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Survival Gear: 27 Life Saving Must-Have’s

Do you have the right gear to survive emergencies and natural disasters?

I seriously doubt it.

Most hikers, adventurers and survivalists weigh themselves down with useless garbage and forget to add the survival gear that really makes a difference in a life threatening situation.

Read on this page:

You’ll learn what survival gear is truly important in a life or death situation and which small, unexpected items can have a big impact on your chances of survival.

Do yourself and your life insurance company a favor: Add some gear from the list below to your backpack.

It’s better to complain, moan and nag about your heavy bag than to be six feet under.


Unless you’re preparing for the collapse of civilization your first priority should always be to get rescued.

A team of park rangers and paramedics with a helicopter are better suited to get you out alive than yourself and you might be too incapacitated to do much surviving yourself anyway.

Like this guy who had to amputate his own arm because he was trapped under a boulder and nobody knew where he was.

So how can you improve your chances of getting rescued?

#1 Personal Locator Beacon

Imagine you’d press a button and a team of experienced rescue operators, the police and your family knew that you’re in danger and where you are.

As in exactly-meter-accurate where you are.

Personal locator beacons (also called emergency or distress radio beacons) used to be expensive because they require a satellite connection and complicated technical parts.

These days though you can get the real deal for less than $150.

Most PLB’s are lightweight, water proof and can be used for years.

They work anywhere in the world and as soon as you activate it a local search and rescue team and your family will be notified automatically.

Best: ACR PLB-375 ResQ Link ($238.44)

More Affordable: Spot Gen. 3 Satellite Messenger ($149.95)

#2 Cheap Mobile Phone

If you’re too stingy for a PLB or don’t plan to venture too far into the wilderness a cheap mobile phone will do the job as well.

Phone coverage has improved greatly over the last few years and in a country where you’ll never be further away than 107 miles (172.2 km) from a McDonald’s you’ll be hard pressed to find a spot without coverage.

It’s important that you buy a cheap prepaid style phone though.

Most smartphones barely have enough battery power to last for two days but many $20 keyboard phones can last for two to three weeks when used sparingly.

Even better most cheap phones come with a decent flashlight you can use in a pinch.

Buy: BLU Zoey II Quadband Unlocked Dual Sim Phone ($22.04)

#3 Survival Whistle

Dozens of people die every year because they were almost rescued.

The search and rescue team passes within earshot but still can’t find the injured person. There is too much ground to cover or the bush is too dense.

When you’re injured or can’t be seen from a distance, because you got caught in a landslide, earthquake or by a falling tree, a whistle is your best friend.

A good emergency whistle can be heard from a mile away and makes it easy for a rescue team to locate you.

They’re also cheap, small and it’s great fun to use them to wake up your children 6 am in the morning.

Buy: UST Marine Hear Me Whistle ($2.99 for two)

#4 Compass, Area Maps And GPS

A real ranger knows how to navigate the wilderness by the moss growth on the trees.

Me on the other side I have a hard time knowing left from right. That’s why I always bring gear to navigate and find my way back to civilization.

What you should bring really depends on your path finding skills and your location.

Buy a compass at the very least.

An area map that mentions landmarks will go a long way to secure your survival.

And if you have no clue what-so-ever you can always carry a GPS or install a GPS app on your smartphone.

Buy: Waterproof Military Compass ($19.33)

#5 Binoculars

Ever hiked five miles up a mountain just to stand in front of an impassable cliff, drop or landslide and had to backtrack?

No serious adventurer should leave his house without binoculars.

Binoculars help you to determine where to go, find landmarks to orientate yourself (remember that area map?) and finally they keep you from panicking when you can spot water, shelter or civilization from afar.

There are binoculars for any budget and the good ones fit in your jeans pocket.

Buy: Vortex Optics Diamondback Binoculars ($194.97), expensive but oh so worth it.

More Affordable: Bushnell Falcon Binoculars ($25.75)


To be rescued is no good if they can only find your limp body.

While you wait for that posh helicopter to bring you back home you might find yourself in danger from your surroundings. Or maybe you’re just hungry.

Anyway, a couple of small items can really save your hide in that situation.

#6 Survival Knife

A good survival knife is a survival kit on it’s own.

It’s amazing what you can do with nothing but a knife and some survival skills:

Cut wood and start a fire, build shelter, hunt, trap and fish for food and – yes – you can even dig your very own outdoor latrine or kill your nagging wife after you’ve dragged her into no mans land.

Survival knives are expensive and it’s an art in itself to choose a good one.

That’s why I’ve written the ultimate guide to survival knives:

Or you can just buy my favorite survival knife, the Fallkniven A1.

