You May Be Surprised What Survival Products Worked and What Didn’t

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course

When I joined several ladies to take a survival course in Croatia back in May, we all brought the gear we felt we would need if a sudden Zombie Apocalypse arose and we had to get back home.

Some of that gear was fantastic. Some of it was terrible. And you might be surprised at what worked and what didn’t.

Now, for the products I didn’t like, I’m not going to name names and bash them. Simply because they didn’t work for us doesn’t mean they’re 100% garbage. I’ll just explain what I disliked about them and you can decide for yourself if that’s a problem you’d have also. You also have to consider that we were using this gear in a specific set of circumstances and your circumstances might be different. There are some excellent survival gear lists out there like this one which recommends items that go right along with what we discovered during the course.

As well, you may have far more experience than I and using these things might be a piece of cake. This article probably isn’t for you – it’s probably more for folks who aren’t big-time outdoor survival gurus.

Here’s the scenario in which we were using these items: We were bugging out or hiding out. We were in situations in which we were out and did not want to run into anyone or bring attention to our locations. Discretion is key in SHTF situations. If you were using some of these items at home during a power outage, they would have been just fine.

Sawyer Mini – YES

I have carried around a Sawyer Mini for years and assumed that it would work well. I have used it when hiking and drinking water from a clear rushing stream. It worked just fine.

But on this trip, I used it to drink dirty puddle water and here I am, living to tell the tale. Did it taste like Evian water from the south shore of Lake Geneva, Switzerland? No, of course not. It was far from that rushing mountain stream water. But I lived and now I feel far more confident using my Sawyer Mini in less than desirable situations. I have felt worse drinking tap water in certain cities than I did drinking my filtered puddle water.  I had absolutely no negative effects from this and that water was muddy!

Portable Camp Stove – NO

There are a million different tiny portable camp stoves out there in Prepperland. The one we were using was a metal stove that packed flat and assembled quickly. That was the easy part.

Tending a fire in the teeny tiny opening was ridiculous. I was on my hands and knees, cheek to the dirty ground, stoking a fire with a twig. While we did get the fire going and maintained it long enough to boil water, it was an epic pain and took longer than it should have. It would have been far easier to start a fire on the ground and put our cooking vessel on a couple of rocks or bricks. We would have boiled the water MUCH faster. Heaven help me if I had to actually cook a meal on it. I would have been laying on the ground shoving twigs into that tiny opening for an hour

The Jet Boil stoves were popular, effective, and practically smokeless, but they are limited because they only work with the fuel canisters. Portable camp stoves no longer have a place in my kit and more than one of us condemned ours to the junk heap.

Oval Cooking Pot – YES

One of our instructors, Toby, had a mess kit similar to this one. (I cannot vouch for that specific one – it’s an example to show you what the one I’m  talking about looked like.) If you are cooking with a makeshift stove of a couple of bricks or rocks, the oval shape meant that more of the water (or whatever you’re cooking) is exposed to direct heat than with a round cooking vessel.

If you’re worried about the fact that it is aluminum, keep in mind that this is not an everyday situation. This is something you’re using when you are on the move so you want your gear to be as light and efficient as possible.

I actually failed to bring a cooking vessel altogether, which would have been an awful mistake in a real emergency.

Bright Lights – NO

Generally, when we think about flashlights and headlamps, we think the brighter the better, right? Well, that’s not necessarily the case. One of the students discovered her ultra-bright lights were far too visible in the dark and the headlamp was so bright it blinded her partner.

A filtered light is far less obvious when you’re being stealthy. You can get headlamps as low as 160 Lumen and you can get flashlights with filters in various colors, which are good for signaling, or with lower brightness settings. You can also use a scarf or bandana to dim your flashlight a little if you need a moment of light to see where you’re going but you don’t want to alert the whole vicinity to your presence.

Knives and Fire Steels  – MAYBE

Most of us had never used a knife to strike a spark with a fire steel. One of the students had gone to a shop and asked specifically for a knife that would work with her fire steel. She tried and tried to start a fire with the knife she purchased, to no avail. It wouldn’t work for any of us, not even the instructor.

Why? Because it turned out that the knife she was using for it had a type of grind on the spine that made it virtually impossible to use as she wanted. Make sure well before you set off confidently into the forest that your knife and your fire steel are compatible.

Another student had a flint that turned out to be a crappy fake piece from China that didn’t work at all. Again – test it before you need it.

99 Cent Lighter – YES

Sometimes we make things too complicated. In a survival situation, unless there’s some kind of extenuating circumstance that means you have to do things in the most difficult way possible, do things the easiest way possible.

I grabbed a few extra 99 cent lighters on my way to the airport to put in my luggage and used those exclusively for lighting fires during the course. Between that, twigs and branches I found on the ground, and a sheet of paper I ripped out of my notebook, a fire was mine within a minute in every situation I needed to light one. (I was also able to barter a lighter during the course because I had extras.)

Freeze Dried Food – NO

Like most preppers, I have a massive stash of freeze-dried food put back for a rainy day. But if that rainy day happened to occur when I was cooking in less than ideal conditions and trying to be stealthy about it, a freeze-dried meal from any of the top sellers is not going to be my first choice.

First of all – you have to cook most of them for 10-20 minutes. That means you are going to have to find a whole bunch of fuel to keep your fire in the abandoned building/forest/wherever going for long enough to cook it. Secondly, cooking something for that long is going to produce some very noticeable smells and visible smoke.  Finally, particularly in a bug out situation, you might have to move fast. You might not have time to sit around for half an hour starting a fire and waiting for the food to cook.

