Every prepper and survivalist needs good gear to help ensure their survival during an emergency. Unfortunately, a lot of the gear marketed for survival should be avoided like the plague because of its poor quality.
Some of the survival items that you should avoid are:
- Hollow handle survival knives
- Cheap folding shovels
- Generic “Swiss-style” knives
- Cheap multitools
- Wire saws
- Button compasses
- Pocket survival kits
- Hybrid ferrocerium rods
The items listed above tend to be poorly constructed and not work like they should. Below I’ll go over the problems with those items and give you some suitable alternatives that should fit your needs much better.
Hollow Handle Survival Knives
The first piece of gear that you should avoid is hollow-handles survival knives. These were made popular during the ‘80’s thanks to the Rambo movies.
Knives such as these have large blades with a saw blade spine. The handle, as the name suggests, is hollow to accommodate various survival items, like a fishing kit.
The idea of having a big knife that can chop and saw is very appealing. The fact that it could also hold a survival kit makes it seem even better. In fact, I bought one of these as one of my first knife purchases when I was a kid.
However, even being a dumb kid, I learned very quickly about the limitations of this type of knife.
First, the blade on mine wasn’t made of the best steel. It was difficult to sharpen and didn’t hold an edge well. In addition, the saw blade spine was virtually worthless. It barely even cut into wood.
The biggest problem, however, involves how the blade is fixed to the handle. Mine, along with other similar knives, has a screw or bolt that secures the blade.
This attachment method makes the blade very susceptible to loosening or even snapping clean off. It only took a few minutes of light chopping before the blade started to come loose.
If you are looking for a larger survival knife that you can use for chopping, consider the Ka-Bar Becker BK-9 which you can find by clicking here. It has a full-tang design, meaning that it is one solid piece of steel that the handles simply attach to. There are no weak spots on the blade that could cause it to separate.
Cheap Folding Shovels
The next piece of gear that you should avoid is cheap folding shovels. These are modeled after military tri-fold shovels but lack their quality.
Most generic folding shovels have many construction problems. The steel that they are made of is often too thin to hold up to any sustained use. The rivets and other hardware used in these shovels are often flimsy as well. This makes it more likely that they will fall apart during use.
Related: Build a Complete Prepper Tool Kit
The fit and finish on most of the ones that I have seen are pretty terrible. The shovel’s head is usually floppy and the tightening rings are made of low-quality materials.
All of this put together makes a top that is unreliable and frustrating to use. If you want a folding shovel, stick to the real deal.
The best folding shovel that I have found is the genuine U.S. Military trifold-shovel. The one I have was produced in either the ’70s or ’80s but shows no sign of failing.
The materials used in its construction are strong and up to the task. When unfolded, the shovel is strong and rigid. You can find a genuine U.S. Military issue tri-fold shovel by clicking here.
Generic “Swiss-style” Knives
The next piece of survival gear that you should avoid is generic “Swiss-style” knives. They have many of the same tools as the real ones but don’t have any of the quality.
Real Swiss Army Knives were produced by two companies, Victorinox and Wenger. Wenger has since been absorbed by Victorinox but their knives can still be found second-hand.
Related: Best Swiss Army Knives for EDC
There are many things that set real Swiss knives apart from their generic “counterparts”. The first is the steel used. Victorinox uses a proprietary blend of steel that is strong, easy to sharpen, and very corrosion-resistant.
The steel used in most generic “Swiss-style” knives is the metallic version of mystery meat. You don’t know what’s in it but you know it isn’t good. It bends easily and can be impossible to sharpen to a good edge.
The next thing that makes real Swiss Army Knives so much better is their construction. They, like Swiss watches, are precision-engineered and assembled. The tools click into place with a loud snap and have very little or no wobble when deployed.
Related: Victorinox SwissChamp Review
The fake ones have a much softer snap when they lock in place. The tools also wobble like a toddler with an inner ear infection on a slippery tile floor.
If you want a Swiss-style knife pay a little extra money and get the real thing. You can get a basic one for around $20 and many of the popular EDC models sell for around $30-$40 on average.
The next piece of survival gear that you should avoid is cheap multitools. They have many of the same issues as generic “Swiss-style” knives and some additional problems.
Like other cheap knives, the steel used in them leaves a lot to be desired. This results in dull blades and flimsy tools. The biggest issue, though, is when you try to use the pliers.
