see url “The only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain” – Bob Cooper

I think I’ve found it – a survival guide relevant to Australia’s environment and conditions.

bob-cooperFirst, let me introduce you to Mr Bob Cooper, the man who wrote it. If you’re into survival and outback adventures in Australia, the name would ring a bell. If not, well I’m going to introduce him to you. Described by the BBC as “a world authority on desert survival”, he’s been Australia’s survival legend for the past three decades. I’d call him the “John Lofty Wiseman” of Australia. Well in fact the book I’m about to review would be somewhere in the ranks of Lofty’s fantastic work “The SAS Survival Guide: A Practical Guide to Surviving Anywhere” which is my absolute favourite, super-duper, real deal survival guide applicable to many environments worldwide.

So here’s a bit about Mr Cooper courtesy of his website where you can purchase this book “Outback Survival”, his outback survival kit, snake bite first aid kit, a couple of survival and documentary DVDs, some very special Aboriginal styled “Headsox” head wraps and signup for different levels of wilderness survival, first aid and tracking courses.


“For over 30 years Bob has honed his survival skills by learning from many traditional cultures. His experiences include living for extended periods with Aboriginal people in our Western Desert, sharing bushcraft abilities with the Bushmen of the Kalahari in Botswana also with the Lakota Sioux Indians in Dakota and jungle time with the Orang Asli people in Malaysia.
His roles have included instructing the Special Forces Units, conducting survival courses throughout Australia, lecturing with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service on survival in the Mexican Desert and delivering wilderness lessons in the UK.

Bob has also organised many projects throughout Australia, from social adventures with movie stars and other international celebrities to personal development courses for Youth at Risk.

In 2000 National Geographic America filmed Bob conducting his advanced survival courses in the television series True Survivors which featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. More recently he has participated in two documentaries with the BBC in the UK and a segment on 60 Minutes in Australia.

Bob’s long term commitment to protecting and enhancing the enjoyment of people venturing or working in the Australian bush, won his Outback Safety and Survival Course the prestigious Excellence in Safety Training Award, from the State chapter of the Safety Institute of Australia in 1996.

Over the years Bob has witnessed the fear of death during land, sea and air mishaps where a potentially fatal outcome, for himself or others, was real. Survival skills can replace fear with respect for, and trust in, nature. Such knowledge enables people to walk freely and be nurtured by the “soul food” of the natural environment.

Many irrational fears cloud people’s engagement with the outback – and even with natural habitats in suburbia. Fear of snakes, spiders, being lost or alone are acquired fears. Knowledge is the key to dispelling them.

As a society we need to recapture the survival skills and empathy with nature which our ancestors instinctively knew. True appreciation of our natural environment may be the only factor that saves it and, on occasions, us.

Teaching is Bob’s contribution to this necessary new awareness.”

I think that biography says it better than I could probably explain.

outback-survival-bookAnyway, Mr Cooper generously sent me a signed copy of his survival handbook which he released back in 2012 called “Outback Survival”, published by Hachette Books. It is over 230 pages long (which makes for some very solid reading which I’m accustomed to, but some of you might not be) and costs you only $25.00 (postage not included). There is also a Kindle version which can be purchased from Google Books, Amazon and iTunes – not a bad idea to have both a hard copy and an electronic copy on your phone or mobile device.

bob-cooper-survival-book-cartoon_thumbI like to say “good survival handbooks are worth their weight in gold”. Let me tell you if I was ever in a situation in the God-forsaken (at least that’s what some people think), harsh, unforgiving outback landscape of Australia, I would be eternally grateful for a copy of some sort of survival guide. Wouldn’t you?

Now Mr Cooper’s book isn’t some fantastical, fairy story, Micky Mouse “survival guide” that certain “survival experts” make mega-bucks on. His book is the fruit of many, many years of experience, research and real life testing. His methods are true, tried and tested. Mr Cooper is a true survivalist and has survived out for weeks on end in the wilderness (and by wilderness we’re talking about the remote Pilbara region in Western Oz) using these techniques. The proof is in the pudding – he’s still alive (and thriving)!

