The 7 BEST Non-Military Field Manuals

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By the author of The Faithful Prepper andThe Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications.

Everybody is familiar with military field manuals, and I confess that I thoroughly enjoy reading them myself. There’s a lot of good information in them, even if they can be rather dry sometimes.

But there are a host of other field manuals out there as well that you may have never read and should. Plenty of them come from non-military sources, and that’s what I’d like to take a harder look at today.

What are we designating as a ‘field manual?’

To be classified as a field manual, a number of conditions have to be met. For starters, the book can’t be a brick. It has to be readily packable into a bag to be taken out into the woods and used for in-the-field learning. Next, if it has the word ‘manual’ in the title, it’s a bonus.

And lastly, the book has to be filled with the knowledge of how to do particular things in an easy-to-find format. You can learn a lot from Doom and Bloom’s books (and I highly recommend checking them out), but they’re too big to easily stuff into a backpack and head into the woods with.

For that reason, you’re not going to see 400+ page handbooks listed here. We’re looking for backpackable books that are filled with hands-on prepping advice that can be used easily out in the field. What are some of the best? Here are my thoughts…

(Before you delve in, be sure to check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to what to eat when the power goes out. Consider it something of an ebook field manual.)

TW-01 – Baseline Training Manual

Joe Dolio has absolutely exploded onto the scene within the survival/prepper genre, and for good reason: he offers a no-nonsense, practical approach to prepping that people have come to crave. If you’re brand new to prepping and wondering where to start, I would point you towards this book first.

It’s here that you’ll learn what you actually need and what you actually don’t. Joe also helps to lay the scene for what a societal collapse situation is actually going to look like for you and your family, helping to blast through a lot of misconceptions out there that seem to have taken root. Pick up this book and work your way through it. You’ll finish much better prepared than you would have been otherwise.

TW-02 – Fieldcraft

Read up on the Rwandan Genocide, the Chinese evacuation of Manchuria during World War 2, the Bielski brothers, the Holocaust, the Donner Party, the Armenian Genocide, or the split of Sudan. If you do, you’ll read account after account of normal people who were thrown into a world where they suddenly had to live out in the woods, jungles, and mountains without any modern conveniences.

If they didn’t go to the wild, the alternative was certain death. They’d be raped and hacked to death by machete (Rwanda), raped, tortured, then shot/attacked by a katana (China), sent to a gas chamber (the Bielski brothers/the Holocaust), and more of the same. 

What do you need to know to be prepared for a future situation? How do you stay alive in the woods? What gear do you need to have to do so?

Here, Joe Dolio walks you through step-by-step. Land navigation, analyzing terrain, and camouflage are some of the topics covered here. Should there ever come a time in your life where you have no other option but to take to the woods for an unknown number of days in order to stay alive, you’ll have the knowledge and gear necessary to be able to do so.

TW-03 – Defensive Operations

The most recent of Dolio’s books will teach you exactly what you need to know when it comes to protecting your friends and family after society collapses. The more I talk with people from other countries – the more history I read – the more I have come to understand that the lack of violence that America has enjoyed compared to every other nation out there is the exception.

Violence truly is the norm.

Let’s say a Russian cyber attack hits the EBT system and you live in downtown Chicago. You and your family are all driving out of the city together, caravan-style. Do you know how to do this safely? If you’ve read this book you will.

What if you live in Romania and your village is concerned with the threat of sabotage to local infrastructure? You can learn how to set up an entry control point here as well.

It’s a really cool book that will help you to understand what you need to do to survive the violence that normalcy bias brains never even think about.

The US Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Survival Manual

For starters, don’t let the title confuse you. This book is written specifically for civilians (it appears it’s a sanitized version of what the military actually uses). 

I think that Cresson Kearny has written the best book on nuclear war that there is, but I wouldn’t consider it of the proper size to be a field manual. This one, I would. To date, this is probably the most comprehensive little book I’ve found that will tell you exactly what you need to know for a wide range of WMD-style events.

It was largely reading this book (along with War of Nerves) that has caused me to rethink my initial stance on gas masks (I used to think that they’re largely unnecessary). I think other preps are most certainly more important (e.g., having plenty of food and water), but I no longer dismiss the notion of a gas mask out of hand. (MIRA Safety has the best out there, by the way.)

field manuals
Anybody else remember the Gulf War? Or has it largely been forgotten?

If you want to learn about NBC stuff in-depth, I recommend Ken Alibek, Richard Preston, or Kearny. If you want a field guide that will give you the quick and gritty details on what you need to do to survive them, that’s this.

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Land Navigation from Start to Finish

How proficient are you with reading maps? Do you know how to use a map protractor? Can you reliably shoot an azimuth with your compass? Can you figure out your coordinates with a map? If any of these are topics that you are either rusty on or clueless about, you need to check out this book.

This is one of the most straightforward guides to learning map/compass/navigation skills out there that you’ll ever find. In the event of a societal collapse, you’re likely not going to want to take the roads. You’ll need to go into the bush.

Whether it’s the long walk home, an evasion scenario, or your attempt to rescue a family member, you’re going to need to know how to navigate in the woods without roads and street signs to help you. And this book is what will teach you how to do that.

