If you’re new to prepping, one thing to keep in mind is that there is a ton of gear and supplies out there that you can spend your money on, unless you learn how to make homemade survival gear.
There are plenty of items that you can make yourself fairly inexpensively. DIY items will often work just fine for what you need to survive and you can avoid spending your hard earned money on store bought items.
We’re going to cover many ways to make basic equipment, to meet your basic needs in a survival situation. Basic needs include things like fresh drinking water, a way to cook and stay warm, shelter, food, tools, and medicine.
In some examples, you’ll need to make the item in advance, other times you can use what you find in nature or your environment to make the gear.
Clean drinking water is critical in a survival or grid down situation. Most individuals can only survive 3 days without water. You may not always be able to find clean water in a SHTF situation. So you want to have in your BOB several ways to access, prefilter and purify water.
Table of Contents
DIY PVC Hand Pump
If you’re at all handy or know someone with some basic power tools, you can make your own PVC Water Pump.
This hand pump will allow you to access water from a well or, if you strap it onto your bug out bag, you could technically use it to get water from any other well that you may come across while bugging out.
Obviously, this is an item you make yourself in advance to have on hand when you actually need it.
Make Your Own Char Cloth
Make char cloth in advance to carry with you for fire starting. Use a small metal container that can be tightly sealed, such as an Altoids tin. Poke a small hole with a nail to let smoke escape. If the hole is too big, oxygen will get inside and your cloth will catch fire.
Use a loosely woven cloth that is 100% cotton, cut it up, and place it inside. Place the tin onto hot coals until it stops smoking. Let it sit until it coals off. Once you open it, you’ll have your char cloth to carry in your BOB.
Make Your Own Hand Warmers
You might want to make your own hand warmer recipe to have on hand for colder weather. There are different variations and the store bought ones are definitely more convenient but may not be available post-SHTF.
If you stockpile the proper materials or can forage them in an urban environment, you can make your own handwarmers or even use them for bartering.
You will need to stockpile or scavenge for iron filings, powder, or shavings, about 25 grams per recipe. You will also need 1 gram of salt. Combine these two ingredients in a plastic bag or other container and mix well. Add about 1 tablespoon of charcoal or sawdust and mix again. Store this mixture in an air tight glass container until you need it.
When you need to warm your hands, simply transfer the mixture into a plastic bag, Add in 1 teaspoon of water. Make sure the bag is tightly sealed. Squeeze and shake. It should start to warm. Place bag inside mittens or pockets.
DIY Penny Can Stove
Instead of spending hard earned money on a rocket stove or fancy Coleman camp stove, you can make your own penny can stove and store it in your BOB.
To make a penny can stove you will need the following things:
- Two aluminum cans
- Scissors or tin snips to cut them.
- A permanent marker or other way of marking your cutting lines.
- A nail or punch to poke holes.
- Silicon based sealant.
- A file or sanding block to smooth the cut edges of the cans after they are cut.
- A thick flat surface and a thin flat surface to use for marking your cans for cutting.
- A penny
- Denatured alcohol or other fuel source
Build your stove in advance as demonstrated in this video:
After you’ve built your penny can stove and tested it out, all you need to carry in your BOB is your penny can stove and some fuel.
Any prepper who wants to make sure they are prepared to keep themselves and their family members hydrated needs to make or at least know how to make a water distiller. In the event that well water or other fresh drinking water is inaccessible, you can use condensation to clean contaminated water.
You will need a heat source (stove, campfire, rocket stove, etc.), a stainless steel teapot, a piece of rubber coupler and clamps, a piece of copper tubing and fittings to size. See this video for a demonstration:
Keep in mind that in a bug out or survival situation, you can also make a solar water distiller using an aluminum can to hold your “dirty” water and a plastic bottle as demonstrated in this video:
You can also make your own water filter from a plastic bottle and materials you gather.
Simple Solar Cooking
There are several styles of simple solar ovens, a heat trap or box type, a parabolic type, and the Fresnel lens type. In the box type solar oven, the heat gets trapped inside the box using insulation, absorption, and a reflector. Most of what you need for the box type solar oven could be found in an urban survival situation.
