Five Emergency Survival Tools

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As preppers we strive to acquire skills, knowledge and yes tools that can assist us should we ever be faced with dire circumstances. The actual disaster that you might be facing and you own situation at the present time would necessarily determine what would be required of you to survive. For instance there might be a wildfire burning in the next county over with winds driving toward your house. With some time you could pack the family in the wagon and head out onto the highway to find a hotel or stay with friends a safe distance away. This is a real survival situation for you if the flames were approaching and by the act of bugging out you were responsible for saving your family. Had the flames kept going and you didn’t leave they all might have perished with you if the fire reached your front door.

But for some of us we don’t look at that example as a survival scenario. You had a car and the banks were working as well as your cell phone. You had a place to go and have plenty of clean, dry clothes in your bags packed safely in the mini-van that you just refilled because the pumps are still working fine. You are still able to buy food at a restaurant and aside from the fire, everyone is safe.

A survival situation doesn’t have to look like a reality TV show. I think far too many people imagine survival as being dropped onto a deserted island with nothing but a knife, water bottle (5 camera men) and your wits to keep you alive. Do these things happen to some people? Sure, but not usually unless you purposely head out into nature with the express intent of getting far away. I know that you can get into danger by simply hiking local nature trails over the weekend but how many of us living in the city or suburbs (outside of some real crisis) have to look for shelter, food, find our way to civilization or make a fire?

When I talk about survival tools I am not coming at this from the standpoint of surviving in the jungles of Central America but these emergency survival tools could help there too. Survival to me is staying alive regardless of the location and these five emergency survival tools will help you maintain room temperature.

Can you cut it?

I have been asked this before but I do think the single most important survival tool besides a clear calm head is a knife. Knives have been around forever because they are so incredibly useful. You might think that you wouldn’t need a knife unless you were whittling a stick into a spear or slicing the skin off some animal you trapped in a snare, but you would be wrong. Knives offer so many uses that their importance can’t be overstated.

OK, so you believe you need a knife, but what kind of survival knife? How would you carry it? How much should you spend on a good survival knife? These are all great questions, but each individual needs to answer them for yourself. I will give you my two cents though. There are really two types of knifes for me. There is my big knife for cutting big things and taking a beating and then I have a smaller knife for cutting smaller things. It is not as sturdy.

Kershaw Leek - Excellent EDC knife.

Kershaw Leek – Excellent EDC knife.

Why have two types? It comes down to convenience really. For my EDC (Every Day Carry) knife that I have on my person at all times away from home and usually in my home I have a small folding knife. Now it isn’t so small that I can’t cut anything with it, but it isn’t too large that I can’t stick it in my pocket. I have this because the closest thing I am going to be getting to lost in the wilderness is a park. My small folding knife will still cut almost anything I would need it to and it’s compact size makes it easy for me to carry every day to work.

If I am going into the woods as I hope to do here in the next few weeks with my survival dog on sabbatical, I will leave the folding knife at home and carry my larger Gerber LMF II. This knife is a fixed blade that is far sturdier than my folder and can be used to chop down small trees if I need to. Both of them have a purpose and I chose my knife based upon where I will be, but I always have one on me. You should too.

Looking for love in all the wrong places?

Have you ever been lost? If you are taking a walk in the woods you should carry a compass and a map. I have and love my GPS, but if that goes out I still have my map and a compass. With a compass you don’t have to worry about EMP rendering your device out of commission. Actually, where I have been backpacking we sometimes lose the satellite signal so my compass is the low tech fallback option for finding my way back home to my family.

A great compass is a simple lifesaving survival tool.

A great compass is a simple lifesaving survival tool.

Now, it’s all well and good to have a compass but you need to know how to use a compass and map too? Most anyone I know can pick one up, point it and say, ‘that way’s North’ with authority but will that be enough? Check out this great video on using a compass and map if you need a refresher.

Come on baby light my fire!

If I had a dollar for all the articles I had seen (and a few I have written myself) about the importance of being able to start a fire, I would have… I don’t know; a hundred bucks? Suffice it to say that there are a lot of people out there who are trying to convey the importance of being able to start a fire. Why is fire so important? Just like these other survival tools, it can save your life.

