We live in the modern age though -- in many ways we have an advantage. Most people need those advantages because going from a wired world to the wilderness comes with a learning curve -- one that can kill you if you're not prepared.
Each of these products assumes the worst -- because that's exactly when your life might be on the line and a product's effectiveness and "Survival Power" come into play.
Fire: You want a fire when it's cold and raining or you've just had to wade across a river or through flood waters and now you're soaked and in danger of hypothermia. We recommend survival gear that can produce a rolling fire in no time and with little work.
Water: Though boiling and distilling are methods for safe drinking water, you can't always rely on these methods, especially if you're in a hurry and have to get out of a dangerous area or through hostile territory. You are going to want a way to quickly filter water and make it safe to drink.
Food: Freeze-dried food may fail you, especially if someone robs you for whatever food you have. A good survivalist will always have a "plan B" for feeding yourself and your family. Two products listed below will help you do just that. (Hint: These products make hunting easier, especially for beginners).
Shelter: Shelter-building is one of the first things a person will learn in survival -- I make two recommendations for survival gear here, one might surprise you at the low cost involved.
Defense / Security: The wilderness can be a dangerous place; so can the streets of a major city following a widespread disaster. This list of top 10 survival gear includes products for defense and security.
Stealth: Sometimes you may not want to be found. Other times you may want to spot other people or wildlife before they know you're there.
In this scenario, it's not enough to just recommend a good lighter -- what you need in this case is actually a good fire starter -- something that will help you get a fire going fast if you're in an emergency that may end shortly in death by hypothermia.
Nothing gets a fire started faster than a "micro torch", which is a small self-igniting hand-held torch that produces a 2500 degree flame in an instant.
That's hot enough to get an emergency fire going in no time, even if it's raining, and even if your tinder pile is damp.
There are a number of mini torches that run off butane or propane. Out of all these, the "Blazer Self-Igniting Butane Micro-Torch" tops the Amazon.com Best Sellers list for "brazing equipment" with great reviews across the board by people who have used it for multiple purposes. Added bonus -- it's not very big, yet produces a flame that is about 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.
It has a self-ignition system which means you don't manually light it. The built-in trigger has a spring loaded hammer that strikes a crystal, producing a spark, which ignites the torch.
If you fall in the river or find yourself suddenly in an emergency and need to get a fire going quickly -- and it's raining and the wood you hope to burn is wet -- get this fire going using a Blazer micro-torch. You can even cook, right from the torch (be sure the flame is a blue color and not yellow as blue signifies complete burning of butane; yellow means you need to adjust the torch).
Tip: If you're crossing through the wilderness and in a survival situation that calls for moving without stopping, you can use this torch to cook insects you collect as you flip over rocks and logs along the trail (insects taste better cooked, in general).
Survival Power: On a scale of 1 to 10, I give this torch a 9 (a torch relies on fuel; when your fuel runs out, so does the life of the torch. You'll need back-up fuel if you want several month's use in an extended survival situation. One thing to note: One can of fuel can go a long ways.). Product receives a "10" if you have both back-up fuel and a back up torch head in case of rare equipment failure, or to even use as a bartering item.
2) Portable Water Filter - Lifestraw - $20
There are a lot of portable water filters on the market. A popular brand can do a good job filtering water and withstand long term use, but they can be both clunky and expensive, well over $100, with several parts that need to be fitted together.
Then there's the Lifestraw Portable Water Filter that comes in at just under $22; it's not only a great portable water filter with a proven track record, it's a Time Magazine Invention of the Year Winner on top of that. It's been used by both backpackers and relief agencies in third world countries alike. It weighs only 2 ounces and is a perfect tool for extreme survival situations like wilderness survival as well as a tool for providing water safe to drink during an evacuation of a widespread disaster. It has a very simple construction with no moving parts -- which means less chances of equipment breakdown.
Like other portable water filters though it has it's limits -- a Lifestraw can't filter salt (to filter salt water you'll have to distill it) or heavy metals, chemicals or viruses. In a survival situation or urban disaster you'll have to use your head. Avoid drinking from ground water sources in a populated area following severe flooding or a massive earthquake. This ground water can be contaminated with chemicals and sewage. You'll want to move further out of the area to a water source that is less likely to be contaminated with chemicals and sewage before using your Lifestraw.
At 1,000 liters, you'll get a lot of drinking water out of your "Lifestraw" portable water filter.
Survival Power: I give this portable water filter an 8 (portable water filters do not remove chemicals and so none are a complete solution to water).
