The ability to make and use tools is sometimes seen as an indicator of the intelligence of a species. While humans aren’t the only animals on the planet that makes tools, we are the only ones that will go into debt to buy new shiny stuff. I mean, when was the last time you saw a crow whip out a Visa card?
Once upon a time, all of the tools we used were fashioned by hand from natural materials. Rocks with sharp edges were cutting tools. Grass or sinew was twisted and woven into cordage. Animal bones were made into needles and other implements. While the skill and knowledge to do those sorts of things is still valuable and could certainly be of use, most of us tend to lean more toward carrying a few manufactured tools. In a true crisis, having a hank of paracord or bank line beats the hell out of trying to find appropriate natural materials and spending time twisting your own cordage.
Tools can be problematic, though. If we’re bugging out with a vehicle, weight and bulk of our tools is largely a non-issue. However, if we end up on foot, that’s a whole different matter. While you’re welcome to pack an entire workshop full of tools in the back of your truck, that’s not all going to fit into your BOB should you have to resort to shank’s mare.
With that in mind, here are the tools many would agree are must-haves in your BOB.
A good knife is going to be one of your best friends in a bug out scenario. A million and one uses as they used to say on late night TV. While even a simple kitchen paring knife is better than no knife at all, something a little more robust might be worth the investment. Here are several recommendations, based on budget constraints:
Bare bones – Mora Companion
At the time of this writing, under $11 on Amazon
Low to mid range – Condor Bushlore
At the time of this writing, around $36 on Amazon
Pretty nice and still under $100 – Schrade 42D Frontier
At the time of this writing, about $45 on Amazon
Willing to spend a bit more for something that will truly last – Bark River Gunny
$150 and up, depending on handle material and other options
Got some money to invest in something nice – LT Wright GNS
Currently, $180 or so.
To go into all the details you should consider when choosing a knife would take far more space than we have here. That said, here are just a few pointers:
You probably don’t need a huge Rambo style knife. You want something you can easily control. Shoot for a blade length of 4” to 5” or so.
A carbon steel blade is usually desired as it holds a great edge without being a bear to sharpen. However, they tend to rust if unprotected so be sure to oil the blade. If you’ll be spending time near saltwater or in very wet environments, consider stainless steel.
Don’t overlook the importance of a secure sheath. Most of them today are either leather, kydex, or nylon. Of the three, I personally favor leather but I’m also something of a traditionalist. Kydex is a great option that is largely unaffected by temperatures or water.
One more thing about knives. Don’t forget to pack a sharpener. A dull blade is far more dangerous to you than a sharp one. With a dull blade, you’ll have to force the cut with more pressure, which could cause you to slip and hurt yourself or someone else.
As I said at the outset, it is certainly possible to craft your own cordage in the field but doing so is time-consuming. Quite often, if you need cordage, you need it NOW, not an hour or more from now. You’ll use it to build shelters, repair clothing, lash things to your pack, set snares, and dozens of other ways.
The two primary types of cordage used by preppers and survivalists are paracord and bank line. For those unfamiliar, paracord is about as thick as an athletic shoelace and extremely strong. It is often referred to as 550 cord because genuine paracord will support up to 550lbs. It is constructed of a nylon sheath with several thin cords inside. What this means is you can remove one or more of those thin strands if needed. For example, paracord is too thick to mend a tear in a pack but you could use one of those thin strands could do the trick.
Tarred bank line is a nylon twine covered in a layer of tar. This isn’t a messy as it sounds, don’t worry. It comes in different thicknesses. #18 bank line is pretty thin, perfect for snares and such. #36 is about double the thickness but also double the strength. One great thing about tarred bank line is that it sticks to itself so knots don’t come undone.
One great way to store cordage in your bug out bag so it doesn’t get all tangled is to wrap it around an old gift card. You can find the full instructions here.
I like to have both paracord and bank line in my BOB. Cordage is light and it is easy to pack a lot of it in a small space.
Another type of cordage I keep on hand is braided fishing line. I prefer this over the monofilament kind, even though it is a bit more expensive. Braided fishing line is great for making clothing repairs as well as landing dinner. Grab a sewing bobbin and wrap your fishing line around it for safe keeping. Or, you could put together the world’s smallest fishing kit, found here.
Duct tape could be lumped in with cordage, too, I reckon. Duct tape is indispensable and, like the other types of cordage, is lightweight and easily stored. Wrap it around a gift card or a pencil stub and you’re good to go. Word to the wise, duct tape is very flammable and could work as tinder in a pinch.
If you get a tear in your pants or your pack, a needle is a necessity for making repairs. It weighs virtually nothing and needles are very cheap. Get a few and stash them throughout your BOB. Cover them in duct tape or something so you don’t get poked.
Multi-tools are like knives in that you need to find one you feel is comfortable to hold and use. The size of your hand is a factor here. Multi-tools are one of those things, too, that can quickly add noticeable weight to your BOB. The Gerber Dime is about the smallest multi-tool I’d suggest and, really, it’ll probably do just about anything you’d need a multi-tool to accomplish. See, here’s the thing about multi-tools. Like most gear that is designed for multiple purposes, it can do a lot of stuff but it can’t do a lot of stuff well. Meaning, it’ll work in a pinch to loosen a screw or strip a wire but you’d not want to try doing any major repairs with one. A needle-nose pliers is not a great tool for loosening or tightening bolts and nuts.
A small folding saw will do just about anything you’d use the hatchet for when bugging out. A Silky Pocketboy will meet your needs well, I reckon. Lightweight, yet will cut a ton. Personally, I say pass on the hatchet. The point of bugging out is to get to your bug out location as quickly and efficiently as possible. You’re not going to be building any large, made-to-last shelters. You can use your knife to baton and/or your saw to process firewood. I’m just not a fan of swinging a sharp blade around if I don’t have to, especially when I’m already tired after a long day of travel. A hatchet adds weight that you really don’t need.
A flashlight or headlamp will be a treasured item in your BOB. I recommend both. My favorite flashlight is the Streamlight ProTac 1AAA. It is small and very powerful. Be sure to pack an extra battery, too. As for a headlamp, I’m partial to this one by Coast. Extremely bright and very comfortable to wear. It is kind of pricey, though. A headlamp is important because it allows you to keep both hands free to work. But, I don’t like wearing one for long periods of time and find a small flashlight just plain handy to have.
I go back and forth with whether to pack a pry bar. To me, it depends upon your typical area of operation. I would think a pry bar would get far more use in an urban environment than out in the sticks. In the city, you may need to open a door or window and a pry bar would be great to have in that regard. Give it some thought and decide whether it is worth the weight and bulk to carry one. If you decide to have one in your BOB, stick with something small, like this one.
While I don’t know that you could really call plastic bags tools, they are very handy. Toss in a few sandwich bags, the kind that zip closed. They are great for keeping tinder or foraged food dry and protected. As you travel, you’ll no doubt find little odds and ends you’ll want to keep for later use. Plastic bags can help in that regard.
When building your BOB, select your tools carefully. You want quality and durability, not just an inexpensive price. Remember, you may very well be betting your life on the tools you pack.
Get caught up on all installments in this series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Useful Odds and Ends