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Best Survival Gear: Get Yourself Out of the Backcountry Safely

Be ready for anything with our favorite survival gear options.

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BYJonathon Klein/ LAST UPDATED ON June 3, 2022
Best Survival Gear: Get Yourself Out of the Backcountry Safely
Jonathon Klein

There’s a great line from “The Flash” TV show I’m reminded of when considering the best survival gear. Leonard Snart, aka Capt. Cold, is teaching Team Flash about how he hatches his super evil plans, telling those goody-two-shoes, “There are only four rules you need to remember: make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.” And that’s exactly how you should prepare for any survival situation. 

Now, for most drivers, the “plan going off the rails” portion likely involves yourself, your car, and some situation where you’ve found yourself outside the realm of the average commuter, something off-road such as attempting to pick up a pizza during a blizzard or driving to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, for fun. 

Car-centric survival is already better than most as it provides shelter and transportation. But you can always make it better. To ensure that you make it out of Snowmageddon or the next plague/zombie apocalypse, you need to build a survival kit that will have you ready for just about anything. 

What I’ve gathered below are items curated by myself (an avid off-roader and backcountry enthusiast), my friends over at Task & Purpose, and my team of nerdy car folks. We pulled together a comprehensive list of items that will assure your continued good health. 

You don’t need every item, though it would give you better odds at survival. I’ve separated the list into two categories. There’s the Essential, which will get you through fires, earthquakes, floods, or the Great Societal Collapse of 2025. And then there’s Optional gear, which will make life easier but isn’t necessary for your continued existence.

My blade of choice.

Essential

These are the items you shouldn’t leave home without. 

Knife

I can’t stress enough the need for a good pocket knife as part of your everyday carry. They’re multitools in their own right (fixing, cutting, and stabbing situations) and have saved my bacon more times than I can count, including when I nearly died in a car accident. You don’t have to buy some top-tier Benchmade, but you should always have a good-quality blade with you. Here are my favorites, along with a few options from our Task & Purpose brethren. 

Flares/Road Triangles

Flares can mean the difference between someone seeing you through fog, tree line, smoke, or a blizzard and being virtually invisible. When visibility is trash and you’re stuck, a flare can be a lifesaver. And although they’re not as effective, a road triangle can help other drivers see you when you’re stuck on the side of the road and need assistance. 

Kinetic Recovery Rope

While a winch can be a great addition to your truck, SUV, or UTV, it’s not always practical. A kinetic recovery rope, however, is relatively inexpensive and extremely useful as long as another motorist stops for your stuck vehicle. Without a strap of some kind, your pride and joy bug-out vehicle could be claimed by the mud bog you attempted to plow your way through. 

Jump-Starter

A dead battery means you’re dead in the water. A jump-starter means that even when there’s no one around, you can get your rig fired up and get back on your way. 

Here are a handful of our favorites:

Tire Plug Kit

Unless you ride around in a tank, your vehicle’s tires are how you get out of Dodge when things get hairy. A punctured tire, however, means you’re stuck in Dodge. A tire plug kit is an absolute essential and can often plug a handful of tires per kit. 

Blanket/Tarp

A heavy blanket or a tarp can be used for many things, including warmth for sleeping, a dry spot to work on the ground, and a way to set up shelter. They’re cheap and easy to store. 

Floor Jack

You could likely get away with your vehicle’s manufacturer-provided jack, but those aren’t as rugged as you might think. A floor jack offers better safety, more power, and easier operation than that twist-until-you’re-red-in-the-face jacks beneath your spare wheel. The only downside is that these are heavy and large, which takes up room for other essentials. 

Water/LifeStraw

Water is essential for life. Either carry a case of water or grab yourself a LifeStraw so that no matter where you are, you’ve got access to clean water. 

Electric Lighter/Fire Starter

Warmth and food are essential to life as well, so an electric fire starter (one that works even in the wettest conditions) or a fire starter can mean the difference between life and death. They’re small, easily stored and operated, and are inexpensive. 

Food

Food tends to spoil quickly, so you’re not going to want to store raw meat or fruit in your vehicle, but protein bars, jerky, or other non-perishable or long-lasting items are always good to have on hand. 

Multitool

Like a knife, a multitool is one of those things you should always have near, especially in a situation where you don’t have an entire tool set at your disposal. These handy essentials have nearly everything you’d need if you need to make a fast repair, remove shrapnel, or fashion a splint. 

Here are some of our favorites:

Flashlight

Your vehicle is full of darkened nooks and crannies, and the night is full of terrors. A flashlight, especially one that can be charged via your ride is going to be one of the most useful items you have in your survival gear load-out. 

Here are a handful of our favorites:

Zip Ties

Not just for drifters who want to look cool, zip ties are stupendous items. One’s still currently holding together a bumper I fixed ages ago and sold to someone new. They’re also easily stored, and you can get a couple of different sizes for more versatility.

