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Outdoor Skills Books

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Top Picks

How we choose: The best books and maps highlighted here were selected based on 89 reviews of 67 products. Our top picks are those that are readily-available in the United States and have received the highest overall ratings from reviewers.

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Top Climbing Book

The Mountaineers Books Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills

user rating: 5 of 5 (5 reviews)

This is an excellent resource for information related to general mountaineering, but also for a broad range of topics from basic backcountry equipment and navigation, to rock and ice climbing, and a number of other associated topics. The most significant aspect of this book that sets it apart from other mountaineering/climbing references is not necessarily the specific material within the book, but how that content comes into being. This book is a great resource for any experienced back country traveler or climber, but is an especially good resource for someone new to the sport or who would just like to better understand the terminology, equipment, and techniques, associated with climbing and mountaineering.

Reasons to Buy

  • Very complete and thorough reference
  • Content is generated from a group of people with significant skills and experience
  • Great information for the general outdoor enthusiast

First off, I would like to state that I received my latest copy of this book from Trailspace as a gift for being a past Reviewer of the Month. That said, I already owned an earlier edition of this book that I purchased back in the mid 1990s. My comments in this review will be with the 8th Edition of the book Mountaineering, Freedom of the Hills, published by the Mountaineers Books. Before I get into my comments about the book itself, I think it is important to mention a little about the organization that is responsible for publishing this book, The Mountaineers.

Read more: The Mountaineers Books Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills reviews (5)

Top Outdoor Skills Book

Patagonia Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques For Tenkara And Rod & Reel

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

In-depth, but engaging book focused on simplifying fly fishing. It is a great balance of skills, stories, and phenomenal photography. A great book for anyone interested in flying fishing or just interested in learning new skills.

Reasons to Buy

  • Well written
  • Helpful diagrams and pictures
  • Engaging stories

Reasons to Avoid

  • Font layout and style is not my favorite, but that does not take away from the content.

Written by Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews, and Mauro Mazzo, Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel is a fantastic book on the art and lifestyle of fishing in it most basic form. All three of the authors are lifelong fisherman with decades of experiences. More important, however, is that they are all wonderful storytellers. They are able to present technical information in an engaging and entertaining way that guides the reader through the book and prepares them to try out their new skills.

Read more: Patagonia Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques For Tenkara And Rod & Reel review (1)

Outdoor Skills Book

Falcon Guides The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

This dog hiking book is subtitled "Trail-Tested Tips and Expert Advice for Canine Adventures." The book certainly does provide much helpful information for those interested in outdoor adventures with their dogs. It focuses on hiking, but also gives the reader insight into dog behavior and the relationship between dog and human. "The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs" varies in its thoroughness as it broaches a plethora of important aspects of dog hiking, but I can recommend it as a helpful guide for beginning dog hikers, or for more experienced dog adventurers looking to assess their current practices.

Reasons to Buy

  • Visually appealing with great photos
  • Includes guest authors to address specific topics
  • Does not shy away from discussing sometimes contentious issues
  • Includes information helpful beyond the scope of dog hiking

Reasons to Avoid

  • Does not include adequate information about some common gear, yet spends excessive time on discussing gear used by few dogs
  • Very brief index makes it sometimes hard to locate topics in text
  • Chapters seems to shrink in content and amount of information as the book progresses

Introduction: Hot off the presses! I was given the opportunity to reviewThe Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs just before its publication date of May 1, 2021. I was interested in checking it out, as I am often called upon to give advice to others about hiking (or canoeing) with dogs, and I am always looking for new ideas or techniques to share.                         Falcon Publishing is a supporter of the AHS                Authored by Jen Sotolongo with contributing commenters, this book is published by Falcon Guides, one of their well-known series of books on outdoor activities, travel, and hobbies.

