Having the right survival tools is an important part of survival. One of the major things that make mankind stand out from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to create and use those tools. Ever since the first caveman picked up a stick to hit his obnoxious neighbor, we’ve been finding ways of using the materials around us to do things that we can’t do with our bodies alone. As time has gone on, the number, variety and complexity of those tools has increased exponentially.
Forty-some years ago, when I got my start in survival, we didn’t have the vast array of gadgets and tools that are available to the survivalists and preppers of today. Rather, we had to make do with what we could find, whether in the supermarket or the hardware store. Many of these tools are still worth using today, either because they are more cost effective or work better than the newest and hottest survival gadgets.
#1. Folding Pruning Saw
The only “survival saw” we had back then was the wire saw. If you looked hard enough, you could find a three-stranded one, which meant that if one strand broke, you could still cut. But wire saws have never been very efficient tools. The newer chain saws are much better.
But long before the handheld chain saws came along, I found a fantastic solution. That’s a folding pruning saw. It’s made for cutting wood, fairly compact and lightweight, and with the blade folded closed, it’s safe to carry. And using a folding pruning saw will give you a much more accurate cut than you can ever expect to get out of a chain saw. If you’re making something and not just cutting off a branch to use as a ridge pole, that could be important.
#2. Wasp Spray
I travel into Mexico regularly, where I’m not allowed to carry a firearm. So I have to make do with other weapons. I carry a knife and even have a cane sword, but both of those are limited to my arm’s reach. For something with greater range, I keep a can of wasp spray in my car. That will shoot about 20 feet, and is just about as effective as pepper spray at incapacitating an assailant.
#3. Can Opener
Yes, the humble can opener is one of the greatest survival tools of all time. I’m not talking about the electric can opener that some people have hanging under one of their kitchen cabinets; I’m talking about the old-fashioned hand crank kind. With all that canned food you’ve got stashed away in your food stockpile, you’d better make sure you’ve got a couple of these on hand as well.
Back in the days of military C-rations, the Army issued the P-38 can opener. This compact can opener was essential if you were going to make use of those C-rats. Fortunately, they had a hole in them, so you could hang it on your dog tag chain or put it on your key ring. I’ve been carrying one there since basic training, 40 years ago.
The machete has never gotten the credit it deserves here in the United States. We prefer other tools. But if you want something you can use to cut wood, clear a path and a host of other useful things, the machete is it. Besides, it makes a fearsome weapon in close quarters. A good machete should be part of everyone’s bug out bag.
#5. Plastic Tubing
Gasoline is useful for many things, not just keeping our cars running. In a post-disaster world, we will need it for lawn mowers, chain saws and other power tools. It also makes a great fire starter, especially when trying to start a fire with wet wood.
With gas stations shut down, few people are going to be able to get their hands on much gasoline, making it a valuable commodity. But there will probably be lots of cars sitting around with gas in the tanks. All it takes is a piece of flexible vinyl tubing, small enough to get through the “unleaded only” hole in the filler neck and you can siphon that gas out of the tank.
#6. Pry Bar
Speaking of scavenging; gasoline isn’t the only thing you’re going to be wanting to scavenge at that time. If there are abandoned buildings around, people will be breaking in, trying to scavenge anything they can to survive. But you’ll need something you can use to get in; like a big pry bar.
Let me mention here that the difference between looting and scavenging is that looting is about getting things you want, while scavenging is about getting things you need to have in order to survive. Always make sure that you only scavenge from abandoned buildings, as stealing from someone’s home could end up resulting in them dying from not having what you have taken.
#7. Sanitary Napkins
First-aid is an important part of survival, especially first-aid for major wounds. This can mean soaking up a lot of blood quickly, which is exactly what sanitary napkins were invented for. They make great bandages, in addition to being useful for their original purpose.
#8. 0000 Steel Wool
Speaking of starting fires, one of my favorite fire starting tricks involves the use of steel wool. But not just any steel wool will work. You need the finest of the fine, 0000 steel wool. This can be purchased in the paint department of your local home improvement center, where it is used for fine finishing of varnished and lacquered wood.
To use the steel wool as a fire starter, break off a chunk and expand the fibers, making it look kind of like cobwebs. Then take it and brush it across both poles of a 9 volt battery. The spark this causes will start the steel wool burning.
#9. Duct Tape
Speaking of things you can find in the hardware store, make sure you have a goodly supply of duct tape on hand. This can be used for a myriad of repairs, including getting more miles out of a tire. I remember once when I was traveling and had a trailer tire that was wearing through the nylon belts (this was pre-steel belted tires). I was able to make it 50 miles to the next town by adding layers of duct tape over the bad spot on the tire.
#10. Zip Ties
Zip ties are the electrician’s version of duct tape. Sometimes referred to as “wire ties” these are designed for bundling wires together. However, they are an excellent way of tying just about anything together that you need to. I’ve build lean-tos and other shelters in the wild, using nothing but zip ties to hold the pieces together. Just make sure you stock a variety of sizes, as different sizes are useful for different things.
#11. Dental Floss
Dental floss is another highly useful material, that we can use for a lot of different purposes. One of the best uses of dental floss in a survival situation is for fishing line. But it can also be used in first-aid, and for a number of different places where you need cordage. Just as I used zip ties to build a shelter, you could use dental floss as well. It is tough, and the waxed type is waterproof. It even comes with a cutter, as part of the package.
Dental floss can also be useful for making snares. Most snares need a tripwire of some sort and dental floss works well for that. But it can also be used to tie the pieces together. Being smaller than paracord, it works better for tying small sticks together.
#12. Guitar Strings
Speaking of snares, one of the best materials for making snares is metal guitar strings. They already have a small loop at one end, allowing you to slip the loose end through that loop and make a larger loop. Thin and tough, they are highly resilient, allowing you to use them over and over again.
#13. Pencil Sharpener
Sometimes it can be hard to find tinder for a fire. But without tinder, many fire starting methods will leave you cold. This problem is even worse in wet weather, as many of the things we would normally use as tinder will be wet too. A simple pencil sharpener can solve this problem, allowing you to cut shavings from sticks.
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