Back to Basics

Back To Basics- How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills is about just that, learning the skills that our forefathers used in Best book for survivaltheir everyday life. Every independent minded American would enjoy this book.

It includes everything from building log cabins to churning butter the old fashioned way.  Back to Basics was originally published in 1981, but is now currently in it’s 3rd edition, published in 2008. It has 464 pages of information. The book is divided up into six major sections.

The Basics

The book is fairly easy to understand. There are some parts that are illustrated in great detail but they are not overly technical. The book is full of pictures and illustrations. Throughout the book there are interviews with people that have applied the skills described and their experiences.

  1. Land: Buying It- Building On
  2. Energy From Wood, Water, Wind, and Sun
  3. Raising Your Own Vegetables, Fruit, And Livestock
  4. Enjoying Your Harvest Year Round
  5. Skills and Crafts for House and Homestead
  6. Recreation at Home and in the Wild


Back to Basics was compiled by about forty members of the staff of Reader’s Digest. I am not aware of the individual qualifications of the authors but I do know that the book was very skillfully put together.

Survival Applications

Back To Basics is written to assist people in being self sufficient and in homesteading, not survival. At the same time Back To Basics is probably THE survival book I would want in a long-term survival/collapse of society situation, the reason being it’s full of information on everything you could ever want to know in a crisis.

It has in depth info on planning homes and building them out of a variety of materials including logs, adobe and stone. It also talks about developing a water supply and Log Cabinsanitation, as well as fireplace construction and design.

The energy section covers how to build and install wind mills and to harness the power of water. The farming and livestock section is full of great ideas on growing all sorts of plants and also gardening in limited spaces. It also covers the basics of animal husbandry.

Part Four: Enjoying Your Harvest Year Round is full of recipes and advice for drying, canning, baking and lots more. Skills and Crafts for House and Homestead talks about spinning, weaving, rug making, quilting, rope-making, tanning and leather-working, wood-working, broom-making, metal-working, soap-making and candle-making. The last part covers more modern outdoor activities like camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking and wilderness survival.

Favorite Part

I remember going over to my great-grandparents house when I was younger and spending hours on end looking though this book. My favorite part was probably the part on skills and crafts. Everything in that chapter I found useful. I really got a lot from the part on soap making.


Some may argue that the information is out of date, but I think this just adds to the feeling of learning old fashioned skills. I really don’t have any complaints about this book.

Back to Basics BookOverall Summary

I found this book immensely useful. I would highly recommend this book as an overall guide for thriving self-sufficiently . There really is no reason not to get a copy of this book as it is very reasonably priced for what you get, almost 500 pages of information and illustrations.

Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition is now in it’s Third Edition, which is available on Amazon.

Written by Josh

Josh is a Boy Scout and an avid outdoorsman. He specializes in knives (and other such tools), various knots & lashings, traditional skills such as blacksmithing & woodworking, bushcraft and fire starting. Read his full interview here. Read more of Josh's articles.

13 thoughts on “Back to Basics”

  1. @_Rudy_ if you have an iPad, it has full color images with the Kindle app. It really is nice to use.

    This book was great. I have it in hard cover, and it covers almost everything. I've had it for well over a year, and like to reference it when I need to, which isn't as often as I like because I live in the suburbs of NYC.

  2. I've had this book for quite some time and found it wonderful for stimulating the imagination. However, to take it one step further if you seek true knowledge and wisdom about living on your own. Try checking out the "Fox Fire" series. It is a 10 or 11 volume series now that documents first hand info from the "Old Timers" in the Smokey Mountains. Hill Billies as most of you would probably refer to them as. The project was sponsored by the North Carolina University back in the early 70's.

  3. Did someone say you can download this, Back to Basics Book?
    That would be great. Would really appreciate the address.
    We have the first edition and refer to it often. Now the kids would like one.
    Can anyone help?

  4. My dad bought the first edition of this book when I was about ten, I am now 25. I used to read through it regularly along with his Native American craft books, as a result I have some basic survival skills and can keep myself in food, primitive weapons, and clothing. My favorite parts were how to tell where there’s water and the livestock section. I loved this book for its easy to follow format, have ordered the third edition and am awaiting it in the mail. While its not comprehensive, its a good starting point for the inexperienced.

