10 Best Survival Books for the Outdoors

Knowledge weighs nothing as the saying goes and the best way to gain that knowledge is through study and practice. While a lot of people try to learn bushcraft skills thanks to YouTube and television documentaries nowadays true students of survival skills will learn from constant practice and books. Survival shows contain only a tiny fraction of the information available in books, also consider that ‘survival’ isn’t a single topic; to get a full understanding of the vast range of skill that you could apply to a survival situation you will need to delve into a range of different subjects that aren’t all fully explored in ‘survival’ books.

The SAS Survival Guide


Lofty’ Wiseman was the youngest person to pass the rigorous selection process of the British Military’s elite Special Air Service (SAS). He served all around the world and among other important duties within the regiment ran the selection course and the survival training school. After leaving the SAS in 1985 he wrote the world famous SAS Survival Guide.

This book came long before the word bushcraft was adopted by the general public and is very comprehensive. It includes tips on surviving not only in just about every wilderness you can imagine but also everything from break failures to natural disasters, terrorism and kidnappings. It’s section on traps includes some excellent drawings to help you learn how to construct a whole range of traps from small traps suitable for rodents to larger deadfalls for deer sized quarry. The book also contains colour pictures to help you identify edible and poisonous plants, animals and fish.

This is one of the very first books I read about ‘survival skills’ and is so full of information that even the most avid bushcrafter or survival enthusiast would struggle to practice everything in here. It really does contain the full complement of skill that might save your life in an emergency though.


Bushcraft; Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival


Mors Kochanski is one of the legends of the bushcraft and survival world: A passion for books and the outdoors led Mors to study survival and wilderness skills extensively both in his own time and through formal study at the University of Saskatchewan. A varied career as a draughtsman, concrete technician, geologist, surveyor and social worker eventually led to an instructor’s role on the Blue Lake Centre’s newly established outdoor education programmes in 1968. From then on he taught survival skills and became an associate professor at the University of Alberta in its Faculty of Physical Education.

He also served as editor of the ‘Alberta Wilderness Arts and Recreation’ magazine and in 1986 was approached by a publisher to write his first book. Originally titled ‘Northern Bushcraft’ it became a best seller in Canada and is now published under the simplified title of ‘Bushcraft’.

The book is very logically broken down into chapters specialising in different skill sets and tools vital for survival in the wilderness with a distinct lean towards boreal and sub-arctic forest environments.

It is one of my favourite bushcraft ‘manuals’ and an excellent read, a MUST HAVE for any survival skills enthusiast.

Outdoor Survival Handbook

It was Ray Mears who made the word bushcraft popular outside of its origins in Australia and Africa through his television programmes and books, but his very first book followed the tradition of ‘survival skills’ which had become popular since the 1960’s.

This book separates survival skills into the four seasons and includes useful information on seasonal wild food and on commonly useful wilderness survival skills. The line drawings are not as good as the photography that would appear in his later books but they do provide some reference points to help you identify plant foods and understand concepts and skills he is describing.

Woodcraft and Camping

George Washington Sears, known by his pen-name of ‘nessmuk’ was an American writer and outdoorsman who was a prolific writer for the ‘field and stream’ magazine and a staunch advocate of light weight camping. His 1884 book ‘Woodcraft and Camping’ has become a classic in the outdoors genre and is still in print today.

He was quite a sickly individual who had retired to the countryside primarily for his health and was averse to the common form of back woods camping with heavy kit and pack animals and wanted to travel light relying on skill rather than extensive supplies of food to get by in the woods.

His kit certainly wouldn’t be consider light weight by today’s standards by the serious light weight enthusiasts who pack half sized or skeletonized sleeping pads and drill holes in their toothbrush and spoon handle but by the standards of the day he was a revolutionary in the world of recreational camping. His book focuses on his light weight kit and how to use it to live simply and comfortably in the woods.