Bob’s Personal Life Story

So as with all other books, we start from the beginning. Outback Survival is actually divided into two sections: Bob’s Personal Story and Outback Survival. As I read the opening pages of the book, I am already fascinated and captivated by Mr Cooper’s personal story. Long before he was into the whole industry of survival and educating other people to be more prepared, as a youngster he had a love for adventure and spending time out in the great Aussie bush. In his teens he hitchhiked out of Perth and survived out in the bush. Some years later he was the only civilian on a 26 days SASR (Special Air Service Regiment) survival course. Mr Cooper said this course was very very tough but a great privilege to do. He brought out the toughness and hardships of the course quite well inside chapter 2.

Mr Cooper has had his share of real-life survival scenarios.  He has been involved in a horrific helicopter crash as well as three hair-raising, life/death situations while at sea whilst working on fishing vessels but fortunately for him, he is still alive today. He recalls one very frightening incident as a SCUBA diver when he got the bends – a diver’s most feared nightmare. Having been through SCUBA basic training before, I can appreciate his experience as they briefed us that when at deeper depths that we should ascend to the surface slowly or else air bubbles will get trapped in our joints causing the painful condition aptly named “bends” – which refers to you being bent up because of the excruciating pain.

I think the first section really gets you into a survival mindset and prepares you for the rest of the book – at least it did for me.

Outback Survival Skills


After Mr Cooper’s personal life story, the rest of the book covers a multitude of wilderness survival skills. Mr Cooper has identified 5 priorities of survival and this is the basis for the material contained inside Outback Survival. These five priorities are very logical and are very similar to the ones come up with by others such as Bear Grylls and Lofty Wiseman.

  • Water: how to find, purify and transport
  • Warmth: fire and wind proofing
  • Shelter: against rain, cold, wind and sun
  • Signals: by day and night, audible, visual and directional
  • Food: what is available, foraging and fishing

Mr Cooper’s book covers the following topics: mindset (preparing yourself to survive psychologically), The big 5 priorities, dreaded dehydration,finding water, fire, shelter, distress signals, food for thought, planning for survival,surviving on the coast, surviving in the desert, finding your way with the sun, moon and stars, kids in the bush, Australian snakes, bites and stings, blisters, boots and chafes. He also goes on to show you how to identify plants and bush tucker (i.e. what is safe to eat and what is not). After each important section of each chapter, there is a simple summary which is very helpful in remembering the information read so far. For those things that are hard to teach without visual aids (transpiration for example), Mr Cooper has provided illustrations ,where appropriate, to aid in the reader’s understanding of the subject at hand.

Mr Cooper explains how to get into the right mindset and prepare yourself mentally to survive. Being cool, calm, collected and level-headed is extremely crucial if you want to come out of any situation, alive. When you’re irrational, you tend to make rash, hasty decisions that could get you and anyone else with you killed. When lost, Mr Cooper recommends that you stop everything, sit down, make a cuppa (for warmth and morale boosting purposes) and devise a strategy. That is an excellent strategy and helps you to think clearly and rationally in a survival situation.

The Big 5 Priorities

While you’re making your cuppa, the 5 priorities should basically be your guide to what you do next. There is an order of priority and they are as follows:

  • Water: how to find, purify and transport
  • Warmth: fire and wind proofing
  • Shelter: against rain, cold, wind and sun
  • Signals: by day and night, audible, visual and directional
  • Food: what is available, foraging and fishing

In survival training, they always teach the “rule of threes”. You can’t go without air for 3 minutes, water for 3 days, food for 3 weeks and so on. There is a very good reason why food is at the bottom of the list as its not the highest priority and you can go without food easily for 72 hrs. Although its not comfortable, it isn’t life threatening. The longest human fast is recorded at 1 year – so yes you can survive going without food. Water is your #1 priority and Mr Cooper has brought that across really well.

