If there is one thing that goes hand-in-hand with prepping, it is buying the right gear. And trust me, if you’re like most preppers there will be plenty of gear that you simply must have. Or at least think you must have.
And if you are like me (and a lot of other people) you probably have a tub, drawer or bag of poorly chosen or otherwise “misfit” pieces of gear that you regret buying. Everybody has one, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, though you might regret the wasted time and money you spend acquiring them.
Some of the items that end up in your collection of crappy gear might have resulted from a visit from the Good Idea Fairy, where the item simply could not measure up in use to the idea you had in mind.
Some of these items are just bad ideas, and cannot do the things they set out to do. Some of them are inefficient or not grounded in reality, or banking on a fringe set of circumstances that are highly unlikely to occur.
No matter what you are doing, where you live and what you are preparing for the time will come when you buy something you sorely regret.
I have prepared a short list today of common pieces of survival gear that are almost always a universally bad fit for most preppers. Save yourself time, money, and grief by avoiding these items like the plague.
1. Pre-Packed Bug Our Bags
It doesn’t matter if you are a brand-new prepper or a seasoned survivor. You have at least heard about the concept of the bug-out bag, and more than likely have one to call your very own.
The bug-out bag is a central tenet in prepping, serving as a sort of survival “parachute”, a ready-packed, convenient cache of gear that can allow you to sustain life, and do the work you need to do when the time comes to evacuate.
When the situation turns grim, you don’t want to be dashing out the door with family in tow and nothing but the shirt on your back. You’ll need supplies, gear, provisions; all the things necessary to sustain you. That is where the BOB comes in.
Though BOBs often feature a core checklist of supplies that you should expect to find in pretty much any such pack worth the name, the rest of the items included are very much a personal choice…
These are dictated largely by a formula that takes into account the anticipated disaster, the terrain and climate, the owner’s skills or lack thereof in various disciplines and other intangible factors, like dependents, survival plan, mode of travel and more.
What I’m trying to say is that the packing list for a BOB should always be chosen with care beyond the absolute bare necessities.
This is why you should not get any one of the many pre-packed, ready to go and so-called complete BOBs that you can buy from various vendors.
It never fails that the generic contents of these bags contain nothing but the core essentials in great abundance, if that. Some of them look like the contents of a shopping cart after a wild, blind raid on a Bass Pro Shop.
Almost invariably the bags themselves are of very poor quality, something you can ill-afford when carrying a backpack that is heavily loaded. A blown stitch or a busted strap could see you and your vital gear flapping in the wind when you can least afford it.
They might seem like an okay value if you have no idea where to start and you want to have a surplus of those basics, but even then it never fails that the gear you get is either of the cheapest, crappiest quality that overseas slave labor factories can provide or included at marked-up prices of a ridiculous degree
It will be cheaper for you to assemble the contents of your own BOB off the shelf. With very, very few exceptions these ready-made bug-out bags have no redeeming qualities. Avoid them!
2. “Survival” Bunkers
Having your very own survival bunker is seen as something of a crown jewel or bucket list prep for a great many preppers. The appeal is undeniable: what could be better than a subterranean, fortified and well-stocked bunker that you and yours could retreat to when things get really nasty?
No matter what kind of disaster you are facing, the thinking goes, and no matter where you live being able to retreat inside a hardened bunker before closing the door and throwing the locks ranks pretty high on both convenience and efficiency ratings. Truly, what could be better than that?
The answer: almost anything. Fixed-site fortifications are where most people make a last stand, and then die. There are simply too many variables to account for to recommend a bunker for the highly-variable business of survival.
The installation of a bunker is going to be very difficult and technically challenging to do yourself, and relying upon contractors means that your bunker will be anything but secret. It is just as likely to be a red pin on someone else’s planning room map.
Enterprising providers have responded to these concerns by marketing survival bunker kits, not entirely dissimilar to tornado shelter modules that people in the midwest are likely familiar with.
Though they make the installation of a survival bunker easier for the DIY-savvy prepper, they do nothing to alleviate the many practical shortcomings of a bunker, namely that they are extremely vulnerable to attack once discovered and usually very difficult to escape from when compromised.
Naturally, expensive design and manufacturing processes mandate a high sticker price for these bunker modules and that means you are going to have to shell out big-time for the privilege of owning a prep that will likely wind up being little more than a novelty installation to show off to your buddies.
That money would have been much better spent on other gear, staples and training. Perhaps the only people that should seriously consider an underground shelter are the aforementioned folks living in tornado prone areas and other places that experience destructive wind events.
A properly installed, small tornado-specific shelter is an ideal prep for a very particular kind of disaster, but also one that is only going to be occupied for a very short time.
3. Thermal Goggles / Optics
We live in a time of unparalleled technological wonders. Truly, mankind has created some modern miracles, and the set dressing of science fiction novels and movies from just a couple of decades ago are now entirely real and available over-the-counter.
