Getting started with gear is another one of those overwhelming and potentially expensive challenges for the beginning prepper.
Today I would like to suggest a starter list of items that can be purchased at a reasonable cost. Purchase one item a week or one item a month. Along the way, you will find other items and soon you will have a nice kit, ready to go when the big one strikes or the flood waters hit.
The Best Survival Gear to Get Started With
Crank-Up Radio: This model from Kaito Electronics will set you back about $50. It comes with all the features that you need in an emergency situation such as a multi-band AM/FM and shortwave radio, 7 NOAA weather channels, a five LED adjustable reading lamp, and a multi-function LED flashlight that can be used in both a normal bright color mode and red color for emergency use. All of these features can be operated indefinitely without external power using a hand crank. There is a solar panel that charges the built-in batteries or you can use AA batteries or you can plug the radio into a USB device.
Other options? The Etón American Red Cross Self-Powered Radio with Flashlight, Solar Power and Cell Phone Charger for about $34.
LED Flashlight and Batteries: You can never have too many LED flashlights and at least one should be a quality flashlight that can withstand the harsh environment of a survival situation. This MAGLITE LED Flashlight will cost about $25 but there are many others available for $15 or less.
Survival Knife: The sky is the limit when it comes to survival knives. For the beginner, or someone on a budget, a decent quality, all purpose knife is what you need until you have a chance to use it and learn what you like and don’t like, feature-wise before you invest in something more pricey. This Kershaw OSO Sweet Knife is highly rated and will cost about $23.
Candles, Matches, Lighter, and Fire Starters: From a safety point of view, a Candle Lantern is a great alternative to plain candles. Expect to pay about $18. Waterproof matches ($2) and a Zippo Fire Starter are some other items to add to your starter gear.
Pepper Spray: Not everyone is comfortable with a firearm plus, getting started with guns and ammo is an expensive proposition. That, plus the training required means that you should have some other means of self-defense to get you by while you are learning about firearms.
The Sabre Family Home and Property Protection Pepper Spray will set you back about $35. But even a hand held pepper spray such as the Sabre Compact Pepper Spray will keep you protected. The cost for the compact spray is less than $8.
A Lightweight Axe: This is another area where you can spend a little or spend a lot. This ax from Fiskars is highly rated and about $25.
Paracord: There are so many uses for paracord that it deserves an article all by itself. I just wish I had known about it sooner. You can get 100 feet of 550 lb. Type III Nylon Paracord for $8. This is a real bargain.
First Aid Kit: This is one area where I prefer to assemble my own kit but I know from talking to others that I am in the minority in this regard. My advice is that you carefully examine the contents of any kit you are planning to purchase and make sure that it is suitable to your needs. This all-in-one first aid kit from Coleman is $17.
Light Sticks: Light sticks are another one of those items that can be used in a variety of emergency and non-emergency situations. They are cheap – less than $20 for 10. These Military Grade Light Sticks provide up to to 12 hours illumination each.
Survival Whistle: This 5 in 1 Survival Whistle is only $3 with free shipping. In addition to a whistle, it includes a compass, signaling mirror, lanyard, and a storage case for your waterproof matches.
Survival Blanket: Not luxurious like a down comforter, but in an emergency, a survival blanket will help you retain body heat. Get quite a few of these and practice using them before you have to. This pack of 10 Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets is less than $9 with free shipping.
Water Filtration System: I will save the big, fancy water filtering system (such as the Berkey) for another time. What you need as a beginner are some Water Treatment Tablets to make contaminated water suitable for drinking on the fly. Expect to pay about $7.
Durable Water Bottle: There are lots and lots of choices for water bottles. You can even recycle a soda bottle to include with your survival gear. For the long tern, however, you should invest in a Nalgene BPA-Free Water Bottle or stainless model. Cost? About $8 for Nalgene.
Duct Tape: I have always said you can build a house with Duck Tape and Elmer’s glue. Well, not really but I have to tell you, there are a lot of uses for duct tape and a roll or two should be included in every survival kit. Survival Husband swears by the 3M Heavy Duty All-Weather Duct Tape but there are other, less expensive brands out there. About $8.
Outdoor Cook Stove: This is possibly the only budget breaker on my list, but definitely something you should consider. I recommend Volcano II Collapsible Stove or an EcoZoom but if money is really tight, a Coleman will do just fine. In that case, you will also need some propane instead of charcoal. Expect to pay about $100 for a cook stove.
DIY Tire Fix Kit For SHTF : Car, bicycle, UTV, no matter what type of transport you have then you need a tire fix kit, Even wheeled devices like wagons and wheelbarrows may get a flat. Having wheels can help you get a lot more work down and make survival more easily.
Get Home Bag: What do you do if you are caught out and need to get home or ride out a day away from home? Our article on get home bags can help you figure out what you need so you can buy items a little at a time.
