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Whether you’re heading out for a week-long trek with your buddies, going on a solo hike or planning a weekend camping trip with the family, it’s always a good idea to know what to do in case of an emergency. And what better way to brush up on those skills than with a handy guide?
The best survival books give you all of the tips and tricks you need to stay safe (and let’s face it, alive) when you suddenly find yourself surrounded by the elements. While there are all kinds of survival guide categories out there, from how to survive a bear attack to foraging for your own food when you run out, we’re focusing on some of the most well-rounded and relevant reads that are available to buy in 2022.
The Best Survival Books
From practical guides for camping to must-have companions when things go downhill in the great outdoors, these survival books will make sure you know how to survive anywhere on earth.
1. Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury
Survivalist Dave Canterbury provides all the knowledge you need in this backcountry trekking book, which includes everything from selecting the right items for your kit and collecting and cooking your own food, to manufacturing tools and protecting yourself from the elements. Throughout the pages he doles out wisdom on the five Cs of survivability (cutting tools, covering elements, combustion devices, containers and cordages), covering all of the basics and then some in an easy-to-read and digestible way.
2. 98.6 Degrees by Cody Lundin
Survivalist Cody Lundin is all about the commonsense approach to survival, which he highlights in this tome. Whether you’re in the backcountry or the backyard, his basic survival skills break down to one thing: keeping yourself regulated at 98.6 degrees, a.k.a. the body’s ideal temperature. It’s the no-nonsense approach you’ll use and appreciate, and above all, it teaches you to try and keep your head straight in even the worst of situations.
3. When All Hell Breaks Loose by Cody Lundin
BEST FOR FAMILIES
What can we say, we just love Cody Lundin’s style so much that we’re including two of his survival books on this list. In this offering, the survivalist gets even more extreme by preparing families for the unknown. Whether it’s disposing of bodies following an apocalypse or brushing up on your emergency preparedness, Lundin gives straight-up advice in a funny way that makes you absorb what he’s saying while still being thoroughly entertained.
4. Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skills by John and Geri McPherson
This 1993 survival book may be an oldie, but it’s still a goodie. In order to educate the common person on surviving in the wilderness, the McPhersons have assembled more than 700 photographs and dozens of drawings into this 400-page offering. The result is an easy-to-digest education on how to hone all of your best primitive skills.
5. How to Stay Alive in the Woods, by Bradford Angier
This book has been around for decades and it does exactly what the title promises: teaches you how to stay alive if you’re stuck in the woods. Inside, the pages break down that task into four more specific sections, including sustenance, warmth, orientation and safety. From catching food without a gun and knowing which plants you can safely eat, to building a warm shelter and signaling for help, the words and detailed illustrations make for one handy, basic guide.
6. SAS Survival Handbook by John “Lofty” Wiseman
BEST UPDATED CLASSIC
Readers have long touted this book’s practicality when it comes to teaching you how to survive outdoors in any possible scenario. That means author Lofty Wiseman covers basic camping strategies to be sure, but the pages also include fear management techniques, coping strategies and essentials (like how to read the weather or defend yourself in a fight). Speaking of pages the latest edition, published in 2014, features an extra 100 pages of updated content, so even if you already have an older version of the book it’s worth investing in a new one.
7. Tom Brown’s Field Guide Wilderness Survival
BEST FIELD GUIDE
If your goal is to find a book that covers the basics in a straightforward and easy way, Tom Brown’s tome is the way to go. This one is all about basic wilderness survival and essentials, like finding safe drinking water, making fire without matches and stalking animals for food (you know, so they don’t stalk you). It’s fully illustrated and targeted at beginners and pros alike, which makes it a good pick for honing all kinds of skills.
8. The Survival Medicine Handbook by Joe and Amy Alton
While many survival guides break down how to stay safe and healthy when you’re lost in the wilderness, this one explains how to deal with a medical emergency when there are no options left. It’s designed to help someone with no previous medical knowledge keep others alive until help can arrive, and it’s written in a way that anyone can understand.
9. U.S. Air Force Survival Handbook: The Portable and Essential Guide to Staying Alive
BEST OFFICIAL GUIDE
This handy survival book, written by the United States Air Force, gets right to the nitty-gritty in terms of how to survive when things get bad. It’s designed as a training tool for the formal Air Force program, but anyone can get their hands on a copy and learn from the advice within. In addition to survival essentials, this one includes concealment techniques, how to find your way without a map and even survival at sea, making it an invaluable book for anyone who likes to spend time in the rugged outdoors.
10. When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein
BEST FOR TECHIES
Sure, this book will help teach you survival skills when you no longer have access to your basic comforts, but it also takes things further with the inclusion of how to live in the face of a disaster when it hits close to home. Think of things like installing renewable energy in your home, sterilizing water and alternative healthcare techniques. It’s also loaded with tons of prepping tips for short- and long-term emergencies, so no matter what situation you find yourself in, you should be covered.
11. The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
BEST ZOMBIE GUIDE
Look, do we really think zombies are coming to get us? Of course not. But this book makes the prospect entertaining, at least. It includes tons of practical tips for when those walkers do come along, like how to organize before they rise, how to understand zombie behavior and why bikes always make for better getaway transportation than cars.
The Best Non-Fiction Survival Memoirs
Whether you prefer to live vicariously through another adventurer or you’re looking for some motivation before you get out there yourself, these gripping tales of survival are sure to hook you from the very first page.
1. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
This firsthand account by journalist-mountaineer John Krakauer recalls the May 1996 disaster at Mt. Everest, when a storm claimed the lives of five people. Although Krakauer survived the events he was left with extreme survivor’s guilt, which some believe may have been the reason he wrote this book in the first place.
2. Alive by Piers Paul Read
This New York Times bestseller traces the horrific events that followed the Uruguayan Air Force plane crash in 1972 when a team of rugby players crashed into the Andes. Only 16 of the 45 passengers survived, and how they survived over the course of those 10 dreaded weeks unfolds throughout the pages of this book.
3. Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
This harrowing story of friendship, climbing and tragedy is the kind of story you can’t make up. It follows climbing partners Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who scaled a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes and were on their way back down when disaster struck. Simpson went off the vertical face of an ice ledge and broke his leg, and in the end, Yates was forced to cut the rope. Believing his friend to be dead he returned to camp, only for Simpson to miraculously return hours before Yates was set to leave.
Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival
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4. Kon-Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl
This classic true story of biologist Thor Heyerdahl and his journey to duplicate the legendary voyage of mythical hero Kon-Tiki has been described as a saga of men against the sea. First written in 1948, it remains one of the greatest real-life survival stories of our time.
5. Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea, by Steven Callahan
In this unbelievable, yet true story of survival and perseverance, Steven Callahan shares the very dramatic way he survived for more than a month alone at sea in an inflatable raft after his sailboat capsized.