Best survival and prepper books

Prefer reading physical books instead? Want to build an offline survival library so that you’re never without critical info? Here are 80+ of the best books, curated by experts and the community from over 1,000 tracked/reviewed titles.

Last Updated: 1 month ago
Published a major update with over 20 new books and better categorization.
  • : Added bullet list of all books. Added fiction section and top recommendations. Added "Where There Is No Doctor" series to medical. Updated editions for Survival Medicine guide and handbook.

Details for each book are further down the page. Most links open an Amazon listing.

If you only buy a few:

Medical:

Outdoor and bushcraft:

Home repair and basic construction:

Homesteading and self-sufficient living:

Foraging:

Growing food:

Preserving food:

Hunting, fishing, and trapping:

Vehicles, firearms, radios, and other gear:

Self defense:

Non-fiction or disaster-specific:

Fiction:

Kids and young adult:

How books make this list

There’s no way to make a perfect list, and the curators can’t read everything themselves, so we depend on community input to keep this list awesome.

Chip in! Here’s the official discussion thread — what would you add or remove?

Criteria:

  • Prefer authors with a high level of authority or reputation.
  • Avoid books with inappropriate levels of politics and other culture-war garbage.
  • Favor books with professional readability. That usually disqualifies self-published amateur work, sloppy ebooks, etc.
  • No advice is perfect (including our own), but we avoid books with clearly incorrect info, debunked survival myths, or advice that just isn’t practical for most people.

Curators:

  • C. Pallas is a long-term prepper, former registered EMT and outdoor instructor, and professor of conflict management at a US university (where he reviews literature professionally). Lived off the grid for two years in West Africa, was on the ground during a military coup.
  • Sarah Avery holds a PhD in English Literature, has decades of teaching experience, and is an award-winning fiction author. She started prepping after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey.
  • John Ramey is founder of The Prepared. He’s written related topics read by over 10 million people.
  • Josh Centers, contributing writer to The Prepared who’s read over 200 books among these topics.

If you only buy a few

If you just want to have a few books on hand in case SHTF later on, or you’re starting your prepping journey from scratch, these are the essentials.

The Survival Doctor’s Complete Handbook by Dr. James Hubbard, a family physician with more than 30 years of experience. This book works its way through major systems and organs (skin, bones, heart, etc.) addressing common problems with each. It is readable enough to serve as a primer, not just a reference.

When All Hell Breaks Loose by Cody Lundin, a well-regarded teacher in the preparedness community (and TP contributor). This book stresses improvisation using household supplies and multi-use gear — perfect for an extended shelter-in-place. The book includes a discussion of crisis psychology before moving on to detailed chapters on water, food, sanitation, etc.

SAS Survival Handbook, 3rd edition by John Wiseman, a former warrant officer in the British SAS turned professional survival instructor. This book fits well in a bug out bag and offers comprehensive coverage of what to do when you’re away from home. There are multiple versions that come in different physical sizes, and the labeling is not always clear, but you want the smaller one.

The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour. This classic homesteading book by a leading teacher on self-sufficiency will introduce you to a host of topics of interest to preppers, including gardening, food preservation, brewing, handicrafts, and managing livestock. It can serve as a shelf reference in an emergency and as inspiration for choosing topics to explore further.

Just in Case by Kathy Harrison. One of the best overall intros we’ve found in book form. It is written in a candid, first-person style that many readers will find highly approachable. It’s especially useful for families, and a good choice to give people you care about who haven’t yet started preparing.

Medical books

Even doctors and paramedics refer to medical books on a daily basis. Check out The Prepared’s Austere First Aid online video course as a great way to learn in combo with shelf-reference books.

The Survival Medicine Handbook, by Dr. Joseph Alton and Amy Alton. Written by a husband/wife and doctor/nurse duo, this 700 page volume guides laypeople on how to help if there is no way to reach medical professionals or a modern medical setting.

Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook, Revised Edition. Written by doctors with practical field experience in 50 countries, this book is great for emergencies because it assumes a lack of modern medical resources.

Where There Is No Dentist. Written by experienced community health workers, this book is intended for those working in developing country settings where professional dentists may be unavailable. It is practical and illustrated, and written in language accessible to the non-professional.

A Book for Midwives: Care for Pregnancy, Birth, and Women’s Health by Susan Klein, Suellen Miller, and Fiona Thomson. Written by three midwives, one of whom is an associate professor in UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, this book provides clinical guidance for those with no formal medical education.

