7 Reliable Pieces Of Survival Gear

Mark Wilcox
18 min readJun 6, 2021


This originally appeared on Camping Forge.


Survival situations can happen at any time. You can be sitting at home and an earthquake can hit. Or you can be driving when the car breaks down in the winter. And course, you might get lost on a hike and need to wait for rescue.

This is why it’s important to always have survival gear available to you. This guide will teach you the 7 essential items you should have on hand.

I live in a northern suburb of Dallas, Texas. I tent camp almost every weekend. I was sidelined in January 2021 because I got sick.

I remembered thinking that the weather was nice for mid-February and that I might go camping when I got the weather alert about a winter storm.

This winter storm turned out to the be worst winter storm in many decades as temperatures plummeted below zero for many days.

We were lucky and only had rolling power outages. But I was prepared with my survival gear.

I am still sad so many people froze to death for the lack of basic preparation.

In this guide, you will learn the 7 essential items you should have on hand and why. I will point to where you can learn more about how to use them because that would make this guide too long.

But by knowing what gear you should have, then you will be prepared for anything. Whether that’s an enjoyable day hike or the zombie apocalypse.

You will learn about:

* Backpacks
* Shelter
* Water
* Food
* First-Aid Kits
* Fire-Making
* Keeping devices charged up

Survival situations happen every day. They are often unexpected. Whether it’s a surprise thunderstorm that becomes a tornado or you slip and twist an ankle while on the trail, you must be prepared.

By reading this guide you will become better informed than 99% of your fellow citizens.

See our list of our favorite survival resources

Survival and Bug Out Backpacks

You want to keep your survival kit organized and be ready to walk out with it if necessary. In an emergency situation, you don’t want to be scrambling for your supplies.

And you don’t want to be on a day hike only to discover you are missing your First-Aid Kit because you hurriedly through stuff in a pack without preparation.

One Wednesday night we went to eat Tex-Mex. I had 2 margaritas. Between a long day of work and the drinks, I came home and took a nap. I remember that we were expecting thunderstorms but I did not remember them to be ready for severe storms.

I had just woken up from my nap when my phone buzzed with a tornado warning. By dumb luck, we had 30 minutes to be ready.

So I got my wife and dog into our master bath. Then brought in my survival pack.

Because I was prepared and we had 30 minutes, I was able to augment our supplies with more water and food.

Thankfully, the tornado disappeared before it came to Little Elm.

But this is an example of why it’s important to keep your survival bag ready to go.

You will learn what a survival bag is and how to choose the best one for your situation. Choosing a survival bag isn’t hard. And you don’t need to buy an expensive bag.

The best survival backpack would be an internal frame backpack complete with a chest strap or you might refer to those as a sternum strap. These packs will also have a hip belt. This waist belt helps distribute the load plus provides additional compartments for storage.

You also want to make sure the pack has padded shoulder straps and is ventilated with breathable mesh to ensure airflow while you’re carrying the bag.

Make sure there are many compartments to hold your emergency preparedness supplies. The main compartment should have plenty of space. Look at the zippered pockets and make sure they come with heavy-duty zippers.

The best heavy-duty zippers are YKK Zippers.

You can look for the YKK symbol on the zippers.

While a pack might be water-resistant, you will need a pack cover to make them water-proof. Some high-end packs will come with a pack cover. Otherwise, you need to either buy a pack cover or wear a poncho that will cover the pack.

You should also make sure your sleeping bag and clothes are in a dry sack. A dry sack, which can be a trash bag, is waterproof. The last thing you want is a wet sleeping bag and clothes.

However, between budgets and storage space, you just may not be able to use a full backpack for your survival pack. The next best thing would be a hiking day pack.

These are smaller backpacks but designed to be used in the outdoors. So they are often tougher and have additional pouches for carrying things like water bottles.

Finally, you could use a laptop backpack or military tactical backpack as a survival bag.

You’d be surprised with how much stuff you could carry in a 17-inch laptop backpack for a survival scenario.

I know this because when I travel for work. I will put a lot of survival items into my backpack. My friends think I’m a bit crazy when they realize how much stuff I have in my backpack. But Mother Nature can strike anywhere at any time.

There are three basic survival or bug-out bags.

