Mother Nature is Not Trying to Kill You by author Rob Nelson makes it on this month’s book list for Sierra Club.
Sure, a lot of us are still stuck in place for the foreseeable future. But anyone with access to a patch of the outdoors—a patio, a roof, a yard—can engage in that most primal of human pastimes: camping. While you count the days until it’s safe to travel to your next national park or far-flung wilderness adventure (and yes, there are books below to help with that too), you can still build up or maintain your skills closer to home. It might even prove a nice change of pace to bivouac, triangulate, and open-flame cook without first lugging a pack for many mosquito-y miles or discovering that your secluded, peaceful site abuts a boozy bacchanalia.
To inspire and educate you, we’ve rounded up 15 books that teach you and your family everything from the basics of camping outdoors to more advanced techniques; get you thinking about the best meals, snacks, and cocktails to sustain you while you’re roughing it; and provide historical insight and personal experience from and about outdoor explorers who came before.
Adventure Journal: 50 Things to Try When Camping by Kim Hankinson Got a kid for whom the whole concept of camping is a hard sell? This activity book might soften them up. While it tosses in a few pages’ worth of helpful campsite how-tos—how to pick the right spot for setting up your tent, how to build a campfire, and how to make a s’more—its real focus is on activities that crafty types can engage in to make the whole experience feel like a Wilderness Maker Club outing. Even the most outdoors-averse will revel in designing a campsite flag, creating a map of the surrounding area, and learning how to flash out a message in Morse code. Gibbs Smith, ages 6–10, $13
Camp Cocktails by Emily Vikre Some occasions call for stronger stuff than a canteen full of water or a cooler stocked with beer. And Vikre, a Minnesota distillery owner, suggests that craft cocktails are just what’s needed to amplify your enjoyment of the out-of-doors after an exhausting day of canoe-paddling. She offers suggestions for drinks you can mix and transport to your campsite—like a boulevardier measured out to fill a small flask or a 32-ounce water bottle—as well as festive ways to serve them up that don’t require extra gear or effort. The result, we suppose, is something like classy camping (clamping?)—all the better if you indulge in your backyard, where you’re not obliged to stumble to the public toilets in the midnight dark. Harvard Common, $27
Campfire Cooking by Blake Hoena For some kids, cooking is the best part of a camping trip. Sanctioned fires? What’s not to love? This slim volume shows junior firebugs not only how to (safely!) make and enjoy the blaze, but also ensure it’s put to good use. Instructions for charting out a week’s worth of meals, provisioning, and food safety are peppered with easy, child-friendly recipes for flapjacks, “packet” pizzas, and banana boats. Capstone, ages 9–10, $32
Camp Girls by Iris Krasnow Krasnow, a journalist and the author of several books about marriage and motherhood, here contemplates a girlhood’s worth of summers spent at sleepaway cam-off point, she explores why and how time spent outdoors, in the company of other kids-without-parents, is essential to the experience of growing up. Grand Central, $27
The Camping Life by Brendan Leonard and Forest Woodward This beautifully photographed tome—shot in/on deserts, woods, and mountains around the country—is an ode to backwoods camping and the solitude, extra stars, and immersion in nature it affords. Acknowledging that there’s nothing easy about the task of hiking in with everything you’ll need for an extended stay in the wilderness, the authors offer detailed advice on what to pack for camping in the snow, camping with your dog, bikepacking, and more. Artisan, $25
Camping Grounds by Phoebe S.K. Young America’s public, wild places have been under significant threat by so many forces lately—and they’ve also been assiduously defended by those who see access to our national parks, for example, as a constitutional right. Left out of the discourse, argues Young, has been a consideration of the act of camping as a protected activity, without which protest movements such as Occupy would struggle to exist. Young, an environmental historian, traces “camping” back to the Civil War and explores its implications for social justice and political discourse—beyond its more obvious role as a mere diversional outdoor activity. Oxford University Press, $35
The Campout Cookbook by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson “For survivalists with standards,” reads the dedication page at the start of this book. And the several dozen recipes included, for everything from morning meals to sides and salads—all fortified with charming drawings—live up to that promise, and then some. Sure, s’mores are fine. But what about dressing that classic up as Hobnobs and Nutella, or chocolate wafers and marmalade? This is the rare book that considers campfire cookery as a gustatory pursuit. Artisan, $20
