By Tom Sheppard
When it comes to survival, there is a fundamental fact that you need to know in order to be fully prepared.
It all comes down to the simple truth that the average human can live up to 3 hours in bad weather, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.
Once you understand this, you can easily develop survival strategies and pick the right gear that will serve you well if the time ever comes where you find yourself stuck in nature with no help in sight.
In this article, we are going to go over the top 10 most critical pieces of gear that you must have in order to survive in natural disasters or in situations where the world as you know it has ended.
A Word About Survival Kits
Before we jump right into the gear, it’s important to get our bearings on the different types of survival kits that are popular today.
The first type is something called a Bug Out Bag, or BOB for short. This type of kit is intended to last you 72 hours, so that you can make it to a pre-designated bug out location, or BOL. A BOB is usually preloaded with a little drinking water and other necessities to get you through 3 days of a possibly long hike.
For example, my personal bug out bag, which can be found at Trek Warrior, is a backpack with gear that weighs 31.6 pounds, and includes 3 liters of water as well as 3600 quick energy calories of food. I have plenty of gear and backup gear that will take care of all of my survival needs for over 3 days. I give the entire list for my BOB in that article.
There are also kits called I’m Never Coming Home, or INCH for short. The INCH bag is set up a little differently, and focuses more on long-term survival in many different environments. It will also focus more on specialized tools for shelter building, as well as a means to hunt and fish for meat.
A third kit that is very popular is called a Get Home Bag, or GHB. This is a bag that you put together so that you can keep it at work, school, or your vehicle with enough gear to help you get home if disaster should ever strike. Items like a change of clothes, better walking shoes, and basic camping equipment are great choices in case you had to get home from where you are at on foot.
With those three kits in mind, there are actually some fundamental pieces of gear that you will find in all of them. Combined with the right survival skills, you will be set for almost anything.
At the heart of each kit is the gear that you need to meet the core rule of survival that we discussed at the beginning of this article.
The gear addresses the needs of shelter, water, and food in their order of importance. Let’s jump right into the most critical items.
If you could have just one item in nature, it would have to be a great survival knife. With a knife, you can make shelter, prepare fuel for a fire, defend yourself, and prepare food. It is the work horse of survival.
It turns out that you don’t want a knife that is too small or too big. The reason is that if it’s too small, you won’t be able to manipulate bigger branches for shelter, or even defend yourself against threats.
And if your knife is too big, you can’t use it for precision tasks like making proper tinder and kindling for your fire, or skinning an animal.
What is the proper size? An overall knife length of around 10 inches is ideal. Other features that you want in a survival knife are that it’s a fixed blade with a full tang, it has a tip point, the blade has a single sharp edge, and the bottom of the knife is flat for crushing objects.
You will definitely need the ability to make a fire in order to warm your body, purify water if needed, or even cook food.
There are many ways to create fire from a gear standpoint. The easiest way, believe or not, is with a cheap plastic lighter. The technology built into a basic lighter has made creating fire trivial.
Another method is by using waterproof matches. Regular matches are not a good option here, because most likely you won’t find yourself in a nice dry environment when you need a fire.
A sure-proof way to make fire when you know what you are doing is with a ferro rod and striker. This tool is the type where you take a piece of metal and strike it on a rod, which generates hot sparks. You must practice proper fire building skills here in order for this to work well.
A great fire kit will have all three of these items in it: plastic lighter, waterproof matches, and a ferro rod with a striker.
As for knowing how to make a fire under all conditions that you might find yourself in, remember that it’s a simple rule of three: tinder, kindling, and fuel.
Tinder is a very fine material that will catch a spark easily and help it ignite. Kindling is a little bit bigger strips of material that can help the fire burn longer. Fuel is the final burning material for the fire that will burn a long time.
The best type of material for tinder includes cotton balls, fine wood flakes, and dryer lint. If you can’t find any in your environment, you can always shave off some of your cotton clothes in an emergency. Otherwise, grab some of that old dryer lint after you do your laundry and put it in a zip lock bag to keep it handy with your fire kit.
Kindling is made easily by shaving off strips of wood for your fire. You simply use your survival knife and branches to make it. Your main fuel should usually include wood from trees, furniture, or any other source you can find.
You can build a simple pyramid type structure where you light or throw sparks onto the tinder, which is surrounded by kindling, which is surrounded by fuel. Blow on the sparks to provide fresh oxygen until you get the fire roaring. It takes practice, so it’s a good idea to go camping to test out your skills.
A poncho is something that most of us are already familiar with. It’s simply a plastic covering that will keep you dry when it’s raining.
However, all ponchos are not created equal. The really cheap ones that you often see are intended for a one-time use and easily fall apart.
