Prepping entails a significant amount of physical and material preparation, and with the latter making ready entails significant expense. Most of us are not made of money, and even for those of us who are financially secure, there is always good cause to spend thriftily and steward your resources.
Unfortunately the hunt for a good deal or an excellent bargain can sometimes take a wrong turn into Cheapo-ville.
The wares in this blighted place are almost never worth their asking price, and worse than fleecing you of your hard-earned cash they install in their place a sense of false security instead of needed capability.
There are also some articles of equipment where even decent quality may not be enough to secure a positive outcome. Some situations and intended uses demand the very best craftsmanship and materials available. Anything less may be gambling with your life.
Considering the need to stretch your budgeted prepping funds and the need to get quality gear must coexist, what is a smart prepper to do?
In this article, I’ll tackle that question with my reasoning on where you can wisely save some money and where you should get the very best items you can afford, along with my recommendations for gear that you absolutely should not skimp on.
Table of Contents
Understanding Want You Require of Your Gear
Except for readers who are inveterate and pathological spendthrifts, I make no guess that you probably want the very best of everything that you buy, whatever it is. Food, cars, guns, gear, clothes, you name it.
The only thing that keeps you from purchasing from the top shelf in perpetuity is that pesky thing called a budget, or rather a lack of enough funds to go around.
So, operating under that budget we must perform certain financial gymnastics to make ends meet and still achieve our objective. We prioritize, assess, and appraise to spend wisely. Some things we need, some things are nice to have and some are mere luxuries or wants.
In the case of our gear and other equipment, quality is a major factor in the price continuum and so to in our decision making hierarchy. Some of us want high-quality tires for better durability, control and lifespan.
Others only keep the car rolling down the road. Everyone has their own system of values that guides them on what is important, and what is needed.
On some things, though, quality is non-negotiable. Inferior equipment may render the task either impossible or increase the risk of failure so much that disaster is too close to certain.
Hoisting a heavy load requires rope, cable or chain of certain strength, no negotiation. Specialized engines require correspondingly specialized fuel and fluids. Surgery done properly requires blades of exquisite keenness.
Other items need not be made to extraordinary standards. A humble pocket knife for daily tasks is just a sharpened piece of some kind of steel. You do not want one so cheaply made it falls apart, but there is a wide gulf in what is acceptable.
Different water bottles may be made to greater or lesser standards, but all that matters is that they hold our water without leaking, rusting or otherwise failing. Some tasks can be accomplished with “good enough.”
If you seek to spend your money as wisely a possible, it is crucial that you understand what is required of what piece of gear in your inventory.
What items absolutely must not fail, and what items can you afford to spend less on, understanding that they are either not 100% essential or that you must have some redundant capability?
Failure to do this will mean either blundering about buying according to your whim and fancy or spending recklessly. Either way, you are left hoping for the best, and hope is never a strategy.
The Case for Quality
It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do…John Ruskin
I love that quote. It is a reminder of what is at stake when you settle for a lesser item under the guise of a good deal, or saving some money. In today’s crowded global marketplace, you are more likely than ever to wind up saddled with a poorly made bauble that cannot hold up to even modest use before failing.
Far worse yet is the preponderance of outright knockoffs imported en masse from China and elsewhere that appear to the undiscerning eye to be a superior product.
A few lost souls even champion these mercantile imposters, proclaiming such bogus reassurance as “it’s just as good,” or “they are all made in the same place any way.”
Such tripe is not only utterly false but also dangerous in the case of life saving supplies or equipment. One example currently running rampant is counterfeit tourniquets. Clones of all major types exist but the preponderance of knockoff CAT tourniquets seems to point to the leader.
While simple in design, the materials, construction procedure and quality control that make up the genuine North American Rescue CAT are leagues beyond the questionable and shoddy processes that go into these Far East knockoffs.
The knockoffs experience high rates of failure, perhaps costing someone their life. The CATs do not. Case closed.
What’s more, quality goods, especially durable goods like tools and the like, are often a much better value for the serious user because well made tools can often have lifespans that exceed their original owner, even under hard use.
The acme of frugality needs never to replace an item for wearing out, rusting out or breaking because it was made to endure.
Budgets, Price Ceilings and You
Okay, pop quiz: Let’s say you have budgeted $300 for a new pistol. There are scarce few handguns, new, in the $300 category that are even worth owning for serious self defense.
You know you could buy a cheap handgun of almost any make and once you have tested it expect it to work long enough to get you out of a mugging or home invasion, but you are planning long term here. You want a handgun that will go the distance: durable, low maintenance, reliable. A hard running gun.
So, considering your budget of $300 and your requirements, what should you do?
If your answer was anything except “save more,” you might need to reevaluate your priorities. Look at it this way: Why is your budget $300? Why is that the ceiling for price?
