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Ultimate Survival Gear List [Top 12 Prepper Items]

In this article we will cover the top 12 survival gear items that you should consider purchasing above all else – the essential survival gear for preppers.

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In our guide to prepping for beginners on emergency survival, we discuss all of the different aspects that you need to consider as you work towards emergency preparedness.

Having the best survival gear is only one aspect of being prepared for when SHTF, but it is an important one.

When you are ready to start building your gear collection, use each survival gear list as your buyer guide.

Many prepping gear guides will have you buying the latest, most expensive and fancy gadgets.

Our prepping gear guides, on the other hand, will steer you towards the must have survival gear to help you and your family be prepared with the survival essentials.

We also help you take into consideration the unique circumstances of your life and how those will impact your gear buying decisions.

In every section of the gear guides you will find our recommendations on what are, in our opinion, the best survival items to buy.

Start small, and build your collection of essential survival gear little by little and remember: never go into debt to purchase your emergency gear.

In a hurry? If you just want to get to our conclusions, here are our top picks and recommendations!

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Top 12 Survival Gear List

In this article we will cover the top 12 survival gear items that you should consider purchasing above all else – the essential survival gear.

They are things you’ll want for any Bug Out Bag, Get Home Bag, home stockpile, emergency shelter and any other space in which you are prepping.

Consider this list of ultimate survival gear as a prepper’s roadmap to emergency preparedness.

After you’ve read this, we highly recommend delving deeper into each survival gear kit sections to pick the right piece of gear for your needs.

Survival Backpack

A bug out bag with survival gear
If you're serious about survival if an emergency occurs, then you need to have a Bug Out Bag prepared and ready to go.

Your survival backpack is arguably the first and most important piece of gear you can buy. As soon as SHTF, you may be forced out of your four walls and this piece of gear will become your new home.

In it, you have to fit every piece of gear we detail below plus more: so choosing the right size and style is imperative.

No one backpack is the “ultimate” survival backpack, there are many different ones out there with different uses.

Many preppers even own multiple backpacks for a range of scenarios, and keep one at home, in their car or on them at all times.

Our Top Pick would be either the RUSH24 or RUSH72. RUSH are an incredibly well-known and trusted brand, and they come sturdy, with extra MOLLE webbing and compartmentalized for your convenience.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

For more information on the Best Survival Backpack, read our dedicated review. We also have specialized articles for backpacks with more niche functions, such as the Bug Out Bag and Get Home Bag.


Survival Knife

A bushcraft survival knife on a tree stump

A survival knife will get you out of a surprising number of tricky spots. We recommend a sturdy fixed blade knife as opposed to a switchblade, for a number of reasons. Cut wood, craft a shelter, open cans… the list in almost endless.

The construction material and method of the handle and the blade – and where the two are joined – is also hugely important.

You don’t want to cheap out on your survival knife, trust us. You’ll be cursing yourself later down the line if you do; much better to spend the money now and consider it an investment in your future survival.

As a top pick, you can’t go wrong with the KA-BAR Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

For our reasoning plus other options, read our comprehensive review of the best survival knives below.


Colorful best paracord for survival in the form of bracelets

Paracord is one of those items you had probably never heard of before your prepping days began; now you are questioning how you ever lived life without it!

Short for ‘parachute chord’, it is the ultimate strong and versatile line for all of your hauling, dragging, hoisting and fixing needs.

There are several considerations when buying paracord, and it is important to know what to look for to choose genuine Milspec paracord as opposed to cheap knock-offs which are coming on to the market.

For survival, the UST Paratinder is probably your best bet.

It is not the strongest cord out there, but it will still be good enough for the average person’s heavy load, and it contains an ingenious inner string of waxed jute to be used as tinder for lighting fires.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

For our comprehensive guide to paracord, check out our dedicated article.

Personalized First Aid Kit

First aid survival pack with severe use marks
The next level of the first aid kit is the survival pack.

It is surprising how many people overlook the First Aid Kit when prepping. So much time is given to the gear that keeps you out of trouble.

