I’m a former US Marine and IRAQ veteran, and this is my list of the absolute best survival books. Books you can learn from, and live by. The problem is that there are a ton of books about survival but lots of them are, well, junk. Not junk in the sense that the author didn’t try, just more like books that tend to be a compilation of other books, original works that have been consumed and regurgitated, and every other “not that great” reference in between. That’s one of the reasons why this is the “top 7” and not “top 10”. I refuse to stuff this thing with unnecessary entries just to make a number. This is officially the best collection of survival books this side of Mars– neatly organized, and updated for 2015. Of course, if you’re not a book learner, there are plenty of survival schools throughout the world too.
Survival comes in many flavors – Desert, Woodland, Jungle, Mountain, you name it. You need a book that fits your needs and that’s exactly what we aim to help you find. In an effort to avoid information overload, we have listed (in no particular order) our favorite 7 survival books – that is, of course, in our opinion. Although we’ve been through each of these books, I will say there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to reading and learning. That’s because we’ve all got different reading styles. I’m confident you can find something you like within this selection. If you have a few spare minutes, I’ve also written a couple words of wisdom, which I’ve gleaned from my experiences as a US Marine – you will find that at the bottom of the page. If you have any questions about a particular book, email me and I’ll do my best to address them. Also, don’t forget to have a look at our article on basic survival gear. Alright, I’m done yapping – enjoy.
Our top 7 Best Survival Books – in no particular order:
Author: Gregory J. Davenport
Former USAF Survival Instructor Gregory Davenport discuss in detail his five basic survival elements – finding food and water, personal protection, signaling, health and travel. His focus is on remaining calm, in control and alive until help arrives. Gregory runs a wilderness education program called “Simply Survival” in Stevenson, Washington and has appeared on 48 Hours, NBC Nightly News, CBS News, ABC PrimeTime Thursday as well as the BBC and Outdoor Life Network.
Author: John “Lofty” Wiseman
Lofty’s SAS handbook has long since been a venerable desk reference on the topic of survival. This is the third edition which includes survival scenarios that we haven’t thought much about until now, such as terrorism and urban settings. When I was in the Marine Corps, we extensively trained in Close Quarters Combat(CQB). I never would have thought then, that scenario-specific training would ever prove useful in a setting outside of the military. Nowadays, with all the nonsensical goings-on in the world, I think we can all use some basic survival skills that aren’t necessarily tailored to being lost in the woods. No matter how many survival books you have, this one deserves a spot on the shelf. I really love this book, and while I don’t want to sound partial, I sort of am when it comes to this one. This book, without any doubt, is absolutely one of the most useful survival books you’ll ever purchase. It’s like the “Joy of Cooking” for survival.
Author: Jim Cobb
This is an interesting read. The Prepper’s Guide is focused on long-term survival in the event of a serious disaster. He’s not so much talking about how to catch and cook a rabbit when you’ve gotten lost on the trail or how to craft a make-shift distillery whilst stuck at sea. Instead, Jim talks specifically about how to make do when things don’t go back to normal – for a long time. Imagine the power grid was destroyed along with Natural Gas lines and there was no drinkable water anywhere for hundreds or thousands of miles – would you make it?
Author: Les Stroud
Les Stroud is an amazing survivalist, and this is unquestionably one of the best survival books on the market today. He(Les) is so passionate about this topic that he created and produced his own television series “Survivorman”. Les also took some time to write this great guide on his favorite topic. What’s different about this book is that it hits on survival skills for every climate and locale. There’s also a heavy emphasis on adapting your own, personal set of skills – taking from broad, general survival theory and making something that fits your style. Les is a very entertaining man and I think you’ll be pleased with this book from cover to cover.
Author: Ellsworth Jaeger
Wildwood Wisdom is a classic. Published in 1992, you may consider this to be outdated but I encourage you discover this book as more of a historical textbook. This book was originally written in 1945 and is based on life in the 1800’s. You won’t find any state of the art techniques, zombie apocalypse references or ways to make a parachute from a drinking straw and paper clip like MacGyver. Instead, Wildwood Wisdom is packed full of old-world, traditional survival skills and techniques. Humans have been surviving for thousands of years and I would say if anything, the classic theories have been proven effective and will always be the basis for modern concepts.
Author: Mykel Hawke
Mykel Hawke wears many hats. He’s a retired Army Special Forces Green Beret, author, television show host and one hell of a survival expert. You may recognize him from his show on the Discovery Channel “Man Woman Wild” or “One Man Army”. Mykel has serious experience and he shares his knowledge in this 640 page guide to Essential Survival Strategies. Hawke’s Manual is a massive reference that includes anything and everything you can think of. I like to think of it as “The Joy Of Cooking” of survival technique books. If you’re a hobbyist or trying to learn serious skills, this belongs on your shelf.
Author: John McPherson
Here’s a book that teaches technique step by step. This oldy but goodie has hundreds (more than 700) pictures and diagrams so you can’t get it wrong. Based on primitive skills, John describes each chapter of his book as being “written as a complete book”. Have a go with this one from cover to cover and you’ll have the desire to take a week long backwoods camping trip immediately. Reminded me of when I was a child and I got some new piece of outdoor equipment – like my first hatchet – and I would spend entire days in the woods discovering all that I could do with this new tool. Gotta read this!
Keep Calm and Train On
You will undoubtedly benefit from a skilled survivor’s recommendations of the foremost survival books, but that doesn’t change the fact that learning the art of Bush-craft takes time – a lot of time. I’m reminded of my Marine Corps days, which taught me patience when it comes to learning and mastering techniques such as survival cooking, fire making, shelter construction and hunting. There are plenty survivalists out there who have dedicated their existence to wilderness living – but nature doesn’t discriminate and neither does physics. It doesn’t matter if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Marine or professional survival trainer – you’ll get nowhere without patience. This is equally true if and when you find yourself in a legitimate situation where your very life may depend on your ability to keep your cool. Emergency kits don’t come with concentration. I may be pulling my own chain, but I can promise that if you’ve read this far, you are interested in learning, and there’s not better way to learn than from a handpicked list of the best survival books a US Marine could find – trust me.
Learning is a two part recipe
If you are going to succeed in the wild, there are two components of learning and mastering survival: Theory/Concept and Practical Application. To learn theory, you can watch YouTube videos; survival shows or just hit the books. But for practical application, I suggest you just pack up your bag and head out to the field. Books can only take you so far, and you have to use your imagination to visualize yourself executing these tactics you’re reading about. A wise Gunnery Sergeant once told me “nothing trains fire-building faster than a cold night”.
I think there are a few things you are going to find in common within the chapters of not only the absolute finest survival books, but also the books that are on the lightweight side as well. These would be the basic survival skills – fire making, shelter building, basic hunting, etc.. Realistically, you need to have a foundation for these basic survival skills but at the same time, know that some of the books in our top 10 have a little more meat in certain areas. So check them all out and make an informed decision. Happy trails!
Got a suggestion for my list of best survival books? Did I miss one you think is unquestionably amazing? A read that just simply can’t be passed over? Post a comment below!