When choosing what rifle to recommend as one of the choices for Top 10 Survival Gear, I went to the experts at Outdoor Life. They know the hunting industry. They know guns. I have to say that the "Marlin 336XLR" comes in as a great choice for a hunting rifle specifically due to it's accuracy. New hunters need as much help as they can get right? This "30-30" gets top billing for deer but in all actuality a 30.30. can take down just about any game animal in North America, including grizzly bears. Carry the right ammunition for the game you plan to hunt; don't use the same ammo you would use to take down a deer (150 grain) as you would for a turkey or small game (100-125 grain). Cover all your bases and carry multiple sizes of ammo.
Survival Power: I give this rifle an 8 (there is no guarantee you'll be in an area prime for hunting -- not unless you do your research first and know where to enter the wilderness so that your journey takes you through areas where game is plentiful).
4) Snare Traps -- Dakota Line's Ghost Rider Versatile Snares - $16 for 1 Dozen / $76 for 5 Dozen
One of the things a person will learn in U.S. Special Forces survival training is that squirrels, rabbits, and other small mammals can make a quick meal. In the wilderness, all you need to know is how to read the ground around you and recognize areas that small mammals are likely to travel. Then set up a number of small, simple traps around the area (deadfalls, snares, etc) and simply wait for traps to spring.
Tips: You can increase the likely hood of a trap catching an animal by arranging logs, brush and large rocks to narrow a path that leads straight into each trap you set -- from both directions in fact. Squirrels and rabbits and other small mammals can be "funneled" into any trap that's been set.
If you bait these traps you have greater chances of not only catching an animal, but catching it faster than if you didn't bait these traps. How would you like to check your traps the next morning and find a few animals snared, not just one (if you were lucky to get even one)? (Kaytee Squirrel and Critter Blend provides natural bait for an "urban survival" or "live off the land" scenario).
Survival Power: I give this product an 8 (snare placement can be a key factor to whether or not you catch anything; your ability to know where to set snares relies on you learning and practicing basic trapping skills). I give this product a "9" if you know how to hunt small game. I give this product a "10" if you have bait or know how to find nuts, seeds, and berries to use as natural bait.
If you can "get over" the commercialism of the Bear Grylls name, here's a serious survival knife for people new to the wilderness. The sheer number of nearly 5 star reviews by users shows that Bear Grylls Survival Series Ultimate Knife isn't all hype. For $34 you can own one heck of a survival knife from Gerber, well known for sharp knives and quality construction. This knife comes with a built in diamond sharpener in the sheath, a serrated edge for sawing, an emergency whistle (built into the lanyard), and a fire-starter in the sheath for striking and creating a spark. Care and planning went into this top piece of survival gear. Bear's insight and Special Forces training has played a role in the design of this knife.
Survival Power: I give this knife a 10 (a quality survival knife for only $34 with the added tools is an exceptional deal). I give this knife a 7 though if you're careless about where you keep your things when you're out in the wilderness. You see, if you lose that sheath, you also lose your fire-starter, which comes built into the sheath (in that case, you better have a second way to start a fire as back up).
Not sure this knife is all that it's billed to be? Read over a few of the nearly 700 reviews, a number which you can bet includes a few experienced outdoorsmen.
One thing to point out, the "BG" (Bear Grylls) logo is a bright orange color that tends to stand out; in a time of collapse, file or melt off any logos, from any manufacturers (not just Gerber), to attract as little attention to any of your gear as possible.
Reaching for a multi-tool is as easy as simply finding one with pliers, and a Phillips screw driver, right? Actually that's wrong. A Phillips screw driver might come in handy on several occasions but there are a lot more screw head types that call for special fittings. These special fittings can quickly take parts off vehicles, remove hardware around locking mechanisms, and remove ventilation coverings. A good multi-tool is essential to urban survival, is made of stainless steel, and can withstand years' of use. If you're going to be anywhere near an urban environment, look, at the Swiss Tool Spirit Plus. Here's a multi-tool with 38 functions, including a bit wrench with 6 bits (important for screw heads that a Phillips or standard screwdriver will not fit).
If you want a multi-tool for both urban survival and your firearms, you can purchase a Leatherman Tactical Multi-Tool, get superior construction also like the Swiss Tool mentioned above; be sure to get the the 40 bit add-on set (approximately $12). That's 40 bits of various sizes; in an urban environment, you should be able to open just about anything you come across. It may get you into buildings. It may get you out of danger on more than one occasion.
Binoculars are often overlooked as an essential piece of survival gear. The fact is, you can survive without binoculars, just like early century Native Americans who lived off the land. Key difference though is that they knew the land -- there's a good chance you're going to end up in a place that you don't know very well, especially in a mountain range, vast desert, or national forest.