But medical gear is arguably more important as it can be the difference between instant survival or death.

It is impossible to plan for every eventuality, but there are some essential items which need to be in every First Aid Kit.

It is also important to personalize your kit, making sure you have any medication or gear that you yourself are more likely to need.

Even things like mild asthma or allergies can become fatal in a stressful and unfamiliar setting.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Make sure you have all of the items listed in our Survival First Aid Kit Checklist.

Layerable Clothing

Display of multiple cold weather survival clothes, gear and accesories

This isn’t a “survival item” as such, but having warm and layerable clothing is essential. For people unfamiliar with the great outdoors, exposure can be a killer once night falls.

Being wet and/or cold is not the way to survive, and it is hard to come across insulation in the wilderness unless you know how.

Choose some lightweight, woolen base layers and a rain jacket or poncho as a minimum. These will give your body the best chance of retaining essential body heat and fighting off the cold or worse: hypothermia.

The good news is that most people have base layer clothing at home, and it can be picked up second-hand or cheaply.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Note: Survival shelters go hand-in-hand with layerable clothing as they, too, help to minimize exposure.

However, we’ve decided not to add shelters into this list as they can easily be built from natural materials, therefore aren’t quite as “essential” as the other items on this list.

For tips on building the ultimate survival shelter, read our guide: How to Build a Shelter in the Wilderness

Freeze Dried Backpacker Meals

Freeze-dried meals are a popular item among the outdoor adventurists. They are also hugely useful in survival scenarios!

Lightweight, nutritious and simply “just add water”. They also have a long shelf life: up to 30 years in some cases.

They can be thrown in a backpack and you have peace of mind, knowing that you have easy, calorie-rich meals for at least a few days.

Often referred to as ‘Meals Ready to Eat’ or MREs, you can buy them as stand-alone meals or in bulk. Many preppers will have weeks worth of food in freeze-dried form.

Mountain House make a range of ready-to-go meals, quality assured and with a shelf life of up to 25 years.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

For more freeze-dried meal options and other essential food items for survival, read our survival foods article.

Water Bottle

Person filling a water bottle from a creek

Disposable plastic water bottles just aren’t good enough (not just for the environment!), and there are actually a good number of considerations which may surprise you.

You need to balance size, weight, durability, utility… plus a few more.

The best options are usually centered round a lightweight hard plastic bottle, or an insulating stainless steel type.

Both have their uses, but at the end of the day it is a personal choice. These won’t be the most expensive things you buy for your survival gear setup, so perhaps experiment with both.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Water Filter

Filtering or purifying water is one of the most important survival skills there is. There are many ways to tap into nature’s water sources, but they will be of little use if the water will then make you sick!

There are multiple ways to purify water, and it is worth having a few of these under your sleeve so that you are prepared in every scenario.

The easiest way to instantly purify water, however, is with a filter.

We recommend the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System, as it is lightweight, simple to use and long-lasting.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Rechargeable Headlamp

Headlamps are essential for a range of circumstances, from power outages to wilderness and urban survival scenarios.

It is important to be able to light your way in the dark or at night, as you don’t want to have to rely on daylight alone.

Rechargeable headlamps are preferable to battery-powered ones, but it is always worth packing one of each (plus spare batteries!) just in case.

A red light is an important feature of the headlamp, as bright white light will ruin your night-vision and possibly give you away to others in the area, marking you as a target.

Our Top Pick is the Foxelli USB rechargeable headlamp. It is inexpensive, very bright and has all the features you’ll need.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Building a fire is one skill to have to learn – lighting it is another!

While there are several methods you can use to start fires purely from natural materials, these can be tricky to master and take up a lot of time. They can also be ineffective if the wood is wet or there is a strong wind.

Firestarters these days are so relatively small and lightweight that it is madness to consider packing a survival bag without them.

