Six Ideas for Reading Outside

Reading outside is a fantastic way to relax, learn, and connect with nature all at the same time. Outdoor reading is a timeless practice, but one which relatively few people today utilize or even consider.

The popular image of the reader is that of a housebound hermit, tucked into the lit corner of an otherwise dark room or deep within the shelves of a library. But reading for leisure, enjoyment, enlightenment, or education – or for all these purposes – doesn’t require an airless room and shouldn’t be relegated to the indoors.

We find great joy in reading outside, in taking a book out into nature and allowing our bodies and minds to bask in the fresh air and sounds of the outdoors while we lose ourselves in the newest novel or non-fiction or magazine article.

Reading outside is a great way to relax while connecting with nature and the natural environment.

How many of us read outdoors as children? If you were anything like us, you read in treehouses or in gardens, and it gave that time the air of something unique and mystical. 

Horror writer Stephen King wrote: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” This portability is one of a book’s many benefits. A book can fit in your pack or in your pocket or in your suitcase. This is the case whether you read traditional books or use an e-reader.

Beyond that, reading outside can enhance your experience of a book, story, or article. The mind and body are more alert and energized in nature. The sunlight, the abundant fresh air, the soothing sounds of the natural environment – these can lower anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and sharpen focus. You may find you retain more of what your read in nature.

Reading outside can also provide a more fully rounded sensory experience. Wind, shadow, birdsong, scents – these can add realism and depth to the mental world the reader inhabits while reading a book.

Like all outdoor activities, reading outside is at the mercy of the variable weather, so go prepared with a sunshade hat and some layers that you can add or shed to keep yourself comfortable. 

Here are ideas for six ways to take advantage reading outside:

Reading Harry Potter outside in nature
Wilding by Isabella Tree - Reading Outside in Nature

1. Reading Outside: On Your Deck, Porch, or Patio

For many people, one of the simplest places to read outdoors is on the deck or patio of their home or apartment. This requires very little planning or packing – just a book and a chair in your outdoor space, whatever it may be.

There are few things more relaxing on a lovely day than taking a book and a cup of coffee or tea out onto your deck or patio for an hour of quiet reading and sunbathing.

We recognize, however, that many people do not have a simple outdoor area that is convenient for reading. Many apartments, homes, and city buildings do not possess outdoor spaces. In addition, many of those that do possess such spaces may be close to busy highways, streets, or businesses that do not contribute to peaceful or relaxing reading. One of the other options below may be more appropriate for those individuals.

2. Reading Outside: On the Lawn

A lawn – large or small – can be a great place to take a book or magazine for an afternoon of reading outside.

Instead of nuzzling under a blanket on the couch, take that blanket outside and lay it on the grass in your yard. Or in some public green space or park, if a personal yard is unavailable or unsuitable. 

Find some shade and pack a few snacks and a drink. It might not be a bad idea to pack along some bug spray as well to keep the little pests from ruining your afternoon.

Alternatively, a lawn chair is also a great option for following the sun or shade as the sun moves across the sky. Kick your shoes and socks off, let your toes feel the grass or the dirt. If you’re in an area with a considerable amount of noise, such as a public park, consider earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to help avoid distractions.

3. Reading Outside: In a Hammock

A hammock is one of our favorite places to read outdoors. There are a variety of hammocks available, including many travel hammocks that pack into a pouch no larger than a book.

If you have hammock straps (often purchased separately from the hammock) you can set up a hammock just about anywhere there are trees - your yard, a public park, a recreation area, a conservation area, a campground…

Hammocks are comfortable, portable, and perfect cocoons for reading and napping. A word of warning, one often leads to the other. There are few things more relaxing than a hammock in the shade on a fine day.

Reading outside in a hammock
Reading outside in nature by a lake

4. Reading Outside: In the Woods

Reading in the woods is a different experience entirely from reading on a lawn or in an open public space. The feel, the scents, the sounds, even the lighting is new and novel. Sunlight is dappled by the canopy and the ground is soft with moss and leaves. 

Depending on your choice of book, reading in the woods can add a new dimension to your experience. I once read several chapters of a particularly eerie book in the gloaming light of a woodland, and the hair prickled on the back of my neck.

Many public access woodlands have benches or other surfaces available to rest (or read) upon, but just about any woodland is fully stocked with fallen logs, blowdowns, or stumps that can serve as comfortable resting places for an hour’s reading.

A hat, appropriate clothing, and bug deterrent are critical. Pesky insects like mosquitoes and ticks can ruin an otherwise pleasant day of reading in the woods.

5. Reading Outside: While Doing Chores

One of our favorite ways to “read” outside is by listening to audiobooks while doing outdoor chores. Some may argue that listening to an audiobook is not “reading”, but though the physical act is different, the mental process is very much same.  

Audiobooks are great options for those periods when you’re doing otherwise mindless outdoor activities such as mowing, weeding the garden, shoveling snow, or other light yardwork.

Audiobooks help the time pass and can allow you to journey into a story or learn new things while performing repetitive or tedious tasks.

6. Reading Outside: In the Dark

This option may sound a bit bizarre, but it has been a favorite activity of ours for many years.

We love to sit outdoors with a book after the sun has set and the stars have started to appear. A small booklight or backlit e-reader are required for this option but reading in the dark can be a fascinating experience.

We can say from experience – choose the dimmest light necessary for reading in the dark. A golden or yellowish-cast LED light is best for this purpose. A bright white reading light can be a beacon to insects and you’ll soon find yourself the unwanted center of attention.

That potential pitfall aside, there is something both unique and fascinating about reading a book outside in the dark. It’s a bit like reading in the void. In your island of light, the darkness around you seems to become almost solid, and yet you get the benefit of the night sounds, the breeze, the river of stars overhead.