With a good set of binoculars you're going to be able to see greater detail at further distances and with less eye strain than a cheap pair. Cheap binoculars are for your kids in the backyard looking at birds -- not hunting game at far distances or traveling through the wilderness.
Real binoculars are for the wilderness. Get yourself a pair of real binoculars. Outdoor Life rated several binoculars, most coming in at over $1000, with one priced at $2700. That is steep! But Outdoor Life did give a high rating to a cheaper pair -- The "Alpen Apex XP 8x42" is priced at about $300 and received Outdoor Life's "Great Buy" tag. If you have the money to spend, sure, go ahead and spend top dollar, buy the best of the best. You will get more bang for your buck. But you'll get a lot of bang for your buck as well with the Alpen Apex 8x42 for a lot less.
Why do I rate binoculars in the "Top 10 Survival Gear"? Not only do binoculars help hunters spot game animals -- they help people lost in the wilderness identify distant features in the terrain, sometimes saving several miles of needless travel. Mis-reading the terrain can bring a person to the edge of a cliff or canyon or to a river that is simply to dangerous to cross. Now you have to turn back.
Reading the terrain at a distance helps identify water sources as well as which routes you can travel with the least amount of obstacles.
In hostile territory, a good set of binoculars offers stealth and can help you identify an ambush up ahead as well as dangerous dogs, armed criminals, or other dangers before they find you or before you stumble into them.
Survival Power: I give this product a 10 (binoculars are never truly appreciated until a situation that calls for binoculars presents itself).
8) Climbing -- Petzl Grigri 2 Belay Device - $99
Unless you're on the open prairie, if you're crossing through the wilderness there's a great chance you're going to come to a cliff or ridge or canyon at some point. The drop before you may be only 20 yards at it's shallowest point -- but that's a 60 foot drop. You can't climb down that. Now you're stuck.
So, do you backtrack several miles and head a few miles north or south in an attempt to detour around the cliff?
Or do you save yourself several hours and just rappel down the cliff with a rope, harness and belay device? The "Petzl Grigri 2 Belay Device" is priced at $99. It takes climbing and descending with a rope to a new level -- it's billed as making climbing easier and safer. If you can see how useful climbing and descending with a rope can be in a survival situation, get yourself one of these belay devices as well as some instruction in climbing and rope setting. It's not that difficult and many cities have recreation centers and outfitters with indoor walls where you can be taught how to climb by an instructor. To be more prepared for the wilderness, follow up with instruction on an actual rock face or cliff.
Tip: Climbing and descending cliffs and slopes can be a very effective way to get yourself out of a dangerous area fast, get yourself passed otherwise impassable obstacles, or even get yourself to prime hunting grounds.
Tip: In an area of canyons and cliffs, if there are hostile forces or dangerous wildlife on the ground (bears, wolves, mountain lions, etc.), you may find that setting up shelter on a cliff 50 - 100 feet off the ground is a great way to survive and sleep safely at night and out of danger.
Survival Power: I give this product a 7 (your fitness level to climb and descend and your ability to recognize and tie good anchor points relies solely on practice -- without prior knowledge or practice, using a belay device to rappel is dangerous). I give this product a "10" if you know the basics of climbing.
The problem with recommending a backpacking tent for survival is that good ones can be expensive; on top of that, tents are built for recreational use -- not for long term use should you find yourself in a time of disaster and having to live off the land for possibly several weeks or even months.
A "Tarpaflex Super Heavy Duty Tarp" on the other hand is a lot more tear resistant than any backpacking tent that I've seen. If you carry a couple of these of varying sizes you can assemble a survival shelter rather quickly. You'll have to learn how to build a simple shelter first of course, which you can do using a nearby tree, rope, and a stick or two you find on the ground. A tarp shelter is easily camouflaged with brush -- should you need to stay hidden for any period of time.
If you go with tarp, buy yourself three or four measuring 10x12 or a bit larger. With a few tarps you can build yourself a small shelter that is sealed and insect proof, nearly as well as a tent. With some duct tape (to tape tarp edges) or a heavy duty sewing needle and thread you can stitch together a shelter made of tarp in no time.
What about bugs? Elsewhere on the site I've recommended mosquito netting -- using bobby pins (1) or velcro and gorilla glue (2) or a heavy duty sewing needle and thread (3) you can hang mosquito netting over your entry way of any tarp shelter you build.
With a bit of ingenuity you've built yourself a shelter that costs much less than a popular brand name tent and should be able to withstand more wear and tear and protect from rain and wind, even snow. In a time of collapse and evacuation, it also catches less attention than something bright blue or orange or yellow like a popular brand name tent.
