You never know when circumstances are going to turn bad and you have to fight for your life just to survive. If you are going camping or hiking, it doesn’t hurt being prepared for anything: what if you got lost in the wild? How would you survive?
Survival is one of the most primitive instincts of humanity. Thrust us into a life-and-death situation and many of us will fight to survive. However, instead of just relying on your instincts when such a situation comes around, it is better if you are prepared with knowledge and skill to tackle such situations.
That’s where survival literature comes in. Such books help us prepare for worst-case scenarios. They are not just for preppers and for outdoorsy types either. Many of these books contain information that is useful for all of us: for instance, if someone is injured or has an allergic reaction in the bus near you and there is no doctor around, what do you do, just stand there and watch?
This article takes what we believe are the 10 best survival books and tells you what you will learn and enjoy from each. Before you start reading, take a look at the following comparison table.
Best Survival Books Reviews
1. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods – Over 200 Plant Species and Almost 400 Color Photographs
When you are far away from civilization, there are no grocery shops, no malls, no delivery services. All you have with you are trees and plants and vegetation, most of it wild. Some of these plants are edible, and some are not. Some are even poisonous. Knowing what to eat and what to avoid is a necessary survival skill, and this book will reveal over 200 natural foods that grow in North America.
However, the book concerns the Eastern side of the States, with less information about plants found in the Western side.
-Authors: Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman
-Publisher: Sterling; Tenth edition (April 7, 2009)
-Paperback: 288 pages
-Nearly 400 color photographs
-Over 200 natural foods
One way to know if a book is valuable is to check whether it has been republished. Naturally, this only applies to older books. This particular one has proved so valuable and popular that this particular this particular edition, published in 2009, is the tenth. The book was a big success in previous editions. It was first published in 1983.
If someone mentioned a random wild plant that you have never heard of before and described it you, it’s almost certain that you would not recognize it if you came across it. However, if that same person provided a photo of said plant, you would use the photo to compare with wild plants you come across and would definitely be able to identify the plant. To help you identify the plants discussed, this book contains almost 400 color photographs.
Furthermore, it covers more than 200 species of edible plants that grow in the wild areas of North America. Next time you go hiking or camping, you can wow your friends and family with your seemingly bottomless knowledge of wild, edible plant species.
That is not all. The plants are all organized by season, which is very convenient and helps you narrow down the choices to know exactly what you should look for. In addition, each entry features images of the plant, facts about its habitat, its physical properties, how to harvest it, and how to prepare it.
It is not always easy to differentiate two similar-looking wild plants, and you can end up unwittingly eating something poisonous. The book alerts you on the poisonous lookalikes of the plants it covers.
-Filled with beautiful color photographs
-Detailed information on numerous edible natural plants
-Season-by-season organization of the plants discussed
-Warns you of poisonous lookalikes
-Teaches how to harvest and then prepare the plants
-While a wonderful book, it has more information on plants that grow in the Eastern side of the US than from the West
2. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – Filled with Survivor Stories
A plane crashes. For eleven days, a girl who is only seventeen years old walks through the Peruvian Jungle, with no food or shelter or equipment. This girl manages to get out of the jungle. There is a group of adult survivors of the same plane crash, who are better-equipped than the girl, but they sit down and die.
This book examines such survival stories, asking the question: why do some survive while others don’t?
One criticism, however, is that at times the style was rather too florid where plain delivery of facts would have been more preferable.
-Author: Laurence Gonzales
-Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company; 1 Edition (October 2003)
-Hardcover: 301 pages
The book combines elements of adventure narrative, survival science, and practical advice. As a result, it has proven useful for all sorts of people, not just survivalists. It has taught educators, military officers, business leaders, and psychiatric professionals about how to assess risk control stress, and make good decisions under pressure.
You never really know how you will react to a dire situation until you find yourself plunged into one. Unfortunately, most people freeze or panic in life-threatening situations. Only a few people are able to maintain their calmness, and focus on what they need to do to stay alive.
The writer Laurence Gonzales has written survival pieces for Outside, Men’s Journal, and the National Geographic Explorer. In this book, he breaks down the psychological and biological reasons why people risk their lives, and why some are better at this than most. The author is himself a survivor and thrill-seeker who has lived an exciting life and draws inspiration from his own and his father’s life.
In the first section, Gonzales talks with mountain climbers, jet pilots, sailors, and thrill seekers, who say that for them danger is a rush and fear a thrill, something that makes them feel truly alive.
The book reveals that people who survive share certain similar characteristics: experience, training, stoicism, and their logical neocortex (brain’s thinking part) is able to override the primitive part (amygdala) of their brain.