They are a clever combination of metals which produce a hot spark when struck in the same way – perfect for lighting your kindling or tinder, and much more effective than rubbing sticks together.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Local Topographical Map and Compass

Man consulting a map and compass in the wilderness

The ability to navigate your local area without relying on a smartphone or GPS is absolutely invaluable.

There are many scenarios in which technology will be rendered useless, and you must turn back to the old-style navigational skills which humankind is slowly forgetting.

As soon as you can, get a topographical map of your local area and start planning out escape routes, camping spots and water sources.

A compass goes hand-in-hand with your map, and although you don’t need to spend a huge amount on a handheld compass – you do want to make sure that it is well-made and won’t “stick” or drift over time.

We love the Suunto M-3 NH Compass. It is expertly made with the highest-grade materials, and is specially calibrated for the northern hemisphere.

Remember: PRACTICE with your compass once you buy it!

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Personal Self Defense Items

Can of pepper spray
Pepper spray is a great non-lethal self defense option.

Personal self-defense is a little hard to generalize as it is, as the name might suggest, highly personal.

Not everyone will feel comfortable with a firearm or wielding a knife; and you can actually end up really hurting yourself if you try to use one of these without having the proper skills.

Pepper spray is a great investment for anyone and everyone building up their survival gear. A single spray bottle can usually fire up to 35 times and will cause enough discomfort to your attacker for you to get a few moments head-start.

We recommend the SABRE Advanced Compact Pepper Spray for its reputable name and small size. It is a great item to give to children, too, just make sure you teach them how and when to use it!

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Survival Gear FAQs

What is the most important survival item?

It is incredibly difficult to narrow it down to just one item, and my answer may surprise you.

I would have to say that proper clothing and/or shelter is actually the most essential thing.

The human body can survive without food and water for a few days – and this can eventually be foraged for – but exposure is often the number one killer in wilderness or natural disaster scenarios.

Most people aren’t used to having to conserve their body heat, and it is alarming how quickly hypothermia can set in.

So, layer up everyone! (Note: If you live in a hot climate then heat exhaustion is the ‘exposure’ to prevent against.)

How much should I spend on survival gear?

The biggest rule is to not bankrupt yourself when prepping!

Although some sort of SHTF scenario is almost inevitable within your lifetime, we have no idea what it will look like and you don’t want to spend all your money and worsen your current quality of life.

Have a read of our in-depth articles and learn where it is essential to spend money on quality, and where you can save money with some simple tricks and hacks.

Which survival gear should I buy first?

The backpack – unquestionably!

This will be the housing for all other gear you buy, so it should guide your survival gear hunting as you go.

You don’t want to end up with a load of fancy equipment and nowhere to put it, or to start lashing too much onto the exterior of your backpack. This will quickly become tiresome and inefficient.

Buy a backpack, have a look at what it offers and start purchasing gear accordingly.

Ultimate Survival Gear List - Final Thoughts

We’ve come to the end of our essential survival gear list, but remember that these are just the bare bones to get you started.

Explore each article in-depth to help you make a well-informed purchase, and start building up your ultimate survival gear stash right away.

Prepping is as much about trialing and testing gear as it is about purchasing it in the first place.

Please never rely on your gear to work straight out-of-the-box; always practice using it in a range of scenarios so that you can work it with your eyes closed if needs be.

Finally, check what you already have at home and don’t be tempted into buying new gear just for the sake of it.

A prepper’s life can quickly become expensive, and it is important to utilize as much as what you have already.

Have a perfectly good rain jacket with a few holes in? Just patch them up and spray with more waterproof coating.

Headlamp not turning on? Take it a part and see if you can clean up any of the wires and connectors to make it work again.

This attitude of “mend and make do” is essential to your survival and will serve you much better than a lot of gear in a SHTF scenario.

Good luck, and if you have any questions or comments then get in touch!

This wraps up our Ultimate Survival Gear List. You will no doubt come across other items you want to include as you start prepping, but this list is the essential starter pack for everyone.

This article is one of many in our “Survival Gear List" series. Check out the drop-down menu or head straight to our next article: Bug Out Bag List.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
Telson Survival

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