Pretty much anywhere you go, there are two types of restaurants. There are the large, flashy places that cater to tourists and then there are the places where the locals go to eat. Chain restaurants are successful because people know what to expect. The food might be just this side of crappy but you know going in exactly what you’re going to get, no matter where you are traveling. The food does the job, filling the belly, and if the quality isn’t quite top-notch, at least you didn’t have to pay much for it. Locals, however, know where to get the best meal at the best price, and it is often at a place the tourist has never heard of before.
Survival gear is similar. On one side you have the cheap gear that you’ll find in pretty much any store and might do the job, if you can get it to work without breaking. This junk and quasi-junk is marketed to the “tourists” – the newbies or those who just want to buy something to make themselves feel better about being prepared. On the other side you have the gear that the people who know what they’re doing – the “locals” – use and recommend. It likely costs a little more but the gear is built to last and just plain works.
Just one of many examples of tourist trap gear is the ubiquitous 11-in-1 survival pocket tool. I’m sure you’ve come across this piece of garbage even if it was called something else. It is a piece of metal roughly the size of a credit card. It has a bottle opener, small sorta-sharpened edge, can opener, ruler, hex head wrench, and some other nonsense. Honestly, it is one of the most useless “survival tools” I’ve ever come across. Yet, the prepper tourists snap them up by the dozens.
So, how can you tell the difference between tourist crap and decent stuff? Price is often, though not always, a good indicator. Just like a good local restaurant might have the best coffee around and hardly charge anything for it, you can pick up a good Mora knife for well under $20. As a general rule, though, you get what you pay for. A $10 multi-tool is going to perform like a $10 multi-tool. Think about it like this — if the store can afford to sell the tool to you for $10 and still make a profit, the store had to pay far less than $10 for it. Which means the manufacturer had to be able to make it for even less so they can make a profit. The cheaper the price, usually the cheaper the materials and assembly.
An even better way to make the decision is to ask the locals, just like you would if you were traveling. Ask around to the people you’ve come to know and respect. Get their opinion on a new (or at least new to you) piece of gear. Most instructors will be happy to share their knowledge with you. One caveat, though – don’t get all ticked off if the instructor rains on your parade and tells you the incredible deal you found is just a piece of shiny plastic that isn’t worth the package it comes in.