Emergency Preparation: A Top 10 List for Building a Library of Resources

One part of any plan to prepare for the worst is an honest assessment of the skills, supplies, and tools available. It is easy to think you have the right tools, but what if you had to make major repairs to your house with no assistance or support? It is easy to think we have enough food and water, but how much would spoil if weeks stretched to months and your ability to refrigerate failed? It is easy to think that you have trained sufficiently in first-aid, but what would you do if someone needed an emergency
procedure and medical care was no longer available?

In previous articles regarding emergency preparedness, I laid out my thoughts on categorizing events by their likelihood and duration. I defined short-term events as those lasting less than a week, intermediate events last a week to a month, long-term events from a month to six months, and permanent disruptions in services would last more than six months. Although the longer the event the more you need to be prepared to survive with no additional assistance, these longer events are also proportionately less likely.

survival skills library
There are many books on the market from overviews of essential skills to very specific focused books. The goal is to have easily available what you need when you need it.

In my article discussing broadly what is needed to be ready for each level event, I shared the need for a skills library. This library should be driven by your own honest assessment of the skills you and your family lack. For instance, I worked in residential construction for years and do not have any books on basic carpentry or woodworking. However, I have only peripheral knowledge of growing my own produce, which results in me having several books on the topic in case a long-term disruption of services stretched into a more permanent situation. The goal is to have a library of printed resources that would provide instruction and support if suddenly my family needed to learn these skills.

Remember: there might not be Google! Optimally, you want to develop as many skills as possible, but realistically there will always be gaps as the need to prepare often directly conflicts with daily demands. I often semi-joke that if a disruption stretches beyond a month, I have a lot of reading prepared to occupy my time going forward as I learn many new skills. Although our preparation library contains many books at this point, this review will examine my personal top 10 suggestions for any such library.

Books for Short to Intermediate Disruptions in Services

basic emergency emergency preparation books
A good library should start with general references on surviving as the need to bug out may always be a part of the plan if your location is no longer safe.

1. SAS Survival Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere

The “SAS Survival Handbook” was written by John Wiseman, HarperCollins Publishers, original Copyright 1986. When I first started building my library I Googled “top 10 best survival books” and other variations of similar searches. This was the one book on almost every list. The book is packed full of information with numerous illustrations and diagrams throughout its 600+ pages. With sections on essential gear and skills, food and water, camping, moving, maintaining health, and even discussions on urban survival, this book is a must-have.

The book builds on the simple premise that your kit (tools and equipment) is the top of the survival pyramid, but that knowledge and skills are the more important in the middle, and a strong will to survive is the most important at the base of the pyramid. This pyramid of survival has been supported by numerous works examining what sets apart those that survive disasters over those that don’t. Though having the right gear and knowledge can help, the biggest predictor is a dogged refusal to give up. This factor is why well-equipped experts sometimes die, whereas an ill-prepared novice may live beyond all expectations.

2. How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelther, and Self-Preservation…Anywhere

This one was written by Bradford Angier, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishing, original copyright 1956. It’s another book that shows up on a lot of “best 10” lists and with good reason. “How to Stay Alive” is half the length of the previous book at just over 300 pages and features many diagrams and helpful illustrations. The book is more focused on immediate survival in harsh situations and is an easier read to start developing basic survival skills. The smaller size also makes it a better candidate for inclusion in a bugout (or preparation) bag. The book is divided into four areas of survival including sustenance, warmth, orientation, and safety.

3. FM 211-75 Survival

“FM 21-75 Survival” by Department of the Army, original release 1957. This book is on most lists and is also available as a free download from multiple websites though I prefer physical copies for any preparation library. Clocking in at a little over 250 pages this reference is filled with no-nonsense information but is also accompanied by multiple helpful illustrations.

This book is focused on immediate needs and would also be a candidate for inclusion in a preparation bag as a reference. The sections include orientation and traveling, water, food, fire making and cooking, survival in various environments, and hazards to survival. Although there is a lot of similar information in all three books, they do differ somewhat in orientation which influences the information presented. The SAS guide is a broader guide to immediate and longer-term survival,”How to Stay Alive” is more focused on the immediate issues in the wild, and “Survival” is focused more on completing a mission in the face of adversity. Thus, the orientation of each of these three books provides a solid overview of how to succeed in surviving.

4. Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills

“Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills” edited by Abigail R. Gehring, Skyhorse Publishing, original copyright 2008. This is a larger book at over 500 pages with pictures and diagrams on almost every page. Compared to the first three books, “Back to Basics” is focused on surviving in your current location if services stop. While the first three books provide immediate survival needs away from your home, “Back to Basics” is a great reference for becoming more self-sufficient when sheltering in place.

This book also straddles the gap between short and intermediate disruptions and moves more into longer-term disruptions. The very first section is a guide to buying land more adapted to preparation (a section I read multiple times when we decided to move out of an urban area to a more rural location). The remaining sections include sanitation and water, generating power and heat, raising your own food, preserving foods, home-based skills (weaving, woodworking, metalworking, soapmaking, leatherworking, etc.), and recreation. Although this book offers a great overview of skills, if there are specific skills you hope to learn and rely on in an intermediate to longer-term disruption of services you will likely want to also get specific books devoted to each skill and make sure you have the supplies and tools needs to use that skill.

