best hiking guidebooks

by site editor Rick McCharles

I’ve updated this list, my first revision since 2007.

At besthike we are assessing hiking guidebooks all the time. Most are poor: too much dense text, lousy maps, too few photos and graphics.

The worst of the worst are lists of dozens of hikes in a region with a short summary of each. There is no recommendation on “best hikes” because the author has (presumably) not walked them all.

Sadly, there’s no shortage of bad hiking guidebooks.

How do you find the BEST hiking guidebooks?

We often START by looking at the Lonely Planet walking guides.

Lonely Planet books are brilliantly succinct, have great maps and a high standard of quality control. And from the LP website you can buy just specific chapters as PDFs, if you wish.
And in some cases, the Lonely Planet guide is the best available. As an example, Lonely Planet Trekking in the Patagonian Andes.

The very best hiking guidebooks we’ve seen are the newest editions of Chapman’s guides to Australia.

Overland Track and Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair

The Overland Track guide, for example: 64 pages, 48 colour photos, 9 colour topographic maps, costs only A$17.95 including tax. Chapman is the undisputed expert on the region.

Chapman wrote the first editions of the Lonely Planet guides in Australia, later deciding to self-publish along with his wife and other co-authors. These guidebooks are near perfect, both informational and inspirational. Elevation profiles, history, climate, vegetation, geology, wildlife.

Other “best” guidebooks that come to mind include Blisters and Bliss, the beloved, venerable guidebook to the West Coast Trail. It uses humour to best effect.

The most compact format for a guidebook is published by Rucksack: waterproof, lightweight, open-flat with built-in map. (Exploring the Inca Trail, for example.)

But the VERY best format WAS The Canadian Rockies SuperGuide, by Graeme Pole, which WAS offered in a 3-ring binder (with a plastic sleeve for carrying only those pages you need).

It’s no longer available in the binder form. These days I’m back to photocopying the pages I need from his newest edition (2011).

Do you have a favourite guidebook? If so, leave a comment below.

… The future, obviously, is digital.

I’ve just bought a new iPod Touch (no GPS) and will be experimenting with Apps and other digital guides this season.

12 Replies to “best hiking guidebooks”

  1. Hello:
    I like the concept of your site very much.

    Please note that sometimes a guidebook is actually designed to promote the development of a new trail. That is why I wrote the 400-page Pacific Northwest Trail Guide (2001) about the 1200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail.

    In that regard, someone could make an enormous contribution to the trails world by writing a guidebook (or more exactly a “planner”) to the transcontinental Sea-To-Sea Route.

    Happy trails,

    Ron “Pathfinder” Strickland

  2. Even though it’s from Backpacker magazine, their “Trekking” series is very good. They have long challenging backpacking trips with excellent photos and trail descriptions in a format that makes for an efficient, quick reference.

    I’ve used “Trekking the Southern Appalachians” and “Trekking Washington” for some excellent backpacking trips.

    I believe they only make them for a few places in the US

  3. I like “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” by Kathy and Craig Copeland. Not the best for maps, but if you’re heading there and haven’t an idea of where to start hiking, this books nicely lays out which trails are good, why they are, and when. The maps in the book aren’t useful at all, but it’s a nice read. I picked-up the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide to supplement it.

    1. I second this – “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” is one of the best guide books I’ve ever read. Their advice & recommendations are spot-on!

      1. Love the title. Love the concept. … But I’ve found those authors hit and miss, over the years.

        I’ll go back and look at the most recent editions. I live in Calgary so their advice is very valuable to me.

  4. Regarding your thoughts on guidebooks, I couldn’t have said it better myself; most are terrible. Text descriptions are of no value unless you just like reading about it but don’t plan to actually hike.

    So here’s a suggestion from way out in left field: all of Michael Kelseys books! Kelsey is probably the most notorious guidebook author out there; his titles have been banned from bookshops at numerous National Parks. He’s highly peripatetic and eccentric if not crazed, and it all unintentionally comes thru in his books. And in spite of all that, his “Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau” is by far the most dog-eared book I’ve ever owned. It’s a classic.

  5. Regarding … The future, obviously, is digital … It probably is, but producing a digital guidebook that is easily navigated requires a lot of thought. Check out my popular Day Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, which is formatted specifically for the iPad and readable on a computer. It looks better than the printed book. However it is difficult to use on the iPhone’s small screen.
    I am working on a version for smartphone-sized screens that will just present the information needed while you are on the hike – trail info, trail description, map and one page of photos. I will probably make it available as a free download for people who buy the iPad version, with a small charge for a standalone copy.

  6. My wife and I hiked a portion of the West Coast trail when my wife and I vacationed in Tofino a few years ago. I wish I knew about Blisters and Bliss then. I just ordered a copy for next time, or at least for the enjoyment. Cheers!

  7. I am embarking on a small trail-guide project: Guide to Hiking in Colima (Mexico). It will include several hikes in southern Jalisco up the Volcan de Colima (hot volcano) and the ascent of the Nevado (Snow Volcano) in Jalisco.

    I’m seeking advice on using the I-pod Touch with a suitable GPS App to aid me in trail description, because there is practically no signage on any of the hikes I want to describe. This is a modest project that will be in Spanish and English, but I want to avail myself of the latest technology that will facilitate writing a guide that will be useful to the many visitors to that beautiful region who have no concept of the hiking potential.

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