One of my biggest fears when I was pregnant was that motherhood would dampen my desire for adventure. I worried that toting a diaper-wearing little person into the wilderness would be a hassle and that having a baby would limit my ability to throw camping gear into the truck on a Friday and wake up in some remote canyon on Saturday. But I was pregnant in the winter, and if there’s anything I like more than being outside, it’s curling up by the woodstove with a book. So I picked up Mardy Murie’s memoir, Two in the Far North, and settled in.
In the book, Murie recounts taking her nine-month-old on an Arctic river expedition with her biologist husband in 1926. Partway through the trip, their motorboat breaks down, and they are forced to pole more than 200 miles upriver in a scow. There were no disposable diapers or Gore-Tex. The mosquitos were “a buzzing inferno.” And yet the whole family was unceasingly cheerful. They’d stop for lunch on a sandy island, tie the baby to a leash so that he could explore his surroundings without falling into the current, and feed him bear or goose or caribou pureed with a hand-crank grinder. “The baby would sit happily on the sand, eagerly accepting food as I knelt before him,” Murie wrote. “At times he would lie on his stomach very quietly, and run handfuls of pebbles through his fingers.”
Reading Murie’s tales not only allayed my fears about getting outside with a new baby, they got me positively stoked for all the things we could do together. I began plotting our first family river trip; I researched toddler-friendly bikepacking routes. That’s the power of a good book—it changes how you see the world and how you move through it.
Since it’s again prime book-reading, adventure-planning, curling-up-by-the-fire season, I asked an assortment of book lovers (big thanks to the Mountaineers Bookstore in Seattle; Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana; Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado; and a slew of friends and colleagues) to recommend other titles that make getting outside with kids less daunting. I hope one will inspire you to gear up for an afternoon in the snow, or start to scheme about your next big trip.
‘Let Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the Water,’ by Alan S. Kesselheim
When each of paddler Alan Kesselheim’s three kids were still in the womb, they inadvertently joined their parents on canoe trips. Later, as Kesselheim’s first son approached his 13th birthday, Kesselheim came up with the idea of taking each child back to their natal river as a coming-of-age journey. Fair warning: this book might make you drop everything and beeline it to the nearest waterway.
‘Small Feet, Big Land,’ by Erin McKittrick
McKittrick’s adventures include taking an eight-month-old and a two-year-old on a two-month, self-supported, off-trail expedition in the Alaskan bush with hand-sewn gear. That’s more extreme than anything I’d attempt, and she doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges. But reading her honest account will put your own kid-related outdoor struggles in perspective and may inspire you to push beyond your comfort zone.
‘Closer to the Ground,’ by Dylan Tomine
The Tomines aren’t hardcore survivalists but a self-described “regular suburban family” that connects outdoor recreation with daily sustenance. If you’ve ever dreamed of living off the land without dropping everything and moving to the bush, you’ll love this memoir about the Tomines’ mini adventures “fishing and foraging and gardening and cooking and eating” in the Pacific Northwest.
‘Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska,’ by Rockwell Kent
If, on the other hand, you do dream of dropping everything and moving to the bush with your kid, this book will stoke your fire. It recounts the seven months that graphic artist Rockwell Kent spent living in an off-grid Alaskan cabin with his nine-year-old son in 1918. It’s a testament to how wilderness can strengthen the bond between a parent and child.
‘Children and Other Wild Animals,’ by Brian Doyle
While this isn’t an adventure book per se, nobody captures the magic that happens when children and nature come together better than the late Brian Doyle. This collection of essays will poignantly remind you of the brilliant wonder of being a kid outside.
‘Monkey Dancing,’ by Daniel Glick
In the summer of 2001, newly divorced environmental journalist Daniel Glick and his two kids took off on a six-month journey to see some of the earth’s most endangered habitats. Glick’s account of their travels (from Borneo to Nepal to Australia and beyond) not only provides motivation for anyone who longs to travel with kids, it also reflects deeply on change—both personal and planetary.
‘The Curve of Time,’ by M. Wylie Blanchet
Widowed in 1927 while living on a remote island, M. Wylie Blanchet packed her five kids onto a boat and set off to explore coastal British Columbia. She was an astonishingly courageous and capable boat captain, mother, and chronicler of the region’s human and natural history. This classic but obscure memoir of her family’s adventures is sure to inspire.
‘The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast,’ by Matt Biers-Ariel
When 13-year-old Yonah refused to have a traditional bar mitzvah, Matt Biers-Ariel and his wife decided to celebrate their son’s coming of age by having the whole family (two kids and two adults) ride their bikes 3,804 miles across America instead. Make no mistake—the Biers-Ariels are not hardcore cyclists, which means this book serves up plenty of encouragement for other ordinary families dreaming of extraordinary journeys.
‘Forget Me Not,’ by Jennifer Lowe-Anker
This book’s premise is sobering: the author is the widow of mountaineer Alex Lowe, who died in an avalanche in 1999, and the narrative follows Lowe-Anker’s continent-spanning relationship with him, her grief, her own search for adventure, and the solace she found in raising three boys and falling in love again. It is a powerful depiction of how one woman balances being a mother, wife, and climber.
‘Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness,’ by Michael P. Branch
Branch is a lyrical, perceptive, and often hilarious writer. This book of essays about raising two daughters in Nevada’s arid Great Basin desert is both funny and moving. It’s full of relatable moments—even for those of us who don’t live in a place where “mountain lions and ground squirrels can threaten in equal measure.”
‘There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather,’ by Linda Akeson McGurk
A Swede who spent 15 years in Indiana before taking her daughters back to Sweden, McGurk wrote this memoir and manifesto about the benefits of giving kids ample outdoor time, no matter the weather. If you want to stop making excuses about why it’s easier to stay inside, her mix of research and personal anecdotes will be just the ticket.
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