The Best Adventure and Outdoor Books for Thrill Seekers, Survivalists, and More

Adventure is and should always be calling. You have to find a way to escape the often mundane rituals of everyday life and explore what the world has to offer. It doesn’t have to be any life-threatening experience, but simply something that excites the mind and gets the blood pumping, ideally in a world outside your comfort zone. More often than not it proves difficult to disappear from life, work, and your daily routine into the vast unknown, but sometimes, in order to go on an adventure, all you need is your favorite chair or nook of a cafe. There will eventually be time to write your story, but until that time comes, there are adventure and outdoor books out there to fill the void.

The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko

The Emerald Mile

If you’ve ever been whitewater rafting or dreamt of rafting down through the Grand Canyon, this is an absolute must read. The Emerald Mile tells the story of the fastest raft ride down the entirety of the Colorado River (277 miles) with the help of the biggest recorded flood in the Grand’s history. Three experienced oarsmen put a wooden dory named “The Emerald Mile” in at Lee’s Ferry Landing, 15 miles downstream from one of history’s most catastrophic dam failures. With every passing second, the ride becomes more suicidal and with each page, adventure ensues with some tidbits of the history of the West along the way. The Emerald Mile is a thrilling tale of an adventure that will probably never be matched again.

81 Days Below Zero by Brian Murphy

81 Days Below Zero

81 days below zero, that’s below the temperature zero — an experience most will never endure, and those who have, wish they hadn’t. 81 Days Below Zero recounts the story of a WWll test pilot whose plane went down in the desolate Alaskan Yukon territory. As the sole survivor of the five man crew, Leon Crane is left with nothing more than the clothes on his back, a parachute from his escape, and a pocket knife. Crane with practically no experience in wilderness survival, is a city boy lost in the woods with the will to survive as his driving force. 81 Days Below Zero is a survival story through the worst Mother Nature has to offer and tells tales that will put hair on your chest and send icy shivers down your spine.

On the Burning Edge by Kyle Dickman

On the Burning Edge

The greatest loss of life in the history of forest fire fighting, On the Burning Edge recounts the haunting events of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the Yarnell Hill Fire. The story works through the Southwest’s fire season as the pages detail the crew’s bond that develops through the hardships of sleeping (if the crew is lucky to get an hour or so in) on the forest floor with raging infernos bearing down, decisions that have to be made that will certainly affect lives, and the outright courage of a group to put their lives on the line to protect others. The book also details how increasing population and depleting water resources will continue to shape the fire-prone landscape and ultimately put more young men and women on the front lines. On the Burning Edge unveils the heartbreaking story of how one decision can lead to a devastating loss of life.

The River by Peter Heller

The River by Peter Heller

Meeting at freshman orientation, The River tells the story of Jack and Wynn becoming the best of friends with the outdoors and adventure at the root of their friendship. Jack, a rancher from Colorado is the perfect companion to Wynn, a Vermonter who feels more at home in the water than on land. The two decide to embark on a river journey by canoe down northern Canada’s Maskwa River. Beyond a typical whitewater adventure, the duo is met by a sweeping wildfire, mysterious voices followed by a questionable disappearance, and a fight for outright survival. The River is a tale of friendship, tested by what’s right and wrong, Mother Nature, and the seclusion of the Canadian Wilderness.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

It’s a good possibility you came across this classic adventure back in middle school, but if not, head to the library and pick up a copy. Hatchet is the story of survival in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash leaving the sole survivor, a 13-year-old boy, is left with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a hatchet. The boy, Brian Robeson, has little knowledge of survival in the outdoors, let alone how to start a fire or build a shelter. He is continually tested as he battles through loneliness, devastation by a tornado, and an ongoing struggle to rise to the next day’s challenges. After 54 days alone in the wilderness, Hatchet does have a somewhat Disneyesque ending as Brian is saved and walks out of the woods with a maturity and understanding of life that only a will to survive would bring forth.

One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke

One Man’s Wilderness

For most, a birthday is surrounded by friends, family, and a cake, but for Richard Proenneke the day was celebrated by chasing a wolverine through the remote and untamed Alaskan Wilderness. One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey explores the day-to-day life of a man who chose a solitary existence by the shores of an Alaskan lake that few or no humans had ever seen or would set foot near. Proenneke is a true man’s man as he cuts logs to build his own cabin, sets traps and tracks wildlife to secure ample supplies, and is constantly confronted by the always challenging weather of Alaska. Aside from an occasional floatplane delivering mail, supplies, and human interaction, Proenneke is alone with his thoughts and what the barren wilderness has to offer. One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey is a book that will make you question how the food on your plate came to be, the precision of craftsmanship to the roof over your head, and if you were thrown into the wilderness with nothing more than a backpack of supplies, would you survive?

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

best adventure books nonfiction real life endurance by frank a  worsleyv2

Surely it’s hard to conceptualize the events of early modern existence and especially the thought of sailing a ship from Britain to the South Atlantic in 1914. Endurance details one of modern man’s greatest adventurous survival stories as Sir Ernest Shackleton leads his men through unquestionably some of the most unforgivable terrain the world has to offer. As their ship, The Endurance, is overcome and destroyed by the shifting ice packs, the men are left for dead with no contact to the outside world and upward of seven hundred miles from civilization. Endurance is literally a story of endurance led by Captain Shackleton and his responsibility to guide his men to safety. Ultimately their survival comes down to teamwork and sheer grit as the crew fights through the world’s most inhabitable conditions. With each passing page, you will question how the 28 men manage to see the next day’s sunrise and take another step toward survival.

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

Is there any greater fear than being at sea, thousands of miles from any landmass, only to have your ship sink, and to add insult to injury, by an eighty-ton bull sperm whale you’re hunting? In the Heart of the Sea recounts the harrowing tale of the crew from the whaleship Essex. After being sunk by a massive sperm whale, the 20-man crew is left to tiny lifeboats to fend off the worst of the South Pacific, hunger, fear, and thirst. In the Heart of the Sea is the ultimate tale of man versus nature, perseverance, and 90 days at sea with hopes of reaching the distant South American coast. The events of the Essex are preceded by extensive research and history of the whale industry from the Quaker’s settlement on Nantucket and said to be the inspiration for the tale of Moby Dick. In the Heart of the Sea is a must read for those who enjoy historical education mixed with unfathomable tales of survival and adventure.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candace Millard

The River of Doubt

More often than not the protagonist of adventure novels are only known from the pages read or by a few historians knee-deep in the history that surrounds the novel. However, The River of Doubt tells the story of one of the most famous men in American history and his harrowing adventure down a tributary of the Amazon. After losing the 1912 presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt with his son sets his sights on the exploration of an unmapped portion of the Amazon River. Through attack by natives with poison-tipped arrows, starvation, losing canoes and supplies to the forging rapids, and death, Roosevelt survives to tell stories of a triumph many refused to believe. One of the greatest Americans to ever venture in an unknown wilderness, where adventure turns into a fight for survival, is the story of The River of Doubt.

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