The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne, a clinical herbalist and the former president of the American Herbalists Guild. This beautifully photographed and clearly organized book offers extensive instructions on how to prepare herbs for medicinal use.

Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants & Herbs. The Peterson field guides are the gold standard in plant identification. There are two books: one for the Eastern and Central United States and one for the Western US (both regions apply to Canada too). Features thoughtful color coding, so you can quickly look up the purple (or whatever) plant you’re looking at and see its medicinal properties.

The Complete Medicinal Herbal: A Practical Guide to the Healing Properties of Herbs. Although there’s a 2017 edition, the visuals in the 1993 edition are far superior — so we recommend the extra cost to pick up that out-of-print edition. Good for laypeople because it includes great pictures, details on specific plant parts, and tips on preparation. One major section is organized by plant, another by malady.

Outdoor and bushcraft books

A lot of prepping theory is split up between when you’re at home vs. when you’re away from home. These books are relevant for handling emergencies outside your home, covering topics like foraging and shelter building.

98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive by Cory Lundin. Written by a well-known survival instructor, this short book does an excellent job of teaching the underlying fundamentals of survival. Like the other recommended book from Cody, When All Hell Breaks Loose, it is filled with eye-catching illustrations to help explain key points.

Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury, another well-known survival instructor who teaches how to select gear, take care of blades, tie essential knots, build fires, and construct shelter and tools from what you find in the woods. It’s the first in an excellent series that includes Advanced Bushcraft and Bushcraft First Aid.

Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skills by John and Geri McPherson. Bushcraft 101 will get you into the field, but in this book, the McPhersons get into the nitty gritty of making bows, butchering field game, tanning hides, starting fires with bow drills, making primitive pottery, and building huts. It’s a highly technical guide to living like a caveman.

Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties. Also available for free. A classic from the early 1900s showing the various ways people made shelters before modern construction materials.

Home repair and basic construction

Basic repair and construction skills can be essential when professional services are unavailable or unaffordable. At an advanced level, they can also allow you to undertake projects yourself.

Black and Decker The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair offers very clear, step-by-step instructions for numerous home repair tasks. The instructions are detailed enough that you can actually accomplish the task at hand, yet simple enough to avoid confusion. Perfect for people with limited home repair experience, but still useful to those with some experience.

Renovation (5th edition) is more advanced and comprehensive than the Black and Decker volume. But the photo illustrations are not quite as clear, and the book includes details that may be distracting to beginners, such as working with outdated wiring in old houses.

How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding and Maintaining Your Home by Charlie Wing. A fantastic guide that uses detailed illustrations to explain how specific fixtures and whole systems in your house work, demystifying the repair process. While not designed as a ‘how-to’ book, this volume also suggests simple fixes for common problems.

The Barefoot Architect by Johan van Lengen. Written by a professional architect with experience in developing countries, this book guides you step-by-step through the process of building a basic dwelling.

The All New Illustrated Guide to Everything Sold in Hardware Stores. An interesting way to learn about modern parts and techniques. It also suggests other parts you might need when working on a project, along with detailed images of how everything fits together.

The Woodwright’s Shop: A Practical Guide to Traditional Woodcraft by Roy Underhill. “How to start with a tree and an axe and make one thing after another until you have a house and everything in it.” For decades, Underhill has taught traditional off-grid woodworking on his PBS show The Woodwright’s Shop. Learn how to make chairs, hay forks, dough bowls, and even an entire house.

Homesteading and self-sufficient living books

Books about the general idea of living in more sustainable, independent ways. Food-specific books are in their own category.

The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour. This classic homesteading book by a leading teacher on self-sufficiency will introduce you to a host of topics of interest to preppers, including gardening, food preservation, brewing, handicrafts, and managing livestock. It can serve as a shelf reference in an emergency and as inspiration for choosing topics to explore further.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living, 40th Anniversary Edition is a classic, beloved title that’s still in print. Works for beginners and as a reference for advanced homesteaders. Does not include more modern techniques like solar. Instead gives lots of details on non-tech topics, such as what soil pH a pear tree needs.

Foxfire Series. This 12-volume series of country wisdom from Southern Appalachia originally started as an academic project to preserve the historical knowledge of “the hill holk.” Includes growing, building, and handcrafts, as well as folk stories and music. Often available at public libraries — many people end up sampling the series and only buying the books/topics they like best, which is often #1 + whatever other topics they enjoy.

