Our Ultimate List Of Books That Will Teach You real World, Actionable Survival Skills You Can Start Using On Your Next Outdoor Adventure!
Planning an outdoor adventure or backcountry excursion? We all know that it’s better to be prepared with gear and knowledge and not need to use your skills than to find yourself in a dire situation and not have an idea on what to do. Even though the internet is filled with a wealth of knowledge, going a little old school and reading a book is still an enjoyable pastime!
What Wilderness Survival Skills Do You Need?
This is a personal list of my favorite survival books, guides and how-to’s that will break it down and explain the skills you need to make it in the wilderness, or at least give you a fighting change. Some of these are true classics and their instructions stand the test of time.
One example is Tom Brown’s Field Guide, a book that I first read when I was 10 years old, which is about 35 years past. I’ve gone back to it several times and have often given it as a gift. It never amazes me how on point and fun to read it is. Really, looking back, it has shaped my whole view of backcountry trekking and bushcrafting.
The rest are ones that I deem trustworthy and cut through the “zombie apocalypse” craze to deliver real world advice. One a side note, I have read my fair share of Zombie Survival books too, because you never know!
How to Eat in the Woods
Hungry? If you ever find yourself lost in the woods, chances are you will be, and you’ll be glad to have a comprehensive and reliable guide to what you can eat, and how to get your hands on it.
How to Eat in the Woods is that guide. Written by expert wilderness survivalist Bradford Angier, this book is an essential companion on any wilderness adventure. From identifying edible plants to learning how to track and trap various animals, you’ll find a wealth of information, all arranged in a relatable, easy-to-digest format.
The book also offers great information on how to build a fire, how to find potable water, and how to prepare wilderness food without utensils or cookware. The book lacks color photographs, which might be a drawback for some, but contains plenty of detailed illustrations.
Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival
The volumes that make up Tom Brown’s Field Guides are America’s bestselling wilderness survival books, and for good reason. They’re all informative, detailed and easy to understand. Tom Brown’s Guide to Wilderness Survival is one of the best and most comprehensive of the bunch.
Here you’ll find a broad range of essential survival skills, including how to construct a shelter in a wide range of habitats, several ways of making a fire without matches, how to find drinking water and food, and many other essential skills.
Though sparsely illustrated, Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival is rich in its descriptions. It’s always a reliable volume to return to, and is a trusted companion on camping trips and other adventures.
Survival Hacks: Over 200 Ways to Use Everyday Items for Wilderness Survival
Survival Hacks is one of those books you never think you need…until you do. Featuring hundreds of resourceful ways to put ordinary items to use in an emergency, it’s an extremely useful book that also happens to be a lot of fun to browse through. The guide was put together by survival expert Creek Stewart, and offers a wealth of creative and practical tips.
Joke all you want about learning how to MacGyver a gas mask out of an old soup can, but this book is chock full of surprising and useful hacks that could make the difference between life and death in a survival situation. Any bit of trash could save your life when you know how to start a fire with an old battery, or purify water with an empty water bottle and the sun.
The Ultimate Survival Manual
With a bold title and 350 pages of advice for surviving seemingly any scenario, The Ultimate Survival Manual offers a wealth of expert and practical advice. The author behind the manual is U.S. Coast Guard instructor and former American Special Forces soldier Rich Johnson, a survival expert and frequent contributor to Outdoor Life Magazine.
Part of the book’s value comes from its focus on surviving modern-day survival situations—car crashes, home invasions, pandemics—alongside more traditional wilderness skills. You’ll find common-sense solutions for a wide range of potential threats.
While some of the scenarios described in the book may seem unrealistic, the truth is that you never know when you might need them. Considering that large parts of the book cover topics like how to avoid airborne diseases, how to build a quarantine room, and how to decontaminate yourself, it may be less far-fetched than it appears at first glance.
Bushcraft Illustrated: A Visual Guide
How to find water. How to build a shelter. How to start a fire. How to trap game and identify edible plants. These are just a few of the topics covered in Dave Canterbury’s thorough and wide-ranging Bushcraft Illustrated: A Visual Guide.
As its name implies, one of the things that makes Bushcraft Illustrated: A Visual Guide such an asset is the visuals that accompany the text. Unlike so many survival guides, this volume is lavishly illustrated, which is immensely helpful to anyone with a more visual learning style.
You’ll learn the basics of knot-tying, which tools to bring into the wilderness and how to use them, how to craft and pack a backpack, and much more. It must be said, this is a bit of a hefty book for anyone thinking about slipping it into their pack on their next backpacking trip, but it makes an exceptionally useful home reference.
Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties: A Guide to Building Shelters in the Wilderness
A lot of survival books dedicate a short chapter to building a shelter, so it’s nice to see an entire volume dedicated solely to the topic. That alone would make it a fine addition to anyone’s bookshelf, but the depth of Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties makes it truly essential.
Written by Boy Scouts of America co-founder Daniel Carter Beard, the book goes into great detail on how to build a survival shelter out of what you may find in a wide range of environments. Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties was originally published in 1920—it’s been revised and updated numerous times in the intervening decades—and the fact that it’s still in demand a hundred years later speaks to the enduring value of this essential guide.
Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook
Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook is subtitled, “The Portable Guide to Getting Out Alive,” and its author would know. The brains behind the book is U.S. Special Forces Captain and outdoor survival expert Mykel Hawke, a fellow who has gotten out of quite a few interesting and dangerous situations alive.
Hawke brings his decades of experience to a book geared toward informing the untrained civilian, and it’s an endlessly practical and informative read. The handbook covers all the basics, from shelter, water and food to fire, first aid and survival psychology. Best of all, it’s a slim and lightweight volume that fits easily in any glove box or backpack: hence, portable.
SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition
The first edition of John “Lofty” Wiseman’s SAS Survival Handbook came out in 1986, and almost immediately became one of the most trusted and treasured guides to surviving anything, anywhere.
The handbook covers a lot of ground in its 600+ pages. You’ll learn how to read the weather, how to defend against a home invasion, how to survive when all supplies and services are cut off, and countless other useful skills. Crucially, the book also delves into skills like bushcraft, self defense, navigation and fear management.
The third edition, newly revised and updated, covers a lot of new ground, including urban survival and terrorist attacks, and incorporates the latest survival knowledge and technology. A digital app for smartphones based on the book is also available, and makes an excellent companion until your battery runs out. At that point, you’ll want to have the print version handy.
The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for Any Disaster
When we think about survival, we often think about building a shelter or learning how to make a fire. But medicine is an equal part of staying alive, and if you ever find yourself injured in the wilderness, or in need of medical attention during a natural disaster, The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide is a book you’ll be glad to have read.
Written by Joe Alton, MD, and Amy Alton, ARNP, two of America’s leading medical preparedness experts, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to be disaster-ready. It’s an abridged version of the bestselling Survival Medicine Handbook. While the longer version is more thorough, the abridged volume has the advantage of being lightweight and portable. Choose whichever best suits your needs.
You really can’t spend more quality time reading books than with a few of these survival guides on this list. Maybe you are new to backpacking or an old sage in the outback, it’s always good to remember that things can go south in a flash and it’s wise to always have a plan. If you would like to read some first hand accounts, make sure to check out my list of Best Survival Stories Based On True Events”