All survival scenarios strike when people least expect them. Whether on a cruise vacation or taking a day hike through a scenic national park, you never know when a few basic survival tools can help get you through a bad situation.

Survival tools have come a long way over the years. They just keep getting smaller, lighter weight and more affordable. Real disasters happen to real people on a regular basis, and it’s just plain crazy to think something may never happen to you. Expect the best, but prepare for the worst by never leaving home without these five survival tools.

A cutting tool

A simple pocket knife has thousands of survival functions. From processing wild edibles and carving snares to cutting rope and self-defense, a cutting tool is an indispensable resource to someone with limited survival resources. I love my multifunctional Victorinox pocket knife. It’s great for everyday tasks but durable enough to take camping and hunting and is a perfect survival companion. It easily fits in a pocket, purse or briefcase and weighs virtually nothing.

Fire-starting tool

Fire offers an infinite number of life-saving uses to a survivor. Fire can boil and purify water. It can also be used to signal for rescue, with smoke during the day and flames at night. Fire can cook food and help make tools. It can also help regulate core body temperature. Humans can die in as few as 3 hours from exposure to the cold. Hypothermia is the No. 1 outdoor killer in the United States. The ability to start a fire in a sudden and unexpected survival scenario is absolutely critical.

Fire tools are lightweight, inexpensive and easy to use. A disposable lighter is an excellent resource. A metal fire striking rod (called a ferrocerium rod) is also a great fire starting tool that can cast sparks even in extreme cold and wet conditions, where butane lighters are limited. The best fire tinder on the planet can be made right at home for virtually nothing. Cotton balls mixed with petroleum jelly will burn upwards of 5-7 minutes each and will ignite with just one spark from a ferro rod.

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Light and compact shelter with 10 feet of parachute cord

Exposure to the elements is our greatest survival threat. Anything we can do to protect ourselves from the sun, cold, heat, rain or snow makes a huge difference in how long we can survive until rescue arrives. I suggest carrying a military style poncho with grommets in the corners or a lightweight emergency survival blanket (that when folded is about the size of a deck of cards). Both can be configured as shelter canopies to protect from the elements. They are also multifunctional and can be used as ground covers, ponchos, gear covers and even water-collection tarps. For the size and weight, you can’t beat either for a quickie shelter.

The 10 feet of paracord can be used as guy lines to set up a shelter. Paracord has 7 inner strands. Each strand has a tensile strength of more than 35 pounds. If you have 10 feet of paracord, then you actually have 80 feet of usable cordage. This is why you see so many people wearing paracord survival bracelets, which have become extremely popular in the past few years.


I’m a big fan of the mini LED lights. They’re cheap and can fit right on your keychain. They also last a long time and put off some great light. In a dark or low-light survival scenario, a flashlight can be a lifesaver. They can also be used as a nighttime rescue signal.

Straw-style water filter

Survival water straws are becoming very popular. They are ultra-compact filters that eliminate nearly all of the biological threats that are prevalent in U.S. natural water sources. There are many different brands to choose from. One of the smallest I’ve seen in the Aquamira Emergency Filter, which is not much larger than an ink pen. Humans can only live about 3 days without water so the ability to drink naturally sourced water is a huge advantage. Drinking unfiltered or untreated water can be a death sentence. An alternative to a straw filter could be a metal water container that you can boil in but it’s much more bulky for everyday carry.

A mini-kit of tools like these can easily be tucked into a purse, jacket pocket, backpack, briefcase or glove box. Belt loop camera cases also work perfectly to stow away mini tools like these. Keeping a few basic survival tools on our person wherever we go is just one way to prepare for the inevitable what ifs in life.

Remember, it’s not if, but when.

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