I wanted to do this post just to have a good overview of survival gear that provides a good foundation for a variety of situations. This is a starting point article for those that feel overwhelmed with the enormous amount of gear and supplies being marketed to preppers and survivalists.
Starting out with a good base and adding extras as needed helps you not fall into the trap of getting too much fancy stuff while ignoring the foundation items that will do the most for your odds of survival and help keep your mind and body healthy.
The products I mention are just suggestions. There are plenty of other similar products that are great too. I always say that when it comes to gear, you have to consider your own unique situation. Some suggestions I make may not be the best for bugging out for the long term but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to think about how to do a version of this while out in the bush. A small bottle of soap may be what you have instead of soap and a bucket to wash clothes in like you might at home.
If you have only one piece of survival gear, I believe that it should be a water filter. It is so inexpensive to have a good filter compared to what it once was. If you only have a single filter, I strongly suggest that you have one that will filter out viruses, this is especially important if you live in a highly populated area or an area that has a lot of industry or agriculture. I feel that it is far better to be safe than sorry when it comes to that type of thing.
This is a great filter for one person to use. You can buy a water bladder and turn it into a gravity-fed system too. These filters make a great gift and can help get others started being more prepared.
While gravity filters are ideal, there are times when water is just a trickle off of rocks and the only way you are going to get any water is by pumping it. When it comes to groups, it is best to have a variety of water filters if possible. Here is an example of a set of 3 filters that would take care of group needs
I reviewed this once over at Backdoor Survival and found that this company makes good filters that I have used more than once in the backcountry in the mountains of North Carolina. I have never been sick during a trip where I used this filter or anytime right after the trip.
This filter is easy to pump, and it comes with a cup or scoop. The flow rate was excellent. I was very impressed with how this pump performed compared to the MSR Sweetwater Matt and I used years ago. The Survivor Filter Pro is $65, but it has a filter life of 100,000 liters. You can backwash the filter out for longer life and the carbon filter is replaceable. This filter offers a high level of filtration against viruses and bacteria.
Larger Gravity Filter
The Hydro Blu bag can be used with any filter that can be placed in line like a Sawyer.
Food and a method to cook it
While you can survive on just rations that do not have to be prepared or heated, it is a lot better and infinitely more comforting to have a hot meal during hard times.
Just a single burner style stove and fuel can make a big difference in how you eat. While, 6 months of food are the goal for many any food stash is better than nothing. Even 2 weeks of food will make you more prepared than the average person and you can always add to your prepper stash over time. Small steps equal big rewards!
Prepping with special diets is challenging but I have not eaten wheat in over a year and we have found ways to cut costs such as learning to bake gluten-free goods rather than buy them at a huge markup. I like Valley Food Storage because they sell foods that are just a single ingredient or at least very few so you can combine and cook as needed for healthy survival food.
For major cooking I like the Camp Chef gas oven and range we have stored. It takes 1 lb propane canisters but you can get a converter so that you can use a standard grill tank. If you want something that you can cook a large meal on, it is a neat oven to have, and it is under $200, which is far less than a lot of grills and stoves for outdoor use.
Rocket stoves are an option for those that want a solution that relies on whatever fuel can be gathered. You can use canned fuel like
Sterno in some stoves if you are in a rush or are afraid of attracting attention with a smokey fire.
A way to start a fire
I like a good Bic disposable for most fire starting. You should have a few other methods too. I have ferro rods, matches, and lighters.
Here is a post on lighters to help you decide which ones you like the most.
Good everyday carry knife and a multi tool
If you are going to have just two knives, then a simple everyday carry knife and a multi-tool will offer you the most function. While multi-tools have knife blades, they can be a little more awkward to use at least for me.
Check out my post on everyday carry knives for some suggestions. For a multi-tool, the classic option is the Leatherman but there are a lot of other good brands out there too. Be careful buying a multi-tool that has too many tools that you won’t ever use. Multi-tools with a lot of tools weigh and cost more. I always like the Classic Leatherman because it covered the basics pretty well. Swiss Army Knives are another option that a lot of people like.
Buy a good starter medical kit and then add some items to it. For example, if snakes are a problem in your area you might want to include a snake bite kit as part of your medical supplies. I have found that most medical kits are lacking blood stop powder and liquid allergy medication. Let’s face it, allergic reactions and lacerations are two of the most common medical conditions that need attention. Bandages that include blood stop powder on them are widely available now and a good solution for smaller cuts and lacerations.
