Review: The Ultimate Survival Manual Canadian Edition

The Campsite Reviews The Ultimate Survival Manual Canadian Edition (Outdoor Life)

By Rich Johnson and the Editors of Outdoor Life
Weldon Owen, 2013
ISBN 978-1616286682

The Ultimate Survival Manual Canadian Edition

Reviewed by: Ian Scriver

When I got a copy of The Ultimate Survival Manual (Canadian Edition), I was expecting it to be entertainingly macho and a bit silly. I was surprised, however; while I took issue with some of the author’s suggestions, I found there was also some good information in the manual. For the most part, the manual contains useful tidbits, especially in the chapters on Wilderness Survival and Natural Disasters, but I am worried that some of the tips may make a bad situation worse for those who don’t know what they are doing already.

First Aid that Might Not Help You

The first section, titled “Essentials”, mostly deals with first aid. I have taken many courses in wilderness first aid, and I stay current in my wilderness first responder training, so I was disappointed when I found that much of the first aid in this survival manual was either out-dated, misleading, or both (given the Canadian standards). For instance, the brief tips in this manual on how to stop bleeding conflict with all my first aid training. This manual suggests the use of tourniquets and butterfly bandages without completely discussing the negative implications or how to use them. Furthermore, with regards to broken bones, the author directs us to “realign the limb in normal resting position by pulling in opposite directions on both sides of the break,” as if that was all there was to it.

My issue here is that The Ultimate Survival Manual markets itself as a manual, but in its brevity it leaves out necessary information. The author gives simplistic, cut-and-dried solutions to each injury rather than explaining the reality of balancing a variety of factors when deciding how to deal with medical emergencies in the wilderness. It is my very firm belief that people who travel to remote places should take a course, such as a weekend-long wilderness first aid course, and keep taking courses to stay current and well practiced, I think that it is inappropriate for something that calls itself a survival manual to give such simple solutions to complex scenarios.

Here’s Where It Gets Better

After the disappointing first chapter, I had low expectations for the rest of the book, but I was pleasantly surprised with the “Wilderness” chapter, which covers skills like map reading, dealing with animals and improvising shelter. Having guided expeditions for many years in the Canadian North, I found this chapter to be pretty thorough. The information on trapping and hunting for food was interesting, and though I usually eat very well with the food I bring on my backcountry trips, I may just try out some of the suggestions next time I’m up at the family cabin.

The “Disaster” section was by far the most interesting to me. It covers everything from tornadoes and mudslides to abandoning your ship at sea and constructing a nuclear fallout shelter. This was comprehensive and contained many suggestions and checklists for how to prepare for and live through likely natural disasters, as well as the less likely ones. While I doubt that I will end up dealing with an erupting volcano here in Canada, the discussion on how to cross a hot lava field was amusing.

…Until It Gets Paranoid

In the final chapter, which deals with urban survival skills, the tone became more paranoid. This chapter covers skills such as how to survive human riots; being held as a hostage; and how to tell if someone on the street is carrying a concealed weapon. All the talk about improvising weapons and watching for terrorists in this chapter started to wear on and was just a bit over the top for me.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I find that this manual is limited by what it is trying to achieve in the first aid section. The author wants to give a brief consideration to all aspects of survival, but some of the medical and first aid suggestions it provides are too brief and may lead to the wrong decisions. The format of the manual works well in the cases of “6 ways to prepare your home for an earthquake” and “5 steps to building a shelter”, but this doesn’t translate as well to medical emergencies in the backcountry. There are some really good points, but this book should only be taken for entertainment, rather than the best procedures to handle survival situations.

In the end, parts of the manual were amusing if I could look past the macho and military tone. I recommend readers to ignore the first aid in this book and take an actual wilderness first aid course from a certified instructor.

About the Author:

Ian Scriver has guided on many whitewater canoeing, sea kayaking, and hiking expeditions, including canoeing the Nahanni River and sea kayaking in the Antarctic Peninsula, but on his own time, Ian is also an avid cross country skier, and an aspiring climber. He is working towards a Masters in Glaciology, studying the glaciers and ice caps of the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Canadian Arctic.

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Categories: Lousy Day Literature

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2 Comments on “Review: The Ultimate Survival Manual Canadian Edition”

  1. November 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Ian – great review – thanks! One feedback – maybe acknowledge your own Canadian perspective in your reviews – us innocent Canucks maybe don’t appreciate where other authors are coming from – ie when it comes to this guy’s ‘paranoia’ in regards to terrorists – maybe he has good reason – a lot of people from other parts of the world do have Very diff life experiences than we do!
    But yeah – some are a little over-the-top (from our perspective).
    Hope you do more of these for us! L

    • Ian Scriver
      November 13, 2013 at 10:30 am #

      Lynette, thanks for the comment. You have a very valid point there; what I was calling “paranoia” in the book can be simply realistic precautions in certain countries. It may be a good idea in some places, but in Canada I’m not going to be getting a handgun and attaching a hand-gun safe to my bed frame to conceal it within easy reach while I sleep. I was expecting that a book that explicitly calls itself the Canadian Edition would have suggestions more tailored to the Canadian perspective.

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