Backpacking the Appalachian Trail consists of more than hiking from point to point daily. After dinner is over and gear is stowed, hikers retire to tent or shelter to unwind with a good book before bedtime.
One hiker attempted to read the classics she’d never gotten to, only to discover “What I found I really wanted was complete escapism. My favorite was reading ‘The Hobbit’ out loud at night to my husband. I also read and enjoyed the rest of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ on one of my hikes.”
Some backpackers read nature guides, trail guides, and books about the Appalachian region. One said “‘Our Southern Highlanders’ is amazing. Read about what life was like along the NC/TN border in the Smokies before the AT existed.”
From another hiker: “I read a…ton during that trip… I can’t remember even a fraction of the books I read during those six months.”
Many hikers choose not to follow world events while they are backpacking the trail. Others, however, like to keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening. “I read the same things on the trail that I do at home. Including, if I left town on a Sunday, the local towns Sunday newspaper. Once I was lucky enough to get hold of a Sunday New York Times.”
It’s no surprise that spiritual and religious books make the list for Appalachian Trail backpackers. One hiker “Read the Bible through chronologically. Changed me forever.”
Poetry is also read by long distance backpackers, with Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” being a popular volume. “It carried me through years of section hikes and took lots of slow pondering to finally start to understand it,” one hiker said.
Other hikers weighed in —
“I would take a cook book because when I am out on long hikes all I think about is food.”
“I’m an avid reader off-trail…but on trail if I’m not walking or eating, I’m sleeping. I like my light pack so I do not carry a book. I carry a few sheets of paper with challenging crosswords and Sudoku, in case of forced downtime.”
“The only book I read was the phone book when I was looking for the closest all-you-can-eat place.”
Weight is a huge consideration when it comes to books. One hiker said he cut a book in half. He carried one half, his son carried the other, and they switched halves.
Audiobooks round out the preferences, in the form of an MP3 player loaded with plenty of selections.
Short hike or long haul, books play an important part in life on the Appalachian Trail. As one hiker put it, “…I’m headed out this weekend with a total pack weight of 12 pounds. You betcha that includes a book!”