Try to keep a small stash of any prescription meds that you require on hand. Some meds you can get 90 day refills for but there are some that have to be done monthly which means it is hard to keep any extra on hand. Check into what you are allowed and keep as much as possible around in case of hard times. Some illnesses are very hard or impossible to treat without some of the modern medications.
The right clothing
What type of clothing you need varies based on the climate that you are in. Plenty of people think they have the clothes they need and for good times they do. During an emergency, your clothing and footwear needs might vary because you have to do things that normally are not such a big deal or that are not really a part of your life at all.
Clothing that can be easily layered is the most adaptable to every situation. If it is warmer out, I like cotton and light fabrics. I live in the Southern USA and working outside in 80-degree temperatures is not comfortable when wearing a lot of synthetics. On the other hand if I hit the trail and want to be able to easily stay dry or get dry fast, synthetics are the way to go. Some modern fabrics have anti microbial features that help you stay less smelly and reduces the risk of skin conditions due to the poorer hygiene that can occur when you are sweating a lot and away from a washer and dryer.
A rain suit for each person in your family is a survival must. Keeping dry can be the difference between life and death. A few cheap emergency ponchos are also good to have for back up.
Close toed shoes
It is amazing how many people either don’t have close-toed shoes or they refuse to wear them when doing things where they really should have their feet protected. I have worked at wineries where some of the seasonal workers would wear sandals or even take their shoes off when sorting grapes regardless of all the heavy equipment and bins that were being moved around.
Do yourself a favor and get some good boots. In fact, get two pair because there are times when a hiking boot is nice but not built as tough as a logging boot. These are my go to boots.
- Keen Hiking Boots
- Carolina Loggers
- Military style combat boots. If you have an army surplus store or similar, you might be able to find them there but otherwise you can order them online for a very reasonable cost. The USA made boots are best if you can find them.
When I can catch a brand like Danner or Redwing on sale, I will consider them. I have to say that some boot brands have gone downhill a bit over the years. The last pair of Red Wings I got had very thin soles. Yes, they are dress or riding boots but it showed me that they don’t make them like they used to.
Some way to wash a few clothes
Hygiene is important. You don’t have to invest a lost but a bucket and something to swish clothes around with is not a bad idea. Being able to wash what you are wearing every few days can make a big difference in your health. A small container of Dawn or Dr. Bronner’s is a big help. Dawn is great in a way if your skin is not too sensitive. An 8 oz bottle of the liquid will degrease and wash a lot of dirty clothes.
Something to eat with
Paper plates and such are great but a small mess kit is a better long-term solution. You can get eating utensils that are all in one. They even make pocket knives that have a spoon and fork on them. If you have a family, then get a good larger mess kit and add things as needed. Sure you can use regular pots and pans at home but what if you need to cook while staying somewhere else?
Basic hygiene items
Some of these items may seem like things you can do without but hygiene is very important during a long emergency. It is easy to forget the importance during good times. When people cannot keep a decent level of hygiene, disease and infections are more rampant. Since major medical care and supplies can be very limited or even non-existent, prevention is very important.
- Toothbrush & Toothpaste
- Toilet Paper
- Bidet bottle for spraying and washing when a shower is not available
- Soap that can be used on any person. I like Dr. Bronner’s Baby Castille for general purpose. I have yet to find anyone that is sensitive to it but I suppose it could happen.
- DE earth for avoiding parasites and killing lice. It can also be used on any pets or livestock so it is very useful. A 50 lb bag is under $20 at a lot of feed supply stores such as Farmer’s Coops.
- Baby and infant care items
- Feminine hygiene
Means Of Defense
I feel like firearms are best for major defense. At the same time, I realize that not everyone is comfortable with a firearm or at least that they want to start with something else before venturing into the world of firearms. There are a ton of options for people that want a formidable form of self-defense that is considered possibly non-lethal. I would never tell someone that a weapon is actually totally non-lethal because how something is wielded and the force behind it means a lot. Point of impact is another force that plays a role.
I am going to list both firearms that Matt and I like and some non-lethal weapon options. I like to consider everyone when it comes to these types of decisions. Guns are great but they are not everything. In a close fight, a knife can be much faster and just as lethal even if the result is not as fast and quick as a gunshot.