If you get in the habit of carrying paracord along with some super glue in your BOB, you can use these to make a variety of primitive tools in the wilderness, such as fishing spears and stone tomahawks that will help you catch small game for food. See this video for a brief demonstration on putting together a tomahawk:
In a pinch, you can even make your own axe blade:
Rope or cordage is such an important piece of your survival gear; it’s unlikely that you would intentionally get into a situation where you don’t have paracord or something else with you. But it could happen, so it’s important to know where you can find materials in the wilderness to make it if needed.
Dry bark from the inside of most trees is a workable material to make cordage; it’s better if you can find trees with dead bark. Look for trees such as ash, oak, maple, elm, or cedar.
You’re looking for the fibrous layer which is found between the bark of the tree and the wood. If you find it difficult to strip the fibrous material, soak strips of bark in boiling water to make it easier to pull the fibers apart.
Once you have the strips, roll or twist them together between your hands or against your thigh. You can usually strip dogbane and milkweed stalks in this way also.
Other plants, like cattails and nettles may have to be pounded with a rounded stone first but the process is similar. Short pieces will be sufficient to use for most things.
Make sure you read up on details of how to enhance strength and how to weave several shorter pieces together. And practice making natural cordage before you get into a survival situation.
Simple DIY Net
A net is something that could really come in handy in a survival situation. You can use it not only to bundle firewood or other items but also to catch fish or even to hang between two trees to try and catch a bird for dinner. This video includes a great step by step demonstration of how to make a simple net:
Nets can be made from a variety of different types of cordage. It would be time consuming but in a real pinch, you could even make a net from long fibrous grasses or natural pieces of rope that you made yourself as described above.
Mortar and Pestle
This is another primitive tool but one that will come in handy if you find yourself in a survival situation without a grinder and you want to make porridge or even bread. The mortar can be carved or burnt from a large piece of branch. Just hollow it out enough to put your seeds or grains into it.
You can use a knife or even a sharp rock to do the carving. The pestle is used to grind the seed or grain in the bottom of the mortar. It can be made from a large rock that is long enough to hold in your hand and is either already rounded on the bottom or that you round off using a file or another hard surface.
Pop Tab Fish Hooks
In an extended survival situation, it’s crucial to be able to find food. Your BOB can only hold a finite amount of supplies and as the weeks drag on, the amount of food you had in your BOB is going to run out. Once that happens, you need to be prepared to find food in nature.
One fairly easy thing you can find if you are anywhere near a water source like a stream or lake, is fish. Your BOB should include a fishing kit, and if you also carry pliers, tin snips, and a file in your BOB, you can always make your very own hooks from pop tabs as demonstrated here:
If you don’t have pop tabs available, you can make fish hooks from animal bone, wood, or cactus spines.
DIY Paracord Trotline
In a SHTF scenario, there will be plenty of work to be done. Even though you may know how to fish in the traditional way or may have the gear to fish in the traditional way, you aren’t going to have time.
You need a way to multi-task and catch fish while you’re busy doing something else, like starting your fire or building your shelter. You can make a trotline from paracord yourself following the instructions in this video:
Make Your Own Snare Trap
Using a snare trap is difficult to do unless you know the woods and know how animals behave and move about. You can’t just set up snares randomly in the woods and expect that to work. But if you can identify a well-used small game trail, you can make your own snare and catch food for dinner:
Look for animal dung, tracks, burrow entrances, and well-traveled trails from nest to the water’s edge. It’s definitely a skill that must be practiced before you have to count on it to survive.
You can make the noose for the trap from any type of cordage, but wire is best. Use copper wire, wire from headphones or electronics, or even the wire from your bra! It must be strong enough to hold the weight of a 5-8lb animal that is panicked, jumping, and twisting. If you’re really dedicated, you can learn to make snares from plants in the area such as cattails, cedar or elm trees, or milkweed.
DIY First Aid Kit
In a bug out or long term SHTF scenario, access to medical care is going to be sporadic if it’s available at all.
