Which Phone Is Best For Survival?

Who would have thought a phone can save your life in an emergency? And not necessarily because you’d be able to use it to call for help. As you’re about to see, your phone can be prepared in a variety of ways to assist you during bug in, bug out, get home, and even wilderness survival scenarios.

Caveat: what about loss of privacy? It’s no secret that many of the apps and even the mobile operating systems themselves upload a lot of data to their respective owners. While the main reasons have to do with marketing, who knows how companies will use this information in a SHTF scenario.

I’ll leave it up to you to figure out if you really want a smartphone that can help you in disaster scenarios. Also, don’t forget that your device is part of your everyday carry kit (EDC), making your phone that more useful.

Now let’s make your smartphone truly, smart. First thing’s first:

The List of Best Survival Phones

You probably guessed that things like wireless charging or a high-resolution screen aren’t important for what we need. There’s no need to pay 5 or 6 hundred bucks for them. Here’s what you should be really looking for:

  • at least 4 GB of memory (preferably 16GB, else you need an SD card),
  • a screen of at least 4 inches so you can easily navigate the maps with your fingers,
  • a removable battery (so you can keep spare ones in your get home bag, your car, or even your EDC. Phone batteries will also help you start a fire in the, by the way)
  • (optional) a pre-paid phone
  • FM radio functionality,
  • shock resistance,
  • water resistance,
  • dust resistance
  • and, of course, long battery life.

Word of caution: specs can be tricky. No-name phones that have similar specs with high-end phones are lagging in performance so please avoid them. Here’s my full list of survival phones.

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.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 Active

This phone is specifically designed to take a beating. Samsung makes top notch phones, so you definitely can’t go wrong getting it.

The Caterpillar CAT

Another rugged phone, that’s factory unlocked. However, these are pretty pricey compared to the Samsumg models we just talked about.

The Casio G’zOne Commando 4G

It has 4in display, 5 megapixel camera, Android 4.0, 1.5gHz Spandragon processor, 16 GB of memory, and 1 GB of RAM.

A Cheap, Emergency Phone

Last but not least, a cheap, emergency phone. One with basic functionality, but that’s all you need if you’re stock in the woods and your main phone is dead. You can get a few of these and just throw them in each of your survival bags.

Are mainstream phones any good?

iPhones and Galaxies are “ok”, provided you get a good shock-absorbing case. Just don’t expect them to last underwater and of, course, expect to pay a premium “because it’s Apple” or “because it’s Samsung”.

Caveat: if you live in an urban area, having a rugged phone will make you stand out from the crown. People will wonder why you didn’t get a slim one like everyone else. If you’re not going to get an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, you can just tell them you’re a camper or that you’ve dropped your phone too many times before and need something more durable).

A Word On Pre-Paid Phones

The problem with prepaid phones is that the minutes expire. Waiting for SHTF to activate the minutes ins’t a good idea, either, because they take too long to activate and besides, in a disastrous situation, they might not work at all.

The best way to go about it is to purchase and activate your pre-paid minutes and then pay a small fee (around 10 bucks a year at T-Mobile) to keep them active.

Accessories for Your Survival Phone

The main thing you’d need is a solar charger but, if you don’t have a rugged phone, you should definitely get a shock absorbing case such as for iPhone, and Samsung).

A Word On Pre-Paid Phones

The problem with prepaid phones is that the minutes expire. Waiting for SHTF to activate the minutes ins’t a good idea, either, because they take too long to activate and besides, in a disastrous situation, they might not work at all.

The best way to go about it is to purchase and activate your pre-paid minutes and then pay a small fee (around 10 bucks a year at T-Mobile) to keep them active.

Upload the Knowledge

First thing’s first: you should upload your survival manuals. Surely you have e-Books you bought or found on the web for free, useful articles, and so on. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • upload PDFs into your phone memory
  • bookmark the most useful articles
  • install an app such as Pocket to download articles on your phone for later use
  • download all your survival eBooks on Kindle so they’re available offline

Also, if you have a PDF or a Word Document, you can use a free software named Calibre to convert it to the Kindle format, and then use TotalReader for iOS or CoolReader for Android to view them.