If stories are the best way for one to pick up life lessons, then this book is truly worth it. As you read and meditate on the survival stories covered and the lessons gleaned from each, you gradually soak up the principles of a survivor’s worldview and hopefully, when the time comes and you need to step up, you will remember what you read and stay calm, be decisive and refuse to give up.
-Numerous survival stories
-Author with credible background writing in the survival niche
-Applicable to regular life as well: business, social life, career
-Talks with professional survivors such as jet pilots, mountain climbers, and sailors
-Style can be a tad florid
3. Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit – Detailed and Thorough
One of the key arts of survival is how to pack a bug-out bag (also known as BOB). This is a portable kit which typically contains items you will require to survive for about 72 hours. Some kits are designed to last longer than that though.
This book teaches you how to prepare to leave your home fast in case an unexpected disaster or emergency strikes. The author details everything you will need to survive during the next 72 hours until you arrive at a safer location.
However, beginners will get more out of it than experienced survivalists.
-Author: Creek Stewart
-Publisher: Betterway Books; 4th Edition (May 18, 2012)
-Paperback: 208 pages
-Photos and explanations of items
-Resource lists for finding and purchasing gear
-Practice exercises on using items
If the mark of a good book is in how thorough it is then this one definitely qualifies. The author pays attention to details, ensuring everything you will need for 72-hour survival is covered. You will need food, water, protection, shelter, survival tools, and so forth.
It contains a complete bug-out bag checklist which informs you what you should pack based on your survival skill level.
Furthermore, each item presented in the book has photos and explanations to ensure you know exactly what is required. In case you don’t have some of these items in your home, the book provides resource lists to help you find and purchase them.
The book also includes items are multi-use and help save packing space and weight. In addition, it provides specific gear recommendations for common disasters.
Bugging out is sudden and urgent. It is rarely ideal. For that reason, the book provides special considerations for bugging out when you have children, the elderly, the physically challenged, or pets with you.
The author Creek Stewart is a survival skills instructor, and an author of six non-fiction survival guides before this book.
-Special considerations if with children, elderly etc
-Helpful resource lists for finding and purchasing gear
-Author with credible survivalist credentials
-Elementary – best for people with not much experience in bugging out
You probably don’t really need to know the best procedure of jumping three stories into a street level dumpster. In case you do, though, this book has you covered. It is filled with such fascinating case studies and what you are supposed to do in those situations. How do you wrestle an alligator? How do you escape from killer bees? What do you do when you are in mid-air and your parachute doesn’t open?
As the title suggests, the book imagines the worst possible thing happening, putting your life in your dire danger, when you are forced to use your wits to survive. The situations sound outrageous and they are fun to read about. If one of the scenarios does happen to you however, you will definitely know how to handle it.
-Author: Joshua Piven
-Publisher: Chronicle Books; 1 Edition (October 1, 1999)
-Paperback: 176 Pages
While some situations may sound fantastical though technically plausible, others are definitely realistic, depending on where you live. For instance, it’s useful learning how to deal with poisonous snakes, jump from a moving car, and survive when lost in a desert.
You will learn how to make great escapes and entrances: such as breaking down a door, landing a plane, escaping a sinking car, and survive being buried alive.
You will learn how to fight off wild animal attacks: fend off a shark, escape from killer bees, wrestle free from an alligator, and survive a snake attack.
You will learn how to handle technical trouble: for instance, surviving an out-of-control autonomous vehicle, surviving a privacy breach, surviving a drone attack, and how to identify fake news.
You will also learn how to purify water, escape from quicksand, survive an avalanche, defuse a bomb, and deliver a baby in the back of a cab.
Other than the actual usefulness of the information presented in the book, the other great thing about this book is how enjoyable it is to read. Some of these scenarios, though possible, are included for the humor effect or because it’s something everyone has seen in a movie. Both kids and adults will enjoy it.
-Packed with useful information
-A very enjoyable read
-Explains each survival skill in simple steps with helpful illustrations
-Fun gift for both kids and adults
5. The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is NOT on the Way – Extremely Practical, Comprehensive, Thorough
Among survival skills, medical knowhow is one of the most useful. Accidents, allergy flare-ups, and medical emergencies can happen anywhere and at any time. You may not always have the luxury to call on medical help. This book equips you with knowledge on how to handle such injuries and illnesses.
-Authors: Joseph Alton MD and Amy Alton ARNP
-Publisher: Doom and Bloom, LLC; 3rd Edition (June 7, 2016)
-Paperback: 700 pages
The authors of this book are both well-equipped to write a medicine handbook. Joseph Alton is an MD (Doctor of Medicine) and co-author Amy Alton is an ARNP (Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner). Before retiring, Joseph Alton was a board-certified obstetrician and pelvic surgeon for over 25 years. Amy Alton is an actively licensed ARNP and a certified nurse-midwife.
