Best Outdoor Guidebooks of 2017

So here we are in 2017, and the Internet still hasn’t killed all print media yet.

I’ve been running Modern Hiker for 11 years now, and I know the web has certain advantages over the printed word when it comes to trail and gear info — but the noble guidebook will never go away and I think that’s a really good thing. Sure, you can check out an Instagram feed and get inspired to explore a new place, but there’s a lot of info online and sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between good beta from a trustworthy source and something that looks slick but maybe has just been scraped from a Wikipedia page or outsourced to an unpaid volunteer with questionable memory for trail junctions and permit requirements.

When you’re reading a published guidebook, you can trust that people have checked sources, double-checked phone numbers, and generally know what they’re talking about. Also, I don’t know about you, but casually thumbing through a guidebook for new info is probably my all-time favorite way of finding new places to explore. It’s much easier to chance upon something interesting, you’ll never get distracted by a Facebook notification, and if you take that info into the field, it’ll never run out of batteries, either.

Here are some of my favorite guidebooks that are (mostly) from this year:

See also: our favorite outdoor books from this year.

Day Hiking Los Angeles

by Casey Schreiner

I mean, OK, fine let’s get the plug out of the way first, right? If you’ve been reading Modern Hiker and you live in the Los Angeles area and you haven’t picked up a copy of my first book, now is the time to fix that. It’s 125 hikes all around the L.A. area, which I define as pretty much all of Los Angeles County and slices of neighboring Ventura, San Bernardino, and Orange Counties. I got to choose the trails highlighted in this book, and the idea was to include trails so that no matter where you live in this great big messy sprawl of a town, there’s a solid outdoor experience within a 30-40 minute drive from your front door (on a weekend morning when the freeways are open).

The book came out late last year but just entered its second printing with some updates from our recent wildfires. Everything is organized into categories so you can quickly and easily find exactly what you’re in the mood to hike, whether it’s a trail with your pup, a peak with killer views, or something with a bit of history. And each trail includes a photo, directions to the trailhead, and a super detailed trail map (I know they’re detailed, because I had to hand-draw them and go through two rounds of fact-checking edits on them!). 

Afoot and Afield: San Diego County

by Jerry Schad and Scott Turner

If you’ve been reading Modern Hiker and you live in the San Diego area and you haven’t picked up a copy of Scott Turner’s first book, now is the time to fix that.

I honestly could not think of a better person to take over the legendary Jerry Schad’s hiking labor of love. Scott’s been writing for Modern Hiker for a few years now, and when you read his trail guides on the site you can absolutely tell he loves these hikes and wants to share that love with you. Now he’s brought that knowledge, care, and humor into a weighty tome jam-packed with more than 280 (!!!) trails all over San Diego County. This thing is impressive in every way. Seriously, what are you waiting for?

Read our interview with Scott on the site, too.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California

by Shawnté Salabert

Hundreds of people set out to hike from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail every year … and a bunch of them even make it to the finish line! But if you can’t take 6 months off from work or the idea of shipping boxes of calorie-rich lightweight food to rural post offices doesn’t sound appealing to you, section hiking might be more your thing.

Our Senior Writer Shawnté Salabert’s epic and gorgeous book breaks down the Southern California section of the PCT (“Southern California” here meaning “Mexico to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite”) into digestible day hikes and long weekend backpacking trips … but also provides tons and tons of data for those looking to plan a thru-hike, too. You’ll get distance breakdowns, good places to camp and relax, the best trail towns to visit, and locations of springs to refill your reservoirs. This attention to detail bleeds over into the trail guides themselves, which touch on geology, botany, centuries of human history, public land management, plenty of wildfire ecology, and the healthy dose of hiker humor you’ll need when you’re trekking out into the woods for days on end. The maps and photography are in full-color and absolutely stunning — if you didn’t want to hike the PCT before you read this book, you definitely will afterward.

Read our interview with Shawnté.

Base Camp Las Vegas

by Deborah Wall

If L.A. gets the short shrift from the outdoor community at large (and it still absolutely does), then Vegas might be even worse off. But in Vegas the outdoors-minded visitor has a wealth of options within 60 miles of the Strip. You’ll get the local stuff like Valley of Fire and Red Rocks, but you can also realistically make it to some truly iconic Wild West scenery. For those willing to put a few more miles on their odometers (and let’s face it, you’re in Vegas so you definitely have a car), you can also make it out to Death Valley, the Mojave National Preserve, Zion National Park, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Cedar Breaks National Monument and more. Vegas might actually be the most ideally situated Colorado Plateau city for outdoor exploration!

With beautiful color photography and inspiring prose, Wall will make you re-think what you think you know about Vegas … and also get you ready and raring to explore what might just be my favorite landscape on the entire planet.

Best Served Wild: Real Food for Real Adventurers

by Brendan Leonard and Anna Brones

Full disclosure: I am terrible at camp cooking. I once ate so many of those freeze-dried ready to eat meals in a row that I think all of my taste buds just curled up and died in protest because everything lost flavor for weeks afterward. Granted, those things have gotten much better in recent years, but whenever I’m camping or backpacking I usually volunteer to haul in extra water or gear if someone will just spare me from the cooking.

Best Served Wild” gives even people like me hope. Divided into sections for day hikers, overnighters, and multi-day adventurers, the recipes are approachable, manageable, and best of all – they actually sound good. 

Anyone who’s read Leonard (of Semi-Rad fame) and Brones (of FoodieUnderground fame) know they’re smart and funny, and thankfully they brought those talents to this backcountry cookbook, too. Recipes have titles like “Protein Bars That Don’t Taste Like Chalk,” “Date-Hike Worthy Red Pepper and Olive Tapenade,” and “Close Enough to Pad Thai Pad Thai” and are occasionally interjected with short essays from both writers on the different ways to make coffee in the outdoors, missives about backcountry dishwashing, and the true love joy of having someone make you “breakfast in tent.” Is it weird that I want to read a cookbook for fun? Not when it’s this much fun to read.

Backpacking 101

by Heather Balogh Rochfort

Let’s say you’re into the whole day hiking thing, but you haven’t yet done any overnighting on the trail. If you’re ready to take on the mantle of backpacker but don’t really know where to begin, Rochfort’s book is a solid place to start. 

Rochfort is the creator of Just A Colorado Gal and the gear editor for Backpacker magazine, and she brings her warmth and expertise into the often overwhelming world of hip belts and hydration sleeves. This comprehensive and yet somehow still surprisingly lightweight tome covers just about everything you’d need to know to spend a few nights on the trail — from finding a good hiking partner to choosing the right campsite to outdoor hygiene and backcountry etiquette. There’s even a section on sleeping arrangements with a dog while you’re camping!

What do you think? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know by leaving them in the comments below — and be sure to check out our roundup of our favorite outdoor books from this year, too.

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