There’s a lot to be said for having the gear necessary to keep yourself alive in a SHTF scenario. Fire, flood, hurricane, civil unrest…you simply never know what might happen and how long it could take to restore order and civil services. Having basic survival gear on hand and at the ready could be the difference between living and dying.
And what are you gonna do, brother, when these 24-inch pyth…nevermind.
A lot of people like to talk about “survival guns” because it’s fun. We’ll get into that, but let’s dive a little deeper. Guns are tools and the movies have given people the impression that your guns will be used a lot more than they actually would in a survival situation.
We’ll cover that, of course, but for now, let’s go over what sort of basic SHTF gear you’ll need.
First is a bug-out bag. You need a good pack, period. If there is anything I would be unafraid to spend on, it’s a quality backpack (along with boots; you get what you pay for most of the time). You need a bag that’s capable of hauling the gear and supplies you’ll need to get to shelter or a safe place, which may require a few days in the field or trekking through an urban environment.
It has to be durable (shoulder straps and zippers are the main failure points) and should be adjustable to fit your torso length, with an adjustable waist belt because you need to put the weight of the pack on the hips rather than the shoulders. I would suggest no smaller than a 50-liter pack, about standard for two to four days on the march, with a hydration reservoir. You can select bags that are tactical gear – MOLLE and all that – or a more conventional hiking or hunting pack.
Personally, I’m a fan of Kelty external frame packs. They’re tough, they work incredibly well (the external frame lends itself to strapping extra stuff on) and your back doesn’t turn into a swamp like with internal frame packs. If they’d only make one in OD green or Realtree…but I digress.
You may only have to go a few miles, or you may have to cover dozens. Therefore, make sure to pick a bag that can handle a longer trek.
Speaking of hydration, you should have multiple containers in your bug out bag. In a SHTF situation, the most essential survival gear is hydration, because you’ll die without it after a day or two. A hydration reservoir in your pack is a great idea. You’ll also need at least one water bottle (and you should have more. If you have no reservoir, pack no fewer than two water bottles, with at least one readily accessible.
There are a number of good ones to choose from. Steel bottles are excellent as they are incredibly durable, but they get a little heavy. Nalgene bottles are lighter and cheaper, but can get a bit of a funky smell after a few days. Your bottles should be no less than 32 ounces.
Bear in mind that two full 32 oz bottles hold a half-gallon of water for drinking or cooking, which is not sufficient for more than a day or two for one person. That plus a Camelbak or other reservoir (1.5L or larger) is more like it.
You’ll also want a water filter and purification system. Iodine are easy to pack, but give water and food a funky taste. In a survival situation, though, who cares? Have some as a backup.
Boiling requires at least 10 minutes to kill bacteria, which consumes a lot of fuel and time, so it’s unwise to rely on that method alone. Other filtration systems are also available, such as the straw type (LifeStraw) and pump-actuated water filtration systems. Katadyn has a pretty good system, which attaches to a Nalgene bottle.
Fire, of course, is also essential. Bic lighters are cheap, work well, and don’t drink fuel like Zippos. (And aren’t nearly as finicky.) A lot of people swear by them as essential survival items. However, they fail at times, so you’ll also want a flint fire starter as a backup. Both are light and easily pack. Flint in the pack and at least one lighter in your pocket is a good way to go.
Some tactical gear, such as waterproof clothing and good boots, are also a good idea to have in your bug out bag and/our survival gear. It should be lightweight, waterproof and packable. Rain gear is a must. If you live in an area that gets cold, you also want base layers and mid layers, as well as gloves. It’s also a good idea to have a suitable hat in your survival gear, ideally one for cold weather and one for warm weather.
A headscarf also comes in handy for all kinds of uses. You know you’re totally tactical once you’ve ordered a shemagh from Amazon. It can keep your face warm and doubles as a face mask.
A comprehensive first aid kit is also a must. Yours should have all the basics including bandaging, disinfectants, a tourniquet and a small supply of OTC medications. Those should include painkillers/anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and a few other assorted common medications including antidiarrheal (diarrhea is merely annoying for modern Americans; it’s deadly elsewhere) and other OTC meds.
What will you eat?. The best survival food is freeze-dried. You should pick food which has the longest possible shelf-life so you can keep it stowed in your bug out bag and not worry about spoilage.
It’s a good idea to have at least a three-day supply, if not more, along with some good energy-dense snacks (nuts, seeds, beef jerky, dried fruit, energy bars) for supplementation.
