As a lifelong DIYer and tool collector (yes, I’ll admit it, I collect tools), I have to say that there is a lot of wisdom in having the right tool for the job, especially if you want to make the job easier. While any tool can instantly convert itself to a hammer, there are only so many survival uses for a hammer. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing for a knife, flashlight or many other tools.
But having the right tools for survival is about much more than just making the job easier. When it comes to survival, having the right tools can make the difference between life and death. You can get by just fine, without having a collection of granola bars in your pocket, but you’ll have a hard time getting by without some of the tools I’ve listed below. Some are absolutely critical to survival, while the others just make survival easier.
It’s important to always buy quality tools, when buying tools that you’re going to depend on for survival. Chances are, you won’t be able to run down to the corner hardware store to replace a tool in the middle of a survival situation. I’ve had enough cheap tools fail on camping trips, to know that I wouldn’t want to take them along in a bug out.
The number one survival tool on anyone’s list is a good knife. If you have to pick one tool to go into a survival situation with, this is it. You can do so much with a knife, from making weapons to starting a fire. It is also one of mankind’s oldest weapons and can be used to make another old weapon, the spear.
Ideally, you want to carry a good, fixed blade, full-tang knife. But that’s not always practical on a day-to-day basis, so what many people are doing, as part of their EDC (everyday carry) is to carry a multi-tool. That not only gives them a knife, but a number of other useful tools as well.
The second most useful survival tool is a flashlight. While light isn’t on the normal list of top survival needs, a good flashlight can be used for multiple things, every day of your life. I’ve carried a tactical flashlight as part of my EDC for years and use it constantly.
Today’s LED tactical lights are much more practical than the incandescent flashlights of yesteryear. Not only do they provide more light, but they are compact, rugged, the bulb can’t break from shock and they can double as a backup weapon in a pinch (especially those with a scalloped bezel). Just make sure to keep spare batteries readily at hand, as the brighter models will go through batteries in a couple of hours.
Fire is one of mankind’s oldest inventions and is still useful for a host of things, especially in a survival situation. It provides us with heat, the ability to cook food, light, the ability to purify water by boiling and comfort from all those things that go bump in the dark. But the biggest reason we need it in a survival situation, is its ability to help us maintain our body heat, our number one survival priority.
Opinions differ on what sort of fire starter is the best, but I go by the KISS principle. If you’re not familiar with that, it stands for “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” In a survival situation, you want to make things as simple as possible, as they will be plenty complicated enough on their own. For that reason, I think the best fire starter there is, is a windproof lighter. I’ve given up other lighters for this, as it is one form of fire staring that is easy to use, even when the weather isn’t cooperating.
By the way, most survival instructors will tell you to carry two primary and two secondary forms of fire starting. I’m not arguing that. My windproof lighter isn’t the only fire starter I carry, but it is my go to solution when I have to get a fire going.
Water is our second greatest survival need, beaten out by only our need to maintain our body heat. Fortunately, it is possible to find water almost anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that you can trust that water to be safe to drink. In fact, you shouldn’t. Pure water, that isn’t contaminated is rare, even in the most pristine seeming environments.
That’s why it is important to always have a water purifier with you in a survival situation. There are a number of different types of water purifiers available, but for survival kits, bug out bags and EDC bags, a straw-type water filter is the best and most compact. One like the one I’ve linked to can also be used to fill water bottles, something that not all straw-type filters can do.
I’m lumping the next three tools together, because they all perform the same purpose, cutting wood. Even so, they are quite different in how they cut wood. So you’re probably going to need to have two of the three. These are important because in order to use your fire starter, you’re going to have to have wood to burn. You’re also going to need to have wood to build a shelter.
There are a number of saws around, which are sold as “survival saws.” For years, I carried a wire saw as my main survival saw, not because I particularly liked them, but because there wasn’t anything else available. Today there are also the manual chainsaws, which look much like a piece of chainsaw chain, with a couple of handles attached. They work much better than a wire saw, and won’t break easily.
But my favorite survival saw is a folding pruning saw. These are designed for aggressive cutting of green wood, while also being fairly compact and lightweight. Looking like an oversized pocket knife when closed, when you lock the blade open, you’ve got something that will cut through small branches quickly.
The hatchet isn’t used so much for cutting wood down, or cutting limbs off of trees, but for splitting wood. I’d hate to actually try and cut a tree down with one, due to their small size and short handle. But split wood burns better, as the bark of the wood actually helps to protect it from fire. Many hatchets can also do double-duty as a hammer, for pounding in tent stakes.
You can replace both the saw and the hatchet with a machete, especially if you buy one that has the back edge of the blade cut to be used as a saw. It might not be as aggressive a cutter as that folding pruning saw, but it will make up for it with a longer blade.
The machete is actually a fairly ancient weapon, which is in common use in many parts of the world. It differs from a sword in that the blade is thinner and deeper (distance between edge and back). This is necessary to give it strength as a tool. While most commonly known for clearing trails, machetes can also be used to cut down saplings, cut off branches and split wood.
A shovel may not seem like a survival tool to many, but it is important enough that the Army and Marines have included an “entrenching tool” (small shovel) in field soldiers’ packs for over a century. For you and I, they can be used for digging a fire pit, a latrine or a drainage channel to keep water out of our bed. They are also useful if you need to bury supplies in a cache or dig that cache up later.
When choosing a shovel, pick one that gives you additional functions, like this one. This includes a knife, saw, reversible screwdriver, glass breaker and compass. The shovel’s stainless steel blade has both a scalloped knife edge (for cutting cord and other difficult materials) and a sharp knife edge. But it’s strong enough to use as a hatchet, splitting wood. I know, I’ve used it that way. In fact, I was so impressed with the quality of this shovel, that I replaced my old camp shovel with it.
The last thing I want to put on this list is a solar charger for your smartphone. I know that sounds a bit odd, as a survival tool, but your smartphone can be one of the most useful survival tools you own, when used properly. As such, you need to make sure that you have a means of charging it with you at all times. When you’re out away from electrical outlets and car accessory adapters, this means a solar charger.