Any survivalist will tell you that equipping yourself with the best survival tools is essential when heading out into the wilderness. Effective survival kits include a number of essential tools and, although it can initially feel overwhelming trying to work out what you need to take and what you should leave behind, we’re here to help you put together the best survival kit with the best survival tools.
Below, we have compiled a list of the 14 wilderness survival tools you’re going to need, each with an in-depth description explaining what the tool is, what it’s used for, and what you should be looking for when choosing the best survival tool for you. From water filter to tarp, we’ve covered all the best survival tools you could possibly need to include in your survival gear while preparing for your expedition.
Here you’ll find 14 of the best survival tools to help make navigating any survival situation that much easier. To prepare for putting together a survival kit for your expedition or wilderness camping trip, work out where it is you’re going, what the weather conditions will be like, and what sort of environments you’re likely to encounter. That way, you can focus in on getting the best survival tools which are suited to your needs.
A fire starter is one of the most important survival tools and you’ll need one in your kit. This tool will help you with boiling water, cooking your food, and keeping you warm. When choosing the best fire starter, there are a few things to take into consideration; your skill level, what you plan on using it for, and the environment and conditions you’ll be using it in.
Either a magnesium fire starter or a ferrocerium fire starter is your best option for cooking food, signalling for help, and keeping you warm at night. Magnesium requires a pile of shavings to light up a fire, something which can be a real challenge if you’re going somewhere with high winds and an unpredictable climate. Unlike a magnesium fire starter, ferrocerium, although still containing a small amount of magnesium, is suitable for use in all weather conditions so this is definitely something to bear in mind when picking the most appropriate tool for your expedition.
The weight and size of a fire lighter tool is another factor to consider; some models are on the heavier side and might take up valuable space in your bag. Some products are considerably smaller and more lightweight than others, some even come in the form of a wearable multi-tool which can include other survival tools such as a bottle opener, a map scale, and a folding knife.
Survival knives are designed to be sturdy and reliable, making them heavier than the regular outdoor knife. Not all survival knives are large but they do need to be tough and able to perform well even in extreme conditions and circumstances. You’ll want to find yourself a tool that matches your skill level and the type of tasks you are anticipating on having to carry out with it. You’ll also want it to be the right size and weight for your kit so that it’s easy to use and transport.
Survival knives come in all shapes and sizes; fixed knives, folding knives, large and small. In general, the best survival knife is usually 10” in length, with a 4” – 8” blade. The handle of your knife needs to provide you with a good grip and can be made from plastic, wood, or metal. A survival knife can have a smooth, serrated, or half serrated blade. It’s worth noting that serrated blades are much more likely to retain their sharpness in comparison to smooth blades and are better suited to working with a range of materials such as rope and wood.
Some might prefer to just stick to a less threatening multi-tool which includes a folding knife; ultimately, what you intend on using your knife for is going to be your best guide when finding the best survival knife for you.
No matter what your skill level is, a topographic map is an essential survival tool to have in your survival kit. A topographic map represents geographic features accurately and to-scale on a two-dimensional surface, so you’ll be able to get an idea of just how difficult the terrain you’re heading out to is. Both an effective planning tool and guide while hiking, they also ensure that you stay safe.
You can get hold of topographic maps with a waterproof coating which prevents them from becoming unreadable in extreme conditions or, alternatively, you can also get a waterproof map case which comes with a cord so that you can wear it around your neck to make navigating even easier.
If you’re a beginner to the world of orienteering you might be wondering why a simplified trail map, like the printable versions you’d find on a national park’s website, isn’t enough. These maps aren’t able to include the level of detail you would see on a topographic map, such as elevation data and changes in vegetation, and are unlikely to aid in effectively planning your trip or to help you out if you get lost mid-hike.
A compass is an important piece of survivalist gear; the ability to navigate using a map and compass is a crucial skill to have, and is one that could potentially save your life. You don’t always want to be relying on a battery powered GPS receiver or a smartphone in case your battery runs out of power or you lose that all-important signal; having a compass is a reliable, old-school way to know where you are and how to get to where you want to go.