Using pliers involves quite a bit of force. Cheap multitools tend to flex excessively because of the cheaper materials used in their construction. I have even seen the plier handles fail completely on a keychain multitool. I was only using moderate pressure when that occurred.
When picking a multitool get one by a good company. The best ones are made by Leatherman and Victorinox. Other companies, such as SOG and Gerber make decent multitools as well.
Related: Victorinox Swisstool Review
The next piece of survival gear that you should avoid is wire saws, also known as commando saws or cable saws. They consist of a length of metal wire with a ring at each end.
These types of saws are meant to provide a compact and lightweight means of cutting wood.
There are some instances where this could be the only type of saw that you could fit in a particular kit. If you just have to get one, don’t cheap out. If you have to do a lot of cutting with it your best bet may be to use it and a flexible tree limb to create a field-expedient bowsaw.
A pocket chainsaw is a good alternative to these types of wire saws. As the same suggests, it is a length of chainsaw-style blades with handles on each end.
The one that I have has a sturdy chain and well-stitched handles. It is much stronger and easier to use than the smaller wire saws. You can find it by clicking here.
The next piece of survival gear that you should avoid is cheap button compasses. Many of these either don’t move at all or may point in the wrong direction.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t some good button compasses on the market. They are, however, fairly difficult to find in the midst of all the junk that is out there. Good button compasses are liquid-filled and produced by reputable compass manufacturers. Most of the others are merely toys to put in party favor bags at kids’ birthday parties.
The best button compass that I have found is the one included in the Victorinox SwissChamp SOS Kit. It is made by a Swiss company called Recta. The compass actually points North which is more than a lot of similar sized compasses can do. It is a little larger than other button compasses because it includes a built-in ruler.
One of the more popular button compasses is the Suunto Clipper. It is designed to clip onto watch bands so you can have your compass on your body at all times. It is liquid-filled and features a rotating bezel. You can find it by clicking here.
Pocket Survival Kits
Another piece of survival gear that you should avoid is pocket survival kits. The problem with most of these is that they contain cheap gear that is unlikely to hold up to any real use.
Pocket survival kits are usually filled with many of the items previously mentioned in this article. These include cheap button compasses, wire saws, knives, and multitools.
There are some pocket survival kits that are of good quality but don’t expect them to be cheap. ESEE, which is well-known for its knives, produces several survival kits packed with very good tools and other components. You can find one of their smaller kits by clicking here.
My recommendation for someone wanting a pocket survival kit is to make their own. This will allow you to pick the items that you are most likely to need. For example, a person who spends most of their time in a city or suburbs will need different items than someone who spends a lot of time in the backcountry.
Another advantage of building your own kit is that you can decide what brands you want to include in it. This is especially important when it comes to picking knives and tools. Everyone has their own preferences and it is best to have something that you are familiar with.
The next piece of survival gear that you should avoid is the spork. Many people may disagree with me on this one, but, in my opinion, very few inventions throughout human history are more useless.
A spork simply doesn’t do anything well. As a fork, it is hard to pick up pieces of food. On the other hand, as a spoon, it doesn’t hold very much.
I cannot recall having a good experience with a spork the entire time that I have been on this planet. Because of this, I prefer to have a dedicated spoon and a dedicated fork whenever I eat. If you are a minimalist and want to keep your gear lightweight, a titanium utensil set like this one would be a good choice.
Hybrid Ferrocerium Rods
The next piece of gear that you should avoid is hybrid ferro rods. These are commonly included in cheap survival kits or as add-ons to other gear. I got mine with my survival chainsaw.
My biggest problem with these is when you look at pictures, they look like they are fairly large-diameter ferrocerium rods. However, they are more similar to the magnesium block/Ferro rod combo fire starters.
They are constructed of a round bar of magnesium that has been painted black. A thin diameter ferro rod is glued into the side of it.
Like the magnesium block fire starters, you are only able to use one half of the ferro rod since the other half is glued into the side of the magnesium.
Another problem that I noticed with my hybrid fire starter is that the magnesium doesn’t ignite easily.
You are far better off by buying a simple ferrocerium rod. This one by Bayite is six inches long and half an inch wide. It should give you thousands of strikes and will be easy to hold onto. It is also reasonably priced and is usually available for around $10 or so.