I’ve heard some people talk about how their survival gear costs hundreds of dollars PER PIECE, easily making their gear total well into the thousands. But what do you do when you’re on a budget and still need survival gear?
When you don’t have that kind of money to spare, you shouldn’t feel any remorse about buying your survival gear on a budget!
If you’re just getting started with preparedness, bushcraft or survival, you don’t have to start off buying “the best equipment money can buy” — a conundrum in itself since there will always be argument over which [knife, bag, machete, tent, tarp, etc] is “the best”.
The fact is, until you have learned how to properly use the equipment, it would actually be better to start with something that costs less money, yet still has some decent quality characteristics.
Budget Preparedness Doesn’t Have to Mean Bad Quality
For those of us on a budget (and yes, I am very much on a budget), it is much easier for us to get low cost items, anyway. Just remember that “cheaper in price” does not have to mean “cheaper in quality”. Be sure your budget survival gear isn’t going to break on you in the first 5 minutes of use.
Once you have a good, solid foundation of knowledge on how to actually use the equipment efficiently, you can step up to the next level of gear and spend a little more money — even if it means saving up to buy each piece.
The items in this article will range between $1 and $25. Your budget may be higher or lower than mine, so I want to make sure I cover a few possibilities for you.
Bushcraft and Survival Gear on a Budget
Knife – under $20
You want a knife that will do a variety of tasks like cutting cordage, processing firewood, and skinning animals. You also want to find something that’s made of a high carbon steel so you can use the spine of the blade to throw sparks from a piece of flint or some other chert rock.
Recommendation: Mora Companion – Morakniv makes a great knife for under $20 that the vast majority of the bushcraft community absolutely loves. The blade is made of 1095 high carbon steel, and the sheath is a kydex plastic that retains the knife fairly well. Unlike most sheaths on the market, this one doesn’t have a loop, but rather a clip, so you don’t have to take your belt off just to remove the knife and sheath — just unclip it from the belt.
Axe – under $15
If you’re going to be doing some heavy duty shelter building out of natural materials in the woods, you’ll want a good axe. Axes are not only good for felling small trees, but for processing firewood, pounding stakes into the ground, and — with a little finesse and a sharp edge — rough wood carving tasks.
Most of the lower-cost axes don’t come with a sheath or “mask”, but my friend Todd has a great article about how to make your own custom leather axe mask.
Recommendation: TEKTON 3240 1-1/4 lb. Felling Axe – Lots of my axe-junky friends say there’s nothing like swinging a 1-1/4 lb. axe, so this one should be near perfect! You’ll need to work the edge a bit with a sharpening file (under $10) every so often, but if you’re using the axe on a regular basis, that’s to be expected. The good thing about this axe is that the handle is wooden — which means if it ever needs to be replaced, you can do that on your own with little to no trouble.
Folding Saw – under $20
If you’re planning on being out in the woods for more than a day or two, you’ll most likely be processing a lot of firewood — especially if you’re camping in cold weather. A folding saw will help buzz through wood with the quickness.
Recommendation: Corona RS 7265 Razor Tooth Folding Saw – Listed as a “pruning saw,” the Corona has a 10″ curved blade and tri-angled teeth to put you through some serious lumber with the quickness. While this saw is listed as a “budget item,” it’s actually one of my “must haves”. Check the honorable mention section below to find out why.
Honorable Mention: Bahco 396-LAP Laplander – I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the Laplander. Bahco makes a great product, and their 9″ folding saw is one of the most common folding saws you’ll hear about throughout the bushcraft community. However, after seeing this video comparing the Bacho, the Silky, the Corona 7″ and the Corona 10″, I decided the Corona was probably the way to go. Sorry, Bahco.
Cordage – under $10
When you’re talking about cordage, there are a couple of different preferences. Most preppers and survivalists keep paracord in their bug out bags in anticipation of a SHTF scenario. Paracord is good for a lot of different applications, and true 550 cord can be gutted and the inner strands used for other applications as well.
Another option for cordage would be bank line — twisted nylon twine that is coated in tar. #36 bank line is what you’ll hear talked about the most in the bushcraft community. It has a tensile strength of approximately 340lbs, and is usually about 486 feet per pound. (For more on bank line sizes and specs, check this chart on Brunsonnet’s website.) If you’re buying bank link in a retail store, smell it — if it doesn’t smell like tar, it’s not true “bank line”.
