No bug out bag is complete, nor is any survivalist properly equipped, without a comprehensive assortment of tools. Being able to use tools helped our ancestors survive without claws, fur or hooves, and they are imperative for those trying to endure a survival situation.
But because tools are often heavy and bulky, you can’t pack your entire garage full of tools in your bug out bag. And even if you could, you’d never be able to carry it. Accordingly, you’ll need to be very selective about the tools you pack in your bug out bag.
Below, we’ll talk about some of the most valuable tools you’ll want to pack, as well as some general principles to keep in mind when picking out your tools.
Imperative Items: Tools You Will Always Want in Your Bug Out Bag
While the relative value of many tools is debatable, and different survivalists will generally elect to pack different items in their bag, a few tools are universally valuable. These should always be in your bug out bag regardless of your specific circumstances.
Fixed Blade Knife
A fixed-blade knife is one of the most important and useful tools you could have in any type of survival situation. Not only can you use a fixed-blade knife for obvious tasks like cutting cordage, cleaning game animals and carving wood; you can also use it for a variety of other purposes too.
For example, you can use a fixed-blade knife to bushwhack your way through tangled undergrowth, or you could use the handle to hammer in tent stakes or shelter supports. You can even dig a trench with a fixed-blade knife if need be or tie it to the end of a long pole to make a spear. And, of course, a fixed-blade knife is also well-suited for self-defense.
Survival-style knives can offer additional value, via the tools included in the handle, and some large fixed-blade knives feature can openers and other tools carved into the blade.
Just be sure to think carefully about your needs when selecting a fixed-blade knife. You don’t, for example, want to choose a knife that is bigger or heavy than your needs dictate, particularly if you also plan to pack a machete in your bag.
A few specific models that are deserving of consideration include:
A folding knife should also be considered standard equipment for all bug out bags. Folding knives are valuable as backups to your fixed-blade knives, and they are easier to use when performing intricate work than a big fixed-blade knife is. A locking blade is always nice, as they make the knife safer when performing repetitive work, but they are not absolutely essential.
Be sure to factor your choice of a fixed-blade knife into your folding-knife decision. For example, if you choose a very large fixed-blade knife, you’ll likely want to choose a folding knife that is a bit on the small side. Many survivalists will feel better by keeping two folding knives in their bug out bag for redundancy purposes. This way, you’ll always have a back up if something happens to your primary folding blade.
There are a number of excellent folding knives on the market, but the following are among the best:
It isn’t enough to have a knife; you need to have a sharp knife to give yourself the best chance at survival. Sharp blades not only function more efficiently than dull blades do, they are also safer to use as well. Accordingly, you’ll always want to pack a knife sharpener in your bug out bag.
Do your best to select the smallest sharpener or sharpening stone you can, as they are often relatively heavy items. Note that some sharpening stones must be used with a light oil, so be sure to pack some inside your pack if necessary.
A modern version of a Swiss Army Knife, multi-tools are incredibly important tools for survivalists. Likely the most valuable tools in your bag relative to their weight, multi-tools provide you with a variety of helpful tools, including things like screwdrivers, can openers, pliers, scissors and more. Additionally, most multi-tools include at least one knife blade, and some even have small saw blades.
The exact tools included vary from one product to the next, so be sure to shop carefully to get the most value for your dollar.
Choosing a multitool requires you to carefully consider your specific needs and desires, but the following models are all excellent choices:
You’ll need to dig for a variety of reasons while living in the wilderness and it is important to have the right tool for the job. For example, you may need to dig holes when making a shelter, burying hot coals or when making a latrine. And although you can dig trenches and small holes with your knife, you’ll have a much easier time doing so with a shovel.
Try to select a small, folding model if possible to save space and keep the weight of your pack down.
Duct tape can be used for thousands and thousands of purposes, and it is one of the most useful resources to have in a survival situation. Among other things, you can use duct tape to patch holes in a tent, sleeping bag or backpack; you can use it to make a drinking cup; and you can use it to help cover wounds. You can also use duct tape to fix a variety of things and you can even use it instead of cordage when making a shelter.