#7 Fire Starter Or Lighter

No matter how much wood you cut:

Without a spark or flame you’ll die cold and miserable.

To know how to start a fire is so important that I’ve written a guide about it:

How To Start A Fire In 3 Easy Steps

A cheap fire starter combined with your survival knife will give you an unlimited amount of super hot sparks to light as many fires as you want.

You can also build a giant bonfire which is fun and helps other people notice you when you’re lost.

When you’re away for only a couple of days a cheap BIC lighter might do the job but for any longer trip make sure you get a decent fire starter.

Buy: Light My Fire Original Swedish Fire Steel ($15.73)

#8 Vaseline And Cotton Balls AKA “Waterproof Tinder”

It’s hard to start a fire:

Don’t fall for the myth that the ground will provide you with everything you need.

Yes there are leaves, grass, shrubs and saplings everywhere but in most cases you’ll have to start your fire under imperfect conditions.

There’ll be heavy wind, cold ground and rain. Even a damp morning on a beautiful day can make all the tinder you can forage unusable.

Don’t believe the boy scout myth that you can make a fire with a DIY drill bow unless you got more time than brains.

Instead soak a dozen cotton balls in Vaseline and seal them in a plastic bag.

These babies are waterproof, ignite in unfavorable conditions and deliver a hot six inch high flame that burns for up to a minute.

And of course you can use the left over Vaseline to entertain yourself viciously. It might be your last time mate.

Read: How To Start A Fire In 3 Easy Steps

Buy: Vaseline ($3.99) and Dynarex Cotton Balls ($12.28 for 1000)

#9 Non-Lubricated Condoms (Or Empty Water Bottle)

Condoms are amazing. And not just for sex:

When SHTF they’ll become a valuable trade item.

Nobody wants to end up pregnant when things go downhill and keeping busy with your wife while you wait for rescue isn’t that bad either.

Condoms can help you carry around large amounts of liquids like water or fuel.

You can fit a dozen of them in a tiny space but once inflated each holds up to a gallon of water. Just make sure you buy the non-lubricated variant or your water will taste a bit weird.

They’re also great to waterproof dry items like tinder and you can make funny balloons out of them for your kids.

If that sounds a bit too greasy to you just bring a plastic water bottle or a metal canteen instead.

But in the end condoms provide the best weight and volume to usefulness ratio of any storage container you can carry around.

Read: 11 Ways A Condom Can Save Your Life

Buy: Atlas Non-lubricated Condoms ($14.90 for 100)

#10 LifeStraw Or Water Purification Tablets

You need at least one liter of water each day to survive.

If you plan to hike or bug out better make that 2-3 liters a day.

Even under the best circumstances you’ll exhaust your water storage within a day or two and need to find a fresh water source to quench your thirst.

To find a fresh water source in the wilderness is hard. But the real problems only start after you’ve found water.

Even the most pristine lake, puddle, river or waterfall is going to be contaminated with dangerous toxins and microorganisms.

If you drink bad water you will get sick:

Symptoms include violent diarrhea, vomiting, fever and tiredness. When you’re already in a survival situation you really don’t need that.

The simple solution is an invention called a LifeStraw.

It looks and is used like a regular straw but filters most dangerous toxins, bacteria, parasites and all the other nasty stuff from your water.

Just plug it into your water source and suck.

If you don’t want to carry around a LifeStraw (and I wouldn’t know why you’d be so stupid) make sure you carry some water purification tablets and a way to boil water with you.

Read: How To Purify Water: 7 Ways To Make Clean Drinking Water

Buy: LifeStraw ($17.96) or Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets ($16.50 for 100)

#11 Snack Food

It sucks to be hungry. Seriously.

If you’re lean and expend more calories than you consume your body will shut down rather quickly.

Yes, you can survive three weeks without food, but vigorous activity and starvation will lead to unpleasant side effects within 24 to 48 hours:

Constant pain, headaches, muscle aches and – maybe worst – a disastrous reduction of your mental capacities.

Bring a snack and be on the safe side:

Your body stores most vitamins and minerals over days or weeks so you don’t have to be picky with what you eat.

As long as it’s light and delivers an ample amount of energy it’s a great survival food.

Snickers bars or peanut butter make great snack foods. And if you’re health conscious you can pack trail mix, nuts or beef jerky.

Read: 41+ Survival Foods, Prices, Shelf Life & Checklists

#12 Flashlight

To run around outside after dark is just plain stupid:

You might trip, fall, slice open your equipment on a tree branch or poke out your eyes.

But then you might not have much choice when it’s late and you haven’t found shelter or need to escape a pack of hungry wild pigs.

