I defy anyone to find me a single prepper alive who does not have a deck of 52 playing cards in their survival cash, in stash bug-out bag, or handy at pretty much all times.
Especially in a survival situation where you’re transporting your gear on foot, and you must carefully assess how valuable an item is against your weight and energy budget, there are precious few ounces to spare for entertainment items of any kind.
A deck of cards is perfect for the purpose. Aside from being an ancient and universally enjoyed form of entertainment the world over, there’s a variety of games and other activities you can do with a simple deck of cards.
This makes them a mainstay for quiet, low-impact entertainment when you’re on the move as well as an important social bonding and ice-breaking mechanism when you’re in unfamiliar places.
But as a prepper you should always be looking for multi-purpose gear, items that can do more than one prescribed function no matter what it is. Why should your playing cards be exempted from this rule?
In today’s article I’m going to show you how to get even more utility from your playing cards beyond mere games with a selection of the best survival oriented playing cards on the market.
Table of Contents
Survival Playing Cards? Really?
Absolutely! I know it seems like companies will market absolutely any product to preppers and proponents of self-reliance just by hanging the “survival” tag on their offering, but in this case this is one item that really lives up to the name.
Survival playing cards come in several varieties, but the gist is that the cards, typically on their faces showing their suit and value, will be printed with a variety of useful survival information and procedures, or other relevant, thought-provoking material.
In essence, when they are taken altogether they function as sort of a compact guide on a specific subject.
This makes them ideal for you to rifle through them when you have a few minutes to brush up on various skills or use them as a compact and lightweight reference guide.
Some survival playing cards function as training guides, sharpening your mind or your practical skills across a variety of disciplines. They may be as comprehensive as a proper survival guide, but they will help keep you alive nonetheless!
The Value of Cards in General
As far as entertainment bang-for-the-buck goes, you cannot beat a deck of playing cards. Versatile, lightweight and simple, playing cards can be used for a variety of solo or group activities.
As mentioned above the social value of cards is hard to overstate, and both learning and teaching various card games or regional variations on well-known games is a great way to make friends and reduce stress in trying times.
Assuming you’re playing with seasoned players the intense competition and mind games can be a welcome distraction from whatever rigors you are facing.
But even if you don’t have anyone to play with you can have a good time with playing cards. Solitaire is one well-known solo game that many of us whiled away the hours after school playing.
But you don’t even have to play a formalized card game to enjoy your deck of cards.
A hat or a dump bag can be transformed into a target for practicing the incredibly tricky art of card throwing, or with a flat, level surface you can put your nerves to the test by trying to build a house of cards.
Even practicing shuffling cards and a variety of flourishes can serve as a relaxing mantra and way to work out some nervous energy.
Also, if you are practiced or inclined to learning how, simple magic tricks are a great way to impress and delight people, especially kids, with simple sleight of hand and magic tricks involving cards continue to bend the minds of people who are uninitiated, even in this era of the internet.
If you are creative and skilled enough, a deck of cards can be just another survival multi-tool in your prepping toolbox!
The Best Survival Playing Cards
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TACOST Card Set by TRICON
The TACOST Card Set from TRICON is one set of survival playing cards that will help you get ready to use your gun to survive all kinds of nasty self-defense situations that might occur as standalone events, or endemic to a larger disaster.
Jeff Gonzalez is a well-known and highly respected trainer in the firearms community with good cause…
He’s a former Navy SEAL with decades of experience and has developed an extraordinary firearms training curriculum that he teaches to law enforcement, military and motivated civilians all around the country.
He has taken those teaching points from his lessons and condensed the relevant skill sets into quick and easy to follow shooting drills, one evolution per card, across four different shooting domains, one for each suit.
The groups are Marksmanship, Speed, Baseline and Dry Fire.
The Marksmanship group will push your understanding and application of the fundamentals of shooting, the Speed group will push you to maintain standards under increasing time pressure, Baseline Group will help you chart your progress and assess your skill “cold bore”, and Dry Fire group will help you get in practice repetitions using the minimum number of ammunition to ensure you are smooth and precise.
Each one of these groups contains 13 exercises that you can tackle randomly, in order, or all-in-one go for a seriously productive and varied day on the range.
It is an easy thing to make a game of this with your range buddy or training partner and if you are on a tight ammo budget drawing 5 cards makes for a great quick workout on a live-fire range. You can just as easily apply the entire deck to a full dry-fire practice regimen.
