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As we’ve preached constantly on this site, the most important factor when it comes to who survives and who perishes in any kind of disaster is preparation. Those who prepare will likely survive. Those who don’t prepare will need a tremendous amount of luck on their side to make it through any kind of catastrophic or apocalyptic event.
Think about this – with proper preparation, a survivalist who knows what he/she is doing can make it through even something as drastic and life threatening as a nuclear bomb. Why do you think the term ‘nuclear bunker’ exists? If preparation can get you through the devastating effects of a nuclear bomb, it follows that there’s virtually no kind of natural disaster or man-made threat that you can’t prepare for.
So what does preparation mean? It comes down to two things. Firstly, you need to arm yourself with the right skills so that you know what to do and how to act in a crisis. Secondly, you need to make sure you have all the right tools, supplies, and gear that will help you survive in any situation.
In this article, we’ll focus on the second half of proper survival preparation – what gear and supplies do you need to have on hand to maximize your chances of survival? If you want to acquire survival knowledge and know-how, we have an entire section dedicated to survival skills. Be sure to check that out.
If you don’t have a decent sized survival backpack pre-prepared with gear and supplies, then you are under-prepared. It’s not good enough to have a prepped stockpile at home. You need to have a backpack packed and ready to go in case you need to evacuate quickly. We’ll go over what kinds of things should be in this backpack, but the first thing you’ll need is the survival backpack itself, which is why you need to read our guide to the best survival backpacks.
Preparing to ride out a dangerous situation at home is very different from preparing to evacuate or flee. In some scenarios, hunkering down is the safest option – that’s when your stockpile of supplies makes sense. In other situations though (for example, in a flood or earthquake), your best option might be to evacuate ASAP. For situations like these, you need to have a bug out bag packed and ready to go. A bug out bag is basically a large sized backpack that you can take with you at a moment’s notice if you ever need to flee or evacuate from a very dangerous threat or disaster. It should contain all the tools you need to supply yourself with all your basic needs (water, shelter, food) plus supplies to last you for a decent period of time. In some cases, you might need to bug out on foot, but ideally you’re bugging out with your vehicle. If that’s the case, there are a number of things you can do to prepare your car for a survival scenario. Read about our ultimate survival kit to bugging out with your car to learn more.
On the other side of the spectrum is a get home bag. A get home bag is exactly what the name says – a bag that will help you get home, away from a dangerous or risky situation. Think about the amount of time the you spent outside of your home in a day – maybe you go to work, or your kids go to school. Whatever the case is, if you or a family member finds themselves in a dangerous situation and needs to get to a safe place, the get home bag is what you will turn to. It’s also something you should have if you are venturing into the wilderness, regardless of whether you’re camping, hiking, fishing, etc. It will have enough supplies for you to survive for a few days, but is still lightweight enough that you can carry it and trek on foot if that’s what the situation requires. A get home bag should be significantly smaller than a bug out bag – the latter is something you have in your house so you can evacuate, whereas a get home bag is more appropriately something you store in your car, or have with you if you’re going hiking or camping.
The first thing we’d urge you to do is make sure you understand is the basics. Here is a list of absolutely essential emergency supplies you need to survive any disaster. We also have a very comprehensive list of 137 items of survival gear and supplies which is alphabetized – if you’re worried that you’ve forgotten to acquire something, reference the list to double check – there’s not much missing from that list.
If you’re all stocked up on supplies but you’re wondering what gear, equipment, and tools you should have available at all times, make sure you’re aware of the top ten most important pieces of survival gear to have. These items will likely save your life many times over if you end up in real life disaster situation. At the bare minimum, you need some sort of tools that will help you meet the basic needs – food, water, and shelter. Think about what functions you’ll need to perform to be able to meet these needs – larger cutting, smaller precision knife work, potentially hammering… You’ll need string to bind and tie things together, and potentially for making traps. As a start, if you have a survival knife, a multi-tool, a hatchet, and a paracord bracelet, that’s a good start. Check out some of our articles on all of these items:
If on the other hand you want to stock up on supplies, you should know how to prioritize what items are the most essential and important in a survival stockpile. Storing up endless amounts of supplies can get expensive, so if you’re limited by budget or you want to try your best not to create waste, make sure you read up on the top ten survival supplies to stockpile. This is the bare minimum of what you need if you want to make it through any kind of crisis or catastrophe.
If you feel like you have all the basics covered in terms of gear and supplies, it may be time to level up your prep. If you want to survive beyond the short term, then there are a vast number of items that you need to either acquire or build in order to not just survive the long term, but thrive in it. Being able to survive a few weeks or months is one thing – being able to survive for a few years or decades is quite another. Long term survival in the absence of modern conveniences means you need to plan for many different eventualities. Right now we have access to modern products, but this may not be true in the future, so why not get your hands on them now so that you’re prepared for the worst?
As an example – if you ever end up needing to travel on a body of water, sure – you could build your own raft. But it’s much safer and more reliable to have some kind of inflatable vessel on hand. You can get access to something like that now, but in a disaster situation it would probably be extremely difficult to do so. In this vein, here are 50 critical items for long term survival that go beyond the basics.
Speaking of long term survival, the same idea applies to supplies of food, water, and other things you need to meet basic needs. It’s one thing to plan for a few weeks of sheltering in place… It’s quite another to have the confidence that you can make it a year or more. Many serious survivalists and preppers have the resources to survive for at least a year, because they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they can make it through any kind of catastrophic event, large or small. We’re not just planning for hurricanes and blackouts, we’re planning for pandemics and nuclear war. With that in mind, here’s how you can build a secret stockpile that will last you one year (or more).
If your biggest worry isn’t some kind of natural disaster, but instead some kind of man-made attack or threat (like an invasion or mass terrorist attacks), then you need to be planning as if you might end up living in a war-zone. This scenario is quite different from many of the typical survival situations that you might end up in, and as such the preparations are different too – you’ll need different gear and tools to be able to make it through a period where America is directly under attack. What better way to plan for living in a war-zone than to take advice from a soldier? We had a member of the US army give us his list of 15 essential supplies, along with 15 survival tips thrown for surviving war-like conditions. It’s also important to note that quite a lot of standard military gear is actually accessible to most civilians through military surplus stores, where you can pick up some essential military equipment for survival. For example, most people aren’t necessarily aware of what a military shovel is, but it’s actually one of the most useful and versatile survival tools out there. Learn about some of the surprising things that you can do with an army shovel.
We also have a couple of list-style articles that cover different bases. If you want to prepare yourself for some kind of natural disaster, you might want to check out our list of the top ten survival tools needed for disaster preparedness. If you fancy yourself a prepper, then you should read up on the top ten prepper supplies and gear so you’re ready for the end of the world.
If you’re caught out without having prepared (which is a shame given all of the knowledge we’ve provided you so far in this article and across the site), one of the first things you’ll want to do is build yourself some kind of carrying vessel so that you can travel with supplies on you without giving up the use of your hands. Once you have a form of portable, hands-free storage, you can start gathering resources as needed, whether that’s food, firewood, water, etc. In the event that you have relatively little that’s of use available to you, the first thing you’ll want to do is assemble a survival backpack. Once you have a backpack, that’s when you start thinking about how you can fill it up with the essentials that you’ll need to make it through a disaster.
Now we get to scenario specific survival gear. Getting through a hurricane or flood is different from surviving in the dessert. Aiming to make it through a long period of living in the mountains is nothing like trying to survive in a post-disaster urban environment. While there are some overlaps in terms of gear that you need across all situations, those items are basically the bare basics. A more prepared survivalist is going to know that he or she needs to specifically prepare for situations that are more likely based on where they live, what the climate is like, and whether they’re more likely to bug out or shelter in place.
