If you knew where I grew up, in rural northwestern New Jersey about an hour outside of the Poconos, you’d probably be a little surprised to learn that I didn’t go on my first camping trip until I was 29. Though I spent a great deal of time outside, sleeping in it never seemed necessary. If I wanted to listen to the wind whistle through the trees or be lulled to sleep by a chorus of crickets, all I had to do was open my bedroom window.
Now though, as a country mouse turned city mouse and back again, I understand why setting up a tent in the middle of the woods is such a unique and worthwhile experience. In adulthood, I’ve become a terrible sleeper wracked with anxieties and worries amplified by the dark. But on a camping trip, I drift off easily, my heart beating steady and slow with no bees buzzing in my chest.
The easy peace is due in part to nature’s sound machine — a nearby babbling brook, a crackling campfire, a pitter-patter of rain tapping along the tent. But it’s also the freedom from technology. Where we are, cell phone service slips away as you climb into the mountains, and the rest of the trip, you’re left with simple needs and pleasures — conversation, games, and working with your campmates to put together a meal before it gets too dark to see.
Spending time outdoors, alone or with friends and family, reminds us of how basic our needs truly are. Shelter, clean water, and a heat source for cooking are all we need to sustain ourselves — and honestly, all we need for entertainment as well. By taking the time to search for and set up the perfect campsite or cook a great meal over the fire, we not only feel a great sense of accomplishment, but we also find ourselves living in the present moment. In servicing our basic needs, we forget about work emails and the news and all our other responsibilities, and instead focus on the task at hand — and each other.
Whether you’re a seasoned explorer or just looking for ways to decompress in the great outdoors, these seven books will help guide your journey back to — or deeper into — nature.
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1. Feast by Firelight
by Emma Frisch
One of my favorite things about camping is planning the fireside menu. For foodies in the forest, Feast by Firelight pulls together an incredible assortment of delicious and surprisingly easy recipes guaranteed to impress, like Tiramisu French Toast with Strawberries, Burnt Broccoli Mac ‘N’ Cheese, and Molten Lava Campfire Brownies in Orange Cups.
2. Homecamp: Stories and Inspiration for the Modern Adventurer
by Doron and Stephanie Francis
When was the last time you really took yourself off the grid and spent time in nature? This inspiring collection of personal stories and interviews reveals how others have done it — whether it’s riding a motorcycle from Alaska to Patagonia or reconnecting with the earth by learning to forage, Homecamp will inspire your next big or small adventure into the natural world.
3. Look Big: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds
by Rachel Levin
For many years, my biggest animal problem involved the occasional standoff with a subway rat. These days, I worry more about moose on the trail. In Look Big, Rachael Levin offers a humorous, but practical, approach to surviving animal encounters of all kinds — whether you come face-to-snout with said moose or a dinner party-crashing raccoon.
4. Fire Making: The Forgotten Art of Conjuring Flame with Spark, Tinder, and Skill
by Daniel Hume
As more of us head into the woods, knowing how to start a fire under any condition is no longer just a necessity for rugged outdoors people. Author Daniel Hume teaches us to “spark flame” using both traditional and modern tools, as well as shares techniques and strategies for fire-making from the cultures who know it best, like the San people in Namibia and the Mangyan of the Philippines.
5. A Year of Picnics
by Ashley English
Spending time outside can be as simple as a picnic. Slow down and savor your meals, and the company, with themed picnic menus and activity suggestions for every season. Sip smoky chai and take your brunch to the park with a breakfast picnic or dress up for an afternoon tea picnic (complete with finger sandwiches and scones) with your best girlfriends, or enjoy some of the book’s creative ideas for outdoor activities during your camping trip.
6. Backcountry Log
by Kathryn Hunter
Are you, or someone you know, an avid hiker or backpacker? Then this beautiful guided log is the perfect trailside companion. With space to record information about individual hikes, such as elevation, weather, and distance traveled, plus lined and gridded pages for notes and sketches, this log makes for a much better keepsake than tracking with the AllTrails app!
7. Finding Fire: Cooking at Its Most Elemental
by Lennox Hastie
Want proof that you can have a 5-star meal with little more than an open flame? Look no further than Finding Fire which guides you through everything from selecting the right wood to sparking a blaze. With recipes such as Sweet Corn Brûlée, Gooseberry Pavlova, and Oysters with Pickled Kohlrabi, you’ll be shocked by what you can make in the most elemental of kitchens.
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