Updated on 03.25.07

Follow-Up: Books On Surviving In Desperate Situations

Trent Hamm

After yesterday’s popular post on survival and personal finance off the grid, I received several requests like this one:

It would be great if you would write a book with detailed instructions about these survival skills you developed. I would buy your book and study it well.


Great post. Is there a how to book you would recommend on the subject of survival?

There actually are several books out there that are quite good on the topic and make for enjoyable reading (and even practicing) and I’ll recommend two of them. But first of all, if you’re actually serious about learning some basic survival skills, don’t bother with the Worst Case Scenario series. While they are quite entertaining, many of the entries are of questionable value – and some are flat-out wrong. For example, one entry on how to properly dress a squirrel would result in some tainted meat that would have to be very carefully cleaned and boiled before ever cooking (does it frighten you that I know this from experience?) – but the entry was pretty clearly written for humor’s sake.

SAS Survival HandbookThe best all-around book I’ve read on survival skills is Lofty Wiseman’s SAS Survival Handbook (SAS referring to Special Air Service). Not only is it well-written, it’s incredibly practical – to the point where you can learn a few things applicable to bad situations that you might face in ordinary life (such as being stuck in your car in the dead of winter). It covers diverse climates and diverse situations, and the explanations of what to do are accurate, clear, concise, and well-illustrated.

So what’s in the book? It’s basically techniques you would use for living for a period in a particular climate without the comforts of civilization. For example, let’s say you were lost in a forest in the Midwest (I have been) and you were walking in circles (this is amazingly easy to do). What do you do? The book identifies several common types of foliage you can eat and also how to snare, dress, and cook a rabbit using nothing but a pocket knife – and the description is highly accurate and detailed. Even if you doubt you’d ever use a single technique in this book, it’s an entertaining read.

FoxfireIf you’re more interested in merely living as simply as possible, Foxfire is the first book in a series on techniques used for living in deepest Appalachia. These books are a very interesting mix of elements focused on simple living, mostly focusing on the folk culture of the Southern Appalachian mountains in the United States. While almost all of the information in this book is anecdotal and at least some of it is cultural in nature, there are literally mountains of ideas and techniques for very simple living, useful in situations without electricity, telephone, and so forth. Much of the material in this book (and others in the series) are a great supplement to the harder-edged survivalism in the SAS book.

As always, check your local library for these books before you consider buying them! I’ve enjoyed both and have actually given both as gifts in the past.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. David says:

    One website your readers might want to check out is http://www.survivalblog.com/, which I get the RSS feed from every day. They always have some cool stuff there…sometimes they are a little over the top, but overall the advice is right on. Thanks Trent!

  2. Brett McKay says:

    I’d also suggest digging up your old Boy Scout Manual. It’s backed with tons of useful information.

  3. Zach B. says:

    And before long, you’ll become Heinlein’s “competent man”: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” – L.L. in Time Enough for Love

  4. Tim says:

    more importan than the survival books is to actually practice techniques before being in a survival situation.

  5. jd says:

    Also if you can read them without having to buy them, the ‘Ranger Rick’ series is pretty interesting. Most of it is directed to military personnel but many tips will apply regardless.
    Try http://www.therangerdigest.com/ for online tips & such.


  6. lorax says:

    I donno about the boy scouts, but I like Tom Brown’s book(s) better than the above . I guess it depends what you expect to encounter. :)

    I also second that reading the book is good, but not enough. If you expect to need this stuff, you REALLY NEED TO PRACTICE. Try starting a fire with only matches and damp wood, it’s pretty difficult. Now try doing that while your cold and wet. It’s harder. Now try it without the matches… practically impossible unless you’re practiced at it. The same is true of seemingly easy tasks – skinning a fish, finding potable water, etc…

    I wish I could say I’m an expert… but despite spending weeks in the woods at a time, I’m still reliant on the matches. Perhaps if I read GTD, I’ll have time to practice more!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *