Tell me, what are the BEST items out there?

I’m working on a project and am hoping for some help from y’all. What follows is a list of categories of gear. If you are so inclined, please comment on this post with the specific items you feel are the absolute best in each category. Brand name, model name, link to it if you can. Feel free to say why you think your suggestions are the best as well. Any input would be very welcome. You need not provide information for each category, either. Just share what you know and leave it at that. Thanks!

Here’s the list:

Full size pack
Medium size pack
Belt pouch type pack
Match case
Commercial fire starters
Commercial fire tinder
Emergency blanket
Portable water filtration system
Folding knife
Fixed blade knife

Obviously, opinions are going to vary and that’s perfectly fine. What works best for one might not be another person’s cup of tea. I’m just gathering data here.

Minimalist EDC

EDC (every day carry) is frequently a hot topic among preppers. Seems everybody wants to know what everybody else is packing. In surfing through various survival/prepper related message boards and such, you’ll find list on top of list of EDC items.

Sometimes these lists are sensible, logical, and practical. Quite often, though, I’m utterly flabbergasted at the vast amounts of gear some people allegedly carry with them everywhere they go. Now, I’m not talking about the contents of a bug out bag or get home bag. Obviously, BOBs and GHBs are going to have lengthy content lists, for the most part. I’m just talking about what people apparently carry on their person (in pockets, hanging on a belt, etc.).

Here’s one such proposed EDC list I saw a while back.

No less than three different knives.
A knife sharpener.
Two different flashlights with extra batteries.
Pistol with two extra magazines.
Notebook with three pens.
Several feet of paracord.
Two butane lighters.
Magnesium striker.
Two multi-tools.
Cell phone with extra battery.
Two separate key rings with multiple attachments hanging from them, none of which are actually keys.

That’s not everything, either. Just a sampling of what this person supposedly carries in their pockets and/or on their belt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about being prepared but, really? Counting the multi-tools, that’s five different blades! That’s just a tad excessive, in my opinion.

Instead of bulking yourself up until you look like a member of SWAT about to do a no-knock warrant, look at a more minimalist approach to EDC. In my daily life, I’m rarely ever more than a couple hundred feet from my vehicle, in which I have a fairly extensive amount of gear. I also have a small kit sitting in a drawer in my office. Not to mention my ever-present shoulder bag that I carry just about everywhere.

For EDC, meaning what I carry ON MY PERSON just about everywhere:

–Keychain with vehicle and house keys.
–Wallet with cash, credit cards, and emergency phone numbers.
–Pocket knife or multi-tool.
–Small butane lighter.
–Cell phone.
–Small LED penlight.

Think about it, what else would I truly need?

Due to the constraints of my day job, I cannot walk around with a pistol all the time. It is what it is and I’ve made my peace with it after some fairly serious risk assessing. Suffice to say, I’m cool with it for a variety of reasons.

My point is this — always value skills over stuff. The more you carry in your head, the less you need to carry in your pockets or elsewhere. If you lighten the load, at least you won’t jingle so much when you walk.

Cheap Preps

Experts keep telling us that the economy is getting better but it sure doesn’t feel that way, does it? As our household budgets get tighter and tighter, it can be difficult to fit “luxury” items such as prepping into the mix. This causes a lot of stress, particularly in households where not everyone is 100% on board with the idea of being better prepared. In some cases, the choice may be buying groceries for the next few days or buying freeze-dried foods to put in the basement for…someday.

Now, one of my biggest pushes when it comes to disaster readiness is to try and do at least one thing every single day that moves you forward with your preps. That one thing doesn’t always have to be huge nor expensive, though.

Here are several suggestions of very inexpensive purchases or projects you may wish to explore when money is tight yet you feel the need to do something with regards to prepping.

