Backpacking and Adventure Books for Vacation Reading

Dog Days of Summer
Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer (when it’s so devastatingly hot that the dogs lie around and pant all day) are a great time to take it easy at the campsite and catch up on your summer reading with a cool drink in hand. Here are a few books that I plan on reading this week up in the mountains in between trips to the swimming hole.


Balancing on Blue

I think Keith Foskett is one of the best hiking and adventure storytellers out there and I’ve been devouring his book Balancing on Blue, which grabs you in the first chapter and doesn’t let go. He’s written a couple of other thru-hiking memoirs and they’re all quite good.

Balancing on Blue by Keith Foskett

Accompanied by an array of eclectic characters including a world champion juggler, a drug dealer, and a sex-starved builder from Minnesota, Kieth Foskett’s AT Thru-hike experience was far from normal. Battling a fear of snakes, bears, being in the woods after dark and his own demons, it’s physically exhausting — as well as a psychologically challenging. His adventure weaves a route through some of America’s wildest landscapes and history, and is told with insight, humour and reflection.

The Unexpected Trail

Walt McLaughlin’s other books about the Long Trail and the NPT have had a big influence on me and my appreciation of a wilderness experience. This latest book describes his experience hiking on the Appalachian trail in the Hundred Mile Wilderness with his dog.

The Unexpected Trail by Walt McLaughlin

The 100 Mile Wilderness, located in the immense forest of northern Maine, is the most remote section of the Appalachian Trail. With a German shepherd dog named Matika for company, McLaughlin revels in all the hardship that the North Woods has to offer. He reflects upon the evolution of the trail system, as well as the history of the region, while traversing mountain ranges, fording rivers and slogging through bogs. He contemplates his own inclination towards wildness while pressing southward, encountering scores of hardy AT thru-hikers on their final push to Mount Katahdin. The trail twists and turns. The journey holds many surprises. And the beautiful mystery of the natural world prevails.

Wild Tanuki: An Adventure Across Japan

I really enjoy reading books about Japan and this one about an American who skateboards end-to-end across the country sounded too good to pass up.

Wild Tanuki by Elliot Burley

After working in an Alaskan oilfield, Elliott settled in Tokyo, with a job at an English conversation school and a loving girlfriend, Zucchini. But Elliott got tired of settling down and decided to do something new, quitting his job and skateboarding through Japan, end-to-end, in 46 days. With the help of Japan’s 17,569 7-Elevens and lots of rice, Elliott embarks on his epic journey, Join through the mountains, over cracks, and under rain, as he escapes snakes, wild pigs, and bears. If you’re looking for another profound travel memoir all about finding yourself, this might not be the book for you. But if you’re looking for an exciting, funny exploration of one man’s love of Japan, you’re in for a wild skate.

What are you reading in these dog days of summer?


  1. Excellent list, Philip! I’ll pick them up.
    I’m currently reading: Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper — the man walked from Calais to Constantinople in the early ’30s during the rise of the Nazis and then became a secret agent during the war to assist the partisan resistance on Crete. Also John Muir: A Passion for Nature by Donald Worster, a big, bold book on the founder of the Sierra Club and the father of modern wilderness preservation.
    Happy camping, happy reading.

  2. If you’re looking for another entry into the “indomitable human spirit” category, try The Martian, by Andy Weir. It’s science fiction, but more in the nature of Apollo 13 than Alien or Asimov’s Foundation books. It’s a fairly quick read, and there are no monsters or deus ex machina plot twists. Everything’s plausible in the story of an astronaut left for dead on Mars – but isn’t.

  3. Balancing on Blue was really good and so his other book The Last Englishman. Too bad he had to end his CDT hike early this year as I was looking forward to another one from him. Trauma’s book is high on my list of future reads.

  4. You just filled up my reading list! :-) I’ve been enjoying “Hikertrash: Life on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Erin Miller. Anyone who’s been on a backpack longer than a couple days will nod and smile knowingly at just about every page.

    I second Glenn Roberts’ recommendation of “The Martian.” Great story about the will to survive, and resourcefulness in creatively using what’s around you.

    BTW, the term “Dog Days” originally comes from ancient Greeks, who believed the languid heat of late July and August were brought about by Sirius (the “Dog Star”) rising concurrently with the sun in the morning. My high school science teacher would be so happy that I remember that. :-)

  5. I just read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and was very disappointed. I didn’t care for his prose style which seemed to be a series of background research reports related only in that they involved people or events near the AT. It had very little on the hike or the two people hiking.

  6. My Favorites are: A Paperback copy of the Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Anyone of the Books by Patrick J. McManus. Peterson Field Guides; Edible Wild Plants, Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Louis L’Amour Novels, J.D.Salinger Novels. Various Authors who wrote the series of Books about the adventures of Conan. I gave up reading “Trail Books” but they really do not vary on their contents by much and after a long day of hiking a trail, I find no pleasure in reading a book about it.

  7. I’d highly recommend Canyons And Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith. It follows his life from his early days rafting the Colorado river before it was dammed up, remote places in Mexico all the way up to his move to Alaska where he practically invented Packrafting. The story never seems to drag and really makes you want to put the book down and get out adventuring.

  8. Philip,
    Glad you enjoyed and thanks for posting.
    ~ Fozzie

  9. Excellent reading list, Philip, thanks for putting this together. Been looking for some new reading materials as I travel… Cheers, man!

  10. Thanks for the reviews. This one gets bookmarked and used long after summer is over. But I think I will skip Trauma’s new book. In Trail Tested, he had a little vignette about how he almost got eaten by lions. That filled my creepy-story quota for awhile.

  11. How about “Following Atticus” but you may find a need for a map of the Whites to follow all of the hikes that are described.

  12. Thanks for the info on Wild Tanuki. Definitely going to pick it up.

  13. The other story to the dog days of summer is in regards to a star. Sirius “the dog star” is supposed to be closer to Earth during August and the ancients believed due to that “closeness” the heat from that star reached the Earth. So Sirius’ radiation along with the Sun’s is believed to have contributed to the “Dog Days of Summer”.

  14. I am almost done reading the third of the books written by former ADK ranger Larry Weill. The first is called “Excuse Me, Sir, Your Socks Are On Fire” and it was terrific so I read book two and am almost done with book three of his stories of ADK ranger life. I highly recommend them.

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