Nearly every prepper I know has a bag or two of freeze-dried meals in their backpack. But as far as bug-out bags are concerned, I think no-cook portable foods like Clif bars, jerky, peanut M&Ms, trail mix, and fruit leather are better options.

Dollar Store Gardening Gloves – YES

After our first trip out to see the buildings where we’d be spending time, with all the debris and broken glass, I was super bummed that I had forgotten my sturdy work gloves. When we stopped at the grocery store, I went to the discount section looking for gloves. There were large men’s work gloves that would have been much too big and clumsy on my smaller hands. Then there were those cheapo little gardening gloves you see at every dollar store across the country in the spring – you know the ones with the sticky little rubber dots on the palms and fingers?

These worked ideally for nearly every situation that I needed them. I was able to move rubble, carefully pick up thorny branches for my fire, and strategically pick up big chunks of broken glass that were in my way. Obviously, these aren’t the sturdiest gloves around but used carefully, they worked for my purposes.

NOTE: The downside to my dollar store garden gloves? At night, the stark white of them made me stand out like some kind of mime in the forest.

Button Compass – NO

We were out in the middle of an unfamiliar area when I was instructed to navigate to a different area. In the scenario, the bridge was out on the easy route, so I had to make an alternate route. Navigating when you can’t read the signs to figure out where you are is a whole new ballgame.

I needed a compass and I hadn’t brought a good one. However, somewhere in my backpack was a button one I’d tossed in that had come with some kit I’d purchased. I pulled it out to use it and got even more confused because based on where I’d calculated we were, the water that should be in front of us was actually behind us.

Toby pulled out a known compass that we were sure was working and it turned out that mine was off by nearly 60 degrees. That would certainly have been a navigational issue.

So really, this isn’t just button compasses. (Although mine was truly junk.) It’s any compass. Make sure before you need it that your compass reads true.

Little Fold-Up Binoculars – YES

If you were actually bugging out through a potentially hostile area, you would want to be able to clearly see areas that you were planning to cross through or take shelter. Those nifty fold-up binoculars you get from camping stores (or Amazon) are well worth the price of admission.

Anything that enhances your senses is extremely useful when you’re trying to be stealthy. It can help you spot obstacles instead of you running right into them, and it can also help you to scope out a place in which you plan to take shelter to confirm whether or not it’s inhabited.

What about you?

Have you ever tried any kind of conventional (or unconventional) prepper gear and been surprised by the results? Share what has worked for you and what has not in the comments section below.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company.  She lives in the mountains of Virginia with her family. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Had to do major rebuild on my goat pasture so I used assorted cutting tools to chop fodder for a week. Kukris and Tomahawks worked great, hatchets and machetes were ok, fancy, expensive bush knives invariably broke. Test your gear.

  • Ready to eat food is best in a bug out bag, as you discovered. But freeze dried is great for bug in. It all comes down to circumstances, like you said.
    I always pack a large stainless cup and a way to heat it for boiling water. Cook, make tea, rehydrate meals, etc, because you sometimes have time for that. You may need to boil water if the filter fails.One large ss cup and some solid fuel tablets(or twig fire) can do it all.
    Good article!

  • I love the Nite-Ize gear ties. Basically just rubberized lengths of wire, they are extremely versatile. Good for keeping a bag organized or for making improvised attachments like a coat hook or holding my machete to my bag. Big fan. I haven’t tried a knock off brand yet but I’m sure they will be fine. Second, I found a bunch of keychain flashlights at the dollar store, $1.25 each with batteries. I picked up ten and clipped them everywhere, two on zipper pulls on my bag, one on a strap on the front, and several clipped to different pieces inside my bag. They are guide bright enough in the middle of the night and so cheap that I don’t lament any that were lost or broken, and they each weigh about what a single key would. They also make fine barter items and I gave them out to my team at work as a bit of a team-building gesture. I have found them just as reliable as the $13 ones I found in a knife store.

  • I’m almost 62 yrs old, been doing this since I was 15 when I was forced to read ‘Alas Babylon’ by Pat Frank in order to pass 10th grade English, I then went and bought my first survival book ‘How to Survive in the Woods’ by Bradford Angier plus found an older copy (2nd Ed. -1967) of The Boy Scouts Field Book, after that, 24 years in the Army, all in Reconnaissance or some form of Infantry, so I’ve been living out-of-a-pack for a long, long time…

    Re: Freeze-Dried meals – when on the run, add half the amount +- of cold water and quickly mix it up an hour or more before you plan to eat, this will at least speed-up cooking/rehydration time, then add the rest of the water when you’re able to, and don’t be afraid to add too much water, especially if the water is warm/hot and the weather is cold, I’ve eaten lots of Mountain House ‘Spaghetti Soup and/or Chili Soup”…lol (and I always liked it, cuz it was warm and filling)

    Re: cooking vessel – A steel G.I. canteen (NOT a cheap imported aluminum version) and G.I. canteen cup and/or a Nalgene bottle or Kleen-Kanteen stainless bottle w/ a nesting cup are a priority in my kit. (I like the DZO 25oz cups with lid. It’s taller than the standard 16oz cup allowing you to cook a pack of Ramen Noodles w/out it flowing over the top, but just barely…lol) The advantage of the steel canteens is, you can boil or thaw out a frozen canteen if it’s steel while cooking or drinking out of your cup. Rarely do you need a full size pot, although I do have a 1 1/2 qt. MSR stainless mess kit that I carry in my larger kit. And if it is summer, a plastic G.I. or Nalgene brand canteen or bottle is acceptable. I have and use many.