Visit your local library
I’ll admit I’m sort of old-fashioned in that I don’t necessarily rely on the Internet for everything. Sure, my Google-Fu is stellar and there isn’t much I can’t find online if I put my keyboard to work. But, there’s just something awesome about libraries. All that information, ready to be absorbed, and for free! Even if your own library doesn’t have quite the resource you’re seeking, they can probably get it through inter-library loan. I’m not just talking about books, either. There are tons of great DVDs out there that can be useful for preppers. Just stop in your library and ask one of the friendly staff members to guide you through searching on their computer catalog. Look for books and DVDs using search terms like bushcraft, survival, prepping, and preparedness.

Make fire starters

Every survival kit needs fire starters and you don’t need to buy them. While tinder tabs and the like work extremely well, you can make ones at home that are just as good. Here are links to a few of them, all using items you probably have at home already.

Fire straws

Matches + Toilet Paper = Roaring Fire

Start a prepping binder

If you hunt around the house, I’d bet you can find at least one old binder you can use for this project. If not, visit your local thrift shop and buy one for a buck or so. A prepping binder is a great way to keep all of your emergency information organized and in one place. Fill it articles you’ve found online, checklists, emergency contact information, all that good stuff. You may want to create dividers to put in the binder, to help with organization. You could buy these or you could make your own from cereal box cardboard or something similar. This should be an ongoing project, too. Keep adding stuff to it as you come across nuggets of wisdom.

If you are struggling with how to organize the binder, you might want to look into purchasing The Preparedness Planner. It is a great tool for this project.

Seed sharing

Many of you already do this, even if just on a limited scale, but consider expanding your horizons a bit. If you have an excess of seeds you’ve saved from past gardens, ask around to see if you might be able to swap some of them for other seeds you want. Make a post on your local Craigslist and you might be surprised at the response. Not only is this a great way to get seeds but you might just meet a fellow prepper.

Inexpensive food for the pantry

Beans and rice are still fairly cheap. Generic canned veggies and fruit are as well. If you watch for sales, you can pick up things like powdered drink mixes, canned meats, and various seasonings at good prices. As always, pay attention to sales flyers and use coupons IF they get you a better price than by buying generics.

Water storage

Filling clean 2L bottles with tap water costs pennies. Commit to storing at least one bottle a week, dating them so you can rotate them out every six months or so. Use the old water in the garden or for cleaning. If you don’t consume bottled soda or juice in your home and therefore don’t have 2L bottles just sitting around, ask family and friends to keep theirs for you. Wash them out with hot water and soap, rinse well, then toss in a cap of bleach and swish it around to sterilize.

Practice skills

Go in the backyard and practice making campfires using a variety of different fire starters, fuels, and configurations. Take a compass to a park and practice navigating your way around on the trails and such. Grab a book on wild edibles from the library and practice identifying different plants in your area. Just get up off your butt and do something.

Go rummaging

I realize that, for some at least, this might not necessarily be a cheap endeavor. I know more than one person who has a hard time controlling themselves at rummage sales and thrift stores, buying a ton of useless crap because it “…might be worth money someday.” But, if you can keep yourself grounded, at least a bit, you can find some incredible deals at garage sales. Now, granted, those deals can sometimes be few and far between. You often have to sift through a TON of crap at a TON of sales before you find that one great bargain. The point is, there are deals out there, for those who take the time to search them out.

Take a class

Just about every park & rec department offers some sort of classes throughout the year. If they aren’t free, they are pretty darn cheap. I’ve taught a few of these classes myself (on the subject of survival kits and general preparedness, ‘natch). It may be worth your time to search out the website for your local park department and see what they are offering. Better yet, stop in at their office and inquire. They usually have pamphlets or booklets listing all the available classes. Look for topics like identifying wild edibles, food preservation, or even assembling bug out bags. You won’t know until you look, right? Go a step further and ask the park folks if they could put together a class on disaster readiness.

Another place to ask about classes is your county extension office. They often offer classes related to gardening and such.

Finally, if you’re serious about expanding your education, get in touch with any local colleges or tech schools. Ask them specifically about auditing classes. Many schools offer this sort of arrangement. Basically, you pay a substantially reduced fee and you are allowed to attend the class as well as take the exams and such. The only difference between you and a “regular” student is you don’t receive actual credit for the class. But, you get all the knowledge, which is the point of attending.