BlastMatch - Single hand operation.

BlastMatch – Single hand operation.

You can learn how to start a fire with a fire plough or the magnifying glass trick or my personal favorite, starting a fire with a bottle of water but really there are easier options. The easiest option is a simple Bic lighter. I have dozens of these strewn around the house and in both my bug out bags, get home bags and the bag I take hiking with me. They are cheap, easy to use and do what they are supposed to do. But, what if they get wet?

Two alternatives to the good old Bic lighter are both called fire steels. I have a Swedish Fire Steel which is a rod that you need to strike with a stainless steel striker or the back of your knife blade to make sparks that are over 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit!! This isn’t just cheap fireworks when you are bored but combine this with the proper amount of dry tinder or WetFire cubes and you will have a flame in no time.

I also have a BlastMatch all-weather fire starter which is the same concept but you can use this one-handed. Perfect for if you are injured or you need to use one hand to block the wind or keep that bear at bay. Both of these great survival tools are waterproof so that gives them an advantage over matches (unless they are waterproof obviously) and Bic lighters. Sure a Bic will dry out if you have the time, but what if you just escaped a raging river, all your gear is soaked, the sun is going down and you are freezing cold? Also, they will last for thousands of fires and you can’t say the same for matches.

Gimme Shelter

Survival Bivvy

Survival Bivvy

Quick, what is the first thing that will kill you? Lack of food? Dehydration from no water? A backhand from a Polar Bear? If you answered polar bear I might have to give that one to you but unless you are in the arctic or dumb enough to climb the fence at your local zoo, the chances of you seeing a polar bear are slim.

Most people fret about starving or dying of thirst though and that isn’t really what you have to worry about the most. Exposure will kill you faster than thirst or hunger and it is something to consider. Have you heard of the rule of threes? The rule of threes goes something like this:

  • You can live three minutes without air
  • You can live three hours without shelter
  • You can live three days without water
  • You can live three weeks without food

Now before you start saying that the most important thing is air, let’s just say that this is a given. If you are suffocating you definitely have big problems, but that isn’t likely either. Most of those survival shows I talked about at the beginning show you how to scavenge for food if you are lost in the wilderness, but like the rule of three says, you can go weeks without food. Will it be fun? No, but you do have bigger problems.

Shelter in this rule means getting too cold (hypothermia) or two hot (hyperthermia) and both are just as bad for your body. If you find yourself in a survival situation there is a tool that you can use to regulate your body temperature and this can keep you alive. In the heat you have to get out of the sun. In the cold you have to conserve heat and a survival bivvy works great for both purposes. As a sun shade you can turn the survival bivvy inside out and let the reflective material reflect the sun off you. It also doubles as a signaling device. When you are cold, climb into the bag and the reflective material will reflect your own body heat back on you keeping you warm.

Fenix Headlamp - Perfect for hands free tasks in zero visibility.

Fenix Headlamp – Perfect for hands free tasks in zero visibility.

I can see clearly now!

Lastly, and one of my favorite survival tools is a flashlight. Well, more precisely it is light because light can solve a world of problems. Can you imagine being lost and not being able to see? One wrong step could land you in a hole that might break your ankle or you could step off a cliff. When I am backpacking I have a Fenix headlamp that I love. I just strap this to my head and I can walk around and do most anything I normally would because I can see clearly where I am going, what is ahead of me and I don’t have to use my hands.

During the day a headlamp is a little bit much but I also carry a small but bright flashlight as part of my EDC. You would be surprised how often I have to use this thing so it does come in handy.

What are some of your favorite survival tools?