As Wikipedia states: “Although not true carnivores, pigs are competent predators and can kill and eat helpless humans unable to escape them. A number of animal trials in the Middle Ages involved pigs accused of eating children.”

If you own a mobile phone with a flashlight app, why would you need an extra flashlight?

Well you don’t want to drain the batteries of your cellphone and be lost without a way to communicate.

Flashlights are cheap, weigh next to nothing and there is simply no excuse not to have one.

Buy: Dorcy Waterproof LED Flashlight ($6.98)

#13 Bear Spray

This is one of my favorites!

If you’re a hiker you might not want to bring a gun or hunting rifle on your trek.

But bad things happen to good people.

It feels comforting to be able to defend yourself from wild animal attacks or thugs trying to mug your camping spot in the middle of nowhere.

The world is a dangerous place:

There are serial killers that roam the forests and national parks for no other reason than to kill innocent backpackers. Like Ivan Milat.

Bear spray is statistically more effective than firearms to prevent injuries from animal attacks. It’s also non-lethal to endangered animals, cheap and can be bought legally in most states.

But what if you have to fend off humans?

A can of bear spray shoots to distances as far as 30 feet (9 meter) and packs a serious punch: It’s about a 100 times as strong as regular pepper spray, literally burning your opponents face off.

See what this guy from Ohio State Police has to say:

“One of our SWAT men volunteered (he was the guy that walks around with the big red “S” on his chest all day). I gave him a one half second spray on the side of the face only for a simple test. The skin immediately blistered and he had to be taken to the hospital.”

Buy: Frontiersman Bear Spray ($32.01)

#14 First Aid Kit

There’s nothing worse than to bleed to death from a minor injury that you could have fixed with a simple bandage.

You can buy “done for you” first aid kits pretty cheap or make your own. They’re one of the most essential survival items that you should always carry around.

Stop bleeding wounds, mend broken bones temporarily, prevent infections – these are real life saving skills anyone can learn in a couple of hours.

If you make your own first aid kit bring at least the following things:

  • Bandages and some cloth tape
  • Antibiotics and pain killers
  • Antiseptic wipes (or anything to sterilize a wound)
  • Tweezers

Buy: Ultra-Light & Small 100 Piece First Aid Kit ($31.99)

#15 Hygiene Items

More people die from disease in armed conflicts than from physical injury.

Germs, bacteria and parasites are everywhere: In the water, in the soil and all over you and your food.

If you get infected expect to get weak and feverish within one day.

Bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer (or rubbing alcohol) and some toilet paper at the very least.

Just because you’re in the wild doesn’t mean you have to behave like a barbarian.

Wiping your ass with leaves is much less enjoyable than it sounds and not brushing your teeth on a multi day hike is nothing short of disgusting.


When rescue is not an option your first priority should be to seek or build shelter.

Cold temperatures and rain can end your life within twenty minutes.

Hypothermia is no joke:

First you start to shiver while your movements become slow and uncoordinated. Then you’ll feel confused and disoriented.

If you haven’t got a fire going within a few minutes after that your limps will start to freeze off and you’ll die in excruciating pain.

In case you don’t carry a tent around you’ll have to build your own survival shelter.

It’s possible to build a comfy shelter with nothing but a survival knife but I would highly recommend that you also pack at least some of the survival gear mentioned below.

#16 Space Blanket

Space blankets are a marvelous invention:

They keep your body heat trapped inside, the cold outside and they are waterproof.

If you plan on a multi day adventure you will fare better with a sleeping bag but even then have at least one or two emergency blankets stuffed in your backpack.

You can use a space blanket as an improvised tarp or a clean surface to prepare food but it’s usually better to use them for what they’re made for (trapping body heat) and to bring the next item on this list with you instead.

Buy: Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets ($8.49 for 10)

#17 Plastic Trash Bags

You can buy expensive tarps online to build marvelous survival shelters but I prefer plastic trash bags.

They’re cheap and a pack of fifty fits into any backpack or cargo pants pocket.

Make sure you choose the big ones so you won’t have to pin multiple bags together for a roof.

Even better a creative survivalist can come up with a myriad of clever applications for trash bags:

You can make waterproof boots to brave a swamp, use them as extra storage space for what you forage, waterproof your sleeping bag or store water.

These are real life savers.

And if you don’t get into a dangerous situation you can always use them to take out the trash.

Read: 32 Survival Uses For Trash Bags

Buy: Hefty Trash Bags ($0.25 each)

#18 Paracord, Rope or Flexible Cable Ties

To build a comfy shelter you have to make many individual parts like sticks, saplings and your plastic bags stick together.

