The Best Survival Guide and Reference Handbook

Survival guides are the basis for navigating emergencies of all types and sizes. Having a hard copy of one on hand to use as a reference book is invaluable. There are plenty of options for free digital survival guides: check out our own preparedness guide or our survival pdf library. But even our own top-notch content can’t compare to having a physical survival book on hand in an emergency.

There are plenty of options to consider when it comes to survival guides: value, survival scope, content quality, profile, etc. This is where we come in. We’ve researched and compared the best survival guides, and now the results are in: the overall best, a portable option, and a wilderness option. If you need the best survival guide to refer to when SHTF, one of our suggestions will keep you on track.


Contents (Jump to a Section)


SAS Survival Handbook

The Best Survival Guide

SAS Survival Handbook

Broad, Thorough, and Well-Regarded

John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman’s handbook endures as the go-to survival guide for survivalists from all walks of life.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

This survival handbook is the best-seller out of all of them for a reason. Originally written as an outdoor survival manual by a British SAS operator (John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman) with 26 years of experience, it has since been revised to cover a wide range of scenarios making it the best broad survival guide available.

  • Worldwide Bestseller
  • 672 pages
  • Published in 2014 (3rd edition)
  • 8.1″ x 6.2″ x 1.2″
  • 34.4 ounces

With comprehensive information in a small single volume, Lofty’s SAS Survival Handbook takes our top spot.


Tiny Survival Guide

Portable Survival Guide

Tiny Survival Guide

Small, Succinct, and Durable

This tiny map-sized manual packed full of survival reference material can tag along anywhere.

A small foldable guide that you can keep in your wallet or in any portable kit is an excellent emergency reference. Many professions have pocket guides, and you’ll want to make survival your profession by having information ready at a moment’s notice. With over 5,000 five-star reviews this manual will exceed your expectations. Jam one in your wallet to have it ready to go anywhere. Here are the specs:

  • Wallet/credit card-sized manual
  • 101 illustrations
  • Published in 2019 (latest version)
  • 3.1″ x 2.1″ x 0.2″ (folded)
  • 0.7 ounces

The Tiny Survival Guide is an extremely small and lightweight choice that you need to check out for your mobile kits.


Bushcraft 101

Wilderness Survival Guide

Bushcraft 101

Practical, Thorough, and a Bestseller

Surviving outdoors using the wilderness around you is a task much easier with this acclaimed guide.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Dave Canterbury’s Bushcraft 101 is the quintessential guide to outdoor survival. This guide spawned a whole series of bushcraft survival manuals, including the follow-up Advanced Bushcraft. It packs in a ton of information and starts with the basic building blocks of survival. Here is how it measures up:

  • New York Times Bestseller
  • 256 pages
  • Published in 2014
  • 8.5″ x 5.5″ x 0.8″
  • 10.5 ounces

Bushcraft 101 is the most recommended wilderness survival manual and we have to agree. It has earned its place in everyone’s survival library.


Everything We Recommend

SAS Survival Handbook

SAS Survival Handbook

John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman’s handbook endures as the go-to survival guide for survivalists from all walks of life.

Where to Buy

$21* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Tiny Survival Guide

Tiny Survival Guide

This tiny map-sized manual packed full of survival reference material can tag along anywhere.

Where to Buy

$12* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Bushcraft 101

Bushcraft 101

Surviving outdoors using the wilderness around you is a task much easier with this acclaimed guide.

Where to Buy

$12* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing


The Guides We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to the several guides that we reviewed written by: Wiseman, Canterbury, Cobb, Trivet, UST, Riley, Lundin, Stewart, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the what to look for section, with an explanation for each.

We focused on broad survival guides with a history of excellence. We excluded niche guides that focused on one area of survival (such as first aid or shelters). All of these niche guides are great, but we kept our review focused on finding the best all-encompassing survival guide.

We’re always looking for new and better gear, so if you have a survival guide that you swear by let us know in the comments. We review most of our roundups annually, so we can always try to pick up a copy for the next roundup round and see if it makes the cut and beats out our top picks.


What to Look For

The best survival guides have several important features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Survival Scope
  3. Content Quality
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Durability

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a trusted guide that will help you navigate tough situations while you are in them. Below, we break down what each of these features means for a survival guide and the authors that made ones that set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a survival guide shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. A guide is important, but there is a wide range of price points from free to courses that cost thousands of dollars- so there is something for every budget.

On the flip side, you don’t want to go too cheap or just plain get the wrong thing. There is no reason to get some free guide written by someone nobody has heard of and doesn’t know what they are writing about. You want something reliable that gives sound, practical survival advice.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like a guidebook. Don’t go out and drop tons of money on a survival encyclopedia to be prepared. Be smart and sensible with your preps. There is a sweet spot where you get high value with not-to-high of a price, which is where our top pick sits.

Survival Scope

When you are looking for a survival guide, you want something that gives broad survival advice but can also advise you on specific situations. Actionable information in a guide is more useful when you need it than just descriptions and theories.

You will want the guide to follow some semblance of structure, whether it is the survival rule of threes, pillars of survival, or even phases of emergency management.

Content Quality

Good writers will have great content quality. They will keep the information interesting and keep you as a reader engaged. With survival information, this is even more important because the writer recognizes that this information, how it reads, and how it is structured can save lives.

Step-by-step instructions to prepare for and navigate survival situations are extremely helpful. When you are in a stressful situation, ordered lists (like checklists) can make things easier

Size & Weight

If you are taking this survival guide with you in a portable kid or as part of your EDC loadout, then the size and weight will matter considerably. Every ounce matters and you probably don’t have the room to stick a hardback survival book in your bug out bag.

Durability

Again, when you are on the move and relying on a survival manual you will expect it to last. If your portable survival manual is ruined in the rain or tears on the first use, it is a bad sign of what’s to come.


Free Survival Guides

You can also find survival guides online for free. Lucky for you, we’ve done all the heavy lifting and got them all hosted in the same spot, our survival pdf library.

In the library, you’ll find all sorts of survival material including US Army survival manuals, preparedness guides, and open-source material. It’s all hosted by us without any redirects so you can trust it from our secure server. You can download and print them for free if you want to have a truly cheap survival guide on hand.


Who Needs a Survival Guide?

Survival guides are useful for everyone and anyone that can read. In stressful situations, having a hard copy text to refer to can really help you out. At the very least, we consider survival guides essential for your main survival kit:

They are a good consideration for your mobile kits as well if space and weight will allow it:

Having survival information available at your fingertips can help anyone, regardless of how prepared they are.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best survival guide is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Agar, A., et al. (1988). Human Survival and Consciousness Evolution. State University of New York Press. Albany, New York. (Source)

Bunge, W. (1973). The Geography of Human Survival. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Volume 63. Issue 3. Pages 275-295. (Source)

Henry, C. (1990). Body mass index and the limits of human survival. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Volume 44. Issue 4. Pages 329-335. (Source)


The Final Word

Information is one of the most powerful tools available for preparedness. It’s impossible to keep all of that information in your head and everyone can make use of a reference manual when things get dire.

Here are a few related articles our readers have also found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found SAS Survival Handbook to be the best option given its value, survival scope, content quality, profile, and durability.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.


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The Best Survival Guide and Reference Handbook

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer by day, but a prepper 24/7. I am an Air Force veteran that developed emergency and disaster plans as an emergency manager and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters worldwide. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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