    Re: Fire Steels – the Doans brand is the ONLY magnesium bar (w/flint striker attached) to buy. $10 on Amazon. (DO NOT waste your $2.50 on a mag bar from Harbor Freight! It wont work!) The Doan’s are made in USA, have been part of every U.S. pilots Survival kit for 50 years or longer. Need I say more? Any of the Swedish brand(s) of flint and steels always seem to be good, I’ve never had a bad one. I carry both the Doans and the Sweed along with several Bic or Scripto lighters and other fire helpers (cotton balls/vaseline, wet fires, dryer lint/ pencil shavings, candle stub, etc.) Also a good little piece of kit is a pencil sharpener.(most quality small pencil sharpeners, about half the size of your thumb, are aluminum and made in Germany.) You can shave that real wood pencil that should be in you pocket or even a dry twig(s) you broke of a dead bush or tree as you were walking / patrolling. (TIP: stuff your pockets with dry kindling when ever you are out hiking or patrolling, that way you have some already when it’s time to start a fire). You can find German pencil sharpeners at art stores, Hobby Lobby, etc. in the drawing/sketch section along with the pencils or at Home Depot / Lowes in the tool section w/ very large wood pencils. Buy a couple, you’ll be glad you did.

    Re: Compasses – Only buy a Silva (Sweden), Suunto (Finland), Brunton (USA), or Comenga-G.I. issue (USA). There may be a couple other brands but even their inexpensive models are better than most cheap Mega-Lo-Mart models. All these brands listed have models starting around $10+ but going as high as $70-$80 or more… be prepared to spend $30 or more on a higher quality model.

    Re: Water filters – The Sawyer is the portable model to go with, although the LifeStraw is very good too. What I like about the Sawyer is it can be attached to a standard flexi-bottle and then ‘dirty’ water can be squeezed directly into your mouth or your cooking vessel. I see LifeStraw has a new product that’s similar, but I haven’t tested it yet… (I have numerous (pump) filters and purifiers like a MSR mini and a PUR Scout (now Kadadyn) but they are larger for longer pack trips. One TIP: throw a couple of coffee filters in a zip-lock bag into your kit along w/ some rubber bands or ‘pony-tail’ hair ties (they last longer) and put the filters over the end of your tube or straw securing with the bands, it’ll prolong the life of the filter quite a bit, filtering out additional sands, and rotting organic materials, etc.

    Re: knives – A quality multi-tool or Swiss Army Knife is all you will need in in your EDC / kit. Thats not to say a Fiskars / Gerber axe wont be a big, big help, but for striking your flint, field dressing that bird or squirrel, the pocket tool(s) will be better. (and again… don’t buy that bargain of a multi-tool for $9 at ‘china-mart and tool’, it’ll fail at the worst time.)

    I’ve seemed to have gone on quite a long time. That was a great article Daisy and I hope I was able to add some experience and insight. Keep up the great work and THANKS!

    • One other tip I forgot…
      Re: Headlamps – Wear it around you neck, necklace fashion, pointed more towards the ground while in camp, it wont blind the person you’re looking at or talking to. Works like a charm and your team will have better night vision.

      • Oh for Pete’s sake… another very important tip I forgot…
        NEVER let your water filter / purifier freeze! it could split / break the membrane allowing unfiltered water to bypass the filtering element. Once used in freezing weather, keep inside your jacket next to your body and/or inside your sleeping bag with you at night. The LifeStraw has a ‘dummy cord’ necklace to wear it around your neck but I took some 550 cord and some duct tape and made one for my Sawyer-Mini. FYI.

        OK…I’m done!

    • Rob,
      Perhaps you would work on a longer article, or a series and Daisy would publish them as a guest contributor?

  • If you are using a farecium rod or fire steel a knife with a 90 degree edge on the spine works every time make sure it’s good and flat with a sharp corner

  • Daisy, you do good and helpful work. This was useful. And thanks for your many other messages as well. Great job!

  • Daisy, MRE’s with self-heating tabs are better than Freeze Dried foods in that situation–though I agree completely with your trail mix recommendation. Back in the day when I was winter mountaineering and ski touring in the Colorado back country I munched on trail mix (basically M&M’s, peanuts, cashews and raisins) all day long. I figure I consumed about 12,000 calories per day and still lost weight (an average of 12 pounds on a 5-6 day trip.

  • Has anybody tried Candle Rope? It’s a rope that burns like a candle. I tested a piece in a glass of water for two months and it lit up right away. I just cut a few three inch lengths and stick them in the ground, surround them with a few rocks and you can boil water very easily. It says it burns for five minutes an inch and it does with a good strong flame. It looks like a normal piece of rope but it’s stiff and bendable and can attach to anything. No smoke or smell. Best of all, you can put them out in seconds without a trace of where you’ve been. Also, keep the burnt tips, they become the best charcloth to spark your next fire.

    • Debra, that sounds interesting. Can you please supply a link to somewhere we might see and get some candle rope? Thanks.

