Best Survival Books – 7 Titles Handpicked by a US Marine


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:

Wilderness Survival 2nd editionbest survival books - wilderness survival second edition

Author: Gregory J. Davenport
Published: 3/31/2006
Pages: 304

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.

SAS third editionbest survival books - sas survival handbook

Author: John “Lofty” Wiseman
Published: 11/11/2014
Pages: 672

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.

Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guidebest survival books - preppers long term survival guide

Author: Jim Cobb
Published: 3/25/2014
Pages: 240

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?

Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere – Alivebest survival books - survive essential skills and tactics

Author: Les Stroud
Published: 11/11/2008
Pages: 373

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.

Wildwood Wisdombest survival books - wildwood wisdom

Author: Ellsworth Jaeger
Published: 1992
Pages: 520

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.

Hawke’s Green Beret Survival Manual: Essential Strategiesbest survival books - hawkes green beret survival manual

Author: Mykel Hawke
Published: 10/2/2012
Pages: 640

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.

Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skillsbest survival books - wilderness living and survival skills

Author: John McPherson
Published: 1/1/1993
Pages: 408

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”.

Common wisdom

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!


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Meet the Author

I'm a former US Marine, full-time father and husband, and part-time survivalist. I like old things, like music, furniture and time-tested survival technique, but there's always a place in my heart for new technology such as weapons and sleeping bag fill. I'm here to share my knowledge and experience, and I hope you'll share yours as well.

15 comments… add one
  • Mckinley Sep 30, 2014, 3:56 am

    I love this list! I’ve not read all of these but I do own the sas guide and I intend to get the one by les stroud as he is amazing.

    How is the les stroud book? What’s your favorite?

    • Mike Jan 26, 2015, 3:25 pm

      I can’t BELIEVE I never saw this comment – plus I never got an email notification or anything!
      Sorry. Les Stroud has a couple of books out. The one listed on here is an excellent read. If you’re a fan of his show, you’ll be a fan of his book – reading it feels like you’re watching bonus episodes of Survivorman!

      He’s got another one called Will To Live. It’s sort of like that show that used to be on called “What would you do”.

      • Karey Keever Nov 17, 2015, 11:43 pm

        Given the current state of affairs, I believe my husband and I need a book. We have no survival skills per se. I don’t know how to distill for water etc. This is a great list, but do you have a suggestion for newbies?

        • Mike Nov 18, 2015, 2:31 am

          I may catch some flack for this, but if I were to loan you a book right now, I think it would be SAS. All of the books in this list are very complete in their own way, but I think SAS might have the edge for newcomers. Anyone else have any opinions on this?

  • Andrew Jan 30, 2016, 2:24 pm

    Mors Kochanski-Bushcraft
    Survival instructor for 40 years. Its a great book to read, lean and implement.

  • Steve Jones Apr 24, 2016, 5:32 pm

    I’d consider reading – Survival Handbook:Royal Marines Commandos. Plenty in there and the presentation alone is worth it.

    • Mike Apr 27, 2016, 8:46 pm

      Thanks for the input Steve!

  • RomaSurna Apr 28, 2016, 10:22 am

    I learned a lot about survival from ‘shepherdsurvives’ guides. You can look for this on google 🙂 Nice and easy

  • Nikkip Jul 16, 2016, 12:00 pm

    This is a really good list! As many folks would agree, I feel SAS is one of the best books you’re going to read.

    • Mike Jul 18, 2016, 11:36 pm

      Thanks Nikki! SAS was the first survival book I ever picked up. I also highly recommend Wildwood Wisdom.

  • trirach Oct 9, 2016, 7:59 pm

    This is a FANTASTIC list! Thank you!

  • Mike Feb 28, 2017, 8:30 am

    Good site! Lots of useful info for all levels of outdoorsmen…and women.
    I still favor the old Medium Alice. After trying four other brands and types, I prefer the non-zipper versions. The ALICE system is reasonably priced and can be repaired in the field with a good sewing / repair kit.
    For just a day pack/vehicle emergency pack, I like the London Bridge Trading Company’s 3-day assault pack. Used it for several years.

  • Brittany Mar 28, 2017, 6:01 am

    Hi! 🙂 This summer my husband and I are going out into the woods with 550 cord, sleeping bags, hatchets, flint, knife’s, metal pot and Camel pack. We want to try and spend 7 days out there just like Les, Bear, and the guys from dual survival. Besides one weekend when we were both very young we have zero experience. We don’t want to just survive we want to make sure that we can thrive if that time ever came when there was no option but to get away from big population areas (I’m a big fan of the zombe apocalypse :-)) aanyways we want to be able to set traps and snares, find game trails and hunt, make our own weapons out of what nature provides. Our children want us to take them out after we get back. I need to make sure we are prepared WHEN we go out that way when we take them out they don’t fail. So after all that my question is what book or couple of books do you think would help us get prepared and succeed in our adventure? Also anything else you would suggest we do or bring?

    • Mike Mar 30, 2017, 12:45 pm

      Hey Brittany!

      SAS is my recommended go-to starter book. After that, I like “Wildwood Wisdom”, as it teaches a lot of older, more fundamental techniques. I consider that to be a proper foundation. Happy Trails!

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