Whether they’re stories about explorers and dirtbags, or philosophical musings about nature, these books are made for the adventurous soul and will inspire you to live wild.
Explorer Saphira‘s Top Picks
1. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
A 20-something woman has lost her mother and now her marriage has dissolved. Her life is in a shambles. With no real hiking experience, she decides to undertake the Pacific Crest Trail (think 5 months walking from the Mexican to the Canadian border) to find herself and lose her toenails.
2. Into The Wild – John Krakauer
A 20-something man finishes college and has a bright future ahead of him. Harvard seems on the horizon. Instead he disappears, sends his college fund to Oxfam and orders the Post Office to hold his mail for two months.
For the next couple of years he wanders dirt-poor through America, and leaves an unforgettable impression on those he meets. Eventually, he heads north to Alaska where he perishes. This is his story: the authenticity of living for himself, his selfishness, intensity, and irresponsibility and his ultimately fatal search for what it means to live.
3. Walden – Henry David Thoreau
‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.’
In the 1800s, Henry abandons civil society in favour of a cabin by the woods. He lives simply and cheaply and derives a philosophy for a good life. This book gives advice on everything from budgeting to clothing and is a classic for good reason – but it can be a bit wordy. Thoreau is the master of living an authentic life, and I credit this book for giving me a philosophy to live by.
4. My First Summer In The Sierra – John Muir
When I was camping and hiking in Yosemite last year, I watched a theatre piece on the life of John Muir one evening. I was impacted by the character of this strange, bearded fellow.
Muir was a naturalist and is responsible for the first national parks in America. He lived sometimes dangerously, summiting mountains in storms and getting caught in avalanches – and he did it before it was cool (safety is cooler).
The John Muir Trail in California is testament to his impact on Yosemite National Park and his writings continue to inspire generations of explorers and nature-lovers to live a life in touch with the wild.
5. On The Origin Of Species – Charles Darwin
‘There is grandeur in this view of life…’
All the beauty, diversity, and complexity of life on Earth was first explained scientifically by Charles Darwin in his elegant book, On The Origin Of Species.
The old naturalists like Darwin have a very romantic style of writing that will convince you of the splendour of the world. At least twice a day I still stop to contemplate the incredulity of being alive.
The chances of being alive are so minuscule that it seems impossible that we are allowed to experience what we do. It is this knowledge that drives me to live happily and contently, to explore all I can, to climb and hike ‘so I can see the world, and not so that the world can see me’ (David McCullough).
7. Tracks – Robyn Davidson
A Brisbane woman undertakes a great Australian journey across the desert with camels.
This multifaceted book covers her struggles for months on end in Alice Springs as she tries to learn how to train camels, her coming face to face with the stark reality of Aboriginal life, and the impact of having National Geographic photograph her trip. The book describes the sheer and incredible beauty of what is often called a harsh and unforgiving part of Australia.
8. Tales from the Bush: Footloose reflections on the walking life – Quentin Chester
This collection of short stories and adventures in the bush comes from a prolific Australian bushwalker. The stories are a bit of a rambling journey – just like a good hike – through tales from here and there. It’s the perfect book for bushwalkers looking for easy reading about adventures in Australia and New Zealand.
9. The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac
I picked up my tattered copy of the Dharma Bums from a bookshop in Maleny at the Sunshine Coast. Kerouac’s more famous On the Road had failed to impress me, so I wasn’t very hopeful. But it became one of my favourites; a vagabond’s journey to understand life, loafing around, driving around, and walking around. This book is where Kerouac talks of a ‘great rucksack revolution’ which is sure to inspire all adventurers.
10. Green Mountains – Bernard O’Reilly
Bernard O’Reilly – part of the family which established O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in south-east Queensland – garnered national attention when he found the survivors of the 1937 Stinson crash in Lamington National Park. At that time, the search for the survivors had been focused near Sydney, nearly 1000km away.
Green Mountains is the incredible recount of this rescue, and also includes the stories of some of the first white settlers in the region (including a bona fide hermit), with vintage photographs of the park.
11. The Nature Fix – Florence Williams
If you’re here reading this, you probably don’t need a book to tell you that nature is good for you. But if you’re curious about what research has been done on the link between wilderness and wellness, and how nature affects us mentally and physiologically, The Nature Fix is probably the best and most comprehensive book you can read.
Drawing from researchers all over the world who are unravelling why the woods make us feel good, this is a seriously interesting evidence-based book that will justify all that time you spend outside.
12. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
This recount of the 1996 Everest disaster was such a page-turner that I devoured it in a single day in the Himalayas. Jon was invited to join an Everest trip with Adventure Consultants, headed by the brilliant late Rob Hall of New Zealand, but eight people died the day Jon summited. The book, published as an extension of Jon’s commissioned article for Outside magazine, has attracted controversy but is inarguably a masterful and thrilling piece in the Mountain Canon.
13. Tomorrow, When the War Began – John Marsden
The Tomorrow series is a classic piece of Australian literature. You might even have been assigned it in high school. While the book isn’t about the outdoors per se, it’s got its fair share of adventure and the outdoors. This much loved tale starts with seven teenagers going bush for a proper camping trip, but it quickly takes a turn for the worst…
14. Once Again Upon the Mountain – Bruce McDonald
If you like the style of Tomorrow, When the War Began, you’ll like Once Again Upon the Mountain. The second book by Bruce McDonald on the Stinson Crash of 1937, it dramatises the rescue of the survivors, turning an incredible real-life event into a page-turning story. Featuring the colourful personalities of the local town members, and a lot of banter, this is a great Australian story to sink your teeth into. This is the sequel to Once Upon the Mountain, which chronicles the story of the survivors before they were found – both are worth a read.
Explorer Simone‘s Fave Reads
15. Ultramarathon Man: Confessions Of An All Night Runner – Dean Karnazes
All Dean Karnazes needs to pump out a fantastic novel is a moonlit trail and a voice recorder. He leaves us with no excuse but to leave Netflix behind and hit the trails. With a playful and boisterous tone ‘Karno’ (as his friends affectionately call him) lays out his running history from his cross-country days in high school, to rekindling his love for the sport in his 30s.
Whether it be a 135 mile race in the accurately named Death Valley, to the first marathon ever run at the South Pole, Karnazes takes challenges in his stride. With ultra-running constantly chasing the limits of human endurance (think the Barkley Marathons) our favourite running machine won’t be out of options just yet.
16. Alone On A Wall – Alex Honnold co-authored by David Roberts
His free solo on El Cap may have blasted his notoriety into the stratosphere, but Honnold has been chipping away at classic routes in the Yosemite Valley for years, all while living quite comfortably in his van. No rope, no harness and no backing down isn’t Honnold’s only style of climbing, and many of his crown achievements have been setting almost-impossibly-fast roped ascents of mind-blowing walls.
He certainly doesn’t butter up his climbing achievements and plays it quite close to the chest, especially when describing his life outside of climbing. Co-author David Roberts jumps in to sing praise for Alex, as well as break down some of the climbing slang for us newbies.
17. The Beckoning Silence – Joe Simpson
Joe Simpson is best known for the incredible story Touching The Void, but with The Beckoning Silence he gives us another absolutely incredible novel. Simpson grapples with a question that mountaineers have all struggled to answer. ‘Why? Why continue to push the boundaries of what is physically and psychology possible?’ Simpson tries to explain the impossible, but how does one explain why humans continue to return places that bring us so much heartache and pain, while driving us nearly mad?
Balancing heartbreaking stories of the early attempts on the infamous north face of Eiger with his own attempt, as well as his personal history with some of mountaineering’s great names, it’s safe to assume that Simpson will have you contemplating the ‘why?’ of your own life, long after you finish the last page.
18. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding – Kristin Newman
This novel may be short but it packs a punch. If the title alone doesn’t convince you to grab this novel with both hands and hold on tight, then perhaps the fact that it’s authored by one of the writers of How I Met Your Mother will. Newman takes you far away, throws you head first into beautiful locations and even more beautiful people, ready to do very adult things to you. It’s fun, it’s sexy and it’s just the right size for carry-on luggage.
19. Blind Descent – James M Tabor
Strap on your head torch, pack extra batteries and watch your head – we’re going deep and setting a course straight for the centre of the earth. James Taylor chronicles the hardships of the two men that spent decades exploring and mapping supercaves in the hopes of finding the longest system.
With American Bill Stone (appropriate name) taking on Cheve Cave in Mexico and Ukranian Alexander Klimchouk pushing further into Keruba in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, this read will have you tearing through the pages at lightning speed. Through personal experience and extensive interviews Taylor plunges us into the absolute darkness of a supercave system.
Explorer Bee‘s New Fave Novel
20. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
On The Road, what a book, what a ride! Kerouac’s beat and flow will grab you in the first few pages. You’ll be right there, sitting in the backseat of a car hurtling across postwar America. A protest against the sobriety of the average middle-class citizen, you and your badass crew of poets will challenge the status quo of what it means to live and what it means to be happy. From hitching rides and jiving in jazz clubs to trekking mountains, this book nourishes the heart of any free spirit.
My favourite quote;
‘My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realised no matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad.’