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17 books about walking: inspiring reads

Fan of hiking and want read more books about walking? These books about epic treks around the globe, the history and the science of walking are page turners.

A woman walks along a path, surrounded by tall green trees. Discover the best books about walking.
Walking through Whakarewarewa Forest in New Zealand.

Walking is good for both the body and the mind.

It gives us a chance to take note of our surroundings and it’s one of the many ways we can easily insert ourselves back into nature.

Looking for inspiration? Or not in the position to go hiking yourself?

At least there’s the option of taking a journey in someone else’s shoes.

These are some of the best books about walking around the world that I’ve read and encountered over the last few years and come highly recommended – whether you’re an avid walker already, or an armchair hiker.

I’ve split these into different sections for ease of navigation: travel memoir, history, and nature and science.

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Best books about walking: travel memoirs

Cover of 'Neon Pilgrim' by Lisa Dempster. Features a brightly coloured figure walking along a path and is one of the best books about walking.

Neon Pilgrim – Lisa Dempster

During her late-twenties, Lisa Dempster found herself in a crisis of sorts.

Unhealthy, depressed and living with her mother, and has no idea of what she wants to do with her future.

So, she does what any rational person would do – packs up her life and flies out from Melbourne. She then spends almost three months walking the henro michi, a 1200 kilometre Buddhist pilgrimage through the mountains of Japan.

This is in the middle of summer, mind you, with next to no money, having never hiked a day in her life.

Through this journey, Dempster turned her life around, ultimately finding her feet.

She returns back to Australia, writes Neon Pilgrim and is now a prominent figure within the Melbourne arts scene.

This is one of the most inspiring books about walking that I’ve read.

Dempster’s story is uplifting and heartwarming, one of the best books about walking I’ve read.

It will make you want to immediately book a flight to Japan to tackle this arduous pilgrimage for yourself.

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Cover of 'Wild By Nature' by Sarah Marquis. Features a photo of the author walking along a sand dune.

Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot – Sarah Marquis

Looking for books about long walks? How about a three-year long trek through some of the world’s most perilous landscapes?

Sarah Marquis is no stranger to adventurous treks.

She’s dedicated twenty years of her life to walking, a quest sparked in New Zealand where she decided ‘she would walk to fulfil her desire for discovery and her need to try and understand Life.’

Marquis has walked just about everywhere. Throughout Patagonia, across the mountains of her native Switzerland, from Canada heading south to the Mexican border and has even trekked on foot through the unforgiving Australian desert (even attempting to survive off the land for three months, inspired by our Indigenous people).

Wild by Nature is about one of her most ambitious walks to date, from Siberia, to her ‘little tree’ in South Australia.

This book covers her three year solo journey on foot, which took her from freezing cold temperatures to the relentless desert heat, through six different countries… as a vegetarian, to boot.

She deals with so much on her adventure – sabotage by locals, fielding off men with horrific intentions, physical ailments and struggling with her grief surrounding the death of her dog, back in Switzerland.

However, I will say it’s the story that I find more engaging than perhaps the book itself.

The writing is a bit disjointed and convoluted – it jumps from place to place and lacks narrative.

While I felt the account of her journey could have been better delivered, you gotta admire the determination of this woman to see the world on her own terms.

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Cover of 'Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback' by Robyn Davies. Features a picture of the author as a young woman, on a camel and an image of the Australian outback. One of the more truly inspiring books about walking.

Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback – Robyn Davidson

From one determined woman to the next, Tracks tells the story of Australian Robyn Davidson’s 2,700km trek from the centre of Australia to the west coast in 1977. She is accompanied only by four camels and her dog Diggity.

At the age of 25, Davidson gave up her studies in Brisbane and moved to the central Australian town of Alice Springs.

She conceived a plan to do this expedition, working at the local pub and camel ranches in exchange for both board and the camels that would accompany her on her quest.

She had hurdles thrown in her path. Lack of funding, illness and the day to day reality of living off the Australian Outback.

It takes her 195 days, but she does it, despite the skepticism of those around her and the general public.

Many wondered what had possessed a young woman to undergo such a trek.

In an article written shortly before the release of the film adaption of her memoir, she states using the same no-nonsense style of language that makes up the pages of her book:

“I love the desert and its incomparable sense of space. I enjoy being with Aborigines and learning from them. I like the freedom inherent in being on my own, and I like the growth and learning processes that develop from taking chances. And obviously, camels are the best means of getting across deserts. Obvious. Self-explanatory. Simple. What’s all the fuss about?”