      • Debra

        Here again, Where To Find Candle Rope,

        My husband is a bit of a jerk sometimes and a fanatic when it comes to prepping and thinks he knows it all. I’m sure he’s spent thousands of dollars over the years on prepping stuff. When I asked him where he got it, he didn’t want to tell me and asked me why I want to know. He says he needs every advantage he can get and doesn’t want anyone to know. Well he finally told me to look up ,they have some videos on youtube under candle rope or fire jack as well. It is really cool stuff for sure, he had a piece sitting in water by the sink for months and I was curious to see if it would light up and it did. He once made a fire under the snow in the backyard, I don’t mean he hollowed out a space under the snow. He put some wood together and placed some rope under it and then covered the wood with snow and lit the rope from the surface. It took a while because it burns so slow but it burnt a hole through the snow down to the wood and after a while you could see the snow glowing brighter and brighter. It was strange to see the flames coming up through the snow. Hope this helps, I don’t care what he thinks, I think we should all share good ideas with one another.

        • To me, this candle rope sounds very similar to cotton sash (curtain) cord that is dipped in melted paraffin wax until saturated. We cut this into lengths that flt the old plastic film canisters for fire starters. The burn length is approximately the same as described above, which is why I thought this.

          This is only about an 1/8″ in diameter, and would take a long time to heat even a small container of liquid so maybe the cordage in question is thicker ? Rope does come in various sizes …

          Sorry for very late information – I hope this helps someone.

  • I have a thing for compasses. I have three of them, to include a USGI NSN one. The down side with the USGI one is it does not have a adjustment for declination. You have to know the declination and apply that for your area prior to going out in the field. My other two, a Suunto and a Silva have that feature. IF the recent reports about the earth magnetic poles shifting about are accurate, declination adjustment might be even more important.

    I have two basic flint and striker fire starters and then a Blast Match, dang! Lots of sparks. Of course any flint and steel is only as good as the tinder you have on hand. I know a number of people will make their own tinder. Everything from spent wax from candles (unscented) mixed with dryer lint in cardboard egg carton containers, to cotton balls rolled in petroleum jelly. One thing I have found useful is after you put out a fire, collect some of the cooled coals as augments to your tinder.

    I have to agree with one of the previous posts said about fixed knives: Kukris and Tomahawks do better than the tacti-cool knives. I have a KaBAR Becker BK-4 Machax (discontinued, unfortunately). The thing is great. And, one thing I notice a lot of knife makers skimp out on, is the sheath. Comfortable, easily accessible, and comes with a secondary pocket that can hold a small slim knife and a small folder, or a whet stone. One thing I do like about KaBAR knives, I can use the butt end as a hammer if needed and a rock is not handy.
    I mentioned whet stone. Yeah, a knife is only as good as the edge. I have a few whet stones, the best ones I have found are the ones you can use with water vs oil.

    Like Daisy I tried one of those folder camp stoves, once. Not so much.

    I like Platypus Gravity filter. Your clean bag is your water bladder. I swapped out for the big zip bladder. Easier to clean when back in the rear.
    A company called NDUR used to make a canteen with a filter inside that filtered out a lot of viruses, bacteria, and some heavy metals. They did have a NBC filter too, but as I understand it, they sold the filtration division off for military contracts only.

    Dry sacks. I put my spare socks and underware and anything else I dont want to get wet in a dry sack.

    • 1stMar…
      You are very correct about the declination adjustment(s) on compasses. Using my G.I. and knowing my declination is just common usage to me, thanks for bringing up that point. Land Nav is a lost art and a diminishing skill. Use it or lose it!

      I didn’t mention a fixed blade knife, but should have… I like the KaBar’s. Tried and tested to military standards for over 79 years. I have several, from WWII to the 80’s and 90’s. I carry a US made sterile SOG SAR that I picked up in 1983ish(?) for $60usd
      As far as custom knives go… They are beautiful and useful pieces of art and great tools but if I lose my $400+ knife…I’m going to be very mad at myself. There are great knives out there for $100-$150 tops. (Non-Import) Buck, Ontario, KaBar, Gerber, CRKT, TOPS knives, etc.

      I too have a Platypus Gravity (2 to be exact) and it works very well, forgot to mention that as it’s in my large ruck and not my BOB patrol pack.

      You brought several good points. Thanks

  • If you had coffee or tea, you could try soaking them in the used grounds/leaves with some hot water for a while, maybe at night after dinner. They would have time to dry before morning. No more mime hands…

    • I found some black and gray ones. Nice and light. But going to stick with my leather ones. I expect saving my hands and feet from injury will go a long way in my survival rate.

  • I love it when folks actually use their stuff. I carry 2 freeze dried in my pack but the majority is eat on the go. THE freeze dried are good when you hunker down in a storm, being self sufficient while doing tornado cleanup or SAR.
    My sig line is

    Knowledge is Power, Practiced Knowledge is Strength,Tested Knowledge is Confidence

    This training of yours exemplifies this.

  • I don’t know what sort of camp stoves you tried.

    For years I used an Optimus 8R (no longer made) and now I have its brother the Svea Mountaineer. Both stoves are a little finicky to start, somewhat noisy in use, run best on camp stove fuel (e.g. Coleman fuel, Benzine in Europe) but have a reputation for reliability.

    I haven’t tried any of the canister stoves yet. Ive been turned off by the canisters. I also hear they don’t take cold weather well.

