Survival gear is about quality over quantity, needs over wants, functionality over whim. If you don’t need it, you shouldn’t have it. I learned this the hard way. As a kid, I remember getting my first survival kit. It was something cheap from the mall, with little more than a few tidbits. Nonetheless, I was overjoyed by my little box of fishing hooks, candles, Morse code instructions and a plastic compass. One night, I decided to test out my survival skills by camping out in the forest behind my house. Tent in one hand, box in the other, I had childish fantasies of catching fish and living like the king of the forest. I’d be completely off the grid, surviving off my own cunning.
By 9pm, I was back home, eating a reheated dinner I’d missed a few hours earlier.
My first attempt to go it alone was a total failure. In part, it was inevitable; I was, after all, just a kid. My survival box was hardly and help, either. With the exception of a small flashlight, none of the items in the box were particularly useful then, and certainly not now. In fact, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since that disappointing night, it’s that having the right gear for the job is critical.
In the past, we’ve published plenty of articles on what kind of survival gear you should have. New preppers should check out this list of basic gear. If you’re putting together your own bugout bag, this checklist is your best friend. On the other hand, it’s all too easy to forget that while there’s plenty of things you do need in a survival situation, there’s just as much survival gear that’s completely unnecessary.
In this list, we’ll be looking at survival gear that shouldn’t be in your basic survival kit or bug out. Some of these items might have once been a good idea, but are outdated by newer alternatives. Some were just bad ideas to begin with, or are just too cumbersome to be worth the effort. Whatever the reason, you don’t need any of this stuff on you in a survival situation.
Books are a survivalist’s best friend, but even the closest of friends need time apart. As any bookworm knows, books can get pretty heavy, pretty quick. Indeed, the best place to store an important book isn’t your rucksack – it’s your mind. So instead of stuffing your bugout bag full of reading material, try to read and memorize your favorites long before SHTF. If that’s not possible, then copy anything particularly important into a more compact notebook. Alternatively, consider investing in a Kindle or similar, which can allow you to carry a library in your pocket. The downside, of course, is the need to recharge every few days.
Once upon a time, every survival kit had to include a few candles. The rationale is simple: candles are lightweight, easy to light and don’t rely on electricity. They can be broken but still work, and you always know how much use you have left. Today though, candles are far too anachronistic, and there are plenty of decent flashlights that will do just fine.
Ordinary, lousy matches
Another anachronism, matches just aren’t as great as most people think they are. They’re unreliable, finicky and die the minute they get a drop of water on them. Waterproof matches are much better, but personally I’d rather invest in a reliable waterproof lighter. Throw in a cheap backup lighter or two from the gas station, and you’re good to go.
I’m always shocked by how many survivalists carry basic toiletries, like deodorant in particular. To be fair, I can’t go a night without my toothpaste, so I guess we all have our weaknesses. Nonetheless, toiletries should never be considered a priority item. Realistically, a serious bugout bag can almost always go without any toiletries at all. If this sounds like a tall order, then at the very least consider investing in an all-in-one soap. One tried and true option is Dr. Bronner’s, a multi-use Castile soap. It can be used as a toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, kitchen detergent and more.
Many survivalists swear by aluminum foil – and no, it’s not to protect against the X-rays from Pluto. The idea is that aluminum foil can be used as an improvised bowl for boiling water, among other things. It’s become so popular, that aluminum foil is now a pretty common addition to many store-bought survival kits. In reality, this foil isn’t particularly reliable. For evidence of this, grab some foil right now, fold it up and carry it around in your pocket for the rest of the week. Odds are, it’ll come out a crumpled mess of shredded trash. Now ask yourself, would you really trust that foil with your life?
I once knew an old British World War II veteran who swore by spam. “A can of spam and some crackers is all I’ll need,” he used to say. I’ll always respect him, but it’s unarguable that canned goods simply can’t be considered an appropriate food item for the modern survivalist. Dehydrated meals are simply superior by almost every measure. They’re lighter, easier to pack and can include far less waste. Plus, they’re usually easier to split up into smaller rations if necessary.
For most outdoorspeople, dehydrated meals usually boil down to either dirt cheap ramen or overpriced ready made meals from the hiking store. While both options are fine, nothing beats a DIY dehydrated meal. Dehydrating food is surprisingly easy to do, and simple to preserve and store. If you’re looking for recipes, check out our list of 15 easy things to make with a dehydrator.
Ten thousand guns
We all know that guy: he’s got an AR-15 over one shoulder, an antique AK-47 over the other, and about half a dozen side-arms in his underwear. Presumably, he also has a trolley full of ammunition in tow.
Don’t be this guy.
Sometimes, less is more, and any hunter knows that guns are pretty damn heavy. If you haven’t yet discovered this too, you will after a few hours of hiking with a rifle. Or, just watch this old MythBusters segment, which exists to remind us all that none of us will ever be the DOOM guy.