Can you not justify saving an extra $200 to get into a category of handguns that will leave a budget offering in the dust?
Sure, wrapping your head around an $850 SIG or H&K or some semi-custom wonderplastic pistol versus, say, a stock Glock may be hard to justify, but saving to get into the ballpark of “quality” is always a good idea for critical equipment.
Don’t limit yourself and your purchasing based off an arbitrary ceiling. Many times significant others are one of the arbiters of this decision, as they may not have all the information and understanding you have (to say nothing of passion) and so they set a price that they can live with.
Don’t give in to this fallacy. If you can budget a given figure you can budget so much per month to sock away until you can afford the gear you want.
The good stuff is worth saving for and will pay for itself in performance, longevity and saved headaches many times over. You don’t necessarily need to buy top of the line to get good, reliable performance.
So many times the difference between a piece of junk and a solid piece of kit is less than you might expect based on what the high-end products in the category cost.
10 Preps You Should Not Go Cheap On
The items on this list are ones that, in my estimation, are too important to your success to ever trust your life to a chintzy, cheapo version.
You could make the case for all the things you buy for preparation directly affecting your survival chances and that is true in a sense, but the following items are all gear categories that really, really need to work when you need them.
Note that I am not making the case that any of these items must necessarily be of world-class quality, only that you should plan to purchase at least “decent” quality in each category. Any of them that mandate the very, very best that you can afford, I will mention.
1. Medical Supplies
Medicines and medical supplies are no place to cut costs. When the potential success is hanging in the balance, you must have good gear and supplies you can rely on, gear that is safe, strong and sterile (if applicable).
Using no-name crap from the ass crack of the internet is simply inviting disaster to your table, but cutting corners on meds could see you wind up with improper or ineffective dosing, shortened shelf life, or other unforeseen and unforgiving problems.
I mentioned the scourge of knock-off tourniquets above, but you can also spend too little on necessary support gear like pouches. A wimpy, poorly stitched pouch is just begging to get ripped off your pack or belt and immediately dump your lifesaving gear in a river.
Don’t let this happen to you. Purchase your kit only from known good vendors, not Amazon, and not Ebay. Amazon in particular has been awash with legit looking sellers foisting convincing counterfeit med gear on the trusting public.
Owning a gun for self-defense or just as part of a greater survival and self-sufficiency plan is extremely common in the prepping world. Guns are swell but worth little if you don’t have ammo to feed them. Ergo, stocking up on ammunition is just as important as having the gun itself.
But ammunition quality varies greatly, and there are few preppers that are not serious high volume shooters who have enough experience to know just how common ammo-related malfunctions are in the lesser brands.
You have the rest of your life in a gunfight to ponder the extent of what crappy ammo has cost you. You might have the best shooting iron the world has ever seen, but stoke that thing with Cousin Bobby’s Discount Bangin’ Fodder and you’ll get nothing but plenty of practice clearing malfunctions.
High quality ammo is expensive, but you’ll want every edge you can get when you are defending your life and the lives of your family with a gun.
Note that the best performing ammo for self-defense is usually some form of premium hollowpoint, and these little pills often top out at more than a $1.50 a round. Stocking that in quantity is prohibitively expensive for most of us, and so many preppers choose to keep their “readiness stash” predominately ball ammo.
There is nothing wrong with that, just make sure you are buying good factory ball ammo, not gun show bargain barrel crap or cheap-as-cheap-gets import ammo.
Reloaders, know thyself: if you are painstakingly loading your rounds and weatherizing them appropriately for long-term storage, they should work just fine. But if you crank out iffy range fodder by the barrel full, think twice.
3. – Flashlights/Headlamps
One constant in most disasters worth the name will be a lack of electricity. All kinds of man-made and natural disasters will knock out power to cities and towns in short order, plunging civilization into the dark unless you have your own power generation and management equipment or flashlights and plenty of batteries.
Flashlights are not just a convenience in these situations: humans are overwhelmingly dependent on our sight to help us navigate the world and its hazards, and darkness makes that sense count for little or nothing.
Personal lighting helps us gain our edge back in situations where darkness is constant. Even when it is broad daylight outside, one need only venture into a large building to be immersed in the gloom, and any trip underground or into very large buildings will prove it very dark indeed.
Flashlights and their cousins, headlamps, let you banish the dark on command, and more importantly aim the light where it will serve you best. This has obvious general utility for navigation and a bazillion basic chores, but it can also be a life-saver in a defensive situation or medical emergency occurring in reduced or no lighting.
Cheap lights, be they LED or incandescent, suffer from all kinds of issues, the chief among them being general frailty and circuitry failure. Switching issues also abound, and weatherproofing is hit or miss.
Many of these cheap lights may boast impressive intensity but often garnered it clumsily: overheating, even, melting of internal components is more common than you might think.
