their relationship to it.
In 2020, Barney “Scout” Mann published Journeys North to describe the Pacific Crest Trail in an honest and intimate way. His story isn’t just about the dusty footpath that carried him to Canada. It’s also about the trail’s history and the community that surrounds it.
Journeys North weaves the stories of 6 different hikers together. As readers delve into this book, they get up close and personal with the intensity of thru-hiking. Drought, winter storms, pain, and love intermingle, making the PCT what it is.
Journeys North was a 2020 Banff Mountain Book Competition Finalist.
The Pursuit of Endurance by Jennifer Pharr Davis
In The Pursuit of Endurance, Jennifer Pharr Davis explores what it takes to fuel the human spirit in an endurance environment. Why is it that some athletes thrive under prolonged distress while others do not? What does it take to set a record of your own? And how do those who preceded you impact your own efforts?
In the book, Jennifer details her experience setting a Fastest Known Time on the Appalachian Trail. However, rather than painting her story as a singular achievement, Jennifer also explores the psyches of trail legends like Warren Doyle, David Horton, and Scott Jurek.
This book takes an inquisitive look at thru-hiking, seeking answers to the questions that propel us forward.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery
Grandma Gatewood was 67 when she first hiked the Appalachian Trail. She told her children that she was going to take a walk, and ended up becoming the first recorded female thru-hiker along the Appalachian Trail.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery details Gatewood’s story, the abuse that riddled her life, and the internal fire that guided her — making her not only the first female thru-hiker, but the first ‘ultralight’ one as well. After her initial AT thru-hike, Gatewood went on to complete the trail two more times, bringing her solace when nothing else would.
The Unlikely Thruhiker by Derick Lugo
Derick Lugo was a young Black man living in Brooklyn when — between jobs — he decided to attempt the hike of a lifetime. With a heavy pack and positive attitude, Derick set out on the Appalachian Trail. The Unlikely Thruhiker details Derick’s grit, determination, and the discoveries that he made along the way.
North by Scott Jurek
Scott Jurek wasn’t prepared for the agony and the scale of trials that he’d face along the East Coast when, in 2015, he decided to chase a Fastest Known Time, running the entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. But he was determined. North by Scott Jurek details the story of one of America’s most successful runners, how his life led him to the Appalachian Trail, and what it was like to navigate his interpersonal relationships along the way.
Trespassing Across America by Ken Ilgunas
It was the early 2000s when Ken Ilgunas realized he wanted to hike the Keystone XL pipeline. But it wasn’t until the fall of 2012 when he finally picked up his backpack and began a trek that would take him 1,700-miles across the United States.
As he hiked, he stealth camped on private property, since it was nearly impossible to complete such a journey any other way. While Ilgunas’ story is a personal one, it also asks questions that are relevant to the collective: What do we owe the planet? How has it changed over the centuries? And what role does the oil and gas industry have?
Trespassing Across America takes readers down a windy road, detailing the impacts of climate change and seeking to dig deeper into the ethics of fossil fuels.
Additional Thru-Hiking Reads Recommended by the GGG Team!
Free Outside: A Trek Against Time and Distance by Jeff Garmire (available on GGG!)
Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike by Liz 'Snorkel'
Weathered: Finding Strength on the John Muir Trail by
A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft, and Ski by
What other thru-hiking books do you love, and would add to this list? Leave your recommendations in a comment below!
Continue hiking with Mary Beth: @h1kertrash
Thanks for that addition. After publishing and sharing the article, I realized the oversight by not including Heather’s books! So greatly appreciate you giving her the well-deserved shout-out!
You must include “Mud Rocks Blazes” by Heather Anderson. It’s well-written and quite captivating and she is unbelievably modest about her stamina and fortitude. It’s a 5-star read, please include it on any thru-hike book list!