The best first-person books about the outdoors that should be better-known

Who am I?

As an avid trail-runner and mountain-biker who’s done a ton of outdoorsy things, from sailboat racing on the Chesapeake Bay to rockclimbing to backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, I’m convinced that nothing gets you closer to someone’s experience than a well-told first-person account. The best personal narratives make you feel the cold, glow with the exhilaration, and burn with ambition to go, to do, to see for yourself — and can even make you look at the world, and yourself, in a new way. These books, different as they are, have all done those things for me.


I wrote...

A Window to Heaven: The Daring First Ascent of Denali: America's Wildest Peak

By Patrick Dean,

Book cover of A Window to Heaven: The Daring First Ascent of Denali: America's Wildest Peak

What is my book about?

In A Window to Heaven, Patrick Dean brings to life this heart-pounding and spellbinding feat of this first ascent and paints a rich portrait of the frontier at the turn of the twentieth century. The story of Stuck and his team will lead us through the Texas frontier and Tennessee mountains to an encounter with Jack London at the peak of the Yukon Goldrush. We experience Stuck's awe at the rich Inuit and Athabascan indigenous traditions—and his efforts to help preserve these ways of life.

Filled with daring exploration and rich history, A Window to Heaven is a brilliant and spellbinding narrative of success against the odds.

The books I picked & why

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The Voyage of the Cormorant: A Memoir of the Changeable Sea

By Christian Beamish, Ken Perkins (illustrator),

Book cover of The Voyage of the Cormorant: A Memoir of the Changeable Sea

Why this book?

Building your own sailboat from scratch, then sailing it from California down to Baja, camping, and surfing along the way: how can that not be a cool story? Christian Beamish manages the perfect blend of introspection and backstory with descriptions of sea, sky, land, and the people he meets along the way.

The Voyage of the Cormorant: A Memoir of the Changeable Sea

By Christian Beamish, Ken Perkins (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Voyage of the Cormorant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Christian Beamish, a former editor at The Surfer's Journal, envisioned a low-tech, self-reliant exploration for surf along the coast of North America, using primarily clothes and instruments available to his ancestors, and the 18-foot boat he would build by hand in his garage. How the vision met reality and how the two came to shape each other places The Voyage of the Cormorant in the great American tradition of tales of life at sea, and what it has to teach us.


Raven's Exile: A Season on the Green River

By Ellen Meloy,

Book cover of Raven's Exile: A Season on the Green River

Why this book?

Nobody, not even Ed Abbey, describes the red-rock deserts and rivers of the Southwest as well as Ellen Meloy did. Raven’s Exile describes raft trips through Desolation Canyon of the Green River in eastern Utah with Meloy’s husband, a BLM river ranger. Meloy’s poetic, humorous, profound, keen-eyed voice makes me want to get on that river.

Raven's Exile: A Season on the Green River

By Ellen Meloy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Raven's Exile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More than a century after John Wesley Powell launched his boat on the Green River, Ellen Meloy spent eight years of seasonal floats through Utah's Desolation Canyon with her husband, a federal river manager. She came to know the history and natural history of this place well enough to call it home, and has recorded her observations in a book that is as wide-ranging as the river and as wild as the wilderness through which it runs.


Inside Passage: Living with Killer Whales, Bald Eagles, and Kwakiutl Indians

By Michael Modzelewski,

Book cover of Inside Passage: Living with Killer Whales, Bald Eagles, and Kwakiutl Indians

Why this book?

This late-90s account of Modzelewski’s time among the islands of the Inside Passage north of Vancouver is a little bit out there, figuratively as well as literally; the symbolism can be a wee bit heavy at times (“inside passage” — get it?). But the life he portrays, the incredible beauty and power of this part of the world, the characters he describes so indelibly, make this a book that I’ve gone back to again and again.

Inside Passage: Living with Killer Whales, Bald Eagles, and Kwakiutl Indians

By Michael Modzelewski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inside Passage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by Robinson Crusoe and Jack London, Michael Modzelewski, jettisoned all baggage accompanying life in the comfortable middle class and set out to find raw, unharnessed wilderness. He found it on Blackfish Sound ("Blackfish" is the Kwakiutl Indian word for the killer whale) in the Inside Passage, the rugged coastline between Seattle and Alaska.

Leaving his home in Aspen, which had become a false Shangri-La for him, Modzelewski settled on a desolate island in the Inside Passage, a place which "after seducing you with beauty would shake you with fear. An unpredictable place that kept you always prepared, honed to…


Wapiti Wilderness

By Margaret E. Murie, Olaus Murie,

Book cover of Wapiti Wilderness

Why this book?

I really love a lot of the writing between the two world wars — there’s something clear-eyed but lacking in guile, almost willfully large-spirited and generous. The two Muries alternate chapters, Mardie describing everyday life in the beautiful but rapidly-changing Jackson Hole of the 1930s and 40s, while Olaus writes about and illustrates his work as a famous wildlife biologist. I regularly re-read this book when I want to feel good about people and the world.

Wapiti Wilderness

By Margaret E. Murie, Olaus Murie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wapiti Wilderness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For over thirty-seven years, Margaret and Olaus Murie made their home in the mountainous wilderness of the Tetons, where Olaus Murie conducted his famous studies of the American elk, the wapiti. Through these years their home was almost a nature-conservation shrine to thousands of Americans interested in the out-of-doors, in animals, in nature in general. Wapiti Wilderness, begun by Mrs. Murie as a sequel to her Two in the Far North, which told of the Muries' life and expeditions in Alaska, became a book written by both the Muries.

In alternate chapters, Olaus tells of his work as a field…


A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds Around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska

By Hudson Stuck,

Book cover of A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds Around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska

Why this book?

The oldest of my choices, published in 1920, this classic account of an epic 2,000-mile dogsled journey in northern Alaska, written by an Episcopal missionary, still makes lists of the best books about the 49th state. A masterpiece of adventure and ethnography, with lyrical descriptions of nature, A Winter Circuit is the work of a man not only deeply and widely read about polar exploration and the history of the Far North, but also keenly aware of the social forces bearing down on Alaska’s Native peoples, and eager to support and defend their time-honed way of life.

A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds Around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska

By Hudson Stuck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been…


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