We sometimes are victims of falling into ruts, where we just sit around and lament how broke we are and think about all the great things we could do if we came into a lump sum of cash. We all do this from time to time. I guess it might just be human nature. When you find yourself doing it, try to turn that energy into something productive by using one of the above suggestions.

The Importance of Learning Wilderness Skills

I have long lamented what I feel is an overemphasis on wilderness skills in the prepping world (Exhibit A – The Living Off The Land Fallacy).  However, don’t take that to mean I poo-poo the idea of learning how to fed for yourself in the wild.  Far from it, actually.  I do believe every prepper should take the time to adopt and practice bushcraft skills.  But, I also believe they should only be one aspect of the overall survival planning process.

A well-rounded prepper is one who has taken the time to learn skills from all areas of the prepping world – homesteading, bushcraft, emergency management, urban survival, security and defense, etc..  By having too narrow a focus, you may limit yourself in your capabilities.  Think about it like this.  Preppers and survivalists are people who have taken steps to improve their situation should they find themselves in a crisis.  But, being that we have no reliable way to know what that future crisis may involve, we need to do what we can to cover as many bases as possible.

With regards to wilderness skills in particular, it is incumbent upon all preppers to learn at least a few basics.  I don’t care if you live in the middle of urban sprawl, in a suburban bedroom community, or way out where streetlights are something only remembered from vacations to the big city.

Some of these basics would include:

–Building an expedient shelter out of natural materials, such as a debris hut or a snow cave.
–Learning several different methods for creating fire.
–How to cook over an open flame.
–Finding your way using a compass, the sun, the stars.
–Being able to positively identify several different edible plants, including how to prepare them for consumption.

Now, you can certainly research all of those and other related topics at the library or online.  Heck, you can find thousands of videos to watch until your eyes feel like they’ve been hit by an industrial belt sander.  That’s all well and good but you shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you’ve read a ton of books and watched some video footage that you’re all set to tackle the wilderness.

No, you need to actually get off your butt and go outside.  Watching someone use a fire piston is a whole lot different than trying it yourself, especially the first few times.  Reading a description of how to cobble together a debris hut is worlds away from actually laying down in one you built yourself.

The benefits of learning these skills are huge.  Not only will you be better able to keep yourself and your family alive if the need arises, you’ll gain a tremendous boost in your overall self-confidence.  I’m tellin’ ya, if you’ve never before built a fire using nothing more than what you find around you, lighting it with a ferro rod or a bow drill, you’ll be amazed at just how proud you’ll feel when you do it the first time.  This is powerful, heady stuff, my friend.

Why A Chopper Should Be In Your Kit

A knife is an important element of any survival kit. While you can make do without one, having a good blade just makes things so much easier. Personally, I keep three blades in my larger kits. First, a pocket knife, such as a Swiss Army knife or a lockback like my Bad Monkey folding knife. Many common camp chores can be accomplished with just a small blade, after all. Easy to carry and easy to use.

Second, a high quality fixed blade knife, such as the TOPS Brothers of Bushcraft or the Condor Bushlore. The fixed blade knife is used for the jobs the pocket knife can’t quite handle, such as cleaning game.

Moving up one more notch gets us to the choppers. While there is no absolute definition of this size of a knife, I consider a chopper to be a tool that fits between a standard fixed blade and a machete. So, maybe 9″ to 12″ in blade length or thereabouts. The chopper is there for cutting brush, cutting firewood, and shelter building. It also makes for a dandy self-defense weapon in a pinch. Typically, these blades are not only long but thick and sturdy. They are made to take a beating.

My current chopper of choice is the Becker BK-9 but there are many others out there, from the Condor Varan to the Ontario RTAK-II.

Packing a full-size machete is doable in some circumstances. I know I’ll sometimes grab my Cold Steel kukri at load out if I have room for it, either on my belt or in my pack. But, sometimes you need something just a bit smaller and that’s where a chopper comes into play. They are small enough to fit into even a medium-size pack without a problem, yet will provide you with a formidable tool for handling just about anything that comes your way.