Pepperball guns and sprays are becoming more popular and they are very effective.
Guns for self-defense and hunting
This is a very personal choice. You may prefer a gun totally different than some I am listing. This is just a few examples to get you started. What it comes down to is that I think a good shotgun, revolver, concealed carry pistol, and a hunting rifle are all nice to have. This allows you a lot of versatility and range. A lot of people start out with a handgun but if you grow up hunting or out in the country, a shotgun or rifle is often the first gun to own.
Shotguns and rifles like a .30-30 or a good .22 allow for some hunting.
12g Shotgun. The Mossburg Maverick 88 is inexpensive and very reliable.
.22 rifle such as Ruger 10-22
A good revolver such as a Ruger .357 or similar
Hunting rifle such as a .30-30
For concealed carry
Bersa Thunder .380
Common caliber guns such as 9mm, .30-30, .22, and .12 gauge are good to look for because they take very common ammunition. The AR-15 is popular too.
I like the AK-47 for major defense but the ammo is not as common as AR-15. I grew up around AK-47’s so I just stuck with them because they are tough, reliable, and what I am familiar with.
Alternative or Non-Lethal Self Defense Options
Remember that non-lethal when it comes to weapons just means that it is less likely to kill someone. A lot of non-lethal weapons can kill if wielded a certain way. For a lot of non-lethal weapons that you can consider, check out my post over at Backdoor Survival.
Tent or shelter
Everyone should have the means to sleep outside for at least with a week if they had to do so.
Choosing a tent or emergency shelter
People should have always have a means for emergency shelter. This is a universal need for all. There are so many shelters to choose from. I think this is a very personal decision where family size and privacy needs must be concerned. You may be better off with two tents and splitting the weight while enjoying the extra privacy. Knowing how to make a shelter out of whatever is on hand is a valuable skill but a good tent is really not that large of an investment and will make your life a lot easier if you do have need of emergency housing.
Tents that are adaptable to the seasons are a good choice for people like us that live in an area with 4 distinct seasons. Where I lived in Washington State, we really seemed to have 2 seasons and sometimes the 2 were so similar that it didn’t seem like that much of a shift.
Sleeping bags and emergency blankets
I like a mid-weight sleeping bag because I can always add an emergency blanket if it is freezing cold outside. If you have a sleeping bag that is made for a very cold climate and you live in a warmer one than most of the time it is going to be too much. Base your sleeping bag decision on your climate and consider how you would layer things for different conditions depending on the season. Remember that there is a big difference in how warm you stay if you are in a tent, especially with another person versus being in a makeshift shelter with no fire.
A good emergency bivy that is made for more than one use is under $60 and weighs next to nothing. You can get a bivy for less but the $15 version is not going to hold up as well with extended use.
Bags to carry it all
A good bad doesn’t have to cost a fortune. I have a wide range of bags around the house that range from $20-$400 because I occasionally get products to try out and review. While that $400 bag is nice it is not as practical for a bug out situation as a $45 Tactical backpack.
Here are some of the important things to consider when buying a bag:
Bags come in a lot of sizes. Kids, teens, and smaller women may want a bag that is sized more for them. This can also prevent you from overloading it too much for your size.
Materials and durability
I like Cordura or nylon and that is what something make most bags of. Abrasion resistance and waterproof features are other requirements.
A zipper failing basically means a bag is useless unless you spend a lot of time mending it. If you like a bag but see that people complain about the zippers failing in reviews, move on to another bag.
Pockets and organizational features
Knowing where things are is important. You need to find things without tearing your whole bag apart. Some items need to be reached more often than others too. Remember that many bags can be expanded and features added using the Molle system.
Boredom is a common symptom when trying to ride out an emergency. Some items for entertainment can help with morale and that is a very strong power during SHTF. Books, cards, games, pen and paper, coloring books and crayons, are all a few examples of inexpensive entertainment. Even if you prefer paper books, you can order used books for very little money and keep a few crates on hand.
While you may not be able to take a bunch of entertaining stuff with you if you have to be on the move, if you are sheltering in place or bugging in, it can be a big help.
What did I miss? Are there other items you find essential are not on this list?
Samantha Biggers can be reached at email@example.com.