  1. Brian Adams

    October 21, 2014 at 9:03 am


  2. C. Love

    October 21, 2014 at 11:26 am

    hey Brian, hey Pat, so about multi-tools, i have a few but only one i really use, being that i make fireworks and other things like that on a pretty regular basis i went ahead and purchased a leatherman mut EOD for myself. its got everything ive needed, i didnt pick up my tool kit for almost a week after i got it. And the knife on that thing is impeccable, out of the box, it could shave the hair off my arm, i mean ive literally shaved even my face with that knife. i find it to be the perfect compliment to my larger knife, it is a but weighty (11 oz, i think) but ive had it for a year and its still my favorite tool, very versatile, here check it out
    beyond that, i have a larger,probably questionable in its legality, but ive checked with police, apparently its fine. i have a redesigned model of a WWI/ WWII trench spike, its my personal favorite knife, just beating the leatherman, probably b/c i had a blacksmith forge it to my hand shape (cost an arm and a leg, those blacksmiths are not cheap). personally i use it for hunting. but being that im trained with knife combat, id really recommend, if you have the funds/ capability, id suggest using the same knife for many things over a week or two, anything youd think itd have to deal with in a SHTF scenario and really get a feel for the knife. only then should you even consider trusting the knife with your life. nor are all good knives expensive ive seen good gerber ones that rival a 300$ spyder knife that cost 25$, you just have to find the knife that balances out with you. and word to the wise, get a knife with a finger guard if you plan to be doing anything really stressful with said knife, i saw a guy lose the tip of his index finger on a sweedish belt knife. also, try using the knife when its covered in dish soap to simulate use when your knife is bloody or wet.

  3. C. Love

    October 21, 2014 at 11:30 am

    by the way pat, great article for backpacking. really breaks down to the essentials. *gives thumbs up*

  4. C. Love

    October 21, 2014 at 11:50 am

    so what does “your comment is awaiting moderation” mean? it says that over the comment i posted earlier, what’s up with that? (just out of curiosity)

    • Pat Henry

      October 21, 2014 at 11:58 am

      Any comments that have links in them have to be approved by me. It’s for the off case when someone adds something malicious.

      I just approved your comment though so it should now appear. Thanks for that by the way! I have a Leatherman charge that I love for some of the same reasons you mention.


  5. Mark

    October 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    These lists always crack me up. Let’s look at this one more closely.

    1. Kershaw Leek – It’s great if you only ever need one blade. If that blade breaks, oh well. Why not carry a multi-blade knife, or even better a Leatherman?

    2. Compass – It’s great if you plan to go on a long hike in the woods.

    3. Blastmatch – Give me a break! Why would you carry anything except for a Bic lighter? (or better, two Bic lighters?) Is this to prove you can start a fire the hard way? Is this a Boy Scout merit badge thing? I don’t get it. Carry a couple of Bics.

    4. Emergency Bivvy – It might keep you from getting hypothermia for one night. By night #2 it’ll look like shredded tin foil I suspect. Why not just keep an old coat or a thick sweater in the trunk of your car? It’ll last longer.

    5. Fenix Headlamp – Makes the perfect target for anybody watching with a rifle. Say adios to the top of your head.


    • usmarinestanker

      October 21, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Hi Mark,

      One of the things that I love about prepping websites is the vast array of knowledge and rationale behind decisions that we can get exposed to. It’s a Smörgåsbord for our intellects. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read an article or spoken to someone and said, “Man, that makes sense. I’m going to change the way I do things.” I’ve also done the opposite and steered clear of some zany and obviously unsound information out there.

      You decry the list Pat has made, but what do you offer in contrast as your own preferred five critical tools? I see bics instead of fire starters and heavy coats instead of emergency blanket. Check. What else? Please take this opportunity to teach an interested reader.

      • Still Waters

        October 22, 2014 at 12:33 am

        Everyone has their own preferences, but I thought maybe I could answer a couple of your questions Mark.

        Why not carry a multi-blade or a leatherman? Well, context is everything here. For everyday, they’re heavy and don’t fit very well in my pocket without noticably weighing it down. But you’ll find one in my get home bag and bug out bag.

        Why carry anything but a bic lighter? Because bics fail. As a former smoker, I know all too well how heat and cold can make bics unusable, and if the flint pops out as it’s inclined to do in extremes or when you need it most, you’re screwed.

