This article originally appeared in Issue 15 of our magazine.

Your Bible-thumping brother was right. It’s the end times. The Seven Seals are torn asunder. The Four Horsemen have burst forth. Fire and brimstone and yada yada yada. Or maybe it’s just a thunderstorm off in the distance? According to the World Meteorological Organization, Mother Nature kills roughly 250,000 people each year, mostly by floods, storms, and heat waves.

Whether fireballs as big as Volkswagens are striking the earth around you, or a brush fire is creeping up on your neighborhood, there are 451 reasons you don’t want to be surrounded by paper at the library while looking for survival information you should already have on hand. That’s why you should carry survival literature with you, either in your car or as part of your emergency kit. Sure, we’d like to think you’ll haul all of your back issues of RECOIL OFFGRID as you flee a disaster, but we know that’s not likely. And, for some, it’s not practical to pack a 300-page hardcover book in a bug-out bag.

Therefore, we’re taking a look at tiny tomes, little books stuffed with vital guidelines for enduring a wide range of calamities. Whether you’re new to the prepping game or already an experienced outdoors enthusiast, having a pocket survival book in your jeans or jammed into your go-bag could be a small investment that goes a long way.

The Value of Survival Books

Why consider a pocket-sized survival manual? Here are a few reasons:

No Batteries Required: As soon as the grid goes down — and that’s one of the first things to go in any crisis — there will be no Internet and no Google. Plus, once your battery takes a digital dirt nap, your smartphone and all its survival apps will be a plastic brick of uselessness. However, a book made from paper, ink, glue, and string requires no batteries to work, nor does it need a satellite uplink.

No Total Recall: Some hard-core preppers reading this might scoff at the idea of carrying a survival guide, even a small one. After all, they’ve spent years studying how to stay alive in every possible disaster and would rather save that space in their kit for a tool or supplies. Well, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies reported that the human brain can store several million gigabytes of information, everything from your foot’s current position to complex mathematical formulas. However, the human brain isn’t that good at recall, especially when it comes to info you don’t use regularly — and especially when your brain is lacquered by the stress of a life-or-death situation. So, unless you teach survival skills for a living or you’re an elite bearded face-shooter fighting evil in the world’s most dangerous places, there’s a good chance you might need a handy manual when SHTF.

No Large Footprint: Since a survival book is something you won’t use every day, size may be an issue. Serious backpackers consider their gear down to the ounce, while survivalists have to decide on items based on the size of their BOB. Fortunately, almost all of the books in this buyer’s guide weigh mere ounces and will fit in your pants pocket. When you consider the life-saving knowledge they contain versus the amount of space they take up, storing these books with your emergency gear is a good trade-off.

There are dozens of pocket survival books on the market, and determining which book to buy depends on where and when you’ll mostly likely need it. These eight books represent a cross-section of the pocket survival book industry. Each one serves a niche, and each has its pros and cons. Read on to find out which might meet your needs.

Pocket Book History

Seventy-five years ago, Robert Fair de Graff was convinced he could change the way people read by making books drastically smaller. In the 1930s, it was surprisingly hard for ordinary Americans to get good books. Libraries were small and limited, and the country only had about 500 bookstores, all clustered in the 12 biggest cities. Additionally, hardcovers cost about $2.50 (or $40 in today’s currency).

De Graff revolutionized the market in 1939 when he started Pocket Books, a publishing division of Simon & Schuster. His product was a petite 4×6-inch book priced at 25 cents, and it changed everything about who could read and where they could read (and where they could be purchased). Working with the mob-controlled magazine-distribution industry, de Graff sold books at grocery stores, drugstores, and airport terminals — unheard of practices back then. Within two years, sales reached 17 million.

During World War II, American book publishers shipped nearly 123 million free books to soldiers overseas, where they devoured books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Great Gatsby. John Alden Jameson was an officer in the Library Section of the War Department during the war, and he wrote about soldiers reading during deployment: “Dog-eared and moldy and limp from the humidity those books go up the line. Because they can be packed in a hip pocket or snuck into a shoulder pack, men are reading where men have never read before. The books are read until they fall apart.”