Also, these cards feature no extraneous markings or categorization tabs on the back of the cards that might give away clues about your hand to a clever opponent, and are made to a high standard making them an equivalent to other famous playing card brands you are familiar with.
These work just as well as actual playing cards as they do as a training aid!
You can find the TACOST Card Set here.
Urban Survival Playing Cards
The Urban Survival Playing Cards deck is an excellent all-around survival deck, packed with information, procedures, tips and guidance on all kinds of topics suitable for surviving in urban and suburban environments during major disasters or just times of trouble and civil unrest.
The majority of basic survival concepts are explored in this deck, such as:
- emergency water storage,
- keeping your refrigerator and freezer cold longer when you’ve lost power,
- sleeping during a disaster or crisis,
- creating or making use of bullet-resistant barriers,
- box breathing,
- pre-attack detection,
- readying and maintaining weapons, and much more.
This deck of cards also works well as a periodic refresher or as flashcards for quizzing your family members, your friends or other people in your survival group on best practices and procedures.
For a compact procedural guide that is easily kept a glove box or in a BOB you cannot go wrong with this set.
This is another deck that is made to an appropriate, legitimate standard of play with no unusual markings on the back side that will denote or narrow down what suit or value of card you are holding.
The only real downside to these cards is that the print on them is pretty small, and you’ll have a hard time reading them if your vision isn’t sharp or you’re in conditions of low light.
Get the Urban Survival Cards here.
Sea to Sky Wilderness Playing Cards
Sea to Sky Wilderness playing cards are probably the best all-around and most comprehensive survival playing cards you will find, with all kinds of outdoor survival information printed on each and every card.
This deck wastes no space and packs each card with useful hard-hitting survival information, everything from shelter creation and water purification, to the importance of security and land navigation basics.
Also covered are more traditional survival skills like surviving hostile weather and hostile wildlife, useful knots, first-aid skills, drowning prevention, creating and managing a fire, and so much more.
If you have ever had a back to basics, no-frills survival or outdoor guide you’ll be right at home with this deck, and in a much smaller footprint!
The only thing I can take away from this deck of cards is the constructions factor: they are not made of particularly waterproof or heavy duty stock compared to some other decks on this list.
That means you’ll need to baby these just a little bit more, and that is disappointing considering the expectation that this will ride around with you in your survival kit or bug-out bag.
Nonetheless, you can stash this deck in a ziplock bag or in a waterproof tin, and be content knowing that the valuable survival content contained therein will survive the elements along with you!
Get the Sea To Sky Wilderness Survival Cards here.
Wild Cards: Edible Wild Foods Playing Cards
Plenty of preppers plan on making use of the abundance of edible plants that grow all around us in nature, but few have the depth of experience and knowledge necessary to sort the edible and nutritious ones from the inedible or even lethal.
You could haul around a larger guide on identifying edible plants, or you could just tote this small deck of playing cards!
The pithily named Wild Cards deck has color photographs and detailed descriptions of 52 North American indigenous edible plants of all kinds, as well as warnings about ones that looks similar or could mix you up, perhaps fatally.
Flowers, herbs, shrubs and even cacti are detailed in this deck, and no matter where you are you are certain I have several to choose from so long as you know what to look for.
These cards are plastic coated and indeed are a little slippery, so they come with a handy key chain connector that holds the deck all together, making them useful as flash cards or a quick-access reference if you don’t want to use them as playing cards.
Speaking of using these as playing cards, there seems to be a serious design oversight in that regard: these cards have printed suit identifiers on the backside!
Maybe it was just a crucial misprint on my deck, but I have seen other complaints confirming what I suspected. This is really a reference tool for education or field use first and a deck of playing cards for entertainment second.
Unless you and your game partners use the honor system and promise not to glance at each other’s cards or the deck when drawing new ones, you’ll be adding a whole new layer of strategy (or frustration) to the game you are attempting to play!
Gentlemen’s Hardware Campfire Playing Cards
Without question the most handsome and attractive set of playing cards on this list, the Gentlemen’s Hardware Campfire Survival Travel Playing Card Set features gorgeous, vintage deco-style illustrations, waterproofing and contains the entire deck in an attractive water-resistant tin for storage.
Truly this is the survival card deck for the dapper prepper!
Compared to some of the other, more full-featured and info-packed decks on this list, it is obvious that the Gentlemen’s Hardware set is content to be playing cards first, but ones that contain useful tidbits and reminders of survival procedures and information.