It’s much better to invest in a good one that has thicker material and is big enough to cover you properly. A military poncho is a popular choice for these reasons, and it also has reinforced grommets in the corners. This will let you use it as a tarp if you need to.
With the luxuries of the modern world and civilization, many of us have never learned how to tie knots for making shelter while camping.
It turns out that our ancestors used cordage back in the day extensively for almost everything, from shelter to ships.
Modern technology has produced some much better materials, which makes even better cordage that we have access to compared to those that came before us.
Paracord is the type that you want for survival situations. It gets its name because it is similar to the type of cordage used for parachutes. The typical high-quality stuff can handle 550 pounds of stress, which makes it plenty strong for survival needs.
Getting a good 100-200 feet of it should give you plenty to do what you need to do in a bad situation. Just make sure that it is 550 rated or better.
Being able to put up a shelter to get out of the elements is critical so that you can avoid hypothermia, which is where your body temperature gets too low.
Depending on how big your carry space is for your items, two popular choices here are tarps and tents. There are some lightweight one-person tents out there that are extremely compact.
A great feature about getting a military poncho like we discussed earlier is that it also doubles as a great tarp that you can use to make a shelter if you use it with paracord.
Ideally, you can get a tent here, and use your poncho as a fallback shelter if something goes wrong.
Getting out of the wind and the rain is the first step in stabilizing your body temperature. However, you will also need something that you can wrap yourself in that will help you warm up if you need to.
There are many emergency blankets out there that you can wrap yourself with that will reflect a lot of your body heat back onto you, warming you up.
An even better option is something called a bivvy. It is like an emergency blanket, but usually thicker and more durable, and it also has a zipper so that it resembles a thin sleeping bag.
With a bivvy, you can get much better coverage around your body so that it won’t let too much reflected heat escape. This warms you up better. Plus, it’s waterproof.
A proper sleeping bag works here, too, but is much more bulky than a bivvy, so it can be harder to fit into a kit.
A great example here is the SOL Escape Bivvy.
Water is something you have to have in order to live. You will definitely need the ability to purify water so that you can avoid some nasty critters that often inhabit drinkable water sources.
Our ancestors fell victim to bugs in drinking water, which often can lead to death. Modern technology gives us some great options for purifying water, though.
Another option is water purification tablets. They usually come in small bottles of tablets that you can throw into a container of water and wait for several minutes to get water clean of bugs.
Finally, a more primitive solution is simply boiling water. It’s best to have a metal container for your water so that this is easy, which we will discuss next.
Some great examples here are the Survival Straw and Potable Aqua tablets.
You will need a container to carry your drinking water. They come in different materials and many different shapes and sizes.
In order to give yourself the best options for purification, it makes sense to get a good metal canteen so that you can actually boil water if you need to.
A one-liter container is a common size. If you must have a hard plastic container, then make sure and get a metal cup that fits over the bottom of it so that you have something to boil water in.
You can also go for collapsible plastic containers as spares to be able to store even more water. Just try to get at least 1 metal container so that you can boil water. There are many great options out there, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding them.
As for food, typically quick energy snacks are the best way to go for your kit.
If you want to be able to cook, you will have to not only carry cooking gear and eating utensils, but you will also need to bring actual food and more water to cook with.
Unless you are a great hunter and gatherer in your own right, you need to consider that it might be harder to cook food in nature than you are aware of.
An option that I like is ready to eat emergency rations. This is food that is ready to eat right out of the package and will give you quick energy.
The SOS Emergency Food Rations is the perfect choice here. It gives you 9 bars that are individually packaged and are 400 calories each. The package has a 5-year shelf life.
Last, but not least is a proper multi-tool. There is a wide array of these tools out there that you can choose from.
You want to select one that gives you a few core tools like regular and Philips head screw driver, small scissors, and a file.
Depending on what you might be up against in an emergency, you can pick other features for your multi-tool that will serve you well.
The Leatherman Wingman is one of the most popular items, with over 14 tools included to give you the best options. The Schrade ST1NB is a cheaper option, but works well.
To wrap it up, we looked briefly at the three most popular types of emergency kits out there right now. They include a bug out bag, a I’m never coming home bag, and a get home bag.
At the heart of these type of kits are certain pieces of gear that support your fundamental requirements that you need to survive.
Again, you can live up to 3 hours in bad weather, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food for the average human.
We then looked at the 10 most critical pieces of gear that you must have in order to meet these needs for survival.
It’s wise to go gather up this gear into one place now when you have the time, so that it’s there if catastrophe strikes. That way, you are prepared to survive.
Tom Sheppard is a survival enthusiast. He has spent most of his life in the outdoors camping and hunting. Tom is always looking for the best ways to prepare for emergencies. He often shares his expertise over at Trek Warrior, which is a great place to learn more on the topics discussed in this article.