Today, because of de Graff and the success of the publishers during World War II, they created a profitable “small book” industry and a nation of adroit readers who will take a book anywhere and read it at any time, if only to escape for a short while. Small paperback books became a mainstay of the industry and are very popular, even today.

Emergency Survival: A Pocket Guide

By Dr. Christopher Van Tilburg

MSRP
$3.50

URL
www.mountaineersbooks.org

Notes
To paraphrase the old adage, don’t judge a book by its amateurish appearance. It looks like a 47-page pamphlet that someone printed at home, but it does hold a few gems of basic information for the novice (or the amnesiac). If there were Cliff’s Notes for survival, it would be this.

The majority of the booklet is dedicated to navigating your way out of mountain terrains. Teaching you how to survive more than a couple of days isn’t a priority of this booklet, which is why the “Procuring Food” section is only 86 words long. The subject matter sometimes states the obvious — water can be found in lakes and streams … really?! — but then doesn’t go deep enough to do any real good.

But, it does share the basics one would need to extend his or her life long enough in the mountains to get rescued … or at least give it a good shot before he gave up the ghost. Before a kid can ride a bike, he gets training wheels. This booklet is the training wheels that most won’t need.

Pros:

  • Very inexpensive
  • Bends to the contours of a pack or pocket
  • Written by a doctor who volunteers on a mountain rescue team

Cons:

  • The first 14 pages are spent discussing preparation and kit supplies, while the last two discuss further books to read and courses to take.
  • Paper rips, folds, and gets damaged easily
  • Only covers a few topics, mostly related to mountain travel/survival

The Official Pocket Survival Manual

By Robert W. Pelton

MSRP
$15

URL
www.robertwpelton.com

Notes
At 338 pages, this book should be loaded with information. But when it spends three pages on the title, nine pages for the introduction, 16 pages on lists of gear suppliers, and … well, you get the picture. This is really a full-size book trimmed smaller.

With a font size my grandmother could read (and she’s dead), there’s only an average of about 50 words per page (or as many words as in this paragraph). Most of the illustrations are pointless (unless you need to know what a caterpillar looks like) or are so small the ink bleeds, making the art indecipherable.

Although defying its own existence as a pocketbook, Robert W. Pelton’s work contains an overabundance of useful, albeit abbreviated, info. For example, it’s the only book in this buyer’s guide that delves into hygiene, an often overlooked topic that’s an important element of survival. It covers a veritable bouquet of topics — from fire and water to first-aid and shelter — but doesn’t use its page space to delve into the details you would expect from a 1/2 pound of paper. It becomes a book of suggestions, ideas that you, the survivor, must elaborate on yourself.

Pros:

  • Easy to read
  • Covers a wide variety of topics
  • Entry-level survivor’s guide

Cons:

  • About 45 pages are wasted on things like book ordering info and expert opinions of the book itself
  • Uses too large of a font for a book this size
  • Wide margins, blank pages, and useless images take up valuable space

Living Ready Pocket Manual: First Aid

By Dr. James Hubbard

MSRP
$13

URL
www.thesurvivaldoctor.com

Notes
Known as the Survival Doctor in prepper circles, author James Hubbard breaks down the subject of first-aid into six broad categories: resuscitation, water, exposure, skin wounds, reactions, and bones and joints. Each section is tabbed for easy location (especially in a panic).

Though dense in subject matter, it suffers from the large-book-trying-to-be-a-pocket-book malady. Instead, it’s a pack book or a glove-box book. This can be forgiven because it’s got a ton of useful information. It’s a standout because it combines limited survival elements with first-aid info. It offers instructions on how to avoid injuries, then tells you how to treat them if they’ve happened.

