Best tree field guides

Outdoor Guides

The oldest known tree in the world is a Great Basin bristlecone pine nicknamed “Methuselah.” Located in eastern California’s White Mountains, it is estimated to be nearly 5,000 years old.

BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details.

Which is the best field guide for trees?

If you’ve spent much time walking in the woods, there’s a good chance that you’ve passed by an interesting-looking tree and wished to know more about it. What kind of tree is it? Is it native to the region? What creatures make it their home?

Today, there are many apps and websites that can help you identify a tree, but none can offer the comprehensive detail and unique experience provided by a physical tree field guide. If you want an intuitive guide that’s loaded with beautiful illustrations, then The Sibley Guide to Trees is the top pick.

What to know before you buy a tree field guide

Purpose

Whether they’re in the middle of a long thru-hike or simply going for a stroll in a city park, many people would rather not pull out their smartphones when enjoying the outdoors — assuming they even have cellphone reception. A physical tree field guide fits easily in your backpack or pocket and lets you stay in the moment while identifying a fascinating tree. These guides are usually beautifully illustrated and full of information you wouldn’t expect, like taxonomy and seed identifiers. If you’re brand new to tree identification, certain guides come with a dichotomous key or a series of choices listed in sequential order that help you successfully identify a tree. If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of these books, check out the tree field guide buying guide from BestReviews.

Field guide vs. folding guide

Some tree field guides appear in the form of a foldable pamphlet. Folding guides are typically less comprehensive than field guides, but they’re very compact and often coated with a waterproof or dew-resistant material such as plastic. These durable guides are best used by experienced hikers who need to quickly identify a tree, or in situations where pack weight or space is an issue. Casual day hikers and backyard enthusiasts will still get better results from a traditional field guide.

Region

Many field guides specialize in a specific region or state, such as western North America or New York. These field guides are typically more thoroughly detailed but also limiting if you want to identify trees in multiple regions. Sometimes the region is specified in small letters on the cover, so look at the product closely to make sure you’re choosing the right guide for your area.

What to look for in a quality tree field guide

Portability

Since you’ll want to carry the field guide with you on hikes and walks in the woods, look for a book that balances a practical weight with detailed content. A 700-page field guide may provide the most comprehensive information, but it’s also going to contribute significantly to the weight of your pack. Some field guides list over 800 species of tree, but 500 to 700 species is more than enough in most cases.

Materials

Many tree field guides are made from thick, durable paper so they hold up well during vigorous hikes. Some may feature mock leather covers, while others are waterproof or dew-resistant. Consider where you plan to take your tree field guide before deciding on the material.

Maps

Most field guides will include range maps that show where certain tree species can be found. This is particularly helpful when trying to identify a tree that may not have many distinct features.

Illustrations

Look for a tree field guide with detailed, full-color illustrations. On many occasions you’ll want to identify a tree based on its leaves or the appearance of its bark, so make sure the field guide features illustrations of those details as well.

How much you can expect to spend on a tree field guide

The cost of a tree field guide will vary depending on the regional coverage and number of tree species included. Most users can expect to pay $10-$30 for a field guide.

Tree field guide FAQ

How many species of tree are in the United States?

A. There are over 1,000 tree species in North America.

Can I identify a tree in winter?

A. While a tree can be difficult to identify when it has no leaves in winter, you can still look closely at the bark and the shape of the tree buds to determine the species.

What’s the best tree field guide to buy?

Top tree field guide

The Sibley Field Guide to Trees 

The Sibley Field Guide to Trees

What you need to know: A beautifully illustrated field guide from the famous birder and illustrator David Sibley.

What you’ll love: David Sibley’s tree field guide is loaded with rich, full-color illustrations, over 600 tree species and 400 range maps. Species are arranged taxonomically, making the guide particularly convenient for those accustomed to bird field guides.

What you should consider: The guide lacks a key, making identification challenging for some users.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top tree field guide for the money

Golden Field Guide Trees of North America

Golden Field Guide Trees of North America

What you need to know: This budget-friendly tree field guide is compact and easy to use.

What you’ll love: With over 730 tree species and 160 range maps, this tree field guide is comprehensive without breaking the bank. The book includes a quick reference guide that makes tree identification particularly simple and intuitive.

What you should consider: Some users felt that the illustrations were too small for regular use.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

National Geographic Field Guide to the Trees of North America

National Geographic Field Guide to the Trees of North America

What you need to know: This lightweight and compact field guide specializes in the most common tree species in North America.

What you’ll love: Backed by National Geographic’s legendary reputation, this tree field guide covers a wide area, from the Arctic to Mexico. The guide also includes over 1,000 detailed illustrations and describes over 350 species of trees.

What you should consider: This field guide uses in-depth scientific languages, making quick identification challenging for some users.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Patrick Farmer writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

 

 

Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.