The best wilderness survival books

9 authors have picked their favorite books about wilderness survival and why they recommend each book.

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City of Thieves

By David Benioff,

Book cover of City of Thieves

Reminiscent of the earthy humor and frank insight of Huck Finn, the novel concerns the siege of Leningrad. Hungry like so many in the city, the main character, Lev Beniov, a young Soviet boy, is arrested for looting for food. Along with an older prisoner Kolya, they are given a chance at saving their necks by a strange edict: they must find a dozen eggs for a Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. Set against the hellish world of suffering, starvation, and death that was Leningrad, the two boys set off on a quest for the eggs both in the city and behind enemy lines. Both hilarious and horrifying, the novel is a stunning bildungsroman against the backdrop of a city under siege.


Who am I?

I’m the author of seven published novels and a recently retired English professor. I was the founder and director of the Fairfield University MFA program. My latest novel is called Lebensborn and is set in Germany near the end of World War II. The novel concerns a little-known project hatched by Heinrich Himmler called Lebensborn (“the fount of life”). Concerned about Germany’s falling birth rate, Himmler began the program in 1935 hoping to encourage unwed mothers not to have abortions but to give birth to their babies at Nazi-run homes and then to give their babies up for adoption to “pure Aryan” officers. Lebensborn follows the story of Renate Dressler, a young German girl who falls in love with an SS officer. 


I wrote...

Beautiful Assassin

By Michael C. White,

Book cover of Beautiful Assassin

What is my book about?

World War II seems lost for the beleaguered Soviets as they struggle to hold back the rising German tide at Sevastopol. But a fearless female sniper inspires hope during her nation's darkest hour. Word of the extraordinary Soviet heroine, Tat'yana Levchenko, reaches American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who invites the beautiful assassin to tour the United States with her. For the Russians, Tat'yana's visit is an opportunity to gain support and valuable U.S. intelligence. But Tat'yana knows she is a pawn in a deadly game of treachery and deceit, forced to question the motivations of everyone around her . . . even the dashing and sympathetic American captain assigned as her translator. And then, as suddenly as she rose to international fame, Tat'yana vanishes without a trace. Her strange disappearance will remain a mystery for decades--until a determined journalist stumbles across Tat'yana's story . . . and uncovers the astonishing truth.

Cooper's Creek

By Alan Moorehead,

Book cover of Cooper's Creek: Tragedy and Adventure in the Australian Outback

Over the years Australia has produced a succession of superb journalists, of whom Alan Moorehead was one of the most distinguished, both as a war correspondent and as a writer of non-fiction books. Cooper’s Creek tells the story of the Burke and Wills 1860 expedition, which set out to cross Australia from south to north. It is a tale of heroism, tenacity, and sheer, rotten luck. Almost everybody perished, some when rescue was literally hours away.


Who am I?

I’ve now written four books, of which three are Australian history. My first two books were World War 2 military history. My publishers persist in calling each book a best-seller, and who am I to disagree? I live in France and my third book A Good Place To Hide is about a French community that rescued Jews from the Nazis. My fourth book Ten Rogues took me back to Australian history, telling the story of a bunch of ten convicts who in 1834 nicked a brig and sailed it from Tasmania to Chile without a map or a compass.


I wrote...

Ten Rogues: The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile

By Peter Grose,

Book cover of Ten Rogues: The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile

What is my book about?

The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile. From the grim docks of nineteenth-century London to the even grimmer shores of the brutal penal colony of Norfolk Island, this is a roller-coaster tale. It has everything: defiance of authority, treachery, piracy and mutiny, escape from the hangman's noose and even love. Peopled with good men, buffoons, incompetents and larrikin convicts of the highest order, Ten Rogues is an unexpected and wickedly entertaining story from the great annals of Australia's colonial history.

Deep Survival

By Laurence Gonzales,

Book cover of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

Gonzales has a way of providing information in a compelling manner, managing to use stories to present ideas rather than approaching them clinically. Deep Survival is a fascinating look at how people interact with the world as influenced by their unique and our shared human psychology and experiences. This book provides insight, but also inspiration to pay more attention and learn from our own experiences, creating a mental foundation for further exploration and growth. 


Who am I?