Read more: Falcon Guides The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs review (1)

Top US Pacific States Paper Map / US Pacific States

National Geographic John Muir Trail Topographic Map Guide

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

If you are contemplating thru-hiking the John Muir Trail (or any section of it), this John Muir Trail Topographic Map Guide does an excellent job of gathering all the needed information for planning, plus having detailed maps of the entire trail and surrounding terrain.

Reasons to Buy

  • Detailed map guide to the John Muir Trail
  • Small size (fits in pocket of shell jacket)
  • Lightweight compared to other options
  • Waterproof and tear resistant
  • Accurate mileages to waypoints along the trail
  • Includes resupply points with shipping info
  • Includes trail profiles

Reasons to Avoid

  • Information on permit procedure is somewhat sparse (need to go online to get details)
  • Details are tiny, requiring good eyes or better glasses for us old geezers
  • Grid is UTM/MGRS, so the Mercator flattening produces some distortion that lat/lon would reduce

Comparison of size of National Geographic Yosemite map with the John Muir Trail Topographic Map Guide (USGS 1:250,000 map in background) Background: I have to confess up front that, despite having hiked and climbed on all seven continents, including fairly extended expeditions (both time and distance), and having lived in California for a total of roughly 50 years (minus short sojourns in Massachusetts and Mississippi), I have not thru-hiked the entire length of the John Muir Trail, although I have hiked major portions.

Read more: National Geographic John Muir Trail Topographic Map Guide review (1)

Top Guidebook

That Wild Country: An Epic Journey through the Past, Present, and Future of America's Public Lands

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

A down-to-earth book that is one part adventure journal and travelogue and one part approachable history lesson on public lands in the United States. The author skillfully weaves personal stories of adventures on public lands with the long and winding history of the public lands themselves. A great read for any adventurer, public lands user, or public lands advocate.

Reasons to Buy

  • Vividly descriptive writing
  • Well-researched
  • Describes relatable and approachable trips

Reasons to Avoid

  • Colorless, small photos

  A book about public lands, sitting on a public lands map, next to a public lands cup of coffee. Details: Author: Mark Kenyon Length: 282 pages Publisher: Little A Publication Date: 2019   Review: While the author, Mark Kenyon, is most recognized as a prominent voice in the deer hunting culture (founder of Wired to Hunt website and podcast, as well as a prominent contributor to MeatEater), he shouldn’t be pigeonholed as just a hunter. This book clearly illustrates Kenyon’s diverse outdoor interests and describes some of his memorable trips hiking, fly fishing, camping, pack rafting, sightseeing, and RVing, with only two short tales of hunting trips mixed in.

Read more: That Wild Country: An Epic Journey through the Past, Present, and Future of America's Public Lands review (1)

Outdoor Skills Book

Frank Amato Publications The Curtis Creek Manifesto

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

"The Curtis Creek Manifesto" is probably the number one book available on the basics of fly fishing. The author and illustrator, Sheridan Anderson, created a unique and entertaining guide that will provide everything a person needs to know to get started fly fishing and it's done in a book that is only 48 pages long. It has been considered a classic ever since it was first published in 1978.

Reasons to Buy

  • Covers all the basic topics of fly fishing needed for someone new to the sport
  • Outstanding Illustrations
  • Easy to read print and format
  • Presented in a way that is simple and pleasant to understand

Reasons to Avoid

  • None—There is no better book for someone wanting to get into fly fishing

About twenty years ago I was just getting into fly fishing and during a fishing trip a friend recommended that I pick up a copy of The Curtis Creek Manifesto while we were visiting a fly shop to pick up a few flies and some tippet. I didn't think much about it at the time, but over the years I have always found myself coming back to this book for basic information, but more so now just for the enjoyment I get from the illustrations and how the material is presented.  The Curtis Creek Manifesto isn't for someone who likes a lot of structure and organization because there is no table of contents or an index.

Read more: Frank Amato Publications The Curtis Creek Manifesto review (1)

Top US Mountain States Guidebook

Westwater Books Belknap's Waterproof Canyonlands River Guide

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

A classy, cargo pocket-sized, waterproof guide to over 350 miles of the Green and Colorado Rivers through and above Canyonlands National Park, with detailed maps, illustrations, and text on the region’s colorful geology and history. Works well as a stand-alone guide for river trips.

Reasons to Buy

  • Nicely rendered maps with plenty of detail on the river and immediate surroundings
  • Overview of regional geology and river history
  • Maps augmented with photos, notes, and quotes from explorers

Reasons to Avoid

  • No info on water sources
  • No mention of Native American history
  • Lake Powell map is an afterthought

In the winter of 2018, during our year-long residence in Tuscson, my wife and I decided to splurge on a 6-day guided raft/dory trip on the Colorado River from near Moab, Utah, down through Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park to the uppermost reach of Lake Powell. The rafting company, OARS, threw in a copy of this Belknap River guide for the same price as you’d buy it anywhere else, and sent it on ahead to give us something to read or maybe just drool on—good thing it’s waterproof.

Read more: Westwater Books Belknap's Waterproof Canyonlands River Guide review (1)

Top US Northeast Guidebook

Down East Books Hiking Maine's 4,000-Footers

user rating: 4 of 5 (1 review)

Hiking Maine's 4000 Footers is a guide book with detailed descriptions for day hiking each of Maine's 14 high peaks. Doug Dunlap has authored several other books on Maine hiking and includes a lot of basic hiking info for newer hikers in this guide.

Reasons to Buy

  • Accurate trail descriptions
  • Lots of basic info for newer hikers
  • Small reference maps

Reasons to Avoid

  • Some repetitive text
  • No elevation profiles

  Doug Dunlap has written several books on hiking and snowshoeing in Western Maine. Doug is a Registered Maine Guide and he's been hiking for over 40 years in New England, hitting all 67 4k summits. In Hiking Maine's 4,000 Footers he takes on the 14 high peaks in the state. He follows the spine of Maine's mountains from Old Speck northward over Saddleback, Abraham, Spaulding, Sugarloaf, Reddington, the Crockers, the Bigelows & finally the three high peaks of Baxter State Park, N Brother, Hamlin and Baxter Peak on Katahdin.

Read more: Down East Books Hiking Maine's 4,000-Footers review (1)

Top Camping/Hiking/Backpacking Book

Pro-Knot Outdoor Knots - Waterproof Plastic Fan Pack

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

Small and lightweight, it has all the key knots that an average backpacker, Boy Scout, or outdoors person may need.

Reasons to Buy

  • Lightweight and unobtrusive
  • Clear pictures
  • Durable
  • Great summaries or mnemonic devices

Reasons to Avoid

  • Potentially brittle
  • Must be able to follow drawings
  • Only short descriptions available
  • Free Smartphone options available

What is it and when to use it? Just recently bought this from an online marketplace. Was just over $4 and while that seems a bit expensive for info on only 20 knots, I personally think it was a great investment. I thought that I would like to learn some knots that could be used not only while hiking or backpacking, but also used around the the house or in any situation if needed.  There are several good 50+ page books with several pictures and lengthy descriptions.  These were the options.

Read more: Pro-Knot Outdoor Knots - Waterproof Plastic Fan Pack review (1)

Top US Pacific States Map Application

Garmin Topo US 24K West

user rating: 4 of 5 (1 review)

This is a set of maps for Garmin GPS units that's also usable with Garmin's (free) BaseCamp trip planning software (BaseCamp runs on both Mac and Windows). If you don't have a Garmin GPS, you are NOT interested in this software (I suppose you could use it just for trip planning on your computer, but it would be awfully expensive relative to the competition). These maps offer detail "similar to" a USGS 24K (7.5 minute) map for your GPS. My review summary is: I'm glad I got these maps; they have been very useful and fun for me, because I do advance trip planning on my computer, because I use my hiking GPS for driving as well, and because I really only go hiking/driving to remote trailheads in California.

Read more: Garmin Topo US 24K West review (1)

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