Long before there was Survivorman, Bear Grylls, or reality TV at all there was the U.S. Military. Before it was cool, trendy and preppy, survival was deadly serious business and not entertainment.

That’s why the single best book every put together about survival is Air Force Regulation 64-4, the U.S. Air Force Search and Rescue Survival Training field manual.

Originally published by the Air Force in 1985 — reprinted by Barnes & Noble in 2003 with updated images — this 620-page book covers everything.  In fact, it covers topics most of us would never even think of.

If you can only have one book to take with you on the road to the Apocalypse, choose this one.

The opening line says it all.  “These regulations describe the various environmental conditions affecting human survival, and describe individual activities necessary to enable that survival.”

What are the goals of military personnel in a survival situation?   Maintaining life, maintaining honor, and returning.

AF 64-4 CoverEarly on the manual tackles the psychological aspects of surviving, including dealing with pain, stress, thirst, dehydration, cold and heat, hunger, frustration, fatigue, sleep deprivation, isolation, insecurity, loss of self-esteem, loss of self-determination, and depression (and you thought you had it bad).

But that’s not all.  Another section deals with handling your emotions – fear, anxiety, panic, hate, resentment, anger, impatience, dependence, loneliness, boredom and hopelessness.

If that all seems a bit heavy, consider this.  The military has first hand experience with thousands of men and women in real survival situations.  What they have seen is that the difference — between those who survive and those who die — is overwhelmingly mental. 

It’s not who has the coolest paracord bracelet or the most blades on their pocketknife. Real world survivors have their head in the right place and can take it mentally.  The ones who can’t don’t make it.  They die.  If you don’t have your head together forget about knowing how to build a fire.

 Are you going to suck it up and do what it takes to survive, or be the one who curls up in a ball and dies?  The military experience is that the will to survive is absolutely the single most important factor in whether you make it or not.

Having said that, the bulk of the book covers virtually every possible practical aspect of coping with a survival situation.  Need to deal with life on the open seas, ice climates, desert or jungle?  It’s there.  Survival medicine, clothing, shelter, food, navigation – it’s there.  Need to build a trap to catch a bird, rappel down a cliff, guide a raft down a river or find edible plants?  Look no further.  I can’t think of a single topic that wasn’t covered.

The bad news is that this book is out of print.  So get one fast.   The good news is that you can find a used copy on Amazon for $3 plus shipping.  I got mine at a library book sale for $5.

This is going to be the best survival money you ever spent.  For less than the price of a six-pack of beer, you’ll have the most complete, comprehensive survival book ever written.   Get one, read it, get your head together, and survive.

Photo credit: Dreamstime

Robert Deen is an outdoor writer and former U.S. Marine officer who resides in Boise, Idaho.