Of all the books about walking on this list, this is probably my favourite.

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Cover of 'Melbourne Circle' by Nick Gadd. Features a watercolour of a man walking along a street and a woman drifting behind him out of his head. One of the best history books about walking detailing Melbourne's past.

Melbourne Circle: Walking, Memory and Loss – Nick Gadd

Melbourne Circle is part history book, part travel memoir and part love letter from author Nick Gadd to his partner, Lynne.

Over a two year period, Nick and Lynne spend their weekends circling the city of Melbourne on foot. They start in the neighbourhood of Williamstown in Melbourne’s west and end in Port Melbourne.

On this journey, they investigate secret places, uncover old buildings and research ghost signs, discovering stories and characters from the city’s past.

Shortly after they complete the journey, Lynne passes away from cancer (no spoilers I promise, it’s on the blurb of the book).

The essays in this book are addressed to Lynne, detailing their shared memories as Nick processes his grief.

However you never feel like you’re intruding as the reader, more so like you’re invited to share in this experience of ‘psychojogging‘ through this marvellous city and peeling back its layers of history, in the process.

It’s one of the most beautiful books about walking I’ve read. The prose is exquisite, it’s rich in information and it contains coloured images of old maps and photos of the places Nick refers to in the book.

And it goes without saying… nary a dry eye in the room upon finishing.

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Cover of 'Calypso' by David Sedaris. Cover is off a piece of wood with marks on it that resemble a smiley face.

Calypso – David Sedaris

While this is a list of books about walking, it’s more of a theme in this text.

I’m a longtime reader of humourist David Sedaris’ books. He’s walked through cities around the world and sometimes writes about it in his memoirs.

Sedaris’ obsession with walking became next level when he acquired a Fitbit.

The more he walked, the more the little device told him he could walk. The further he walked a day, the further he had to walk to keep up his ‘daily steps’.

Soon he is walking 25 miles a day. As he treads on through West Sussex, he discovers things he’s never noticed before.

Such as the masses of rubbish strewn around England, as people tend to write the place like a tip.

So, be begins to pick up trash on his walk. He writes about the experience.

Hilarity follows.

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Cover of 'Alone in Antarctica: The First Woman To Ski Solo Across The Southern Ice' by Felicity Aston. Features an image of a woman skiing in Antarctica with only her luggage for company.

Alone in Antarctica: The First Woman To Ski Solo Across The Southern Ice – Felicity Aston

Strictly speaking this is a book about skiing… yet, it covers a perilous journey on foot across Earth’s most isolated continent. And so, deserves a place on this list of books about walking.

Physicist and meteorologist Felicity Aston is the first woman and only the third person in history to ski across Antarctica. Alone.

Impressively, Aston completes this two-month long, arduous journey without any aids, such as parasails or kites. It’s just her and her cross-country skis, facing the vastness of this icy and empty continent.

During her journey Aston has to battle horrific weather and deal with the emotional vulnerability of being alone in a sea of whiteness.

Her greatest threat are unseen cracks buried in snow. One foot wrong and she can fall down a crevasse, with no hope of rescue.

Needless to say, it’s a thrilling read and makes any other hike look like a piece of cake, in comparison.

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Cover of 'This One Wild and Precious Life: A Hopeful Path Forward in a Fractured World' by Sarah Wilson. Features colourful imagery of mountains and the sun.

This One Wild and Precious Life: A Hopeful Path Forward in a Fractured World – Sarah Wilson

The second non-fiction book by Australian journalist Sarah Wilson feels a bit like three for the price of one. And perhaps the overall text suffers as a consequence, as it’s hard to do any of these themes justice when approached like this.

To be fair, she states in the introduction of this book that she is unsure about what to focus on. She wants to discuss the general feeling of ‘a deep itch’ that we have in modern society.

Her book partly deals with Wilson’s attempts to get pregnant around her auto-immune disease. Her journey around motherhood is very moving, but is somewhat scattered throughout the many other themes of this book.

What saved this book for me is the detailing of her hikes. Wilson has led an extraordinary life and travels far and wide to immerse herself in nature. This takes her from the national parks of her home in Sydney, to all sorts of destinations around the world.

She meets the most fascinating people and her walking sparks conversations on the most interesting topics and debates.

I find this part of the text most inspiring, especially coupled with her points on consumerism and climate change.

