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Reviews > Books > Field Guides > PGP - Outdoor Survival Pocket Guide > Test Report by Larry Kirschner

PGP Books: Pocket Guide to Outdoor Survival

June 15, 2007


February 19, 2007

Biographical Information
Name: Larry Kirschner
Age: 42
Gender: M
Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg) and no longer falling
Email address:
City, State, Country: Columbus, Ohio USA

Backpacking Background
I've been an intermittent camper/paddler since my teens, but now that my kids are avid Boy Scouts, I've caught the backpacking bug. I typically do a 6-8 weekend hikes per year, and had the pleasure of 2 weeks backpacking at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico last summer. I like to travel "in comfort", so I often pack a little heavier than needed, but I'm trying to cut down. With all of my investment into this trip, I expect my wife and I will continue to trek long after the kids are gone…

Product information:
Manufacturer : Pocket Guides Publishing (PGP)
Year of manufacture: 2007 (copyright 2005, though)
Dimensions: 4.5 x 3.75 x 5/16 in (11.4 x 9.5 x 1 cm)
Weight: 2.4 oz (69 g)
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $12.95 USD

PGP guide to hiking PGP book-open

This is a small book (note the 1 inch/2.54 cm grid in the photo) designed to be taken onto the trail to provide information that may be useful while hiking. The book contains laminated plastic pages, and are spiral bound with section tabs, as shown in the photo. (The right photo above and the photos below are of a different PGP book, but the size and layout is the same) On first glance, there is a lot of general information about safety (for example, how to pack for the cold or hot weather), as well as tips that are expected to be essential for safety in the back country.

To be honest, I thought the book would be a little bigger, but I guess this size is probably more appropriate to fit in the pocket. This concept is the whole basis for PGP books--they really ARE sized for the pocket, unlike most "pocket" books, which are too big to fit comfortably in a pair of shorts or pants. I'm a little concerned, because I thought the book would have more pages. There is a lot of information to cram into such a small book, so I will see if the authors have come up with something valuable.
book in hand flat book in hand side

Field Information
Since only 1 additional report will be forthcoming on this product, I will combine all my testing ideas into a single pithy follow-up.

The first part of the report will be a "book report", using my experience collecting information from a variety of scattered sources as a comparison. I will also evaluate the quality of the writing and/or illustrations, as well as how well the book is organized. Specific ideas for the initial/field report include:
  • At what level of hiker/backpacker is the book aimed (i.e., is it for newbies only)?
  • How useful is this information?
  • How was this info collected?
  • How does it compare to info available from other sources?
For the second part of the report ("Long term"), two approaches will be pursued:

1) First, to assess the durability of these books, I will take them on all of my backpacking trips during the time interval for the test. As I typically go out 1 weekend/month, I expect that this will total 3 or 4 trips (counting time from receiving the book until the end of the LTR). These will mostly be weekend trips in Ohio, so the weather can range from rainy/snowy to bright and sunny. Temperatures can range from approximately 40-70 F (4-21 C)I hope). If I do not think I am getting enough backpacking to test the durability of the books, I will lug them around in my backpack for work. I will make sure to take the books in and out of the pack, particularly if/when there is bad weather, to ensure they can take that type of use/abuse.

2) I will ask my son (age 15, going on 35) to evaluate the books. He is an experienced Boy Scout and will likely have a lot of opinions on all the things wrong with the book (He is not shy about telling me how often I am wrong, either). I will also ask him to identify items in the books which are "not terrible".

Putting all of this information together, I hope to produce a report that will provide a broad perspective on the quality and utility of these guides. This concludes my IR for this book. Please check back in 2-3 months for the full report.


A few words about the book's author
The PGP Pocket Guide to Outdoor survival (henceforth called the PGOS) was written by Stan Bradshaw, who is noted to have spent many years as a ski patroller, fishing guide and canoeing instructor. Aside from this book, Mr. Bradshaw has written another PGP book on fly fishing knots, as well as a book on canoe safety. He has also written on fishing rights for an organization of fisherman dedicated to conservation.

Field Location and Conditions

I took the PGOS with me on 3 weekend hikes in central Ohio. Unfortunately, the weather was generally good during this trips, ranging from highs around 70 F (21 C) and lows in the mid 40's (5-8 C). It did not rain during these trips, so I did not have any direct trail experience with this. As a substitute, I threw the book into the sink to test its rainworthiness. Aside from these treks, I have carried the book with me for the past 2 months, either in the pocket of my pants (jeans or slacks) or in the backpack I take to work.

