Outdoor Personal Reference Library- From Field Manuals to Stories of Adventure

Outdoor Personal Reference Library

Years ago when I went to the Basic Non-commission Officer Course, one of the things instructors told us was that as a Non-commission Officer (NCO) it was not our job to know everything, but it is to know where to find the information. We would have a milk crate of Army Regulations (AR's), Field Manuals (FM's), and Technical Manuals (TM's) to reference to find answers to all different things that we must know as NCOs.

This kind of date me, but I remember a time when my Sergeant would carry a map bag to the field that would have Field Manuals in it. When we had some dead time the Sergeant would do conduct hip-pocket training and would read or reference the manual to the task, conditions, and standards that we were training on.

If you ever happen to have been in the Boy Scouts, you might remember that you had a handbook and everything you needed to know about being a Scout and learning Scout skills such as first aid, knots, or packing for that first camping trip was in that book. There was also a Troop Librarian, and their job was to maintain the Troop Merit Badge Library. The Merit Badge books introduced Scouts to all types of subjects that they could explore. 

No matter what, your outdoor passion is you should have your own personal outdoor reference library. So I am going to share with you what is in my library and how I go about using it. Oh, by the way, it doesn't have to cost a fortune to have your own outdoor reference library.

My library consists of four core parts
  • Maps and Trail Guides
  • Guides and Manuals
  • Stories that inspire
  • Digital   

Maps and Trail Guides:

Outdoor Personal Reference Library
Having a good source of maps and trail guides is an excellent starting point for any outdoor adventure.  

 The smallest section of my library consists of maps and trail guides but is the one that I treasure the most. Because my time is limited to get away on an outdoor adventure. I take that journey may be weeks or months before I leave the house by living the adventure by pouring over my maps and seeing in my mind what the author has described in the trail guide or what the landscape might be from the topography on the map.

There used to be a time where you could go to your favorite outdoor outfitter or surveyor's shop to get paper USGS maps of the area that you were going to hike, hunt, or camp. With the internet, those days are gone. You can still find maps, maps, and guide books sets of the most popular trails and parks at your nearest outfitter or bookstore.

This is a section that you need to be careful with because of a few reasons. I live in a state that has one of the most popular National Parks in the nation and we also have about 1.7 million acres of National Forest that I can visit. I only have the 3 map set that covers the National Park and the trail guide that covers some of the more popular hikes in the park. I also have a couple of maps and guide books that cover the National Forest. So start local or a place that you might visit often because paper maps and guide books can cost a bit. Plus, over the years they will become outdated. Trails and trail resources change over time due to many factors such as natural disasters (wildfire), property easements (pipeline), economics (maintenance backlog). Also if the map & guide book has phone numbers or addresses to a Ranger Office they too might have changed over time.    

Just because your map or trail guide is outdated does not mean you should throw it out! I make notes on my map when I find something that was not shown on the map or was not in the guidebook. Such notes might be a spring that was not shown or reroute of the trail that has been made in recent years.

Guides and Manuals:

Outdoor Personal Reference Library
Learn by reading and then doing.

My Guides and Manual collection in my library is the largest section. The books in this section are the how-to-do books. Such as bicycle maintenance manuals, Dutch oven cooking books, and survival and outdoor skills books. 

While you can find how to do about anything online, there are times that you want to just read how to do something or look at the pictures or illustrations to figure how to do something. If I am working on a bicycle and it is a task that I don't do often or it has been years since the last time I did it. I will often quickly look at that section of the manual to refresh myself on that task. Not taking 10 minutes to read up on something could cost me money, time, or both.

Stories that inspire:

Outdoor Adventure and Stories that Inspire us
Books and Magazines inspire us to find adventure and tell our own stories.  

Definitely the smallest section of my library but the one section that I am working on expanding. Amazing photography and epic stories about people feeding their sense of adventure or even what we are losing in our natural world. These are the stories that inspire us to get out there and do our own thing.

I guess in some way we live vicariously through the photographs and stories of others. Maybe it's a trek in a far-off land, a paddle down a famous river, or Overlanding to remote campsites and villages that let us explore from our favorite chair. But those are the type of stories that inspire us to take our own adventures, journeys and make our own stories.


Today with the internet at our fingertips, you can find the answer to anything you want to know about. Whether it is a step-by-step tutorial, a how-to video, or trail beta the information is out there. While I might start off planning for my next trip by starting with a trail book and searching for the route on my map, I also use digital resources to help with that planning.

My digital library is made up of bookmarks to trail resources, blogs, or trip reports to help in some of the details that could be missing from the resources that I have on hand. But be careful and understand what someone posted online might not be the same route that you want to take on your trip. I have used GPX files that I thought were the route I wanted to take only to find out I only had part of the route.

Just like some of the hard copy magazines you see in the pictures in this post, you can read some of them online or purchase a PDF copy if that is your thing. Some of the PDFs have high-quality photography and amazing stories.

I have no connection to the following publications or get anything from them. I purchase from them with my own money.

Sidetracked Magazine- This is an online and printed magazine that captures the experiences of adventure travel through personal stories. I like to describe it like NatGeo meets Banff Mountain World Tour in one magazine. These are coffee-table quality. Around $12 plus shipping.

Trailgroove Magazine -This online and PDF magazine is focused on real outdoor content and relays the actual hiking or backpacking experience. Free online to read or around $5 to download a PDF copy.

Bicycle Traveler - This is a non-commercial, free international magazine devoted to bicycling touring. Download as a PDF

If you want a great place to find books on outdoor subjects or mountain and wilderness writing then head over to Banff Centre Mountain Book Competition. The Banff Centre is also the place where you will find the outdoor movies from their Banff Mountain Film World Tour.

Use book stores and second-hand shops are a great place to find books to build your library on the cheap. The dutch oven book in the first picture I found in a second-hand shop. While it might be a little dated (pictures from the '80s). Dutch oven cooking has not changed much over the years. Another place to look is an online auction site. There you can find new and used books in great shape to add to your collection.

Now It's Your Turn-

If you have any recommendations for books that would be great to add to an outdoor resource library or an online or PDF magazine that I  don't have listed, please leave a comment with your recommendation.