A small collection of survival books is a great investment for the outdoorsperson, prepper, survivalist, or even those with just casual interest in such matters. The idea is to put together a reference library that you can use to not just educate yourself and your family, but refer to as you sharpen your skills.

Having the reference materials on hand is one thing, though, and putting that knowledge into practice entirely another. Don’t just let them just sit on the shelf and collect dust. Take the best survival books out into the field with you and refer to them often as you put the information to use.

How We Picked The Best Survival Books

I have been an author and editor working in the survival field for well over a decade, and I have been studying and practicing survival skills for over 30 years. In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to read innumerable survival books and learned from practical experience which ones were worth reading. There are a few criteria I use to determine whether a book is worth recommending.

  • Unique/Original Information: The book must bring something new to the table. While many survival books will cover much of the same information, I want to see something that’s not been done before. If I can learn just one new thing from the book, I consider it a worthy investment.
  • No Falsehoods: In the world of survival books, there are many myths, half-truths, and outright lies that seem to permeate entirely too many volumes. I will not knowingly recommend a book that shares bad information. Doing so is irresponsible as well as unethical.
  • Readability: The book must be well-written. It doesn’t need to be a literary award winner, but it should be easy to follow and understand. I’m okay with a very occasional typo. But they should be the rare exception, not appearing on every page. Photos should be clear and highlight what’s being discussed in the text.

The Best Survival Books: Reviews and Recommendations

Best for Beginners: 101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods

Best for Beginners


  • By: Kevin Estela
  • Pages: 208
  • Publication Date: 2019


  • Easy to read and understand
  • Color photos
  • Great for young and old alike


  • Could use more photos

Kevin Estela has been a professional wilderness survival instructor for many years. In this book, he drills down 101 skills each person should learn to stay alive in the wild. However, that sounds more daunting than it truly is, and that’s a good thing. This is a vast subject that he divides into 10 core areas:

  • Fire
  • Shelter
  • Knife
  • Cordage
  • Illumination
  • Navigation
  • Signaling and communication
  • First aid and trauma
  • Water
  • Food gathering

Each of those sections is broken into 10 individual skills that he teaches in the book. For example, he shows how to make cordage from natural materials in that section. He also teaches how to tie and use different knots, how to join lines of different diameter, and more.

The author packs a ton of information into this book, all while making the lessons easy to follow and understand. He has decades of wilderness exploration under his belt, and it shows. This is most evident in the little things he shares along the way, tricks and tips that could only have been learned through hard-won experience.

Best for the Wilderness: Extreme Wilderness Survival

Best for the Wilderness


  • By: Craig Caudill
  • Pages: 192
  • Publication Date: 2017


  • Uses proven teaching techniques
  • Easy to follow and understand
  • Provides info for both new and experienced students


  • Veers into some areas that aren’t standard wilderness survival topics

Craig Caudill is a sought-after survival instructor. Based in Kentucky, he’s traveled the United States teaching classes on everything from wilderness survival to man-tracking. His students range from ordinary people to high levels of law enforcement and the military. As such, he’s developed strategies and approaches to teaching that work very well.

Caudill covers a huge range of information in this book, beginning with developing the proper mindset. He devotes a few dozen pages to this incredibly important subject. Everything from situational awareness to developing the mental fortitude necessary to handle a crisis is discussed.

From there, the book delves deep into what he refers to as your toolbox. He explains why it is important to take responsibility for your own safety, rather than relying on others to come and save you. Then he shows you how to do just that, from maintaining your core body temperature using clothing and shelter to finding clean water. How to source food in the wild, foraging, trapping, and more are also covered.

The author also goes into a few areas that aren’t traditionally covered in wilderness survival books. These include tracking, surviving solo versus working with a group, bugging out, and even using weapons for defense. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is unusual and might be surprising to some readers.

Best for Survival Analysis: The Unthinkable

Best for Survival Analysis


  • By: Amanda Ripley
  • Pages: 288
  • Publication Date: 2009


  • Uses actual disasters as learning opportunities
  • Based on solid science and research
  • Includes interviews with survivors


  • Might be dry reading for those looking for hard skills to learn

In a very real sense, this is a book that should be studied by anyone with even a passing interest in survival. Successfully making it through a crisis has more to do with what sits between your ears than anything else. The author, Amanda Ripley, is a senior writer for Time Magazine. She used her contacts to open doors to disaster experts, brain scientists, and others to learn how and why we react as we do under stress.

She also studied the responses of those who survived historical disasters, including those who were present in the World Trade Center on 9/11. The author interviewed survivors, talking to them about their experiences. She even underwent study herself, going through several simulations of emergencies such as a ship sinking or a building on fire.

The goal of this book was to gain a better understanding of how the human body and brain handle stress, anxiety, and fear. There’s far more to the subject than just the standard fight or flight response most of us learn about in school. And by gaining a better handle on what to expect from our nervous system, we can not only predict what will happen in an emergency but gain better control over our response. This puts us in a better position for success and survival.

Best for a Bug Out Bag: Build the Perfect Survival Kit (2nd Edition)

Best for a Bug Out Bag


  • By: John D. McCann
  • Pages: 256
  • Publication Date: 2013


  • Covers a wide range of survival kits
  • Countless gear recommendations
  • Hundreds of photos


  • You’ll end up wanting to buy everything featured

John D. McCann is a recognized authority on survival planning and has been featured on television as such, as well as in the New York Times and numerous magazines. Though he’s written several books, but this is the only one to concentrate solely on the equipment and gear needed for survival.

