Having a good reference library is something I consider essential for any prepper. It can be electronic or paper or a combination of both.
Paper copies of some books are preferable at times.
I like to have paper copies of books like field guides or general reference books that would help to get me through a major situation.
However electronic sources are useful as well because of the quick ability to search. Ideally, the books that you value the most you will have an electronic and paper copy. I have heard from at least one reader that they save articles and info electronically and have copies on a drive that they can access using their laptop that they can power with their backup solar set up. That was impressive, and I had to admire how they had dealt with the scenario of being able to read the files.
Matt told me when we were sorting through books that we should keep certain ones, but some were just taking up space. Any type of space in a small house or when you are living in a camper is valuable. I have always been a book person. Before the electronic age, I was trading and spending at used bookstores. I say this because you should choose your space wisely. A large tote or a few small ones can hold a big wealth of information and books.
My background is somewhat relevant to my choices of books that I have on this list. My parents are baby boomers, and my dad was into survivalism and living off the land when I was a kid. The house he built with my mother in the 80s on the Olympic Peninsula led to him being alone sometimes or with us under circumstances where we easily could not get out if snow fell. Forks were really small, and there was not much there. The roads around Lake Crescent would ice over and lead to a lot of crashes and hairy incidents every year. Black ice and more rain happened more than anyone would have liked over the years.
Mother Earth News and magazines like Backwoods Home and Back Home offered some guidance, and I was honored to write for Backwoods Home, GRIT, and Back Home early on in my writing career. People like Carla Emery and Bradford Angier as well as Colonel Townsend Whelen influenced my life far before I was old enough to realize it. I found that looking to these folks was a good way to get started on the homesteading and prepping path when I was in my mid-20s and didn’t know how to do much compared to now. While I was in a household where canning and cooking occurred a lot ( my grandmas) neither her nor my mother showed me how to do any of it. I had to kind of observe and then figure it out on my years later.
Cookbooks From Schools, Churches, and Fundraising Efforts
School and church fundraiser cookbooks and experimenting on my own is how I learned to cook from scratch. If you are new to all of this, then consider that everyone starts somewhere and you can learn a lot on your own or with just a few others. Youtube was not as accessible back when I was getting started with all this, so it is even easier now although you do have to sort out who knows what from all the crackpot theories and advice out there.
So in line with that, I recommend hoarding some cookbooks. These are good for you, and you can start planning out some prepper recipes. They are great because the recipes are based on basic ingredients and mixes so you can use stockpiled foods as substitutes.
If you see a good cookbook for sale, then consider buying and supporting your community while adding to your prepper library.
Mastering the Craft of Smoking Food
By Warren R. Anderson
Matt and I got this book as a gift, and it turned out to be our go-to book when we were curing bacon, ham, and more. If you only have one meat curing book in your library, I advise getting this one. You can learn to brine, smoke, build smokers, and more.
We made some fabulous bacon and hams off of our pastured pigs using the techniques in this book. You can probably do more than you think when it comes to curing meats. Small cuts can be cured in your refrigerator. I do my corned beef using a wet brine. This book helped show me how. Summer sausage and smoked meats are an excellent way to preserve protein in a survival situation.
I like that this book covers how to smoke a large variety of meats beyond venison, beef, or fish.
Shelters Shacks and Shanties and How To Make Them
By D.C. Beard
I did an entire article that was based on a lot of the more popular shelters in this book. It is an excellent resource even if you never plan on bugging out because you may need extra storage, shelter, to add on to your existing shelter, animal shelters, etc. This is a great book and a true classic. While you can access it for free online, I do recommend having a paper copy of this one on hand for reference.
A Field Guide To Mushrooms In Your Area
A good book on mushrooms is something you might consider and absolutely should have if you have any inclination to gather wild ones or grow your own. Mushrooms are delicious and have numerous types of health benefits. Lion’s Mane was recently in the news because it has been found to help neural pathways repair themselves. The Peterson’s Field Guide Series is a good choice for those in North America.
Growing your own Shittakes is one of the better ways to have mushrooms often, and you can be sure of the variety that way. Sometimes mushrooms can look close to the same as a more toxic variety so learning how to identify native varietals is a skill best learned before a long emergency.
How To Stay Alive In The Woods
By Bradford Angier
Bradford Angier was a popular survival author years ago but his books are very relevant and a wealth of info for any prepper or survivalist. This book has about the coolest binding I have seen. It is rubberized, and the fluorescent logo is pretty nifty. I like a book that goes the extra mile to be tough because I might just want to get this out during a tough situation or if I think I might be facing one soon. I think this would be an excellent volume to stash at your bug out cabin too. What do you do if your supplies run out? There are probably some things that you might not otherwise think about. Trapping, hunting, fishing, foraging, etc. could save your life or at least make it a little more bearable.
The Prepper’s Canning Guide: Affordably Stockpile a Lifesaving Supply of Nutritious, Delicious, Shelf-Stable Foods
By Daisy Luther
Canning takes practice, but it is a skill that anyone can learn if they want to. Daisy shows you how to put back your harvest or at least take advantage of all those good seasonal deals at the farmer’s market! She even shows you how to make your own MRE’s.