Family Camping by Charlie Ess; photographs by Cheryl Ess Camping with kids requires concerted planning and a lot of tricks up a parent’s sleeve, which this guide deftly provides. All the usual essentials of picking spots and pitching tents are supplemented here with four whole chapters on games and activities—including for when the weather is uncooperative—and campfire stories and songs as well as what to do when your kid, inevitably, revolts. Falcon Guides, $25
The Kids Guide to Camping by Eileen Ogintz From the publisher of Family Camping comes a book that covers a lot of the same ground, only from your offspring’s perspective. Information on what to expect out there among the trees is interspersed with quotes from kid campers, prompts for things to notice in the night sky, and an insider-y glossary containing words like “boondocking” and “guy lines.” Falcon Guides, $15
Mother Nature Is Not Trying to Kill You by Rob Nelson and Haley Nelson This is a niche guide to wilderness survival by husband-and-wife nature filmmakers who shoot for Animal Planet and Discovery. Here, they primarily instruct would-be backwoods campers on how to contend with the dangerous wildlife they’re certain to one day encounter, plus how to (elementarily) ID poisonous plants and fungi. A few other essential pointers are tossed in as well, on starting a fire without matches and building a structure when you haven’t got a tent. The goal, say the authors, is to help readers “keep cool” when things risk spiraling out of control. Mango, $19
Outdoor School: Hiking and Camping by Jennifer Pharr Davis and Haley Blevins; illustrations by Aliki Karkoulia Although aimed at tweens and teens, this comprehensive guide is thorough enough to see just about anyone, of any age, through the rigors of hikes, camping trips, and wilderness survival. It also builds up readers’ skills—walking through essentials first before making suggestions for taking things to the next level—that will inspire confidence and build self-sufficiency. Odd Dot, ages 10–14, $15
Sleeping Bags to S’Mores: Camping Basics by Heather Balogh Rochfort and William Rochfort; illustrations by Laura Fisk Cheerfully illustrated—with goofy drawings of wildlife to avoid if you should meet them in the woods, for example—and tilted toward first-timers, this how-to goes broad rather than deep. Its 18 chapters break down the different types of shelters and sizes of wood you’ll need for your campfire; essential gear for all types of weather; and what to pack to eat. The aim? To “keep you alive out there,” the authors write. The book also includes info on camping when you’re on a budget, with tips on how to source from items around your house, and how to camp responsibly. Just right for pandemic times, one whole chapter introduces camping in your backyard. HMH, $20
Where Should We Camp Next? by Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi Backyard not turning out to be the stellar camping site you’d been hoping for? We feel you. Get busy planning your next “real” adventure with this compendium of camping sites across the country, spanning state and national parks, private campgrounds, and treehouse lodges. You’ll be back out there soon, we promise! Sourcebooks, $19
Wilderness Adventure Camp by Frank Grindrod; photographs by Jared Leeds The author, the director of a wilderness survival training school in Massachusetts, offers would-be backcountry explorers all the basics and then some to see them through rigorous outdoors pursuits. Water harvesting, making a sun compass, and how to get yourself un-lost are all covered here. And may we just point out that the backyard offers the perfect, low-risk place to practice? Storey, ages 10+, $17
Woman in the Wild by Susan Joy Paul Colorado native Paul has summited 700 mountains, camped and hiked widely, and written several guides to her home state’s trails and other rugged places. This makes her an ideal guide for deep-wilderness-aspiring women put off by what she calls the “gruff, overbearing taskmasters” who often lead backcountry excursions. Her advice for things like planning, packing, and navigating don’t stray much from suggestions you’ll find elsewhere. But tips on carrying pepper spray for safety, how to pee outside when you’re having your period, and dealing with other thorny aspects of personal hygiene make her a trailblazer of a most welcome kind. Falcon Guides, $25
A Wildlife & Bushcraft Survival Guide
Survive the unexpected. Statistically, you’re more likely to die from a vending machine than a shark. But, Rob Nelson knows many shark survivors. His college girlfriend was attacked by a crocodile and his roommate, a grizzly bear. His wife was sucked by a wave down a blowhole, he was left stranded at sea after a storm sank his sailboat, and the list goes on and on. To Rob, these “improbable” altercations are “random acts of nature,” and he’s learned how to survive them.