Don’t get me wrong, this is still information that could save your life, like a reminder that white smoke is easier to see against a green background than black smoke if you’re trying to light a signal fire in dense woodland terrain, but it is not as comprehensive as some of its competitors.
Nonetheless, the nuggets of info and survival lore will remind you of wisdom that a grandparent would pass on to you, and it is stuff that is liable to stick with you.
If you are already a seasoned prepper and want a super high-quality, gorgeous and adorable set of playing cards to toss into your bug-out bag or just keep on your game room table at home this is definitely the deck to beat!
You can get the Gentlemen’s Hardware Campfire Playing Cards here.
Don’t Die Out There Deck
This is another excellent all-around survival deck with a clever premise: this deck separates the contents of its information by suit, and functions as a step-by-step guide for building your experience when you’re outdoors.
It presents its info in a logical progression- mindset, pre-study, execution- that emphasizes getting your mind right, identifying the problem, attempting a solution and then reassessing the effect of your intervention.
Much of the content contained in the deck is info that will be useful in virtually any environment you might encounter anywhere, and my only regret about the content is that I could stand a lot more of it!
The format in which the information is presented would make a great book or actual survival guide!
This is probably one of the better decks for beginning preppers since it’s going to start getting you thinking about survival correctly, and makes for a great companion deck when you just head out camping or hiking…
…since you can stop, play a quick hand or two of cards, or just rifle through the deck, and learn something that you can utilize immediately which has the desired and effect of actually growing your experience as an outdoorsman.
If I have one gripe about this deck of cards, it is that they don’t feel quite like typical playing cards.
They feel more like the rigid paper cards that are typically found in board games and even though they have a glossy coating I have serious doubts about their water/moisture resistance and their long-term durability.
Still, these cards are priced right, packed full of useful information and have a format that has quickly become my favorite for survival cards!
You can find the The Don’t Die Out There Deck here.
Conflicted: The Survival Card Game Deck Series
Conflicted: The Survival Card Game is a structured twist on the old “what would you do if..?” conversations that all preppers have, and this isn’t a format that might let you learn a few things you wish you didn’t know about your family, your friends and your fellow group members.
Aside from being usable as standard playing cards, each deck in the conflicted series present a variety of scenarios and asked a simple question, “how would you handle this?” the player who gives the best answer as judge by the person who asked the question on a given card, when’s the card and a point. The person with the most points wins.
While not an entirely fair and unbiased rule system for a game, the real value and the fun, if you want to call it that, is in seeing how other people answer and react to a given situation.
Most of these situations are serious moral quandaries that are nonetheless entirely likely to happen to people all over in long-term survival situation or major crises that see the societal order breakdown.
The example questions provided will give you a taste of what you are up against.
One question asks what you would do if you looked out your window after a collapse and saw a large mob of armed people breaking into your neighbor’s house, the house you know where he is hiding with his wife and children.
You have a firearm, but sharply limited ammo, only around one bullet for each member of the mob and you are simultaneously the only person in your own household capable of protecting your family.
The mob has already passed you by, and is swarming into your neighbor’s home. Will you step out and attempt to intervene, or leave them to their fate? Pretty rough, eh?
Another question of a different stripe asks how you would handle a group of orphaned children, approximately 6 or 7 years old, rooting through your garbage looking for anything to eat.
You and your group can take them in and feed them, saving them from a death by malnutrition or worse but it will stretch your already limited supplies even thinner, cutting your group’s survival time by over 50%.
Your group is already exhausted from excruciating labor and rationing of calories. How would you handle that situation? Leave the wretched children to their fate, or attempt to carry off a little bit of suffering on your own back?
These cards are easy to read and printed on high-quality stock with a nice glossy coating that will give them at least a little bit of water resistance, and are definitely a different spin on a survival card game, although one that you probably won’t want to play in the midst of an actual event for obvious reasons.
Nonetheless, this is a thought-provoking game that can raise serious training and teaching opportunities are the members of your family or your group.
They also happen to be good questions to ask yourself if you haven’t had these hard talks with the person in the mirror already…
Get the Conflicted The Survival Card Game here.
With the right deck of survival playing cards the cards you carry for entertainment and whiling away the idle hours during an excursion or a genuine survival situation can now pull double-duty as thought-provoking training aids or repositories of genuine survival information.
No matter what your experience level is as a prepper you’re certain to find a deck of survival cards on the list above that will make you happy.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.