Top 5 Wilderness Survival Books

wilderness survival book shelf

by Jeremy Williams

There are a lot of wilderness survival books out there on the market right now and each author approaches the subject a little differently. Some are text-heavy, full of personal stories and reminiscing while others are bare bones descriptions with lots of diagrams. They can range from being very specific in what topics they cover to being all encompassing guidebooks for wilderness survival. Everyone wants something slightly different from a book, but here are five of my personal favorites:

Wilderness Survival Books:
5) Camping and Wilderness Survival by Paul Tawrell

Camping and Wilderness Survival book

This book is massive. It is definitely not a field guide. What it lacks in portability it makes up for with loads of information about all things wilderness related. It covers camping gear, orienteering, primitive skills, make-shift shelters, weather patterns, topography, tracking, snares, skulls, the list goes on and on and on!

example of pages

Where this book loses points is in depth. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep, so it doesn’t have the space to go into great detail on any one topic. The weakest area of the book is the tracking section. We’re in a golden age of great tracking guides with amazing diagnostic drawings and photos.  Camping and Wilderness Survival uses relatively simplistic track drawings that feel pretty dated nowadays.

pages showing the tracking section

4) U.S. Air Force Survival Handbook by the U.S. Air Force

USAF Survival Handbook

This is another coffee-table-sized book. It covers many different topics, but tends to be geared towards short term survival and wilderness evasion in hostile territory.  It has some great insight into survival psychology and it covers extreme scenarios like nuclear fallout.  Also, it has the greatest diagram ever:

pages showing how to dress a rabbit

The downside of this book is that a lot of the survival information assumes that you have access to a used parachute and a survival kit (which would be the case if you were a downed pilot).

3) Wilderness Survival: Living off the Land with the Clothes on Your Back and the Knife on Your Belt by Mark Elbroch and Mike Pewtherer

wilderness survival book

Off all the wilderness survival books mentioned, this wins for longest subtitle on the list.  It is also very different than the previous two books. This wilderness survival book is not about charts and diagrams, it is about the very personal stories of the authors. The book is a journal of sorts that documents the two men and their experiences getting through a month long survival trip together. Along the way you get a look inside their heads as they deal with hunger, thirst and exhaustion. You also get a smattering of survival facts, diagrams and explanations.

pages from Wilderness Survival book

The downside of this book is that the meaty information and facts are sprinkled throughout a narrative in chronological order, so it can be hard to look up a specific topic.  It is a great read though and it is one of the few books on this list that can truly be read cover to cover like a novel.

2) 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive by Cody Lundin

Cover of 98.6 Survival book

This book is slim, but loaded with great information that is delivered with a healthy dose of pop-culture references and profanity. The book does not have enough space to go really deep into diagrams and instructions, but it has some great chapters about fear, awareness and the basics of survival.

illustration from 98.6 Survival book

As survival books go, this is a no-nonsense book that is geared towards the laymen, which is one reason it ranks so highly on my personal list.  This is one of wilderness survival books you could buy someone as an introduction to the field. It does not fall into the twin traps of being either too technical or too basic and the way the materials are delivered makes it a fun and amusing read.

1) Wilderness Survival Handbook by Michael Pewtherer

WIlderness Survival Handbook Cover

This book is pretty hard to beat.  It has loads of information and instructional diagrams organized in a clear and concise fashion.  It is also divided into two main sections, the first is full of techniques for short term survival useful for day hikers and beginning survival students. The second is devoted to primitive living techniques and long term survival activities such as bow making and clay firing.  I like that Michael divided the book this way. Many survival books present all of the information together with no distinction between the two.  Having two sections helps to prioritize what skills should be learned and applied in different scenarios.

pages showing friction fire method

I hope these reviews help you find the resource right for you, and that they serve to inspire you to get outside and practice wilderness survival skills! Hope to meet you at a course!

Additional Resources

The 15 Best Wilderness Survival Books - Outdoor Life


Return from Wilderness Survival Books back to Survival Articles



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