There’s a few backup tidbits that make sense: an extra lighter, a few spare pens, batteries and the like. However, you don’t need backup versions of every piece of gear in your bugout bag. As already mentioned, one gun is just fine; so is one stove, one filter, one everything. All of your gear should already be tried, tested and guaranteed to stand up to whatever you plan on throwing at it. The only things you should consider doubling up on are small items mentioned above, or anything that you seriously think might break. For example, a spare torch or phone could make sense.
Okay, I’m not suggesting you go naked when SHTF. Instead, just one set of clothing should do you just fine. Fashion is hardly a priority when we're talking about survival gear, and every spare shirt is just another dead weight that will – well, leave you dead. Just bring whatever is suitable for your climate, and don’t bother with that extra pair of socks.
Hollow handle knives
Just. Please. Don’t.
In all seriousness, there are some good quality hollow knives out there. The Cold Steel Bushman is one example of a great knife that happens to have a hollow handle, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Instead, my gripe is with hollow knives where the handle is used as a container for tidbits such as a compass or firestarter. It might sound like the perfect survival gear, but oh, how wrong you are. These knives are finicky, easy to break and create more problems than they solve. Just get a decent full tang blade, and call it a day.
Over-sized, chunky first aid kits
Those big metal boxes with red crosses on them that you see in office buildings were never intended to be moved, let alone be used as survival gear. They sit on a wall, and mind their own business until a desk jockey gets a paper cut. In a survival situation, you want something lightweight. A standard fabric pack should be fine, while a Tupperware container or similar can offer a little more protection for its contents. Either way, keep it as small as possible, and avoid metal for now.
Anything that’s already on your multi-tool
Screw drivers, hammers and mini-saws are great, but you don’t need them in a survival situation. Tools like these are heavy, and unnecessary 99 percent of the time. If you do, however, feel that you just can’t leave home without these items, then consider investing in a good quality multi-tool.
If your bugout bag looks like a toolkit, then you’ve done something wrong.
Cheap multi-tools/ Swiss Army imitations
Speaking of multi-tools, don’t buy something that will break after a day or two. Ditto for overloaded Swiss Army knives. Admittedly, many survivalists completely multi-tools altogether, noting that so many are cheap, shoddy and unreliable. This isn’t entirely true, and there are plenty of good quality multi-tools out there. Don’t be stingy, and only buy survival gear you can rely on.
Plastic eating utensils
As an avid hiker, most people I know tend to prefer plastic cutlery on the trail. It makes sense, with plastic being lightweight. New plastic products are always getting more durable, and there’s a good mix of variety. Having said that, plastic eating utensils are a waste of your money if used as survival gear. What you gain in terms of weight, you lose in terms of reliability. Sooner or later, your plastic spork is going to snap, and the plastic bowl will split down the side. For me, the latter happened when it was full of steaming hot ramen – nice. Don’t make my mistake, and stick to metal.
Good quality wire saws are okay, but sadly the market is overwhelmingly flooded with cheapies. As a piece of survival gear, they're overrated. Almost every store-bought survival kit nowadays contains a wire saw; most will snap within an hour of intense use. So unless you’re a hitman planning on garroting someone in a dimly lit apartment, just buy a knife.
While we’re on the topic of cutlery, let’s talk about excessive eating items. You don’t need a cooking pot, bowl, fork, dining knife and spoon. Instead, all you need is a solid cooking pot, a fork and the ability to slurp like a pro. Alternatively, Korean-style metal chopsticks work great, too. They’re chronically underrated by us westerners, and are somewhat more versatile than a boring old fork.
Unless you’re planning on an extended vacation on a desert island, you probably don’t need a flare gun in your backpack.
Flare guns are heavy, and almost always unneeded. If you really find yourself in a situation where you need to bring attention to yourself, just use a small, handheld mirror. A mirror doesn’t need to be loaded.
Some people like to use mallets for hammering in their tent pegs. Putting aside the fact that a pure bugout shouldn’t actually include a tent, there’s almost never a need for a mallet. Even if you’re planning on bringing full camping gear for some reason, the mallet will still be a dead weight. Unless you’re camping in a parking lot, tent pegs can easily be hammered down with a rock. If you’re having trouble with this, then you might have bigger problems.
Anything longer than your forearm
No list can cover absolutely everything, and I’m sure I’ve missed something here. So as a general rule, you should seriously question carrying any bulky items. If it’s longer than your forearm, taller than your knees or otherwise just damnably heavy, then you might want to reconsider carrying it.
Your ukulele/hipster guitar/bongo drums/pan pipes
It’s been a long day, and everyone is sitting around the fire, exhausted. Then, that hipster in your group starts strumming some tunes on his organic, fair-trade ukulele. It’s usually around that moment when everyone else loses the will to live.
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