If anything, books about walking tend to have the most beautiful covers and this one is no exception.

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Cover of 'Girl in the Woods' by Aspen Matis. The image is an illustration of tall black aspen trees and white birds against a green background.

Girl in the Woods – Aspen Matis

Girl in the Woods is a survival story, in more ways than one.

On her second night of college, Matis is raped by a fellow student.

In dealing with this traumatic ordeal, she is discouraged from reporting the attack by her parents and finds the assistance provided by the college lacking in, to say the least.

So, she decides to walk, taking a five-month trek along the PCT, starting in Mexico and ending in Canada.

A momentous journey for anyone, let alone a 19 years old battling the trail alone.

This book has mixed reviews, some saying they found Matis to be self-absorbed and the book in need of a good edit.

Others have acknowledged that a memoir about a young woman walking the PCT will always inevitably be compared with Wild and Strayed’s writing style is a hard act to follow.

Regardless, this is simply a story about a young woman attempting to pick up the shattered pieces of her life after a horrific attack and put herself back together, step by step.

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Cover of 'Wild' by Cheryl Strayed. Image is of a hiking boot with red shoes.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

I don’t think anyone could write a list of books about walking, or indeed travel memoirs and not include Wild.

I’m including it on this list as it’s one of the best books about walking I’ve read.

Thanks to the success of the book and subsequent movie, it has popularised the Pacific Crest Trail.

I’m thinking of a scene in the season of Gilmore Girls ‘A Year in the Life’, where Lorelai goes to ‘do Wild’, to give her some space from her relationship with Luke.

She finds the trail utterly commercialised, herself present amongst many other like-minded women, who have found themselves inspired by either the book or the movie.

However, I digress. At its core, Wild is a story about a young woman coping with grief.

Strayed loses her mother at 22 to cancer, a central core event in her life from which everything else disintegrates.

She becomes addicted to heroin, cheats on and eventually divorces her husband.

She has no direction in life and has lost everything she ever cared about.

Finding herself at rock bottom, she decides to walk the PCT, armed with a heavy backpack and the hope that the walk will give her the chance to move on from her mother’s death.

And as she puts one foot in front of the other, along over 1700 kilometres, she slowly heals.

My friend Hope wrote a fantastic review about “Wild”, exploring the relationship between grief and walking.

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Cover of 'A Walk in the Woods' by Bill Bryson. Image is of a bear in the woods. This is one of the best known books about walking.

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

From one famous American walking trail to another.

A Walk in the Woods covers Bill Bryson’s journey along the Appalachian trail.

Bryson returns to the States after twenty-years of living abroad in the UK.

A keen adventurer in his youth, he realises he’s not quite as fit as he used to be.

Wishing to get out off his armchair, reacquaint himself with his homeland and make an attempt to live in the wilderness, he decides to tackle the trail.

He loads up on expensive outdoor gear and ends up recruiting his old friend and travel-partner, the now overweight and alcoholic Stephen Katz.

Along the way they battle the elements (in the form of weather and the woods most dangerous inhabitants, bears). They manage to shake off irritating fellow hikers and deal with the setbacks of their ageing bodies.

Bryson only ended up walking 870 miles of the 2100 that the trail stretches along, abandoning the hike in Maine to hitch-hike back home.

He’s been criticised for this, but who really cares? The point is he attempted the hike at all and what he gained from it, what he describes as:

“…a profound respect for wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world.”

I guess I’m one of those who worships at the church of Bill Bryson, as I greatly enjoy the way he writes.

His books are laced with wit, introspection, interesting facts and tidbits and wry observations on society and human behaviour.

A Walk in the Woods is no exception and it will certainly inspire you to enlist in the company of your most sardonic friend to take a stroll together.

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Best books about walking: history books

Cover of 'Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London' by Lauren Elkin. The cover features an illustration of an eighteenth century flaneur, wearing a pink skirt.

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London – Lauren Elkin

Let me ask you a question.

When you travel to a new city, do you immediately take to it by foot?

Do you walk along cobblestone streets, wondering what the lives were like of those who took this same path before you?

Then, you can happily call yourself either a Flâneur or in the feminine Flâneuse – which you won’t find in any dictionary, although it most certainly is a word that should exist.

Author Lauren Elkins considers herself a Flâneuse and feels far more at home in cities, seeing them as a setting which inspires thinking and creativity.

Flâneuse is part memoir, part biography.

