Thru Hiking & PCT Book Review

My family often makes fun of me for my rabbit hole of research on whatever our newest adventure is, but they have absolutely reaped the benefits from my reading of books and articles on long distance hiking in preparation for our 2020 hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). When I started it was all about improving my base weight and figuring out how to better hike with kids. Lately, it has been more about preparing our minds for the psychological journey, how to homeschool while on trail, and how to lighten our load so that we can keep up with our kid who is now kicking our but on every hike.

Don’t be overwhelmed with where to start researching for your trip. I have broken down some of the most popular books to what is important and what is entertaining with links for each to buy and get started. (Don’t forget by using our links you help support our trip!) If you only have a short amount of time – my biggest recommendation is to read these 3 books:  

  1. Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anderson
  2. North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek & Jenny Jurek
  3. The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience

You do not need to know anything about FKTs (Fastest Known Times) or ultra marathons, nor do you need to be planning a thru hike. The insights in these, the general books, and those for the young at heart can be used across all difficult journeys and will equip you with the mental fortitude and different approaches to handle each situation you encounter while being true to your self. Whether you are hiking a section of the PCT, AT, other long distance trails or their entirety – these books are for you! 

The last two are particular to hiking with kids and I hope to follow up with a post the further explains what ended up working for us with homeschooling on the trail.

Please consider using the amazon links to purchase these books as a small portion will go back to me and help support us on our journey.



Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home

by Heather Anderson

Heather Anderson was the first female to finish the calendar year triple crown and is definitely someone to follow on instagram as her photography and quotes bright my day on a regular basis. She reclaimed herself through her FKT on the PCT and shows that you are not required to be a super fit high school athlete to go on and set record after record. Her timeline is organic jumping from her beginnings in backpacking through the trials and tribulations of her PCT FKT which she started in the desert during the dead of summer. She is humble and honest in her writings and her story is crafted with just enough information to leave you craving for even more backstory. My daughter also read the book and although wasn’t quite as captivated as I was, it proved this is a great option for those hiking with young adults and we throughly enjoyed being able to talk about it on the trail. 



North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail

by Scott Jurek & Jenny Jurek

Scott Jurek is a name notorious with Ultra running and someone I had never hear of. I found his book on the shelf of my local book store after hearing it mentioned on a podcast a few days before. I sat down with my coffee to see if I could get through the first few pages and couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend this book for those going with a significant other as the perspective from the narration switching between Scott and his wife, Jenny, is priceless. They overcame devastating heartbreak right before starting this crazy journey and show again the power of healing on the trail as long as you don’t kill each other in the process. The characters introduced will all come back in the next book I recommend and even if you have never heard of them or have followed their journeys for years, they are the voices you will begin to hear on those early mornings when it is just too cold to get out of your sleeping bag or the evening where you are trying to convince yourself that the next mile can wait till tomorrow.



The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience

By Jennifer Pharr Davis

This was the book of all books for me. It is where all of the characters I had been reading about came together, where the names of those briefly mentioned became whole, and where I realized there is no one way to do a hike like this. Jennifer Pharr Davis weaves the story of a handful who have completed these trails, sometimes more times than you can count, and shares them with us in a way that will make you laugh till you pee your pants and cry as your relate to the raw honest pain of life. Her own experience as an elite athlete who has set numerous FKTs, a business owner, and a mother comes through in her writing making each story approachable while never diminishing the accomplishments achieved by those who shared their stories with her.




Pacific Crest Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

by Zach Davis & Carly Moree

This is a classic and many on the AT will know its counterpart. Zach Davis has become The Trek and brought to you podcast like Backpacker Radio. His writing is complimented by Carly Moore who translates Appalachian Trails to the PCT and gives you a mental arsenal to take on the trail. I personally found this book a little closer to a text book and both my husband and I struggled through the middle. You will hear this book mentioned on forums and out on the trail repeatedly and it is credited for many having the ability to get through mental struggles both while on and after the trail. Is it required reading – nah… but it is usefully and relevant.




Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips For Extremely Lightweight Camping

by Mike Clelland

For anyone who is satisfied with a 60lbs pack this is NOT the book for you. This is more of an outline of bullet points than actual reading and many you may find extreme. I will say that it will MAKE YOU THINK of every item you are bringing and make a conscious choice that it is worth it or not. For those of us who like our pillows and ditty bags for organization we may not get as much out of it but is still a worthy read and will defiantly make you laugh a few good chuckles.