    For back up, I bought a wood burning stove like this designed to burn twigs. There are several similar ones, I don’t know which is best. Though I haven’t taken it out camping yet, I tried it in the back yard. It has two settings—on and off. On is hot enough that I burned things when I tried frying. Be sure to have a good pile of twigs before cooking—it goes through a pile of twigs pretty quickly. Its secondary air inlet means that it gives off only a little smoke (I saw a person who was trying to hide get caught because the smoke from his fire betrayed him). The pan still gets sooty.

    I don’t know if it’s worth its weight on the trail, but it certainly works for the bug-in situation: a wide-mouth 16 oz thermos really cuts simmering times. Many foods (not beans, unfortunately) can be brought to a boil, then poured into a thermos to finish cooking over a few hours. I suspect beans would also work, if ground to a bean flour first.

    Those 99¢ lighters are worth they weight in gold for starting fires and stoves. I use them.

    A good pair of work gloves can also be used to break up twigs so they can be fed into a wood-burning stove like listed above.

    I won’t repeat the good information given by Daisy and Rucksack Bob.

    • Richard, AMEN! to the 99 cent lighters. Beware of the grill size butane lighters. We had them plus a couple BIC pocket lighters in our Get Home bags. In checking the gear annually we never had a BIC fail. But the failure rate of the grill size lighters was poor; totally unacceptable for this purpose. The larger lighters also loss pressure in the cold. Pocket BICS will be pre-heated.

  • Hi Daisy, I like reading your stories. A couple of years ago I tried the freeze dried food and realized I needed something better than salty pasta. I decided to make my own freeze dried meals. I bought small single serving Mylar bags with a reclosable zip lock top. They are flat on the bottom so you can stand them up while using. I bought minute rice ,freeze dried chicken ,dehydrated peas and carrots and dried chicken broth. After a little experimenting I came up with an easy recipe to mix it all together in the bag and then added a plastic spoon. I made half of the meals with instant potatoes instead of rice. Next was to heat seal the tops of the Mylar bags . When ready to use the bags can be torn open add a cup of boiling water then reseal with the zip lock, shake and wait 10 or 15 minutes to eat. They make a very good and filling meal with virtually no cooking and very light weight to pack and carry. My son takes them camping and said they were 100% better than anything that they bought! Several retailers sell the bags and freeze dried foods. They were very easy to make and should last forever . Thanks again for what you do, Mike

  • I have a Vargo hexagon titanium wood stove. Weighs almost nothing and works well. I have the titanium converter also but I don’t like carrying fuel.

    I carry a monocular when I don’t have a firearm with magnifying optic on it. Way lighter than binoculars and take up less space.

    While I carry a multitool all the time, usually a Wingman or a Rev, a good fixed blade knife you can abuse is a good idea. I have several Bear Grylls ultimate survival knives. They work well for what they are but the different models aren’t all created equal.

  • For cheap fire starter buy strike anywhere matches, aquire plastic straws. Get wax parafin or bees wax and some toilet paper. Wrap 2 matches around shaft with toilet paper so heads are clear and they barely fit into straw . Cut off straw after end of matches then dip both ends of matches in wax to seal. Cheap and effective..

    I use a solo stove for years now cookware and stove in one all stainless steel.

    Moved to a portable berkey enough said.

    As for light depends on your situation remember sometimes you need to get someone to investigate..

    I carry chemicals in pill bottles if ever in need of crazy fire I have nano aluminum with nano iron oxide.

    For knife and axe all hand made by us Damascus steel from crane cable 1/4 thick induction case hardened. The axe is a mix between bearded and tomahawk with a hammer end on other side. You can chop through 12 gauge wire fencing and repair in a few swipes of a file.

    For a pack sharpener we use a work sharp.

    Food our go bags are mainly food bars. Only hot is drinks two canned products (corned beef and ham) . Vacuum packed forever jerry and peanut butter with 80 percent chocolate chips in it and dried fruit…. looks crappy tastes good. We set about 8000 calories per person per day bag set for 5 days.

    • After reading Daisy’s BOB book newly purchased, I am giving my BOB a makeover/do-over. My goal is to lighten as much as possible but still have enough to support me even beyond the three day ideal. First thing to go is the pack itself — an REI day model with the rubber/plastic sealant deteriorating after 10 years. Weigh too heavy with all the bells and whistles, pockets with zippers, etc. when things are already in their own kits. Haven’t quite figured out what to replace it with yet. But I’m thinking a single sack with a draw string and hobo type straps in muted green rather than blue — need a “gray” woman look. The reason to lighten is to be able to carry GORP type stuff which is heavy! Jerky, packets of comfort soup, quick oatmeal, fruit leather, GORP and tea. Only need hot water and if I can’t do that, there’s still plenty to eat. I agree. GORP is highly sustaining.

      The leatherman is very heavy. I would appreciate any suggestions for a sturdy but lighter weight alternative but not too expensive.
      Since first putting together my BOB ten years ago, things have changed in my aging body. I won’t be able to carry so much anymore.

  • Please tell me that it wasn’t a Kelly Kettle that failed you! You know, those stainless steel kettles that you can boil water in. I bought one and have been counting on it. I guess that I need to do some role playing!!

  • I’ve spent alot of time camping hiking and backpacking. The only 2 stoves that I’ll use are Esbit stoves, with esbit fuel tabs and not those surplus fuel tabs, and sterno stoves. Neither really produces a strong odor when lit; although the esbit tabs do stink if you are close by.
    Generally speaking 1 esbit fuel tab will boil one USGI canteen cup of water.
    Insofar as freeze dried food mountain house is the only way to go. I’ve never found it to be particularly aromatic though even when cooked. Although it is tasty especially when you’re hungry out in the woods lol.
    Good article!

