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The best survival gear

Be ready for any wilderness trek or natural disaster with the best survival gear

best survival gear
Morakniv Garberg Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife
Whether you’re preparing for a weekend in the woods or the ever impending apocalypse, having survival gear you can depend on is critical. Should the time come when you need to use it — whether that’s due to a wilderness excursion gone wrong or an unexpected natural disaster — you’ll be glad you have it. Time is of the essence in a grid-down scenario and having things like fresh water, medical supplies, and basic survival tools readily accessible can be a matter of life or death.

Unfortunately, most people have no idea what those basic survival tools are or how to use them. Furthermore, many folks find the process of learning daunting. Yet it’s not as complicated as you might think. Instinctively, you probably already know what you need to survive — basic things like water, food, fire, shelter, and medical aid. To help you out, we’ve created a checkoff list of items typically included in a survival kit, along with recommendations for the best survival gear currently on the market.

First things first, you need a good pack

Whether you’re putting together a lightweight emergency kit to take backpacking or planning for an all-out zombie apocalypse, the first thing you need is a container to hold everything in. In survivalist communities, this is often referred to as a bug out bag (BOB) or a quick run bag. Other acronyms you might hear include a GOOD bag (Get Out Of Dodge), an INCH bag (I’m Never Coming Home), or a PERK (Personal Emergency Relocation Kit).

The first thing you need is a container to hold everything in. In survivalist communities, this is referred to as a bug out bag or a quick run bag.

In wilderness survival scenarios, you’ll keep these emergency bags in lightweight, ultra-compact pouches with only the essentials. For urban evacuations, however, you’ll typically want a larger backpack. The idea is that if you have to evacuate quickly due to a wildfire, earthquake, mudslide, or any other natural disaster, you can grab a 72-hour supply of essentials since that’s typically how long it takes emergency crews to respond to major catastrophes.

When selecting a backpack, it’s important to find something that’s lightweight and comfortable to carry. During disaster situations, roads typically clog up immediately and become inoperable. The safest way to evacuate is often on foot, so you should be able to walk for a mile or more with your pack without wearing out. Be sure to test the weight once it’s full to be sure you can carry it. You also want to consider regional weather patterns. If you live in a wet climate prone to flooding, you may want something waterproof whereas, in dry climates, durability may be your biggest factor.

5.11 Tactical Rush 72

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Rush 72 from 5.11 Tactical is an excellent choice for a dry climate pack. With rugged, water-repellent 1050D nylon, it’s packed full of special pockets and sleeves to store maps, pens, documents, and other emergency gear — along with a hydration compartment with hangers and toggles. It has soft, adjustable foam shoulder straps and a cinching waist strap that lets you hike long distances without wearing out your back.

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Watershed Ultimate Ditch Bag

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Made for sailors and mariners to evacuate crews off a sinking boat, this fantastically durable ditch bag makes a great emergency pack if you live in a wet climates where you may be hiking in the rain or even through flooded streets. Built with trademarked, military grade waterproof fabric, it has 4800 cu of storage, an easy-access diagonal front zipper, an oral inflate valve, and SOLAS reflective tape for heightened visibility.

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Hydration is essential

In any survival scenario, water is, without a doubt, the most important thing to have or find immediately — the average person can’t survive more than three to four days without it. Factors such as intense heat or long stretches of walking make that timeframe even shorter. Most emergency experts recommend the keeping of one gallon of water per person per day, for a minimum of 72 hours, stored at your house. However, if you’re deep in the wilderness on a backpacking trip or you’ve been forced to flee your home as a wildfire quickly spreads, you’ll need to be able to make potable water from natural resources.

Katadyn BeFree Filtration Water Bottle

This amazing contraption is the perfect thing to keep in your hiking bag, as well as in any urban survival kit. The hyper-compact, whisper-light plastic sleeve weighs only two ounces and rolls into a tiny space. To use it, simply fill it up in a river or lake and the EZ-Clean Membrane removes bacteria, cysts, and sediment. One note: It won’t filter viruses so for extra caution, you should keep a stash of purification tablets on hand to add to the bottle after filling it up.

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LifeStraw Mission

For group survival scenarios, or if you’re planning to set up a base camp in the woods, this water filtration system purifies up to 4,755 gallons of water, removing all major bugs including bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. The iodine-free treatment reduces the muddiness of the water and requires no power, batteries, or replacement parts.

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LifeStraw Steel

This handy gadget is the ultimate tool for lightweight water filtration that’s so unassuming, you’ll hardly know it’s in your pack. The pocket-sized steel straw — which allows you to suck water right from a stream — is only nine inches long and one inch in diameter. It works via a two-stage filtration system that removes bacteria and protozoa while reducing chlorine and organic chemical matter. The Steel also doesn’t cover viruses so if that’s a concern, you’ll still need iodine.

