Bushcrafter Review of SAS Survival Guide

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Jan 14, 2011
SAS Survival Guide

By John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman

This book needs no introduction; just about everyone whom has an interest in bushcraft has heard of this book. I am going to try and produce a detailed review tailored for the bushcrafter. If I have missed out any aspect of the book you wish me to go into detail about, please let me know.


John “Lofty” Wiseman joined the Parachute Regiment in 1958. He applied for service with the Special Air Service Regiment in 1959 and set a record as the youngest person ever to pass selection at the age of 18. John served with 22 SAS for 26 years (and, as he likes to point out, 55 days)! He saw active service worldwide, in every theatre of operations and special operations required of the British Army between 1959 and 1985.

Amongst other things, John was Sergeant Major, B Squadron (Sabre Sqn) 22 SAS, Sergeant Major 22 SAS Training Wing, Head of Operational Research 22 SAS, set up the SP Team (Counter Hi-Jack), set up the SAS Counter-Terrorist Team (you know…those chaps who ended the Iranian Embassy siege) and trained the first members of the US Green Berets to return to the USA to form the famous Delta Force (US Special Forces).

John also ran the famed SAS Selection Course, deciding who was fit to join the Regiment. By the time he retired from active service in 1985, he was held in such high esteem that it could be said of him, to directly quote the Commanding Officer of 22 SAS at the time, “Lofty is a legend in this Regiment”!

In addition, John ran the Survival Training School for 22 SAS at Hereford, specialising in all aspects of survival training (land, sea, jungle, desert, arctic, wilderness… wherever a special forces soldier or civilian might find themselves).

After retiring from 22 Special Air Service Regiment, John set up the Survival School at Hereford. John has trained survival instructors and consultants, expedition members, overseas survival training specialists, military and civilian.”[2]

Versions of the book

The SAS survival guide is a broad term that refers to the following books from John Wiseman:
· The SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea
· The SAS Survival Guide
· The Ultimate Survival Guide
· Outdoor Survival

The first two are the same book but use different names depending on the version and publisher

I own two of these books and I shall base my review using these. The exact versions I own are as follows:
The SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea (published by Collins gem in 2010.

Ultimate SAS Survival (published in 2009 by Collins)

The first of these books is a pocket sized book ideal for carrying whilst on the field. The second is a larger (roughly between A5 and A4) hard back book which states is ‘Expanded and adapted from SAS Survival Handbook by John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman, 2009 ‘. Throughout the review, I shall refer to these books as the pocket version and expended version respectively.

The Pocket sized edition cost £5 and the expanded edition cost £13.50, this is fantastic value for money considering what £14 can buy in today’s economy.


Both versions are broken into a an introduction which includes a warning that the publishers are not liable for how the consumer uses the techniques shown. The second part is a contents. The pocket version is broken into Essentials, Climate and Terrain, Food, Camp Craft, Reading the Signs, On the Move, Survival at Sea, Rescue, Health, Disaster Strategies and Credits. The expanded version contains Essentials, Make Camp, Extreme Climates, Food, First Aid, Accidents and Disasters, Rescue. For more details see below at Sections of the book.

After the main content of the book there is a postscript followed by and index in the expanded version only. At the very back there is a credits page in both versions crediting illustrators, copyright and special thanks to anyone whom assisted.

The main content has a consistent style throughout the book though they do differ slightly. Both versions contain page numbers, section name on the side, and important paragraphs emphases in coloured backgrounds, a typical example warning the reader of poisonous plants and common traits.

Visual Aids

Both editions contain many clear diagrams for all topics to demonstrate techniques. An example is the construction of the reef knot, the pocket edition contains 5 minimalistic diagrams showing the stage of creating the knot and contains 2 paragraphs explaining its construction and avoiding the use of technical terms possibly unfamiliar with the inexperienced. The expended version uses 3 large clear photographs showings the 3 main stages of the knot. This photo, like many is user friendly. It contains two clean ropes of different colours on a plain white background which is ideal to learn from.

Sections of the book

Both books cover the following areas of bushcraft in the respective chapters
Axe Maintenance
Axe Techniques
Choosing a Knife
Choosing Kit
Climate dangers
Finding Food
First Aid
Knife maintenance
Knife Techniques
Maintaining Kit
Preparing Food
Survival and Rescue
Water Treatment

The essentials chapter covers everything from selecting your kit, planning, basic maintenance, survival pouches, methods to obtain water, importance of salt, map reading and navigating using landmarks.
The next main section is about the camp, referred to as Make Camp or Camp Craft. This contains information about creating shelter, fire, cooking, organising and maintaining the camp, hygiene, tools, furnishings, ropes and knots.
The next section is about surviving in the environment and dangers related to different climates. This comes under Climate and Terrain and Extreme Climates. Both editions cover arctic, jungle and tropical, desert, temperate, forest, coast and at sea. It is worth noting that the pocket edition focuses on slightly more on American countries whilst the expended version is more suited and universal. The expanded version also deals with islands, vehicle maintenance in extreme climates and waterways.

