The Ultimate Prepper Gear Checklist for Outdoor Survival
If SHTF right this minute, could you survive with the items you have in your pockets and bag? Even if your answer is “yes,” you might want to review this survival gear checklist to see if you’re missing anything. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Your bag should contain survival kit essentials, like multipurpose tools that will help you stay warm, find food and water, signal for help, navigate, and maintain proper hygiene wherever you end up, whether in the woods or in the concrete jungle.
If you live in the city, you can keep your survival bag in your car or at home. Preppers who often go on outdoor trips (e.g., camping, hiking, hunting, etc.), whether solo or in a large group, should always have a survival bag with them.
The survival rule of threes
Every prepper is familiar with the survival rule of threes, which states that you can:
- Survive three minutes without air
- Survive three hours without shelter
- Survive three days without water
- Survive three weeks without food
With a survival kit, you probably already have most of the items on this list, unless you’re out on a lake trapped on a rapidly sinking boat during winter, but it never hurts to take a thorough look to be sure you haven’t overlooked anything.
This guide tackles the individual areas of what we need to survive in the following subsections:
- Water collection and purification
- Fire starting
- Hunting and self-defense
- Lighting and communication
- Sanitation and hygiene
- First aid
- Miscellaneous items
If your bag is spacious enough to accommodate many items, go ahead and store all of the items in the survival gear checklist below. Just make sure that when SHTF or disaster strikes, you can carry your gear and run without tripping after only a few steps.
On the other hand, if you wish to prepare a more portable survival kit, select and pack only the items that best suit your needs.
Extreme changes in temperature can significantly affect your chances of survival. If you’re lost in the woods and you’re separated from your camping group, your priority is to find shelter. Depending on where you are, you may be able to find shelter, such as a cabin, nearby. But if you’re hiking in the middle of nowhere, your best bet is to have essential survival items with you. These items can help you navigate your way to safety or build a shelter so you can stay warm and dry as day turns into night.
1. One-person tent
A tent can be a godsend if you’re stuck in the woods on your own. As a prepper, you should know how to make a shelter from scratch; but if you have a tent in your survival bag, you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
2. Survival tarp
While any tarp will do when SHTF, it’s best to invest in a survival tarp that can help you stay dry even in extreme weather conditions. Get a high-quality survival tarp that’s made from rugged, waterproof material. Practice how to set up different types of shelters so you can be protected from rain, sleet, or snow.
3. Bivouac (bivy) sack
Bivy sacks are personal-sized, waterproof shelters originally used by climbers on long excursions. This type of shelter is popular among preppers, hikers, and mountaineers.
There are different types of bivy sacks. Some have structures similar to tents, while others are made of various kinds of materials. When choosing a bivy sack for your survival pack, consider important factors like fabric, structure, size, weight, and opening type (e.g., completely enclosed, with openings, with mesh covering, etc.).
4. Extra set of clothing
When prepping your survival kit, check the weather and set aside appropriate clothing. If it’s cold, winter apparel is a must. If the weather is warm, you’ll need a spare change of clothes.
- Bandanna – Use it as a handkerchief or as a makeshift sling
- Gloves – You may need either winter gloves or work gloves
- Regular clothes – Pack a T-shirt, a pair of pants, underwear, and socks
- Thermal underwear
5. Rain jacket or survival poncho
If it’s raining in your area, a survival poncho will keep you dry and lower your risk of dying from hypothermia. You’ll also be more comfortable moving if you’re not wearing wet clothes. Alternatively, you can include a rain jacket in your gear.
6. Mylar/emergency blanket
A Mylar blanket will help you stay warm since it is designed to reflect your body heat.
It can also be used as a makeshift tarp, so practice setting up a shelter using a Mylar blanket and some cordage.
Water collection and purification
Without access to clean drinking water, you could die in less than a week. Learn how to find water and how to purify it properly using several methods. But remember: Just because the water looks clean, it doesn’t mean it’s free from bacteria or parasites that can make you sick or kill you.
Finding water will be considerably easier if you have the following gear in your survival bag:
7. Water filter
The average person needs to drink at least a gallon of water every day, but this much water is too heavy to carry around in your bag. With a water filter, you just need to know how to find a clean water source. There are various brands of water filters out there; choose one that you think is best.
8. Water bottle
Use your water filter to fill a bottle so you can stay hydrated throughout the day. But make sure you buy a sturdy bottle that won’t break inside your bag if you accidentally drop it on the ground.
9. Purification tablets
Use purification tablets to ensure that the water you’re going to drink is truly safe for consumption. If you don’t have a water filter, you should at least have tools to boil water with before you drink it or use it for cooking.
Fire is crucial to your outdoor survival. You need fire to stay warm, boil water, cook food, and signal for help.
Don’t get complacent even if you have three or more fire-starting tools in your bag. If you lose your gear, you should be able to rely on your best survival tool: Your skills. Learn how to start a fire using basic methods—either with sticks or flint and stone—just in case.
10. Ferrocerium (ferro) rod
Ferro rods are a game-changer for fire starting. They are made of ferrocerium, a metal that generates sparks. These sparks can burn at about 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Your ferro rod should come with a striker attached to it with a length of string. But if you lose the striker, you can still produce sparks by using makeshift strikers like flint, knife spines, or glass shards.
11. Survival matches
Regular matches are easy to use, but they’re useless if they get wet or if the wind is too strong. You should always have survival matches stored in a sturdy, waterproof case in your bag so you can quickly start a fire whenever you need it.
Survival matches are a great backup for your ferro rod. There are different types to choose from, but you should buy matches that are at least stormproof, windproof, and waterproof.
12. Lighter and lighter fluid
Plastic BIC lighters will do in a pinch, so keep one in your bag. You should also invest in a survival lighter that’s both windproof and waterproof and won’t fail you when it’s cold. Also, don’t forget to bring lighter fluid in a sturdy container that won’t leak inside your bag.
13. Emergency tinder
With emergency tinder, you’ll have an easier time starting a fire. This is a must-have, especially if you’re not confident in your fire-starting skills or if you want to allocate your time to other tasks.
Your options for emergency tinder include char cloth, fire-starting tabs, or tinderboxes/scrapers. You can also make do with DIY tinder, such as dryer lint or cotton balls dipped in Vaseline or petroleum jelly. Store them in a sturdy container.
14. Hatchet or ax
While survival hatchets and axes have similar shapes and functions, they differ in size. The former is shorter and lighter to carry while the latter is longer and heftier.
With an ax or hatchet, you can gather fuel for your campfire. These tools can also be used for self-defense.
This subsection includes gear that can be used to cook, find, or hunt for food. While you have the option to include food rations in your survival bag, they won’t be detailed in this list since they’re considered consumable supplies and not gear.
If you do decide to include rations in your pack, it’s not advisable to depend on them, especially in a long-term disaster scenario. Energy bars, trail mix, and MREs can only get you so far.
Instead, you should learn how to fish, hunt, and forage to maximize the use of the following tools and ensure your survival in the harshest outdoor settings.
13. Survival stove
Portable survival stoves can add considerable weight to your bag, so if you want to forego this item, do so. You can still cook over a regular campfire so don’t worry about not carrying one.
But if you’re willing to carry a heavier pack so you can have an easier time preparing your food, go ahead and select a survival stove that’s within your budget and suits your needs. Check out some butane or propane stoves. However, carrying these types of stoves will make your bag more cumbersome since you will also need to carry fuel.
Tip: You can eliminate the need for fuel by opting for a portable wood-burning stove.
14. Cooking utensils
You’ll need a compact set of cooking utensils so your bag doesn’t get too heavy to carry. Prioritize the following so you can prepare and cook your food outdoors:
- Collapsible mug (takes up less space in your bag and eliminates the need for a bowl)
- Reusable utensils (should include a plate, knife, spoon, and fork)
- Stainless steel pot
- Tin can
Hunting and self-defense
When SHTF, you may need to defend yourself from wild animals or other survivors who might try to take your gear and supplies. Use these tools and weapons well, and practice with them so your skills won’t fail you during a life or death situation.
15. Survival knife
A sharp, sturdy survival knife will prove indispensable when SHTF. You can use it to prepare meat from animals you’ve caught, or you can use it for self-defense.
A survival knife is a reliable weapon, especially for close quarter combat. Alternatively, you can use a knife to make an improvised spear by attaching it to a long, sturdy wooden branch using cordage.
16. A gun of your preferred caliber
Depending on your skill level with your chosen firearm, you can include a gun in your survival bag. But first, double-check local laws and regulations in your area before you pack a firearm in your bag.