Some of the coolest and most practical pieces of technology available to the average person are enhanced imaging optics and scopes. Probably the most coveted, and the most misunderstood, is thermal vision.
Without delving too deeply into the physics and science behind its operation, thermal vision devices allow the user to read the heat of an object on the eyepiece, or on a screen as a contrasting color distinctly apart from its background.
Every redblood who ever saw the Predator movies has lusted for this technology ever since, and now it is a reality- if you’ve got the coin.
The imagined advantages that thermal vision offers will dance through the minds of anyone considering it: What price is too great to pay for such an advantage, as it would mean that intruders and trespassers have nowhere to hide, and your quarry, if you are looking for dinner, will not be able to evade you.
But as it turns out thermal vision is not the stuff of magic, despite a dedicated campaign of propaganda touting its near omnipotence that has been pushed non-stop by the military-industrial complex.
Lots of things can foil thermal vision, and even a heavy rain, dense foliage or something as simple as a thick blanket can completely hide the thermal signature of a target from the sensor.
Additionally, these devices are power hungry, large and comparatively fragile making them a highly niche item at best for weapons, and just several pounds more gear to carry in scope or binoculars form. And did I mention they are fantastically expensive? Like closing in on “nice, used car” expensive.
I would recommend almost everyone pass on thermal goggles unless you have a highly specific use for them. If you need enhanced vision modes, consider getting a good pair of night-vision goggles or a night-vision scope instead, and spend the rest of the money on training to learn how to maximize it, as well as minimize its shortcomings.
4. Stylized Knives
There is hardly a more essential item for a prepper than a good, trusty knife, from the do-everything folding pocket knife of the EDC oriented prepper to the sturdy, stout bushcrafter knife that will accompany the outdoorsman into the wild unknown.
The knife is one of Mankind’s oldest and most valuable tools, and any prepper worth the title will prioritize the selection and care of their personal blade.
You don’t need me to tell you that there are literally countless varieties of knives out on the market today, from the sublime to the crazy, from the inexpensive to the fantastically pricey.
You don’t have to be a blade aficionado to get a reliable, working knife that can do what you ask it to do, but you should exercise some care in judgment that you do not get taken by slick advertising and sexy looks. Some knives are the epitome of “all flash and no dash”.
Most of the best knives look like exactly what they are; no-nonsense tools, and though they might have the fingerprints of their maker or designer on it they are usually subtle and reserved. The blades are not fantastically sculpted.
The handles do not look like props from an action or fantasy movie. They do not have additional spikes, multiple fixed blades or comically oversized Conan the Barbarian handguards. They just look like knives that are intended to do work.
No matter how cool, how fun, how slick, and how much you think a steamed or fantasy knife “fits your personality” resist the call. Nearly without exception they are all garbage. Leave the fantasy stuff for playtime or your next LARP’ing adventure, and go with proven performers for serious business.
5. Multi-Function “Tools”
This next one is probably my most hated and altogether too common for those preppers who lack experience in actually using tools in outdoor settings.
To be clear, I’m not referring to proper multi-tools, or multi-pliers if you prefer, those ingeniously handy and highly-useful pocket tools that combine a Swiss Army knife with a sturdy set of pliers. No, these unholy abominations are the stuff that B-Team advertising reels are made of.
I am referring to the telescopic folding shovel that contains a saw, a compass, a fire starter, a 3-edged, sharpened spade, a tripod mount, a reflective survival mirror, fishing kit, phone recharger, etc.
I have seen before, no joke, a carpenter’s hammer that also splits in half to be used as a set of slip joint pliers and within those pliers are contained a variety of folding screwdriver bits, knife blades and files. I have seen some axes that are very similar.
As a novelty item for a child who doesn’t know any better, these items might have merit. But for literally any other purpose they only range in functionality from “completely inadequate” to “dangerously defective”.
Often made from pot metal with non-existent quality control, these items are uncomfortable and can rarely perform even their primary function. What good are a multitude of secondary and tertiary functions if a tool cannot even do the thing it was nominally designed to do in the first place?
These things are so insidious because, as preppers, we should always be keen to how we can save weight, save space and get more mileage from our gear. Any item that can do the work of two separate items is a significant weight savings, and that means you should be interested in it.
However, you can take any good concept too far, and turning a simple hand tool into a complicated, fragile and inefficient multifunction monstrosity is the crux absolute of that proverb.
If you hate money that bad, I suggest you burn it instead; that way you’ll at least get some warmth and light out of it!
You’ll have lots of gear to buy during your life as a prepper, and unfortunately not all of it will turn out to be good gear that can do what you need it to do.
Even among useful types of gear, not all of it is created equal, and the categories included on this list are among the biggest wastes of money that you will encounter in your travels. If you do nothing else but avoid these items like the plague, you’ll be ahead of the game and keep a little more money in your pocket.
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.