There are a few survival tools that will help anyone be a little more prepared for the next emergency. These critical tools will make life a little simpler if you use them for camping or around the house, but they will be absolutely critical if you find yourself in an emergency or disaster where every possible advantage counts. No matter whether you are a beginner in the world of prepping or a veteran, you should always be evaluating your stockpile and equipment to make sure you are prepared for whatever life throws your way.
Your most essential survival tools need to be small and light enough to fit in a bug out bag, versatile enough to fill multiple missions, and durable enough to withstand the worst conditions out there. They also need to be economical.
A must-own survival tool is something that you should never leave home without, and should have a permanent spot for in your bug-out bag. In the remainder of this article, we will discuss 15 survival tools that you should have in your possession so that you are prepared for any type of emergency.
You are a die-hard prepper, ready for whatever emergency life throws at you next. Or you are a serious outdoorsman, always looking for the next backpacking adventure or deep wilderness excursion. Or maybe you are just an average person, still reeling from the chaos 2020 brought and are wanting to be a little more self-sufficient when the next disaster strikes.
No matter the reason, you should always be assessing your emergency kit and preparedness and continuously on the prowl for new tools and equipment that will help you in the next emergency.
The following is a list of 15 such items that, if you do not already own them, should be on the list of your future survival tool purchases; all of these items can be found online. Keep reading for why you need each item and how to pick the best tool for your needs.
- Water Filter
- Fire Starter
- Duct Tape
- Sleeping Bag
- Pocket Size Survival Guide
- Light Source
- First Aid Kit
- Solar-Rechargeable Power Bank
- Handheld Radio with Emergency Frequencies List
It may go without saying, but all your fancy survival tools won’t do you much good if you don’t have a way to carry them. The first survival tool on this list, therefore, is a reliable backpack. Your backpack has a simple job; carry as much stuff as possible while still being comfortable to wear.
Here are some good criteria by which you can evaluate potential backpacks for your survival kit:
- Empty Weight
A bag like this is a good starting point in your search, and it will not break the bank like some from higher-end brands. The MOLLE attachment loops and extra side pockets will make it easier for you to organize the gear inside and allows for almost endless customization to fit your needs.
There are certainly many situations in which a heavy-duty survival knife is infinitely more important than a backpack; a backpack is not going to help you defend yourself from hungry predators, help you build a shelter, or keep you from starving.
A good knife is the cornerstone of any survivalist’s kit, and you have got a dizzying array of options when it comes time to choose one. In general, you have two choices: a fixed blade or folding blade. The table that follows shows some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type:
|Fixed Blade||Folding Blade|
|Very durable||Generally large and cumbersome||Discrete and easy to conceal||Hinge can break|
|No moving parts to break||Requires a sheath||Convenient||Shorter blade length|
|Simple to maintain||Typically more expensive||Typically cheaper||More moving parts to break|
|Larger blade||Urban practicality||Can be harder to clean|
|Wide range of survival applications|
As mentioned above, fixed blade knives are generally heavier-duty knives associated with rugged outdoors applications. Fixed blade knives can fit a variety of needs in the wild, including a spear, a hammer, a tool for building a shelter, to a skinning and gutting knife.
The knife you choose should have a blade whose tang extends down through the handle, so there are no joints, though most will have this. There are a wide variety of fixed blade knives available, but make sure the one you choose is versatile and durable.
An excellent folding blade knife should feel solid in your hand, and there should be no wobbling in the blade in either the open or closed position. Try and find one with a minimal amount of moving parts as well. The size is up to you and the environment you need it for; smaller knives are less versatile typically but also much easier to conceal.
Don’t Forget Sharpening!
Do not forget to invest in a good whetstone, at the very least, to keep your blade sharp and serviceable. Blade oil is a good option as well, though using a whetstone with water is fine as well. A knife is only as good as the care it receives, and a great knife can be rendered dull and useless by a lack of care.
A compass is a very inexpensive survival tool, but it is one that is worth its weight in gold if you are stuck in the wilderness and trying to navigate. With just a basic idea of where you are and a compass, you will be able to find your way back to civilization or to wherever you are trying to get.
If you do not have a map of the area you are in, you will be using basic landmarks and whatever working knowledge you have of the area, but add a map to your kit, and you will not be getting lost any time soon.
While a compass is a simple concept, it has several features and components that will help you navigate more precisely while in the wilderness. This table outlines some of those features and their basic purpose when you’re using your compass:
|Magnetized needle||Points to magnetic north|
|Bezel ring||Allows you to set an azimuth for more precise navigation over a distance|
|Baseplate||Has a variety of navigational aids and a ruler for map reading|
|Magnifying lens||Helpful for reading fine map details|
|Luminescent indicators||Useful for navigating at night|
|Siting mirror||Use for setting a precise azimuth based on a distant landmark; doubles as a signal mirror|
|Global needle||Use anywhere around the world; otherwise, a compass only works on one side of the Equator|
The standard rule of thumb for human survival only gives you three days without water before you succumb to dehydration. Your mental acuity and physical performance will start to deteriorate after just a day, and sometimes sooner in hot or humid conditions.