Note that while duct tape was long made in only one color, you can now find it in just about any color you like, from camouflage to blaze orange. Accordingly, you may want to pack two different colors in your bag – one that is a high visibility color and another that will blend it with the surroundings, such as black, grey or brown.
This way, you could use the high-visibility tape for marking trails or attracting rescuers, and you could use the earth-toned tape for fortifying your shelter or making repairs.
Super glue can be a lifesaver when you are trying to survive a difficult situation. It can be used for everything from first aid to shoe repair, and it weighs hardly anything. However, it is a good idea to pack some acetone (nail polish remover) in case you end up gluing your fingers to something.
Take care to pack your super glue inside a protective case or plastic bag to contain any mess that may occur if the tube breaks. This will prevent super glue from getting all over your gear.
There are a variety of different super-glue type products on the market, but most are roughly comparable. However, gel-like super glues are often easier to use than low-viscosity liquid versions are.
Zip ties are incredibly flexible and useful supplies, which can be helpful in a variety of circumstances. You can use them to bundle items together, connect things like structure supports or even to set up game traps. You can connect several zip ties together to bind large items, and they are very small and lightweight.
If possible, try to pack an assortment of different sizes and colors, to provide you with more flexibility. Some zip ties feature a screw collar at the end, which can provide additional value.
Safety pins are one of the best ways to repair clothing and other fabric-based gear, they make great impromptu fish hooks, and you can even use them to pick locks. They are also valuable for a variety of first-aid purposes, such as removing embedded splinters.
As with zip ties, it is a good idea to bring along safety pins of different sizes, to help prepare you for any circumstances that may arise. And because they are light, you needn’t be stingy when packing them in your bug out bag.
High-strength metal wire is one of the best things to use when making animal traps or snares, and it is also very useful for repairing things like backpacks. You can also use metal wire to hang things between trees (such as your food pack) or as a conductor for improvising electrical connections.
Note that you’ll need to bring along something that can be used to cut through the metal wire, such as wire cutters. You can occasionally bend wire back and forth repeatedly to weaken (and ultimately break) it, but this is time-consuming and is often difficult to do with any precision.
550 cord is an indispensable resource to have in your bag. It is very lightweight relative to its strength, and its relatively thin diameter means that it won’t take up much room in your bug out bag. You can use 550 cord (which is sometimes called paracord) for a never-ending list of applications, including shelter construction, repairs and trap making. You can even use it to make a cushioned handle on an improvised spear.
Minimally, you’ll want 100 feet of paracord in your pack, but if you’ve got the room and weight-capacity to spare, consider bringing as much as you can. One thousand yards would not be considered overkill by many survivalists.
Helpful Tools: Pick and Choose to Suit Your Needs
In a perfect world, you’d keep each of the following items in your bug out bag. However, the real world is rarely a perfect place, and you’ll only be using your bug out bag in the direst of circumstances. This means that you won’t be able to bring all of these items along, and you’ll need to pick and choose carefully to assemble the best toolkit for your needs.
Machete, Hatchet or Saw
Unless you pack a very large fixed-blade knife in your bug out bag, you’ll want to keep some type of large bladed tool with your gear, such as a machete, hatchet or saw. Each of these three tools excels in different applications, so some survivalists will consider adding more than one of these items to their bag, but because they are large and heavy, this isn’t always possible.
Machetes are most similar to a large knife, and they work in situations in which a very large knife would. For example, they are great for clearing trails as you walk or chopping through vegetation (you could even use them to cut down a small tree, given enough time).
Hatchets are even better at chopping through wood and vegetation, than machetes are, and they can also be used as a hammer or mallet. However, hatchets are quite heavy and of no use when bushwhacking. Saws are great for making precise cuts through wood or other materials, so they can help you make more elaborate shelters and accommodations, but they are useless for things like chopping or clearing brush. Folding survival-style saws are, however, very lightweight and small.
Just consider your needs and the other tools you are bringing and try to select the best bladed tool for your needs. A few of the best models of each type are listed below.
