Outward Bound Summer Reading List for the Adventurous Spirit


Outward Bound Schools from across the U.S. have put together recommendations for summer reading that range from laugh-out-loud funny, A Walk in the Woods, to what we believe is an American classic, Desert Solitaire. The list is as varied and interesting as our Schools, our course areas and our staff. Running through this list are themes that echo Outward Bound values: compassion, integrity, excellence, inclusion and diversity.

Each book is matched up with a classic Outward Bound expedition. So, whether you are preparing for an Outward Bound expedition, you just returned from expedition… last week or 20 years ago, one of these books is sure to tap into your adventurous spirit and to spark your interest in the wild areas, history and values that have shaped Outward Bound.


Summer book list

Beautiful Swimmers by William W. Warner  

Recommended by: Liz Millhollen, Program Director at Baltimore Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School

Description: Beautiful Swimmers is a Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction book about life on and in the Chesapeake Bay, the Blue Crab and the Watermen who have shaped and been shaped by the rhythms of the Bay. Warner presents the facts about the Blue Crab’s life cycle with lyrical and beautiful prose. If science books scare you, but you are drawn to the magic and wonder of the natural world, Warner’s prose will have you hanging on to every line and understanding the intricate mix and balance the Bay estuary needs in order to thrive.

Outward Bound Expedition: This book should be stowed in the hatch of your sea kayak as you embark on the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Leadership expedition out of Baltimore Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School. Skimming along the waters of the Bay, in and out of marshlands scaring Blue Crab with your paddle, you are literally in the middle of this important web of life. You’ll paddle past Watermen heading to sell their fresh catch of Blue Crab and, if you’re lucky, feast on some too!


recommended reading for the adventurous spirit

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Recommended by: Dan Miller, Program Coordinator at North Carolina Outward Bound School

Description:  A Walk in the Woods is a laugh-out-loud account of one man’s journey to hike some of the most amazing terrain in America – the Appalachian Trail. Upon returning from Britain, after a nearly 20 year absence, Bill Bryson decides to reacquaint himself with his native country by hiking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail stretching from Maine to Georgia. The Trail, as described by Bryson, is rich with a variety of plant and wildlife, astonishing landscapes of silent forests and sparkling waterfalls and the overall silliness of the people he meets along the way. This book is not only entertaining, but also offers insight into the beautiful and fragile history of the Appalachian Trail and the important reasons for preserving it. An adventure and a comedy, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.

Outward Bound Expedition: As you read about Bill Bryson’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail, have some of your own with North Carolina Outward Bound School. NCOBS’ Classic Backpacking, Rock Climbing and Whitewater Canoeing courses are sure to capture your imagination and immerse you in the majestic wilderness that you’ve been reading about. This course will take you deep into Western North Carolina, home to some of the oldest mountains in the world, hundreds of waterfalls, over a million acres of national forest land, roaring rivers and the highest peaks on the east coast. As you set out to explore this region with your course crew and Instructors, you are sure to remember the entertaining stories of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.


Recommended reading for the outdoorsDesert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Recommended by: Chris Benson, Southwest Program Director at Colorado Outward Bound School

Description: This book never leaves our recommended reading list because of its timeless reflection of the landscape and sense of place unique to the desert southwest. Abbey is well-known for his exploration of the mountains, rivers and canyons of Utah and articulates the energy of this special place like no one else before or since. But don’t take our word for it; take his:

“Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Outward Bound Expedition: This book serves as an awesome prelude to our Canyonlands Leadership Semester – it can also be read post-course to stir up some cool memories. It paints a picture of the landscape you’re going to see, and what it feels like to be out in the iconic Utah wilderness. It’s hard to truly understand until you’ve stood in the shadows of the canyons — Abbey will get you close, but we’ll take you there.


Summer reading northwestUndaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

Recommended by: Aleksi Merilainen, Development Coordinator at Northwest Outward Bound School

Description: Take a journey along with the Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark, as they seek an all water route to the Pacific and undertake one of American history’s most ambitious and awe-inspiring expeditions into the unknown. Undaunted Courage, although non-fiction, reads like a novel, and will make readers feel as if they are part of the crew as they battle disease, starvation, the environment and hostile natives as they struggle to cross the unexplored interior of the United States. A combination of primary sources is woven together with the touch of a master by Stephen Ambrose, who has created an epic true-story adventure which one will not soon forget.

