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Outdoor Education Survey

Favorite Outdoor Books












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Favorite Outdoor Books:
Outdoor Education Survey


In 1999, a survey was conducted among outdoor educators attending the  International Conference on Outdoor Recreation and Education held in Jackson, Wyoming.  Participants in the survey included academics, researchers and practicianers in the field outdoor education. Since education is a big part of what the attendees do, you would naturally expect to see outdoor instructional books appear on the list--and, indeed, there are several. 


You'll also notice that the list reflects the popularity of new books released about the time of the survey.  For example, both of John Krakauer's books had been recently published and both appear near the top of the list. The controversy surrounding the accuracy of Krakauer's work is evident by the high ranking of Anatoli Boukreev's The Climb which provides an entirely different perspective on what happen on Everest in 1996. 


This list has much more diversity than the Outside and National Geographic book lists.  It includes poetry (Robert Service), fiction (Journey to the Center of the Earth), and several biographic works (Shackleton).


This was not a rigorous scientific survey.  It was conducted for informational purposes, to get an idea of what was being read among those that work in the field. 

The following are highest ranked books in the survey in order of ranking:



1. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)


What can be said of Sand County Almanac?  It is simply one of the great works of nature literature and from it has sprung the environmental movement.  This special edition of Sand County Almanac, published by the original publisher, is a tribute to Leopold, commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth.  It was over 50 years ago that the book was first published, but his words and insights are as fresh as ever.  Another Review


Amazon.com: More Information or Purchase




2. Mountaineering:  Freedom of the Hills by The Mountaineers (1960-2004)


Freedom of the Hills is the classic English-language text on mountaineering and the best selling climbing instruction book of all time.  First published in 1960 and now on its sixth edition, this authoritative and expansive book has evolved with the times, while maintaining its high and exacting standards.  It is an essential part of any outdoor library. 


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3. Desert Solitare By Edward Abbey (1968)


Edward Abbey is the undisputed the voice of the remote canyonland country of southern Utah and Northern Arizona.  No book describes this harsh landscape better and with more hard-nose poignancy than Desert Solitare.  


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4. Into Thin Air  By John Kraukauer (1997)


It was John Kraukauer's book in 1997 which suddenly made New York publishers sit up and take notice.  Indeed, a book on outdoor adventure could make money and lots of it.  Into Thin Air describes the diaster that unfolded on Mt. Everest in 1996 when several parties were caught in a vicious storm.  


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5. Into the Wild  By Jon Krakauer (1996)


This is Krakauer's study of an idealistic young man that leaves everything behind and heads into the Alaska bush.  A few months later, he is found dead.  While Krakauer obviously padded the book to make it an acceptable length, it's, nevertheless, a haunting parable of the search for meaning in modern day life. 


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6. Kayak by William Nealy (1986)


William Nealy is famous for a particular style in instruction books that blends humor, instruction and solid advice.  Using cartoon-like animation, he shows how to paddle, roll, surf, read white water and much more.   


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7. The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev (1997)


If you've read Jon Krakauer's account (see Into Thin Air, above), then you must also read The Climb, a different perspective on the events which led up to and occurred during the 1996 Everest disaster.   


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8. Annapurna By Maurice Herzog. (1952)


In 1950, Herzog leads a group of French climbers to make an attempt on one of the world's most dangerous mountains.  Two make it to the top, but on the descent everything goes wrong.  Among mountaineering literature, Anapurna has few equals.  


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9. Seven Years in Tibet  By Heinrich Harrer (1953)


Harrer escapes from a prisoner-of-war camp in the Himalayan foothills, makes his way across Tibet to Lhasa, and eventually meets and befriends the young Dalai Lama. See More Extensive Review.  


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10. The Snow Leopard  By Peter Matthiessen (1978) 


Matthiessen accompanies biologist George Schaller on a 250-mile trek through the Himalayan mountains.  Schaller's purpose is to study blue sheep. Along the way, Matthiessen hopes to catch a glimpse of the exceedingly rare Snow Leopard.  Coming shortly after Matthiessen's wife's death, the journey becomes a spiritual quest of great insight and beauty.  See More Extensive Review.   


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11. Shackleton by Roland Huntford (1985)


A classic and erudite study of one of the greats of Antarctic exploration: from birth to death, the man, and his times and indomitable spirit.  Huntford's narration of Shackleton's epic 1916 journey is as gripping and unforgettable as found anywhere.  


