Outdoor literature is a literature genre about or involving the outdoors. Outdoor literature encompasses several different subgenres including exploration literature, adventure literature, mountain literature and nature writing. Another subgenre is the guide book, an early example of which was Thomas West's guide to the Lake District published in 1778. The genres can include activities such as exploration, survival, sailing, hiking, mountaineering, whitewater boating, geocaching or kayaking, or writing about nature and the environment. Travel literature is similar to outdoor literature but differs in that it does not always deal with the out-of-doors, but there is a considerable overlap between these genres, in particular with regard to long journeys.
Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854) is an early and influential work. Although not entirely an outdoor work (he lived in a cabin close to civilization) he expressed the ideas of why people go out into the wilderness to camp, backpack and hike: to get away from the rush of modern society and simplify life. This was a new perspective for the time and thus Walden has had a lasting influence on most outdoor authors.
Thoreau's careful observations and devastating conclusions have rippled into time, becoming stronger as the weaknesses Thoreau noted have become more pronounced […] Events that seem to be completely unrelated to his stay at Walden Pond have been influenced by it, including the national park system, the British labour movement, the creation of India, the civil rights movement, the hippie revolution, the environmental movement, and the wilderness movement. Today, Thoreau's words are quoted with feeling by liberals, socialists, anarchists, libertarians, and conservatives alike.
Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), about his travels in Cévennes (France), is among the first popular books to present hiking and camping as recreational activities, and tells of commissioning one of the first sleeping bags.
In the world of sailing Joshua Slocum's Sailing Alone Around the World (1900) is a classic of outdoor literature. In April 1895, Joshua Slocum set sail from Boston, Massachusetts and in Sailing Alone Around the World, he described his departure:
I had resolved on a voyage around the world, and as the wind on the morning of April 24, 1895 was fair, at noon I weighed anchor, set sail, and filled away from Boston, where the Spray had been moored snugly all winter. […] A thrilling pulse beat high in me. My step was light on deck in the crisp air. I felt there could be no turning back, and that I was engaging in an adventure the meaning of which I thoroughly understood.
More than three years later, on June 27, 1898, he returned to Newport, Rhode Island, having circumnavigated the world, a distance of more than 46,000 miles (74,000 km).
The National Outdoor Book Award was established in 1997 as a US-based non-profit program which each year honours the best in outdoor writing and publishing.