— The protagonist of Into the Wild and the subject of Jon Krakauer’s investigative reporting. Compact, athletic, and serious, McCandless has a high IQ and reads voraciously. When he is young, he takes his father’s advice to excel in all his activities seriously, and succeeds in activities from music to cross country running. He develops a love of the outdoors and of camping from family trips. He has an authoritative streak best evidenced by his tendency to lecture even his parents and other adults about their lives. From time to time, McCandless also evidences nervousness with other people, especially authorities, and a decided absentmindedness or lack of common sense.
— The narrator and author of Into the Wild. Krakauer’s narrative persona balances objectivity and sensitivity while demonstrating expertise in wilderness topics from botany to mountaineering. His argumentative engagement with readers of his 1993 Outdoor magazine article about Christopher McCandless and his attempt to explain McCandless’s departure from civilization form the book’s secondary plot.
— A well-intentioned operator of a grain outfit who assists McCandless early in his wanderings and becomes a close friend. Westerberg is a convicted felon who served a short sentence for a victimless crime involving the piracy of television signals. He is also a talker with a taste for Jack Daniels who brings out McCandless’s social side.
— A Vietnam veteran and leatherworker who befriends McCandless in Salton City, California. Eighty years old, muscular and tall, Franz is a recovered alcoholic and a widowed father who lost his son to a drunk driving accident while he was overseas. He establishes a thoughtful, parental relationship with McCandless and offers to adopt him as his grandson. He is also psychologically vulnerable. He packs up his life and lives out of a trailer at McCandless’s suggestion.
— Christopher McCandless’s father. Walt McCandless is an intense, brilliant engineer with top-secret security clearance and experience in jet propulsion and sensor and satellite system design. Walt McCandless radiates authority and intelligence. Walt is somewhat taciturn, and when he does communicate he is straightforward in a manner that leaves little room for politeness. Before he legally married Billie McCandless, Christopher’s mother, Walt McCandless maintained a relationship with his first wife, acting as the father and head of two families at once.
— Christopher McCandless’s younger sister. Outgoing, musical, athletic and hardworking, Carine was one of her brother’s closest friends. She hopes to become a millionaire while she is still young. She is accomplished, smart and socially adept as well as beautiful, a trait that McCandless stresses when he describes her to other people. Unlike her brother, she engages in relationships with others and is married to a man with whom she co-owns a small business.
— Christopher McCandless’s mother. Billie married Christopher’s father when she was twenty-two. The two frequently fought, which had the effect, among other things, of forging a close bond between Christopher and Carine. After his death, Billie is overcome with grief, but maintains a strength that Krakauer describes in the book’s epilogue.
— A woman Christopher meets when she gives him a ride in Arizona. Later, Christopher shows up at Jan’s trailer in the itinerant community, the Slabs, where she lives with her boyfriend, Bob. Christopher lives with the couple and helps Jan with her bookselling business.