Elkins explores her adopted home city of Paris and other sprawling metropolises such as London, Tokyo, Venice and New York. She consciously follows in the footsteps of notable women such as novelist George Sand, artist Sophie Calle and film-maker Ages Varda.

If this book about walking proves anything, it’s that urban rambles are far from being a solely masculine pursuit. Long live the flâneuse!

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Cover of 'Wild Journeys by Bruce Ansley. Features an illustration of a hiker wearing a hat and backpack.

Wild Journeys – Bruce Ansley

I travelled to New Zealand in late 2018 and this book was seemingly everywhere I turned.

I eventually caved and bought it, for the cover alone, much less the text within it. As I said previously, books about walking will stand out on your bookshelves!

Unlike the other books about walking on this list, Wild Journeys doesn’t cover one specific journey – rather it tells of perilous journeys throughout NZ’s history.

There’s the Maori prophet and faith-healer Rua Hepetipa’s track in the Ureweras, following a grey ghost through Fiordland, John Whitcombe doomed trek across the Southern Alps and prison escapee George Wilder’s journey through volcanic plateau.

I personally know shameful little about my country’s southern neighbour and picked up this book in the hope of learning a bit about the history of trekking through one of the most marvellous landscapes in the world.

Buy this book: Book Depository | Amazon | Booktopia

 

Cover of 'To the River' by Olivia Laing. Image is of a river and grass, taken upside down.

To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface – Olivia Laing

I fell in love with Olivia Laing’s writing after picking up a copy of her book The Lonely City the last time I was in New York. She’s fast become one of my favourite authors, for many reasons.

Her texts are part memoir, part biographical – the best kind of non-fiction, if you ask me and the only one of these books about walking that falls into this particular category.

In To the River, a relationship breakdown inspires her to don her walking shoes and walk along the River Ouse in the UK – the same river Virginia Woolf stepped into after filling her pockets with rocks in 1941.

As she walks, Laing muses upon life, believing that the river has the ability to give a sense of direction to those who have ‘lost faith with where they’re headed’.

She writes about the natural history of the area and the river’s link to writers who were influenced by it, such as Shakespeare, Iris Murdoch, Kenneth Grahame and Woolf.

It’s not a long walk she has undertaken, as the Ouse is only 84km long.

Yet, she takes her time, giving herself a week to complete the journey.

She stays in small towns, drinks in pubs, listens to the chatter of those around her, but enjoys the solitude of the walk.

It allows her to reflect upon her background and current situation and examine the relationship we have with the land in modern life, generally one of discord.

This book is a gentle read, brimming with introspection. It is a homage to Woolf as a writer, the natural world and the healing nature of a good, long walk.

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Cover of 'A history of walking' by Rebecca Solnit. Features a solitary figure walking a path flanked by trees.

Wanderlust: A History of Walking – Rebecca Solnit

From one fantastic memoirist to the next. Rebecca Solnit is a writer, historian, feminist, activist and perhaps above all, a traveller.

Quite a few of her books reflect upon travel in some way, but it’s Wanderlust that best examines walking – its human history, our relationship with it as a species and the need to keep it incorporated in our lives, in an increasingly car-dominated society.

Walking is in many ways, a political act.

We walk when we take to the streets of our cities, to protest.

We walk, despite it being looked upon as a lower-class act – why would you subject yourself to the elements, when you could arrive in a timely fashion all rugged up in a horse-drawn carriage or motorcar?

It was considered unfeminine for women to walk and they were often arrested for the act.

Think of the term ‘streetwalker’ and the connotations it brings with it.

Think of the recently examined ‘Flâneur’, of which there is no female equivalent.

Solnit examines how walking was traditionally not only a form of transportation, but meditation too, favoured by artists, writers and philosophers. And there is so much truth in the matter.

I work in a creative field and know when I’ve often got stuck, be it at work, or at home languishing over this blog, that a simple twenty minute walk outside can drain the blockages within, to channel the flow once more.

This is less a history of walking, more a collection of reflections and musings, which will encourage you to prioritise walking in your day to day life.

Buy this book: Book Depository | Amazon | Booktopia

 

Cover of 'Wanderers: A History of Women Walking' by Kerri Andrews. Features a colourful image of mountains and sky.

Wanderers: A History of Women Walking – Kerri Andrews

This book dedicates itself to the lives of ten women who find walking to be as essential as breathing, from the eighteenth century to today.