  5. Corny as it may sound, I VALUE my Boy Scout and Explorer handbooks. I'm 57 y/o, live in a rural area of SC and have trapped, hunted and fished all of my life. I grow and can veggies and fruit, raise meat rabbits and feel fairly comfortable that I can make ends meet. Don't forget the BASICS. All else are luxories….

  6. I have had the Back to Basics books since it was first introduced in 1981. This is the ultimate book for homesteaders. I also have the Foxfire series of books but I always come back to my Back to Basics book. I would love to have the newest edition since my book is getting a little ragged from all the use. If you want to raise chickens, grow a garden full of veggies or learn how to construct you own solar, wind or water powered homestead to live off grid then this is the book for you.

  7. To much information on bulding from the perspective of being young and strong and very little on
    methods to build that require less equipment strength.

    stacking thatching weaving mud chinking and plastering can be done by people with minimal experience and strength over time added on to and improved.
    People did not go out and build a cathedral and live in a tent until it was finsished either a side structure was started and it acted as single room dwelling then rest of the home was built.

    unless you have a large group of people and have a barn raising plan do not start a large structure first
    you have to have sturdy shelter and plan it into your final structure.

    I do not see stressing safety of a particular type of structure dry stack stone is very dangerous should the wall not have a stable and wide enough footing a hard rain will liquify the ground and the wall will fall.
    A log structure does not have to be longitudinally stacked but all buildings need to have a footing substantial enough to support the final structure.
    your elevation and soil have everything to do with your footing width depth and material and type.
    if you do not understand mortar or cements then you need to use large blocks for foundation building.

    Living in a world so convienient makes us ill prepared to exist in a post apocolyptic world who knows how to make cement slake lime or know where to find gypsum if you do not have access to lime.
    Lime stone has to be crushed and heated in a kiln to about a 1,000 degrees to be come useable for mortar

    other binders have beed mud but the stones have to be wide and stable enough to stand on their own.
    tar and certain clays can be used with brick but not like we use brick today single stack would not hold and fall.

    wood piers need to be of the proper wood or natural decoposition will rapidly rot them woods like Cyprus
    Teak are best then Oak or cedar .

    I have seen green Poplar beams or sometimes called seals used I have seen logs coverd in tar or pitch to prevent
    termite infestation but they were laid on a stone bed.
    pressure treated crosote was the best method but greenies killed that newer chemicals are just as bad and leach just as much but protect less and cost more.

    warming a barrel of tar and coatiing posts externally what area that will be burried iif it is allowed to soak it would be better and can paint it on do not use it on walls or living spaces it is a carcinogen.

    Carbide once used up was then used and called white wash it was an insect deterrent boric acid can be used as a
    slurry and soked or painted on wood I think it is also has fire retardant properties.

    the problem with all of these they are not generally available in large quatities if you do not have a method to trat your timbers the insects will destroy your home in short order

    consider a 5 gallon bucket of tar if your going to plan building in a remote location it does not grow on trees
    well it does but making it from tree sap is insanely dificult.

  8. I did want to add that I have the Firefox book the first and many other specialized books for canning meat preservation canning solar and other endeavors like pictorial of wind mills to see how they were built.

    a lot of what can be done has to be done in proper weather for it here it is so hot you have to have a root cellar you need a lot of stocked and built items as well as salt a lot of it in a scenario of restricted travel few of us will have access to it and even if we do much has to be mined or dried from salt water.
    other bulk items like baking soda Epsom salt boric acid insecticide herbicides and fertilizer as your soil may not be ready or become worn out you need to know about proper crop rotation to put nitrogen back into the soil.

    whole settlements have died off from lack of preparation or hard weather it has happened will happen again.
    it is daunting to try to accumulate and storing enough for a family.

    in days past to keep butter in the summer a terracotta vessel with water covered with another bowl pot or terracotta plate with butter in a bowel kept it cool enough ot it was kept in a jar or jug hung in the water of a dug well to keep it chilled or it would go rancid.
    burlap soaked in water over it kept moisture and convection BUT as humidity rises convection decreases without
    wind and there is another reason for a dug well. or a good flowing creek in the shade.I have used a deep lake to cool
    camp food and drinks but it has to be deep enough to have a thermocline / deviation in temperature 9 to 12 foot or better.

    here is a link but better ones are easy made
    there are a thousand tricks time to learn and print them into a manual is now.


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