Keeping a field guide in your pack is great for those times when you quickly need to reference a plant species, survival skill, or wild bird you can’t quite identify. Pexels/Frank Cone

A well-researched, sumptuously illustrated, and carefully organized field guide not only helps you identify birds or trees or learn how to tie handy knots. It will give you a sense of comfort and capability when faced with new and exciting challenges. Find a field guide to your favorite activity and keep it always close at hand. Like a good friend, it will be there when you need it. Here are three ways a field guide will help open your eyes to the natural world.

Thomas Elias/Peter Dykeman

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Field guides to edible wild plants can add a welcome dash of fun, flavor, and nutrition to meal planning, and foraging for your own grub is a great way to get exercise and reconnect with the natural world. Identifying plants can be tricky, so look for books that are well organized in ways that will help you figure out exactly what you’re looking at. Books divided into different seasons are a great way to start. While detailed diagrams and keys are great for more practiced botanists, lush, color photographs are often the best way to get started in the foraging world.

National Audubon Society

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There are tons of bird guides and choosing between all the different approaches can be confusing. Some rely on detailed drawings and paintings, while others tend to use high-resolution color photographs to point out what to look for in identifying birds. The photograph approach might be best for beginners. Other things to look for include silhouettes of birds flying overhead and range maps that let you know which birds are in your area during the different seasons of the year.

John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman

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Survival books are packed with practical knowledge about how to make the best of tough situations, and how to thrive when the chips are down. Think about what situations you might realistically face. Getting lost in the woods? Having a car break down along a dark city street? Getting caught in a vicious thunderstorm? Many survival books zero in on specific environments like wilderness, urban areas, maritime and sea survival, so match the book to the chances that it will help you when all you can do is help yourself.