The title is a bit misleading as it’s not so much a text about the history of women walking, rather the herstory of particular women walkers.

Or, a study in the creative process and how it interlinks with the very act of movement.

Andrews covers the lives of women such as Elizabeth Carter, who walked wild around southern England and Virginia Woolf, who found walking to be integral to her process as a writer.

If you want to lose yourself in the lives of ten inspirational path-finding writerly women, then this is the book for you.

Buy this book: Book Depository | Amazon | Booktopia

Best books about walking: nature & science

Cover of '52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time' by Annabel Streets. Features an illustration of a tree.

52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time – Annabel Streets

Are you looking for books about walking that are backed by scientific research? Then buy or borrow this book.

Street’s (great last name for someone writing about walking) book reveals just how the simple act of walking can keep us happy and healthy.

This text details how the benefits from this simple act of movement increase when you seek out new locations, different walking companions or simply change your routine up to walk at new times of the night and day.

This isn’t just about getting the steps up on your FitBit, it’s about improving your mental and physical health.

A great book to pick up after a couple of very sedentary years for many people around the world.

Buy this book: Book Depository | Amazon | Booktopia

 

Cover of 'The Living Mountain' by Nan Shepherd. Features an artistic rendering of the Cairngorms.

The Living Mountain – Nan Shepherd

The Living Mountain is a top example of how to do nature writing, the right way.

Shepherd writes about the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the eastern Highlands of Scotland, described by fellow nature writer Robert Macfarlane as Britain’s Arctic, a ‘low-slung wilderness of whale- backed hills and shattered cliffs’.

As a writer, Shepherd doesn’t walk this range to ‘bag Munros’, as so many other hikers are ought to do.

She walks the Cairngorms to know the Caingorms and not much escapes her observant eye. She’s there, putting one foot forward through terrible winds, summer snow and Scotland’s famous precipitation.

She’s not writing to find herself, more to uncover the “essential nature” of the mountains and so, understand her place in them.

Of all the books about walking on this list, this is the text that best celebrates the natural world. And a warning, that upon finishing, you too might find yourself longing to go wild in Scotland…

Buy this book: Book Depository | Amazon | Booktopia

 

Cover of 'In Praise of Paths: Walking through Time and Nature' by Torbjørn Ekelund. Features a vector-style illustration of fields, mountains and skies.

In Praise of Paths: Walking through Time and Nature – Torbjørn Ekelund

An epilepsy diagnosis forced Torbjørn Ekelund out from behind the wheel, to navigate the world on foot.

The more he walked, the more he came to love the very act itself.

He walks with shoes on, he plods along barefoot, he travels through forest and across urban streets.

In one of the most intriguing books about walking on this list, Ekelund interweaves literature and the history of paths with his own tales from the trail.

Buy this book: Book Depository | Amazon | Booktopia

Are there any books about walking that you found inspiring? Feel free to name them in the comments, book recommendations are always welcome.

After more bookish posts?

Here are seven books about New York City to read if you’re either visiting or living in the city (or longing to be there!)

Determined to read more when travelling (or at home!) but not sure where to start? Here are some ideas and tips.

These were my favourite Australian reads of 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

And for anyone who uses Goodreads, you can find my profile here.

Pin this post for future reference!

Sick of being an armchair hiker and want to get moving? These ten books about walking will inspire you to put on your hiking boots and take to the trails (of both cities and the wilderness). / #Hiking / #reading / #amreading / #bushwalking / #tramping /

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5 Comments

  1. Hey LC,

    A great list!! I’ve added a fair few to my to-read pile (e.g. “Wild Journeys” and “Wild by Nature” – they sound great!). I’ve had “Tracks” on my TBR pile FOREVER and it’s really high time I read it – After having been to the Outback I just can’t imagine anyone walking across this (beautiful) barrenness just with a pile of camels… Boggles my mind.

    I really enjoyed “I’m off then: Losing and finding myself on the Camino de Santiago” (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6213762-i-m-off-then) but I don’t know how well it translates into English.

    1. I think I liked Tracks best of all on that list… it’s a phenomenal journey and Davidson is a gifted and evocative writer. It boggles the mind, not only the journey but the sheer determination behind it.

      Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll look into it! Got the bug for walking books now.

  2. Ok, “Tracks” has just moved up on my TBR! It’ll probably make me want to return to the outback (though whether I’d want to walk quite thaaaat far, I’m not sure… actually, I know. I don’t.) 😉

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