Bivvy Sleeping Bag: Mylar blankets are one thing but they are fragile and only meant for short term emergencies. An emergency bivy for an unexpected night out is a small investment that can pay off big. Our post on the “Best Emergency Sleeping Bags For The Unexpected Night Out.”
Entertainment: While situational awareness is important, you also need something to help you keep a level head and get through an emergency. Adult coloring books and pencils, a note pad and paper, an e-reader that can be charged off of a small battery bank, or any other reasonable activity that is low input is going to be helpful. Kids are easier during an emergency when they have something to do and keep them occupied. Get a cheap storage tote with a lid and start throwing some things in there that are entertaining. You can do this a little at a time and before you know it you have a lot!
Tent Or Hammock Style Tent For Shelter: Staying dry is important and there is nothing like a good tent or shelter to achieve this. While you don’t have to break the bank, it is a good idea to get a tent that is at least in a mid price range and then you may still want to seal it further. A hammock style tent is made to keep you off the ground and hung between two trees. Most hammocks are made for 1-2 people but a lot of people feel they are really a 1 person deal. A shelter also helps keep you warmer regardless of the quality of the shelter you buy. Some really nice tents are 3 season tents that are made to be adjustable so you can be comfortable during all kinds of conditions.
Camping mattress: A lightweight quality sleeping mattress can make a big difference in the quality of rest and sleep you get. If you have back pain or any joint related condition then you should definitely invest in a good quality camping mattress. An emergency of SHTF scenario means you need to be able to rest well when you can. Lack of sleep can lead to a significant loss of alertness. Some people can handle loss of sleep better than others but even then it still adds up over time. Life is fragile.
Thermarest is a popular brand. If you are 5’8 or less you can get a women’s version that is lighter and less expensive but still thick. There is no use in paying for a regular sized men’s version if you can get away with the women’s. A bug out bag or survival kit is definitely one thing where ounces and bulk can add up quickly.
Mess Kit/Camp Cookware: Well if you have the stove you are going to want some lightweight cookware to use with it. Very lightweight quality kits can cost a lot but there are plenty of budget friendly ones out there that are just as good. Stainless steel or titanium are what you want to get if given the choice. Aluminum can be okay but some people do not want to expose themselves to excess aluminum even in a survival situation if it can at all be avoided. If you are planning on just using the kit for you and 1 other person maybe you can get away with a minimal kit. For larger groups a lot of the time everyone packs their own food prep stuff.
Tactical Pen: It is useful to have something to write with for sure but tactical pens are useful for a lot more. The carbide tip can be used as an impact weapon and glass breaker. Some pens also have other build in features. For those that want discreet personal defense weapons it is hard to go wrong with a tactical pen. Check out our guide to the best tactical pens for a bunch of different options to fit all budgets and hand sizes.
A comfortable pack with lots of compartments: Organization is important in an emergency or SHTF bug out scenario. You really need to know where to find your gear at a moments notice. A good Molle pack is well padded and has sturdy zippers and a lot of stash spaces. For the money they are hard to beat. A Molle is under $50 whereas a lot of backpacker framed packs from an outfitter are well over a $100 and often $200. I like that Molle bags really pay attention to the zipper issue. It is really unpleasant when you realize that what you thought was a great bag is great in every way but the zipper. It is a lot of trouble to replace one and during a survival situation it is unlikely you will have the time or even the right supplies.
Small mirror: While you may not be too concerned about preening you very well might want a way to examine areas of your body yourself so you can take care of wounds and other conditions. If you get something in your eye it can be nice to be able to see where the problem is so you can treat it better. Make sure that the mirror is made to be shatterproof.
Full set of synthetic clothing and several layers of it: Clothing is something you can buy a piece at a time. If you buy clothing in the off season and you are not picky about colors you can save a lot of money. Sometimes I get full synthetic basically weightless thermals for $16 when they are usually $70 at LL Bean. For more clothing ideas you can read “Best Clothing To Hace On Hand For SHTF”.
Long term water filter: Now you can get a good water filter for about $20. Check out our “Ultimate Guide To The Best Survival Water Filters” for in depth info and links to reviews of many different water filters. If you want to just spend $20 there is the Sawyer Mini and Hydro Blu. After testing out the new Hydro Blu 10 L Hydration Bag and Versa Filter I would advise getting it because it is $40 for the complete kit and it means you don’t have to pump water. The filter is good for over 20,000 gallons!
So there you have it –items that make a big difference but can be easily budgeted in. I put a lot of thought into this survival gear checklist and it is in no way all-inclusive. The intent was to get you thinking and to motivate you to start gearing up, one thing at a time. Print out this list, shop around, and find your best deal.
Whatever you decide, start now and before you know it, you will have the perfect kit, tailored just for you.
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