Many people look at survival as being about the supplies that you have; but, while supplies are important, ultimately the tools you have are more important. If all you depend on is your supplies, then eventually you’ll run out of supplies. When that happens, you’re sunk. There’s no other real option. But if you have the right tools to go with those supplies, you should be able to take care of yourself, even when the supplies run out.
Of course, there’s another part of this equation, and that’s knowledge. You can have the best tools in the world, but they won’t do you any good, if you don’t know how to use them. A bow, for example, is a great tool, allowing you to hunt. But if you don’t know how to use that bow, and use it well, it’s not going to do much to keep you fed.
Never assume just ownership of an item is enough; competency is required. I see people all the time who buy guns for self-defense. Sadly, there are always a percentage of them who never go to the shooting range to practice. I guess they think that shooting is as easy as Hollywood portrays it.
There are a lot of tools especially for the survivalist on the market today; some of which are quite good and others whose main purposes is to get your money. So it’s easy to get distracted by everything out there, especially since some of the ones you need the most are rather unassuming in their appearance, while some of the more flashy “survival tools” are more gimmick than useful tool.
Granted, some of those more gimmicky tools can still be useful; but when push comes to shove, you might have to carry all this stuff, so you want to be sure to have what you really need, rather than what looks good.
The most basic survival tool is the knife. Not only is a knife extremely useful for a plethora of different things, but it can also be used in making other tools and weapons. If you ever had to go out in the wild with just one tool, this is it.
You’re better off with a sheath knife, than a folding one, because it is stronger. You also want it to have a full tang (the part of the blade that extends through the handle). Knifes without a full tang tend to break. Avoid gimmicky “survival knifes” that include fire starters and other useful tools, as the way manufacturers pay for the cost of those, is to lower the quality of the steel that they use.
A good knife is only as good as the edge you can put on it. That means having the ability to sharpen your knife when it needs it. Yet, it’s amazing how few people even think of carrying a honing stone with them. Granted, you could sharpen your knife on a rock, but the results might turn out a bit iffy.
While a knife can cut pretty much everything, it can’t cut it well or easily. If you’ve got to cut a branch off a tree, cut off a sapling, or cut firewood to a useable length, a knife really isn’t the tool to use. You’ll need some sort of saw, preferably one that cuts aggressively.
For home or your survival retreat, a bow saw or bucking saw is ideal. Bow saws are better for cutting of tree limbs, but bucking saws are better for cutting logs to length. Neither is very portable though, so you wouldn’t want to put them in your bug out bag, for that, a folding pruning saw is best. Wire saws and manual chain saws work too, but not as well or as easily as a folding pruning saw does.
The purpose of the hatchet (small axe) isn’t really to cut down trees or cut off limbs, that’s what your saw is for. This is for splitting wood for the fire, more than anything else. It’s also good if your hatchet works as a hammer, so that you can use it to drive tent stakes into the ground.
Many people like carrying a tomahawk, rather than a hatchet. Somehow, the tomahawk has gotten a reputation as being “cool,” perhaps because it can be used as a weapon as well. But while a tomahawk can be used for splitting wood, it doesn’t do so as effectively as a hatchet.
As an alternative to a hatchet, you might want to consider carrying a machete. If you get one with the backside of the blade cut to be a saw pattern, it can replace your saw as well. Machetes are a multi-purpose tool, which can be used to cut down saplings, split wood, clear a trail or a host of other things. If you really know how to use a machete, it is much more useful than either a saw or a hatchet.
The main purpose of carrying a shovel is to bury your waste. But it can also be useful for digging a drainage ditch around your tent or shelter to help keep you warm. You can also use it for digging a defensive position, should you need to. It even serves as a close-quarters weapon in a pinch.
Theoretically, you can get by without a shovel, as you can dig with a machete or knife as well. But if you have one and learn how to use it effectively, you’ll find it to be a very useful tool.
Speaking of weapons, guns are tools too; used both for hunting and self-defense. While it is possible to survive without them, if you need one, you tend to need it bad, as the saying goes.
For survival purposes, the bow might be a better tool than a gun. The main advantage a bow has over a gun is that it is silent. That could be very useful in a survival situation. You can also make your own ammunition if you need to, as well as reuse your ammunition. All this makes the bow a very versatile tool.
Although we are a gun-oriented society, I’d personally rather have a bow than a gun in a true survival situation. However, it takes a lot more work to learn to use a bow effectively, than it does to learn how to shoot a gun effectively. You also need to learn how to move quietly through the woods, so that you can get close to game, without scaring them off.
Water is one of our highest survival priorities; and that water has to be clean. While it is technically possible to purify water by heating it, it is easier to purify it with a filter. Having a good purifying filter at home, as well as in your bug out bag, is an essential to survival.
Personally, I prefer using a back-flushable water filter, rather than one which requires that I change the filter cartridges after a while. If all you’re dealing with is a short-term survival situation, then the cartridge filters aren’t a problem. But if you’re in a long-term survival situation, those cartridges become a consumable supply. What do you do when they run out?
This is one that pretty much everyone forgets. If you’re caught in a long-term survival situation, you have to assume that your vehicles won’t be usable. Even if they are not damaged by something like an EMP, where would you come up with fuel from? Past disasters show that fuel supplies tend to run out and resupply is never quick enough. If you have to haul firewood or water from a mile away, you’ll need something to haul it in.
Of course, a cart is useful for other things as well; things associated with gardening and other survival-related tasks. So having a cart around that you can use for moving whatever is a good survival strategy. It can even be useful in a bug out, allowing you to carry more than what you can carry in your pack.
Technically, a flashlight is not absolutely necessary for survival. You can choose not to do tasks that require light during the hours of darkness or you can use fire. But having a flashlight along can be extremely useful. Just don’t forget spare batteries, preferably rechargeable ones.
The newer “headlamps” that are available are extremely useful in a survival situation, allowing you to keep both hands free for working. I have one with a 120 degree wide-angle light, which is ideal for working in the garden, chopping firewood and a host of other activities.
Fire is another one of our top survival priorities. Therefore, the means to start a fire are incredibly important in any survival situation. So important, that most survival instructors recommend that you have two primary and two secondary means of starting a fire. Although I generally use my favorite, I keep those others on-hand as well.
My favorite fire starter is a stormproof butane lighter. I gave up on the disposable type a few years ago. The stormproof lighter has a piezoelectric igniter, which continues to ignite as long as the gas switch is pressed. That way, if the wind blows it out, it instantly relights. It is the easiest fire starter to use, as well as the most effective.
While actually a supply, rather than a tool, always be sure to have plenty of fire-starting tinder to go with your fire starter. I’m not referring to dry grass or crumpled newspaper here, I’m referring to the chemical fire starters you can make or buy. Together with the stormproof lighter, they will ensure that you can start a fire, even in stormy weather.
My last item on this list is one that I fought against for years. But the reality is that a smartphone with the right apps installed can be an incredibly useful survival tool. But they have one weakness; the batteries tend to go dead all too quickly. Having a solar charger on hand will make it so that you can continue using that smartphone as a survival tool, long after the batteries would normally go out.
Rich is a long-time survivalist, having gotten started in his youth, during the latter part of the Cold War. Yet the collapse of the Berlin Wall didn’t put an end to his survival instinct. He has since added military experience and a career as an engineer to his survival knowledge. This has allowed him to design and build his own survival equipment. He is an accomplished author, who has written over 100 books on all aspects of survival.