The third type of cordage you hear about a lot is jute twine. It’s a 3-ply twine that is made of biodegradable natural fibers. Just is often used in the garden because the soft, thick fibers that protects plants when used to stake them. Can be used for a multitude of tying tasks that only require light-duty cordage. Jute twine can also be used for a natural tinder material. You will find that most bushcrafters keep a few feet in their fire-starting kits. Pulling the fibers apart and fluffing them up will give you a nice bird’s next that will easily accept a spark.
Cotton Bandana / Shemagh – under $15
Cotton bandanas are good for a multitude of things when you’re in the woods from first aid to fire starting. Check my article on Survival Uses for Bandanas for lots of ideas.
You can get a 6 pack of 22″x22″ bandanas for about $6 on Amazon, but it’s best to try to find something that’s 36″x36″ (which is hard to find on Amazon). This is where the old “bigger is better” saying really rings true. The more material you have, the more you can do with it.
It is becoming increasingly more popular to see a shemagh (pronounced “shmog”) in someone’s bushcraft kit in recent years. If you’re looking for something a little bigger, this is where it’s at. These are the head coverings that you see the military using over in places like Afghanistan. They’re approximately 412×42″ and can be wrapped around your head and neck in a number of different configurations (as Dakotah Jennings shows in this video).
Combustion – under $10
Unless you have caveman-like proficiency with making fire the primitive way, it’s always good to have some sort of fire-making implement in your gear pack. In humid, damp, or downright wet conditions, it can be next to impossible to start a fire without some sort of assistance. Be sure to pack a little “fire helper” — even if you prefer to just “rub two sticks together”.
Lighters (under $8) – Of course, the first thing most folks think of when talking about fire is a lighter. You can get 6 mini Bic lighters or 5 full sized Bic lighters for under $8. If the fluid runs out of whatever size lighter you use, you can still use the mechanism to throw sparks into a tinder bundle or char cloth.
Matches (under $7) – If you’re going to go this route, I would recommend getting some waterproof matches. Most of these matches come in a waterproof container, but if the ones you get don’t have their own case, or if you make your own waterproof matches, or if you just decide to get regular old strike anywhere matches, you can get one of these UCO Match Cases that comes with 3 strikers.
Magnesium Bar (under $5) – Magnesium shavings catch a spark and ignite usually on the first strike. Most come with a striker and a ferrocerium rod attached, making them a totally self-contained fire-starting mechanism. Use the included striker to scrape up a pile of magnesium shavings off the bar. Then press the striker firmly against the attached ferro rod and slide it quickly to throw a spark into the pile of shavings. The spark will catch quickly, so be sure you have your tinder bundle and fire lay ready.
Ferrocerium Rod (under $10) – Did you know the “flint” in a lighter is just a tiny ferrocerium rod? Ferro rods are man-made from metallic materials that give off hot sparks at temperatures exceeding 3,000 °F when scraped with some form of high carbon steel. Some ferro rods come with its own striker (like this one from Schrade). Others may not, and that’s alright — as long as you have your knife handy, you can get a spark from the rod with the spine of your blade. If you want something a little fancier, you could grab one of these Ultimate Survival Technologies Spark Force Firestarters. It’s just a ferro rod and striker, but it’s contained in a little case, which might make it easier to carry in your pocket — and you’ll probably get less questions if someone happens to see it in public.
Candling Device – under $15
No, this doesn’t necessarily refer to an actual candle, but it certainly could. A candling device is anything that will emit light so you can see in the dark. Candling devices can be used to emit ambient light in your shelter, shine on your path as you walk, or mark stationary objects or locations so you can locate them at night.
Candles (under $10) – I know, I just said it doesn’t have to mean candles, but they definitely should be considered in the group. Not only will candles provide light, they’ll help you get your campfire started, too. You can get the emergency candles, tea light candles or even those tiny birthday candles. If you happen to have an aluminum can with you, you could even make yourself a soft drink can lantern with your candle!
Flashlight (under $5) – You can pick up a good flashlight like this Ultrafire Mini CREE Flashlight. The bulbs are LED, so even thought the flashlight is super small, it’s very bright (300 lumens)! The only downside to a flashlight is you have to carry spare batteries. You can get a pack of rechargeable AA batteries (under $10) for your mini flashlight and not have to worry about constantly buying batteries. Just charge them up when you’re not in the field, and you’ll always be ready! Like any regular flashlight, they do take batteries, but if you’re using rechargeable batteries, you can get one of these solar battery chargers and not have to worry about your batteries running down in the field.