After briefly discussing the basics of survival kit planning, the bulk of the book is broken into two parts. In the first he goes over the different components of survival kits, including:

  • Fire and light
  • Signaling
  • Navigation
  • Shelter and protection
  • Water purification and containers
  • Food rations and collection
  • Cookware and stoves
  • Knives and tools
  • Medical components and kits
  • Multipurpose components
  • Miscellaneous components

In each of these chapters, the author discusses the needs that must be met and how that’s done in a general sense. He then goes into detail about specific products that he’s found will do the job effectively and efficiently. With each one, he explains his reasoning and provides pros and cons, which allows the reader to determine for themselves the best way to go.

In the remaining pages of the book, the author outlines numerous kits he’s made over the years, with several photos illustrating each one. He talks about what he’s chosen for each size kit and why and details the containers he uses for them. 

Best Medical: The Survival Medicine Handbook (4th Edition)

Best Medical


  • By: Joseph Alton, MD, and Amy Alton, APRN
  • Pages: 694
  • Publication Date: 2021


  • Covers every common illness, injury, and medical situation
  • Provides information on alternative medicine, such as essential oils
  • Over 300 photos and illustrations


  • Too large and heavy to carry when hiking

This isn’t just a first aid manual, addressing sprains and minor cuts. It is truly a medical handbook, covering over 300 topics from cover to cover. Dr. Joseph Alton and his wife Amy have been at the forefront of survival medicine for many years. They’ve both devoted their lives to sharing practical, no-nonsense information with anyone who wishes to learn how to keep their families healthy and safe.

The book assumes that you have no practical way to reach professional medical care and, as such, you’re on your own to handle injuries, illnesses, and more. Written in plain English, the range of topics covered is quite extensive, including:

  • Wound care
  • Burns
  • Allergic reactions
  • Animal bites
  • Dislocations
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Use of antibiotics
  • Dental issues
  • Heart ailments
  • Hygiene and sanitation

Each and every topic is covered in great detail, but in such a way that the reader isn’t overwhelmed. Knowing what to do about a problem is as important as diagnosing it, and that’s where this book truly shines. Each treatment and remedy is presented in an easy to follow format.

What to Consider When Choosing Survival Books

There are a few things to bear in mind when you’re shopping for survival books. Consider the following when making your purchase:


Will the book cover the information you’re hoping to learn? There are few, if any, one size fits all survival books. Selecting a book depends on your area of interest.

  • Wilderness Skills: This is an area which many people naturally associate with survival planning. They are great skills to have, but if you’re looking for information on food preservation, you’re not likely to find it in a wilderness survival book.
  • Emergency Preparedness: While these books won’t necessarily teach you how to build a fire in the woods, they will show you how to stock up and store supplies you’ll likely need during a crisis. They’ll also discuss things like filtering or purifying water and how to defend your home in a crisis.
  • Self-Reliance: This segment might only be tangentially related to survival in its purest form, but it has become common for the lines between the two to become blurred. Survival books in this area tend to focus on things like homesteading, growing food, raising animals, and similar activities.


Is the author well-known in the niche? In today’s day and age, just about anyone can slap together a couple hundred pages on a given topic, come up with a workable cover design, and then make it available for download. Reading reviews is great, but do some research about author.

  • Experience: See if you can find out what the author’s background is in the subject matter. Military service isn’t always a good indicator when it comes to survival books. Unless, they served in a unit that received specific training in the area about which they’re writing. However, if they’ve been involved in the role for a few decades and have practical experience, that’s a positive thing.
  • Reputation: As you search for information about the author, pay attention to reviews and comments made about their work. Look on sites like Amazon, of course, but also do general searches for blog posts and the like. Find out what other leaders in the survival community say about the author. Do they have a reputation for expertise in the subject matter? Just as important, are they seen as someone who can teach the information effectively?

Don’t forget to check out some of Field & Stream’s books on hunting, fishing, camping, and survival.


Q: What are the 5 most important survival skills?

While the order of these skills will vary based on the situation, everyone should strive to be proficient with:

·  Fire making
·  Shelter building
·  Basic navigation
·  Finding food and water
·  Situational awareness
Having a good handle on those will solve most problems when it comes to survival.

Q: What books should I read for SHTF?

In addition to the survival books we’ve already discussed, there are a few others that are particularly useful if we’re talking about a grid down or societal collapse situation.
·  Be Ready for Anything by Daisy Luther
·  Build the Perfect Bug Out Skills by Creek Stewart
·  The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
·  Practical Self-Reliance by John D. McCann

Q: Who are the best survival experts in the world?

This is sort of a loaded question. Many of the very best survivalists are those who live it every single day but aren’t necessarily writing books about it. That said, here is a short list of people who have proven to be exceptionally reliable resources. Not surprisingly, some of them wrote the books we listed earlier. By its very nature, the list cannot include everyone who truly deserves mention.
·  Craig Caudill
·  John D. McCann
·  Kevin Estela
·  Daisy Luther
·  Christopher Nyerges
·  Tim MacWelch
·  Angeline Hawkes
·  Michael D’Angona
·  Reuben Bolieu
·  Waysun Johnny Tsai
·  Dana Benner
·  Alice Jones Webb
·  Bernie Carr
·  Tony Nester
·  Frank Grindrod

Final Thoughts on the Best Survival Books

Selecting the best survival books can be a daunting task, as there are a great many excellent references available today. However, there are a few that tend to stand out among the rest, due to the content they provide as well as the quality of the writing. Hit the bookstore or local library and start discovering which ones will be your own favorites.