Information to be found in the PGOS
As noted above, the book is conveniently organized by labeled page tabs, with these headings:

Intro Clothes Navigate (2 tabs)
Lost Signal Shelter
Fire Food Water
Avalanche Hypo Auto

Each section gets 1-2 pages in this small book, with enough space for 2-3 short paragraphs per page covering each topic. Because of the space limitations, most of the information is presented in fairly general terms, such as this "Basic Strategy" for warm weather clothing: "Select clothing items to protect against too much sun and heat and to prevent undue los of body moisture". Some topics are covered in a little more depth, such as the 5 pages dedicated to the topic of Navigation. Most of that information is geared to orienting a map and using a compass, skills which are extremely important but fairly basic.

There are a few pages dedicated to the concepts needed for outdoor survival, such as what to do when lost ("Basic Strategy: Stop. Stay calm. Think."). Although this is certainly sound advice, it seems to me to be a little simplistic. If I were lost on the trail and had enough wherewithal to pull out this book, I think I would have already accomplished all 3 of these goals. One potentially valuable bit of information is the ground-to-air signals presented in the book. I did not know these before reading it, but I'm not sure how useful they would be in practice. If I was able to make a 30 foot long 'F' on the ground (the symbol for "Need food and water"), I might go all the way and write "HELP" and hope the air spotters could arrange a rescue. There are also 3 pages on shelters, including diagrams of how to make simple shelters and a few basic pearls of wisdom, although there are few details.

The section on water is straightforward, but potentially helpful if one were stranded without an obvious water source. There is information about where to look for water, as well as a diagram of vegetation still. I have the feeling it would make a neat science project, but if the vegetation were that green, I might try to dig before using this method.

There are sections on what to do if you are caught in a lightning storm, or an avalanche, as well as advice on how to recognize and treat hypothermia. The final page is dedicated to what to keep in your car for emergencies.

Although the cover of the book shows a person splinting a companion's leg, there is nothing in the book about trail first aid (aside from hypothermia). This would seem to be a significant omission, as a practical knowledge of first aid would seem to be one of the most useful topics for outdoor survival. There is also nothing in the book about vehicles and flooding, which is also pictured on the cover.

Durability and trail usefulness
I have carried the PGOS with me for most of the past 4 months, and found that it has held up like a champ. The pages are sturdy enough to take a banging, and I have not found any problems with the spiral binding. It is as easy to flip pages now as it was when I received the book.

Because of the structure of the book and the fact that it has fairly little text on each page, it is easy to read, even in low light. The diagrams are simple enough to interpret, although I have to confess that I did not have any opportunity to test out items like the snow cave shelter. The pages are plastic and easily cleaned with a little wiping.

Value of the information
My impression of this book is that most of the advice found here is somewhat useful, although most of this information I learned after 1-2 hikes with an experienced friend. The level of detail is kept low in order to keep the size and weight down, but this significantly limits how much information would be practical for actually surviving in the outdoors.

Since there is little here that I found especially useful, even with my relatively modest level of experience, my impression is that the book would be best suited towards beginning hikers. However, rather than carrying this book on the trail [at a cost of 2.4 oz (69 g)], I would recommend reviewing this information beforehand, planning your trip carefully, and hiking with a buddy. Further, given that one of the book's main selling points is its portability, I would actually recommend getting something a little more comprehensive (the Boy Scout handbook jumps to my mind, but there are many others including internet resources) and reading THAT before striking out. Or, go out a few times with someone that knows what they are doing and learn the basics in a practical way.


Things I liked about the PGOS
  • Fits easily in my pocket
  • Durable
  • Easy to read
Things I didn't like about the PGOS
  • Not enough valuable information on survival
  • No first aid tips
In summary, I think the PGP books concept is a good one, but I don't think that there is enough valuable information presented in this book to make it worth its cost or weight on the trail. Most of the information included should be known to anyone that has spent even a modest amount of time on the trail, and the new information would be more palatable as reading from home when planning a specific trek. Beginners looking for a good reference before joining the community of hikers would probably do better to seek a different source for advice on starting out.

Once again, my thanks to Pocket Guide Publishing for making this book available for testing, and to for allowing me to make this my inaugural equipment test.

-larry kirschner

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