Classifying this book in the survival category is a stretch, though. It’s a first-aid book for people rooted in civilization first, as far too many of the procedures suggest equipment a person on the edge of death in the middle of nowhere won’t have. That said, this is an excellent first-aid book with a hint of survivalism, one that would suit you better than just a regular first-aid book.

Pros:

  • Written by a well-respected medical doctor
  • Printed tabs call out the various sections

Cons:

  • First 38 pages discusses supplies and recommended immunizations
  • Scant few images illustrating the procedures

The Pocket Outdoor Survival Guide: The Ultimate Guide for Short-Term Survival

By J. Wayne Fears

MSRP
$10

URL
www.skyhorsepublishing.com

Notes
Although this book is practical, well organized, and written by an experienced survivalist, its first 38 pages (which defines things like search and rescue) and the last 25 (which discusses missing persons) won’t help you any more than good wishes will help you start a fire. With few exceptions, every outdated picture in this 142-page book is a waste of space.

J. Wayne Fears is a well-respected wildlife biologist who runs a commercial hunting/fishing guide business, so it is disappointing to see that only five pages are dedicated to the subject of food (he even suggests that it’s “not a necessity”). As a self-described short-term survival guide, his book focuses on rescue as its top priority — yet it defies its own goals by going into detail about insects, fear, and dealing with missing persons.

While it’s a good book to have in a tight spot, it spends too much time discussing the mechanics of survival and rescue, and not enough practical details for people with boots on the ground who have to live through it.

Pros:

  • Hardback cover protects the book
  • Chapters are well-organized and called out with printed icons

Cons:

  • Hardback cover makes packing it awkward
  • Fifty pages relegated to preparation and blank pages for end notes
  • Most all of the out-of-date images are not helpful or even useful

SAS Survival Guide: For Any Climate, In Any Situation

By John “Lofty” Wiseman

MSRP
$9

URL
www.sassurvivalguide.com

Notes
This book defines the pocket survival book genre. If you have only a few dollars for just a single book, spend it on this one. There’s a reason why it has sold more than a million copies. It has to be the tiniest gargantuan book covering most every survival skill needed to not just last a day or two in the wild but perhaps indefinitely.

However, it lacks an index for quick navigation, but the table of contents is detailed enough to make up for it. Each of the nine sections (including camp craft, reading the signs, and survival at sea) have printed callouts on the page for quick reference, but the book is so dense with information that these callouts become rather useless.

This is a true pocketbook. It’s tiny, taking up only 14.3 cubic inches of space. The font is small (which might be a complaint for older people). It’s dense, compact, and tries to be complete.

Thusly, it tries to be an “everything” book by covering every conceivable survival topic known, and many of the bushcraft methods therein are way too complicated and intricate for a novice outdoorsman. There are only three pages covering the preparation of big game, and the book makes it look a hell of a lot easier than it actually is. Note of caution: Because mushrooms are not a good source of energy and tend to absorb heavy metals, bacteria, and mold, it’s best to consider the book’s section on this topic as naïve.

Though it has faults, it’s one of the best pocket survival books on the market (and comes with a free phone app if your phone isn’t dead yet).

Pros:

  • Coated paper increases durability and water resistance
  • Color pictures where needed (plant identification section)
  • Wide variety of topics covered

Cons:

  • Twenty-five pages dedicated to preparation
  • No index
  • Though it has printed tabs, they’re too broad to be completely useful

Pocket Guide to Outdoor Survival

By Ron Cordes and Stan Bradshaw

MSRP
$13

URL
www.pocketguides.net

Notes
If we were to give points based solely on materials and construction, then this booklet would be head and shoulders above all others. The spiral binding means it can lay flat or fold in on itself, while the book’s pages are made from PVC, ensuring that they’re practically impervious to the elements. Additionally, notes can be made right on the pages with dry-erase markers … but we’re still not sure how that’ll benefit anyone.