You can use rope of course but rope is heavy and bulky so better invest in some good paracord.

Paracord is amazing:

It’s lightweight, cheap and you can use it for about nine gazillion other survival and DIY projects.

Make sure you buy brightly colored yellow or orange paracord so you won’t trip over your own creations at night.

And if you’re the lazy type who doesn’t know how to make any knots add some flexible cable ties to your shopping list.

Read: 39 Emergency Uses For Paracord

Buy: Paracord Planet Nylon Paracord ($6.59 for 50 feet) and Joy Fish Nylon Cable Ties ($1.17 for 100)

#19 Gear Repair: Superglue, Duct Tape & Safety Pins

There’s nothing worse than to break your survival gear when you really need it.

Try to carry your gear after your backpacks fabric tore apart (hope you brought some plastic bags) or walk in shoes without soles.

The solution to broken gear and accidents is to always carry a small DIY survival gear repair kit with you.

You can make almost anything hold together for at least a few more days – which is hopefully long enough to get back home safe.

There are only three things you really need:

Superglue, duct tape and safety pins.

These are all cheap and lightweight so there’s no excuse for you not to bring them along.

Even better, you can use the duct tape to shut up your nagging wife after you’ve lost your way in the forest.



In most cases it doesn’t really matter what you wear on your trip.

Cargo pants store more gear than jeans and a long sleeve shirt can protect you from mosquitoes but in general your choice of apparel has only a small influence on your chances of survival.

There are a couple of exceptions though:

#20 Bandana

A bandana – sometimes called a kerchief – is a triangular or square piece of cloth you tie around your head or neck.

Used by soccer fans and Muslim girls alike, bandanas are cheap, light and don’t take up any space in your pack when you wrap them around your head, arm or leg.

The best thing about bandanas is their versatility, which is only rivaled by a good survival knife.

Cover your head or neck against sunstroke, filtrate muddy water, use it as an emergency tourniquet or bandage, cleaning tool, reusable toilet paper (ewww!), dust mask or about a million other things.

Having a bandana and some creativity goes a long way to survive a dangerous situation.


Buy: Kilofly Multi-purpose Bandanas ($14.75 for 8)

#21 Raincoat / Wind Breaker

This is probably THE most underrated survival item you can wear.

It can and will rain almost anywhere unless you’re in the desert.

To get yourself or your survival gear wet is a real danger that you have to prepare for.

Cold water and wind will drain your body temperature incredibly fast: If you’ve ever been swimming in cold water and felt hungry afterwards, that’s the same effect.

To be wet or damp and surrounded by chilly air will make you burn trough your food at highly accelerated rates, make you susceptible to illness and get you into a really bad mood.

If it rains you’ll want to find shelter.

But what if there is no shelter or everything you could use to build shelter is already wet?

In that case a good raincoat makes the difference between falling asleep and freezing to death or waking up the next morning unharmed.

Buy: Columbia Men’s Watertight Hooded Rain Jacket ($51.45 for large size)

#22 Wool Socks

Another item you don’t usually see on survival gear lists are wool socks or wool clothes in general.

There are tiny air pockets in between wool fabric that help you to stay warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot.

Clothes made from wool stay warm when they’re wet, are fire retardant, mold resistant and make for great tinder.

Wool is just a superior survival fabric compared to cotton or polyester.

It’s light, strong and flexible and you’ll finally have an use for that ugly wool sweater your grandma gave you last Christmas.

Buy: Merino Wool Socks ($26.90 for 4 pairs)

#23 Survival Or Tactical Backpack

You can carry around your survival gear in your daughters Hello Kitty schoolbag.

But the wilderness is unforgiving and many backpack manufacturers try to skimp on the materials.

There’s a certain combination of convenience and ruggedness that you can only find in good tactical backpacks.

Tactical backpacks have lots of pockets to organize your gear, are waterproof and don’t break easily. And even if they break you can usually fix them easily with your DIY gear repair kit.

They’re also expensive.

But ask yourself: Do you really want to carry all your shit over the mountain in a plastic trash bag, or worse have to leave life saving gear behind, just because you were too cheap to invest in a good survival backpack?

Read: Top 3 Survival, Military & Tactical Backpacks

Buy: 5.11 Tactical Rush 72 Hour Backpack ($148.00)

Often Forgotten

Most websites and companies just want you to buy their ridiculously overpriced survival-something.

But don’t think that if you have the right gear you’ll survive:

It takes much more than that.

An iron will, the right education and a good portion of creativity are far more important than the latest survival gimmick.