Grocery Store Bug Out Supplies

I’ve often said that assembling your first bug out bag is something of a rite of passage for preppers and survivalists. Often, it is one of the very first steps taken on the path of disaster readiness. Where many people go wrong, though, is feeling as though they need to purchase expensive camping-style foods to keep in the bag. The fact is, you can find all the food supplies you’ll need right at your local grocery store, and probably save yourself some money in the process.

Let’s look at just a few very common grocery store staples that would work very well in a bug out bag.

While many granola bars sold today amount to not much more than candy with a bit of nuts added in, they store rather well and provide a good amount of calories in a ready-to-eat package. If you watch for sales, you can usually find a box of ten for under a couple bucks.

Rice is, of course, a staple food item for preppers. It stores well and is easy to prepare. While you probably don’t want to add a pound or two of rice to your bug out bag, you can easily transport small quantities by repurposing used juice pouches. Cut the empty juice pouch open across the top, just under where the straw hole is located. Wash and rinse well, then drape it upside down on a wooden spoon or something to dry overnight. Measure 1/2 cup of rice into the pouch. Fold the top over a few times, then use a hot iron to seal the mylar. Note: you can’t cook the rice in this pouch, you’ll need to have some type of pot to boil the water and then dump in the rice.

If you have a small cook pot in your kit, dry pasta is another possible meal. Egg noodles and such are incredibly cheap. Store them in a ziplock bag in your pack until you are ready to cook.

Protein is something of an issue for some people when it comes to deciding what to pack. I mean, starches are easy, but we can’t always count on trapping, fishing, or hunting to provide some meat to our diets when on the move. Pouch tuna is a great option. While you need to be careful about high temperatures when keeping the kit in your car, kept under reasonable conditions the tuna will stay fresh for about three years or so. Plus, if you shop around, you can usually find these pouches for about a buck each.

Raisins are a great option for adding some fruit to the diet. They store very well and are quite tasty. You might also pick up some other dried fruit mixes and roasted nuts to make your own trail mix.

A while back, I started seeing individual serving size packages of things like Hamburger Helper(c). Essentially, it is dehydrated meat, dry pasta, and seasonings in small pouches. The instructions are to mix the pouch contents with water and microwave for a bit, then let it sit to absorb the water. News flash — you don’t need a microwave to pull this off. Just heat the required amount of water, then toss in the pouch contents and cover. I’ve tried a few different varieties of these and they are actually rather filling.

When it comes to storing food in your bug out bag, you want to concentrate on three things:

1) Calories count, the more you can pack, the better. Calories are what fuels the body. Given that you’ll probably be traveling on foot, possibly over rough terrain, you want as much fuel as you can get your hands on.

2) Preparation should be simple. You aren’t looking to cobble together elaborate meals. In fact, the more foods you have that require nothing other than unwrapping before eating, the better off you’ll be. You may end up in a situation where a campfire, even a small one, is inadvisable. That said, having a few heat-n-eat types of foods can provide a great morale boost as a hot meal does wonders for the psyche.

3) Variety is the spice of life. Eating the same thing at each meal for even a couple of days can grow tiresome. Be sure to have a range of food items in your bug out bag to avoid appetite fatigue.

My Top 5 “Survival” Knives

Like firearms, which knives are “best” is always up for debate. What is ideal for my purposes might not work for someone else and vice versa. With that said, I know I always like to hear what others carry so I thought I’d share a short list of my current favorite blades. This list shouldn’t be really thought of as a “best of” sort of deal but rather just my personal favorites, nothing more.

In no particular order:

The Condor Bushlore. I recently posted a review of this knife elsewhere on this site. It is economical, yet high quality. The Bushlore is a sturdy, no nonsense knife that is made to be used, not just gawked at from afar. This would be a great knife to toss into a bug out bag or other kit so you’re always sure to have a good blade with you when you need it.