As a coach of elite weightlifters, a lifetime athlete, an outdoorsman, and a passionate advocate for self-reliance, I’m continually searching for quality sources of information that teach, inspire, and drive us to improve our abilities—physical, mental, and emotional—to not just enrich our own lives and bolster our capacity to achieve what’s meaningful to us, but to become better contributors to the world at large and help and inspire others in turn.


I wrote...

Tough: Building True Mental, Physical & Emotional Toughness for Success & Fulfillment

By Greg Everett,

Book cover of Tough: Building True Mental, Physical & Emotional Toughness for Success & Fulfillment

What is my book about?

True toughness is a genuine command over ourselves and an ever-increasing mastery of the elements that define us and determine the course of our lives. It gives us the fortitude, mindset, and tools to not simply survive adversity, but to thrive through it and in its wake; gives us a broad and always expanding array of capabilities that create self-reliance and confidence, and give us access to new opportunities and experiences; ensures we understand who we truly are, and that we ultimately determine that identity and reinforce it daily with our choices and habits, and allows us to remain committed to our chosen path to achieve what we intend no matter what it is or how difficult the process. 

Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival

By Tom Brown Jr.,

Book cover of Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival

Survival books these days tend to be more flash and gimmicks than qualify information, just selling an author’s image rather than providing practical, valuable tools that can be immediately put to use by any inquisitive and motivated reader. Brown not only eschews such silliness, but he also provides the information in a tone and with an attitude sadly unusual in the genre and at large, inspiring curiosity, awe, and respect for the world around us rather than a clumsy attempt to dominate it.


Who am I?

As a coach of elite weightlifters, a lifetime athlete, an outdoorsman, and a passionate advocate for self-reliance, I’m continually searching for quality sources of information that teach, inspire, and drive us to improve our abilities—physical, mental, and emotional—to not just enrich our own lives and bolster our capacity to achieve what’s meaningful to us, but to become better contributors to the world at large and help and inspire others in turn.


I wrote...

Tough: Building True Mental, Physical & Emotional Toughness for Success & Fulfillment

By Greg Everett,

Book cover of Tough: Building True Mental, Physical & Emotional Toughness for Success & Fulfillment

What is my book about?

True toughness is a genuine command over ourselves and an ever-increasing mastery of the elements that define us and determine the course of our lives. It gives us the fortitude, mindset, and tools to not simply survive adversity, but to thrive through it and in its wake; gives us a broad and always expanding array of capabilities that create self-reliance and confidence, and give us access to new opportunities and experiences; ensures we understand who we truly are, and that we ultimately determine that identity and reinforce it daily with our choices and habits, and allows us to remain committed to our chosen path to achieve what we intend no matter what it is or how difficult the process. 

Escape from the Everglades

By Tim Shoemaker,

Book cover of Escape from the Everglades

This book takes readers into the swamps of Florida where wild things eat people. I’m a huge fan of Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, and John D. McDonald, all of whom write (or wrote in the case of McDonald) about south Florida. So it’s great to find a YA book for boys set in the Everglades. Like with most of Tim’s books, the characters push the boundaries of what they know to be right, but do not cross the line. Boys take chances. Or at least the boys I grew up with did. We explore the outdoors, go it alone, test things, break things, and often get trapped in situations of our own making. Escape from the Everglades allows me to enjoy being a kid again without, you know, getting gobbled by a gator.

Who am I?

Fer over ten years I skippered a small book publishing company. During them years I inspected countless book proposals, most which got tossed overboard. I kin quickly gauge whether a manuscript be ripe fer publication. I bring that same skill ter reading YA and middle grade fiction. Ter be honest, it be a good deal easier ter judge the work of others than write great ficiton. But since “voice” be the reflection of the author’s soul, it helps ter know that those who be crafting the tales ‘ave thar moral compass aligned ter true north. These four authors be stand up in my book.


I wrote...

The End of Calico Jack

By Eddie Jones,

Book cover of The End of Calico Jack

What is my book about?

In this YA pirate tale, award-winning author Eddie Jones blends action, adventure, and humor into a fictional retelling of the pirate exploits of Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read.