Escape the City volumes one & two. Here is TP’s review. After eight years of homesteading in rural New Hampshire, the author typed out everything he knows about homesteading in these two enormous volumes that cover everything from chainsaw maintenance, selecting a tractor, welding, building bookshelves, raising livestock, and even a few recipes. A more technical companion to The Encyclopedia of Country Living.

The Resilient Farm and Homestead explains how to design a landscape and home to be resistant against drought and climate change. Our review.

Hand Mending Made Easy: Save Time and Money Repairing Your Own Clothes by Nan L. Ides. A basic, and beginner-friendly guide on mending your own clothes.

New Complete Guide to Sewing: Step-by-Step Techniques for Making Clothes and Home Accessories by Reader’s Digest. Once ready to move beyond the basics, this is one of the main sewing reference books out there. It has a comprehensive section on fitting and altering a pattern.

Foraging books

Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat. Written by a professional foraging instructor, this is the best book we’ve found on foraging in North American urban and suburban settings. Some plants are wild, but most are common in manmade environments.

Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to over 200 Natural Foods is the best field guide we’ve found for foraging in North American wilderness. Organized around the season plants are available, it is meant for “I need to eat now” rather than a hobby.

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants is another well-reviewed option that has lots of color photos for 30+ foods found around the US and Canada.

Growing food

Gardening books tend to be more about the classical idea of growing food from seeds planted every year. Permaculture books are more about creating a “food forest” that you don’t have to replant every year.

How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land with Less Water Than You Can Imagine, 9th edition by John Jeavons, the director of Ecology Action. Based on extensive field trials at the organization’s test sites. We chose it because it teaches important topics like composting, crop rotation, and seed saving as well as providing an encyclopedic reference for things like plant spacing and plant yields. Its techniques rely exclusively on hand tools.

All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, a hobby gardener who pioneered a new gardening approach that became popular through TV shows on PBS and elsewhere. SFG is a very simple way to get into gardening, with clear directions and easy steps. Note that it relies on framed wooden boxes and a special blend of soils that makes it somewhat resource intensive and possibly too expensive for large-scale growing.

Four-Season Harvest by a professional organic farmer who grows vegetables year-round in Maine. Explains how to grow food year-round using unheated greenhouses and other techniques.

Gaia’s Garden: A Home Scale Guide to Permaculture by Toby Hemenway, a permaculture design instructor, adjunct professor at Portland State University, and a scholar-in-residence at Pacific University. This book, which reflects over a decade of personal experimentation, covers permaculture principles and their practical application in an extremely readable fashion.

Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates. Toensmeier is a leading expert on temperate climate permaculture and Bates runs a permaculture nursery and consulting business. Covers their development of an extensive permaculture plot in their urban backyard, giving you a sense for both what effort it takes and what success looks like.

The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way by a farmer and orchard consultant. This highly-regarded book, published by Chelsea Green, offers detailed advice on growing and maintaining fruit trees, bushes, and shrubs.

Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, a Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-grow Edibles. Based on extensive research by the author, this book will help you identify what perennials will grow well in your particular climate and the niche conditions (eg. wet, sunny, or shady) in your yard.

Preserving food

Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk, and More. Written by an author and teacher on food preserving, this book covers the full range of preserving options, from canning to pickling to cold storage. Clearly laid out with beautiful pictures. Great as a reference.

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Good for basics. Published by the maker of the popular canning jars, this book serves as a starting point for home canning. Note that, despite the title, the focus is primarily on canning.

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. Written by a husband and wife team based on their personal experience, this book has been published for 40 years. It includes advice on what crops to plant and when to plant them for optimal winter storage as well as storage techniques.

Wild Fermentation. Fermentation is a low-energy, high-nutrition method of preserving food, and Tennessean author Sandor Katz has been at the forefront of its revival. He covers all aspects of fermentation, from making simple sauerkraut to beer, wine, and sourdough bread.

Hunting, fishing, or trapping books

Basic Fishing: A Beginner’s Guide was recommended by TP community members who are long-time fishers. Focuses mostly on freshwater fish in the US and Canada. This guide from the editors of Field & Stream is more popular, but is more a collection of anecdotes than a proper guide.

Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game: Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb, Poultry, Rabbit, Venison is a well-reviewed classic that goes beyond the butchering / dressing skills and into preservation.