Solar Lantern (under $15) – Another product I have is the MPOWERD Luci inflatable solar lantern. In my opinion, one of the coolest little toys in my bug out bag! You can leave a solar lantern in the sun all day and let the photocell charge. At night, it will light up a pretty good sized area for 6-8 hours straight. It would light up your entire tent or shelter area with no problem. (I wrote a review on the Luci lantern, so check out that article for full details.)
Cargo Tape – under $5
Strong tape is a great addition to your survival gear because it is so versatile. You can use tape to build shelters, repair equipment and clothing, weave together for cordage, and even shred for tinder material.
The old standby in the tape family is, of course, duct tape. You can get a 55 yard roll of the Duck brand duct tape for under $5 ($0.06/yd).
Some folks prefer Gorilla Tape saying it’s stronger, but it’s also much more expensive (this roll of Gorilla Tape is only 35 yards and is just under $9 (almost $0.25/yd)).
Other people rave over Gaffer’s tape (which is what they use in movies and television to hold down wires and stuff) because it doesn’t leave residue when removed. However, this Gaffer’s Tape is just over $12 for 55 yards ($0.22/yd).
You can make your own decisions on this, but if we’re talking about budget, my pick is definitely the duct tape.
Cover – under $15
Probably the most common type of cover we all carry as preppers are polyethylene rip-stop tarps. These brown tarps are pretty standard (just like the blue ones). You can get an 8X10 for under $5 which is perfectly fine for a shelter. If you’re looking for more space, a 12×16 is under $15 — still well in line with a “budget” kit.
If you’re looking for something a little different, this canvas drop cloth is another route to take. It’s a little heavier to carry than a poly-tarp, but it will last you a lot longer. The product description on Amazon says it “absorbs paint spills”, which means it’s not waterproof. You can follow this tutorial on Survival Sherpa and make the canvas tarp into an oilskin (or just make one from an old bed sheet like Todd does in the article).
Container – under $10
Aside from a knife, this is one of the best things to have with you in a survival situation, in my opinion. A container to collect and process water is an invaluable resource that, while one can be made, greatly increases your chance for survival in a SHTF situation.
Recommendation: 25 oz stainless steel water bottle – You could go aluminum here and save some weight, but it has always been my experience that aluminum makes your water taste like… well, aluminum! Stainless has never given me that problem. You might be able to find something in the dollar store to include in your kit, just make sure you get something single-walled. That is, something that doesn’t have an inner and outer casing with insulation sandwiched between. These are not ideal for processing water in a fire — they will bust and possibly even explode.
Compass – under $10
Everybody knows the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. You can usually find your way just by knowing that, unless there’s a thick canopy of trees overhead… and if it’s night time, you’re even more out of luck. Even if you can find the North Star, you might end up headed in the wrong direction.
A decent compass will help you find your way every time (as long as you know how to use a compass). This is one of those tools you really need to practice with over and over in ideal conditions so you know how to use it properly.
Recommendation: Military prismatic sighting compass with pouch – These are pretty much the exact ones we used when I was in Army basic training. This one is small, lightweight, and comes with a lanyard and waterproof carrying pouch.
Canvas Needle – under $10
When you’re in the field, things happen, right? Bags get snagged on branches and rip, tents get torn, and clothing sometimes gets shredded in the bush. Make sure you always have at least one sewing needle with you for just such occasions.
Lots of people carry multiple upholstery, carpet, leather, or canvas needles, and you can use some of your cordage as thread in a pinch. But why not just carry an actual sewing kit?
Recommendation: McNett Tactical Emergency Survival Sewing Repair Kit – Not only does this little kit have everything you need (buttons, thread, seam ripper, needles, straight pins, safety pins, and even a thimble), it’s also made in the USA — a definite bonus in my book!
Putting Together a Budget Survival Kit
If you got the basics of what I have recommended here, you’d spend around $130 — not bad for a full kit! Add in an “el cheapo” backpack like this one for under $11, and you’re carrying your full kit for under $150. Folks, it doesn’t get much simpler than that.
You can certainly check the dollar store, yard sales, and thrift stores for these items, and maybe get lucky and find what you need for next to nothing. Just be sure you inspect everything before you buy it and take it out into the field. Catastrophic failure of an item could be enough to ruin your outing.