As a smart prepper, one of the things you have to learn is medicine and first aid. Inevitably, yourself or someone in your group will become ill or get injured. The more you know in advance and prepare, the better you will be able to help them.
Even if you’re not looking to make your own medicine, you should still assemble your own first aid kits with over-the-counter medication.
The more you know about how to make survival items yourself, the better your chances are of survival in a prolonged SHTF scenario. When you’re done building these tools, perhaps you’d be interested in making your own weapons as well? Much more exciting.
It is easy to improvise a surprisingly effective water filter in the field or at home using a variety of found materials.
Rocks, gravel, silt, sand, charcoal, clay and fine paper or coffee filters can all be arranged in a descending order of permeability to filter water with nearly as much efficacy as many over the counter, commercial water filters.
Considering the availability of materials in a variety of settings, this is one skill or build plan that all preppers should commit to memory.
You might not always have access to every material that should be included, but even a comparatively coarse filter has value, even if it is just as an initial filtration stage for particularly dirty water, or prior to employing other methods of purification.
Note that everybody has their preference as far as implementation goes, and your design might look different based on what you have at hand. So long as you keep the principles in mind your filter should work well.
Mirrors are useful in a variety of circumstances during a survival situation, and one of the most well-known is as a signaling device to get the attention of distant rescuers or party members and even as a fire starting tool.
Mirrors and lenses are available in all kinds of sizes, and are typical inclusions in prepackaged survival kits, but you should know that you can easily create your own reflector using common “abrasives” and plenty of elbow grease.
All you will need is a common soda can, a bar of chocolate or toothpaste, and a soft cloth. Your soda can should ideally be undamaged and undented, presenting a perfect parabolic surface for refinement.
Using the chocolate bar when it is slightly melted or the toothpaste as is with a tiny dollop of water or spit, start polishing the bottom of the soda can, buffing it over and over and over until it is shiny and highly reflective.
This domed surface will act as a lens of a sort, focusing the light of the sun into a tight beam that is easily visible over a long distance, or onto a narrow spot on your tinder that will soon heat up and catch fire, just like using a magnifying glass.
Perimeter Alarm / Indicator
Using common materials and even what some would call junk, a clever prepper can fashion an effective perimeter alarm, either an audible or a visual one.
My favorite variation involves a common mouse or rat trap and a chemlight. Using some snare wire, the guts of paracord, or even dedicated tripwire it is easy to rig up a triggering system that will trip the trap and snap the chemlight, illuminating it.
It is vital that the trap be nailed or otherwise attached to an object or surface where it will be easily visible from your location.
One clever variation involves carefully compromising the outer casing of the chemlight, so when the internal ampoules are broken and the chemicals mix they will squirt out under the force of the trap’s bar, hopefully dousing the intruder (or even your animal quarry) allowing you to track them easily through the dark.
The chemical guts that give chemlights their name are totally non-toxic, but definitely not easy to wipe off, trust me!
This trick is just as useful in the woods as it is in the city.
Bow and Arrow
Many preppers who prefer ranged weapons might feel hopeless once their guns break down or they run out of ammunition, but with a little bit of practice and a good plan it is surprisingly easy to craft a dependable and deadly bow and arrows from natural or man-made materials.
A bow is one of those weapons that greatly benefits from incremental refinements such as better wood or shaping, but even a rudimentary bow with crude arrows is more than capable of inflicting a lethal wound far beyond hand to hand distance.
Popular builds include utilizing paracord, or even the elastic salvaged from tie downs in conjunction with a suitable branch or stave while other, urban-centric builds include the use of PVC piping as the main component.
In many ways, the bow is easier to fashion than the arrows, where straightness, concentricity and proper fletching are vital for accuracy.
Arrowheads are somewhat easier, and can be shaped from flint, bone, tin, broken circuit boards and any other material that will produce a sharp edge or fine point. With a little time and some trial and error you’ll soon have a bow and quiver full of arrows that will be the envy of your fellow survivors.
No prepper that has been in the lifestyle for any length of time needs reminding on just how vital the ability to start a fire on demand is when in the middle of an SHTF situation.