Water is heavy, so you probably will not want to carry gallons of it on your back if you are walking somewhere. The only alternative, therefore, is to be able to drink whatever water you can find, which is where a water filter comes in.
Even if you find water that looks clean, it is highly probable that there will be contaminants in there. With a water filter, you can ensure whatever water you are drinking is safe. Products like the LifeStraw let you drink straight from a stream or pond safely. There are even water bottles you can buy that have a filter built into the straw so that you can carry a little water with you.
In an emergency or disaster, your life could depend on your ability to make a fire. Surviving a cold night, cooking food, or boiling water is not possible without fire. Starting a fire from just items you find in the wild is, of course, possible, but there are plenty of more advanced options that will work much better.
Having a variety of fire-starting materials and tools at your disposal will make you better prepared for contingencies, and they typically do not weigh too much or take up too much space. A piece of flint and steel is useful, or at least a pack of stormproof matches (though you will use them up over an extended period).
A butane lighter is an option as well, or one of the other myriad types of fire-starters on the market today. It is also a good idea to carry a few kinds of tinder in case you are having a hard time finding some. You should also invest in a few manufactured alternatives to tinder to burn for a more extended period, allowing you to get a fire started in one try.
There is a reason your parents always had a roll of duct tape around the house. A roll of duct tape in your survival kit will turn a lot of challenging tasks into relatively easy ones.
A roll is relatively lightweight, adheres to just about anything that is not wet and can be used to fix or secure a wide variety of things. Fixing ripped clothes, building a temporary shelter, repairing broken tools or items temporarily—the applications of a roll of duct tape in a survival situation are almost limitless.
Another handy function of duct tape is to make a watertight seal. It was initially invented to seal off cans of ammunition, and in a survival scenario, this is a practical feature. You can even use duct tape to make a rope; the possibilities are almost endless. It is a valuable addition to your kit, and that is why it makes this list of crucial survival tools.
Cordage is a broad term that applies to any type of rope, twine, metal wire, or cord you can use to tie or wrap things up. Survivalists often use military cord, called 550 cord, because of its rated weight, but any heavy-duty cordage will work. Do not take miles of it, but having a spool of some sort of cordage in your bag can be helpful.
You can also use your cordage to secure other items in your pack, so they do not take up extra space, and you still have them when you need them. Reusable gear ties like these are very versatile and rugged.
Whether you are just looking for some lightweight cord to tie up whatever you need or some heavy-duty twisted braid rope for climbing or hauling heavy loads up a cliff, cordage is an essential survival tool that will fill a variety of needs.
A sleeping bag is going to take up some space and weight, but there are not many more survival tools that will help turn an extremely uncomfortable situation into a better one. Having a suitable sleeping bag means that wet or cold weather will have a much less detrimental effect on your health and morale. You are not at your mental best without a good night’s sleep, and a sleeping bag can help make that happen.
There is plenty of sleeping bags to choose from, but you want one that is lightweight while still giving you protection from very low temperatures. Backpacking brands will provide you with a sleeping bag that will pack into a compact size but still give you good cold rating, some rated for temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. That sort of gear will cost you, especially if you are looking for extra features like being waterproof.
There is plenty of factors to think about when purchasing a sleeping bag. Here are six you can consider to get the best one for your needs:
- Lining material
- Outer shell features
- Temperature rating
- Fill material
- Size when compacted
- Care and maintenance requirements
A small, lightweight tarp might take up some space in your pack, but as a survival tool, it has the essential purpose of keeping you dry and warm in inclement weather. If it is not raining, you can use it as a ground cover to sleep on and keep from getting damp. It is lighter and smaller than most tents, so all you have to add is some sticks to make a decent temporary shelter.
You can also use it as a food-prep surface if you need something relatively clean, and having a sturdy tarp will pay dividends as a survival tool.
Pocket-Sized Survival Guide
No matter how many years of emergency preparedness experience you have, there could always be a situation where you do not know something. You could be in an unfamiliar area, and you are looking for an idea of what plant life is edible, or you or someone close to you sustains a freak injury. Having a good pocket-sized survival guide will help fill those gaps in your knowledge when your phone does not work, and you find yourself without a clue.
When you are looking for a useful survival guide, start with one that covers mainly the climate you are operating in. The more information it has, the larger it will be, and the more space it will take up in your backpack. In other words, you do not need a maritime survival guide if you do not ever go out on the ocean. At a minimum, your survival guide should cover the following topics:
- Essentials (preparation, equipment, kits, knives, and how to find water and salt)
- Field Craft
- Movement in a Survival Situation
- Search and Rescue
- Health and First Aid
- Disaster Survival Strategies
A book that covers these details would make a great addition to any survival tool kit, and it means you do not need to devote extra brainpower to remembering tables of facts and diagrams. Feel free to add pocket-sized guides with info specific to first-aid or food and water sources, as these areas have vast amounts of knowledge that may not fit in one single book. Just make sure you keep backpack space in mind when you are building your library!