CSP-A2 Knife produced by Mission Knives (photo courtesy of Mission Knives. Admittedly, I’ve only played around with this one a bit but damn if it isn’t impressive. Made from A2 tool steel, the blade runs just shy of 5″ and is 1/4″ thick, making it a great, actually functional, size. The CSP was designed by Chance Sanders to be an ideal knife for both urban and rural preppers. In my opinion, he not only met but exceeded that goal.

TOPS Brothers of Bushcraft (B.O.B.) knife. This may very well be one of the most comfortable knives I’ve used. I’m not sure if that’s a result of the shape of the handle, the canvas micarta scales, or what but it just fit my hand perfectly. A full review is coming soon. However, I can tell you the 4 5/8″ blade is made from 1095 high carbon steel and this is a full tang knife, like all the others on this list. The black Kydex sheath comes with a magnesium fire starter that clips into a specially designed pouch. This is a nice knife that will take a beating and ask for more.

The next two blades on this list are my choppers. They are the ones I turn to when I’m blazing a trail, cutting firewood, or for some other reason need a longer blade than normal.

Becker BK9 (photo courtesy This is a beast of a knife. It has an overall length of almost 15″. The 1095 Cro-Van steel blade is 9″ long and the entire knife weighs a bit over a full pound. But, I’ll tell you something else. It arrived hair popping sharp and it doesn’t take a lot to get that edge back after even harsh abuse. I’m not a big fan of the nylon sheath, though it is quite serviceable.

Cold Steel Kukri (photo courtesy I bought one of these for my father-in-law a couple years ago for Christmas. He’d been searching for a decent machete for cutting brush out back and blazing some trails through the forest adjacent to his house. I’d heard good things about the Cold Steel Kukri so I put one under his Christmas tree. After he and I used it for a bit, I had to get one for myself! The blade is 1055 carbon steel and runs about 13″. Comes with a nylon sheath that isn’t anything special but does the job. At around $15 or so, you really can’t go wrong with this one. It holds a decent edge but keep in mind that a kukri isn’t meant to be shaving sharp.

Is Bugging Out Really Your Best Option?

Bugging out seems to be the plan of choice for the majority of preppers and survivalists. A Google search of the term “bug out bag” has well over a million hits. “Sheltering in place,” on the other hand, has less than 80K hits.

Why is bugging out so darn popular of an idea or plan? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — bugging out should be your LAST option, not your primary plan.

I know, this seemingly flies in the face of standard prepper thought but bear with me a second and allow me to make my case.

For the average person, survival means stockpiling at least a certain amount of supplies and gear. I’m not talking about you ex-SEALS or Greenie Beanies who have been trained to be able to eat things that would make a billy goat puke (bonus points for those of you who catch that movie reference). Heading for the hills with nothing more than what you can carry in a small pack might be a workable plan for those folks. But, for the average Joe or Jane, who might at best have some limited experience camping in an RV, bugging out probably won’t end well.

Many preppers have been at this for years at this point. They’ve amassed food, water, and other supplies to meet their needs for months, maybe years. Given that most of us can’t afford to purchase and outfit a separate retreat, all that stuff is probably at home. Yet, you’re going to leave it all there, at a moment’s notice and without a second thought? I just don’t understand that thought process.

Yes, you should have a plan in place for evacuation, just in case. Unless your crystal ball is working much better than mine, you have no realistic way to know ahead of time what disaster(s) might befall you in the weeks, months, or years to come. It is just part of prepping common sense to plan for the possibility that your home may become untenable at some point.

But, again, that is just one possibility to plan for. Your primary plan should be to shelter in place until a time comes that staying home isn’t workable anymore.

I mean, let’s look at just a couple of commonly proposed major disaster scenarios.

Pandemic — why in the world would you want to be out and about during a time like that? You’re far better off hunkering down and avoiding other people. I know, I know, some of you are thinking that if you headed for the wilderness, you’d probably be better able to avoid contact with possibly infected people. You’re right, to a degree. However, you’re also exposed to many other threats for which you’d probably end up being ill-equipped to handle, such as severe weather and even loneliness.

