When I first got into prepping and survival, I felt the need to go out and buy as much gear and I could find. I think this is probably a normal reaction as you learn about the different ways to survive in different situations.
However, as soon as I started looking I realized that there were hundreds of choices varying greatly in quality and cost. My new hobby became researching these items to try to find the best value.
Of course this did not always work out. As these items started to arrive, I quickly noticed that some would not last. Others were just not as functional as I had hoped.
There have also been instances where a new version has hit the market or the price on a better quality version has dropped dramatically. In the end, most of the items you need can be purchased for less than $30 – more or less, as prices fluctuate almost daily.
In this article I will cover the items I have found most useful while shopping on a budget.
Water Purification Tablets
These are basically iodine tablets that will purify water from most bacteria and microorganisms. The bottle is only a couple inches tall and hold enough tablets to purify 25L of water. Drop two tablets in a Liter of water, shake after 5 minutes, and let it sit for another 20 minutes.
My water bottle filters down to .1 microns and allows me to carry water with me as well. If has a paracord lanyard with a carabiner to attach it to my belt or pack, and it is incredibly easy to draw water through the filter. I can also keep fire starting materials or medical supplies inside when it is empty to keep them dry.
These waxy cubes make great tinder if your gear is wet and you cannot find dry tinder. You simply shave off a small pile of shavings and a spark will give you a good sized flame. If you need to keep it lit for several minutes, just cut off a small chunk and place it in your flame. This tinder is both waterproof and windproof.
This may seem like a conventional way to start a fire, but lighters have some serious advantages. They are windproof, water resistant, and very tough to damage. The best feature is that they can be refilled with dozens of flammable liquids that you can find in most homes.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.
This is not a necessity, but is very nice to have. This small and lightweight camp stove is great if you have been hiking or working outside all day and just want a quick fire to cook food or boil water. It has a built-in ignition that is reliable and has a rack to set a pot or pan on top.
Flashlight – A good tactical flashlight is an absolute must. This one is practically indestructible. It is super bright and has an adjustable beam that doubles as a strobe for self-defense.
Waterproof LED Headlamp
If you have ever tried to light a fire or build a shelter after dark, you know that a headlamp is a must. I like one of my light sources to be rechargeable, and this headlamp is just as bright and durable as my flashlight.
Survival Knife – A good knife does not have to break the bank. If I have another way to process wood, this is the knife I take. It is small enough for detailed work, but large enough to gut and skin a deer.
Hand-Crank (Pocket) Chainsaw
This pocket saw has been sturdy and can cut wood up to 12 inches thick. Many of these saws are poorly built and break easily, so be selective on this tool.
Cordage is essential in survival situations and 550 Paracord is your best option. It is strong enough to hold the weight of a full grown adult, but also has several inner strands that can be separated and used for securing lighter loads.
I like hunter orange so I do not lose any smaller pieces, and like to replace my boot laces so I always have cordage with me.
This has been one of my most useful purchases. It is a thick, tarp-style blanket with a reflective side and strong eyelets at the corners. It is great for a quick shelter or just to wrap up and stay warm through a cold night.
A simple pencil is the most reliable way to write in a survival situation, but a manual pencil sharpener can be used for more.
If you need dry tinder and it has been raining, sharpening sticks can allow you to use the shavings for fire. It also allows you to sharpen arrows or dart points for hunting.
There are several types of fishing kits and collapsible poles on the market. Some have dual rods, allowing you to reel in fish up to about 5 lbs in weight. Most also have a compartment for lures and hooks.
I am a big fan of a sharpening stone and a leather strop, but sometimes I just need a quick and easy way to sharpen my blade.
This little sharpener fits on my keyring and does the trick. It has a course and fine sharpener along with a rod to sharpen the gut hook on my knife.
Copper wire is a great survival tool. It works much better for setting snare traps. It also can be easier work with as cordage if your hands are especially cold.
A shemagh is simply a very large handkerchief and has dozens of survival uses. It makes a great bandage, can be used to help filter water, and great head wrap. It can protect from sun, wind, cold, and sand damage.
Until I started participating in survival challenges I did not realize how much abuse my hands and gloves would take.
These tactical gloves are great for most weather and allow you the mobility for fine motor skills. They protect your hands and keep you from destroying your other gloves.
A good pair of dry wool socks are essential to keep your feet in good shape. They prevent blisters, keep your feet warm, and help avoid trench foot. They also dry out quickly.
Having a good multitool is often going to give you functions that you would not get out of your other basic tools However, you do not need to spend a great deal of money.
In many emergencies our normal lines of communication will be shut down. Having an emergency radio with a hand crank is a good way to stay informed, and some also have a built in flashlight (among other useful features).
Portable Water Filter
These straws offer high level of filtration have have stood the test of time. They are small, and typically come with warranty.
Glow sticks are a great ambient light source for inside a shelter, tent, or even your home. They are easy to use and inexpensive.