Include spare ammo and a gun-cleaning kit to keep your weapon in good working order. Practice with your gun so you can use your weapon efficiently, be it for self-defense or for hunting prey in the wild.
17. Tactical pen
You can use a tactical pen to defend yourself if you’re not proficient with firearms. This tool may look harmless, but it’s nothing to sneer at. In the right hands, a tactical pen can even be deadly.
Tactical pens are popular prepping multi-tools. They can be used for more than just leaving notes for other people in your survival group. Most pens are made from high-grade steel, and if swung with enough force, you can knock out an attacker with a single strike to sensitive points on the body, like the throat, eyes, or the base of their neck.
18. Pepper spray
Pair your tactical pen with pepper spray. The former is for close quarter combat while the latter can be used if you need something with a longer reach. Pepper spray is also ideal if you want to defend yourself using a non-lethal weapon.
19. Survival fishing kit
When traveling near areas with bodies of water, it’s best to have a survival fishing kit handy. An easy way to acquire one is to buy from a store—but that’s if you only want to get the basics. If you prefer a more customized one with items that you’ve personally selected, you can also set up your own kit.
Aside from a collapsible fishing pole or a pen fishing pole, your survival fishing kit should include a small tackle kit with the following items:
- Catfish bait
- Plastic worms
If you have a survival fishing kit with these items, you can fish for bass, bluegill, or trout.
20. Snares and traps
It’s good to know how to make snares and traps using your tools and gear, but it’s easier to catch animals with wire snares and animal traps designed for this very purpose. Learn how to use them in your spare time.
Lighting and communication
You’ll need a light source so you can travel safely even if it gets dark. Your bag should also include communication gear so you can get in touch with other members of your group. This subsection
includes gear that you can use to signal for help.
21. LED flashlight (or a headlamp) and extra batteries
A survival bag needs a sturdy LED flashlight and extra batteries. Your flashlight should have a long battery life and at least two brightness (lumens) settings for various uses.
For a hands-free light source, include a headlamp in your gear. If there’s enough space in your bag, both a flashlight and a headlamp would be useful in certain situations.
22. Signal mirror
A signal mirror can be used to get the attention of a rescue team or a passing aircraft if you’re in a remote area.
Additionally, you can use a signal mirror to start a fire if the sun is bright enough. This is especially useful if you lose your fire-starting kit. Get some tinder, then focus a beam of sunlight until the tinder ignites.
23. Survival whistle
When night falls, use an emergency whistle to call for help. Three loud, short blows on your emergency whistle is the signal for “help.”
24. Hand-crank survival radio
When SHTF, especially in the city, a hand-crank survival radio will help you monitor vital information that can save your life. Listen to news reports about roadblock locations or weather conditions so you can plan your escape route accordingly.
With your prepping skills and information, you can form a plan that will ensure your survival even if you only have a multi-tool at your disposal.
25. Walkie talkies
Walkie talkies are ideal for large survival groups. As long as you’re within range, you can use one to get in touch with the rest of your family if you get separated.
GPS is convenient, but you must learn how to read paper maps if you want to increase your chance of survival when disaster strikes.
If you’re going hiking or camping, familiarize yourself with a map of the area. Mark your destination on the map and review possible escape routes or meeting places if SHTF. Laminate the map, if possible, so it doesn’t get damaged in your bag.
Learn how to read and navigate a map of the area you’re traveling in, then establish your bearings using a compass. You should know how to reach your survival group’s location using only a map.
Sanitation and hygiene
These tools will help you stay as clean as possible if you’re trapped outdoors for a long time. Keeping clean reduces your exposure to diseases. The last thing you need in an emergency is to get sick or infect other people in your group.
28. Survival shovel
If you have to camp out in the woods for a long time, another survival tool you should have is a shovel. You’ll need it to clear paths in case it starts to snow.
With a shovel, you can dig a cat hole or a latrine for burying your waste in. When digging a latrine, select an area that’s about 200 feet away from your camp. Don’t bury waste where there’s a water table near the surface.
Label the latrine area and disperse new holes to help the waste decompose faster. Always cover your waste with at least a foot and a half of dirt. If the ground in your latrine sinks, add more dirt.
When you’re not using the latrine, cover it with a lid so flies can’t get in. If flies manage to enter the latrine, they can spread bacteria and viruses to the surfaces they land on.