EMP — if an electromagnetic pulse were to hit (whether as the result of a solar flare or something man-made), commonly accepted thought indicates we’d be forced back into the dark ages. Technology becomes, for all intents and purposes, useless. How do you figure you’ll have a leg up on the competition by hitting the road on foot or even bike or horseback? How is that advantageous? Given the years it would likely take to get society back on its feet, how long do you figure you can hide out in the brush? (If your answer is “As long as it takes,” take your macho bullshit elsewhere as the grown ups are talking right now.)

Look, I realize sheltering in place isn’t nearly as “sexy” as the thought of bugging out. I get that, I really do. But, y’know what? If actual survival means not being as cool and hip as the other survivalists, I’m ok with that.

Using Social Media in a Crisis

I like to think of disaster prepping as sort of like a toolbox. I’m always looking for another tool I can toss into it, just in case. Call them redundancies, call them backups, the point is to have multiple means of accomplishing primary goals during an emergency.

Social media sites, like Facebook or Twitter, can and should be thought of as one of those tools.

All but the most basic cell phones sold today come fully equipped with apps for social media. All you have to do is sign in and you’re good to go, ready to post pics of your breakfast, comment about your crazy pet, or lament about yet another breakup. Of course, in an emergency, you can also use these apps to let people know where you are and if you need help.

What is sometimes overlooked about using social media via mobile devices is that you don’t necessarily need an Internet connection to communicate. As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, even if a voice call won’t go through and Internet access isn’t available, texting may still work. Facebook and Twitter both can be used via texting, at least to a limited degree. Here’s how that works.

For Facebook, you first need to link up your mobile device with your Facebook account. Do this by logging into your Facebook account on a computer. In the upper right corner of your screen, click on the sprocket icon, then click Settings. At the settings screen, click on Mobile along the left side, then follow the instructions to add your cell number to your account. Once your phone is linked, you simply send a text to 32665 (FBOOK) and your message will post to your Facebook wall. That number is the one to use for the United States as well as many other countries. If you live outside the U.S., do a search online for your own country’s number.

Twitter works in a very similar way. Log in to your Twitter account, click the sprocket icon in the upper right, then click Mobile on the left. Follow the instructions to add your phone to your Twitter account.

With Facebook in particular, posting via text also allows you to receive replies the same way, giving you the means to communicate with the outside world even if you don’t have an Internet connection available.

Using this texting means of posting to social media, you can let people know if you’re ok or if you need help. You can also coordinate rescue efforts as well as check on family and friends.

There are, of course, better ways to get the word out during an emergency. Voice calls and using the Internet are both superior to using social media via texting. But, as I said before, this is one more tool to add to the toolbox.

The Media Isn’t (Fully) To Blame

We preppers and survivalists often lament how the media in the United States seems to avoid talking about what we’d consider to be real issues. Instead, the talking heads are much more interested in the latest celebrity gossip, scrutinizing possible “baby bump” photos like they are stills from the Zapruder film.

There’s a reason for this, and it has little or nothing to do with shady quasi-government entities suppressing “the truth.”

Money, it all comes down to money.

See, the success of virtually any TV show, whether it is a news program, a sitcom, or just another nausea inducing reality show, is predicated upon advertising dollars. The larger the audience is for a show, the higher the ratings. As the ratings go up, so does the rate the media station can charge for commercial time.

Why do you think companies pay millions of dollars to place their ads during the Super Bowl? Because it is consistently one of the highest rated TV broadcasts. Advertisers want eyes on their commercials and are willing to pay big bucks for that to happen.

Look, the only way the media is going to reverse course and start concentrating on actual news and stories that are truly important to us is if more people stop tuning in to the garbage that passes for TV entertainment today.

The problem isn’t with the media. It is with the American people. They want what they want, when they want it, and a lot of it. I mean, we can’t get more than about 20% of registered voters to a voting booth but millions turn out each week to vote for their favorite American Idol?

If you want things to change, it starts with you. Stop tuning in to the various and sundry crappy “reality” shows. Don’t watch any of the celebrity gossip shows that disguise themselves as news programs. If enough people finally do so, maybe, just maybe, the TV stations will get the hint.