The End of Calico Jack is a fictional retelling of the pirate escapades of Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. The story is based on historical research of the life of "Calico Jack" John Rackham. Some liberties have been taken in the telling of the story, but many of the events reflect what historians believed happened to Jack, Mary, and Anne. Also, in real life, those who suffer absence seizures may appear to be in a trance but cannot recall what happens during their episode. The book includes a Pirate Map of Calico Jack's sailing routes and the ports he visited.

Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties

By D.C. Beard,

Book cover of Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties: The Classic Guide to Building Wilderness Shelters

An oldie but goodie - many of the techniques described are still applicable in modern times. Beard includes lengthy descriptions and illustrations of building all kinds of small shelters, including cabins, treehouses & towers. He helped start the Boy Scouts of America and was an avid woodsman, illustrator, and conservationist. His tips on outdoor living are invaluable – including two chapters on how to use an ax. 


Who are we?

We have written 27 “how-to” books on building outdoor projects, including cabins, sheds, and treehouses. David does the illustrations and I do the descriptive writing. Our goal is to make the instructions clear to both right and left brain readers – and to make the two elements complement each other. Our readers often tell us that a computer drawing does not have the same appeal and clarity as hand drawing. We are able to ‘talk’ a reader through the process of building something with our drawings. People often send us photographs of their completed projects – it’s a big part of the satisfaction we get from writing our books.


I wrote...

Cabins: A Guide to Building Your Own Nature Retreat

By Jeanie Stiles, David Stiles,

Book cover of Cabins: A Guide to Building Your Own Nature Retreat

What is our book about?

We wrote this as a cabin-building manual to include everything you need to know about building your own getaway. Color photographs help you choose from a variety of cabins to suit your lifestyle, circumstances, and preference. Over 400 detailed illustrations including designs, floor plans, and architectural details complement the text to take you through the entire building process from construction basics to completion. Learn how to select the right site, build your foundation, install a water supply system, heating, and electricity. A chapter on outfitting includes rustic furniture, cooking gear, wood-burning stoves, and lanterns, and a list of sources makes it easy to find suppliers.

Whether you are building a cabin in the wilderness or in your backyard, this book has something for you.

The Salt Path

By Raynor Winn,

Book cover of The Salt Path: A Memoir

In their 50s, Raynor and Moth Winn suddenly lost their Welsh farm, home, and livelihood. Simultaneously, they were given Moth’s fatal diagnosis of a rare degenerative disease. Deeply in love for 32 years, this unconventional couple faced the loss of everything they’d loved together, including Moth’s life. While Raynor and Moth chose to walk the 630-mile West Coast Path in the south of England, my husband of 37 years and I traveled England and Europe in search of a place that spoke to the poetic longings of our souls. When my husband’s health also disintegrated, I needed the same resilience and courage I found in Raynor and Moth. Their uncommon commitment to ignore doctor’s advice in exchange for adhering to their beliefs was confirmation and support for me as I reviewed the unconventional decisions we made in Philip’s final years. The love that continues after death confirms the commitment of…


Who am I?

My mom handed me one of those little girl diaries with a lock and key when I was in third grade. I wrote my heart into those diaries until I needed more space and shifted to regular-sized notebooks. Writing is my way to know myself and make sense of my life. The journal I kept in the last months of my husband’s life helped me reassemble the trauma-blurred memories of his dying, and then, it supported my emotional rebirth during the year of intense grieving. It is with surprise and delight that I hear from readers who say I articulate their innermost emotions related to love and loss.


I wrote...

Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

By Joan D. Heiman,

Book cover of Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

What is my book about?

A woman’s adventures, struggles, and abiding love for a most unorthodox man throughout a 37-year partnership. An idealist, romantic, and eccentric astrologer-poet, Heiman’s husband believed there were places in the world, where each of us is most likely to unfold and best nurture our souls. The book follows Joan and Philip in their search for their place on the planet, journeying from dream to dream, country to country, and finally to the untimely and heartbreaking death of this wonderfully impossible and beloved man.

Despite his tragic end, Philip was too loveably quirky for the book to be heavy or depressing. Heiman shares her story with pathos and humor, as well as offering reflections on the complex nature of loving, dying, grieving, and healing.