The best one is a camping backpack. It’s one of the reasons why I took up backpacking. I have a quality backpack that can be used for a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail.

But I also keep my laptop backpack stocked as well. Though if I am on a business trip, I rarely have my knife with me because I can’t carry them on the airplane or into customer’s offices. I figure I can always improvise if necessary.

Though remember to keep a backpack ready for every member of your house. If you have young children, you should plan to carry more stuff than if they are older.

When you have your survival pack assembled, it gives you peace of mind. Knowing that you are ready for an adventure like taking your favorite hike or dealing with the next pandemic.

In this chapter, you learned what a survival or bug-out bag is and why you need it. Then we discussed how to choose a bag. We will spend the rest of this guide going through what we should put in our backpacks.

See our list of our favorite survival resources

Shelter and Weather Protection

The foundation of your survival gear is shelter and bad weather gear. Hypothermia kills more people than any type of wildlife in the outdoors. And it can happen even in relatively warm weather.

My first job was webmaster for the University of North Texas. I was hired in 1997 and one of our professors was a leading expert on the Y2K problem.

The Y2K problem seems both simple and silly. The problem was that computer programs had been created where the year was represented by only 2 digits. The 2 digits represented the last 2 years of the year. But with the turn of the century, 00 could mean 1900 or 2000.

Experts were worried that many bad things would happen if we didn’t fix the problem. These bad things could include everything from having our alarm clocks not working, to bank accounts being frozen, to even an end of the world nuclear conflict.

Thus, I ended up taking Y2K seriously, even if I wasn’t sure how realistic the predictions were.

Some of my survival gear is stuff I bought for Y2K. This includes battery-powered lights and my blue tarp. I still have my blue tarp in its original shrink wrap from my Y2K preparations.

If you’re curious, the only bad thing we had happen that I remember, was caused during the preparations, the power company switched the wrong switch and caused the entire city of Denton to lose power for an hour.

I remember laughing because our data center kept running but nobody could access anything because we all used desktops then. And none of them could power up and connect to the servers.

In this chapter, we are going to discuss what types of shelter to carry with you in your survival pack.

It is tempting to think that you should pack a tent in your bug-out bag. I would carry a tent with me in my vehicle because a tent is a great shelter. But for my bug-out bag, I pack a tarp.

Tarps are inexpensive, lightweight, pack small, and versatile for shelter building.

Even if you can shelter in a tent or vehicle, tarps become useful for providing shade or rain cover.

There are multiple types of tarps to buy.

You can buy a cheap generic tarp.

Or you can buy a tarp specifically made for shelter building. These types of tarps have additional tie-down points to maximize their versatility in shelter shapes.

There are tarps that have mylar sheets on one side. The mylar is the same material found in emergency blankets. Mylar reflects 95% of the infrared heat back at the source. This makes it useful for both warmth (shiny side points at you) and cooling (shiny side points away from you).

And there are even tarp/poncho hybrids.

You should also pack 20 feet of paracord and a pack of tent stakes to give you the most flexibility in building a tarp shelter.

Imagine being able to build a shelter in minutes, in any situation. That’s what having a tarp with your survival gear means.

In this chapter, we learned why it’s important to be able to have shelter with us in a survival situation. And why a tarp is the best type of shelter to bring with us.

See our list of our favorite survival resources

Water And Hydration

Without water, you will die. Survival expert Dave Canterbury has said that he views access to clean water is even more crucial than shelter to survival because most of us start out dehydrated.

In December 2020, I went on a cold-weather camping trip. The temperatures dropped down into the 20s. As a result, I didn’t drink much water. Nor did I drink much coffee because I didn’t bother myself to make it.

Which would surprise my wife because at home, I go through multiple Yeti thermoses of coffee during the day.

However, this trip was before I had my camping coffee setup. I have a nice French press I use when I’m car camping. I make Cowboy coffee when I’m backpacking. You can read our full article about making coffee while camping here.

I woke up later that night in my tent, with the worst leg cramps because I was dehydrated.

Thus, even though it’s cold outside, doesn’t mean you can’t suffer from dehydration.

We use water not only for drinking but for cooking and sanitation as well. For sanitation, we can bring along wet wipes. And while there are many foods we can bring along that don’t require water, eventually you will want a hot meal. Or you will need to stretch your protein.

