As you plan your summer trips, it’s always good to brush up on your outdoor skills. To that end, here are a few volumes for your consideration. Some are vintage and interesting for their presentation of skills from an earlier time. Some are recent and more easily accessible. They all make great reads.

The Backcountry Adventure Series

This series by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson, is a collection of comprehensive trail guides for the off-road adventure traveler. The books, organized by state, cover Northern California, Southern California, Utah, Arizon, and Colorado. If you’re not already familiar with them, they’re a fantastic resource.

They offer not only maps, concise, turn-by-turn directions and GPS coordinates for about 150 4×4 roads and trails (in my N. Cal. edition), but also information on the driving skills and equipment needed to access them. Each trail is rated for its difficulty, scenery, and remoteness. Other statistics, including time, distance, and best part of the year to travel are also included. The appendix includes lists like the 25 most scenic trails, the longest, shortest, most difficult, authors’ favorites and so on.

The books divide the states into regions. Each region starts with an overview map of all of the trails within it. These maps can be a little difficult to reconcile with your favorite atlas or regional map for lack of detail but they’re helpful none the less.

If that weren’t enough, the authors also delve into the people, events, flora, fauna, and even the geology of the areas covered to give the reader history and context for the trails they explore.

They were written in the mid-2000s and trail access may have changed since then so call the local Ranger station for current conditions (or seasonal closures).

On Your Own in the Wilderness

Reading this late-1950s camping and woodcraft handbook by Colonel Townsend Whelen and Bradford Angier, is like having an a wise, old, grandfather telling you how it used to be. It covers how to make a tent shelter out of a tarp and pine poles; how to select a knife; axmanship; wilderness navigation; first aid; hunting; provisioning; cooking—it’s all here and it’s all old-school.

What other book tells you how to load a canoe, stretch a hide, select a rifle and make Hudson Bay Company plum pudding? Apparently the recipe dates from before 1670.

Outdoor Life Complete Book of Camping by Leonard Miracle with Maurice Decker

Another vintage find, this book leans more towards camping than woodsmanship. It talks about gear (axes, stoves, lanterns) and skills (car camping, how to handle a canoe, how to travel with a pack horse, navigation, first aid, knots, living off the land, and, of course, cooking).

The book is thorough and nicely illustrated for an offering from the early 1960s. The period car-camping photos are a treat.
by Ellsworth Jaeger

My girlfriend gave me this beautifully illustrated book for Christmas last year. It’s a reprinted copy of a guide originally published in 1945. It’s a focus on the outdoors as seen from a Native American perspective. Yes, it will show you how to make a teepee, which makes a fantastic shelter by the way. It also instructs on how to set up a kitchen from stakes and pot hooks you make yourself using only your axe and whatever branches are available. It covers edible plants and animals (as well as poisonous ones), barkcraft, canoe skills, trailcraft (trail marking and animal track identification), tracking animals, and specific skills for winter. It’s very informative and the illustrations are a lot of fun.

The Total Outdoorsman Manualby T. Edward Nickens and the editors of Field & Stream

This book is divided into four broad categories: camping, fishing, hunting and survival. Within each category the individual tips and skills are presented in a grab-bag style. It’s good for the coffee table or the night stand — easy to pick up and browse through when you have a minute. If you’re looking for a specific piece of information though, the random order of the presentation makes things hard to find. It’s packed with great illustrations and photos.

Do you have a favorite outdoors book? Please share it the comments below.