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When it comes to learning how to survive in the outdoors, nothing can replace actual experience living and traveling in the backcountry. But since most of us can’t spend extended periods of time in the wilderness on a regular basis, honing our skills can sometimes be a real challenge. Fortunately, there are plenty of survival manuals available to help us fill in the gaps in our outdoor education. These books often share crucial knowledge and important lessons that could potentially be the difference between life and death.
A quick search on Amazon will reveal hundreds of books in the survival category and figuring out which ones are worth your time can be difficult. We’ve combed through many of those options for you and compiled our list of recommendations. Here are our favorite survival guides of all time.
Our Top Picks
The Survival Handbook by Colin Towell
If there's a beginner’s guide to survival, it just might be this book. Not only is The Survival Handbook an engaging read, but it's also filled with dozens of illustrations that help convey its more important points while keeping the reader’s attention. Newcomers to outdoor adventure will find plenty to like here, with basic bushcraft knowledge provided in an easy to understand fashion.
But just because this manual is accommodating and approachable to beginners doesn't mean that experienced outdoorsmen and women can’t learn a thing or two from it as well. The handbook is packed with vital knowledge on everything from how to build a shelter to how to survive in a wide variety of harsh environments. Towell even offers tips on how to scavenge and prepare food in an emergency situation. He also shares tips on organizing expeditions to remote corners of the globe, making it an all-around great option for the weekend warrior or the globe-trotting veteran adventurer.
Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival by Dave Canterbury
This book is a treasure-trove of advice and information on how to survive in the backcountry for extended periods of time. Written for hikers, backpackers, and campers, it offers one of the most comprehensive collections of wilderness skills and techniques ever assembled in a single tome. Readers will learn how to select the proper gear to take with them on their adventures, how to forage for food, and how to keep themselves protected from the elements. There are sections on knot-tying, tool building, and even which plants are edible and can be used for medicinal purposes. For the outdoor enthusiast looking to pick up some new skills or improve on existing ones, this is an indispensable reference.
SAS Survival Handbook by John “Lofty” Wiseman
Now in its third edition, the SAS Survival Handbook is considered a true classic of the survival manual genre. The book is 650+ pages in length and packed full of useful information from cover to cover. Whether you’re a weekend camper, mountaineer, or dedicated survivalist, you’ll find plenty of important and useful information scattered throughout the guide, including basic first aid techniques, tips for navigating in the backcountry, and how to properly set up your campsite.
The author is a former member of the British Special Air Service, where he specialized in survival training. Through this book, he details how to survive in extreme environments, such as jungles, deserts, and even oceans. He also offers up basic hand-to-hand combat techniques and methods of survival following natural disasters. The SAS Survival Handbook is a must-read for anyone looking to increase their own abilities in the wilderness and beyond.
98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive by Cody Lundin
The author of this book is a noted survival expert and in 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive, Cody Lundin takes a simple, but vitally important, approach to staying alive in the outdoors. The entire guide is focused on techniques for keeping your core body temperature as close to 98.6 degrees as possible, which can be challenging when you find yourself in an extremely hot or cold environment. Throughout the book, Lundin shares unique survival stories and experiences from his vast background, while hammering home his points through some of the most amusing and unusual illustrations you’ll ever find in a survival guide. Those images serve their purpose well, however, as many of them will stay with you long after you’ve read the manual, helping you to remember the lessons that his words imparted.
The U.S. Navy SEAL Survival Handbook by Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo
As sea, air, and land warriors, the U.S. Navy SEALs can be deployed to practically any environment on the planet at a moments notice. That means they have to know how to survive in places that are otherwise hostile to human life. Author Don Mann is a highly decorated former SEAL who has undergone extensive survival training and put the strategies and techniques that he has learned to the test in a variety of environments across the globe. In this book, he shares secrets of survival in jungles, deserts, the Arctic, and even at sea. He also provides instruction in basic bushcraft, with helpful insights into how to build a shelter, create makeshift weapons, and locate clean drinking water. Perhaps best of all, the book also includes a number of real-world stories of survival under some of the harshest conditions imaginable, allowing this guidebook to not only teach, but to inspire as well.
Preppers Long Term Survival Guide by Jim Cobb
This book takes a bit of a different approach when it comes to survival, choosing to focus on how you can prepare yourself — and your home — for life after a potential disaster. This manual is as much of a guide for living in the wake of a hurricane or earthquake as it is some kind of apocalypse, helping readers to get along for extended periods of time without power, running water, or modern methods of communication. It also shares tips on how to grow crops, forage for food, perform emergency medical procedures, and defend your property from potential looters. There are even sections dedicated to rebuilding society in case things really do take a turn for the worse. This book is aimed at the survivalist who isn’t looking to just stay safe while in the wilderness, but to prepare themselves for the ultimate challenge of survival in a world turned upside down.
The Survival Medicine Handbook by Joseph and Amy Alton
One of the most important skills for staying alive following a natural disaster is knowing how to provide proper medical treatment to both yourself and those around you. Working under the premise that professional medical attention may not be available for days or weeks on end, this book gives readers the information they need to render aid in a wide variety of emergency situations. The 670-page guide covers a surprisingly extensive list of ailments and injuries, sharing the best possible ways to treat wounds with a limited amount of supplies. The book is broken down into sections that cover survival skills, disaster relief, and first aid, making it an all-around great resource for use in both wilderness environments and urban settings.
Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills
Now in its eighth edition, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills is one of the most revered survival manuals ever created, particularly for climbers. This book is essentially the bible for mountaineers, delivering a complete handbook compiled from the years of experience of more than 40 contributing alpinists. This isn’t a guide for beginners, as it skips over most of the basic skills in favor of focusing on more advanced techniques instead. Readers will find it to be a handy reference to have in their library, however, offering tips on how to travel safely in the mountains, including techniques for rappelling down rock faces, evaluating the risks of avalanches, and using modern mountaineering gear safely and efficiently. There are even sections that can help climbers hone their leadership skills, allowing them to take charge when the situation demands it.
Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag by Creek Stewart
While the other books on this list tent to focus mainly on the skills necessary to survive a difficult situation, this book turns most of its attention on the gear and supplies that are necessary to get through an unexpected disaster. For survivalists and peppers, assembling a “bug out bag” is an essential part of preparing for difficult situations, putting all of the equipment they’ll need to survive for up to 72 hours into a single bag that they can quickly grab when heading out the door. This book helps readers decide what gear will play a vital role in their journey to escape the epicenter of a disaster zone and reach safety. That equipment includes food, water, multitools, shelter, a first aid kit, and more.