There are plenty of great options for a light source, and what you choose depends on the amount of space you have in your pack as well as your anticipated needs. Here are just a few options you can choose from (obviously you can have more than one):
- Propane lantern
- Battery-powered lantern
- Solar-powered lantern
- Inflatable lantern
Inflatable lanterns are particularly interesting because they are typically solar-powered, and they take up very little space in a pack. You can just hook it on to the outside of your bag, so the solar panel is in the sun all day, then you have it for periods of darkness.
If you are looking for something you can just pull out of a pocket and have a flashlight is the way to go. A headlamp is also helpful to have because it frees up your hands. Of course, you can have multiple options available for a light source, but in the theme of this article, more redundant equipment means less space.
This is a pretty good time to talk about powering your lantern, as well as the broader concept of power in general. You need to seriously consider how you are going to power all your gadgets if you are in an emergency scenario, and power sources are not plentiful. With most survival equipment you will find, you have five options for powering them (listed below with their disadvantages):
- Battery – have to carry spare batteries around
- Plug-in – tied to traditional power sources or generators
- Solar-powered – can only charge during the day and periods of sunlight
- Hand-cranked – loud and typically don’t hold a long charge
- Propane (lanterns specifically) – have to carry extra propane tanks
Some pieces of equipment might have multiple options for powering them, but each of these types has trade-offs. You will have to take the price and your unique situation into account when you are making your decision, but it is good to acknowledge the negatives associated with each.
A knife is certainly more versatile than a hatchet, but a hatchet is much better for one particular purpose: chopping wood. It also doubles as an effective hammer when you need it, so the next piece of gear on this list is a reliable hatchet. Small enough to fit on the side of a pack or wear on your belt, a hatchet can clear out brush, chop small pieces of wood for fires or shelters, or be used as a decent weapon in self-defense.
Hatchets are not as big as a full-sized ax, but in an emergency, you probably will not be felling trees or chopping huge amounts of firewood. You need something that can get you wood for a fire while being light enough to carry. They are a staple in most campers, hikers, and backpackers’ packs for good reason.
A typical hatchet will be about 18 inches long and weigh between 1.5 and 2 pounds, and they have either a wooden or a reinforced plastic handle. Plastic handles will typically be less prone to break, but an excellent wooden hatchet will not likely break on you even after heavy use for years.
A good first-aid kit can be a lifesaver out in the wild. Whether you build your own kit or buy one that’s pre-made, in an emergency scenario, you need to be prepared for injuries and wounds.
Your first-aid kit needs to be an efficient use of space and have enough supplies to keep you going through an extended emergency. There are so many items you can have in a first-aid kit, but some staples you want to make sure you have include the following:
- Medical Tape
- Adhesive Bandages
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Antiseptic Wipes
- Gauze Pads
- Butterfly Bandages
- Insect Sting Treatment
You will likely want to add to your first aid kit as time goes on, and having a well-stocked kit means your supplies will not be depleted after one or two incidents. Something like this one will not break the bank but still gives you a lot for your money, although there are many to choose from.
Solar-Rechargeable Power Bank
Not all the survival tools on this list are primarily aimed at wilderness survival scenarios. Imagine a situation where you do not have ready access to power but still some cell coverage.
Love it or hate it, a cell phone is an almost indispensable device filled with knowledge and resources you would rather not do without. It is only as good as its battery life, though, and if you are having a hard time finding a power source to charge your phone, you will not be able to charge a spare power bank either.
Solar-powered items have come a long way in the past few years, with better-performing and longer-lasting photovoltaic cells and higher-capacity batteries. You do not need a power bank with a substantial solar panel or a generator; just a simple cell-phone sized charger with at least a 2.1 amp output and 10,000 mAh of power storage so you can get a few charges out of it before it needs to be recharged.
Handheld Radio with Emergency Frequencies List
Somehow, there is always one more tool every survivalist needs or one more thing they have to learn. If you already have everything else on this list, the last piece of gear you need is a good handheld radio with a quick-reference guide for standard frequencies among preppers, like this one. In the worst emergencies and natural disasters, there is a possibility that cell towers go down, your internet service goes out, and even the power is cut.
In those situations, a good handheld radio is worth its weight in gold. Radio waves only need a transmitter and a power source to be able to transmit and receive, so they will work if your cell phone goes out.
A solid ham radio can cost under $75 and depending on the radio frequency, the antenna you use, and your power level, it can reach hundreds or even thousands of miles. Though in many cases, you will need to be a licensed ham operator to transmit, it is a fun hobby with plenty of resources and enthusiasts online to learn from.
Having the tools on this list will make you more prepared for the next time you find yourself in an emergency. Most of them are small enough to fit in a good-sized backpack, yet versatile enough to fill multiple needs you might have.
Whether you are trying to prepare for the next time you go out camping or hiking, and you are looking for a new tool, or you are building a kit to be ready for the next time a disaster strikes your area, consider adding one or a few of these essential tools to your bag.