Books for Intermediate to Longer Term Disruptions in Services

emergency preparation books on food preservation, edible wild plants, and water survivial guide
When a disruption moves from weeks to months the question starts to shift from what did I store away to what can I do?

5. The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide: Harvest, Treat, and Store Your Most Vital Resource

This guide was written by Daisy Luther, Ulysses Press, copyright 2015. As we move into books more focused on longer-term issues, the shift is from immediate survival and bugging out to having the resources needed to adapt to new skills. Thus, all of my suggestions for books at this level focus on specific needs and often expand on shorter sections in the previous four books. The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide is such a book as having continued access to usable water is likely the most important component to weathering a longer-term disruption.

This book is primarily text and is the shortest book yet presented at just over 200 pages. The sections include a discussion of current water services, the need for purified water, a discussion of what cessation of water services would look like, creating a water plan including storing, acquiring, and testing/purifying water, and sanitation and conservation.

6. The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants

“The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants” by the Department of The Army, Skyhorse Publishing, copyright 2009. In the event of a longer disruption the need to supplement food supplies by returning to hunting and gathering increases. Our library is relatively light in hunting as it is a skill set already possessed but does have several books on gathering.

Though there are sections in the previous survival guide on gathering, this full-color guide goes far more in-depth over ~150 pages including plants that have medicinal qualities and plants that are poisonous. Worth noting the only information on mushrooms in this book is “Don’t.” If you want a guide to foraging for mushrooms you will need to look at additional references.

7. Can It & Ferment It: More Than 75 Satisfying Small-Batch Canning and Fermentation Recipes for the Whole Year

“Can It and Ferment It” was written by Stephanie Thurow, Skyhorse Publishing, copyright 2017. If you are growing or gathering food, the next step is making sure you have the skills and equipment to store that food for the long term. This book provides all the needed information for the longer-term storage of most fruits and vegetables as well as information on what tools, storage materials, and supplies would be needed to do this. It is mostly a recipe guide across almost 200 pages on how to can or ferment just about anything including many illustrations. When weeks turn to months, such skills and equipment will more and more likely be needed.

8. A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smotking Meat, Fish, and Game

“A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish, and Game” was written by Wilbur R. Eastman Jr., Storey Publishing, original copyright 1975. This final suggestion of my intermediate to long-term guides supplements the previous book providing similar information on the long-term storage of meats. Across 200+ pages with many diagrams, the skills needed to store meats as well as recipes are shared. Just like Can It & Ferment It, the skills alone are likely not enough as you would also need access to the supplies and equipment to utilize many of these skills and recipes.

Books for Longer Term to Permanent Disruptions in Services

long term preparedness books on healthcare
As the months start to drag on, the likelihood of services returning diminishes. What might have at one time been a quick trip to the hospital now may become a life-threatening event.

9. Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook

“Where There Is No Doctor,” was written by David Werner, Hesperian Health Guides, original copyright 1977. The last two books on my list are ones I hope to never need to use. My wife and I have taken (and teach) several first aid classes and are well prepared in our skills and equipment to provide lifesaving first aid prior to the arrival of medical services. But as months stretch to years likely there will be no emergency services, period. Again, you need to make sure you have the supplies to utilize the skills contained in this book to be more likely to succeed.

“Where There Is No Doctor” focuses on maintaining health without medical support and offers potential solutions to long-term care. The 400+ pages include ample illustrations, and it has sections on sickness examination and identification, uses of medicines and injections, nutrition, prevention, common and less common illnesses, family planning, and specific ailments and solutions by body parts and patient status (children, gender, elderly, etc.).

10. Where There Is No Dentist

“Where There Is No Dentist,” written by Murray Dickson, Hesperian Health Guides, original copyright 1983. This is another book focusing on what you can do in the absence of services. A companion guide to “Where There is No Doctor,” this 200+ page book also features numerous illustrations and diagrams. The focus is on prevention, identification, and treatment including cavities and tooth extractions. Like the previous books, the skills may wait to be learned until needed, but make sure you have the supplies, tools, and materials that you would need to use these techniques in a disaster.


The goal of building a solid library is to identify the skills that would be needed for each length of disruption, and having guides to learn those skills if needed. However, it is not just the skills that are needed, make sure to review each book to ensure you also have the tools and equipment needed to utilize these skills in an emergency. The tools, supplies, and skills needed become more and more extensive as you build out your level of preparedness from a few days to a few weeks, to a few months, to potentially permanently.

You also need to be very honest with your own skills. For instance, I originally had no books on hunting as I had originally decided I had those skills down. But do I know how to hunt small game when food is scarce? Maybe not as much. I also realized I have the skills to build an outhouse, but do I know exactly where to place it and why? Do I know what to do if it needs to be moved? The act of writing this article has already resulted in three more references (one on small game hunting, one on mushrooms, and another on outhouse sanitation) to be added to my own library.

emergency preparation books on wild game, outhouse, and foraging for mushrooms
A good library of emergency references may never be complete. During the writing of this article, I ended up ordering three new books, I may need to do a part II.
Joel Nadler is the Training Director at Indy Arms Company in Indianapolis and co-owner of Tactical Training Associates.  He writes for several gun-focused publications and is an avid supporter of the right to self-sufficiency, including self-defense. Formerly a full professor, he has a Ph.D. in Psychology and now works as a senior consultant living on a horse ranch in rural Indiana.  Feel free to follow him on Instagram @TacticalPhD.

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