Top Ten Non-Negotiable Survival Items

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

There’s tons of articles out there that will tell you giant lists of new toys and cool gizmos that you can put on Amazon wish-lists till your hearts content. Will you ever actually buy most of these? Probably not. Will half of them even work the way that they’re advertised, your guess is as good as mine. Rather than just list a whole bunch of “2021’s top 100 ultimate sweet survival items that you never knew you never needed” I’ll just keep this one to the must-haves.

After all, maybe you’re just getting into this stuff. Maybe COVID-19 finally made you come around to the idea of needing some survival items. Maybe there’s been a lot of flooding or fires in your area this year and you’d like to start building a simple kit. Hell, maybe your kid is about to go off to college and you want a quick basics list to put together to send them off in style and put your worries to rest. Well, mostly.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, let’s go over the top 10 things that you absolutely gotta have.


A knife is one of the bare bones essentials any kit needs. From starting fires, to putting together a quick shelter, to cutting car seatbelts, to even performing minor field surgery you’ll absolutely need a good quality fixed blade knife. Hell, I’ve even written an article on a great choice for a survival knife if you’re a first-time buyer.

Water Purification

Something that you might not think of right away is water purification. But remember, you’re 70% water and you can only go about 72 hours without water before you start becoming dehydrated to the point of death. Simple iodine tablets get the job done if space and weight are an issue or you could go all the way up to a hiker’s water filter. Even if you’re in the middle of a floodplain waiting for rescuers to get you off a roof, that would be a terrible time to play around with getting poisoned by filthy untreated water.

Wool Blanket

One of the things that every kit needs is a solid 100% (or as close as you can get it to that) wool blanket. Even if you’re out in the deserts of New Mexico those cold nights can spell trouble if you don’t have any other source of insulation. In a colder climate it’s absolutely essential. Many people who have died from sliding off the road into a ditch in the middle of winter at night could have most likely survived until daylight if they’d had a wool blanket in their car with them. Wool is one of natures best insulators and it’s the only material that retains 70% of its heat even when soaking wet.


This is a no-brainer. I have cheap gas station lighters in the pocket of all my coats. I have at least one in every bag. I have a couple kicking around in my truck. The ability to make fire is one of the things that sets us apart from the animals. With fire you can warm yourself up quickly, cook food, purify water, heat up a shelter, etc. Smoker or rabid anti-smoker. Carry a lighter.


Have you ever heard of the phrase, “two is one and one is none”? Well, now you have. This survival school adage means if something is life-saving and absolutely essential, Murphy’s Law dictates that you will lose it and be up the creek with no branches in sight to make a paddle out of. For all the reasons listed above as to why fire is so important, that’s why you want to make a fool-proof backup to your lighter with matches. Also, lighters sometimes run out of fuel. Sure you can still start a fire with an empty lighter, but having matches as a backup is still a great idea.


What happens if cell service goes out? The GPS systems that all of us have become so reliant upon can disappear in the blink of an eye and you’ll be left with your senses to get you where you need to go. If you have a general understanding of where you are, a compass can get you where you want to be. If you hav no idea where you are, a compass can get you moving in a consistent direction until you find someone or something that will assist you.

First Aid Supplies

This one is another no-brainer. If you drive a car you should have a first aid kit. So many people would be alive today if more people carried medical supplies with them daily. Especially certain items that mean the difference between life and death in so many situations like a tourniquet. No, not your belt or a torn shirt. A NAR CAT-T tourniquet. Get medical supplies, get some training on how to use them, and carry them with you wherever and whenever you can. Because if something goes sideways when you’re around YOU ARE the first responder.


Anyone who has had to fix a flat tire in the dark can attest to how important some illumination can be. That counts twice as much if you’re stuck in the woods in the dark. Being able to see where you are and what you’re doing allows you to stay safe and be productive. Personally, I prefer headlamps so I can focus on what I’m doing while still having both hands available. Also, most headlamps use AAA batteries which are much more common and much easier to throw in your kit as a side item.

Small Bowl or Camping Cup

If you’re stuck out somewhere for any period of time there’s plenty of things around you that you can eat almost always. There’s usually sources of fresh water too (hopefully you aren’t in the middle of the ocean). But how will you cook that food to make it safe? How will you purify water if you don’t have a filter or tablets? You can’t do it with your bare hands. Having a small steel or titanium camp cup or bowl is always a good idea.

550 Cord

Parachute cord or 550 cord has almost endless uses, it’s like the duct tape of the survival world. You can make snares, shelters, tie a tarp up to a rain shield, craft a bow drill for fire starting, repair boot laces, the possibilities might not be endless but are close enough. Having a hank of 100′ of this stuff (in your favorite color if you want) is what I call planning for success.

Now that you have your basic kit covered we can get into more complicated and spendy topics. Until next time.

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