The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game — Volume 1: Big Game and Volume 2: Small Game and Fowl. Authored by Steve Rinella, host of the popular show Meat Eater, along with hundreds of pictures from professional wildlife photographers. Gets into the gear side of things too, such as what scopes you should buy for what distances / game.

The Trapper’s Bible: The Most Complete Guide to Trapping and Huntings Tips Ever is the top seller in the category with thousands of positive reviews. We like that it’s organized both by trap type and what animal you’re trying to catch. Lots of illustrations, although we wish they would be more detailed for learning.

Books on vehicles, firearms, radios, and other gear

The Total Gun Manual (Field & Stream): 335 Essential Shooting Skills. Best book for those starting from scratch with firearms or who want to plug gaps in their knowledge. Richly illustrated and photographed. The authors emphasize responsible gun ownership.

Ham Radio for Dummies (2nd ed). If the communications grid goes down, ham radio is about the only good way civilians have to keep in touch. But it has a high(ish) learning curve unless you practice in daily life, so keep this reference on hand.

Small Engines and Outdoor Power Equipment is good for beginners up through people who already know how to check a spark plug. Good illustrations and photos for a variety of small engines.

Auto Repair for Dummies (2nd ed) is another beginner-level book, but in this case only focused on cars. Because of the wide variety of engineering from one model to another, this focuses on more universal tasks, such as changing the oil or checking a timing belt.

Vehicle-specific manuals from Chilton or Haynes cover the more advanced tasks unique to your car. Find the book that covers your vehicle and keep it on hand for those scenarios where SHTF but you need to roll through the wasteland Mad Max style.

Self defense books

There’s more to self defense than just learning how to throw or block a punch. Some of these books cover topics like situational awareness, de-escalation, and developing the mindset needed to defend yourself or handle the emotions after it’s done.

Combatives for Street Survival by Kelly McCann, a former Marine and founder of The Crucible training center. Focuses on simple, violent techniques.

100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation. The most notable feature is that each skill has a storyboard to illustrate when and how to use it. For instance, the sections on how to break your hands out of handcuffs, zip ties, and duct tape would be of interest to anyone concerned about home invasions.

Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected. Written by a former prison tactical team leader, this book covers the most common causes of violence and how to recognize them. It can equip you to identify and respond to predators and avert violence between and within groups.

When Violence Is the Answer: Learning How to Do What It Takes When Your Life Is at Stake. “Violence is rarely the answer,” the author begins, “but when it is, it’s the only answer.” Much of the book covers tactics and techniques to use when confronted with asocial violence. A unique feature is the focus on the psychological, emotional, and social patterns ingrained in us that make us hesitant to use violence.

The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence written by the head of a personal protection agency. This best-selling book focuses on teaching you how to predict danger and violence.

Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women’s Self-Protection by a professional self-defense instructor. Targeted at women and focuses primarily on developing the appropriate mindset for self-defense.

Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life. Emphasizes maintaining situational awareness and identifying threats in high-risk environments.

Non-fiction & disaster-specific books

These are interesting books that don’t fit in the other “how-to” categories. These books detail the characteristics of possible disasters, describe human behavior under extreme stress, or simply describe what prepping can be like.

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit, a well-known essayist and non-fiction author. She weaves together what she learned from interviewing disaster survivors with historical and sociological research to explain how communities respond to disaster (and often thrive).

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why explores the strange, counterintuitive things the human mind does in emergencies. Some can save you, others can get you killed. Research-based with fascinating case studies.

Bunker by TP community member Dr. Bradley Garrett. Here’s the book review and interview. He visits different locations around the world building hardened communities or shelters, eventually changing his own life to join the movement.

Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss, famed author of bestseller The Game, is an entertaining and politically-neutral book that’s great for persuading others to consider prepping. The author describes prepping mostly in terms of learning new skills that fascinate him and increase his sense of agency. A useful antidote to the guns-and-canned goods stereotype.

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel. Written by a famed journalist, this well-researched book argues that the United States’ electrical grid is shockingly vulnerable to cyberattack. Koppel dives into the human and technical sides of the story, and sees the prepper movement as one source of hope.

Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report. Published by the National Academies Press, this peer-reviewed report features detailed discussion from leading researchers. It can be downloaded for free.

Nuclear War Survival Skills: Lifesaving Nuclear Facts and Self-Help Instructions by Cresson Kearny, a researcher in the Civil Defense Project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This book has been repeatedly updated since the 1970s, with the most recent in 2016. It focuses on the effects of nuclear weapons and ways to handle fallout.

