Like most of you who are into bushcraft and other like pursuits, I get the bulk of my information from books and magazines. In this age of mass media we have tremendous resources at our disposal for researching anything from edible plants to making pottery. This boom of information technology is a godsend to all of us, but the downside is that we are so deluged by information that it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Take the subject of survival. If you run a search on Amazon.com you will find dozens of books on the subject of survival, but not all of them are created equal, in my opinion. Books are big business and many manuals written by experts are flashy and full of pictures, but often contain little useful content and what they do have can be quite vague.

I have read a great many books on survival, bushcraft, and like topics, and will give you a short list of some resources that I consider to be quite good. I will reiterate that I am not a definitive expert on any subject here, and many of you might feel that these sources are not as good as others that you have read or watched. If there is any media that you find particularly noteworthy, please feel free to share them with everyone else. So here we go…

  1. U.S. Army Survival Handbook – You do not have to be a veteran to appreciate this manual as a great survival resource. It is well put together and is generally pretty thorough on the important subjects. Unlike many writers, the army is not trying to sell books; they are trying to train soldiers (the rest of us get to read it because of the Freedom of Information Act). The manual contains a lot of information about escape and evasion strategies that won’t apply to most of us, but on the whole the book is worth its weight.
  2. SAS Survival Handbook – This book can be a little more vague than the U.S. Army Handbook, but it covers a great array of subjects including survival kit construction, survival in different environments, and edible and medicinal plants. They also make a pocket version that takes up little space and can be thrown into a daypack or glove compartment without difficulty.
  3. Outdoor Survival Skills – This book is considered by many to be the Magnum Opus of bushcraft, and for good reason. It has been in continuous print for over 40 years and was the book that inspired my interest in bushcraft when I was still a Boy Scout. It covers topics from bow making to hide tanning to hot coal beds and so on. It also has some good stories about the psychology of survival that are entertaining and educational.
  4. Chippewa Customs If you want to learn about bushcraft in North America, a good place to start is with the skills and traditions of the original peoples who have thrived here for many millennium. This book, originally published in 1929, chronicles the culture, religion, and industry of the Ojibwa people local to my area. If you do not live in the upper Great Lakes region, look for book about the people who lived in your area before European influence; it will give you a whole new perspective to your home region.
  5. Backwoodsman Magazine I have recommended this magazine before, and think it is a wonderful periodical. There are many contributors and the topics range from gardening to black powder rifles to the firesteel that I showed you on my knife. Some of the contributors often have political undertones to their writing which may put some readers off, but whether your are an eco-hippie or gun toting survivalist, you will find stuff in there that will appeal to you.
  6. Survivorman (not a book, but still good)- I know that this TV show is controversial in the survival community, but I believe that it has real value as an educational resource. There are lots of commentaries about how what Les does is all wrong or that he is a fraud, but most of the critics appear to be either a) armchair survival experts who like to talk smack, or b) real survival experts who are trying to market their own competing books or shows. While he often fails at what he does, that is the reality of survival. Keep in mind that he is trying to film a TV show on his own and is often putting himself outside of his area of expertise (which is consistent with many if not most survival situations). What he demonstrates is that thinking outside the box, trying to keep a sense of humor, and maintaining the right attitude are essential to keeping alive when you are lost or stranded. He also has a book out that has some really good information based upon his personal experiences. If you do not like his show, that is your right, but this is my blog and I like him (so put that in your pipe and smoke it).
  7. Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden – An extremely thorough narrative of a Hidatsa woman relating the traditional agricultural practices of her village. The Hidatsa were some of the premiere farmers of the North American continent and grew corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and tobacco; many of their cultivars still are bred today (I have grown shield figure beans myself). The book chronicles tools, ground preparation, planting, harvesting, threshing, customs, and cooking. A must read for anyone interested in gardening using traditional methods (you will be the talk of the garden club if you use a deer scapula hoe).
  8. The Forager’s Harvest – In my opinion the best book that someone trying to learn about wild edible plants in the Midwest could buy. It is by no means a comprehensive guide to wild plants, but it covers the more widespread and easy to identify plants like cattail and burdock, and does so with more detail than any other book I have read. Samuel Thayer covers identification, habitat, poisonous look-alikes, harvesting season, preparation and storage, and includes plenty of high quality photographs. He relates his own personal experiences such as discovering the fallacy of of milkweed’s bitterness (I have eaten milkweed myself and did not find it bitter in the least) and unearthing a several pound hopniss tuber (dubbed the Hopness Monster). If you live in the Midwest and want to learn to identify some good edible plants, you should get this book.
  9. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America While it lacks the detail the the previous book, it makes up for it in volume. Most images are drawings rather than pictures, but it contains several hundred wild edible plants. I use it as a beginning reference when I am evaluating a plant to determine what it most likely is, and then run web searches to get photographs to confirm what the plant is (Note: sampling wild plants without the supervision of an expert can be dangerous, so if you start sampling plants and get sick, don’t blame me).

This is just a short list of some of my favorite books; there are many other books that are just as good as anything I have up here. Reading about things is no substitute for actually doing them, but we all have to start somewhere. I would give these books a shot, but as they say in Reading Rainbow: “Don’t take my word for it!”

Advertisements