The book is about 700 pages, so it manages to pack in quite a lot of information. Quite a bit of this information you won’t get from other survival first aid and medical emergency books – for instance, how to do a tooth extraction. It is definitely something you will read multiple times and keep referring repeatedly to certain sections.
The conceit/premise of this book is also novel among survival medical books. You see, it assumes that some catastrophe or disaster has occurred, removing all access to doctors and hospitals. In this nightmare scenario, you as a person who has read this book are going to be the best medical hope for the injured or ill people around you.
-Authors with excellent credentials for the medical book niche
-Many pages, enough to cover a lot of ground
-Comprehensive and thorough
-No cop-outs: the book assumes no medical help is coming
6. Survival MD – Disease and Infection are the Worst Threats
One of the most frightening survival threats isn’t something you can fight physically. It is a threat that is most dangerous for the poor or weaker demographics such as our elderly and our young children. This threat is, of course, health: disease and infection. Some say that the medical system is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
What will you do when circumstances get so dire that you cannot access medical help from hospitals or paramedics? How do you survive? This book, written by Dr. Radu Scurtu, is packed with useful information on how to handle disease and infection.
-Author: Dr. Radu Scurtu
-Spiral-bound: 180 pages
One of the most important survival skills is knowing what to do when someone in your group is injured, infected, ill, or has an allergic reaction. Without medical know-how, you are forced to just stand there and watch as your loved one suffers, and that is frankly one of the most painful experiences: the helplessness of wanting to help but knowing how to.
Thankfully, this book by Dr. Radu Scurtu will at least give you some inkling of what you should do in various scenarios. You can be the help everyone around you relies on when professional medical help is not available.
This book presupposes that main cause of death in any crisis is disease and illness. This is true, if you take the time to think about it. Imagine a looting scenario where someone gets trampled by a mob or shot or severely injured. Imagine a lost in the wilderness scenario where someone eats poisonous berries which make them severely ill and likely to die. Imagine a car accident which leaves people seriously injured.
What is the common denominator of all these scenarios? Someone is injured or ill, with a high likelihood of losing their life if not tended to.
Dr. Radu’s book will teach you the 7 principles of saving a person’s life and how to treat non-traumatic illnesses. It will help you prepare for disease. It will provide you with a prepper’s checklist. It will act as a home-made medicine guide. It will anchor in your mind the three points of the Survival Triangle: gear, skills, and knowledge.
-Written by a doctor
-7 principles of saving someone’s life
-Home-made medicine guide
-How to treat non-traumatic illnesses
7. Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival – Learn Skills to Help You Survive and Appreciate Nature
Can you survive outdoors? Surviving in the wilderness and the backcountry is at the heart of what we all believe a pure survival experience to be. It brings up romantic images of cowboys roughing it in the wild. You need to know how to forage for food, cook it, protect yourself from the elements, and so forth.
This book is a guide that will help you be master of the wild when roughing it with friends, or when the situation is actually dire and you have to stay alive in spite of not having modern amenities at your disposal.
However, the book covers such a broad spectrum that it doesn’t really go into as much detail as we would like.
-Author: Dave Canterbury
-Publisher: Adams Media; 1 Edition (September 1, 2014)
-Paperback: 256 pages
The book is written by Dave Canterbury, a survivalist expert. He is a co-owner and supervising instructor at the Pathfinder School which USA Today named one of the top 12 survival schools in the United States. Canterbury has been published in Trapper’s World, American Frontiersman, New Pioneer, and Self Reliance Illustrated.
The author bases the book on the 5C’s of survivability. They are: cutting tools, covering, combustion devices, containers, and cordages. With this information, you can draw resources from your environment and get an authentic wilderness experience.
Furthermore, you will find detailed information on how to select the right items for your kit protect yourself from the elements, forage for food and cook it, and manufacture necessary tools and supplies.
We often forget the appealing side of nature when we get into our survivalist mindsets. We start to think of nature as an enemy to be bested, something brutish and harsh that we are struggling against heroically. This may all very well be true, but it is also a fact that nature is a wonder and a beauty. The art of bushcraft helps you reconnect with nature and in the process find a part of yourself you don’t get to experience in your regular life.
The book is packed with information on almost everything you need to know: from tying knots, to cooking, to trapping. You will also learn how to navigate terrain, set up camp, and conserve and utilize resource. The book is a treasure trove of information on how to survive in the wild.
-Author’s credentials as a survivalist expert are reliable
-Learning bushcraft helps you connect with and appreciate the beauty of nature
-Not detailed enough
8. How to Eat in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Foraging, Trapping, Fishing, and Finding Sustenance in the Wild – Can Use as a Portable Reference Book
Surviving in the woods is fun when you are out camping, hiking, or just roughing it with you buddies. Of course a situation could really be life-and-death, in which case your skills at foraging, trapping, and fishing will help you not only stay alive but also keep your friends and family alive.
