For many of us, summer means it’s time to stock up on s’mores supplies, pack up the tent, and head out on a camping expedition. But what if you’re afraid of nighttime noises, wild animals, treacherous cliffs, and other hazards? Here are five books of wilderness survival and adventure to fortify, warn, and inspire you. Tuck a few in your backpack for reading by the campfire.
How To Stay Alive in the Woods, by Bradford Angier
This classic book was originally published in 1956, but although technology has evolved in the past sixty years, the hazards one might face in the wilderness have remained basically the same. Angier divided this guide into four handy sections: Sustenance, Warmth, Orientation, and Safety, covering most problems you might encounter in the woods.
Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, by Lee H. Whittlesey
Almost 3.5 million people visit Yellowstone National Park each year, and a handful of them become victims of either ill fortune or their own stupidity (or some combination of both). In the ’90s, Whittlesey, a Yellowstone park museum technician, decided to compile all of the unnatural deaths that had occurred in the park to help visitors know what to avoid to ensure their safety, and he ended up writing a survival classic. Death in Yellowstone launched a whole series of books featuring other national parks, and is an indispensable guide to what not to do when visiting the wonders of nature. Yanking on a bison’s beard? Inadvisable. Taking a quick dip in a boiling hot spring? Do refrain. Feeding a bear? Not unless you want to be on the menu. Fascinating cautionary tales abound in this book. As Whittlesey noted dryly in one interview, “Yellowstone is not Disneyland.”
The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, by Michael Punke
Okay, worst case scenario: you’ve failed to heed the lessons of Death in Yellowstone and you’ve been mauled by a grizzly. In the absence of medical care, your camping companions hastily attempt to stitch you together. Next, they leave you for dead, and you must crawl for hundreds of miles to reach civilization. This novel, based on the experiences of frontiersman Hugh Glass in 1823, and made into the 2015 movie that finally earned Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar, will serve as your handy guide to accomplishing the impossible. It also might remind you of the bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which a man who looks like he’s near his demise must repeatedly insist, “I’m not dead yet.”
The Wilding, by Benjamin Percy
Say you decide to go camping in the Oregon woods with your young son and your irascible father who has recently suffered a heart attack. You’ve heard rumors that Bigfoot dwells in these woods, and you know for a fact that the townspeople in this area are not exactly friendly. Plus, it seems like a crazed bear is pulling an Ahab and stalking you through the woods. How will you survive? The suspenseful, entertaining The Wilding has plenty of tips.
Listening to Cougar, edited by Marc Bekoff and Cara Blessley Lowe
Okay, so we’ve covered bears. But what about big, scary cats? In this anthology edited by author, scientist, and behavioral ecologist Marc Beckoff, a variety of writers, including Rick Bass and Barry Lopez, detail encounters with mountain lions. Bass writes about the time his puppy confronted a 250-pound mountain lion, and the other writers examine the cougar from biological, personal, anthropological and historical perspectives. Beckoff has often spotted the cats in his Colorado neighborhood, warning neighbors with young children, and practically walking straight into the predator on one occasion. He writes, “I was terrified and ran up the hillside, in my clogs, yelling all the way, ‘There’s a lion here, there’s a lion here!'” You heard it here first: always make sure your clogs are securely fastened before running for your life.