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Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Bottle

Once you filter water, you need a place to store it. Having something rugged enough to withstand the elements is critical, making stainless steel or other metal canteens excellent additions to any survival kit. Aside from their durability, you can also use them in a pinch to boil water to make it potable. However, use caution when removing canteens from a heat source and do so sparingly, as exposing it to the flame erodes steel over time. Klean Kanteen’s wide mouth, 40-ounce water bottle is the perfect size for a bug out bag and since it’s not painted or colored, works well for use with fire.

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Creating a spark

It’s hard to overstate the importance of being able to start a fire in a survival situation. It plays endless roles in keeping you alive — cooking your food, boiling your water, keeping you warm, providing light, and even signaling rescue workers in a search. That said, if you’re dealing with wind, rain, snow, or other weather elements, starting a fire with regular tools is challenging, sometimes even prohibitively so. That’s why your survival kit should always include weatherproof fire starters.

UCO Stormproof Sweetfire Strikable Matches

If you drop your only set of matches in water or get them wet swimming to safety, you’ll be hard-pressed to get a fire going. UCO’s Stormproof fire starters can be completely submerged in water without affecting their ability to strike. Each thick, triangular match is infused with vegetable wax that allows it to burn for up to seven minutes. The striker on the box can also get wet, though it does need to dry before use. With their ability to withstand inclement weather, it’s worth keeping a few packs of these in your emergency kit.

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Exotac titanLight Waterproof Lighter

On top of rain, wind is often a major culprit in making fires difficult to start. Exotac’s titanLIGHT uses tiny air vents located just below the flame to reduce wind interference, along with a strong flame guard that protects from heavy gusts. The refillable lighter has an easy-spark flint wheel and a small screw-off cap that can be used to add more fluid or service the wick. This windproof fire starter is a great gadget to add to your emergency bag, along with a compact bottle of lighter fluid.

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Medical supplies are critical

It goes without saying that in emergency scenarios, people get hurt. Whether there’s a crisis in the backcountry or an unforeseen urban disaster, you’ll likely have folks who need immediate medical attention — possibly even yourself. It’s paramount to be sure your bug out bag contains a comprehensive first aid kit that’s fully stocked with bandages, gauze, sanitary gloves, alcohol wipes, medicine, and other essential supplies.

Surviveware Small First Aid kit

This compact first aid kit is built with durable material and features multiple inner sleeves organized by category that let you access the items you’re looking for quickly and efficiently. On top of disposable items like antiseptic wipes, cotton swaps, triangular bandages, strip wound closures, sting relief wipes, and hypoallergenic tape, it has tools such as medical shears, tweezers, safety pins, splinter probes, and a CPR pouch with instructions. As a bonus, it comes with an emergency blanket and safety whistle that fit inside the pouch.

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SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) Hybrid 3 Kit

Perhaps the best thing about this first aid kit is that it combines all basic medical necessities in a compact bag that also contains a significant portion of other items you might want. The hybrid 3-in-1 integrates medical supplies, survival tools, and gear repair items in one ultra-convenient, all-purpose kit. This includes a compass, fire sparker, headlamp, survival blanket, signal mirror, nylon cord, cable ties, and other essential items. The bag is a bit bigger than others but the extra tools make it worth the tradeoff.

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Eating in the woods

The earthquake kits you keep in your house are likely stocked with tons of canned foods. This is great if you’re able to get to your house and it’s inhabitable. However, a backcountry kit or quick-grab bag needs to be light and compact which means canned food is essentially off the table. Since you don’t know exactly what resources you’ll have on hand for preparation, it’s a good idea to keep your bag stocked with a combination of ready-to-eat items like jerky or protein bars, along with freeze-dried or dehydrated food, or if you have a dog freeze-dried food that can be mixed with boiling water for a full meal.

Patagonia Provisions

Patagonia Provisions makes a delicious line of backcountry and survival food that includes energy bars, buffalo jerky, salmon pouches, and tons of quick-boil grains, chilis, hot cereals, and soups. A few of its best sellers include variations like mushroom and Kamut, green lentil soup, and red bean chili. Other makers of high-quality backcountry food include Backpacker’s Pantry, New Primal, and Alpine Aire. Be sure your emergency kit contains pre-made foods like these which are incredibly easy to prepare with just boiling water.

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Patagonia Provisions

Tenkara Rod Co. Mini Sawtooth Rod

Depending on how long you’re stuck in the wilderness, at some point, your food may run out. When this happens, having a way to generate more food — especially food high in protein — can be life-saving. This compact mini fishing rod collapses into a small, 14-inch tube that weighs just over an ounce. The rod is made of high-grade carbon fiber with 15 sections which extend out to a full 8-feet, 8-inches. Though you can’t catch big fish with it, in a survival scenario, even a small fish might be the difference between eating or not that day.

