American Survival Guide - - LAUNCH FAM­ILY - Mors Kochan­ski

At the end of just about ev­ery course I’ve taught as a pro­fes­sional sur­vival in­struc­tor since 2007, stu­dents have asked if there are any books I rec­om­mend for fur­ther study. The short an­swer is, “Yes.” The long an­swer takes some ex­pla­na­tion. You see, there are vol­umes and vol­umes of books on prim­i­tive skills, bushcraft, mil­i­tary sur­vival skills and eva­sion, ed­i­ble plants, marks­man­ship, ca­noe­ing, leather­craft and many other ti­tles all re­lated to out­door pur­suits.

The list of po­ten­tial "good reads” goes on and on. It could take a life­time to read all the books out there ded­i­cated to "sur­vival" in the broad sense of the word, but that isn’t what my stu­dents want to hear, nor do they have time to read every­thing.

I wish I could claim I’ve read all there is, but I haven’t, so my sug­ges­tions are based on my own in­ter­ests, my train­ing and my sur­vival phi­los­o­phy. Be­cause my stu­dents want a con­tin­u­a­tion of learn­ing with books writ­ten in a voice and with lan­guage that will sound fa­mil­iar, I am care­ful about the books I sug­gest. My stu­dents want the short list of the books I rec­om­mend and would pull from my per­sonal li­brary.

I was asked again re­cently, “What are the top 12 books you would rec­om­mend?” These are my cur­rent sug­ges­tions.:

The name, “Mors,” is syn­ony­mous with bushcraft, and he is con­sid­ered one of the driv­ing forces be­hind the “do more with less” move­ment. Mors is a bo­real for­est ex­pert, and his book pri­mar­ily fo­cuses on the flora and fauna found in that re­gion.

Mors, a col­lege pro­fes­sor, de­liv­ers in­for­ma­tion about proper blade use, work­ing with nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and travel through the for­est. For ex­am­ple, he de­scribes us­ing wil­lows to create bas­kets, horse hoof fun­gus for coal ex­ten­ders and birch for every­thing from con­tain­ers to fire start­ing. Bushcraft is writ­ten in a po­lite Cana­dian voice, but there is an un­doubt­edly au­thor­i­ta­tive tone to it. It is a book writ­ten after years of out­door ed­u­ca­tion ex­pe­ri­ence and is meant to help the reader be­come more com­fort­able liv­ing with the wilder­ness in­stead of fight­ing to sur­vive in it. It is an ex­cel­lent, no-pres­sure, in­for­ma­tive book about tra­di­tional skills.



This book cov­ers in depth what many sur­vival man­u­als skirt: sur­vival psy­chol­ogy. In­stead of be­ing writ­ten like a man­ual, it pro­vides les­sons from ac­tual sur­vival sit­u­a­tions that were paid for in blood. The au­thor uses these, some­times tragic, tales to ex­plain the nu­ances of sur­vival willpower, pos­i­tive men­tal at­ti­tude, and fight, flight and freeze re­sponses.

You’ll re­al­ize how eas­ily the sto­ries and anec­dotes are re­mem­bered as Gon­za­les blends

sci­en­tific re­search with com­men­tary about SCUBA divers, moun­tain climbers, fighter pi­lots and chil­dren lost in the woods. Deep Sur­vival will teach you the crit­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the sur­vivor and how they are some­times found deep in our mind and ob­vi­ous in our ac­tions.


Visu­ally, this is one of the finest books you can own on the sub­ject of bushcraft. Writ­ten by Bri­tish bushcraft ex­pert Ray Mears with Swedish Air Force Sur­vival School founder Lars Falt, this book fo­cuses on the bo­real for­est and how to uti­lize its re­sources dur­ing each sea­son.

Both Mears and Falt have im­pres­sive ré­sumés, but through­out the book, they let the skills they show and the peo­ple who taught them be the stars and cen­ter of at­ten­tion. Each time you pick up this book, you’ll find some­thing new to read or no­tice in a photo.

While many of the skills pre­sented in this book re­late to dif­fer­ent geographic lo­ca­tions around the North­ern Hemi­sphere, the univer­sal sur­vival con­cepts are well pre­sented and por­trayed in full-color pho­tog­ra­phy.


When­ever pos­si­ble, I try to iden­tify ed­i­ble, medic­i­nal and use­ful plants for my stu­dents. They al­ways want to know which re­sources will help them with their own study of these plants. This book is usu­ally the first that comes to mind.