For example, if your plan is to bug out into the mountains, you’d want to have the appropriate cold weather survival gear to allow you to live off the land. If you want to prepare for maneuverability during winter, then snow shoes and cross country skis will be key to survival. The gear that you need to survive in the mountains is different from what you’d need to survive in swamps or low lying forests/woods – in that situation, you’d be looking more at bushcraft survival gear. Additionally, if you’re living at low elevation, particularly if you live in an urban area, you’ll probably what to have appropriate supplies to survive and evacuate during a flash flood.
On the other hand, if you’re in an urban area and your main concern isn’t some world ending disaster but the everyday threat of crime and violence, then you’d want to prepare to safeguard your home from intruders. It’s the threat of crime and home invasions in particular that leads to many Americans opting to own a firearm (as is their second amendment right). However, if you’re uncomfortable with owning a firearm, or if you think you’d perhaps hesitate in pulling the trigger (because ending a life is a heavy burden for anyone), then it’s possible you’d want to explore some effective non-lethal weapons as an alternative to firearms. A big part of not becoming a victim of crime isn’t just defending yourself or your home when the crime is taking place, but in the preventative measures you take to ensure that you never become a target. Things like security systems, cameras, and so forth can act as a strong deterrent to criminals, and there are relatively low cost home defense tactics that you can implement to protect your home from intruders. If you’re not in a position to invest in these types of preventative measures, decoys can also work to scare off criminals.
Additionally, perhaps what you worry about isn’t just natural disasters or man-made threats, but rather the combination of the two. After all, in a serious post-disaster situation, there are likely no police and no laws, which means that it’s every person out for themselves. If you’re forced to live for a prolonged period in a world where there are no rules, you’ll probably find that guns, and particularly ammo start to be in extremely short supply. In this scenario, you’d want to know what primitive weapons are best for the apocalypse (and how to use them). In addition, if you’re any kind of a history buff, you might also be interested in reading up on the top primitive tools and weapons that changed history.
If you’ve got all the basics and you’ve prepped for the specific situations and scenarios that you anticipate living through, the next thing to do is to upgrade what you already have. Is there room for improvement in your gear and your supplies? When thinking about basic survival needs, you’re looking at shelter, water, food, and medicine.
Proper shelter comes first and foremost when it comes to basic needs – go read about the survival rule of three if you don’t understand why. The two key elements of creating shelter are having some kind of structure that protects you from the elements, and having the ability to regulate or control temperature. If you’ve followed our advice so far, you’ll already have access to all you need to improvise a shelter (some tarp and some sticks at the bare minimum). To be able to regulate the temperature within your shelter, you’ll probably need a fire, and while there are a number of primitive ways to start a fire, ideally you have access to a lighter of some sort. Be sensible and be prepared. It’s a cool trick to be able to start a fire with improvised material, a genuine survivalist makes plans so that things don’t need to be improvised. Make sure you have access to one of the best survival lighters so you’re not stuck spending valuable time and energy on sparking a fire from a piece of rock.
You might think you have enough water stocked away, but the truth is that humans need a lot of water – doctors recommend more than half a gallon a day per person. for a family of four, that’s 2 gallons a day. If you want to survive for even a couple of months, you’re looking at needing 120 gallons of water – which is a wildly impractical amount of water to store for most people. Obviously, having a store of water is essential, but equally essential is a way to filter water so you have way to produce your own clean drinking water. That’s why you should look into what the best water filtration systems are and add that to your list of survival essentials.
When it comes to your stockpile of food, you might have plenty of food in stock, but have you taken the time to seriously analyzed shelf life, difficulty of storage, value-for-money, and so forth? There are good and bad survival foods. All foods are not created the same, and in a survival situation, you want to have access to the best survival foods. Generally, the best bang-for-the-buck in terms of both money and storage are foods that are dense in calories – the more calories, the less you can eat and still survive. That means lower cost now, and less valuable storage space taken up. Learn what the top high calorie survival foods are so you can upgrade your food stores.