A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

By Bill Bryson 

A classic for AT hikers this book will have you laughing while being fascinated by the history and botany of the trail. I personally found the last 1/4 a bit slow, but was a way to conclude the story. Although the movie is a classic in our house the book has it’s merits and you will find yourself referring back to moments particularly if hiking with a partner who has read it as well.



Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart: An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail

by Carrot Quinn

This is a book that I definitely would NOT recommend letting the young adult hikers read. Despite the writing being a tad trite I did throughly enjoy listening (thank you audible) to this as I took a road trip to Whitney Portal for a women’s camping trip. As I drove up through Southern California it seemed to mimic the beginning locations I was hearing about and let me in to the life of someone who has survived struggle and found a love of long distance hiking. This book is one part figuring out relationships on the trail, one part figuring out who your are and what your are doing with your life, and one part adventure. This book is more for themed entertainment than education, but for those looking for the best places to find gluten free goodies there are several highlighted through the story.



Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

By Cheryl Strayed

If you are planning on hiking the PCT than there is no doubt in my mind that you have heard about this book, or the movie. When you tell people you are hiking the pct they will ask you “Like Wild?” You will get this over and over again. So you should read the book. But really, Cheryl Strayed gives herself to the trail to heal like so many before and after, and her journey is incredibly entertaining. Majority of the education component of this book is what not to do. It has becoming a running joke in our family that when asked “Like Wild?” Our answer is “No, that’s the story of how not to do it.” I think this book really lends itself that you don’t have to do the entirety of the trail to have it make a life long impact and that it is the relationships and experiences you have on the journey that make it so poignant to those that have no interest on ever putting on a pair of hiking boots (or trail runners) and going on such an adventure. This book has inspired hundreds to get out on the trail but just don’t be one of those that gets’ inspired after reading this book and then doesn’t read anything to actually prepare!




How the WILD EFFECT Turned Me into a Hiker at 69: An Appalachian Trail Adventure

by Jane Congdon

Many people have been inspired by Wild to get out on their own adventure and thru hike a trail. Jane Congdon’s book is a comical tale of someone who is one of these people. She reads all of the books and does do her research. She even manages to get a friend to go with her. This story may not appeal to all, but it is a comical read that will make you realize that no matter how much you prepare – you will never be ready or know exactly what to expect. I highly recommend the audible version as the narrator is a delight.



We’re in the Mountains, Not Over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers

By Susan Alcorn 

Think of Soup for the Soul with an older female hiker theme. This probably ended up being my least favorite book but I may need a few more years with the corresponding aches and pains to fully appreciate it. There are many folks on the forums that seem concerned about being 45+ on their hike, despite many hikers being older, and that they tend to have a better chance at finishing. If you fall into this category than this may be a great book for you.




Roadschooling: The Ultimate Guide to Education Through Travel

by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

For those who plan on creating a curriculum on the trail I find this book gives a great framework and eases the panic in the back of my brain if it is something I can even do. The Vogel’s are a family I have followed for years, having read their blog on their bike trip with twin sons from the tip of Alaska to the tip of Argentina over 2.5 years – finishing in 2011 with their sons at the age of 13. Both parents are teachers and I was mesmerized at the idea that one could do school while on such and adventure with limited resources. This book is a super quick read and ends with a series of interviews of parents roadschooling from around the world showing that there is no right or wrong way to do this. Not only did I walk away with a framework of how I wanted to teach, I also ended up finding a wealth of resources and strategies.



Zero Days: The Real Life Adventure of Captain Bligh, Nellie Bly, and 10-year-old Scrambler on the Pacific Crest

by Barbara Egbert

As hiking like this with a kid is considered unusual even now, one can only imagine what it was like when Mary Chambers hiked it at 10 years old with her parents in 2004. The book is written by her mother and is interwoven with Mary’s journal entries giving a great perspective on both sides as two people experience the same thing in different ways. I highly enjoyed the book as there is so little about thru hiking with kids and the documentary that can be found on YouTube is enhanced by having the additional back story to each chapter. If you plan on hiking with kids I highly recommend this book. I had the pleasure of messaging back and forth with Mary who grew up to study sustainable agriculture and social policy and management to end up working all over the world. 14 years after finishing her trip she reflected that she was never really lonely on trail, but found the adjustment back into school took time, which this knowledge has given us a great advantage to prepare for that time in our family.