Get the Right Apps

Not all content needs to be uploaded as PDF or read via Kindle. There are various apps that allow you to consume the information in an easy manner.

Please note that some of the apps below are for iPhone, even though Apple doesn’t make rugged phones, you can use a good shock absorbing case if you don’t want to sell it.

Here’s the app list:

You can find lots of various apps in your app store, just make sure you only install the ones that have good reviews.

Other Uses

Even if your phone stops working, you can still use its parts for various survival tasks:

  • the LCD screen as signaling mirrors
  • the circuit board or the metal mount as a cutting tool
  • wire and the battery to start a fire (touch the wire to both the + and – of the battery and put it next to some kindling) etc.

Final Word

Before I wrap this up, I just wanted to say a few more things. First off, you should never rely on your phone in an emergency. Even if the lines are functional, they’re probably going to be overloaded.

You should definitely have other means of communications such as walkie-talkies, CB radio or HAM radio.

Second, if you’re looking to store a lot of information, you may want to consider a Kindle device. Not only is it cheap and light but uses very little energy and can be on stand-by for weeks, even months.

Third, you need to consider an EMP and its effects which will render your devices useless.

You can try keeping them in a Faraday cage, but there’s no guarantee they will work. Even if they do, the phone lines will probably be down, so you’ll only be able to use the apps and information you have stored.

best survival phone Pinterest image

13 thoughts on “Which Phone Is Best For Survival?”

  1. Hey, Dan – Enjoy your blog. Good info here. You might wish to consider the Smart One GPS phone. It’s just 50 bucks and a year of service is ony 25 bucks. the good things about it is that it runs on just 2 AA batteries, which are inexpensive and can be found most anywhere. And I like the idea that it runs off the satellites, and is not dependent on the networks, which could go down in a SHTF scenario. I am a 100% disabled vet, and I carry it in my pickup in case I get stranded. Surprised you don’t have it listed here.

    1. Hey there, I tried to find this but the only thing that came up was GPS trackers. Anyway you could provide a link?

    2. Most countries are doing away with 2G meaning this phone won’t work anymore unfortunately. I’m yet to find a 3G or 4G alternative that accepts AA or AAA batteries.

  2. All of these Smartphones are contingent upon all of the cell system staying “up.” Suggest a portable, rugged “police/fire/weather” enabled scanner instead. And/or a portable HAM Band Transceiver, with the requisite & appropriate FCC license.

    I really do not put much faith in anything electronic in the event of a SHTF-like event. To believe otherwise requires a LOT of FAITH in someone else’s “system.”

  3. In many countries you can have a pay as you go mobile without having the minutes expire as all you need ro do is make a call at least once a month. But what most people don’t realise is that you only need to MAKE/PLACE a call and the call doesn’t need to be answered.

    So use your mobile to phone your landline, Job Done !!

  4. I have loaded Alpine Quest and Offline Maps onto my Galaxy. Both work via GPS and have incredible detail. Additionally, I have a GPS, HAM radio (yes, I’m licensed), and walkie talkies. The one thing I don’t have, and am grateful that you pointed it out, is a Faraday pouch. I do have two reliable compasses…just in case! Thank you for your article. I sincerely appreciate everything you write about. Good and informative advice!

  5. “ The problem with prepaid phones is that the minutes expire.”

    I have a prepaid tracphone. My minutes have never expired. We usually buy the year card. I guess if my time ran out and I lost the number that I’d lose the minutes on it. So far, that hasn’t happened. At $99 a year, for a Smart TracPhone, it isn’t bad. Oh the phone was $59.

  6. I spent a lot of time copying PDFs to the 128 GB SD card in my Kindle * HD, only to find out that the device couldn’t “see” the files (it shows all the space they occupy as empty), so they are useless there.

  7. I am a HUGE fan of the Samsung Galaxy Active line of phones. I’ve had 3 and only switched in the last month because the charging port gave out. I had that phone since 2017(4 years, and bought it used) and dropped it daily. The problem is that they are now outdated and no longer run updates. This causes the phone to be incredibly slow, some functions/app don’t work, and many new things aren’t compatible with the phone. Samsung made the XCover Field Pro to replace the Active line but it costs a small fortune still.

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