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It may not feel like it from atop our wealth of modern creature comforts, but human beings are survival machines. Our bodies are built to travel great distances and our minds are capable of incredible problem-solving. That natural ability isn’t worth much if we don’t learn how to use it, though, and there are all too many stories of people who weren’t adequately prepared for an unexpected crisis. You’re going to have to treat your mind as part of your survival kit if you want to give yourself a fighting chance.

One of the best ways to prepare for a survival situation is to invest in education. Even if you can’t justify an in-person wilderness survival course, you can do an immense amount of learning with a few carefully chosen survival books. This kind of knowledge isn’t one-size-fits-all, so we curated five books that will prepare you for a wide range of survival situations. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to read all of them.

If we had just one chance to grab a survival book, it would be the Bushcraft Boxed Set by Dave Canterbury and Jason Hunt. Yes, it’s significantly more expensive than everything else on this list, but you’ll be getting four books and the ability to dive deep into subjects that other books skim across. Start from the beginning with “Bushcraft 101” to establish foundational knowledge you can build on. Once you have a chance to practice the basics, move on to “Advanced Bushcraft” and learn how to create your own tools instead of relying on purchased equipment. “The Bushcraft Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild” will teach you how to safely acquire and prepare food like a hunter-gatherer. Finally, “Bushcraft First Aid” can keep you in the fight when medical aid isn’t available. This is a lot of information to digest, but what’s the hurry? Pick up this series and put yourself on the fast track to wilderness survival. Each book can also be purchased individually.

If you have to face a survival situation, doing it after reading “100 Deadly Skills” sounds like one of the better options. Let Clint Emerson, a retired Navy SEAL, walk you through his top 100 skills for handling a range of survival situations with confidence. This book includes basics like starting a campfire, building a shelter, and navigating back to civilization. It also addresses subjects like trauma care and responding to various kinds of armed attacks. The author’s direct approach teaches you what you need to know and doesn’t waste time with unnecessary information, making this short book easy to read and retain. Visual learners will appreciate the informative illustrations. Some survival skills are timeless; for the more recent techniques, we recommend this book.

“The Useful Knots Book” deserves serious consideration, and not just for sailors and scouts. This short guide by Sam Fury packs instructions on how to tie more than 25 knots into a concise book that’s easy to pack in your survival kit. Not only will you learn how to tie stopper knots, loops, hitches, bends, and lashing, but you’ll also get guidance on when to use each type of knot so you can choose the most appropriate solution for any challenge. If you haven’t considered a manual like this, think outside the basic need to tie two things together. Knots are useful for climbing, fishing, and constructing shelters. This knowledge could easily make the difference between struggling and thriving in the wilderness. Besides, the price is hard to argue with.

Like it or not, a survival situation will eventually make you wish you had “The Prepper’s Medical Handbook.” By this point in our list, you understand the importance of having a diverse and thorough understanding of survival principles. You appreciate modern challenges and proper responses. Now, let Dr. William Forgey up your game with a book that explains life-saving medical procedures in a way that’s easy to understand and perform. Learn how to recognize, diagnose, and treat common emergencies like trauma, illness, and poisoning. The user-friendly layout is designed to be used as a field guide, so there’s no need to memorize this information. Calling 911 won’t always be possible, and it’s good to have a book like this when there’s no one to rely on but yourself.

After you know how to provide for your basic needs, defend yourself against threats, provide medical aid, and build your own shelters and tools, you’ll want to consult the “Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide” to make a worst-case scenario more manageable. Author Jim Cobb provides advice on how to prepare for an emergency of nearly any kind by gathering supplies and strengthening your own home. This book covers things like purifying water when city utilities fail you and finding food during a shortage. It also explores less-talked-about subjects like working with neighbors and cultivating mutually supportive relationships with others in need. When there’s no sign of relief, this book can make a big difference in your quality of life.

Related: 5 survival kits that won’t fail you when everything else does

Why should you trust us

I’ve always been a lover of the outdoors and a big proponent of personal responsibility. That led me to read survival books and the diaries of Lewis and Clark while most of my friends were trading Pokemon cards. I was also lucky enough to attend elementary and middle schools that offered annual camps in the forest, mountains, and coastal environments. My Marine Corps training didn’t cover much in the way of foraging for food, but it did plenty for my navigational skills and understanding of small-unit tactics. Combine my knowledge, that of the other Task & Purpose staff, and thousands of book reviews, and you can be confident you’re pointed in the right direction.

Reading up on survival skills is an important part of preparing for any situation, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that one book is all you need. Survival can look very different depending on what challenges you’re facing. Reading up on nuts and berries won’t help you when your downtown apartment loses power and water, just like martial arts training won’t bring you water in the desert. So which category is best? All of them.

Wilderness survival

Thanks to television, we typically imagine parachuting into a remote part of the backcountry when we think of survival situations. These shows taught us about crafting tools, building hasty shelters, and eating some really nasty things. Scenarios like this do exist, and it’s good to know how to survive with just the tools nature provides. 

Wilderness survival books provide instruction on the essentials: purifying water, protecting yourself from the elements and wild animals, and shopping in nature’s grocery store. Learn which berries are safe, which roots have medicinal properties, and which mushrooms will fire you straight into another universe (slow down, that’s not a good thing).

Emergency preparedness

Call me crazy, but I think it’s a good idea to be prepared for things like runs on toilet paper, food shortages at the grocery store, and freak blizzards that turn southern cities into snowscapes overnight. Honestly, I wouldn’t rule anything out, and if you want to take some notes from Jurassic Park, that’s probably not unreasonable.

Books on emergency preparedness will cover topics like natural disasters, resource gathering, and conflict resolution. Facing resource shortages in populated areas comes with its own challenges, and they’re no less serious than what you’d face in the wilderness. Learn how to make the most of what you have when societal infrastructure fails you.

Off-grid living

Once you’ve learned how to survive the days following a remote plane crash or natural disaster in an urban area, how will you sustain yourself long-term? What if help isn’t coming? Knowing how to support yourself without modern technology is important for survival and can even make normal life a little easier.

Survival books about prepping and off-grid living will teach you to be more self-sufficient and resourceful. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll be prepared to thrive instead of just surviving. Until then, you’ll gain peace of mind and maybe even a hobby or two. It can’t hurt to reduce your reliance on others.

Related: 9 of the best survival knives money can buy

Pricing ranges for survival books

Like most books, survival books tend to fall in the $10-$40 price range. Save money by opting for a paperback instead of a hardback. Digital versions will save you the most money, but buying a survival guide that’s reliant on electricity seems like a tempting fate.

How we chose our top picks

Growing up in the woods of New England, I completed a few wilderness courses and read my share of survival guides. It’s usually fairly easy to sniff out the real knowledge from the pretenders, and I backed myself up with thousands of user reviews to make sure only tactically sound advice makes it to my readers. There are plenty of great options out there and I encourage you to be a lifelong learner. That being said, these five will give you a strong foundation.

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