As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to force many countries to remain in lockdown I’m following on from my list of the top 10 best ski and snowboard films with 10 of my favourite adventure and outdoor books.
Of course, nothing quite beats an adventure experienced firsthand, out in the wilderness, with magnificent scenery around you. Books though, I believe are the next best thing. A well-written book that sweeps you along for a ride of its own is in many ways an adventure in itself, with several books over the years teaching me about new cultures, enlightening me through different ways of thinking, and making me feel incredibly inspired.
All of the books here are ‘must-reads’ of the adventure literature world and contain thrilling tales, useful advice and in some of them, downright hilarious anecdotes. They have all enriched my life in different ways, and will provide some hope and inspiration in these trying times.
I hope you can get lost in them, get transported to the worlds within them and perhaps start planning your own big adventure after this has all finished.
1. Into Thin Air: Jon Krakauer
One of my favourite books, not just in the outdoor and adventure category, but perhaps of all time. Telling the harrowing story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, the tale is thrilling, gripping and tragic, exposing the harsh reality nature can throw upon mankind. This is essential reading for any outdoor/adventure lover. Krakauer’s story, although deeply thorough, has had criticism over the years, with The Climb and Left for Dead providing different takes on events by other mountaineers on the expedition.
2. Touching the Void: Joe Simpson
Another great read, Touching the Void tells the story of two young climbers and their quest to be the first to reach the summit of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Reaching the summit however, does not turn out to be the most difficult part of their journey. On the treacherous descent disaster strikes and forces one climber to make a terrifying and life-changing decision. Another of my favourite adventure books, Touching the Void holds you on the edge of your seat and prompts you to consider the position you would take in such a horrible decision.
3. Into the Wild: Jon Krakauer
Yes, another Krakauer book, sorry! Unlike Into Thin Air, Into the Wild does not tell a first-hand account, but traces the tragic yet inspiring true story of a young man called Christopher McCandless. Abandoning his middle-class life he hitchhikes across America for 2 years until ending up in the vast wilderness of Alaska. Months after his arrival a party of hunters discover his decomposed body. The story of how he came to die is the remarkable tale told by Krakauer, tracing his every move with the analytical mind of a journalist, through diary entries and interviews. I love this book, it’s both tragic and inspiring, making you consider the freedom and joy of giving up our western world for a simpler life. It also serves as a stark warning, demonstrating how out of depth we would be if we followed McCandless’ path.
4. One Year on a Bike: From Amsterdam to Singapore: Martijn Doolaard
A couple of years ago when I was perusing a shop in Amsterdam this cover caught my eye on the way past. I flicked through a couple of pages and was instantly hooked. What an incredible adventure to have pulled off. The book does as the title says, and follows the author as he makes his way from Amsterdam to Singapore, all on a simple bicycle. As you can imagine there are many crazy highs and desperate lows throughout the account, with every bit as exciting as the last. The book is stunning in every aspect, from the photography to the design and has been a staple item on my coffee table ever since purchasing it.
5. A Walk in the Woods: Bill Bryson
An absolute classic, and a great introduction to Bryson for me. I only read A Walk in the Woods after watching the film based on it of the same name. Leaving the cinema with some friends, all feeling fairly underwhelmed, one of them informed me that ‘the book was much better!’. I went home, ordered a copy, and got stuck in. The story tells of Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz as they set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Facing over 2,000 miles of remote wilderness filled with a multitude of dangerous animals and a companion who would much rather be in a motel watching TV, Bryson struggles through the trek with his usual witty tone and dry commentary, providing great amusement and hilarity.
6. Wild: Cheryl Strayed
An epic and moving memoir from Cheryl Strayed. At the age of 26, in the wake of her mother’s death from cancer and the break up of her marriage, she decides to act on impulse and walk 1,100 miles of the west coast of America alone. With no experience of long-distance trekking or map-reading, the story follows her internal and external battles as she completes this self-affirming and redemptive journey. Cheryl’s anger and rawness shows through in the writing and makes it into an incredibly compelling tale, cementing it as a great adventure book.
7. Lost in the Jungle: Yossi Ghinsberg
Recently made into a film featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Yossi Ghinberg’s story tells of 4 backpackers as they set off into the depths of the rainforest from Bolivia. Thinking of uncharted villages and lost tribes they begin what they believe to be a dream expedition. Once they are lost and the group gets split from each other however, the expedition starts to turn into a nightmare. Alone in the jungle Yossi is forced to survive for weeks in one of the most dangerous environments on the planet, without a knife, map or survival training. Stuck with just his own thoughts for company and desperately out of his depth, he begins to wonder if he will ever make it out alive. This book is both inspiring and unnerving, documenting inner strength and a deeper appreciation of the miracle of life.
8. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Aron Ralston
In April 2003, Aron Ralston, a 27 year old outdoorsman set off for a hike in the canyons of Utah. In the middle of a deep and remote canyon a boulder slipped and trapped his arm against the canyon wall. After 5 and a half days of dehydration, starvation and enduring otherworldly hallucinations he decides the only option is to amputate his arm with a blunt penknife. Against all the odds he survived, telling his story in an emotional thrill-ride that showcases his brave effort to survive and the strength of the human spirit.
9. Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: Ranulph Fiennes
Dubbed as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’ by the Guinness Book of World Records, I was lucky enough to attend an evening talk hosted by Sir Ranulph at the end of last year. The evening was inspiring and impressive, giving an intensive insight into Sir Ranulph’s life and the different adventures he has embarked upon. The stories told ranged from his journey to reach both poles by surface travel (becoming the first man to do so), and becoming the oldest Briton to reach the summit of Everest in 2009. Over his lifetime he has been awarded an OBE, raised over £14 million for charity and lost several of his fingers to frostbite. Looking back at his life, this book does much of the same, recreating his sense of humour through various parts, remaining compelling throughout, and at times becoming downright exhausting as you are taken through his demanding and formidable adventures.
10. Walking the Amazon: Ed Stafford
An account of a world-first expedition to walk the entire length of the river Amazon, a route considered impossible by pundits and fellow adventurers. Taking two and a half years and crossing the whole of South America the journey follows Ed Stafford as he overcomes storms, injuries and deadly wildlife to complete this epic adventure. Demanding great physical and mental strength, he takes you along for a daring tale, at one point even being chased by native tribesmen and detained for murder. The book has a purposeful viewpoint too: to help raise awareness of environmental issues created by the deforestation of the Amazon. Having direct access to indigenous tribes and communities, Ed witnesses first-hand the loss of habitats and devastating effects the loss of forest is having on the people who call the place their home.
So there we go, 10 of the best adventure and outdoor books to give you a taste of freedom in these hectic and trying times.
Stay safe out there and lose yourselves in some adventures.