One thing I have learned across my survival career is that you always want to have more tools than you need when your life is on the line. That being said, there are some that are more useful than others.
Each year I complete several survival challenges to test my skills. Every one is carried out in a different location with a different climate, different rules, and different gear. My summer challenges have reached temperatures near 100°F, and my winter challenges have gotten down to -1°F.
I have dealt with consistent pouring rain for days, heavy snow, high winds, and drought conditions. I have had challenges where I was required to traverse mountainous terrain across 37 miles, and had one challenge in which I was stuck on a life boat on the water the whole time.
When I went out for my first challenge several years ago, I took a huge amount of gear. I complete most of my survival challenges alone, so I wanted to be sure that safety was my top priority. I brought so many tools that I almost could not carry it all. Most of it never left my pack over the course of the four days. Shortly after this, I was on a survival forum and a self-proclaimed “survival expert” stated that there is no reason that anybody should need more than a knife to survive in the wild.
I happen to be of the mindset that survivalists should always keep in mind who might be reading their posts. I was instantly frustrated that some newbie might read his post and head into the wilderness to try and survive with just a knife. Every year, people die for this very reason.
Almost a dozen challenges later, and I noticed that the amount of gear I was taking with me on challenges was drastically reduced. I could not help but wonder, with my level of experience could I survive with just a knife? I decided to put together a springtime challenge and survive constant rainy, cold weather with just my blade.
While I would never suggest this for anybody, I was able to make it four days with just my knife. Not only did I learn that this was possible, I also learned that I would much rather have a selection of non-power tools to help me survive. In this article, I will cover the top 10 tools you want to have in your pack to help with survival.
In many cases, the most versatile tool you have with you is your knife. A blade is incredibly difficult to recreate using only natural materials. That makes it more important than other tools. I suggest a large, full-tang blade. This ensures that the knife can be used for heavy jobs and will hold up to the abuse. Mine is about 10” from the tip to the tang. You want the spine of the blade to be thick enough that you can chop and split wood easily.
You also need to select a knife made from quality steel. This will ensure that it will hold an edge longer, so you do not need to sharpen it constantly. Do not feel bad about spending quite a bit on your knife. If you do not and you have to rely on that blade, you will wish you had spent the money. I chose a simple camp knife design, but bowie knives and kukri knives also work well.
Folding Saw/Frame Saw
While you can choose to cut your wood with the right knife, a saw is a much more efficient tool for cutting wood. Whether you are breaking down firewood, felling a tree, or limbing a pole, saws get the job done. They also do not have to be sharpened as often, and leave a smooth, even cut.
I like to carry a small folding saw on my survival challenges. It actually takes up less space than my knife, and does fine to cut anything up to six inches in diameter. I rarely cut anything larger than that. If you plan to build a cabin or work on another project that requires a larger blade, frame saws are nice. They break down to take up less space, but can give you a huge cutting edge once assembled. They also can be used by two people to get the job done faster.
While we are talking about cutting wood, we cannot forget the chopping tools. I personally prefer to use a saw whenever possible, but axes and hatchets always have their purpose. I actually have a small hatchet that has a saw built into the handle. This gives me the best of both worlds with one item. The two tasks for which I always use a chopping tool are cutting tree roots and splitting firewood.
If you are in a long-term survival scenario, there will be a need to cut, split, and season firewood. Saws work great for cutting wood, but are not ideal for splitting it. Hatchets work great for this, as do certain types of axes. However, be aware that there are axes designed for cutting and axes designed for splitting. The splitting axe has more of a wedge shape, so it will not get stuck in the wood. In addition, when you have a digging project you will likely run across some tree roots. It is much easier to chop those roots than it is to try and cut them with a saw.
There are plenty of tasks that require brute force, and a hammer is often needed to get the job done. When SHTF, nails will be easier and quicker to find than screws. This makes a hammer a vital tool.
If you go with a standard hammer, you can easily pull and repurpose used nails. If you think you will need to break up concrete or bricks, you probably want to step up to a mini-sledge or a full sledge. These will give you the weight you need to really do some damage. Just remember that you have to carry and swing that weight.
Another must have item for your tool belt is a multi-tool. These are great for salvaging and repairing machinery. Most multi-tools have pliers, a Philips screwdriver, and flathead screwdriver, a blade, a can opener, and several other tools.
You can collect all the nuts, bolts, screws, nails, and wiring you can carry without ever going to the hardware store if you have one of these.
If you need to get into locked buildings or disassemble anything wooden, a pry bar can be very helpful. One of your greatest resources in a SHTF scenario is abandoned buildings.
Whether you choose a full-sized crowbar or a smaller pry bar, you can get through locked wooden doors with ease. Just remember that you must carry whatever weight you choose for your bar.
Working with wood is often the only way to build things if there is no electricity. This means that a hand drill can be very helpful. Without one, you are forced to try and dig a hole through the wood with the tip of your knife.
Just be sure to get one large enough that it can do the bigger jobs you need to complete.
In a long-term survival scenario, there will be times that you need to cut metal. The only way this is going to happen is if you have a hack saw.
This can help you cut anything from chains to sheet metal to fencing. For any salvage efforts, a hacksaw is a good idea.
With all the edged tools that you and your crew will be using in a SHTF scenario, having a hand powered grinding wheel is a huge advantage. This can quickly put a sharp edge on your tools with minimal effort.
It can also be used to sand wood or sharp edges on metal in a more efficient manor than trying to hand sand those items.
Another edged tool that is difficult to replicate with natural materials is a shovel. If you are surviving for any period of time, you will need a shovel to help you grow food in a garden. Unfortunately, it is likely you will also need it for more unsavory jobs such as digging a latrine or burying a body.
It can be a good idea to bury valuables and supplies to hide them from looters. Just be cautious about how you bury these items so that they are not damaged by moisture.
While it is possible to make it through a survival scenario with less, these are a few of the most useful tools that can help. While you will never be able to replicate all of the wonderful gadgets we use on a daily basis with electricity, you can still use a little elbow grease and these hand tools to get the job done. You can always modify this list based on either an urban survival situation or a rural one, so make the needed adjustments and be sure you have the tools you need.