Bro­ken down in an easy color tem­plate, the reader can match what he or she finds in the field with the dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the book. The book is also bro­ken down by area, such as wood­land, swamp, dis­turbed ar­eas and oth­ers. It can also be used to learn about plants found in a par­tic­u­lar area dur­ing a given time of year. The reader can then go out and find them in the field.

Not only is plant iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pre­sented but plant use, as well. This Peter­son Field Guide is a clas­sic among for­agers and is an ex­cel­lent re­source to start learn­ing about cor­rect plant ter­mi­nol­ogy, growth cy­cles and meth­ods of har­vest­ing. How­ever, although this is an ex­cel­lent pub­li­ca­tion, one should al­ways con­sult mul­ti­ple books to ver­ify that a plant is iden­ti­fied cor­rectly be­fore eat­ing it. 5. FIELD MAN­UAL 21-76

FM 21-76 is not the sex­i­est book you’ll find on the topic of sur­vival. It does not have fancy pho­tos or a larger-than-life celebrity au­thor. It is a down-and-dirty guide to sur­viv­ing in a wide range of cli­mates.

It fea­tures line draw­ings of danger­ous plants and an­i­mals, es­sen­tial knots, var­i­ous traps to catch fish and game, and shel­ters to keep a soldier alive. Whether you are ac­tive mil­i­tary or a civil­ian, you will find

many great take­aways in this book.

The mil­i­tary doesn’t tol­er­ate the na­tive aware­ness or spir­i­tu­al­ity found in some sur­vival books. This book fo­cuses on raw skills and knowl­edge and leaves out the spir­i­tu­al­ity for the reader to find on their own. There are ref­er­ences to some dated tech­nol­ogy, and read­ing var­i­ous edi­tions of the man­ual point to dif­fer­ent eras in Amer­ica’s his­tory. While one can pur­chase this man­ual at most large bookstores, it is free to down­load on some web­sites.

When I worked at the Wilder­ness Learn­ing Cen­ter as lead in­struc­tor un­der U.S. Army Sur­vival In­struc­tor Marty Si­mon, we cited this book as an in­struc­tional sup­ple­ment dur­ing the Ba­sic Sur­vival Course.


Tony Nester is a desert sur­vival in­struc­tor. No one por­trays the re­al­ity of liv­ing off the land bet­ter than he does. There is a com­mon fan­tasy that liv­ing off the land means liv­ing well, with big-game har­vests to fill your belly. Nestor de­scribes the re­al­ity of both hunt­ing and gath­er­ing with re­liance on the eat­ing of smaller mam­mals such as ro­dents and the un­likely chances of down­ing big game.

He dis­cusses how to create ef­fec­tive prim­i­tive traps, the gear one should carry to hunt ef­fec­tively, how to im­prove the fla­vor of food with a sim­ple spice kit and how to live off the land. Nestor reg­u­larly runs “knife-only” cour­ses in the Arizona desert, and even though he presents some in­for­ma­tion about this par­tic­u­lar cli­mate in this book, there are far more univer­sal con­cepts ap­pli­ca­ble to any area of op­er­a­tion.

The Mod­ern Hunter-gath­erer is writ­ten in an easy-to-read for­mat, with ex­cel­lent his­tor­i­cal back­ground facts pre­sented, along with skills, in a seam­less style.


The ti­tle of this book is also the cen­tral fo­cus of it. Cody Lundin, one half of the orig­i­nal Dual Sur­vivor cast­ing, is a prim­i­tive skills in­struc­tor known for his bare­foot ten­den­cies. If you can see past his shoe­less pref­er­ence, you will find 98.6 De­grees to be a book grounded in solid skills and prac­ti­cal kit.

Lundin has an in­ter­est­ing and en­ter­tain­ing pre­sen­ta­tion in his book that is far from the forced drama of Dual Sur­vival. Lundin is com­i­cal in his de­liv­ery, but he doesn’t make light of se­ri­ous con­se­quences.

This book is a great sug­gested read for some­one who should learn about sur­vival skills but is re­luc­tant to. 98.6 De­grees en­gages the reader in a fun way, and the com­bi­na­tion of color pho­tos and comic draw­ings helps il­lus­trate the points he writes about. Read­ers fa­mil­iar with Dual Sur­vivor will be im­pressed with the depth of knowl­edge Lundin presents us­ing more gear than he has used on tele­vi­sion.

Lundin was fea­tured promi­nently in the 1990s in Amer­i­can Sur­vival Guide and has been an out­doors ed­u­ca­tor for decades.


You don’t have to be a climber to ap­pre­ci­ate this book, but if you are, this is the bible for high-coun­try travel.