First-Aid Kit with a Tourniquet

Things happen. And whether you’ve come into close contact with a bear or the undead, you’re going to have to stitch up that wound or stop the infectious bite from turning you into a mindless zombie. There are a handful of great first-aid kits available. I’m suggesting you get a pretty packed-out kit and one with a tourniquet since you will want one when you need one. 

Adjustable Wrench

Do you know how many bolts are on your vehicle? Exactly. Keep one close at hand. 

Small Socket Set

As with an adjustable wrench, a small socket set can be invaluable with roadside/backcountry repairs. They’re inexpensive and don’t require a lot of space to house, so it’s an easy thing to throw into your vehicle and go. 

Duct Tape

Red Green approves of this message and so will all your small repairs and needs that could be fixed with duct tape. Buy yourself a roll or two. 

The power of Thor.

Optional

These are things that are still very useful in a survival situation but aren’t necessary to your safety and survival. 

12- to 120-Volt Inverter

Your vehicle’s electrical system can power all manner of devices, including whatever electric tools you happen to have with you. They can also keep children’s devices powered while parents concentrate on getting to safety, fixing a flat, or mowing down a horde of alien invaders. 

Electric Impact/Charger

Changing a tire with a tire iron sucks. Get yourself an impact and a charger you can run off your vehicle’s 12-volt circuit. You’ll thank me later. 

Mask

Plagues tend to lend credence to why a mask is useful in a survival situation. And they can be critically important if you’re delivering first aid to someone. 

Ratchet Straps

Ratchet straps are useful in many ways. As with duct tape or zip ties, you can bodge together all manner of fixes. With ratchet straps, those fixes are likely much larger issues, such as a broken suspension. Handcuffs can also work in a pinch

Here are two great options:

Dry Bag

Not everything stays dry, but some things need to. A dry bag to store your important documents or gear can be handy to have around. 

Baby Wipes

Paper towels are great, but baby wipes are where it’s at when you need to clean messier things. Trust this dad of three. 

Recovery Shovel

I’ve been stuck before. I won’t be stuck again. 

Maxtrax

See above. 

Paracord

Paracord is a great addition to your load-out as it can be used for a variety of different applications, including putting together a splint, pulling things up into trees, setting traps, and more. I like a little heavier duty paracord, something in the 600-pound test range because it can be used for a wider range of tasks without fear of snapping. 

Ax

Getting through brush, chopping wood for a fire, or hacking off a zombie’s limb is possible with a good ax. And it worked for Gimli

Here are a few of our favorites:

Sunscreen

Sunstroke and sunburn are no joke and can literally kill you. 

Solar Charger

When the world’s power goes offline, you’re still gonna need to power some things, and that power is only going to come from the sun. It’s also great if you’re in the backcountry without access to any sort of power generation. 

Boots

Your Adidas NMDs aren’t going to keep your toes dry. They’re also terrible for getting you out of a mud bog. A good pair of boots will keep you out of the muck and able to repair your vehicle longer than a pair of Chucks will. 

Here are a handful of great recommendations from our friends at Task & Purpose.

Bit Driver

While a multitool can solve a number of problems, a bit driver can solve more. Having an assortment allows you to tackle whatever may come your way. They’re also inexpensive and small, which means storing them in your ride won’t be an issue. 

FAQs

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q. Am I going to die?

A. I mean, we all do. Entropy is the only universal constant. So, yes.

Q. I mean, am I going to die if I don’t have the above gear?

A. Oh, right. Maybe. Yeah, definitely maybe. 

Q. That’s not helpful.

A. Look, the wilderness/apocalpyse is a hostile work environment. And over the last few millenia, humans have become, for the most part, pretty squishy and easily killed. We’re no longer the hunter/gatherers we once were, instead swapping a spear for the Starbucks app.

What you really need to think about is if, in a survival situation, you have the things you’ll need to make it out in one piece. This gear will aid in your continued health and well-being and get you back into Starbucks land lickety-split. 

Q. That makes sense. Are you forgetting anything?

A. It’s very likely.

Q. What do people tend to forget when packing survival gear? 

A. Food and equipment that ensures your food is safe to eat, such as a lighter to cook food and boil water. Everyone thinks about knives and guns and attack helicopters, but everyone forgets to bring something to light a damn fire with. That and enough ammunition. 

Q. But you didn’t include any guns.

A. For what this piece is, one about surviving in the woods after you beach your side-by-side on a log after screaming “Watch this,” I didn’t think a gun was necessary.

Now, if this post was about surviving the forthcoming war between us and inhabitants of Rigel VII on March 23, 2028, then maybe you should get a few guns. But unless you have an M1 Abrahams and enough 120-mm rounds to fend off their clone ships, you’re S.O.L. 

Q. That was a very specific date.

A. You hear things on the dark web. 

Q. Thank you. You’ve been somewhat helpful.

A. I’ll take the praise. Good luck and remember: Rigellians have a fourth eye on the back of their necks. Come from the side, and they’ll never see you.

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