The Encyclopedia of Country Living
By Carla Emery
The Encyclopedia of Country Living was the first real homesteading or prepper type book that I read and owned. It taught me a lot, and it was a valuable source of resources for buying specialty homesteading, farming, household, and off-grid supplies. There is everything in this book. Matt and I used this as a reference for a lot of things that we had to do that we never had before. You can learn to butcher from reading this book or make all types of tinctures. Carla printed a lot of recipes and tips from her readers and fans, so this volume is one of the most precious resources for those getting started in prepping or homesteading, I say this is a cornerstone book that should be in every prepper library.
By Patricia Lanza
This shows you how to make good use of layering so you can have some veggies without as much hassle and just about anywhere. There is a companion volume that shows you more how to utilize containers. This is useful for preppers that rent or that live in apartments or condos. There are even apple trees that you can take with you if you have to move instead of starting over.
Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables
By Mike and Nancy Bubel
Matt and I got this book a long time ago because it has such excellent food storage advice in it. It is amazing just how long you can keep your harvest edible using root cellaring techniques. I like that the authors talk about how to utilize small spaces or find cool spots around your house that could work as a “mini root cellar.” This book could be utilized by those that rent and cannot make major changes to their living spaces.
One of the author’s goals is to show you that you can put back a lot of somewhat perishable food to use throughout the winter without having to invest so many hours in canning and cooking! Even if you just use a root cellar for a portion of your food, that drastically reduces how much energy you have to put into processing food into jars and canning them,
Rodales All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener
By Deborah L. Martin (Editor) and Barbara W. Ellis (Editor)
This book is one of the best gardening books I have found for general reference. I remember Matt and I got this when we were living in our old camper trying to beat back the bramble from our place and till a little patch of earth to add to the food supply.
There are more recent editions of this book available, but I like the version I have linked to because it is hardcover and the one I am familiar with. The book is a compilation of 400 entries that address topics from composting to permaculture, insect control, gardening year round, and so much more.
This book continues the tradition of Rodale’s garden guides that started in 1959.
The Survival Medicine Handbook: THE essential guide for when medical help is NOT on the way
By Joeseph Alton, MD and Amy Alton, ARNP
This is an indispensable guide for when you need to provide medical care in an emergency or long-term survival situation. Consider the fact that it doesn’t take much of a disaster to tie up medical resources. Even if hospitals and ambulances are working as fast as possible, there is a chance that medical help is going to take far too long to reach you.
Joeseph and Amy Alton’s 670-page guide is a book that I would recommend as the medical book to have in your prepper library even if it is your only medical book! If you have found that a lot of the medical books are geared towards medical professionals and not the average person, you will be pleasantly surprised with the approach the Alton’s take to explaining how to provide care.
The Pantry Primer: A Prepper’s Guide to Whole Food on a Half-Price Budget
By Daisy Luther
Daisy is the lady to read if you are ready to start you prepper pantry or you are just looking to get on the path to a better system for your pantry than the one you currently have. Daisy also has some recipes so you will know what to do with all that food in your pantry. This is a prepper classic.
Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage
By Gaye Levy
Gaye’s book on food storage is another great resource for learning how to put back food and make sure it lasts as long as possible and offers great taste. In this book, she offers you her wealth of knowledge based on her own experiences with food storage.
Some good homesteading and prepping books are out of print and hard to find.
Library book sales and used bookstores both online and brick and mortar are great places to find some books that help teach useful skills or at least inspire you to take the next steps in your prepping or homesteading plan. Online used stores are nice because you can search for any exact titles if you have your mind set on a particular title.
The edition you get can make a big difference in some cases.
Everyone gains more skills and knowledge over time when they start out with anything related to prepping, farming, homesteading, or survival. Getting an early edition of Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living might mean a book that is half the size of the current one. Her book was added onto for decades!
With most books, the difference may not be much, but it is something to watch out for when it comes to books that have been out for quite some time.
Some books have a lot of information in them that may seem hard to those just starting out. When I was looking for the books on this list to check availability, I tried to read a few reviews to see how others felt about them in the 2000s.
I think some negative reviews happen because people do not anticipate the learning curve involved with gaining new skills. You don’t just pick up a Ferro rod and striker and start lighting fires everywhere. The first time you attempt to butcher an animal, it is probably going to take you twice as long as someone that has done it a few times.
A lot of bushcraft and survival books always focus on a rural or forested environment. While some of these skills are versatile and useful for any survival situation, those that are in the city or a tight neighborhood may want to find some books that have a slightly different focus. If you have some urban survival books to suggest, please let us know in the comments. Here are a few guides I found that are supposed to address urban survival needs
Tom Brown’s Field Guide to City and Suburban Survival
SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere
by John Wiseman
Building A Digital Archive
Digital book collections should be backed up to several drives. I like ebooks, but I want access to them even if the grid is down. The cloud is a good place to stash one copy during good times but do yourself a favor and put your books on multiple drives or chips and have several of the correct card readers if you are using SD cards.
The Backdoor Survival Archive Project(Lifeline)
The entire archive of Backdoor Survival will soon be available on a heavy duty USB drive. Now you can have us with you for those hard times without having to print or collate the site yourselves. These drives make a great gift for prepping friends or those that are interested in learning more about developing the skills needed to get through a situation.
Do you have a book that you think should be on this list? I know there are a lot of good books out there that I did not have space to include. Your fellow Backdoor Survival readers can benefit from your contribution.
Samantha Biggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.