Contrast this with a quality light, even a basic one, and you’ll find a world of difference. Good lights are durable, reasonable weather resistant or even weatherproof, are brighter and last longer than their dime store counterparts.
4. – Backpacks
Ah, the BOB. Our prepping mainstay. More preppers and writers have spent more time and ink fussing over the intricacies and mysteries of the BOB than probably any other facet of prepping.
That’s with good reason, as the BOB is in many ways the ejection seat and parachute of prepping; you may not really need it nearly as often as you think you will, but if it comes down to it that thing has got to work and work well.
You will be departing from a safe place, or formerly safe place for a hopeful safe place somewhere yonder, and you’ll need to cope with unknown dangers and hazards between here and there. Hence, all the fussing.
Your average BOB will weigh anywhere from 25 to 40 lbs. depending on who has done the packing and what is important to them.
No matter what they or you pack, the pack itself must be made well to stand up to the rigors of bugging out, which could entail serious movement by foot, getting tossed into and dragged out of vehicles and jostled, snagged, bounced and dropped.
Quality of stitching and material strength are the keys absolute here. You can argue framed versus frameless, quantity and placement of pouches and more minutiae all day and all night long, but none of it matters one bit if those little bitty stitches start going poppity-pop-pop before you suffer a load dumping blowout or lose a strap.
This is one of those categories where it is easy to spend an absolute fortune on the latest in technical mountaineering or hiking packs (and they are both awesome and supremely long lasting) but you don’t have to go quite that far if you don’t want to.
Plenty of companies make backpacks geared toward military and commercial pursuits that are plenty durable enough for almost any activity. Eberlestock and Osprey are two of my favorites.
5. – Water Filtration & Purification Supplies
Clean, drinkable water is a must have resource. No negotiations, no questions: you must have it. Yes, you can and should have a goodly supply of drinking water already on hand, just crack the seals and drink, but you must also have a way to filter and purify found and gathered water.
For most preppers this means a water filter and some kind of chemical sterilizer secondary method, like drops, tabs or something else.
Not all “found” water sources are equal. You can catch rain in your backyard and it will likely need no processing before you can drink it. Rain water than ran off your roof and through a downspout could stand some filtering, definitely.
How about water in a muddy puddle? Uh, yeah. How about stagnant water from a pond scummed over by algae and hosting a buzzing cloud of mosquitoes? You see where I am going with this.
Going cheap on a water filter or on sterilization supplies of dubious origin is practically begging to get sick off of your found water sources.
Not all bugs and germs picked up from water sources are fatal, most will just make you very sick, but on top of all the other stresses and tasks you have on your plate while surviving, that stomach bug could see you incapacitated with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Hot on its heel will be dehydration, and soon after that you’ll be in real trouble.
Prevent all of this by buying top-tier filtration and purification supplies, and that includes backup filter inserts! A filter is only as good as the cartridge inside it. Similarly keep an eye on and rotate your purification chemicals according to manufacturer’s instructions, as some go bad over time or lose effectiveness.
6. – Duct Tape
I can hear you sniggering over there. Pipe down and hear me out. Duct tape really is pound for pound one of the handiest survival tools you can have.
From gear repair and impromptu lashing to light construction and even medical use, duct tape has a hundred and one uses and every survival kit and BOB deserves a roll to call its own.
What you might not have known is that of all of the many tapes in the duct tape category, only a few are worthy inheritors to the sticky and strong reputation of the legend.
Cheaper, wimpier tapes have frail, thin fabric backings, and adhesive that is barely worth a band-aid in ideal circumstances. If you are trying to apply it in wet or humid conditions, forget it; you are heading toward frustration and little else.
But excellent duct tape, as exemplified by Gorilla and T-Rex brand tapes, are obscenely strong and thick, with adhesive so aggressive, so tenacious it will nearly pull your skin off. I don’t know about you, but if I am trusting tape to hold a blown sole on my boot or a keep a tattered tent intact and waterproof, I want the good stuff.
The aforementioned tapes are about $10 a roll, compared to wimpier tapes (Duck, cough) at $4 or so, but the difference in performance and holding power can hardly be put into words. Buy the good stuff!
7. – Footwear
In a disaster, your feet are your last hope for going mobile to avoid danger. Unlike a walk in the park or a jog around the lake, your feet will be put to a severe test, either from sheer exertion with a load on your back or from a host of hazards like flooded paths, broken glass and twisted metal.
You need to protect your pups from harm and from wear and tear by keeping them shod in quality footwear, whatever it is.
Some folks like hiking or technical shoes, others prefer hiking or work boots. Whatever they are, they need to be broken in, fit you properly and offer good support when you are loaded down with a pack and other gear.
or work boots. Whatever they are, they need to be broken in, fit you properly and offer good support when you are loaded down with a pack and other gear.