Canned food is heavy, but cans double as a cooking vessel. However, freeze-dried and evaporated foods (Mountain House, for instance) and/or military MREs are a better solution. You can pack more food more easily, but remember that freeze dried food requires a cooking vessel. So therefore, you’ll need a backpacking mess kit to go with it.
It goes without saying, but a backpacking stove is also a good idea. The Jetboil or other stove that can also charge your cell phone or other communication device(s) is also a good piece of gear, as you may be able to get to somewhere with a signal and call for help.
If you have anyone in tow with you, such as a spouse and children, they should each have a bag of their own with an amount of essential gear and food that they can carry.
You should also have a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, along with an easily packable tent or two (if traveling as a family of four, let’s say) in your survival gear. Again, you don’t know how long you’ll be on foot. A folding blanket or tarp is also a good idea as a backup.
Some survival tools that you’ll want include a good multitool, an entrenching tool or other type of folding shovel, and a camp saw of some sort. A hatchet and/or an axe is also a must, along with a sharpening stone.
A Lansky puck would be best as they are easily packable and can get an axe or hatchet sharp in short order. We all love the idea of an old-growth hickory handled $5,000 hatchet, but the truth is a hatchet and light axe from the hardware store will work IF properly sharpened.
These tools let you gather firewood and help setting up a shelter if traveling in the backcountry. Getting through the urban environment makes them a little less necessary, but they are vitally important in the out of doors. If you anticipate that survival for you will dictate time spent there, you should have them.
It goes without saying that you’ll need a few knives. A small knife for small tasks and a larger one for larger tasks. Gas station knives are insufficient; you need good blades that can take and hold an edge. Pack a portable sharpener; Sharps and other companies make decent ones.
Other SHTF gear that’s good to have are for food gathering.
For starters, you should have a bit of fishing tackle (hooks, fishing line and so on) in case you’re in a marine environment or find yourself by a river. A collapsible pole doesn’t work as well as your favorite Shakespeare, Fenwick or Orvis rod (I’m partial to Ugly Stiks; the comments section probably thinks I was beaten with one) but works in a pinch. A bit of Powerbait is also a decent thing to pack if fishing is going to be a possibility.
For small game, a .22 LR is always a good choice. A .22 rifle is most preferable; if you’ll be traveling in a group, make sure someone is packing that Ruger, Henry, Marlin or Mossberg .22 plinker. (Or Nylon 66, if you have one.) You’ll get far more meat on the table by shooting squirrels, rabbits, grouse and other small game.
For self protection, we all know the guns that work. A .22LR pistol like the Ruger Mark IV or simliar pistol is ultra versatile. For those willing to pack more size and weight a 9mm pistol is good for dealing with two-legged threats, with a quality self-defense load.
Pepper spray is a good non-lethal alternative for humans, and bear spray IS proven to be effective…though just like a TASER, it’s effective until it isn’t, and you need to be ready to switch to a different means of self-protection.
A pistol-caliber carbine is arguably the best long gun for SHTF scenarios. You can defend yourself against humans, animals and hunt in the bargain; this is why lawmen and folks out on the range often had a rifle and pistol chambered for the same round. It just sort of speaks for itself.
You can also use a carbine conversion upper or carry a carbine in the same caliber as your pistol. In this role, 10mm is exceptional. This class of long guns are effective up to 200 yards, depending on the chambering and load.
Some folks prefer an AR. The AR-15 is fantastic for self-defense, but .223 is poor for hunting. An AR-10 has more wallop for game and on the shoulder, but is equally suited to these roles as is a scout rifle. Toting magazines will be a pain, but it works in the urban and rural environment and for both roles.
Shotguns are excellent for defense at close range, but longer ranges require a rifled barrel and slugs which are not convenient to change at a moment’s notice. Carrying defense and hunting ammunition adds weight and complicates matters, so there’s that to contend with, and you don’t want to hunt small game with buckshot. If you don’t anticipate hunting or long-range shooting, buckshot and a tight choke (full or turkey) will get you up to about 50 yards.
It sounds like a lot, but it’s kind of like backpacking. You have to be able to survive for several days (or longer) on your own and potentially on foot in an urban, suburban, rural or wilderness environment, and these are the things you need to keep yourself alive in those environments.
If there’s anything you think I missed, sound off in the comments! If you want to tell us what’s in your emergency kit of bug out bag, sound off in the comments! If you have finally accepted that pineapple actually does belong on pizza, sound off in the comments!