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12. Never Turn Back by Ron Watters (1994)


Liam Guilar's review: The story of white water pioneer Walt Blackadar, set in the context of the his town and times. This is a rare book, intelligently and honestly written, an entertaining and thought-provoking biography of a hero.  Another Review


More Information & Best Source for Purchase:  Great Rift Press.   (Amazon does not stock the book.)



13. Path of the Paddle by Bill Mason (1980)


Path of the Paddle, hands down, is the best canoe instruction book ever published.


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14. The Perfect Storm  By Sebastian Junger (1997)


In 1991, in a rare merging of three separate weather systems, a storm of unimaginable intensity hits the the northeastern seaboard. Junger's story centers on a fishing boat with six on board caught in the fury of the storm.   


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15. Journals  By Meriwether Lews and  William Clark (1841)


The story of Lewis and Clark's remarkable journey across the American west told by the great explorers themselves.  


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16. The Games Climbers Play edited by Ken Wilson  


An anthology of outstanding climbing writing extracted from climbing magazines and journals, primarily from that period of fast growth in the 1960s and 1970s.


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17. Exploration of the Colorado River  By John Wesley Powell (1875)


John Wesley Powell's journal of his trip into the "great unknown" of the Green and Colorado Rivers.  


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18. The Man Who Walked Through Time  By Colin Fletcher (1968)


Fletcher’s journey from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other.  There’s no death defying climbing or canyoneering found in this book.  He tells no edge-of-the-seat tales of becoming lost or struggling without water.  Yet, Fletcher makes the trek interesting by taking us along, inviting us to be a participant and sharing with us what he is experiencing. See More Extensive Review.  


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19. Arctic Dreams  Barry Lopez (1986)


Barry Lopez (also the author of Of Wolves and Men) based this book on his years of experience in the Arctic.  The book is vast in scope covering geography, weather, natural history, and anthropology.  


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20. Coming into the Country  By John McPhee (1976)


When I first traveled to Eagle, Alaska to kayak some of the tributaries of the Yukon River, I had my copy of Coming into the Country along.  In his precise and crisp prose, McPhee gives us an encompassing and perceptive glimpse of the north star state from its cities to its vast wild lands. 


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21. Royal Robbins Spirit of the Age by Pat Ament 


A biography of one of the pioneers of American rock climbing.


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22. Roughing It  By Mark Twain  (1872)


Roughing It is a loose rendering of the events in Twain's life beginning in July of 1861 when he departed for Carson City, Nevada with his brother Orion, who was recently appointed Secretary of the Territory of Nevada, and ending in early 1867 when he arrived in New York.  In a style which would later become the great writer's hallmark, Roughing It is a rollicking, no-holds barred travel account of what it was like in the early days of the west. See More Extensive Review


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23. The River Why by David James Duncan  (1983)


The River Why is one of two works of fiction on fly fishing books that top the scales (the other is A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean).  Here's how Duncan describes the novel: "In the late 1970s I wrote a novel--a sort of backwoods Great Expectations in which the "Pip" character, a far-gone fly fisherman, tried to express my lifelong love for the salmon-and-steelhead-filled rivers of the Oregon coast."  


Amazon.com: More Information  Also by Duncan--River Teeth: More Information



24. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1971)

A fictional story of a scientist, his nephew and a guide on an adventure that takes them deep into subterranean world inhabited by strange life forms.  It's Jules Verne at his best: exciting, suspenseful and wonderfully imaginative. 



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25. The Collected Poems of Robert Service by Robert Service  (1921)


Robert Service's poetry has delighted more outdoorsfolk and has been recited around more campfires than any other poet.  Spending eight years in the Yukon, Service assembled a treasure drove of knowledge and stories about the gold rush, and then putting pen to paper, he captured the romance of north country like no other: the lonely lands, the unforgiving cold, the colorful characters, men and women who don't fit in elsewhere.  Some of his famous poems include "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," "The Law of the Yukon", "Call of the Wild," and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." 


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26. The Starship and the Canoe by Kenneth Brower


Liam Guilar's review: "A strange, true tale of Freeman and George Dyson, father and son.  One designed star ships and the other lived in a tree house and built a traditional baidarka (giant canoe) using modern materials." 


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27. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 


This fanciful, Alice-in-the-Wonderland-like story, is about Mole, Water Rat, Badger and Toad, distinquished characters, the lot, and their life and times along on the riverbank.


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