Moun­taineer­ing: The Free­dom of the Hills is loaded with in­for­ma­tion about travel through moun­tain­ous ter­rain and climb­ing tech­niques. As­cend­ing and de­scend­ing tech­niques, self-res­cue rope tech­niques, spe­cial­ized climb­ing knots, un­der­stand­ing weather pat­terns and back­coun­try medicine are some of the top­ics high­lighted in this book.

Be­cause this book is based on rock climb­ing, moun­taineer­ing and ex­pe­di­tion travel


over frozen geographic fea­tures, it has a heavy climb­ing tone. How­ever, there are many pearls of wis­dom that are writ­ten in bro­ken bones and blood. The skills meant for higher al­ti­tudes will come in handy any­where ropes and lines are found—boat­ing, over­land­ing/4-wheel­ing and pi­o­neer lash­ing. The sec­tion on back­coun­try medicine is ex­cel­lent, pro­vid­ing im­pro­vised meth­ods for deal­ing with sit­u­a­tions when there is no doc­tor.


There aren’t many books that ri­val this one. Ellsworth Jaeger was an au­thor who re­spected both buck­skin fron­tiers­men and Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

Wild­wood Wis­dom, pub­lished in 1945, presents all the fron­tier skills ei­ther group would need to sur­vive ex­tended stays in the out­doors. These in­clude how to make camp fur­ni­ture, create moc­casins, build shel­ters from avail­able re­sources, camp kitchen tools and so much more. This is the book for the per­son who sits around the fire and needs a carv­ing pro­ject or for any­one who wants to learn about clas­sic wilder­ness liv­ing in Amer­ica from the 1800s.

Jaeger, a fac­ulty mem­ber of the Buf­falo Mu­seum of Sci­ence, didn’t seek to build an army of fol­low­ers based on “na­tive aware­ness” or be­come a spir­i­tual leader of prim­i­tive skills prac­ti­tion­ers (un­like some in­struc­tors of re­cent years who have been “el­e­vated” to this level). He wrote a book with solid his­tor­i­cal skills that will re­mind you of crafts you prob­a­bly made at sum­mer camp. If you’re look­ing for prim­i­tive skills with­out hype, this is your book. 9.

Far left: Bushcraft, by Mors Kochan­ski, is con­sid­ered re­quired read­ing by many bushcraft en­thu­si­asts.

Ray Mears is not only a highly skilled bushcrafter, he is also an ac­com­plished pho­tog­ra­pher. Many of his pho­tos ap­pear in his lat­est book, Out on the Land.

Far left: Bri­tish bushcrafter Ray Mears and Swedish sur­vival in­struc­tor Lars Falt present a visu­ally strik­ing book loaded with skills learned from in­dige­nous tribes in Out on the Land.

Left: The sec­tion of most sur­vival books over­looked is the fo­cus of Deep Sur­vival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why? by Lau­rence Gon­za­les. Learn what pri­mal in­stincts and be­hav­iors de­ter­mine sur­viv­abil­ity.

Far right: When­ever the au­thor heads out on a for­ag­ing trip, he car­ries a few ed­i­ble and medic­i­nal plant books with him. The Peter­sons Field Guide to Ed­i­ble Wild Pants is al­ways with him, be­cause it is one of the best, in his opin­ion.

Right: FM 21-76, Sur­vival, is a mil­i­tary field man­ual that is heavy on skills and free of fluff. This is the au­thor’s per­sonal copy that was used for decades in the field.

Far right: The li­brary of the well­read prep­per and out­door en­thu­si­ast should in­clude books on a wide va­ri­ety of top­ics.

Far right: A few de­grees north or south of 98.6 de­grees can lead to death. Cody Lundin’s book, 98.6 De­grees: The Art of Keep­ing Your Ass Alive, lays out the strate­gies (many times with plenty of hu­mor) to stay alive in harsh en­vi­ron­ments.

Right: Au­thor Tony Nester is a desert sur­vival ex­pert and the au­thor of The Mod­ernHunter-gath­erer. He presents the re­al­i­ties of liv­ing off the land that so many peo­ple mis­un­der­stand.

Far right: Bushcrafters and those who al­ways need a pro­ject should read through Wild­wood Wis­dom, which fea­tures many Na­tive Amer­i­can and fron­tiers­men crafts. This book is truly filled with wis­dom.

Even if you aren’t a climber, there is a wealth of in­for­ma­tion in Moun­taineer­ing:The Free­dom of the Hills about back­coun­try travel and how to ma­nip­u­late ropes and rig­ging. If you plan on spend­ing any time in the moun­tains, you need to read this.

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