It might seem counter-intuitive, but books and hiking go together very well. A gripping tale of outdoor adventure is a great way to pass time on a rainy day (whether you're backpacking or relaxing at home), and reading instructional books about outdoor skills is a great way to sharpen the most important survival tool of all: Your brain.
Hiking-related books also make great gifts for the hiker who already has all the gear he or she needs. Or, if you're looking for something else to give the outdoorsy person in your life, I've put together a range of gift guides to suit any budget: $20 and under, $100 and under, and "price is no object." If you're shopping for a brand-new hiker, make sure they've got their basics covered before you shop for anything else.
The full name for this book is "Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backpackin' Book: Traveling & camping skills for a wilderness environment," and it's been on my bookshelf for years. These two experienced outdoorsmen offer up a range of tips and tricks that really will help you be more comfortable during your time in the wilderness, no matter how hardcore or laid-back you may be.
You'd think I would have traded it in for something else once I'd assimilated everything I could, but light-hearted illustrations and a slightly tongue-in-cheek approach make it pretty entertaining on its own merit. That's the first time I've said that about any instructional book! (Author: Allen O'Bannon; illustrations by Mike Clelland)
Andrew Skurka is one of the greater ultralight hikers of all time; this is a compendium of his best tips for both gear and technique. You don't have to do things exactly as Skurka does, but no matter what your skill level and approach to hiking (are you a hare or a tortoise?) you'll learn something valuable here.
There's no way around it: Spend enough time outdoors and you're going to have to reenact this book's title, despite any wishes to the contrary. Author Kathleen Meyer covers etiquette for all sorts of outdoor necessities, so that when nature calls, at least you'll know how to answer politely. (It's also pretty entertaining. Seriously!)
For some of us, hiking is a simple adventure -- and for others, it's a long voyage to self-discovery. I've never through-hiked anything as long as the Pacific Crest Trail (or the Appalachian Trail), but I suspect that the wrenching process of self-discovery becomes inevitable once you commit to that much of an adventure. In "Wild," Author Cheryl Strayed gives you a personal look into how and why she undertook an 1,100-mile solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail with absolutely no clue of what she was really getting into. A particularly interesting read for women who hike or travel solo. (And surprisingly, it's a featured title in Oprah's book club.)
I haven't actually gotten my hands on the newest edition of this book yet, but one of the older versions is another bookshelf staple. This is an excellent all-in-one resource and introduction for anyone wondering what animal made those scrapes on a tree, pooped in the middle of the trail, or left tracks in the snow.
Skiers and snowboarders aren't the only ones who should be aware of avalanche hazard. While Snow Sense doesn't take the place of a full-on avalanche hazard evaluation class, it's a great primer on the basics of keeping yourself safe in avalanche terrain (and you might be surprised by just where that means).
If you're planning on really pushing your limits in terms of terrain and snow conditions, you should really take an in-person avalanche hazard and rescue, so you can learn exactly where the line is and how close you're willing to get to it. But in the meantime, read this book -- it might save your life. (Authors: Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler)
A Quick Note
If you're reading books to pick up new hiking-related skills, please practice the skills you read about. It's fun, and there's nothing quite like getting yourself lost or into some other tight spot and realizing you actually have the skills to get yourself out again. (Okay, there is -- it's called not getting into trouble in the first place. But you get my point, right?)