All sorts of methods exist, but one of the surest is a chemical fire starter that is simply made by combining equal parts of two, common chemicals: Potassium permanganate and glycerin:
When the two combine, they will rapidly begin to heat up before bursting into a vivid, strangely purplish flame.
This ingenious binary chemical compound is more than capable of starting a fire even with lackluster or damp kindling. It is also controllable, and will not produce any toxic byproducts, making it generally safe.
Care must be used when combining the two chemicals, obviously, and you must take pains to never, ever let any tool used to handle one chemical be used to handle the other one, as this could start a chain reaction in their containers that will turn into a major conflagration.
Plenty of preppers that make it a point to stockpile common cleaning solutions such as disinfectant because germs will continue to be a major problem in a survival situation as they will in normal life, and a lack of hygiene in general cleanliness will quickly result in an outbreak of disease that can level entire groups of survivors wholesale.
But beyond soap and water, what is a clever prepper to do when they run out of these disinfectants in a long-term situation?
That’s easy, all you have to do is make your own, and since you already have potassium permanganate from the previous DIY item on this list you can add just a couple of crystals to a quantity of water and stir it until you have produced a light to medium purple solution.
Dissolution is highly effective at killing bacteria, particularly cholera which is a major killer in austere environments and particularly dangerous when it contaminates food or water.
All you need to do is mop it on to the surface or even your skin and then scrub before rinsing with clean water.
A compass is a primary survival tool for anyone surviving in a wilderness environment, and still a really good idea to have for urban and suburban preppers also.
As it turns out, many disasters have a way of completely reshaping the landscape and obliterating commonly used landmarks, and that can make navigation difficult.
If you don’t have a compass for this situation, that means you’re just out of luck, right? Not so fast, it is indeed possible to easily fashion a primitive, but effective enough compass using nothing more than a fine, ferrous needle, a piece of cork and a non-magnetic container or vessel that will hold water:
All you need to do is magnetize the needle so it will interact with Earth’s magnetic field, the same as any other compass functions in principle.
By placing it in the cork and then floating it on the surface of the water it will surely rotate to point magnetic north.
Obviously, using this for an accurate bearing compared to a legitimate compass is challenging, but is enough to get you headed in the right direction.
Moving through unknown, damaged or confusing terrain mandates the use of trail markers if you want to find your way back, or ensure that members of your party following you will be able to follow you along the same route.
There are all sorts of ways to mark trails, from leaving scratchings, pencil or marker icons, dashes of spray paint, even soot or clay. But what if you would like to be able to remove those markers to cover your tracks or reuse your material?
Enter trail markers, easily made by combining sturdy tacks or small nails and some piece of reflective, highly visible material.
That thick, plasticine reflector tape or duct tape cut into small squares or strips is my favorite, but I know some preppers that use aluminum foil, day glow strips of cloth or even phosphorescent paint applied to the head of the nail or tack.
It is usually a simple matter to stick these into trees, walls, telephone poles or any other nearby material that can be easily penetrated by a sharp point.
When you are done with them, or when you’re following members pass by them all they need to do is collect them and dump them into a tin. These things are so small and convenient you can carry a bunch in a compact container.
Sleeping bags are essential and all but the warmest climates, and going without one will make for very cold days and nights in many places. You can’t have that, since exposure is a major and constant killer, and even if it isn’t cold enough to kill you, it is difficult to obtain meaningful rest when you lay awake shivering.
But what is a prepper to do without a sleeping bag? As it turns out, it is easy enough to fashion a surprisingly effective facsimile using nothing more than a handful of 55 gallon trash can liners, duct tape and some sort of stuffing material, preferably newspaper or shredded cardboard.
The procedure is easy, as all you need to do is cut the bottom out of one bag before taping it to the top rim of another.
Duplicate this procedure so you have two giant size trash bags. Now, take one giant trash bag you made and poke a series of holes in it using a pencil or your finger before inserting it into the other extra large bag.
Fill the space between them with your stuffing material before crawling into the inner bag and presto, a sleeping bag that will keep you surprisingly warm.