Outward Bound Expedition: During their Journey to the pacific, Lewis and Clark were not thwarted by the absence of their much sought-after water route. Where the Missouri River trickles into the base of the mighty Rocky Mountains, the Corps of Discovery, carried on. Leaving the river behind them and pushing on with their duty, they entered the mountains. Our Oregon Rafting & Mountain Expedition combines elements of both river and mountain travel through some of the Northwest’s most stunning natural environments which provided the backdrop for one of America’s best stories of challenge and discovery.


summer reading listPassages: One Young Man’s Outward Bound Journey by Sam Levine

Recommended by: Whitney Olesen, Sea Kayaking Course Director at Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center

Description: One thirteen-year old boy began a journey that would change his life forever. An adventure that would test his strength of will, his sense of character and his very ability to forge success from the raw materials of hard work, team building and physical endurance. Passages describes the innermost thoughts of one who finds himself in unfamiliar surroundings, with unfamiliar faces, yet manages to build from this a life altering set of experiences that would change forever his outlook on the world around him and teach him the true meaning of being Outward Bound.

Outward Bound Expedition: Passages: One Young Man’s Outward Bound Journey is a great prelude to embarking on our Boston Harbor Sea Kayaking & Climbing expedition. Written by a Thompson Island Outward Bound student in 2008, this book provides other students – former, current or potential – with insights into his own experience and outcomes while on course for twelve days in the Boston Harbor Islands National Park.


summer reading list north countryReflections from the North Country by Sigurd F. Olson

Recommended by: Richard Stuart, Instructor at Voyageur Outward Bound School

Description: Reflections from the North Country is a collection of essays that explores the concepts of self-reflection and self-discovery through the solace of the North Country. This book perfectly describes nature through the wonder and awareness of a young person’s eyes. The remote wilderness that Sigurd Olson recognized as one of the few great primitive areas in our country which have withstood the pressures of civilization is the same wilderness in which our expeditions travel, sleep, portage and paddle, today. The author regards the Boundary Waters as ”a symbol of the primitive, perfect and untouched” that reconnect us with the simple pleasures that the world of nature affords.

Outward Bound Expedition: Reflections from the North Country is a great read before or after any canoeing experience in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with Voyageur Outward Bound School. The writing is so clear and descriptive that you’ll be transported back to the Boundary Waters every time you pick it up. Students on our Boundary Waters Canoeing Expedition are sure to appreciate this book.


Recommended John Muir booksThe Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures compiled by Lee Stetson

Recommended by: Name Graham Ottley, High Sierra Program Director at Outward Bound California

Description: Here is an entertaining collection of John Muir’s most exciting adventures, representing some of his finest writing. From the famous avalanche ride off the rim of Yosemite Valley to his night spent weathering a windstorm at the top of a tree to death-defying falls on Alaskan glaciers, the renowned outdoorsman’s exploits are related in passages that are by turns exhilarating, unnerving, dizzying and outrageous.

Outward Bound Expedition: The Wild Muir is a great read before or after tackling a High Sierra Alpine Backpacking and Rock Climbing course with Outward Bound California. You’ll get a taste for the terrain and solitude you can expect in such a majestic place. Muir’s sense of adventure is contagious and guaranteed to make you want to follow in his footsteps.


Recommended reading for environmentalistsEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Recommended by: Nadia Stadnycki, Director of Development & Strategic Initiatives at Philadelphia Outward Bound School

Description: Essentialism is a great read to find and maintain peace in our busy daily lives, which are full of tests, homework, Facebook, jobs and responsibilities. It is about being clear and concentrated on the opportunities and relationships that align with your personal mission in life. In the same way that we look inward and discover what we are made of on course, Essentialism guides you on being true to yourself, listening to the innermost drive and desire and staying committed to the things that help you to share those individual talents and discoveries with the world. A true clarity and peace producer!

Outward Bound Expedition: Read this book before embarking on our Philadelphia Environmental Service Leaders expedition. Essentialism will set the tone for this backpacking expedition that focuses on conservation, hands-on environmental service opportunities and getting to know your community and the people and places that need your help. Students on this course are the passionate leaders of tomorrow and will need support and guidance to continue to collaboratively and effectively contribute to bettering our homes, schools and communities. This book is a great way to continue to go deeper and expand on your Outward Bound experience.


Reading list for sailingFirst You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living by Richard Bode

Recommended by: Caroline Blair-Smith, Program Director at Hurricane Island Outward Bound School

Description: First You Have to Row a Little Boat takes place on Long Island Sound. It is filled with lessons of handling small boats and how they apply to life ashore. In this autobiographical reflection, Bode describes yearning for a sailboat as a young and orphaned adolescent and finding a mentor in an old master craftsman at one of the nearby boatyards. His mentor insists that he learn to master a small rowboat before he even think about a sailboat; disappointed and resentful at first, Bode finds joy in learning to maneuver the little boat, and the process opens him up to learning by both experimentation and listening to others, applying previous experience to new situations and being resilient to failures.

Outward Bound Expedition: Students who have taken one of our Maine Coast Sailing expeditions will find many familiar “nuggets of truth” in Bode’s words, as well as broader applications for their experiences in small open boats.

To learn more about all of our Outward Bound expeditions, visit our website at http://www.outwardbound.org.