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12 Survivors Off-Grid Survival Stove

If you want to cook anything over a fire, you’ll need a grill. Sure, you can skewer meats in an emergency but practically speaking, having a collapsible grill on hand makes your life much easier in a wilderness survival scenario. This lightweight survival stove folds down into a roughly six- by six-inch square space that slides into a slick nylon pouch. When you’re ready to use it, simply unfold the panels and you’re ready to go. As a bonus, the stove — which comes with an ash pan and grill grate — acts as a shield against wind when you’re starting a fire.

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Dometic CoolFreeze CFX-35W

In the same way you need heat to cook meat, you need cold to store it. Although this portable refrigerator-freezer obviously won’t fit in a backpack, it’s an excellent tool for quickly loading perishables into a vehicle if you’re evacuating by car. The 6.2- by 27.2- by 15.7-inch cooler keeps meats and other foods cold down to 8 degrees below Fahrenheit and operates on solar power. It has sturdily reinforced corners, stainless steel hinges, and a durable lid lining making it equipped for rugged survival scenarios.

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Protection from the storm

When you’re sleeping outside, it’s essential that you’re able to create a shelter to protect yourself from the elements. Having a barrier — whether that’s a separate apparatus or something to wrap yourself in — protects you from wind, rain, snow, sleet, sun, and other environmental factors. On top of that, it keeps insects from biting you and excess dirt and bacteria from making you sick. Shelters also create a sense of security that may boost your will to live in desperate scenarios and keep you going longer.

SOL Survive Outdoors Longer Emergency Shelter Kit

This compact shelter kit includes a heavy-duty reflective heat tarp and four lightweight anodized aluminum stakes you can rig together to create a simple lean-to between two trees — thankfully, it includes a how-to drawing to explain the steps. If you find yourself somewhere without any trees or other means of attaching anchors, you can use the tarp, which reflects 90 percent of your body heat back toward you, as a makeshift blanket.

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Adventure Medical Kits SOL Emergency Bivy

If it’s not possible to create a shelter, the next best thing is a bivy you can wrap around your body for warmth. Made of heat-reflective polyethylene, this emergency blanket is fully sealed to keep wind, rain, or snow out. Like the emergency tarp, this 84- by 36-inch blanket reflects 90 percent of your radiated body heat back to you for added warmth.

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Cutting tools

Whether you’re making meals, chopping wood, or simply protecting yourself, your survival bag should include a variety of cutting implements. You’ll use them to cut branches, trim bandages, chop firewood, slice rope, prepare meat, harvest edibles, create hunting weapons, and defend yourself from wildlife.

Morakniv Garberg Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife

Although folding knives are conveniently compact, a fixed blade knife is generally the better option for a survival kit. That’s because they’re typically sturdier and much harder to break. If you’re going to be chopping, prying, or strenuously cutting for long periods of time, you want a strong, robust knife capable of lasting for the long haul. Morakniv’s Garberg knife features a 3.2-millimeter thick full tang blade made of top-end stainless steel that’s been factory treated for extra strength. The powerful blade has a Scandi-grind which makes it easier to keep sharp and its spine can be used as a striker with a steel fire starter. It comes in a rugged leather sheath with a protective cover for warmth.

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Silky F180 Folding Handsaw

Available in two teeth sizes, this lightweight folding saw is perfect for cutting branches, building fires, hunting, and other uses that require a serrated blade. Constructed from fiberglass polypropylene with a rubber insert that gives it a solid, comfortable grip, you can lock the 7-inch blade into two different angle positions to quickly and effortlessly cut through wood. The F180 is a great choice to keep in your go-bag for emergencies in the woods.

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Apocalypse Kit

If you’re off the grid for a prolonged period of time, you’re going to eventually need cutting tools larger than a basic pocketknife. Gerber Gear’s awesomely named “Zombie Apocalypse Kit” has everything you need for hacking through bushes, chopping up large piles of wood, clearing out brush, or protecting yourself from bears and cougars. The pack comes with seven survival tools wrapped in a compact canvas including a serrated sawing blade, a curved blade for clearing and hacking, a chopping hatchet, a jungle parang machete, a rugged fixed blade all-purpose knife, a dual multi-function folding knife with a striking pommel, and a blunt-tipped cooking knife with a bottle opener.