When choosing a compass, you’ll want to look out for the following features: declination adjustment, sighting mirror, clinometer, and a global needle. The declination is the difference between true north and magnetic north in degrees. It will vary depending on where you are and so, with adjustable declination, you can set it up and leave it to do the work until you travel to an entirely new area. The sighting mirror is a tool which helps you to follow a precise bearing on a landmark a long distance away while a clinometer helps you to measure and assess a slope’s steepness. A global needle is essential for world travelers going on a trip south of the equator as it compensates for any magnetic-field variances so that it remains accurate no matter where you are on the globe.
Compasses have numerous advantages over hand-held electronic navigation devices; they are lighter, they aren’t dependent on batteries, and they’re far more durable. Brush up on your navigation survival skills and, paired with a topographic map, you’ll be ready to plan your route and successfully follow it.
A well-stocked first aid kit for outdoor survival will be invaluable to you in the backcountry. You can save yourself the time and expense of putting a kit together yourself by purchasing a kit designed specifically for survivalists. Your level of experience with administering first aid is going to be a big factor to take into consideration when choosing the right kit for you; some will come with medical items that you’ll simply never use and will only make your bag bulkier and heavier.
Along with a first aid guidebook, the best survival medical kit should include the following 10 items:
If you aren’t prepared to handle a medical emergency, things can quickly go from bad to worse and so having a functional medical kit that you know how to use is essential for survival.
A simple and inexpensive yet vital piece of gear for survival is the emergency whistle. Despite its small size, a whistle is incredibly useful and really is an essential survival tool.
A survival whistle creates a loud, piercing noise which penetrates the wind, alerting anyone with a few miles that you are urgently in need of assistance. A whistle of at least 100 decibels will be able to travel long distances and attract attention when you need help. Anyone who has been through survival training will tell you that you should make sure that you have this tool on you at all times when you go out camping or hiking so that you’re prepared for any emergency situation that could arise. In addition to calling for help, survival whistles are also helpful for alerting wild animals to your presence to avoid unwelcome and dangerous encounters.
Look for a whistle that is small, durable, and easy to keep with you as it could well save your life.
All mountain climbers and survival experts will know that a rope should be on your survival gear list. The paracord, initially invented as a tool for military use, is your best option when putting together your survival supplies. Otherwise known as parachute cord, a paracord is made from nylon and has an impressive strength-to-weight ratio.
Having a whole range of survival purposes, you’ll be able to use your paracord as a strong single cord, as well as for rigging tarps, repairing gear, and using the inner strands to make a fishing line. A regular nylon or polyester rope won’t meet the same criteria as paracord if it doesn’t incorporate a braided sheath that has interwoven strands within it, so make sure to purchase from a reputable seller of survivalists gear.
Going by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, water is one of the most important physiological needs we have. In any survival situation, having access to drinking water is critical to keeping you alive.
A water filter, in basic terms, is a tool which gets rid of any impurities and bacteria which are present in water. It will help you reduce the risk of contracting waterborne diseases and can come in handy when you need to treat your water before filling up your water bottle, cleaning any wounds, repairing your gear, and cooking food. Even when there isn’t a supply of clean water nearby, using a water filter system will help to keep you hydrated. Being prepared for all eventualities will increase your chances of survival; it’s a good idea to store emergency water which can last you at least three days when a water source is inaccessible.
A pocket flashlight or a headlamp are another of our recommendations for useful survival tools to take along with you in your survival pack. Not only do flashlights come in handy for finding your way in the dark, they also double up as great signalling devices. In addition, if you find yourself in survival situations requiring medical aid, having some form of lighting will make it easier to, for example, remove debris from a wound.
Headlamps are perhaps the most practical and versatile option when it comes to lighting. To conserve battery, especially in a survival scenario, it’s a good idea to get hold of a headlamp which has a dimming function. This means that you can turn the light on at a low setting and adjust the brightness to suit your environment, visibility levels, and situation without draining the battery. Looking for a waterproof, rechargeable, lightweight headlamp to put in your survival kit is the best way forward.
Ensure that your lighting is durable, reliable, and has a long battery life. There are also plenty of solar powered survival lighting options on the market; so long as your solar light is exposed to daylight when you’re outdoors then it’ll be able to charge up and be ready to use as and when you need it.
