A Backpacker’s Review of Wild

Our Rating

10 Memoir

1 Trail Guidebook

9 Depiction of Tough Journeys

10 Story of Overcoming Struggles

Wild is not a story about the Pacific Crest Trail. It is a memoir that takes place on it. And it is exceptional.

I read Wild nearly three years ago, right before I bicycled across the USA, and it struck me right from the beginning. I felt a kinship in Cheryl Strayed’s pain, self destruction, and path to healing. Later on I realized how right the book was about leaving your physical comfort zone too. As a backpacker about to embark on my own hike of the PCT, I felt the need to write a review.

I’ve seen much grumbling (and all-out shouting) in the outdoor community about Wild, now that the movie is out. There is judgement, meanness, and jealousy. People are upset that a hapless romantic took to the trail without proper training and Leave No Trace ethic and now is famous and possibly inspiring other less-than-prepared hikers to head out in droves to destroy the trail.

But, despite the community’s annoyance, it’s not meant to be a blow-by-blow explanation of a long hike. It’s, in her words, her tale of moving “from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” It’s a memoir that I found to be deeply truthful and packed with wonder.

I wholeheartedly recommend both the book and the movie if you love memoirs, coming of age stories, and even wilderness. If you’ve ever overcome a hardship, I can’t imagine you’ll have a hard time relating to her tale. And while the book was the perfect way to hear her story of growing up and out of pain, the movie was a dreamy depiction of walking for long periods of time — the echoey soundtrack, the memories attacking from every angle, and the endless, ridiculous mishaps that happen along the way.

Wild inspires because it is true and courageous and (dare I say it) a tale about some stupidity, coming from idealism and lack of experience. I think that’s how most, if not all, journeys in the outdoors begin.

I read Wild at my mother’s suggestion right before I took off to cycle across the country. I began the journey with dreams of beauty and redemption floating in my head. But, for the first time in my life, I was alone with myself, with no screens or distractions. And I didn’t like what I saw. But I did remember that Cheryl had the same experience.

My favorite quote from Wild comes near the end, and so describes what we both found:

What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? … What if what made me do all those thing everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

I fell in love with Wild, and remain in love with Wild because it gave me a glimpse of a community and a way of life I was about to find in the outdoors: the group of kind-hearted, creepy, or goofy misfits who choose to live differently.

While Wild might not be the tale of a woman who does the Pacific Crest Trail perfectly, it is a story that deserves to be heard. And it is a story that certainly resonates.


Tell us what you think of the book and the movie below.