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Stay Alive! Survival Skills You Need Book Review

I’ve been reading various outdoor survival books and manuals for a long time now, and it’s safe to say that some are better than others. The first decent survival book I read was the constantly reprinted Army Survival Manual (FM 21-76) that has been in circulation for years. That was one of the first things that got me interested in survival and especially self-reliance.


Since that time, I have read dozens of books on the matter, some that were good, and others that really should have been screened better by the editor. Having recently finished John McCann’s latest book “Stay Alive!” I can safely say that this book is in my top five favorite reads of all time. John is a class act and practices what he teaches within his own survival school and at various events around the country. At John’s website, , you have the opportunity to not only purchase this book, but a number of other survival related items.

Stay Alive has a total of 254 pages with valuable information from start to finish. After reading through the book once and bookmarking several spots, I went back and re-read some of the material that really held my interest throughout the book and made a few shopping lists for my next outing. I was very impressed with John’s presentation and how knowledgeable he is when it comes to survival and the equipment that can be used to make it much easier should the need arise. Not only was John a drill instructor within the United States Marine Corps, he has been featured on several magazine covers, been a guest on popular national television shows and has had some of his articles featured the New York Times. He clearly knows what he’s talking about and this book proves it.

The book draws you right in with the opening introduction chapter that explains a lot about how John plans to lay out this book and a basic overview of what is covered. Chapter one really did a good job getting the reader excited about what they going to be reading and I liked that a lot.


From here on out, you are introduced to may valuable chapters that are chocked full of great information that John has practiced over time and has been proven to work. Chapter two dives into the survivalist mentality and addresses emotions such as depression, loneliness, embarrassment and those always nagging feelings of being hungry or thirsty. Fear is also talked about in depth and John gives you situations such as animal presence and just not knowing what to do. The main item that is talked about is the will to survive and how to maintain it.

A vast majority of the remaining of the book is focused on survival with various pieces of gear, both man made and what you can find in the wild. Chapter three is one of John’s specialties as it dives into the invaluable survival kit and the many…many different configurations they come in. John talks about survival kits at length and goes into sizing, materials, commercial grade and homemade kits as well. The reader is shown everything from using a small tin for a mini-kit, to using various models of backpacks and shoulder packs for much larger kits to carry your equipment into the wild, or wherever you may be going. I got many great ideas from this chapter for my various kits and found ways to improve them though Johns advise.


From here, you are introduced to a section on tools you can use in a survival situation. The chapter focuses on edged tools and gives you many examples of various knives you can use, ways to carry them and how you can use them for different purposes. Johns also spends some time talking about and showing examples of my favorite field tool, the axe and hatchet. Some of the other items mentioned are multitools, shovels and a few different saws. Fire and lighting belongs to chapter 5 and Johns shows you many simple ways you can get a fire going, tools you can use and carry to accomplish the task and what to use for lighting needs. I found the pages that covered fire pits and tripod construction very interesting, as well as the different flashlights and headlamps mentioned.

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Shelter and protection is covered in depth (another of my favorite topics). Everything from various clothing items, blankets, tarps and heat loss/regulation is covered. Natural shelters within multiple environments are covered in depth and how to make them step-by-step. Water collection and purification methods are covered very well and John offers several different ways obtain, carry and purify water for consumption.

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Other chapters what are covered focused on signaling with various tools including mirrors, beacons, flares and many other devices. There’s a wonderful chapter dedicated to navigation that covers technique, map and compass usage, solar acclamation and the use of electronics, such as a GPS. A chapter dedicated to food and the numerous ways you can get it is covered in depth as well. I found particular joy in the trapping and hunting demonstrations that John went into.

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The final chapter focused on the hazards you may encounter when in the wilderness and how to handle certain situations. In here, your basic first aid is covered, as well as things like poisonous plants, insect bites and other wildlife that may threaten you when you are in a survival situation.

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John was kind enough to provide his readers with a huge wealth of information, not just throughout the main portion of the book, but also at the end where he gives you some websites that he recommends for further reading and many other nice tidbits.

Perhaps the best part of this book is the color pictures! You don’t just get black and white pictures here, you get over 300 full color photos and are easy to see and understand as you read. I was blown away by the depth of each image and really wish that more survival books would have pictures that are not just in color, but this crisp and complete.

In closing, I will say that John has done a great job at not only telling you how to survive different situations, but offers you easy to follow steps and guidelines that will get you out of trouble and keep you comfortable. This is a book that I plan to bring with me into the woods so I can try a few things I bookmarked and if someone is lucky, share the book while in the brush with a buddy. Thanks for the great read, John!

Editor’s Note: I asked for an assist on this review from Bill due to time constraints on my part but I wanted to add my two cents in here at the end. I read through the book before I loaned it to Bill and was very impressed. “Stay Alive” is well laid out and does an excellent job of covering the material presented both in easy to understand content along with excellent visual representation through quality color photographs. The reader gets to match up what they read with what they see and I think this enhances a comprehensive understanding of the subject for a lot of people. Let’s face it; it isn’t just kids that like picture books! Good photos help keep our interest in a subject and help enhance what we read and give us a different way to remember the content. At only $22 Stay Alive is a worthwhile addition to your survival library and a worthy follow up to John’s earlier book “Build the Perfect Survival Kit” – Tim


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