  • I use a BIOLITE stove. It is a tad heavier, but well worth it. It burns twigs and pine cones, produces virtually no smoke, can be picked up and moved without gloves, generates a lot of cooking heat, and generates electricity to charge your devices.

  • From the time I was 14 until I was 30 I spent most of my time with a ruck on my back. I spent much of my summers and many of the winters of my youth in the back country. Camp stove YES! NOTHING on earth sucks more than trying to heat anything with wet , damp, or no wood. You wind up eating cold food or none at all. Back country raw can kill you. Any compass is better than no compass. The button compass was meant to be hidden in your clothing to be used in an escape attempt, if captured by the “enemy”. If you are not a spy, use a full size compass. Freeze dry’s are light and you can use them as the base for a home made “LRRP” type ration. You can carry six days worth of food in the space /weight of ONE days worth of cans. Those are your only real choices in a rucksack. Cotton dollar store gloves are useless in the cold or if they get wet. Folding Binoculars. I have a great track record of breaking them. Flashlights are great, but like campfires they tell the whole world exactly where you are. Batteries are needed to use them. Batteries cost food in your carry. I am from a part of the world that has been the victim of heavy radioactive contamination since WW2 (Appalachia. It has some of the largest radioactive dump sights in the world) I consider “filter straws” a “last resort”. As not only is the water sometimes radioactive, but strip mining has rendered many rivers , streams and lakes toxic. To the point that we are warned not to eat wild fish in much of the Appalachian highlands. Filter : Boil: Then treat. And then only if you know that the ground water is safe to drink, or even to bath in.

  • Your article was one of the most helpful texts that I have read in Prepping. Thank you for telling us what worked and what did not work. Please write more articles like this one and tell us about other items.

  • Hi! My workaround for the dried meals is to heat the water to boiling, then put the food into an insulated bottle. It cooks just as well without wasting time and fuel.

    • I do recommend the wide mouth bottles, as they are easier to fill and eat out of and can be pack inside when travelling but not cooking to conserve space.

  • I agree with Sean in the previous comment–a thermos will cut the cooking time for freeze dried food immensely, and you can get lunch cooking over the breakfast fire. You only need the fire long enough to get plenty of water boiling. Preheat the thermos if you have the water and time. Make sure you don’t have a glass lined thermos as they break easily.

    I also concur about Solo Stoves. My son and I have used them camping and they worked plenty well on some fairly extravagant meals. Because they are hollow, you can pack some things inside of them. I use them on long distance motorcycle trips, too, where space is really at a premium. Go a size larger than recommended for the number of people. The weight increase is negligible, but the easy of feeding the larger ones is significant.

    • The trick with those twig stoves is to put th twigs in VERTICALLY in the “swedish fire” method leave a center area open for lighting and smaller tinder , your twigs should be around finger to thumb thickness 3/8″ to 1/2″ dia, and as long as the stove area below the pot stand is Raised, keep the base of the stove above the ground on rocks etc. for improved airflow. you can also use a pocket Bellows to add air too. I have used this with quite a few stoves and got really good results . Firebox stoves has a tutorial on their web site. Rucksack Rob has very good advice ( benefit of US military Recon school and SERE training) I have used mountain house freeze dried for long duration hikes the trick is to rehydrate in the bag with half the amount of cold water for cooking , in the winter you can seal the zip lock part of the bag and keep inside your jacket to prevent freezing , when getting ready to eat add additional boiling water let sit for about 10 min. before eating. you can also do this on the go after adding the boiling water. Every one in a while the website “The Epicenter ” has RECON RATIONS ” that are over stocks from military contracts , they are freez dried meals produced by mountain house for military use and have more calories thabn the civilian meal versions. with intelligent choices you can get a very effective EVAC or patrol kit with a weight below 30 lbs with a weeks supply of food. I am a fan of the Heavy cover Titanium Canteen mess kit and the carrier made by centerline systems. another company is TO Go systems for lightweight sleeping gear. There are many choices out there . another reference is Bushcraft USA website highly recommended.

  • Great article, and awesome comments! Very helpful!
    I have a button compass in my pack which I will now replace. I have about 20 cheap lighters, but I think I will pick up more. Love the thermos ideas for cooking without wasting time or fuel. Thanks everyone!

  • We live not where you all are. Read what we can and learn them anyway. Been testing these cheapo stuff and choose which can be use. Yes, i do use the not-so-expensive bits n bobs from this place. Apart from lighters, knives, headlights (with red light), some are really useless but others excel though. But they needed to be tried and proven before I really need to use it then. And English isn’t my first language either. Thanks a lot anyway to all great comments and Org Prpr for this site. Learnt and hope… hope not to forget when that thing fly up everywhere.

  • Daisy, this is a pretty good article–though I do wish you had named the products that worked well and those that didn’t. I’m old and a bit over the hill now but in my youth I did a lot of long distance solo backpacking trips. I wouldn’t be so quick to discard a camp stove. I had one that ran on white gas and later on one that ran on butane cylinders. I camped above timberline many times and those little stoves were priceless as there was no good fuel around. They were also useful when I was below timberline in rainy, snowy weather and finding dry fuel was hard. The propane stove was quieter and usually better, but the white gas stove boiled water faster above timberline.