Wild Life

By Molly Gloss,

Book cover of Wild Life

Charlotte Drummond is a sort of anti-Carrie Simpson: same era, but fictional and feminist, living on the lower Columbia River. She joins a search for a girl lost from a remote logging camp and discovers more than she bargained for. There’s so much to love in this quiet novel, mainly the vivid and unflashy rendering of landscape and unfolding of memorable characters.

And, bigfoot. 


Who am I?

I love the quirky, restless Pacific Northwest, also known as Cascadia, my home bioregion. Nonfiction is my jam, but I enjoy stories both unreal and real (stealing and tweaking Oregon author Ursula Le Guin’s use of the terms). I’m also an avid hiker. I’ve often wondered how I could provide folks heading here to hike the 400-mile Oregon Coast Trail (another passion of mine) with my personal book list introducing them to this landscape and its history, human and natural. Here is a start.


I wrote...

The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast

By Bonnie Henderson,

Book cover of The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast

What is my book about?

A surprise tsunami, thought to be the first. A 300-year-old tsunami, rediscovered. Ancient stories echoing evidence that scientists—independently, in different parts of Cascadia—almost simultaneously stumble upon. A fault line whose next earthquake—due any day now—scientists expect will be nothing short of apocalyptic. And at the center of the story, a geologist trying to figure out what it all means, to him and to his hometown of Seaside, Oregon, the town with perhaps the most to lose in the next convulsion of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It’s all true, but I think you’ll find, as others have, that it reads like fiction.

Call of the Wild

By Guy Grieve,

Book cover of Call of the Wild

A non-fiction account of one office worker’s yearlong attempt to survive in Alaska. As someone who finds non-fiction quite dry and hard to read, this book is the best of both worlds. It has the detail of a true account with the wit and humor of fictional story. This book gives me something that former SAS professionals and hardened explorers cannot; the experiences of an everyday man, trading his desk job for a log cabin in one of the most dangerous parts of the world. 


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by wild and lonely places since early childhood. Growing up in a small village, there were plenty to choose from. Foraging and an interest in the medicinal properties of plants grew out of that fascination, and later brought me to survival guides and the concept of survival itself. Hostile places, historical skills, and wilderness experiences all have a hold over my imagination. The notion of being prepared for humanity’s decline is something I find endlessly intriguing. Can such a thing be prepared for? What form will our destruction take and how does this affect the methods we need to survive it? I’ll probably keep reading and writing about it until we have an answer.


I wrote...

Stranded

By Sarah Goodwin,

Book cover of Stranded

What is my book about?

Stranded is the story of a reality show gone wrong on a remote Scottish island. Disasters and dissent leave Maddy, an outcast botanist, in a fight for survival against the elements and her fellow islanders. Extreme cold, starvation, poisonous plants, and a local legend of a witch all feature in this tale of survival and isolation. 

The River at Night

By Erica Ferencik,

Book cover of The River at Night

I’m always up for a page-turning thriller that’s set in the outdoors, and The River at Night kept me awake late and eager for more. This story follows four women who decide to jazz up their annual girls’ trip by whitewater rafting in the Maine wilderness. What could go wrong? Just about everything. When a freak accident leaves them stranded, they’re eager for help. But are their rescuers the saviors they first believe? Grab this book for an energizing read you won’t soon forget.  


Who am I?

I’ve always enjoyed time spent outdoors, and over the years I’ve done plenty of hiking and camping and some whitewater rafting and canoeing. As a result, I’m intrigued by books that excel in their portrayals of outdoor settings. A serious whitewater accident prompted me to include lots of kayaking scenes in my most recent book (Over the Falls), and so I thought it would be fun to pull together a list of other river-related books that offer suspense and/or mystery. I hope these suggestions help you add a few new stories to your reading list. 


I wrote...

Over the Falls

By Rebecca Hodge,

Book cover of Over the Falls

What is my book about?

A missing sister. An unexpected nephew. A threatened homestead.

When her fourteen-year-old nephew, Josh, turns up at her Tennessee homestead, Bryn Collins is forced out of her peaceful existence to embark on a frantic search for the sister she hates. The pair travels to Memphis and then on to the mountains of Colorado to find Josh’s mother and save them all from escalating danger. But for Bryn, the search is not her biggest challenge. To reclaim the life she loves, she must confront her past and fight the fears that keep her from the whitewater she loves.

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