Knife Only Survival

While this book doesn’t call itself a field guide, that’s the only way to use it. It’s small enough to slip into the smallest pack next time that you head out into the woods to work on your bushcraft skills. I’ve read a lot of bushcraft books out there, and this one is one of my favorites.

It’s simple to read and is filled with pictures, and I’ve worked through just about every project in it so far. The only problem that I, admittedly, keep getting stuck on is carving those little deadfall traps. I have a hard time getting everything to continue staying upright.

That by no means is indicative of any problems with this book – the book is fantastic – just that I need more practice. I highly recommend picking this one up.

Pocket Field Guide: Wilderness Survival Breads

For starters, Creek Stewart is the man. His Fat Guys in the Woods, about a bunch of fat guys in the woods, was one of my favorite shows when it was on (who doesn’t love that title?).

Reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom caused me to realize the weight differences between rice and flour and how you get more calories/pound by carrying flour. We’ve talked a bit about non-traditional bug out foods before, mentioning flour specifically.

What do you do with flour? You make bread.

This book will show you exactly how to do that while you’re in the middle of the woods with your campfire sitting there in front of you.

What are your favorite non-military field manuals? 

There is a host of them out there, but these are some of what I think are the best of the best. I may not have read what you like most, though, nor have others. So, if you know of a field manual that you think other people should know about, share it with us in the comments section below.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to and Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has three published books, The Faithful Prepper The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

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Aden Tate

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  • Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills, 7th edition.
    Medicine For Mountaineering, 5th edition.
    Neither are pack portable, but good reads.

    • Learning is a complicated process, and every human being thinks and learns differently. The more complicated the topic, the more difficult it can be for people to learn, especially if they have no “baseline foundation” in a topic as noted in this article. For many people, myself included, reading can be a valuable part of that process. As a life long learner, I read a lot, about many things. Then I start putting into practice what I’ve read about, especially if I want to be reasonably ‘good’ at it. Even after you’ve learned something, having a quick reference source at your fingertips can be useful.

      There is just too much information for any one person to memorize it all, and pocket sized reference materials are extremely valuable when you are “on the move”. This article provides some good references for people to use.

      (From a work perspective, I still carry and use an almost pocket sized version of the Third Edition of “Engineering Formulas” – a reference I picked up many years ago.)

    • Great! Never heard of some of these manuals, and though I’ve already honed survival skills, I still enjoy seeing or reading other people’s ideas and wilderness experiences. God bless the Organic Prepper and her whole tribe of contributors.

  • If you have the luxury of placing a manual in your backpack, then don’t waste your time or the sharp edge of your knife carving wooden trap triggers. First, said traps depend upon the “springiness” of nearby saplings. Saplings under strain for days may lose enough of that springiness to slow down the action, allowing your meager dinner to escape, laughing all the way. Too, in cold weather, often lose their springiness altogether. Right now on eBay you can find dozens of sources of commercially-made traps that actually work!
    The cheapest and easiest to set are 110 Conibear traps. Some folks call them “rat traps”, but they’ll also catch squirrels, rabbits, muskrats, catfish (if suspended in water in front of a hole in the streambank). They’re small, weigh nothing, and can kill anything your Jerry-rigged springy sapling trap can–except more reliably. They don’t rely on “springiness” of the local foliage, and work 24/7. These traps rely on the “springiness” of a powerful spring made to kill almost instantly, anything crawling through it. One trap will catch thousands of critters during its productive life, and costs about $4.00 ea. These single spring members of the body grip family can be set by hand–or if your grip is weakened by age, a pair of water pump pliers will set them as well as the commercially manufactured setters that cost about $20.00. You’ll need to attach them to an anchor of sorts–shrub, fencepost (maybe?), use your imagination and anything at hand, using about 2′ of the cheap chain from Ace Hardware. Small springlinks will help you tie the ends of the chain together. Yes, it’s a few moving parts to carry, but the traps are small, and weigh less than a survival tome–learn survival skills and you won’t need to carry a manual. More room in your pack for traps. Get a few, experiment BEFORE the balloon goes up to understand where and how to set them, and how many you can realistically carry in your bug-out bag. If you’re part of a family unit, maybe every member can carry a few. The secret to successful trapping for food is to set as many traps as possible, because not every trap may catch something every day, but every day some small critter will likely be in your area foraging while you sleep. Another option is commercially made snares. Home-made snares are unlikely to close as smoothly, and snares that close un-smoothly, close too slowly to catch anything but a 3 Toed Sloth. Of course, if 3 Toed Sloths are found in your area, make your own snares. If not, commercially made snares–also found on eBay cost $2-3 each. Not my first choice for trapping, as a snare–whether commercial or home-made–is a one-trick pony. Once it catches something, the creature in the snare, as it fights to escape will kink the wire, rendering it too slow to close fast again. Watch videos of The Meat Trapper on YouTube to learn how and where to set all kinds of traps. This guy doesn’t trap for fur–only for food. Check him out!

  • You Need More Than Food to Survive

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