    I used a firesteel and struck great masses of sparks with my carbon steel hunting knife. Vaseline soaked cotton balls and dryer lint worked well as tinder. I also had a butane lighter as a backup. I’ve since upgraded my firesteel to a Gobspark Armageddon firesteel and it puts out even more and hotter sparks than my old one did. I sometimes use it to start my propane grill when I’m cooking in the backyard.

    I always used a Silva Navigator compass and the only time it gave me problems was when I was near mountains that contained a lot of iron ore and magnetite. Testing your gear before you have to depend upon it is simply common sense, and not so common wisdom.

    I carried a full size set of Zeiss 7×35 binoculars and they were worth the weight. They usually travelled, hung from around my neck and were great for wildlife watching.

    I confess to taking a few freeze dried meals along but my mainstay was Gorp (a homemade mix of M&M’s, peanuts, cashews, raisins and sometimes banana and apple chips). During winter mountaineering expeditions Gorp allowed me to consume 6,000-12,000 calories per day while losing weight. I’d often drop 12-15 pounds on a 5-6 day trip, but that weight loss would stabilize at around 20 pounds on the longer trips.

    Back then I didn’t have the luxury of a Sawyer mini, a Survivor Filter (which I use now) or a LifeStraw and I would have been willing to kill for them. Instead I had to use chlorine bleach or boil the water, which really was a PITA. I like the Survivor Filter because you can fill a water bottle in a stream then screw it onto the filter and drink standing up, instead of belly down beside the stream.

    I always took gloves, spare socks and a good hat. I carried a small container of baby powder and some moleskin in case of blisters. If you take care of your feet they’ll get you back home. I used a bright white cream called Glacier cream to head off sunburn when traveling at high altitudes and I always had good sunglasses.

    I mostly used a lightweight nylon poncho as a “tent” or windbreak for shelter though I’ve also used plastic “tube” tents.

    I had an aluminum mess kit but your idea of an oval shaped pot is far better. I also had what was then called a Sierra Cup–basically a bi-metal, wire handled cup that allowed you to boil water in it without the handle getting too hot to hold (though leather gloves were a plus) or the rim scalding your lips.

    I also carried a lightweight rod and reel for those high country beaver ponds full of cutthroat trout. In winter I’d set out snares for snowshoe hares.

    I never used a headlamp but always had a small maglite flashlight. Now, I carry solar rechargeable flashlights and a headlamp–but you couldn’t use them if you were trying to evade or stay hidden from others. Of course then you likely wouldn’t be building a cook fire either.

    All of the advice from Rucksack Bob is golden.

  • Love this article!!! So helpful for real survival situations. Going to raise my stash of gloves and put binoculars in everyone’s stocking! Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Keep them coming.

  • When it comes to striking a fire, for a Ferrocerium Rod, a sharp angle is needed to scrape the rod and create a spark, which is why knives with a rounded spine won’t work. So avoid a rounded spine when buying a knife (fixed or folder).
    There’s talk about how some grades of stainless steel won’t strike a spark, but this is only true with real Flint, not with Ferrocerium. Real Flint requires high carbon steel because the steel is what the Flint scrapes off to create a spark. With Ferrocerium, it’s the material scraped off to create a spark. You can even use a piece of glass to strike a spark from Ferrocerium. It’s all about having a 90 degree edge to scrape the material off.

  • Dont forget good shoes. I keep my hag in the car in case SHFT happens when I’m gone and I dont want to be wearing high heels! Also, I read escaping Jews survived better if they had good shoes.

  • I find that many affordable items do work fine, however with many of them (like cheaper lighters, compasses, knives, emergency tents, etc, there is a higher chance of getting a “dud” or defective one. Some companies are aware of this when they mass produce items and will stand behind them but obviously that doesn’t help when you are in a pinch. The best bet is if you can afford really reliable gear, get 2! In case one fails. (of course, this is not applicable to all situations.)

  • One thing that is nice to add to any bag for camping, bugging out etc., is a plastic frisbee. They are light to carry, you can play catch if you have some down time, but we actually used them as plates. The curved up edges help keep your food on your “plate” since you are usually either standing or sitting on an uneven surface.

  • re: fire steels — there are good ones and bad ones on the market. Some of Walmart’s work just fine, but some of them are utter failures. The failures can’t generate a spark even after you scrape off the protective coating. You MUST test any supplier’s before you need to depend on them.

    Most knives do not have the sharp-cornered 90° grind on the blade’s spine, but it is easy to grind that down just a wee bit. I use a metal-cutting grinding wheel for just a few seconds to not only do that job on knives but also on other metals such as a 2-inch piece of hacksaw blade snapped off of one end. Both the spine and the snapped off broken end can easily be ground for this.

    Once you have that sharp-cornered 90° grind in place, it’s a good idea to test that metal for hardness to see if it will generate sparks on a tested fire steel. Most knives will pass that test but some metals (like a P-38 GI can opener will not — its metal is too soft). I like the hacksaw blade piece because it takes up so little space and weight, it’s easy to put the grind on it, that snapped-off end has a hole in it for a security line / string / whatever so you don’t lose it, AND that eliminates the need to put that sharp-edge grind on the spine of your pocket knife which could potentially cut a hole in your pocket — although that shouldn’t be a problem on a knife in a sheath.

