Some Thoughts on a Survival Library

This is an old post from 2009 I wrote for American Survival Blog. I still stand by this list as a good starting point for the beginning prepper.

To be truly prepared for emergencies, the right equipment goes a long way. But it is knowledge and skills that will determine whether or not you will survive when the time comes. Luckily, although our civilization may be in decline, we still live in an age with 100% literacy and easy access to knowledge and the  survivalist should take advantage of this by building a survival library that allows him to rediscover the skills and knowledge he may not otherwise be exposed to easily.

That you are an avid hunter or camper does not mean you can survive long term in the woods (although it’s a good way to prepare) and the first aid course you took at the Y.M.C.A. will not be enough for you to provide serious medical care for yourself or others during a TEOTWAWKI situation. If you’re like me, you may not have the time and money to pay for expensive training courses to get you up to speed on every aspect of post-collapse survival. The survival library allows you to build at least a basic familiarity with a variety of topics that you may not be able to practice in depth pre-emergency in your location for a variety of reasons. The urban dweller may not get to hunt and process animals often enough to be truly comfortable with the skills and certainly trapping food effectively requires  methods that often illegal (like building Fishing Weirs) and are thus hard to practice.

That being said, here’s what do I have in my survival library and what do I recommend. Here’s a short list of material I recommend to any one who asks:

1)  Wilderness Living and Survival Skills by John and Geri McPhearson – Simple, readable and with hundreds of photos and illustrations this book sets a baseline for skills involved in primitive living. The authors came by their knowledge the old fashioned way, by doing, so you benefit from their wisdom. The book is full of low tech solutions to living off the land and it only takes a little imagination to adjust the techniques for you circumstances.  Available on Amazon and there is more material available from these authors at

2) FM-26-71 The U.S. Army Survival Manual – I actually don’t recommend this to everyone because some versions are written to be read and used as a reference by people who are already trained in some fashion. I am told the copy available on Amazon has been re-written with the civilian in mind, so if you’re putting in an order anyway it’s not a bad buy, however there are plenty of versions available online for free.

3) The Backwoodsman – Not everything in your library needs to be a book. I’ve read The Backwoodsman since the 90s and every issue is a treasure. There is a mistaken belief that it’s aimed at re-enactors and primitive living folks, but it’s actually full of articles for simple living in the modern world. Subscriptions are cheaper than buying by the issue and can be done online, but frankly at $4.50 an issue it’s one of the best buys on the magazine rack.

4) Fur-Fish-Game – In the same vein as The Backwoodsman, Fur-Fish-Game is the gold standard of outdoor magazines and has been since 1929. For survivalists, FFG is a better read than other outdoor mags because the articles focus less on “adventure” and more on the nitty-gritty of techniques for trapping fur bearers, hunting game and catching fish that will help keep you alive in the bad times. Drop your Outdoor Life and pick up a subscription to FFG when you want to get serious about living, and making money, off the land.

5) Dale Martin’s The Trapper’s BibleA no nonsense and no holds barred manual for snaring and primitive trapping. The intro lays it out for you: these are techniques for trapping animals cheaply, effectively and most of all covertly. In the times ahead what was poaching may become simple survival.

6) Where there is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook – This book is actually the best reference for the layman and those who, like me, have limited first aid training. This book will walk you through many health problems and their treatment in third world conditions. Backed up with some First Aid/C.P.R. training available at most Y.M.C.A. facilities, this is the best untrained preppers will be able to do. If you don’t have a doctor/EMT to turn to in the bad times, buy this book now.

7) John Seymour’s The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it – Seymour comes off as a condescending prig for much of the book, and his finger wagging can be avoided with a few years of back issues of The Backwoodsman, but for new comers to prepping the book has a lot of good information on living a comfortable 19th century lifestyle, which given the state of the economy there is a very real possibility we’ll revert to.

8 ) Peggy Layton’s Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook – Nowadays everyone is just starting a garden to help them through the coming hard times. Good luck with that if you live in an urban or suburban environment where you have little land to work with, Home Owner Associations poking their nose in your business or just don’t have the time to keep up a garden. Food storage is one of the better solutions for the prepper on a time budget and without the resources to make survival gardening truly worth your time and this book is a good primer for that. A bit basic, but that’s it’s strength.

Of course that’s just a nice start. There will be dozens of books you’ll come across and many will be worth your time but a subscription to a couple of magazines and a few books are really all you need. It’s more important that you practice the techniques you learn through reading as much as you are able.  Snaring animals may be out of the question, but building a quick working snare then dismantling it is not. This may not make you an expert in trapping with snares, but at least you’ll know the basics and that is more than many people know.

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