Survival Gear Buying Guide

Survival Gear Buying Guide

Lucky people rarely face life-threatening situations. But even the luckiest among us never know for sure when trouble might strike. It's possible for anyone to be thrust into a survival situation any time, anywhere, without warning.

A sudden storm capsizes your boat in rough water. Vehicle problems strand you in a remote area. Your fishing partner cuts himself deeply with a knife. You get lost in the backcountry. A tornado, hurricane, earthquake, flood or ice storm leaves you without shelter, food, water and/or electricity.

Hopefully you'll never be involved in serious situations like these. If you are, however, your story is much more likely to have a happy ending if you follow some sage advice: hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. That preparation includes purchasing gear that can help you stay safe and alive, as well as procure food, water, shelter and other necessities until the emergency is over.

Prepackaged Survival Kits

A survival kit is a collection of supplies that can help you cope with unexpected events. A wide variety of prepackaged kits are available, and if you know you won't find time to assemble your own kit, consider buying a commercial package.

These range in size from basic kits with just a few important items that will fit in your pocket, like Adventure Medical Kits S.O.L. Survival Kit. Check out the variety of kits available and purchase one that best suits your needs.

Assembling Your Own Survival Kits

Assembling your own survival kit is the best way to be sure you have the items you'll need in an emergency. Having a single, well-equipped survival kit is better than none, but most experts suggest you make a small personal kit to be carried on your person when hunting, fishing or hiking; a larger "ditch kit" for your boat; an emergency kit for each of your vehicles; and a home emergency kit for each house, cabin or other residence that can be used in case of natural disasters or other catastrophes.

Personal Survival Kits

A personal survival kit should be light and small enough so it's always with you. Ideally, each person with you should have one, too. Contents depend on individual preferences, environment and activity, but essentials in each of these categories should be included.

Those are:

First Aid

If anyone is seriously injured, rendering first aid should be top priority. A personal first aid kit isn't large enough to carry a full array of supplies but should include basic items such as bandages, gauze, alcohol swabs and pain reliever. If space permits, you also may want to include adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment and butterfly wound closures. Small prepackaged kits are available from several manufacturers, including Bass Pro Shops, Orion, Adventure Medical Kits and others.


A windproof butane lighter and piece of quick-light firestarter from your personal survival kit can be used to quickly start a fire even under adverse conditions.

Where there's a likelihood of getting soaked in cold weather, wearing wool clothing that insulates even when wet is a good idea. But you also should carry additional items for emergency use. A small emergency poncho can help keep you dry. Space blankets are waterproof, windproof and available in sizes small enough to make one ideal for inclusion in a personal survival kit. Wrap up in one to reduce body heat loss in cold weather, or fashion the blanket into a temporary shelter or windbreak or a signal for rescuers.

If you get lost or stranded, you'll also want a fire to get warm and dry quickly and for signaling rescuers, cooking food and providing a feeling of comfort and security. You can keep matches in a waterproof container for this purpose, or use devices like Coghlan's Fire Starter or Ultimate Survival Technologies TekFire Fuel-Free Fire Lighter. Waterproof matches are also available.

If you keep it dry, a windproof butane lighter is one of the best tools for quickly lighting a fire. Each provides hundreds of lights and furnishes a larger, hotter flame for a longer time than matches. Butane freezes at 15 degrees or below, but you can keep the lighter functional by warming it under your arm. You also should include in your kit a candle stub and/or some type of fire-starting aid such as Ultimate Survival Technologies WetFire Fire Starting Tinder that will help you get a blaze going fast.

Signaling aids

In an emergency, getting help quick should be a prime concern. Attract rescuers' attention using a whistle, flares, signal mirror, smoke canister, distress flag and/or other device(s) kept in your personal kit. Then provide a homing signal from a small waterproof flashlight, strobe, chemical light, the whistle or other signal to guide the responding party to you. Many outdoor recreationists now also carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) such as the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger Personal Tracker that can be activated in the event of a critical emergency to notify emergency services of your GPS location and need for assistance.


A good stainless multitool such as those made by Gerber, Leatherman, Wenger and SOG can be invaluable for repairing equipment, preparing shelters and food items, making cooking utensils and fashioning other survival equipment.

Water purification

Having a plentiful supply of potable drinking water is another necessity. To prevent waterborne illnesses from bacteria, viruses and protozoa, carry Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets or a compact filter like the SteriPEN Classic Handheld Water Purifier. Water filter purifier bottles are also handy.

Miscellaneous items

Include necessary prescription medications in your kit, and, space permitting, consider the addition of compact items such as insect-repellent swabs, energy food bars, a compass (that you know how to use), fish hooks and line, sunscreen towelettes and hand warmers. A folded piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil doesn't take up much space and has many uses. Make it into a drinking cup, use it as a windbreak when starting a fire, fashion it into a container for boiling water or cooking and much more.