    Finally, there are actually some useful how-to videos on YouTube on best ways to use a fire steel.

    Re: oval cook pots — that description fits the well-known Swedish Army Trangia alcohol burner equipped mess kit. Most of those are aluminum but there are also stainless steel models available at somewhat higher cost. Your money, your choice. What’s perhaps not widely known is that they can be turned upside down so that wood and similar bio-mass fuel can be used as well. Some people have been discouraged because the Trangia-labeled burners (as opposed to the Chinese knockoffs) come with engraved instructions on the burner lid to always wait until a burner has cooled down before refueling it with more alcohol — that’s to prevent a fire from streaking upward via your refilling fuel stream and surprising you in the worst way. The easy way to safely give you more burner time is to carry a second Trangia so you can light it just before the first burner goes out. Using a pair of tongs that fit the burner well enough, you can quickly switch the dying (but still hot) burner for the full and freshly lit burner in a few seconds — and not have to grit your teeth over any cooldown time in the middle of your recipe. You can do that as many times as your recipe requires — safely and reliably, despite the absence of that safety warning on the knockoff alcohol burners from China and elsewhere.


  • As well as testing your gear, you should test your knowledge. then reconsider the amount of gear you carry.
    The biggest thing I notice in the replies, is about all this gear.
    But what happens to you if it gets lost, damaged or just wears out?

    SHTF could last for a decade or more and I am sure that most of that gear won’t last half that time. Water filters wear out, as do lighters, batteries, propane runs out, things break, etc.

    All this is nice to make life easier, but can you really survive, without it?
    What would you use instead? If your go to product, tool etc. fails, do you have an alternative?
    Or do you end up just like one of the unprepared masses?
    And if you do, then we really need to be sharing those Ideas.

    Consider this carefully, your life and that of your friends or family, may depend upon it!

  • Backpacking is great practice. Camping too. I like a small leakproof bottle of some kind of cooking oil. More calories for the weight. Instant potatoes, gravy mix, meat pouches or Vienna sausage. A good knife. Mora. Garbage bag 55 gal. Bandana. Alcohol stove. Tin can to melt snow heat water. 1st aid. And yes Sawyer lightest water filter

  • Since this discussion is about what works or doesn’t while on the move on foot, it does rule out a lot of the space and weight gadgetry that bugging in or traveling by vehicle allows. A Sun Oven is way too big and heavy for example, but a take-apart folding Copenhagen style solar panel cooker has often traveled around the world as its inventor brags about. Dirt cheap DIY design examples are demoed on YouTube. You do need a small flat-black cooking pot (which you can create with some high-temp barbeque flat black paint) and a folding trivet for that to work the most efficiently.

    Or you could just carry a page-sized Fresnel lens (from the Dollar Store) which does a great job of starting a cooking fire as long as the sun is up. And unlike the fire steel which eventually gets used up, you don’t have that problem with a Fresnel lens. Or to make your equipment last, use the Fresnel lens when possible and save the fire steel for overcast days or nighttime.

    There are also some excellent demo videos on YouTube showing different ways to make feather sticks for fire starting — even when all the wood you can find seems heavily rained on. (The Boy Scouts used the term “fuzz stick” as well.) There is a learning curve in selecting the right wood that works the best, and how to cut those shavings. A first timer with no instruction would likely fail.

    There was a story a few years back about a family in Russia that fled Stalin’s purges in the 1930s. They took what they could carry and vanished into the wilderness of Siberia. They were so far deep and away from civilization that World War II came and went without their knowing about it. The reason for mentioning their survival story is that eventually a lot of their gear rusted away. That story suggests some careful gear selection if a long term bug-out is in the planning.


    • -Lewis,
      Great idea about the Fresnel lens.
      Not sure if my magnifying glass on my compasses would work?
      But I do have a few screw on magnifiers for my camera (for serious close up work). I will give it a try the next sunny day.
      Thanx for the idea!

  • I think the best question anyone can ask is:
    Could you do the same things,(start a fire, purify water, find food, etc) without any of these gadgets?
    If the answer is No, you have some learning to do.
    If it is Yes, congradulations, you might just survive SHTF.

    We rely far to much on what gadgets we carry with us, edc kits, bug out bags, etc. Chances are, at some point during SHTF you will lose it or it will be taken from you, by theft or by force.
    What will you do then?
    I am not advocating for doing without these thimg entirely,(a lighter is a nice luxury to have, when trying to quickly start a fire), but to have the skills to do so in an emergency.

  • A Full Page Magnifier (Plastic Magnifying Sheet Fresnel Lens) from the Dollar Store is cheap, virtually weightless and takes up almost no space. With a little sun, these will get wood smoking away in a matter of seconds. Use a tyvek envelope to store them in to prevent dirt and scratches.

  • Everyone links their examples to Amazon but I use a VPN on my computer for privacy (look it up if you don’t know what it is) and Amazon blocks me because of the VPN. On-line privacy is important like SHTF survival is when we need it. Apparently Amazon is against privacy.

  • Don’t take advice from inexperience people. Many bushcrafters use twig stove. Some person that goes on a course with a new twig stove is not experienced. You need to learn how to use a tool before you can discount it.

    Also, the person who wanted a knife for her firesteel was uneducated. She didn’t know what to look for when she bought the knife, and perhaps such a person had a cheap firesteel and likely didn’t even know to scrap the coating off first.

    Folks, don’t listen to inexperience people who tried something once and then said it was junk.

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