This type of net is designed to set up in one location and come back each day to collect your fish. The three layers will catch mostly smaller fish anywhere from four to ten inches long.
The first day I used this net I caught a dozen fish and it takes up almost no space in your pack. You can also get shorter one layer nets that are better for setting up in multiple locations.
Pepper spray is one of the very best self-defense tools available. It also happens to occupy a unique niche of being a highly effective ranged option that rarely leaves those affected by it with any lasting injury, and even more rarely kills them.
No student of self-defense should go without a high quality can of pepper spray on their person, especially if they carry a firearm. Luckily, the very best options in the sector will rarely even cost $30.
Basic direction finding is essential capability in any outdoor setting while in deep country, and is even more important if you happen to be lost in a wilderness survival scenario.
There are plenty of cheap, chintzy compasses on the market but luckily it is still possible to get a high quality field compass or a compact button compass from a company like Suunto for under $30.
Maps are another invaluable navigational aid that no prepper should go without under any conditions. Everything from a common road atlas to topographical maps of your county and surrounding region are available in high quality, weather resistant formats very cheaply.
Even if you have to have them printed you will rarely be out more than 20 or $30 for what could be an invaluable addition to your planning tool set.
The smelly, greasy staple of grandmother’s medicine cabinets all over the continent, petroleum jelly was, is and will remain and invaluable survival staple pretty much forever.
Capable of treating all sorts of maladies and ailments, as well as helping out with various chores and tasks around the home and workshop, truly no prepper’s workbench or medicine chest is complete without it.
This ubiquitous laundry chemical is good for so much more than keeping your whites sparkling white, although it can definitely do that.
Bleach has incredible germ-killing properties that make it an ace for dealing with any biohazardous cleanup, but perhaps most importantly to preppers, a little bit of bleach can be added to suspect, gathered water supplies in order to disinfect them reliably and in a very short period of time.
The bleach must be splashless, fragrance free, and otherwise undoctored sodium hypochlorite solution, and the ratio must be administered accurately, but this is invaluable capability for all preppers, and it can be had for pennies on the dollar.
The single most wondrous invention of mankind, duct tape deserves, nay demands, a place of honor and every disaster readiness kit.
Duct tape can help you repair anything that is broken, craft anything that needs building and accomplish innumerable other chores at home, on the road or at the campsite. Truly, it is a Wonder we get by without it at all so make sure you spring for a roll of the high quality stuff and keep it handy.
Believe it or not, trash bags are an important survival resource. If you are bugging in, you’ll still be generating plenty of household trash and waste of all kinds, waste that will need to be securely compartmented and removed from the home.
That means you’ll need trash bags and plenty of them. More than this, a few trash bags are a valuable inclusion to any bug out kit or go bag, and can be used as an improvised rain poncho, dry bag, sleeping bag or patch for a leaky tent.
I think everyone has gotten well acquainted with hand sanitizer by now, but even if you are tired of the bracing alcoholic smell of this stuff it remains a critical sanitation item and one that no prepper should omit from their supplies.
Hand sanitizer will reliably keep your hands germ-free even when soap, say nothing of water, is in precious, short supply or absent entirely. A small dollop, a brisk rub and you can be confident that you won’t be leaving any germs in your wake for a while.
Gallon sized Ziploc brand freezer bags are another sleeper survival item that I love and I think every prepper should make use of them.
These wonderful little bags can keep dirty stuff separate from the rest of your gear, protect clean gear from dirty stuff, hold extra water without leaking, compartment small items and so much more.
Trust me, I have used hundreds and hundreds of these things over the years through thick and thin and no brand even measures up to the genuine item Ziplocs. Make sure you get the kind with the classic clicky zipper, not that weird slider kind, and you’ll be able to trust them.
You’ll find that in a variety of survival scenarios the ability to see better at distance is critical, both for assessing what is a little farther down the road, or who, or who might be coming your way.
Mankind has long treasure this capability, and we treasure it to this very day even if most people don’t have any long range optical devices besides rifle scopes, if that.
A compact, reasonably powerful monocular, colloquially called a pocket scope, is a convenient way to keep this capability with you at all times without spending a bundle on expensive binoculars.
You know it, you love it, but beef jerky remains a terrific survival staple. Calorie dense, easy to carry and long-lasting so long as it is kept dry, beef jerky is a great way to keep your energy levels up and stave off hunger pains in the field without any food prep whatsoever required.
Expensive compared to other snack foods, it is a bargain compared to most survival food.
You Can Prep Cheaply!
Not all of these will be appropriate for every person, but it gives you an idea of the type of items you can acquire without spending a great deal.
The next task is to look at your potential survival needs and prioritize which items to buy first. However, the most important part of this process is to become proficient with these items as you purchase them. Some are easier to use than others.
Never assume that these tools will be useful until you have tried them for yourself. By doing so you give yourself every opportunity to get life-saving value out of these purchases.
My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.