SurvivalGearBG SPOTGen3
A personal locator beacon device can be activated in case of an emergency.

All items should be kept in a durable, waterproof container that's small enough so you can (and will) keep it on your person. Small belt pouches like the Traditions Accessory Belt Pouch work well, but you also can use zip-seal freezer bags, an Army surplus first-aid pouch or just a small plastic container with a snap-tight lid. You also can use a vacuum food sealer to create a small, watertight bag that fits easily into a pocket.

If you're fishing or boating, your life jacket may be the best place to keep small containers or individual items of survival gear. Buy a personal flotation device that has D-rings and several pockets that zip or have Velcro fasteners. Then you can stow or attach what you need. That way, if you wear your life jacket (and you should) the essentials for survival will definitely be with you in an emergency situation.

Ditch Kits

Because it's stowed in your boat until needed, a ditch kit, kept in a waterproof box, can contain larger items from the same categories as contents for personal survival kits. The kit should be accessible and known to all onboard. It should be placed where it can float free if the boat sinks or capsizes and should be waterproof, durable and have a handle. Don't count on it being there when you need it; this is not a personal survival kit. But keep it handy so, if time permits, you can grab it in the event of an emergency.

Items you may want in your ditch kit include extra clothing, a water-purification filter, nylon cord and a small tarp or plastic sheeting for making a shelter, a folding saw and/or sheath knife, extra flares or smoke canisters, high-energy foods like tropical chocolate bars and hard candy, a waterproof hand-held GPS and/or VHF transceiver, a water bottle, extra fishing tackle, binoculars, survival literature and a larger first-aid kit with a more extensive selection of supplies. The inclusion of multipurpose items when possible reduces the amount of weight and needed space. And as with all survival kit items, everything should be inspected on a regular basis to be sure it functions as intended and isn't out of date.

You'll avoid many on-the-water emergencies by equipping your boat with a variety of items besides those in your personal survival and ditch kits. You should have at least one extra paddle (tied inside the boat); something with which to bail water, or a manual bilge pump; a fire extinguisher; a spotlight and/or flashlight with extra batteries; enough life jackets of the proper size and style for everyone on board; a tow rope and anchor; plus tools and spare parts (light bulbs, shear pins, extra plugs, etc.) for equipment repair. A roll of duct tape is also a good idea. It can be used to make many small repairs.

Vehicle Emergency Kits

You never know when an emergency might occur when you're on the road, so it's a good idea to keep items you might need in each car, truck or van. You'll want to include some of the essentials described in the personal survival kits section, but having plentiful storage in the trunk or storage compartments allows you to include a larger, more complete selection, including a fully equipped first-aid kit; bottled water; a folding shovel; a bag of sand or rock salt for icy conditions; sleeping bags or blankets; extra clothing; toilet paper; and non-perishable food items, such as dried fruit, granola bars and cookies. Keep a cell phone charger in each vehicle, plus items like duct tape, a multitool, fire extinguisher, jumper cables, tow line and roadside flares.

Home Emergency Kits

A well-stocked home emergency kit can save lives in a crisis. Relief agencies recommend that homeowners keep at least three days worth of food and water, as well as a kit of medical supplies and other essentials in the house at all times.

SurvivalGearGuide GerberMultiTool

Whenever possible, a multi-purpose tool should always be included in your survival kit.

Having a camp stove or charcoal/propane grill for cooking is a good idea in case utilities are disrupted, and a large maximum-cool cooler like Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer available allows you to keep food fresh if power goes out.

Other supplies you should have if possible include:

  • Window sealing materials (plastic sheeting, duct tape)
  • Water purification tablets or filter
  • Manual can opener
  • Lanterns and/or candles, matches
  • Flashlight(s) with extra batteries
  • NOAA weather radio (battery or hand-cranked)
  • Dust masks
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Heavy gloves for removing debris
  • Rope
  • Disinfectant, hand sanitizer
  • Bucket (for an emergency toilet and other uses)
  • Hand and power tools (generator, fuel, chain saw, shovel, rake, hose, hatchet, hammer, drill, circular saw, etc.)


Perhaps soon you can say, "My survival kit is ready." But are you ready? Do you know basic survival techniques: how to signal, how to use a compass and GPS, how to build a fire in rain or snow and so forth? A person with a kit full of items they can't use may be in trouble.

Can you make decisions without panic in the face of adversity? If you can't rely on yourself, all the survival equipment in the world won't help you.

Do you have the judgment and maturity to back away from unsafe situations? Remember, the best survival kit is one you never have to use.

And finally, does your survival kit go along on all your outdoor ventures or stay properly stocked and available in your boat, vehicle or home? Even the best kit is useless if you don't have it with you.