29. Garbage bags
Aside from their obvious use, you can turn garbage bags into makeshift ponchos. Garbage bags can also be used to protect your gear from water.
30. Toiletry kit
Pack the basics in your toiletry kit. This kit will also give a semblance of normalcy to your life, especially when things seem bleak.
Your kit should include the following items:
- A bar of soap
- Hand sanitizer
- Rubbing alcohol
- Sanitary napkins and tampons – Even if there aren’t any females in your group, sanitary napkins can be used as makeshift bandages. Meanwhile, tampons can be used as fire starters.
- Shampoo bar
- Unflavored floss – You can also use floss as cordage.
- Wet wipes
Take a first aid course or sign up for a refresher to brush up on these 10 crucial first-aid skills:
- Stopping heavy bleeding
- Cleaning and dressing a wound
- Treating a fever
- The Heimlich maneuver
- Treating shock
- Making a splint
- Treating hypothermia (occurs when your body’s temperature drops to dangerously low levels) and hyperthermia (refers to a condition when your temperature climbs too high)
- Treating diarrhea
- Treating vomiting
31. First aid kit
Prepare your own kit with items that you know you’ll use or need during medical emergencies. If you do get a pre-packaged first aid kit, inspect each item and be sure you know how to use it.
Take note that you should only take painkillers if you’re in too much pain to function properly and if you’re with a group who can keep an eye on you. Otherwise, refrain from taking medication to avoid any side effects.
Here are some items that you’ll need in your kit:
- Alcohol solution (50%)
- Colloidal silver
- Antibacterial creams
- Anti-diarrhea medicine
- Antiseptic spray or wipes (for burns, cuts, stings, or other wounds)
- Band-Aids (different sizes)
- Blood-clotting sponge
- Elastic bandage
- Eye drops
- Hydrogen peroxide (for washing out wounds before bandaging)
- Painkillers (can also be used to reduce fevers)
- Prescribed medications
- Pressure dressings
This subsection of the survival gear checklist covers various tools that you need in your survival bag. From opening canned food to repairing your gear, these items can cover your various SHTF needs.
If you want to keep your survival bag light, opt for a multi-tool. When choosing a multi-tool, take note of its different features.
Make sure your choice has the following features, which are useful in a survival setting:
- Bottle opener
- Can opener
- Hand drill
- Needle-nose pliers
- Wire cutters
- Wire crimper
A favorite among preppers and survivalists, the uses of paracord are as endless as your imagination.
Survival paracord is a multi-filament nylon cord. Initially designed for use during World War II in parachute construction, paracord is now used as an essential tool by outdoor enthusiasts.
“Real” paracord is made of seven strong nylon cords, and each of the cords is made of several smaller woven strands. The cords and strands are wrapped in a flexible outer layer made of braided nylon wrapper.
When cut, you can easily pull out the inner yards of paracord for other survival uses. After you cut paracord, don’t forget to burn or singe the ends to prevent fraying.
Always wear a paracord bracelet and keep at least 200 feet of 550 paracord in your bag as a backup.
Here are some of the many uses of paracord:
- Bootlace or shoelace
- A lifeline
- Making a fire bow
- Repairing your gear
- Setting up a clothesline
- Setting traps
- Setting up a shelter
- Tent support
- Tying up a bundle of firewood
Braid paracord if you need stronger cordage.
The inner strands of paracord can be used for:
- Dental floss
- Emergency stitches (boils the strands first)
- Traps or snares
34. Duct tape
You can fix almost anything with duct tape. Wrap a length of duct tape around a stick or pencil, then store it in your bag.
Duct tape can be used to temporarily repair clothing and for patching items.
35. Sewing kit
Aside from repairing your clothes, a sewing kit can be used to repair your tent. In a pinch, items in your sewing kit can be used to fashion an improvised fishing pole.
The top 10 essential survival items every prepper needs
After preparing your survival bag with the 35 items in the list above (bug out bag), you can now focus on assembling a survival kit that you can bring with you wherever you go (everyday carry bag).
Keep a 10-item kit with these essential survival items in your car or in your desk at work so you’ll be ready in case SHTF.
- Water filter
- Basic first aid kit
- Basic toiletry kit
- Emergency food
- Survival knife
- Mylar blanket
Let us know in the comments if we left anything off our survival essentials list.