Wildwood Wisdom


Originally published in 1945 Wildwood Wisdom by Ellsworth Jaeger is a comprehensive textbook of practical backwoods skills, it has a particular focus on crafts and homemade kit including packs and clothing. It draws heavily on the Native American and mountain man tradition of craft and wilderness living skills and is a positive treasure trove of ideas for establishing your backwoods survival settlement.

It describes and illustrates skills ranging from arranging a load on a pack horse to carving elaborate candelabras for your backwoods home.


No Need to Die


Eddie McGee had served as a sergeant major and physical training instructor in the British Army and for many years ran the National School of Survival, He was particularly famed as a tracking expert and was commended by the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire in 1982 after helping to track down triple murderer Barry Prudom.

His book No Need to Die. Published in1978, was one of the earliest manuals of survival skills available to the general public and became an absolute bible for survival skills enthusiasts until the market in survival and buschraft books picked up a bit during the 1980’s.

No Need to Die is a comprehensive guide to survival skills and includes sections on first aid, signalling, trapping, tracking, cooking, navigation, telling the time and every other conceivable survival skills for temperate environments.

Animal Tracks and Signs


It’s fitting to follow Eddie McGee’s entry with a book on tracking as he was so well known as a tracking expert. Although he died in 2002 he is survived by his son Perry who runs the National Tracking School and is recognised all over the world as an expert in tracking whether it be humans or animals.

Bang and Dahlstøm’s book is one of the best books on tracking and indirect animal sign I have ever read. As a professional wildlife manager tracking and the interpretation of indirect wildlife sign such as droppings and feeding sign is an important part of my job and other than my practical experience and practice this book has been the most useful tool I have had to learn from when it comes to tracking.

It’s small enough to slip into a pocket so you can take it into the field with you and provides some excellent scale drawings to help you interpret the footprints and droppings you find.

It’s worth stressing the importance of books that aren’t just ‘survival manuals’ before people starting compiling survival guides the information they would have had to study would have been found in a range of subject specific books, perhaps several on tracking, some on knots, anthropological text books and academic papers on first nations skills would have formed the libraries of students of bushcraft and survival and still should for the person who is truly determined to master backwoods skills and knowledge.

Bushcraft; The Ultimate Guide to Survival in the Wilderness

Richard Graves bushcraft manuals are one of the first uses of the word bushcraft in a major publication and his book was originally published as ten separate manuals during the 1970’s. Originally the manuals had the following titles and topics;

Manual 1 – Ropes & Cords

Manual 2 – Huts & Thatching

Manual 3- Campcraft

Manual 4- Food & Water

Manual 5- Firemaking

Manual 6- Knots & Lashings

Manual 7- Tracks & Lures

Manual 8- Snares & Traps

Manual 9- Travel & Gear

Manual 10. – Time & Direction

In it’s current form all these manuals have been compiled into a single convenient volume, it  is one of the most complete bushcraft manuals on the market with detailed line drawings as well as thorough descriptions of skills.

Uteliv Med Morfar ’Outdoor Life with Grandfather’

By Lars Fält

I can’t compile a list of the best survival and outdoors books without Lars Fält featuring in the list somewhere. Unfortunately for the English speaking world most of his books are published in his native Swedish but a bibliography of his work is impressive and I can highly recommend any of his books.

As the head of survival training for the Swedish armed forces he wrote the Swedish Army’s survival manual and has also authored or co-authored dozens of books as a civilian. He has recently released a book co-authored with Ray Mears which is available in English called Out on the Land and which focuses on the bushcraft skills of the Northern Forests but this just scratches the surface of his books and my favourite of his is called Outdoor Life with Grandfather. I have only found it in Swedish up until this point but as a father who enjoys sharing adventures in the outdoors with my children and my own father this book really appeals to me. It includes tips on activities for children out of doors as well as advice on helping children become self-sufficient and resilient in the wilderness and pointers on how to deal with emergencies such as getting lost out of doors.


These ten survival books are just a few of the hundreds that are available but you won’t go far wrong by starting with these. And remember books are often a better investment than expensive kit.

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