How to build a practical, affordable prepper library

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prepper library

When I first began learning about survival topics like food storage and bug out bags, I knew I needed to begin building a library of actual books that could guide me through survival scenarios of all kinds. I began collecting books about gardening, household repair, first aid, military manuals, you name it. When possible, I bought books at yard sales and used-book library sales, saving a bundle. I also began adding free Kindle books to the mix, as many as possible and in all categories.

Books are a valuable part of being prepared. No one can know everything, so having a great reference section in your own house can come in handy, but books can take up a lot of room. If you only have space for a few books, you can use this list to help narrow down your choices and set priorities depending on your current skills and knowledge set. As a suburban prepper, books about primitive bushcraft skills weren’t at the top of my list but those about natural healing and gardening in a desert are.

Some of the best places to look for these types of reference books are thrift stores, secondhand bookstores and library book sales. With the Internet being used as a primary resource, many people are getting rid of reference books they don’t use often. These types of reference books contain information that generally does not change or require updating, which makes them valuable for long-term prepping. Books can be one of the most necessary items you can have in your possession.

Here are the top ten types of books to have on hand.


There may be a day you need to teach your children at home. It could be for prolonged snow days or for a long period of power loss, or simply because their school doesn’t cover an important (to you) topic.

Having books on hand about history, math, biology, literature, and science gives you the ability to teach your child. If you can find a complete encyclopedia set, you have found a highly sought after item. These kinds of books can also be helpful for research when a report is due, but the Internet connection is down.

For some subjects, really old used books can be a great resource. Arithmetic doesn’t change, so an 1870s book will be just as good as a brand new one at a fraction of the cost, and may bring up some interesting lessons on its own through the word problems. (A train goes…before stopping for water. How much water does it need?. A horse travels…distance in….)

Medical reference

At least one basic first-aid book could be very handy to help with minor injuries and conditions. Medical reference, herbal remedies and birthing books would help round out a small medical reference library. There is a chance you will have to depend on yourself to take care of medical issues. The Survival Medicine Handbook would be a great addition to your library. The Survival Doctor’s Complete Handbook is another book I highly recommend. Look for used anatomy and physiology textbooks, guides to pharmaceutical drugs, and medical dictionaries in used book sales.

Local plant reference books

Plants can be edible and have wonderful medicinal properties or they can poison you and give you a rash! Knowing which local plants are good and which ones can harm you, is important. One book I recommend is Prepper’s Natural Medicine: Life-Saving Herbs, Essential Oils and Natural Remedies for When There is No Doctor. Merriwether of Foraging Texas fame has written a simple, beautifully photographed book for anyone starting out with foraging, The Idiot’s Guide to Foraging.


Most of us have come to rely on a GPS system for getting from Point A to Point B, but really, nothing can take the place of a map. Knowing how to get out of your area without having a GPS or mapping app will be difficult without an atlas or map. Get a good road atlas of all 50 states, or your own country, or collect maps of the states you travel in as you stop at rest stops. AAA members get free road maps.

History and social studies books of all kinds

The saying goes, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Books that cover U.S. history, world history, economics, government, state histories, biographies, and autobiographies — they all work together to provide education as well as an important framework for current events. They’re useful for homeschooling and, of course, adults can also keep their minds sharp by continuing to learn. Local history books might give you insight into the weather and growing cycles for your area. If you love history, here are some non-fiction adventure stories.  These books tell real-life survival narratives that are rich in detail. They grab your attention and hold it while teaching lessons about nature, historical events, and, yes, survival.

Local fish and wildlife reference

As with the plants, if you have to live off the land, you’ll want to know what type of wildlife and fish are in your area and when and where it’s good to hunt and fish. Some animals and even fish aren’t good to eat, so you would want a book to tell you how to identify those as well. By the way, a really good atlas to select is one of the DeLorme atlases. These include information about local wildlife and nearby areas for fishing and hunting.

Religious books are an important addition

It’s been said there are no atheists in a foxhole. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but for millions of us, having a spiritual foundation in a crisis provides comfort and direction. If this is important to you, stock up on Bibles or other books of scripture, Bible study books, prayer books, and books by your favorite religious authors. There may be times you can’t get to church or meetings and you will be able to use those books to conduct your own service at home.

Classic novels

Even in hard times, maybe especially in hard times, people need to be able to find ways to relax and decompress. A few good novels to entertain people of all ages can give you and your family something to read and enjoy together. They can also be used to homeschool if that’s necessary. If you own a Kindle, many of the classics are free or cost very little!

TIP- A classic novel in the TEOTWAWKI* niche is Lucifer’s Hammer. The storyline is a classic end of the world scenario. A previously-unknown comet is discovered only months before scientists realize it is on a near-collision course with Earth. As the story continues, it focuses on the struggles of survivors, building into an exciting, good vs. evil finish. There are 20 survival principles in this book that can benefit everyone.


Empty notebooks of any kind are an important way to record thoughts, events, family records or even day-to-day activities. For mental health along, this can be useful and therapeutic. Try to stash away paper or some notebooks and journals with writing instruments along with your prepper library. There are a variety of journals you can buy for yourself or others. Many have prompts to help you write and ponder.

Gardening reference books

Here is a category of books not to be overlooked. You almost can’t have too many books on the subject of gardening. There is so much to learn and even an excellent resource book like Mini Farming: Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre, can’t teach everything you should know about how different seeds need to be planted at different times, depths of planting and spacing of seeds, just to name a few basic concepts. If you aren’t a master gardener, you should keep several gardening reference book on hand so you can grow your own food if you need.

 TIP- I recommend a fantastic book by Steve Solomon called Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food In Hard Times.  His premise is that you are gardening because you are going to live on what you grow so you cannot afford to waste money or to fail. He also discusses seed longevity and seed saving.


A lot of us now use the internet to locate recipes, but if our internet connection is ever down, long-term, you’ll need actual cookbooks to prepare meals. A few old cookbooks can give you recipes that can be cooked without an oven or microwave. Here are 7 reasons why you should be buying old cookbooks.

Bonus! The Survival Mom book is a great resource to have for many scenarios. If there’s a chance you could have to leave your house quickly, also get Emergency Evacuations: Get out fast when it matters most.

What are your favorite books to have around as a reference?

3 thoughts on “How to build a practical, affordable prepper library”

  1. Great article! While Kindles are a great way to store a library while on the go, they are electronic and can be easily damaged or broken rendering you library unusable. A real book in hand can never be replaced and will stand the test of time.

    Since I have limited space for my book library, limited time to read, but do have a little bit of drive time, I usually listen to books on Audible when possible. If the book passes muster, I will look for a used copy using Amazon or Half Price Books Online. There are a number of great deals to be found there.

    Additionally, if you don’t have a “Little Free Library” nearby, consider placing one in your neighborhood. Simply put, this is bookshelf or enclosure in a common area where fellow neighbors can leave a used book or take one to read. I have found a few gems there which are now part of my personal library.

  2. I never thought of maintaining a personal library as a method of preparing so thank you for this, as a beginner prepper I currently have one survival book in my bug out bag which covers all basics of survival, however down the line in a situation more knowledge will be required to maintain a high standard of living.

    Thanks Sarah for this info, it’s helped me considerably!

  3. It seems to me that keeping an electronic reference version of your library, is counterproductive to prepping for ANY scenario. In case of Solar, or man made EMP, your reference source is at high risk to be completely disabled. I use the original Topic style card system here. Only fire will destroy it. (And the books too)

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