Book Review: Ramble On: A History of Hiking by Jeffery J. Doran

Cover of

Cover of “Ramble On: A History of Hiking” by Jeffrey J. Doran

Disclaimer: I have known Jeff through social media for a number of years, and enjoyed and made good use of his websites (see the list here) even before we “friended”.  We have also partnered on a number of books.  Jeff kindly provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a review.  The opinions expressed here are purely my own.


Ramble On: A History of Hiking by Jeffrey J. Doran is a book written by an avid hiker for history buffs and hikers alike.  It covers the roots of hiking, early hikers, the development of trails – including the Appalachian Trail – the role of hiking clubs in America and Europe, the evolution of hiking gear and apparel, and a short piece on the present condition of the hiking sphere today.


The book has a focus on American hiking, with a secondary focus on European hiking (and how this related to or influenced American hiking).  South America is also briefly mentioned, along with the high peaks of Asia.  But in general the author wrote about Americans hiking in America.


At times, the format of the writing reminds me slightly of some of the papers I wrote in college – but that’s not a bad thing.  It shows that the book was heavily researched, and the findings accurately recorded.  If you want further reading, there is an extensive bibliography.

Mountaineers ascending Cooper Spur on Mt. Hood for the inaugural meeting of the Mazamas Club, 1894

Mountaineers ascending Cooper Spur on Mt. Hood for the inaugural meeting of the Mazamas Club, 1894

My favorite parts of Ramble On were the tidbits of trivia scattered throughout the pages.  Did you know that one ladies’ hiking club required its members to walk at least 40 miles in four weeks, be gainfully employed, and sleep with their windows open for at least two months between the months of October and April?  That a Macedonian general scouted out a plan of attack on Rome by claiming he was going to climb a high peak to put to rest the claim that one could see three major bodies of water from the summit?  That Yellowstone became a national park before Wyoming became a state?


Another favorite section is the history of the foundings and early years of several major national parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, and Acadia.  Here history is liberally sprinkled with anecdotes and factoids.  It’s fascinating to see how the early hikers found their way and early tourism began – as well as the changing perspective of the national park service.


There is also a chapter devoted to the history of hiking apparel.  Some early female hikers wore up to 45 yards of material while hiking, not to mention heavy hobnailed boots.  How far we have come!


The last chapter, on “The Present and Future of Hiking” was more of a thought piece with ample statistical data.  It discusses some of the challenges currently facing the national and state park agencies.  I personally found it a little demoralizing, but it was also interesting to see the challenges and breakthroughs presented together in a single place instead of scattered around social media and the internet.

Women scaling the cliffs of Salisbury Crags near Edinburgh, Scotland

Women scaling the cliffs of Salisbury Crags near Edinburgh, Scotland

While Ramble On is technically about the history of hiking in general, the author goes out of his way to include the history of women in hiking (I don’t mean that it doesn’t fit, because Jeffery has done an excellent job of including female involvement in hiking and mountaineering without making it seem as though this topic was either an unrelated necessity or an afterthought).  While men were often at the forefront of hiking, and some hiking clubs excluded females from their ranks, women were “tramping” (an early word used to describe hiking) and mountaineering long before society would accept this as a “ladylike” activity and were often at the forefront of hiking and outdoor societies.


Overall, I was very impressed with the amount of information packed into 206 pages as well as with the excellent editing job.  (As a bit of a grammar / punctuation Nazi, I have seen professionally published books with so many errors it has turned me off from continuing reading!)  It’s the perfect gift for someone who loves to hike or who loves American history.  Or purchase it for yourself to immerse yourself in the history of hiking in America.

Buy a copy of Ramble On here.


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