There are plenty of preppers and experts who will preach the virtues of rope making in a survival situation when you need sturdy material for building or fastening.
This is all well and good, but making proper rope from natural materials is extremely laborious and time consuming, from harvesting your base fibers to threading and winding them together into a usable strand.
Sometimes what is needed is dependable, strong and easy to procure cordage. Much of the time it is more commonly used than rope for a variety of tasks, and this is why so many preppers carry it with them as part of their survival kits.
If you run out of cordage, instead of looking to plant-based sources (which will always trend towards being a little fragile), all you’ll need to do is find a 2-liter or 20 oz. plastic bottle.
By cutting the plastic bottle into 16th of an inch strips what you will have is shockingly strong plastic cordage, or rather webbing.
This can be done by a meticulous prepper using a sharp blade or you can make tons of the stuff with a compact specialty tool you can include in your bag.
You have to think about it, there are so many of these bottles around from trash, littering and human passage that the likelihood is high you’ll always be able to find one when you need it.
Survival Bracelet or Fob
We have already mentioned building your own DIY survival kit elsewhere on this list, and the activity is a sort of time-honored rite of passage for many preppers.
Especially when it comes to building a compact survival kit, half the fun and intrigue is in packing in as much capability as possible into a small space. One interesting twist on the concept is the creation of a survival bracelet or fob.
Using paracord, snare wire, a can opener, compact compass and a variety of other tiny or flexible survival necessities it is possible to create a bracelet or zipper fob that serves as a last ditch or true emergency survival kit.
If you lose everything else, you’ll at least have this kit and they can go everywhere that you go because they are so small and generally attached to you.
This is a fairly intricate process if you want to produce a bracelet or fob that is not too ostentatious but so long as you have a little skill with braiding paracord into various creations you shouldn’t have too hard a time.
The humble knife is one of mankind’s oldest tools, and this trustworthy, primordial implement is just as valuable today as it was all those many eons ago.
In fact, knives are so valuable and so many different ways you can definitely argue that the skill of creating your own knife, a proper one, from metal, is a skill that every prepper should learn.
It is not so farfetched, and you don’t need a proper blacksmith shop to do it either. Using a field expedient forge and other tools it is entirely possible to grind, cut, shape and sharpen all sorts of otherwise innocuous metal implements and to impressively high quality knives.
You can use a railroad tie, piece of rebar or even an old circular saw blade to create a knife that will not only Go the distance but will also be something you can be entirely proud of.
Obviously, it is tough to come up with the time and the resources to experiment when you are already up to your neck and problems, so take the time to view the included links and get up to speed so you can start practicing now.
Slingshots are often thought of as tools of teenage miscreants or toys for young boys, but a properly made slingshot can actually be a frightening weapon, one more than capable of bagging you small game and potentially even fending off a human assailant.
The great thing about slingshots is that they are so very easy to make, with primitive but surprisingly effective models still consisting of a stout, forked branch, sturdy elastic and a small pouch or holder for projectiles, which could take the form of anything from ball bearings or small stones to marbles.
The hardest part of the entire operation, aside from shooting it accurately, is locating a suitably elastic component for the bands.
Any preppers who are surviving in the deep woods, near marshes, wetlands or swamps know how maddening tiny, biting insects can be. Mosquitoes, gnats, no-seeums and other blood-sucking menaces can make you profoundly miserable unless you take steps to prevent the inevitable outcome.
Potent bug spray is one option, but usually in short supply among other goods in your survival kit. Mosquito netting is another excellent option, particularly when betting down at camp, but it isn’t something you can just pick up anywhere.
You can, however, make your own out of a variety of materials. Pantyhose, plastic or metal screen mesh or even the tightly woven mesh of a laundry bag that is cut open to form a drape can do the job.
All that matters is that the insects can’t slip around it and they can’t slip through it, so as long as you can procure any of these found materials and your travels you can fairly easily rig up an enclosure or garment that will keep them off your skin.