- Ka-Bar 2-1249-9 Kukri Machete
- CRKT Onion Halfchance Parang Machete
- Condor Tool and Knives Warlock Machete
In a true survival situation, you may find it necessary to break into abandoned dwellings or commercial buildings to obtain resources. In most of these situations, you’ll eventually run into a padlocked door. In such cases, a bolt cutter will prove invaluable.
And while padlocks will likely be one of the most common obstacles you face, you can use a bolt cutter to cut through a variety of different things. This includes sticks, vines and other types of vegetation, as well as small metal rods, chain, chain-link fence and, of course, bolts.
The problem with bolt cutters is that by their very nature they are heavy and bulky. This will make some preppers leave them out of their bug out bags, but they are certainly worth carrying if you can justify their weight and size.
A pair of pliers is always a wise tool to toss in your bug out bag, but some pliers are better than others. For example, some pliers feature a variety of different clamping surfaces, which allow you to use the tools for several different purposes.
For example, the best pliers not only provide a standard plier clamping surface but also a needle-nose tip for reaching hard-to-access items and a wire cutting blade, which can be used to cut through many different materials. Some also include surfaces that are perfect for gripping nuts and bolts, which further increases their value.
You’ll already have a couple of screwdrivers if you’ve packed a good multi-tool, but a good two-headed screwdriver (one with a Philips head on one end and a flat head on the other) doesn’t take up very much space and is much easier to use. It is also important to note that some mechanical devices require that you use two screwdrivers simultaneously when making adjustments or repairs.
Razor Blade Tool / Box Cutter
Some survivalists will consider a box cutter or similar, razor-blade equipped tool to be redundant, while others would never consider leaving them out of their bug out bag.
Because they don’t weigh very much, there’s probably limited downside to bringing them along, and there are few tools that cut as effortlessly or precisely as a razor blade, it’s a good idea to throw one in your bag. You can use a razor blade tool to skin animals, cut through anything from fishing line to leather, or shave body hair before applying bandages or tending wounds.
Just be sure to bring along a couple of extra blades to replace those that break or dull over time. Additionally, it is absolutely imperative that you use care when wielding a razor blade tool to avoid injuries. It only takes a small slip to cause a stitch-requiring wound. And because the local emergency room may not be open in a post-apocalyptic situation, you must avoid any serious injuries.
Water Faucet Wrench
In a SHTF scenario, you may encounter homes or buildings in which the water has been shut off. A water faucet wrench — a key-like tool that is often necessary to open and close the valves on water lines – could potentially save your life. Although this may seem like a remote possibility, water faucet wrenches are very small and light, so they don’t really pose much of a downside.
Similar to, but more flexible than vice grips, channel-lock pliers are helpful for repairing, maintaining or adjusting a variety of mechanical items. They also work well for removing hot pots and pans from the fire, or gripping things that you want to sterilize with hot coals or flames.
Channel-lock pliers are so helpful that some are inclined to pack multiple pairs in their get out bag. However, these types of pliers aren’t exactly light, so you’ll have to weigh this decision carefully based on the circumstances you’ll likely face.
A pry bar, crowbar or similar tool can be useful for a variety of things, from breaching doors to splitting open logs. You can also use them to help dig up or move large rocks, excavate small trenches or open up machinery or electrical panels.
There are a multitude of different pry bars on the market, and some are designed to excel in a variety of applications. However, it is important to avoid going overboard when choosing a pry bar for your bug out bag, as they are inherently heavy items.
Vinyl Patch Kit
While duct tape will enable you to repair a number of damaged items, a vinyl patch kit will allow for much more precise repairs. They are especially valuable for repairing bladder-style items, such as inflatable rafts, inflatable splints or air mattresses.
Vinyl repair kits rarely weigh much at all and they don’t take up very much space, so there is little downside to packing them in your toolkit.
The trickiest thing about packing tools into your bug out bag is deciding which things to leave out. It is easy to keep adding more and more tools until your bag becomes too heavy to haul, which will reduce your odds of surviving a SHTF situation. Just try to think through the most likely challenges and circumstances you’ll face if you need to grab your bag and head for the hills and try to bring the tools which will provide the most value to you.