Tip: Bring along an extra "stuff sack", like you'd carry a sleeping bag in, and use it to carry your tarp shelter when it's time to break camp and move to a new location.
Survival Power: I give this product a 7 (your ability to work with your hands and also recognize good or bad places to set up shelter will be a factor on how well a tarp shelter can work for you). If effective, out of the box thinking comes naturally for you, I give this product a "9".
Tip: Tents have an advantage over tarps -- they zip tight and help protect from insects and snakes getting inside. The problem with a tent is that (unless it's heavy duty canvas, which means bulk and weight) tents are prone to tearing and zippers breaking with repeat use. More expensive tents can have more life in them of course. If you have the budget for it consider a tent by North Face, Marmot, or Mountain Hardware -- look for tents rated for use in areas like Mount Everest, as each of these brands has models used successfully on various expeditions. You want something that can withstand the beating that comes with repeat use.
10) Sleeping Bag -- U.S. Military Goretex Modular Sleeping Bag System - $130
Staying warm on a cold night is never truly appreciated until you spend 10 hours shivering in a sleeping bag not rated for the sudden drop in temperature that just took place the night before. There's a solution, though: a Goretex modular sleeping bag system. What you get is a sleeping bag with a sleeping bag liner (effectively creating multiple layers of sleeping bag, based on how cold it is). The primary bag is rated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the interior layer and this cold temperature rating drops to minus 10 degrees.
When you choose a sleeping bag rated for cold weather, sleeping bags filled with goose down are lightest -- but they come with a consequence. If your bag gets wet it loses all insulating properties. A single tear can cause down to spill out. Your best bet is to get a down sleeping bag with a gore tex liner, to protect from moisture. But the price for Goretex down bags with a high rating can be steep -- which can climb to $500 or more.
A synthetic bag can keep a person warm in cold temperatures as well, but there's a drawback -- they weigh more, sometimes a few pounds more. If weight isn't an issue (you plan to travel by horse or ATV for example or can easily handle a few extra pounds in your backpack), then go with a synthetic bag like this Goretex modular system.
Survival Power: I give this product a 9 (it's highly likely to do the job and to do the job well -- but only to -10 degrees -- you'll have to wear additional layers and craft additional insulation around your bag if temperatures drop below negative 10).
Need to stitch something up in the field? This heavy duty sewing needle (called an awl) makes stitching things together like tarp, leather, torn clothing, and even shoes that have split possible. Along with heavy duty thread that means that you can extend the life of essential survival gear that breaks or tears on you with repeat use.
Navigation -- Cammenga Model 27CS Lensatic Compass - $48
The amount of reviews on this compass speak volumes. With periodic malfunctions in several store-bought compasses, including polarity issues, you want a compass you can count on. Learn proper care for a compass and how to protect polarity, as well as how it's actually used in the field. Navigation is an essential survival skill; along with fire and water procurement and shelter building, navigating with a compass is a skill taught in Special Forces survival training as well as local survival schools in most areas.
Shelter / Hammock -- Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock - $190
This isn't an ordinary hammock. An ordinary hammock pulls up on both ends, elevating your head and feet. For some people that's an uncomfortable way to sleep.
The "Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock" is a "sleep straight" hammock, due to the way it's constructed. It is also an enclosed shelter -- if you opt for one of these you don't need a tarp shelter or tent. Consider a hammock like this model for those times you want to be up off the ground -- for example during heavy rains or crossing through marsh, swamp, or even jungle.
Tip: Worried about dangerous wildlife on the ground? Are you in shape for climbing trees easily? Consider hanging your "Bear Mountain Bridge Hammock" 20 or 30 feet off the ground. You'll be out of reach of any predators on the forest floor below. Secure rope 2 - 3 feet beneath the hammock, running parallel to the hammock, and use this rope to help you enter and exit your hammock.
Tip: 20-30 feet high up in the trees would be a bad time for a hammock to experience equipment failure or for a knot or strap to come loose. Use your heavy duty sewing awl (see above), thread, and a second rope to incorporate additional support and a second knot system (on each end where the hammock is tied to a tree).
Emergency Light -- Kelty LumaTech Lantern - $30
There are a lot of opinions on what works great for a flashlight. It might be wise to have two or three types of artificial light (like a flashlight) split among your group, though anyone serious about spending time outdoors should consider carrying at the least a headlamp and a lantern. Both of these lights offer hands-free use -- the headlamp you wear on your head, like any cave explorer or coal miner might wear; it can also be hung from a shelter ceiling, though it won't be as bright as a lantern.