Lashing Bands / Ranger Bands
There are all sorts of attachment systems preppers rely on to wrangle their gear, from chords, cables and slings to externally attached loads on your backpack. Everybody has their preference, from zip ties to heavy-duty rubber bands or carabiners.
Elastic materials in particular are in short supply out in nature, so if you run out of rigging bands you might be out of luck. Well, out of luck unless you know this simple trick!
If you were able to find a bicycle or motorcycle tire, or any other small diameter inner tube, all you have to do is cut it into thin loops that will then serve as sturdy and strong rubber bands for all sorts of purposes.
If you are having trouble wrangling cables running in or out of your pack as part of a power management solution, these are ideal.
If you are keeping your long gun in hand and don’t want your swing tangling up on the rest of your gear or your surroundings, you can easily corral it just the same using these improvised rubber bands.
A pace counter is a traditional and time-honored piece of kit that many members of the military who served as infantry or other associated combat arms profession are no doubt familiar with.
A pace counter works almost like an abacus, being nothing more than a series of beads on a knotted hank of cord.
After so many steps are taken simply move one of the beads from one side of the knot to the other, forming a convenient way to keep track of the distance (more or less) the group has come that does not rely on memory.
A pace counter is a cinch to make, you can make your own using paracord and any sort of bead that fits over the cordage.
Make sure you take the time to learn how to properly utilize a pace counter in a variety of conditions, and you will have a valuable tool to add to your land navigation skillset.
Out of all the field expedient or semi-permanent stoves you might construct, a rocket stove is undeniably the most efficient, and also one capable of reaching the hottest temperatures.
Rocket stoves can be made in a variety of shapes and designs with various form factors to match, but all function on the same principle.
Once the stove begins burning hot, more air will be pulled in, driving temperatures up even higher and drawing in evermore air as the temperature climbs. In the bargain, you get peerless consumption of fuel that produces very little smoke.
Rocket stoves can be used for heating, cooking and even certain forging applications and they’re adaptability and comparative simplicity means that every, single prepper should be entirely acquainted with both of the principles and various plans for constructing, large or small.
You can’t blame most preppers for thinking that homemade firearms are entirely beyond their abilities, and even if they aren’t that field expedient guns are something that would only be attempted by the crazy, the desperate or the mortally foolish.
As it turns out, that is not quite the case. Improvised firearms, colloquially called zip guns, are typically single shot contraptions made from all sorts of found, scavenged or repurposed materials.
When you think about how a modern firearm actually functions, all that is truly needed is a breach to hold the cartridge, a barrel to direct the projectile and contain the expanding gases from the charge and some sort of firing mechanism to detonate the primer and ignite said powder charge.
Modern firearms are marvels of efficiency and material science but the principles are simple and well understood by now.
It is entirely possible to construct a useful and reusable single shot shotgun using nothing more than common, hardware store metal piping and various other components.
Since shotguns in particular are very low pressure cartridges this is far safer than you might think compared to constructing a zip gun for a rifle cartridge or even many handgun cartridges.
There are all kinds of circumstances in a survival situation that would call for a compact, controllable and long-lasting source of fire or light, supplementary heat or various projects.
Candles have been the ideal solution for ages, and many preppers choose to include them as part of their survival supplies. But what can you do if you are all out of candles, or don’t have them, but need a compact light source like that? As always, make your own.
Candles can be fashioned from all sorts of materials, not just beeswax or paraffin though they produce some of the best. In fact, you can even use a can of tuna with a little bit of that smelly oil left in it to create a serviceable candle, or create your own from an Altoids tin and any other oil you have handy.
All you need to do is cut a thin strip of fabric or heavy duty paper to serve as a wick before laying it in the oil and allowing capillary action to draw the oil to the end outside of the tin.
All that’s left to do is light it and enjoy!
Preppers needn’t rely solely on off-the-shelf or purpose-made gear. There is plenty of call, frugal and improvisational, to make your own! With the right knowledge, materials and a few tools you can craft the things you’ll need to help get you out of a sticky situation.
Do you have an item that you’ve made yourself that works well? Share it in the comments below.
last update: 05/06/2021
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of nine grandsons and one granddaughter, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.