Tarp is vital for outdoor survival and no list of the best survival tools would be complete without it. Helping to protect your camp from wet conditions and you from the elements, tarps are lightweight and easy to pack away into your bug out bag. Packing a good quality tarp is going to make your experience all the more enjoyable. If you’re camping in milder weather, you’ll be able to opt for a traditional, less substantial flat tarp which you can attach to trees when setting up camp. If you’re off on a longer trek in unpredictable conditions, a heavy-duty tarp is likely to be more durable and able to withstand challenging environments.
When deciding on the best tarp for you, you’ll need to make sure that durable, waterproof materials are used in its construction. Reinforced materials like nylon can also make a big difference to your survival. There are plenty of different tarps to choose from; some are pyramid shaped, others are free-standing, some have an inner net. Of course you can opt for a tent but they’re usually a lot bulkier than tarp and the tent stakes will weigh your kit down. Remember that you’ll be carrying it on your back at times and so the type of trip you’re planning on taking is going to play a big role in deciding what sort of tarp you go for.
To improve your chances of contacting rescuers in an emergency, having a mirror designed for signalling is your best bet. A great tool for survival, signal mirrors are used by reflecting the sunlight as a targeted beam of light.
These survival tools can be made using either plastic or glass. Plastic, as you would expect, is less likely to break but it does allow for more flexibility when directing the sunlight’s reflection. That being said, a glass mirror, which you can always place in a protective sleeve to prevent it from breaking, is able to reflect sunlight to a distance much farther away. Ideally, you want a mirror which is around the 2” x 3” mark so that you can comfortably hold it in your hands. A mirror with a small hole in the center will enable you to see exactly where it is that you’re focusing your signal so it’s definitely worth thinking about the design of the mirror.
In a situation where you’re unable to see anyone in the distance, the US Air Force recommends using your signal mirror to sweep across the horizon so that you can attract attention from a rescue team. If you can see help in the distance, aim the reflected light towards them and signal that you’re in need of their assistance; flash the mirror toward your target, and then cover it or turn it away from the target. Do that three times in quick succession. That’s the international distress signal, which any rescuer should recognize.
Hand-held GPS devices have become increasingly common over the past couple of decades and make for a great survival tool. Almost all phones, and even some smart watches, are now equipped with GPS functions. GPS devices are used for checking your position, helping you follow a defined route, and recording your activity. Using your phone, although a cost-effective way of going about using GPS if you already have one, isn’t always the best choice because they are unlikely to have been designed specifically for survivalist activities. Phones aren’t weatherproof, they’re prone to running out of battery quickly, and they’re rarely shockproof and so even the smallest amount of damage may leave you without the help of a GPS.
A device designed specifically for GPS functions is going to do the job infinitely better than your phone will. Hand-held GPS devices are a great option as they’ll have all the features you could possibly need while navigating. Plenty of GPS models on the market at the moment are waterproof, with some even being able to withstand total submersion in water, and they’re designed as a survival tool for use in extreme conditions. A long-lasting battery, a large screen so that you can clearly plan and follow your route, and rugged, durable case are all good features to keep an eye out for.
Our final piece of the best survival gear is the dry bag. A dry bag is exactly what it sounds like; a watertight bag that will keep every survival tool you’re carrying dry. Dry bags are designed to be strong and resistant to abrasion, making them a necessity during wilderness survival. The two main points you’re going to want to consider when finding the best dry bag for you are the material and the closure.
Dry bags tend to be made out of either vinyl or nylon. Most smaller dry bags are constructed out of vinyl whereas the standard, larger bags are made from nylon. Vinyl bags tend to be easier to pack away and stowed inside larger bags. The nylon used in dry bags has a waterproof coating which also makes it resistant to wear and tear. As a tip, look for the number followed by a “D” listed in the specification of nylon bags; the higher this number is, the more dense the nylon fibers are, and therefore the more tough the bag will be.
The closure of the bag is an important component to bear in mind. Roll-top bags will prevent water from getting inside; the top is rolled up and then closed off with a buckle, making it easier to carry it by hand if you wanted to. Alternatively, some dry bags have the press-and-seal form of close which is similarly effective in sealing out water.
The size of the dry bag you opt for will inevitably be determined by how many survival tools you are intending on carrying and how long you plan on being out in the wilderness for. You can get hold of a 5L bag for personal items, a 10L bag for storing clothes, or a 20-30L bag for longer trips which require taking a sleeping bag and more survival tools.