Survival fiction books

Besides being fun, it’s possible to learn from fictional stories, since you can immerse yourself in the scenario and think through what you would or wouldn’t do. For that reason, we have focused on books that feature realistic scenarios and best-practice responses. We also prioritize near-term emergencies over distant-future depictions of a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Check out the best movies and TV shows for similar fun 🙂

One Second After is a well-researched book from William R. Forstchen about a massive EMP strike against the US, told from the perspective of a small town leader in North Carolina. Features refugees, gangs, and a political fight between rural town leaders and the city government in nearby Asheville. The first in a trilogy, it is well-written, entertaining, and a New York Times best-seller. Some readers may dislike the included foreword by Newt Gingrich.

The Survivalist Series: Going Home. The first in a multi-book series, written by a contestant on Season 1 of the popular show Alone and a long-time prepper. Similar to One Second After, the story follows a man who was caught away from home when the national power grid goes dark.

The Jakarta Pandemic, the first in a five-book series, is about a highly fatal flu that takes place in suburbia and focuses mostly on social dynamics. The author seems mindful that for the worst flu on record the global mortality rate for infected persons was 20% or less. He writes a scenario in which society struggles under the weight of massive absenteeism and material shortages but does not completely collapse.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. A favorite among preppers looking for stories not about rural white men. This dystopian classic follows a black teenage girl trying to survive during an environmental and economic collapse after losing her family. As she navigates an environment destroyed by climate change, she becomes a prophet for a new religion called Earthseed.

Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. A classic novel in the genre, featuring Californians struggling after a meteor strike causes tidal waves, massive rains, and general social breakdown. Some readers may be put off by the novel’s conservative politics.

Under a Tell-Tale Sky by R.E. McDermott is part one of the Disruption Trilogy. A well-researched novel showing the impacts of a coronal mass ejection. Focuses on the crew of a tanker docked in Wilmington, NC but also on locals in Texas and elsewhere. It does feature some conspiracy tropes, with rogue elements of the government using mercenaries to steal citizen resources, but otherwise does a strong job of stressing the role of cooperation, training, and planning.

Locker Nine by Franklin Horton. Part of a four-volume series. Describes a college freshman’s attempt to get home to her family after coordinated terrorist strikes cause social unrest and extensive grid failure. The book focuses on the role of parents in helping their children prepare and has a strong female lead.

Sunfall by D. Gideon. Part of a trilogy. A racially diverse group of college students attempt to travel from their university to a rural town in Maryland. Features strong female and black leads. The plot features a few incorrect prepping ideas, but is overall solid.

The MaddAddam Trilogy follows Snowman, who was known as Jimmy before a corporate-engineered plague made him the last man on earth. Different from most post-SHTF stories.

Kids and young adult

A mix of fiction and non-fiction for children as young as 5-6.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Fiction. A beloved young adult classic from an award-winning author that’s read by many 10-15 year olds in school. Equally popular with adults looking for an easy, enjoyable read. Hatchet follows thirteen-year-old Brian as his single-engine plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness. He struggles to survive, since all he has is a windbreaker jacket and a new hatchet.

S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet. This beautifully illustrated book is perfect for getting toddlers and preschoolers interested in and excited about time outdoors. It also includes sidebars for adults describing national parks and camping tips.

From Seed to Plant is a short volume for younger children that discusses the science of plant growth in a way that will help them understand what is happening in the garden.

We Are the Gardeners is another early elementary volume. Reveals that gardening is a process of trial and error and learning through experience. A good book to encourage your children to learn by observation, seek out references, and not be discouraged by mistakes.

Easy Peasy: Gardening for Kids is a beautifully illustrated book suited for middle-schoolers ready to do their own garden projects.

Survivor Kid: A Practical Guide to Wilderness Survival by Denise Long, who teaches survival to children professionally. Suitable for older children, this book clearly reflects the author’s expertise as it covers core skills in child-friendly language.

The Field Guide to Knots: How to Identify, Tie, and Untie Over 80 Essential Knots for Outdoor Pursuits. Although there are many “knots for kids” books, we like this one because of its spiral-bound, lay-flat design and clear illustrations.

The Little Black Book of Violence: What Every Young Man Needs to Know About Fighting. Authored by experienced martial artists. Emphasizes avoiding conflict, distinguishing between serious threats and mere provocation, and dealing with the aftermath of violence. May be appropriate for teenagers and young adults or the adults advising them.

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