Medicine is one of the basic needs that gets most overlooked – most people have some kind of very basic first aid kit at home and call it a day. The sad truth is, most first-aid kits that are being sold would prove woefully inadequate to deal with anything more than a scraped knee. Think about what’s available in a typical first-aid kit… some plastic bandages, some gauze, a couple of painkillers and a pair of scissors. That’s a first aid kit appropriate for a school field trip – it’s entirely insufficient as a survival first aid kit. Forget about the little first aid box that you use when your kid scrapes his arms and start learning what the top ten essential emergency first aid supplies really look like.
If you’re comfortable with the gear you have relating to meeting your basic needs, then it’s time to start thinking broader. How will you defend yourself? How will you communicate? There might be minimal access to things that you take for granted – ammo’s not on sale, cellphones don’t work, electricity is in short supply (if at all available). Let’s start with communication. After a catastrophic event, cell phone networks might be down and there might not be electricity, let alone internet. In an SHTF scenario, perhaps the internet and mobile networks are gone forever. Here’s what you can do to communicate with the outside world even without any communication infrastructure available.
The answer, is of course, to go with the classics – we’re talking about walkie talkies, or to be more precise, two way radios. Having access to ranged communications will allow you to communicate with other survivors. More importantly, if you are a part of a group (family, or friends, etc), you’ll have a method of communicating with each other even when you’ve split up, which is a massive tactical advantage to have in dangerous situations. The ability to communicate at range also means that if someone is in danger (either an ally or a stranger), you will have the means to provide aid and save lives. In short, while communications equipment is by no means a necessity, it has a massive amount of practical uses in any kind of post-disaster situation. Find out what the best two way radios are for survival situations and make sure you never lose touch with the outside world.
If you’re thinking about being able to defend yourself in a SHTF scenario, you’re probably thinking about what weapons are most effective. We’ve already acknowledged that guns and ammo won’t be easy to get your hands on. The truth is, “what’s the best primitive weapon I can get my hands on” is probably the wrong question. The answer to that question is probably some kind of sword, but swords are generally unwieldy and not at all versatile.
The right question to be asking is “what primitive item is practical in multiple ways and can also be used as a weapon in self defense?”. For survival purposes, that’s a far more relevant question because in any SHTF situation, dealing with an attacker is not the biggest threat. The biggest threat is your environment, lack of access to basic necessities, and so forth. Self defense is only one of many considerations. Lugging a sword around as you try to be as nimble and mobile as possible is impractical. Take the military for example – they don’t deploy to the field with swords. But they do deploy with tools like knives and tactical tomahawks – things that can be used in multiple ways, including as weapons. Find out what the best survival knives are, and what the best tactical tomahawks are. Arm yourself practically, keeping in mind that most of the dangers you’ll face will have nothing to do with self defense.
In certain kinds of SHTF apocalyptic scenarios, specialist equipment is required (or will prove extremely beneficial). Gas masks are one very clear example of this. In many situations, say, a hurricane or earthquake, they don’t serve much purpose. In other scenarios – volcanic eruption, chemical or biological attack, pandemic, post-nuclear – they are almost essential. Whether or not you feel the need to prepare for the kinds of environments and events that would require a gas mask is up to you – but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a few functioning gas masks lying around… just in case.
Gas masks can protect you from chemical attacks, volcanic ash, and dangerous fumes (e.g from chemical fires). They can also partially protect you from biological weapons and infectious diseases (they lower the chance of infection from things like pandemic flus), and they can also prevent radioactive material from entering the lungs. So they’d certainly prove useful in a great number of truly catastrophic situations. If you think investing in a gas mask is a wise idea, you should read up on what the best gas masks for survival are.
If you’re all prepped up, with sufficient stockpiles and equipment to make it through most disaster scenarios, perhaps you’re looking to help someone else prepare adequately? Just because you’d make it through a catastrophe doesn’t mean all your loved ones are as prepared are you. If this is the case, make sure you know what the best survival gifts are so it’s not just you who makes it through the end of the world.