At 28 pages — minus seven for covers and pre-disaster prep info — this guide uses its space efficiently. But, after reading that “you can lose anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of your body heat from your head,” we’re left wondering what other often-perpetuated wives’ tales and survival myths lie in wait for us. In the “Using Your Map Without a Compass” section, the authors suggest that the sun will be due north at noon in the summer, when in reality, it points more to the south (in Los Angeles on the Summer Solstice, for example, the sun is 79.4 degrees above the southern horizon) — but if you need a book to tell you which way north is, you’ve got bigger problems.

The information is broken up under 13 tabs, like “Navigate,” “Lost,” and “Signal,” but the descriptions in each are brief. And the organization is a little scrambled. The section on water comes after food, which is a lower priority on the survival spectrum. More experienced preppers won’t find the basic information in this guide helpful, especially for $13.

Pros:

  • Completely waterproof and spiral-bound
  • Tabbed sections for easy navigation

Cons:

  • Topics don’t go into great detail
  • Narrow selection of topics
  • Presents some old wives’ tales as survival facts

The Pocket Disaster Survival Guide: What to Do When the Lights Go Out

By Harris J. Andrews and J. Alexander Bowers

MSRP
$10

URL
www.skyhorsepublishing.com

Notes
This tome has no business being in a collection of pocket survival books. Why? The focus of its 160 pages makes the assumption that you’re home when disaster strikes. Sure, it fits in an oversized pocket, has a sturdy cover that can take some abuse, and is filled with useful information. But we’re not going anywhere with it. There’s no section on disasters at the office or in your car or what to do when you have to be mobile. We’re not going to sit in the crumbling rubble of our house and read it to find out what to do next.

The Pocket Disaster Survival Guide suffers from too many topics and not enough explanation of each. For example, there are only six pages for the section on floods, which kill more people worldwide than any other disaster. And only six pages are used to cover the entire subject of first-aid. While 38 percent of the book’s total pages are devoted to the discussion of what to do during a disaster (earthquake, chemical spill, terror attack, etc.), the rest of the book deals with general survival skills, from digital survival and power outages to finding water and keeping perishable foods cold (conclusion: you can’t).

The book is well laid out and has an easy flow from one section to the next. The information is basic and can mostly be classified as common sense. Its biggest problem is its smallness — it shouldn’t be a pocketbook at all, and because of this, it can easily be replaced by a dozen books that should already be in your home and have much more in-depth knowledge.

Pros:

  • Hardback cover protects the book
  • Specialized for disasters

Cons:

  • Hardback cover makes packing it difficult.
  • Almost 40 pages used to discuss preparation, pre-disaster resources, and supplies
  • Its “pocket” moniker seems contrived by marketing people to sell books

Wallace Guidebook for Emergency Care and Survival

By Howard Wallace

MSRP
$6

URL
www.survivorind.com

Notes
Wallace Guidebook is vaguely broken into two sections: The first 38 pages deal with survival situations, while the remaining pages cover first-aid scenarios. This 92-pager is concise. It doesn’t go into great detail about anything, but instead touches on the main points, touting itself as a guide that includes “common sense” tips (even though it gets the heat-loss-through-your-head tip wrong, too).

Its biggest weakness — besides its complete lack of structure — is Howard Wallace’s stream-of-consciousness writing style. The sections on auto breakdowns on page 10 evolve into water procurement on page 13, which goes into talking about exposure on page 16 before it circles back again to discuss off-road auto breakdowns on page 23. From there, it spends two pages on signaling and evacuation.

The best part of this whole book is the collection of first-aid tips. The section is tabbed for convenience, and each of the situations — minor wounds, bear attack, and even childbirth — is clearly laid out in a step-by-step manner.

The most telling aspect on the utility of this book can be found in the “Advice on Additional Materials,” where it suggests including in your “response container” a first-aid book. Isn’t that what this book is supposed to be?

Pros:

  • Large section on first-aid procedures
  • Doesn’t include useless sections

Cons:

  • Haphazardly organized
  • Too basic for experienced/knowledgeable survivalists
  • Text is too large for its size

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