        As for the bivvy, the mylar is more durable than you may expect. Also, Pat did a good job explaining that the bivvy is equally good at providing shelter from sun and heat.

        I’m often guilty of looking at some of these lists and questioning things which would be not as useful for my particular area as some other items. However, Pat writes for people from a variety of climates, and he did a really good job here of listing items that would be useful whether you’re in Maine or Arizona.

  6. Sean

    October 22, 2014 at 6:08 am

    So many of these lists include a compass on there. Hand most people a compass and the only thing they know about it is that it points North. Most people don’t realize it points South at the same time.

    In the army people used to say, “the most dangerous thing in the army is a 2Lt with a compass”. Even though we all went through extensive land navigation training there were still people who just never got it. A video tutorial does not provide training.


    • Pat Henry

      October 22, 2014 at 9:41 am

      You are absolutely right Sean but that applies to pretty much everything. A compass is only a tool, but you do need to know how to use it and I didn’t mean to infer that a short YouTube video would ever take the place of extensive land navigation training.

      The type of training you are talking about is very specific though and I wasn’t thinking of guiding people over miles to an objective at a precise grid coordinate. That is altogether different. A compass does easily tell you which way you are going though and in a survival situation even going in the right direction could help.

  7. Arthur Cook

    October 22, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    Over and over I see Bic Lighters praised by some and slammed by others. All know that the Butane they use will not ignite if it is too cold. May I suggest a better way if you have the room! A self igniting propane torch! Lots more fire power! Lots easier to start a wet wood fire! Many more uses such as a cook stove! Why use a pocket knife if you have access to a hunting knife?

    • Still Waters

      October 23, 2014 at 12:37 am

      Just to clarify, I’m not necessarily slamming Bics. What I remember most though is that if left in your car during winter, it had to warm up considerably before your could get it to light. And repeatedly trying to strike a cold lighter would about 1/3 of the time result in the flint being expelled from the lighter. If left in the car during summer, the fluid would turn into a gas and escape leaving you with an empty lighter.

      By all means, keep a bic handy for easy lighting, but don’t rely on it as your sole source of fire starting if it’s in a kit exposed to the elements like a get home bag stored in your car.

      • ChazzD

        October 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm

        On the topic of bic lighters failing. I had a bic lighter inside my half full cig pack sitting on the center console of my dark blue truck and left I there for a couple hours in the Texas heat. When I came back my first thought was that someone had broken into my truck because there was tobacco and little shreds of paper through out the entire vehicle. Well anyway the bic lighter exploded from the heat and had enough power to completely shred the pack of cigarettes and blow it all over the truck. It was probably a faulty lighter but I am still shocked that it happened. Not sure if this story would actually help anyone in a survival situation but I like telling it.

        • Arthur Cook

          October 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm

          You event has happened before. The inside of you truck must have exceeded 180f. Your Bic Mini Bomb could not stand up to the pressure build up. The valve on top is the weak link. The last incident that I know of happened to a blister pack of multiple Bics. The car was destroyed! Deem your self lucky and know more knowing.

  8. killersurakill

    October 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    This is actually my five essentials as well, maybe a leatherman instead of just a knife, but some sort of cutting tool is required! Good article!

  9. Kevin Bourgault

    October 28, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    In my professional experiences (e.g., 10th Mountain, FEMA) Improper use of space blankets and emergency bivvy bags are one of the swiftest ways to get hypothermia. Sure they hold heat, but they also hold moisture. After 10-15 minutes using these products (like the picture on the package), you will likely be moist and unable to regulate body temp (as water conducts heat 25 times faster than air).

    Learn to use these products correctly; as a reflective layers in a shelter…. Never as a blanket. Never direct skin or clothing contact!!

    But don’t trust me. Try them out for yourself as a blanket under controlled and safe conditions for 15 minutes. Then you’ll experience what I am talking about.

    Stay safe.

    • Pat Henry

      October 29, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      Thanks for your input Kevin and to be honest I have never had the pleasure of actually using one of these but now I am curious. I am going to try it on my next backpacking trip which from the looks of it will be cold…


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