Dreaded Dehydrated

In the next chapter called “Dreaded Dehydration”, Mr Cooper explains why it is so important to not get dehydrated in the first place. Even if you maintain a calm, level-head being dehydrated can severely impair your judgement. Mr Cooper has experienced dehydration and he says it wasn’t pleasant at all. He highly recommends that you always go on a hike with water in your belly. It’s easier to go toilet in the bush later than have to go find water. Mr Cooper’s not the only one that advocates that principle, in fact the military reinforces that with their men.

Another thing Mr Cooper stresses is to DRINK not SIP your water whilst out in the bush! Many people die out in the outback with water still in their canteens. Why? They sipped instead of drunk full cups of water. The water you sip is used only for digestion not proper hydration – it doesn’t even get to your stomach.  That can potentially kill you. Whilst out in the bush, I often see many tourists/unexperienced folk sipping from their dinky 750ml plastic water bottles thinking that’s somehow going to conserve water. The truth of the matter is that you’re not saving water, you’re only hastening your own dehydration. A belly full of water is more useful to your body than in a plastic bottle.

Finding Water

Can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. This chapter covers everything from transpiration to clarification and purification.


I truly appreciate Mr Cooper’s realistic approach especially in the area of firestarting. While he does touch on ‘primitive fire making’ such as using a bow and drill he doesn’t go into too much length about it. He also demonstrates how to get a fire going in no time using a variety of more modern methods. Mr Cooper, like some other survival experts, encourages the idea of carrying at least 2 methods of reliable firestarting tools on your person all the time as opposed to expecting you to make fire using a couple of bone dry sticks. I totally agree as firstly this habit means you have two surefire methods of starting fires and secondly you have a backup – remember the  “two is one and one is none” rule.


Shelter is something that is important for anyone’s survival and it does 2 things: protects from the elements and provides warmth to a certain degree. It might be hot in the bush or outback during the day, but it gets damn cold at night and you could die of hypothermia if you don’t maintain your body heat.


Signalling for help is important if you want rescuers to be able to find you. Search and rescue (SAR) personnel are not super humans and it isn’t guaranteed that they will always find you if you’re lost in the middle of nowhere. You have to do your part in effecting a successful rescue. Mr Cooper covers several different signalling methods including the tinsel tripod, smoke signals and signalling mirror. Signalling if done right is very effective and can increase your chances of rescue. I can attest to that, as I have been separated from the main group whilst out in remote dirt tracks out in the bush and have used a combination of signalling and tracking to find each other. I have also witnessed smoke signals being used in a real life scenario. I was standing at the summit of a mountain in a national park here in South Australia several years ago with my family and saw a couple of smoky fires billowing from a trail hundreds of metres below. We later found out that there was indeed a hiker down there who had broken his leg and was signalling for help. Fortunately for him it was fire danger season at the time and there was a fire spotting tower at the summit which was manned. The crew up there spotted his smoke signals and sent search and rescue crews to retrieve him and bring him to safety so he could receive medical attention. The end result was a happy one.


As I mentioned before, food is the last on your list of priorities but you do still need to eat if you want to be more productive. Being hungry makes you lose your morale and energy amongst other things. Bob mentions some common bush tucker that can be found in Australia as well as ways to prepared them. He also introduces his Universal Edibility Test. While this test isn’t foolproof and he acknowledges that, it can help save you from unpleasant consequences as a result of eating something untested. His method like all other methods I know so far, are unable to test whether fungi is edible or not. He simply says don’t eat fungi full stop, which in my opinion is very wise and safe advice.

Planning for survival

If you want to survive then you obviously have to plan to survive. There’s a great saying which goes something like “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. In a survival situation, the consequences of failing to plan are worse than just failing! It could mean certain death. Mr Cooper covers some more important survival mindset stuff and explains why it is so crucial to have a plan if you intend to get out alive.

