I’ve read most wilderness survival books out there, and this is my review of what I believe are the 4 best survival books.
I consider these survival books to be the best because their content is great. These books are not self-published trash, and are written by reputable authors that, for the most part, really know what they are talking about.
Unfortunately, there are so many survival books out there that its difficult for people to choose a book that will give good advice, and is written by an experienced, knowledgeable person.
Many survival books out there proclaim that you can just read the book, buy some gear, practice some skills, and you’ll be able to live off the wild. That’s misguided, irresponsible advice. Those books are generally outdated, and the authors haven’t walked the talk (see Bradfor Angier’s). I’m not saying it is impossible, but it’s going to take much more effort than reading some books and backpacking a few days.
Some survival books are published only because the author is a survival celebrity, like Bear’s.
Others publish their books with a slightly different perspective on survival without adding much value; the world doesn’t need any more survival books (see Michael Hawke’s, Les Stroud’s, and many others).
Now lets get to the best survival books out there:
*There is one book that I didn’t cover in this top 4 list, but deserves mentioning; The Outdoor Survival Handbook by Ray Mears is a great book as well, and definitely would take the fifth place on this list.
4. Survival Wisdom & Know How Everything You Need to Know to Thrive in the Wilderness
by Stackpole Books
This book rather than being written by one person is a combination of many books. Looks like the publishers compiled all their outdoor books into one. The first thing you notice when looking at it is that it’s huge. It weights 2.6 lbs (1.2 kg). You’re not going to carry it with you outdoors.
This is a survival encyclopedia. What I like about it is that not only I will find a good description on how to fillet a fish, but I’ll find how to fillet a specific species of fish. It covers a lot of content with its 480 pages.
This is the survival book you want to have in your reference library. It is like the SAS Survival Handbook on steroids, so naturally, it is a little overwhelming. The pictures are very basic as well as most of the information covered, nevertheless it is a wealth of knowledge. This book is only for the hardcore wilderness survival enthusiast.
The main topics inside the book are animals, plants, food, water, hunting and fishing, fire, shelter, travel on land and water, weather and climate, navigation, and first aid.
One of the things that I don’t like about this book is that you can’t read it from cover to back. There is no order to it. Like a dictionary or encyclopedia you must look for each specific topic. It’s more of a reference book.
The publishers don’t really know the priorities for wilderness survival, and thought that just copy pasting info from other books they have published would make a great book. You’ll be able to learn how to start a fire, but the book won’t explain why you need it in the first place.
The main reason why this survival book is in this list is because I am really impressed with the sheer amount of information in it relevant to short term and long term wilderness survival. It’s the closest thing you can get to a survival Wikipedia in a book format. Survival Wisdom & Know How
3. SAS Survival Handbook The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere
by John Wiseman
This is the most popular survival book of all times. John Wiseman the author, was a survival instructor throughout his time serving in the SAS unit of the British Army. That’s why this book has a military manual feel to it. I honestly think that this survival book is over rated, but what I like about this book is that it covers a lot of information.
It is not focused on a specific climate and tries to cover every place on Earth. Its topics include, preparation and planning, survival kit, knives, water, climate and terrain, wild edibles, fishing, hunting, trapping, shelters, fire, cooking, axes, ropes and knots, maps and navigation, travel and waterways, first aid, survival at sea, signalling, search and rescue, urban survival (2014 ed.), and natural disasters.
It weights roughly 2.2 lbs (1kg) so it’s on the heavy side with its 672 pages. The book contains an incredibly large amount of content in a super condensed form, yet this might be it’s Achilles tendon, it doesn’t go too in depth into any particular topic.
One thing that I must say about this book, is that because it covers so many topics, it barely scratches their surface, and at times makes me doubt if the authors (probably ghost writers) have actually done some of the techniques described within.
It has very simple black and white illustrations in almost every page of the book accompanying the rough descriptions. If you are looking for a book to give you an introduction into wilderness survival, and to put in your pack or vehicle to read as a broad reference in the field, this is it. This is the classic Survival Manual. SAS Survival Handbook
2. The Survival Handbook Essential Skills For Outdoor Adventure
by Colin Towell
This book is very similar to the SAS Survival Handbook, covering roughly the same material. It includes these topics: preparation, environment, gear, navigation, travel, fire, basic outdoor skills, shelter, finding water, fishing, hunting, and trapping, preparing food, signalling, and first aid.
Colin Towell, the author was the Royal Navy’s Chief Survival instructor as well as as the Chief Instructor at the US Navy SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Extraction) school. Despite being written by a military instructor, the book doesn’t have a boring military theme and its accompanying black and white pictures.
With only 319 pages, it covers less material than the SAS Survival Handbook, but provides a clearer explanation as well as having much better accompanying pictures. It is an easy and entertaining read. It weights roughly 2.2 lbs (1kg). Another thing that I like from this book is that it has up-to date content and realistic pictures.
Something that this book covers well is clothing. Clothing is your personal shelter, first line of defense, and is an often overlooked topic in survival books. For instance the SAS book barely covers clothing.
I highly recommend this book, it’s a good read; it doesn’t completely overwhelm you with information. By being loaded with pictures, it is easy to absorb and retain the knowledge from this book. It is better for young people, and non-survival obsessed humans, in other words, it’s not boring. The Survival Handbook
1. 98.6 Degrees The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive
by Cody Lundin
This is a work of genius. While everyone else gets easily distracted, Cody gets it. That’s why this is the best survival book out there. He goes straight to what’s important, regulating body temperature and absorbing practical knowledge in a memorable way. His style is hugely entertaining as well as effective.
Cody Lundin is a wilderness survival skills and primitive skills instructor in Arizona. I truly believe that this book should be mandatory reading for every student preparing for a wilderness survival course. It should help set your priorities straight. It doesn’t give readers what they want, but what they need. Maybe that’s why it’s not as popular as other survival books despite being just what the doctor ordered.
If you are looking for a book on bushcraft and primitive skills you will be disappointed. This book won’t teach you how to skin a rabbit without a knife. Instead it helps you to prevent a survival situation in the first place, and then shows what you can do to stay alive. I really enjoyed Cody’s humor as well as the underlying principles that should drive any wilderness survival strategy.
The portions covering clothing and survival kits are well done and easy to understand. The pictures are entertaining and help drive the points home. This is the best book to have in a short term wilderness survival scenario. It has a wealth of knowledge that is practical and relevant, unlike many other survival books. 98.6 Degrees