The next section is food. In the pocket edition this is referred to as Food whereas in the extended edition, it is divided into two chapters called Food- Foraging and Food-Hunting. Both editions cover nutritional needs, testing wild foods, gathering and identifying plants, a list of common edible and poisonous plants, trees, fungi, mushrooms and seaweeds with images, finding game, tracking, birds and insects, traps, improvised weapons, bow making, crafting arrows, handling the kill, skinning animals, parts of animals and fishing

The next section is Reading the Signs, otherwise known as map reading and navigating, this chapter only exists in the pocket editions and is integrated into other sections within the expanded version. It contains map reading skills, methods of locating north, navigating using landmarks, identifying clouds and related whether meanings.
The next section is On the Move which is also only in the pocket edition. This subject is spread across the other chapters in the extended edition. This chapter focuses on rescue and shows the pros and cons of searching for rescue. It recommends methods and directions of travel in each environment.
The next section is Rescue which includes signalling, Morse code and international distress signals, oddly it also contains numerous signals to helicopter pilots to directing them to landing zones.

The next section is about health and well being and is referred to as Health of First Aid. This section addresses the importance of first aid and the issues of the environment and limiting factors. It also deals with treatments for common poisons and illness in the wild.

The next section addresses how to respond to disasters. These include all the common natural disasters and the expanded version included a handful of manmade or urban disasters such as drowning in a vehicle, nuclear explosion and the home front (nuclear shelters etc).

Pros and Cons of applying this book in bushcraft

Before going into detail, this book is what I like to refer to as a Jack of all trades and a master of none. This does not mean a bad thing, what the book does is establishes the fundamentals in many topics but to get an advanced aspect of any single topic it would require an entire book itself.
Both versions are ‘survival’ guides thus they are written for the survival scenarios. However, a large amount of this can be applied to bushcraft.
Most of the techniques in the book other than signalling and rescue can be used in everyday bushcraft. The book is compact and rich in information. For the beginner bushcrafter, this book can help you get to grips with many aspects within weeks. Learning this information can better educate you on selecting and buying future equipment and prevent learning the ‘hard way’ by breaking expensive equipment, buying unnecessary equipment and so on.
Other than survival, the is a very heavy emphasis on planning which makes it a good book for anyone planning their own camping event or joining other inexperienced campers. This is a good resource to ensure you remember all the essentials such as a backup light or alternative methods of fire making in the event your primary method fails.
The third good reason to get this book is that is has clear advice on the dangers of camping and protecting yourself. Many inexperienced campers/bushcrafters are unaware of the extent some dangers can be such as hypothermia.
Cons of this book are firstly that it is focused on survival and rescue. It does not focus on bushcraft. Whilst in a survival scenario the priorities are maintaining health and signalling for rescue, in bushcraft, it is about comfort and enjoyment. Nowhere in the book will it trade off the pro and cons of and the comfort of hammocks as opposed to tents or shelters on the ground, nor will it advise you on how to carve food utensils, instead a basic stick with prongs suffices for survivals.
The second disadvantage is that a lot of the information is designed for extreme climates which are irrelevant in the UK. The majority of our country has fairly comfortable weather all year round and we have very few species of plants or wildlife that can cause us any harm. About 20% of the book is dedicated to areas of the world that are not applicable to our country.


Whilst not designed for bushcraft, this is perhaps one of the most compact useful books on the subject.

It has an ideal level of detail for a single book and makes a valuable referencing book for absolutely any bushcrafter, even those to proud to admit it. It gives a level of detail sufficient to perform most aspects of bushcraft.

If a bushcrater desires to know about any of the topics then they should be considering a specialised book because there are not many general purpose bushcraft books hat do a better job.

This book focuses more on the basics of bushcraft and does not mention advanced topics such as knife making or crafting.

Overall, perhaps the most valuable ‘jack of all trades’ book that currently exists.


[1] Trueways Survival, (2011), [FONT=&quot]Lofty Wiseman picture[/FONT] [ONLINE]. Available at: http://www.survival-school.org/sitepics/details/John_Lofty_Wiseman.jpg [Accessed 09 February 11]
[2] Trueways Survival. 2011. [FONT=&quot]John 'Lofty' Wiseman[/FONT]. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.survival-school.org/Default.aspx?tabid=372. [Accessed 09 February 11].
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Have had several copies of this handy pocket sized book for many years. the hardback version is tough as old boots and the paperbacks have a water resistant coating on the old ones that seems to be missing on the newer editions. The book that got me into the military and later (with the help of Mr Mears) bushcraft.
Great review you have done there


Jan 27, 2011
No longer active on BCUK
I have just finished reading the paperback version and fully support Unorthodox' review. It's a great book and some of actions depicted are very suitable for adapting to Scout activies as well.


Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jan 8, 2009
Warrington, UK
This book LIVES in my pack, i keep it in a ziploc bag in the same pocket as my fire tin. i've used it in anger, i've used it when at home and i've even had chance to just sit and browse through millions of times.
i like the review and the pro's and cons are spot on, i reckon should some enterprising soul ever create a bushcraft version of this pocket guide he'd be on to an absolute mint.


Mar 20, 2011
I have the large 1980s version and use it as a reference book at home. I have been meaning to get the pocket version and thanks to this review, a timely reminder that I should put it on my list.

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