A lantern offers light around a camp site, or simply light for a tent or shelter, where it can be hung from a ceiling, like the headlamp. The "Kelty LumaTech Lantern" comes with a high and low setting for light and runs off 4AA batteries. For the price, ease of use, and that it runs off AA batteries (extra AA batteries are lighter than D batteries, meaning you can easily carry more), this lantern can go a long way.
Tip: In a time of collapse or catastrophic disaster, it may be smart to turn to candles, camp fires, and even hand-held torches for evening light and go easy on your batteries in any headlamps, flashlights and lanterns. The smoke from each of these will call for plenty of ventilation, a candle needing the least ventilation.
Mini-Flashlight -- Icon LED Caribiner - $30
Mini-Flashlight: A useful, inexpensive flashlight to have on hand when you need light in a hurry -- and your headlamp or lantern are tucked away in your pack -- is an "Icon LED Caribiner Flashlight". It's a small flashlight with an LED light -- meaning lots of run time -- and operates on just one AA battery. Price: $30.
If you want to go top end for a small flashlight go for a SureFire LX2. Price: $210. Constructed of high strength aerospace aluminum, this is one flashlight that can withstand a beating, with a nearly indestructible LED emitter; waterproof to one meter for up to 30 minutes (you can fall in the river and count on your light still working).
Hand-Crank Light and Emergency Radio -- Ambient Weather WR-111A Emergency Solar Hand Crank Weather Alert Radio, Flashlight, Smart Phone Charger - $40
If you're going to spend any length of time inside a building or home with little or no ventilation, have a hand-crank lantern and hand-crank flashlights on hand. These generate power by use of a hand-crank (thus the name) and don't require batteries to operate. Cheap ones may break on you easily over time -- look for hand-crank flashlights and lanterns with rugged construction and great reviews like the "Ambient Weather WR-111A Emergency Solar Hand Crank Weather Alert Radio, Flashlight, Smart Phone Charger."
Signal Device -- Orion 12 Gauge HP Red Signal Kit - $65 to $105 range
Wilderness survival sometimes calls for being found -- that includes in a time of collapse as well. Perhaps you've put together a camp in a remote location. Whatever circumstances take place where you're now cooperating with other people for survival, tasks related to hunting, scouting, and scavenging can mean you have to split off from the group at times.
Whether it's a time around the corner or it's simply today, if you're a recreational hiker or hunter, a signal flare gun (and extra flares) can help you be found when others are searching for you. When you shop for an "Orion 12 Gauge HP Red Signal Kit" purchase a few flares as back-up.
Tip: Also purchase roadside flares and keep on hand for an emergency calling for a fast fire. Flame-producing handheld roadside flares like the Orion 9340 30-Minute Red Flares are different than the ones above and not fired from a gun. Carry these in your vehicle and take a couple on your next hiking trip packed safely in a waterproof container -- these can be used to start a fire in wet conditions also, with very little work.
Want to get a fire started fast after falling in a river? An Orion handheld flare will burn for approximately 30 minutes, even in the wind and rain. Pop the flare and arrange sticks, bark, and branches (even if they're damp) over the top. At 30 minutes of burn time, that is plenty of time to ignite a pile of damp tinder and kindling.
Security / Stealth -- Night Owl Optics 5-Power NOXM50 Night Vision Monocular - $175
Want to see at night, even in total darkness? This infrared monocular from Night Owl rivals the optics of advanced products costing hundreds of dollars more. Designed for single hand use and easy operation of power and infrared buttons. See sharp images even in pitch darkness. Know whether or not that twig snapping outside camp is just an opossum or if it's a bear or other predator.
Security / Signal Device -- Unified Marine 50074005 Air Horn - $14
A lot has been said on the web by hunters, hikers, and wilderness officers on the effectiveness air horns have had to scare off bears, specifically grizzly bears. The "official data" is that an air horn may or may not work. After hearing what multiple people have had to say with varying credentials, my conclusion is that an air horn might be effective to scare off a grizzly bear 80-90% of the time. People who have used it caution others to hold the horn down so that it makes a long, continued noise. Bear hearing is more sensitive than a human's and that could be one reason why grizzlies have run at the sound of an air horn. Sometimes it may not work for you though -- equipment failure may occur unexpectedly (we don't live in a perfect world) or maybe a bear is simply too hungry or too angry. For these scenarios, have a back up plan.
While your spouse or one of your children is sounding an air horn that may buy you enough time to grab your rifle, take aim, and fire.
Tip: An air horn can also be used as a signaling system, alerting people who may be hunting or fishing to return to camp. Be sure to have a few re-fill cans, if you want long term use -- air horns have a limited life span.