Thus it’s hard to completely avoid water for cooking.

The general rule of thumb is 1 gallon of water per person per day. But this includes drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

If you want to determine how much you need just for drinking, please see our water calculator.

There are three ways to satisfy the need for water for survival.

The first way is to bring it with you. I am a fan of multiple-gallon jugs of water. But I also keep clean and empty 2-liter bottles on hand. Not only do they provide clean water, but are useful to repurpose into other survival tools. Heck, you can even make rope from a 2-liter bottle.

Or you can bring collapsible 2-liter bottles from a company like Platypus.

The second way is to filter your water. If you have access to a water source, you can minimize the amount of water you need to bring with you. But this is only true if you can make it safe to drink. This requires boiling or filtration. There are man types of water filters on the market today.

While most filters you see featured in blogs or YouTube videos are single filters for backpackers, there are filters designed for groups.

The third way is to boil the water. Always bring along a steel single-walled water bottle. You can use this to boil water in, even if you need to directly stick it in the fire. Per the EPA, you need to boil the water for 3 minutes (this covers all altitudes).

Make sure you bring it to a full boil with “large bubbles”.

I keep a Sawyer filter and always have a steel container on hand in case I need to make my water safe to drink.

There is no place on Earth where we can find life without water. Thus in your survival gear, you need to make sure that you have water on hand. Make sure that you bring as much water as you can and augment with filtering as necessary.

See our list of our favorite survival resources

Keep Yourself Fed

Assuming you have access to water, you can survive at least 1 month without food. Hunger strikes and religious fasts have proven that is possible.

But let’s be honest with ourselves. Just because you can go 30 days or more without food, doesn’t mean you want to.

Eating isn’t just about having enough energy to survive. Eating provides a morale boost.

Like many Americans, I am overweight. And like many Americans, I have tried many diets. But with an upcoming 30-mile backpacking trip through Big Bend National Park, I wanted to lose twenty pounds.

So I took up intermittent fasting. What this means is that I skip meals. Specifically for me, I only eat 1 meal a day. I only eat dinner.

And I drink lots of coffee.

I also view that my adaptation to intermittent fasting will help me in a survival situation because I know that hunger won’t kill me. And I have trained myself to keep focused even with some hunger pains.

Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to teach yourself to go hungry for survival. Though, you should be prepared to.

I would keep food on hand for my survival. If you are on a day hike, bring along some candy bars or meal replacement bars.

My new favorite option is the Creations line from Starkist. You can get them in tuna, salmon, and chicken. These pouches can be eaten as is or you can heat them up. The meals come in a variety of flavors.

However, if you just have canned tuna, there are many meals you can make with it. Please see our list of canned tuna recipes here.

I would also keep pasta, instant Ramen noodles, and instant potatoes on hand. They are a great way to keep you full and extend protein if necessary.

One of my favorite meals to make is fried SPAM and Ramen noodles. I fry up SPAM in my pan and then put it aside. I then make my ramen noodles. I prefer to cook ramen noodles in instant bone broth.

The bone broth provides flavor and extra nutrients.

I then add the SPAM to the noodles and eat them up.

Heck, I just remembered, there’s now this great instant hummus.

I’m not usually a hummus fan but this stuff tastes great, is easy to transport, and is very filling.

Though if you want to really practice your outdoorsmen skills, make pemmican from our cookbook.

See our list of our favorite survival resources

First Aid Kits

If you are in a survival situation, you are without a doubt, the first responder. This is true even if you are on a relaxing day hike.

I view First Aid so important, that I recommend everyone take a Wilderness First Aid course as part of their outdoor survival skill training.

My wife is a fan of the University of Alabama football team. One year, friends of ours, gave us tickets to see a home game. While sitting down for dinner at the Tuscaloosa Arby’s we heard a loud bang.

I saw a Suburban lumbering down to us. The Suburban stopped in the field next to the Arby’s.

Everyone in the restaurant realized there had been a car accident. The only people in the restaurant were my wife, myself, and the staff.

The staff was frozen. I yelled at the staff to call 911 since I had no idea where I was.

And I ran to the truck. Another car had pulled over and was dealing with the driver and her baby. The group had pulled the baby from the car, even though there was no danger of fire. I’m still mad they moved the baby.