Surviving On the Coast

This section covers surviving on the coast, identifying edible seafoods and useful items that are often washed up on the beaches.

Surviving In the Desert

This is one of Mr Cooper’s primary specialties. He does an excellent job of bringing out just how to survive in the desert – the harsh Aussie Outback

Mr Cooper recounts the tragic story of Oyers Panders – a gold prospector who was stranded in a remote outback area of the Great Sandy Desert. He personally conducted a private investigation into Oyer’s death and the circumstances surrounding it and what he found was shocking.

The true story is that Oyers left his vehicle to head to a waterhole that was marked on his map about 5 km away from his vehicle. Failing to find the waterhole, Oyers turned back and perished half way back due to severe dehydration in 44 degree heat.

I personally found that point of the book rather poignant.

This goes to highlight the grave dangers of going out into the bush, unprepared, not knowing what you’re doing and having no skills and equipment to survive in a worst case scenario. In this case Oyers was reasonably well prepared but he failed to interpret what he saw on his map probably due to his dangerously dehydrated state and was thus unable to think clearly and rationally. Let this be a solemn lesson to each of us. Don’t get to this point (dementia dehydration) in the first place, make a cuppa (which is a morale booster) and sit down to carefully think out a strategy to come out alive. Planning is indeed the key to survival. It doesn’t matter if you have a survival kit and the skills to use it. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!

Finding Your Way With the Sun, Moon and Stars

Solar and stellar navigation are fundamental principles that all survivalists should know. Bob covers all the basics and more with helpful descriptions and relevant illustrations.

Kids In the Bush

Teaching kids how to survive in the bush. This chapter introduces a simple/fun method showing small children how to be safe in the bush if lost.

Bites and Stings

How to treat bites and stings. Basic first aid. Good to know.

Australian Snakes

The snake section is very important and something that I recommend that everyone get familiar with. You really have to watch out for snakes in the summer especially on dirt tracks while hiking. Snakes like to bask out on an open dirt track to soak up the hot afternoon sun. Mr Cooper recommends the compression and immobilisation method for dealing with snake bites – which is something that is taught in many St John Ambulance courses. I am impressed that Mr Cooper is up-to-date with and promotes the latest medical techniques unlike many other survival experts who swear by the old suck-wound-with-mouth or tourniquet method. Some time ago, I nearly once got bitten by a Brown Snake after it lunged at me whilst trying to kill it with a hoe (which I successfully did). I have since learned to have a bit more respect for snakes and to put my safety first after being educated on safe snake handling and catching by a qualified snake handler. As Mr Cooper so aptly puts its “they are not very high up on the ‘cuddle factor’”.

I have not noticed any wild, dangerous, unrealistic and life-threatening survival techniques so far that are from reality TV shows

Would I recommend this book?

Yes! Definitely. Overall I rate this well-written survival guide at 5 out of 5 stars for its common-sense approach, comprehensiveness, easy-to-understand format and the trustworthiness of the information contained inside. I was very impressed with Bob Cooper’s down-to-earth, humble style of writing and I believe you will be too. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s venturing off the beaten track or just wanting to be more prepared. I have read many other survival guides but none of them (other than Lofty Wiseman’s SAS Survival Guide) compare to Mr Cooper’s fantastic masterpiece.

I would also commend Mr Cooper for even taking the time to share his hard-earned, top-level knowledge, wisdom, skills and extensive experience as many, many good survival experts out there simply don’t have the time (or take the time) to put together a good survival guide for our benefit.

here For only $25, you can secure yourself 230 + pages of priceless, life-saving survival information. Get your copy from the Outback Survival website here: … and don’t forget to check out his other products and survival training classes as well.

Please check back for our review of Bob’s Outback Survival Kit coming up in the next few weeks.