The truth is that some of the most important “survival items” are free and require nothing but your time.

Keep reading to learn how you can improve your chances of survival for free or at least crazy cheap.

#24 Have A Plan

The best way to ensure your survival is to prepare and educate yourself before you get anywhere close to danger.

Make sure you have an actual plan of what you will do when things turn ugly:

Sit down and create a mini bug out plan for your next trip.

Adjust your gear and knowledge to your location:

If you’re hiking in the mountains read up if there are any dangerous animals out there and where you can find the highest landmark so that a rescue crew can spot you easier.

Bring a boat when you want to cross a river or waterproof boots when you plan to walk through a swamp – don’t expect that you can make something up at moments notice.

Even if you don’t need your plan and your trip is safe you’ll sleep much better at night in your tent knowing that you’re prepared to get yourself and your family out of harms way if things turn sour.

Buy: An internet connection, paper and a pen. Oh wait you already got that stuff, right?

#25 Amazon Kindle

The most important survival tool ever is your brain and what you have stored in there.

Now it’s obvious that you’ll want to have some climbing practice before you head out to scale Mt. Everest but you can only memorize and practice so much stuff before your head is full. And most of us have a job anyway.

The solution is to bring an Amazon Kindle on your journey:

If you don’t know them they are like little tablets made only to read books.

The cheapest one will cost you only $79 and you can store thousands of survival books, manuals and checklists on it.

Since the device is made only for reading it’s batteries last for up to three weeks of continuous use.

Imagine your daughter broke her leg: What a horrible situation to find yourself in if you’re not a doctor!

But then you switch on your Kindle, open The Survival Medicine Handbook page 353 and have all the information you need to patch up your daughter at your fingertips.

Knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have the better.

So why wouldn’t you want to carry the knowledge of a thousand books around to where ever you go?

Even better, if you’re bored and waiting for rescue you can spend the time re-reading your favorite vampire and werewolf romance novel.

Buy: 6″ Kindle Touchscreen ($79)

#26 Companionship

What is better than a highly trained and educated survivor with the best survival gear money can buy?

Two survivors of course!

Broke your leg and can’t move around or carry your stuff anymore? You’re dead if you’re alone.

Fell into a raging current? Who will throw you a rope to get you out if you’re alone?

To have a dedicated companion you can trust and depend on is one of the most important things you can bring on any journey in life.

Most people die not because they are out of options but because they give up in their mind.

To have a close friend or family member with you in times of struggle will give you that little extra willpower that sets apart the survivors from the dead.

Just make sure you can actually trust your companion and that he won’t let you bleed out in the forest and steal your survival gear at the first opportunity.

But what if you want to spend some time alone in the wilderness?

Consider to take your dog with you:

Most dogs can feed themselves just fine and make great companions for hunting, leisure time and – if you really have to – you can always eat your dog if you’re starving.

Buy: You can buy “lady friends” at your closest brothel but I am not sure how helpful they’d be in a survival situation.

#27 Money

I remember how I stood before this convenience store thirsty like a desert nomad but I was out of cash.

I had to walk thirty minutes back to my place, get some money, walk there again and all that just to get some water.

Don’t underestimate the value of having some cash when you’re back in civilization.

It’d suck to finally get out of the forest after a three day hike and stand in front of a 7-11 and not be able to buy anything.

Money will also make people more susceptible to help you:

Like the guy giving you a ride to town on a lonely road, who doesn’t care if you starve to death on the side of the road but who does like your money though.

Always have a couple of twenty dollar bills rolled up and hidden somewhere in your pack. You don’t have to spend it and it may come in really handy some day.

Buy: If you don’t have any there’s always gambling, right?

Things That Didn’t Make The List

Multi tool: Pretty useless when outside of an urban environment. You don’t usually need a screw driver in the forest and you can do most, if not all, things a multi tool can do with your survival knife.

Gloves: Can be life saving in a cold climate and convenient when you have to do a lot of work with your hands but if you really need these you’ll have them packed already.

Guns: These are great if you plan to shoot someone but most trips don’t warrant the extra weight and hassle of carrying a gun, ammo and the necessary government permit up a lonely mountain. If you plan to hunt or to bug out then that’s a different story though.

To wrap it up:

Nobody can tell you what you should or shouldn’t bring on your next trip or adventure.

The truth is that what survival gear you’ll need depends on where you’re going.

Climbing gear is great for the mountains but not so useful in a swamp and you won’t need a fishing pole in the desert.

Make it a habit to plan and think about possible hazards before you leave and adjust your gear accordingly and you’ll live longer than the guy who just brings the fanciest stuff without giving it any thought.