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Illuminating the path

Petzl e+LITE Headlamp

There are plenty of reasons to opt for a headlamp over a handheld flashlight, the main one being that it allows your hands to be free while preparing food or doing other essential tasks. Petzl’s e+LITE Headlamp is specifically designed for emergency kits with an ultra-compact carry case that can be stored with its batteries. It features a red strobe to help guide rescuers to you, as well as a safety whistle integrated into the headband. The featherweight 50-lumen device only weighs 26 grams and, unlike a regular flashlight, can be used to navigate out of wilderness areas even if you’re injured.

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Compass, whistle, and rope — The essential items

On top of having the basics like food and shelter, you need specific tools in the wild to help you navigate, be heard, and improvise, including a compass, whistle, and rope. The first two assist you in getting around while rope acts as the ultimate all-purpose support tool. You can use it to make a clothing line, build a ladder, bundle sticks, move heavy objects, hang food, repair clothes, create animal traps, wire a trip cord, and many other improvisational tasks. If an emergency strikes, you definitely won’t regret having these useful items on hand.

Stealth Angel 9-in-1 Survival Kit (With Paracord)

Stealth Angel’s 9-in-1 Survival Kit includes everything mentioned above and more. The pack features a lightweight emergency compass and strong aluminum alloy whistle, along with a mega-convenient paracord bracelet. The 7- to 8-inch rope bracelet features 10 feet of high-strength 550 parachute cord and a built-in fire starter. The kit also comes with a heavy-duty steel pen, a tactical 350-lumen flashlight, a large ferrocerium rod flint, and a multi-tool that has a can opener, ruler, butterfly wrench, screwdriver tip, lanyard hole, and jagged wrench.

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Making contact

Whether you’re stuck in the woods trying to communicate your location to a rescue team or you’re in the middle of an earthquake and need to tell your family you’re safe, being able to communicate when the grid is down is a game changer. Having the ability to tune into emergency radio alerts and generate power will further your ability to stay connected, extend the life of your batteries, and allow you to use helpful electrical devices.

Midland ER310 Crank Radio

You can create your own electricity to power this emergency radio with its hand crank and it also has a rechargeable battery, as well as solar charging capabilities. You can use the radio to listen to information about severe weather or civil emergencies and it can charge USB-compatible devices. That means if cell phone towers were still operating, you could theoretically use the radio to get your phone working again if the power is out. It can also be used as a flashlight with an SOS strobe to signal for help or attached to a canine unit to operate as an ultrasonic dog whistle in search and rescue efforts.

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GoTenna Mesh

Featuring the ability to give users the ability to connect with other travelers — or friends and family — while off the gride, GoTenna’s Mesh allows for the sending of text messages and GPS coordinates without access to cell service. It does so by creating a network capable of privately sending messages via an ultrahigh frequency spectrum (UHF). Communicating to those outside your immediate group is incredibly important during any emergency and GoTenna’s Mesh offers a solid alternative to relying on an iPhone.

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Garmin inReach Explorer+ beacon

If you’re traveling solo in the woods, this locator beacon can be used to trigger a distress signal to receive 24-7 assistance. Additionally, if you’re in an emergency alongside friends or family, you can use the devices to communicate if you need to split up while the grid is still down. The device lets you send and receive text messages via a satellite network with global coverage virtually anywhere. It works on boats offshore and in remote parts of the ocean, as well.

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Midland PPG100 Portable Power Station

Portable power stations are expensive and won’t easily fit into a go-bag, however, they do greatly improve your comfort, as well as your ability to stay alive if you’re trapped in your home for long periods of time or forced to evacuate quickly by car quickly. Midland’s PPG100 portable generator is compact and weighs just 25 pounds, making it easy to grab in a hurry. When fully charged, it powers a single 3W lightbulb up to 284 hours and can be charged via a car’s 12-volt outlet or even by a separate solar panel.

As long as you store it fully closed and sealed, it’s submersible in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes meaning, if your house floods or you’re in an emergency at sea, it’s still operable. Unlike many generators that are noisy and emit thick, odorous exhaust, this one doesn’t require fuel and runs on clean energy that operates silently.

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The easy out: Buying a pre-packaged kit

Sustain Supply Co Comfort 2 Kit 

Sustain Co
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If the thought of putting together a bag of everything you need to survive a disaster seems too daunting, there are plenty of pre-packaged disaster kits on the market, too. This one from Sustain Supply Co is one of the better, all-inclusive survival kits, containing virtually everything two people might need to survive off the grid for 72 hours.

This includes food and water (12 Mountain House food servings, portable stove, 24 packets of Datrex water, collapsible bowls and utensils), light and communication (LED lantern, flashlight,  Cyalume SnapLights, two whistles, hand crank radio), fire and warmth (emergency blankets, ferrocerium rod) and a fully stocked first aid kit with bath wipes.

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Sustain Supply Co

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