As the holiday season approaches, it’s easy to spend hours wading through catalogs to find the latest and sweetest gear gifts. But if you don’t have the cash to spend on that 800-fill sleeping bag or the patience to compare 20 different headlamps, there’s a simpler route to take: books.
Whether it’s a night by the fire in a log cabin or killing time in a portaledge of the face of El Cap, no outdoor enthusiast is too busy for a good book or uninterested in a solid dose of inspiration from other adventurers. But—here’s the catch—how do you know which book is best for each person on your list?
At the 2012 Banff Mountain Film Festival in Alberta, Canada, a group of climbing and literary legends revealed their top picks for the best mountain book of all time. Now they list their top holiday picks, as well as the kind of person who would enjoy each read.
From Bernadette McDonald
Learning to Breathe by Andy Cave, $10.22 on Amazon.
The Details…Cave’s humorous and moving memoir tells the story of his journey from working in a coal mine to reaching the “airy, vertical world of the Himalayan peaks,” McDonald said.
Best for…the person who dreams of adventure or is inspired by the tale of someone creating an amazing life for himself.
From Harry Vandervlist
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis, $11.53 on Amazon
The Details...Winner of the UK's most prestigious nonfiction award, The Samuel Johnson Prize, this book required ten years of research and now provides new details on Mallory's expedition up Everest and the impact of the Great War and British Imperialism on mountaineering.
Best for…a history buff who geeks out over nonfiction full of solid research, maps, footnotes and old photographs.
Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald, $22.10 on Amazon
The Details...In the 1980s, a scrappy and determined group of Polish mountaineers overcame a lack of sponsorship and Soviet Bureaucracy to become some of the best climbers in the world. Their expeditions rivaled those of teams with affluent backers such as The North Face and Patagonia.
Best for…someone who likes to read about larger-than-life, colorful characters, underdogs, and stories of adventure that emerge from unexpected places at unexpected times.
From Geoff Powter
Annapurna by Maurice Herzog, $12.71 on Amazon
The details…Annapurna is the first book about a successful ascent of an 8,000-meter peak and all the glory and suffering that goes along with it (it’s also the first book to detail losing fingers and toes to frostbite). The harrowing and compelling story has inspired countless people to explore the outdoors.
Best for…someone who loves the classics.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby, $10.19 on Amazon
The details…The funny and self-deprecating story of Eric Newby, who leaves his job as a fashion wholesaler in England to attempt the first ascent of a peak in Afghanistan, not only details climbing, but also why Newby travels and the many people he meets in mountain villages.
Best for…someone who is interested in outdoor and cultural adventure or the Middle East.
From Jon Popwich
Starlight and Storm by Gaston Rebuffat,$19 on Amazon.
The Details…Rebuffat’s rich and poetic writing breathes beauty into his account of climbing the six great North Faces. “His love affair with the mountains, and with the art of alpinism as a means of aesthetic passage through the high and wild places, jumps off of every page,” Popwich said.
Best for…aspiring or current mountain guides (Rebuffat highlights the virtues of a great guide throughout the book) or the romantic/artist on your list.
Conquistadors of the Useless by Lionel Terray, $14.93 on Amazon
The Details…Lionel Terray’s autobiography gives unparalleled insight into the life of one of the greatest alpinists to ever live and provides fascinating detail about what it was like to be a climber in France in WWII. Despite the Nazi occupation, climbers still managed to go off on adventures.
Best for…your climbing partner (Terray talks extensively about his relationship with Louis Lachenal) or climbing history buffs.
A Hunter of Peace/Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies by Mary T.S., $10 on Amazon.
The Details…Mary T.S. was one of the first non-Native men or women to venture into the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Her first-person diary account shares the adventure, as well as tips about how to be an effective explorer-writer.
Best for…aspiring explorer-writers, fans of early female explorers or someone interested in the exploration/native peoples of the Canadian Rockies.
From Stephen Venables
Fiva: An Adventure That Went Wrong by Gordon Stainforth, about $12.50 on Amazon UK (or more than $200 on the US site)
The Details…Forty years after the event, Stainforth writes about his 19-year-old self tackling the Fiva route on Norway’s giant Troll Wall. “This is the most gripping escape-from-disaster story since Touching The Void,” Venables said.
Best for…fans of thrillers or, in the words of Venables, “any intelligent reader who likes adventure in the mountains.”