It definitely pays to get footwear that is optimized for multi-terrain or whatever specific terrain you will be travelling over in the immediate future.
Your footwear is a combination of tread and armor, so don’t skimp on the good stuff. A major emergency that sees you laid up or completely immobilized with a bad paw with mean serious trouble if the time comes to get out of dodge.
8. – Maps and Compass
Analog will have its revenge, and it will be especially hateful when it comes to revenging itself on the count of navigation.
Face it: we have all gotten terribly lazy when it comes getting from place to place. The ubiquity of Google Maps and GPS systems have seen paper maps relegated to the role of quaint decoration for much of America, preppers included.
Don’t let this be you. The Global Positioning System and its constellation of satellites is a wonder, and surprisingly robust, but it is also very complex, and any given failure in the end user chain will see it rendered useless.
The network itself could go down, or your receiver could simply be broken or run out of power. If that is the case and you don’t otherwise know how to get where you are going, where you are or where you have been, you may be up a creek in rising water.
Maps don’t run out of power. Barring major misuse or significant mishap, compasses generally do not break or lose their regulation.
Both in conjunction will let you navigate with enough accuracy to find your way based off major landmarks, and significant skill at using both will let you traverse the countryside with great precision.
And don’t rely on Google Maps printouts unless you have no other choice. Make sure any maps you get are up to date and printed on quality paper. Waterproofing is not a bad idea. You’ll also want local city maps (if applicable), regional topographic maps, and a good road atlas.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. Survival Sullivan is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclosure for more.
Compasses are available in all types and kinds, but for 99% of preppers a lensatic or field compass will be more than adequate. Tiny button compasses make good backups or inclusions for pocket survival kits, but lack the precision graduations for serious overland navigation. Suunto makes good ones.
9. – Field Knife
A good knife is among the most elemental tools a person can have in the field, or even around town when surviving in a disaster.
A good, sturdy knife, be it folder or fixed blade, can help you with numerous tasks, everything from preparing wood and other fuel for a fire to self-defense. Especially in wilderness settings, the value of a sturdy knife cannot be underestimated.
Any knife worth carrying must be sturdy, easy to sharpen and capable of holding a good edge. Bonus points if the knife is tough enough to stand up to batoning, prying and other abusive tasks. The handle should afford good purchase and not contribute unduly to hotspots and blisters when working hard.
Knife aficionados are second only to shooters in terms of knock-down drag out argu-sations over the merits of particular makers’ processes, steels and other nuts and bolts characteristics.
You don’t really need to concern yourself with much of it unless you want to. The bottom line is there are few fixed blade knives under $50 worth betting your ass on, and very few folders under about $100 or so.
A daily carry knife, especially one that is not carried as any kind of defensive weapon beyond one of desperation, can be had cheap with no ill effects, but a knife for serious social (i.e. defensive) or survival purposed must be bought with the care and discernment due any item you will be betting your life and limb on.
You can always repair, ditch or replace a cruddy but neat little pocket knife when it craps out on you after opening an invincible plastic clamshell, but you will rue the day you laid eyes on it if the same happens when you are trying to cut off a seatbelt or get some tinder ready for a fire.
10. – Batteries
You’ll be using more electronics than you think in a disaster. Flashlights and headlamps like I mentioned above, but also radios, cars, chargers and more.
All require batteries. I cannot tell you how badly I hate to see someone spend an inordinate amount of time maintaining and prepping their vehicle for a swift getaway in a bug-out situation and then buy a Bargain Basement Brand battery at the auto parts shop and pop it in.
Other folks buy $200 hand-held flashlights and feed it highly questionable Chinese batteries. Give me a break! Talk about false economy!
Battery failure is one of the most common preventable failures in electrical tools of all kinds. Batteries get used up and need either recharging or replacement, but they also go bad over time just sitting on the shelf.
This depends on the type of battery (alkalines lose power much faster than lithiums, for instance) but you can rest assured that the problem is exacerbated with cheap or no-name batteries.
If you are stocking up on batteries, you have to rotate them as you would with food (first in means first out) but you also must buy quality brands like Duracell or Energizers. Rayovacs are OK.
In lithium cells most often used to feed those power-hungry Surefires and Streamlights I mentioned, stick with either of their branded batteries and you’ll be in good shape.
You especially do not want to go real cheap with lithium batteries as an overloaded lithium battery can “meltdown” and slag whatever equipment it is installed in to say nothing of the fire hazard.
Don’t Be Cheap!
Cheap gear is not always a value, and plenty of disingenuous purveyors and makers of such gear turn a big business with the promise that their cheap also-ran is a better buy than an expensive competitor.
A positive outcome in any survival situation will be contributed to by having good, reliable gear. You can save money on some things and come out okay, but make sure you are buying the good stuff when shopping for gear in any of the categories on this list.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.