The mother had a cut on her forehead, I had someone apply a napkin to the forehead. I was informed there was another vehicle.

I ran to the truck across the field. Another driver came up to the truck as the firetrucks pulled in.

I had the driver who had walked up to the truck to stay with the wrecked pickup and I ran to the firetrucks.

I told the captain about both vehicles and that there was a baby.

Then I went back into the restaurant and finished my dinner.

A First-Aid kit is a must. You can buy a backpacking First-Aid kit for your survival kit or you can assemble your own.

If you want to buy a pre-made one, check out our article about the best kits here.

At the very least you want to have some Band-Aids, tweezers (for ticks and splinters), and antibiotic ointment. I also would recommend a tourniquet and learn how to use it. I recommend having a tourniquet because if someone cuts an artery, then you have less than 90 seconds to stop the bleed or the patient will die.

See our list of our favorite survival resources

Make Sure You Can Build A Fire

On the TV show Survivor, fire represents life. You can say fire represents life in a survival situation as well. Fire plays such an essential role in survival.

We use fire to keep us warm. We use fire to ward off predators. We use fire to cook our food. And we use fire to make water safe to drink.

I was reading that over Memorial Day 2021 weekend, there were 52 illegal campfires in the Coconino National Forest. The Coconino National Forest is near the Grand Canyon.

It is unfortunate because poor campfire management results in forest fires.

This is why it’s important to learn how to make a campfire safely.

In this chapter, we’re going to talk about the fire-making tools you should keep in your survival backpack.

Keep BIC lighter in your pack. This isn’t a sexy tool but it is reliable. If you have the room, bring one of those long neck lighters Bic created for BBQ grills and indoor candle lighting. They hold more fluid and light better in the wind. And keep a small lighter in your pocket.

Throw some waterproof matches in as well. These are our first backup to lighters for building a fire. I know this isn’t as YouTube-worthy as a bow drill but in a survival situation, we want reliable, not viral videos.

You should also have a Ferro rod in your bag. A Ferro rod is a metal rod that is used with your knife to create sparks to ignite a fire.

A year ago, I would have told you to pack a pill bottle with cotton bottles covered in Vaseline as a reliable fire starter. Cotton balls work, but they are messy to make and use.

I now prefer these Duraflame cubes. The cubes are cheap, small, reliable, and less messy. Keep at least 3 in your pack. Carry a couple of more in your pockets.

I like to keep a candle in my pack. A candle is undersold for utility in survival. If you don’t have anything else to make a fire with, a candle works. A candle can provide heat if you build a reflective shield. A candle can be used to assist in lighting a fire if your lighter keeps blowing out.

Fatwood is the slang term for the wood from the stump of a dead pine tree. When a pine tree dies, its sap collects in the base of the tree. Pine sap is flammable. You can buy fatwood sticks in boxes or collect your own. Fatwood makes excellent kindling and accelerates your fire-making. Don’t cook over fatwood.

To build a fire here is a simple method.

Collect a bundle of sticks that are between a pencil and your forearm. The pencil-width sticks are your kindling. The forearm width sticks are your fuel wood. As the fire gets hotter, you can add bigger pieces of wood.

Assemble a teepee structure with your fatwood in the interior, then the pencil-width sticks.

Light a Duraflame cube and place it in the base of the teepee structure.

Being skilled in building fire makes you more confident in your outdoor survival. And it makes all of your camping much more fun.

In this chapter, we covered all of the benefits of fire. This includes warmth, cooking, and making water safe to drink. We then covered the various devices we need for building a fire. And concluded with a simple way to build a fire.

See our list of our favorite survival resources

Keeping Your Devices Charged

It is nice to disconnect from civilization when we go into the outdoors. However, this doesn’t mean we can completely get away from the need for electricity. And in a survival situation, you must be able to navigate and communicate.

This means we need to be able to power our devices. Thankfully with modern advancements in battery technology and LED, it’s much simpler to keep our devices charged while on the go.

I was reading recently about a woman who had gone on a day hike and got lost because the trail markings had been destroyed in a recent storm. As a result, she had to spend the night outdoors.

Her phone had died. This meant she couldn’t find her way back nor could she call for help.

