There are three basic categories of needs for survival. I’m not talking about needing food and water here, but speaking in broader terms. The three categories I’m talking about transcend specific survival needs and we find that we need all three of these categories in some way or another, so that we can fulfill each of our survival priorities.
The three categories I’m talking about are:
I’ve written those in the order that I did for a reason. While most of us start by focusing on supplies, then work our way up the list, in reality knowledge is more important than tools, which are more important than supplies. Not to diminish the value of having a good stockpile in any way, if you have the right tools, you can come up with the supplies you need and if you have the right knowledge, you can make the tools you need.
Proper prepping includes all three, of course. Yes, you can grow, hunt or gather enough food if you have the right tools; but it’s better to have something to eat while you’re doing so. Likewise, it’s easier to make tools, if you have some tools to start with. So, what sorts of tools should you have?
Keep in mind that you’re going to need these tools, no matter where you are surviving. That means you’ll need to have them at home, in your survival kit and in your bug out bag; so don’t expect to buy just one. But don’t expect to buy the same exact item for all three purposes. What you need at home is bigger and heavier than what you would carry in a bug out bag and that’s probably going to be bigger than the one in your survival kit.
Knife & Knife Sharpener
The knife is the most basic survival tool there is. If you have to try and survival with only one tool, it should be a good knife. While there are many styles of knife that would work well as a survival knife, the most important thing is quality. That will be your main tool, so you want it to be something that will last.
There are two important characteristics to look for, when looking at any survival knife. The first is the quality of the steel. That’s really what you’re supposedly paying for, when you buy a good quality knife. Good knife steel will take an edge more easily and hold that edge longer; both important characteristics. Additionally, a good knife will have a full tang, meaning that the blade extends all the way back through the handle, so that it can’t break off.
Of course, any knife is going to need sharpening from time to time; so it’s important to have a good knife sharpener to go with your knife. Make sure you have one in your bug out bag and survival kit, as well as the one you keep at home.
Tactical Flashlights & Headlamps
Light might not be a survival priority, but it sure makes it easier to do things, especially after the sun goes down. Fortunately, today’s tactical lights and headlamps provide excellent illumination, much brighter than their non-LED predecessors.
You’re probably going to want to have more than one light, but at a minimum, you should have one good tactical light and one good headlamp. Go for bright ones, as any of them will have a lower light setting for battery savings. The tactical light would be your main carry light, while the headlamp would be used when working on tasks where you need both hands free. You’re better off choosing a headlamp with a wide-angle of illumination for this purpose.
These bright LED lights are very energy efficient, but they still go through battery power like crazy, especially on the high setting. Therefore, it’s a good idea to buy rechargeable batteries and make sure you have a means of recharging them from solar power.
The saw is your main tool for cutting wood, not the axe or hatchet. Therefore, you want something that will cut wood quickly. Chainsaws are great, but not necessarily practical in a survival situation, something like a bucking saw or a bow saw is more practical.
For your bug out bag and survival kit, there are many saws to choose from. Hand chain saws have gained in popularity in recent years, because they are much faster and less likely to break than a wire saw. A folding pruning saw is another great option, as it takes up minimal space and cuts branches quickly.
Axe or Hatchet
The axe for home and hatchet for the bug out bag is mostly for splitting wood, so that it will burn well. While an axe can also be used for felling trees, that’s pretty hard to do with a hatchet; it’s not big enough and doesn’t have a long enough handle.
Some people carry a tomahawk instead of a hatchet; thinking they are more or less the same; but they are not. The thinner blade and back spike of a tomahawk are because it is designed to be used as a weapon, not for wood cutting. The thicker blade of the hatchet helps in splitting wood. One that has hammer head on the back side of the blade can also be used for tasks like driving tent pegs.
If you get used to using a machete, you will find that it is a very versatile tool. Not only can it be used for cutting trail and clearing away brush, it can also be used for cutting branches from a tree. The weight and length of the blade make it useful for a lot of things, including using it as a weapon. Mostly, the machete is something you might take on a bugout, rather than something you would use at home.
If you buy a machete, I’d recommend buying one with a saw blade on the back side. Not all of these saw blades are all that good, as some are just a jagged, stamped toothed edge. Look for one where the teeth are ground, like what you would find on a pruning saw.
The main purpose of carrying a shovel in a bug out bag is for digging fire pits and latrines. It’s also useful for digging a small trench around your tent or fire, to keep the rain out. At home, you’ll need shovels for gardening, more than anything. If you end up digging a root cellar or an outhouse, you will definitely need a good shovel to work with.
When it comes to portable shovels for your bug out bag, make sure you put it through the paces. There are a number of very good looking shovels out there, which aren’t built all that well. That means if you ever have to use them, there’s a good chance of them breaking. Better to have that happen in testing, rather than when you’re trying to survive.
Many people have taken to carrying a multitool as one of their survival tools. While the multitool does provide a knife blade and saw, they aren’t as good as separate tools. The big reason to carry this is to have it available if you need to repair your other tools. Between the screwdrivers and pliers, there’s a lot of repair work that you can do.
A good water purifier or filter is essential to your survival, as you can’t trust any water to be safe for drinking in a survival situation. Both your home unit and the one in your bug out bag need to be big enough to take care of your family’s needs; so keep that in mind and be sure to check out their capacity before choosing one. If you buy a filter that uses cartridges of any sort, be sure to buy extras.
Cooking gear isn’t often thought of as a survival tool, but it is. Even at home, you might not be able to use your normal pots and pans, especially if you’re cooking over wood. For that, you’d be better off with cast iron. But on the trail, you’re better off with something lightweight, yet still durable.
Of course that cooking gear is going to need some sort of fire to cook over. Make sure that you have a good fire pit or grille to cook over at home, as well as a portable camp stove in your bug out bag. If you buy a wood-burning stove to heat your home, you’re best off with one that you can cook on top of.
Another handy thing for cooking at home is a fireplace crane, if you have a fireplace. This is something used to hang a dutch oven on by its handle. It allows you to swing the pot over the fire to cook, and then swing it away from the fire to get access to the fire. But it only works with pots that have a wire handle of some sort, like a cast iron dutch oven will.
The most common food item you can find in nature is fish. So if you have to attempt to live off the land or even augment your food supplies with what you can get out of nature, fishing is the easiest way to find something to eat.
Many people think of a survival fishing kit as 20 feet of line, with 2 hooks, a couple of bobbers and a lead weight. That’s fine, if you’re only going fishing once; but if you break the line and lose it, you’re up the creek without a fishing kit. I personally carry much more than that, including a collapsible fishing rod and several dozen hooks. Lures can be made out of anything, as long as you’ve got hooks for them.
Fire starters aren’t normally categorized as tools, but they are. Besides a good knife, they are the most important piece of survival gear that most people own. Make sure you have good fire starters that are easy to work with and then practice using them in all kinds of conditions, to ensure that you can start a fire when you need to.
Weapons are tools too; from guns to knives. They are tools to help you defend yourself, as well as hunt for something to eat. While the list of potential weapons that might be used in a survival situation is long, make sure that the ones you choose fit your needs and that you are competent in their use. how well you can use them is considerably more important than how good the weapons themselves are.