Krakauer was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, as the third of five children of Carol Ann (née Jones) and Lewis Joseph Krakauer. His father was Jewish and his mother was a Unitarian, of Scandinavian descent. He was raised in Corvallis, Oregon, from the age of two. His father introduced the young Krakauer to mountaineering at the age of eight. His father was "relentlessly competitive and ambitious in the extreme" and placed high expectations on Krakauer, wishing for his son to attend Harvard Medical School and become a doctor, "life's one sure path to meaningful success and lasting happiness." He competed in tennis at Corvallis High School, and graduated in 1972. He went on to study at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where in 1976 he received his degree in Environmental Studies. In 1977, he met former climber Linda Mariam Moore, and they married in 1980. They lived in Seattle, Washington, but moved to Boulder, Colorado, after the release of Krakauer's book Into Thin Air.