-Author: Bradford Angier
-Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal; Unabridged Edition (March 15, 2016)
-Hardcover: 320 pages
The book is written by Bradford Angier (1910-1997). He was a wilderness survivalist and wrote many books on survival, nature, and living off the land. In this book, he provides information that is tried, tested, and true.
If you are looking for a portable guide on how to survive in the wild, this is it. It has 320 pages, but has a quirky size. You can carry it around with you and use it as a reference when you go camping or fishing, impress your friends with your knowledge and skill.
You will learn how to trap, kill, and prepare a variety of animals. You will also learn how to select bait, fish, and then clean and cook your catch. You will learn how to identify edible plants, berries, fruits, and nuts. In addition you will learn how catch edible insects and locate potable water.
Once you have caught or gathered your food, you have to cook it. This book will teach you how to make a fire and prepare you food without using utensils.
The good thing about the book is that it packages the information in a really practical and easy to understand form.
-Author was a wilderness survivalist
-Practical information on how to survive in the woods
-Non-American readers might not benefit as much since many of things in the books such as plant species are American and might not exist in other places
9. Hawke’s Green Beret Survival Manual: Essential Strategies for Shelter and Water, Food and Fire Tools and Medicine, Navigation and Signa
If you are looking for tried and true methods of survival, this book might be exactly what you want. It is written by a man who has had a career spanning 25 years in the US Army Green Berets, a Captain no less, in addition to being a founder of a survival training company and a popular survival expert on several TV shows.
-Author: Mykel Hawke; with Foreword by Jim Morris
-Publisher: Running Press Adult: Reprint Edition (December 20, 2011)
-Print length: 640 pages
The author of the book Mykel Hawke is a Green Beret and a captain the U.S. Army Special Forces. He is the director of an international outdoor-survival training company known as Specs Ops Inc. He is also a well-known TV personality and survival expert on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, MTV, and the UK’s Channel Five. He therefore writes from the perspective of someone who has been intensively trained in survival and basically being a badass.
This book is 640 pages. With such a huge length, this is not a book that glosses over things. If you like to dig in for the long haul when reading a book, this one is it. Furthermore, it is packed with solid, practical information, so it is one of those books you will have to keep coming back to.
The book is a practical guide on how to survive outdoors. It contains information about tools, food, fire, water shelter, navigation, signaling, and survival psychology.
Mykel Hawkes has an engaging writing style, coupled with a matter-of-fact attitude that makes the book an enjoyable read.
-Author has serious credibility as a Green Beret and outdoor survival expert
-Big book that does not gloss over information
10. Outdoor Survival Skills – How to Live off the Land Without Using Expensive Equipment
This last book is one of the classics of wilderness survivals. In fact it has taught three generations of wilderness adventurers the basics and intricacies of surviving in the wild without using any expensive purchased equipment.
-Author: Larry Dean Olsen; with Foreword by Robert Redford
-Publisher: Chicago Review Press; 6th Edition (November 1, 1997)
-Paperback: 272 pages
The author Larry Dean Olsen was deeply curious about Native American cultures and this led him to seek out the desert wastelands of the Western United States where he learned to live off the land. In the 1960’s the author began to teach outdoor survival classes at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. His survival training concepts all hinge on one idea: living off the land without using previously manufactured gear.
This book teaches you how to find or create shelter, tools, fire, food, and water. This is a new edition which features anecdotes from the author’s life which are thrilling examples of the kind of attitude and skills you need to survive in the outdoors.
-Author has solid credentials as a survivalist
-A classic of survival training
Survival Books Buying Guide: Factors to Consider When Choosing a Survival Book
- Author’s Credentials
Survival books are typically non-fiction, unless you are counting fictional accounts like “Robinson Crusoe”. Non-fiction books require credibility above all else in the author.
For instance, if it is a survival book about medicine, check the author’s background: is the author a doctor, a nurse, or in any way connected with the medical field?
If it is a book about surviving in the woods, confirm that the author’s credentials as a survivalist or adventure can inspire any confidence that they know what they are talking about.
The last thing you want is to buy a book that teaches you something that is incorrect, incomplete, or theoretical not practical.
Survivalism is a broad subject. There are so many things to cover: medicine, food security, self defense, and so forth.
Figure out what you want to learn and look for a book that addresses that specific topic. However, if you are a beginner, you can look for a book that covers a little of everything just to get a broad understanding of the basics of surviving.
Whether you are a cautious prepper, enthusiastic outdoorsy adventurer, or just someone who enjoys reading survival literature because it helps put you in a fight-or-flight frame of mind that is useful in your life or business, at least one of these books is the one to buy next. Which one will it be?