Her husband called Search and Rescue in the morning, who found her later that afternoon, less than 50 yards off one of the trails.

This is why we need to make sure we can keep our devices charged.

The most common devices we will have in our bag will be:

Your mobile phone. You will carry your phone on your body. Your phone will be your communication, navigation, and information tool. You can use your mobile phone for a light.

But speaking of lights, put in a rechargeable headlamp.

I would also want to have a Garmin InReach Mini in my pack. The InReach is a full-fledged GPS and communication device. Let’s save the arguments about GPS vs compass for another day. A compass is great for backup if you know how to use it and have a reliable map. The Garmin is going to navigate for you as long as you keep it charged.

You can use the InReach to communicate with other people using standard text messages. It’s much better to be able to talk in full sentences. And the SOS button is great if you need rescue assistance.

For charging, there are many options.

You can use a USB charging bank or a solar charger. Or combine it with both.

I also keep an inverter in my pickup truck. It allows me to plug it into my power port in the dashboard. Anything with a 2 or 3 prong plug can connect to my inverter.

See our list of our favorite survival resources

Bonus — Pack Scissors And A Saw

Dave Canterbury is a popular survival and bushcraft instructor. He is famous for his 10 Cs of survival. The first C is cutting tools.

I am an Eagle Scout. During my journey from Cub to Eagle, I also participated in the Order of the Arrow. We were not allowed to bring many things on our initiation campout. But one item we could bring was our pocket knife.

And you might have caught on, I haven’t mentioned a cutting tool until now.

This is because, in reality, I don’t use my knife very much in the outdoors and I camp or backpack almost every weekend.

While you can bring along a fixed-blade knife, I don’t think you need it just because you’re in a survival situation.

The tools I would want would be:

A quality pocket knife. I love my Swiss Army knife. But you can use whatever knife you prefer. We have an article about pocket knives <a href=”https://www.campingforge.com/blog/5-best-pocketknives-for-camping/">here.</a>

A portable folding saw like a Silky GomBoy. A saw is better than a knife for cutting wood into smaller pieces. And a quality pocket knife will work for any whittling or feathering you might need to do.

The most surprising cutting tool you should bring is a pair of scissors. If you think about what you might need to cut, it’s often packages of food or clothing for a First-Aid situation. Scissors work much better than a knife for either situation.

If you need to cut meat or vegetables for a meal, your pocket knife will work.

Which reminds me, throw in a spork for eating within the bag.

In this chapter, we discussed the importance of having cutting tools in our survival bag. While many people think of big Rambo (or Bowie) knives as a necessary implement for survival this is not the case. These knives look cool in the movies but are not practical in real life. Large knives like this can also be dangerous to use. Instead, a pocket knife is often enough of a knife in most situations.

We then augment our pocket knife with other cutting tools. A folding, portable saw is a good tool to have for processing firewood. We often need to transform larger logs into smaller logs to build a fire. A saw is a much better and safer tool than battoning a log with a knife.

Finally, what we most often use a cutting tool for is opening packages or cutting cloth. A pair of scissors will do this job more effectively than a knife. This is why I keep a pair of scissors in my First-Aid kit.

See our list of our favorite survival resources


Many people think that survival situations is something that happens to other people. They think if they live in the city and never even go for a walk, they will never be faced with the need for a survival kit or bug-out bag.

However, if you pay attention to the news, you know this is not true. A winter storm can blow into town and knock out power for several days. An earthquake can strike and you’re on your own while the city burns around you.

Protestors might decide that your block is the block to terrorize. They knock out power and set cars on fire. Forcing you to flee your house on foot with just the clothes on your back.

Or let’s take a look at less extreme cases.

You go out on a day hike on an unfamiliar trail. Unknown to you the trail has not been maintained and you find yourself lost.

Darkness comes and you have no idea how far you are from your vehicle. You must bed down for the night and try to get help in the morning.

All of these are examples of potential survival situations. If you are unprepared the situation will be much worse.

Instead, be one of the few who are prepared by making sure you have a pack with the gear we talk about in this short guide.

See our list of our favorite survival resources



Mark Wilcox

I once backpacked 100 miles in 90 days. After 25 years in IT, I wanted more adventure in my life. I want to inspire you to add more adventure too.