22 Essential Tools You Need To Live Off-Grid

If you have ever wanted to detach from the structures of society and live completely “free” from the tediousness of everyday life, you are not alone.

There is no shortage of romantic assumptions about the off-grid lifestyle. Sure, the work is difficult, but it is also considered “honest” and even “natural”. 

And while there are plenty of books and resources on the Internet that tell you how to “do” off-grid living, there isn’t a whole lot on how to “prepare”. The lifestyle requires plenty of tools — some orthodox, some not — and if you are serious, you will need to know what they are to succeed.

How to use this guide

For practical reasons, this guide has been broken down into four sections or ‘goals’: Harvesting, Health, Repair, and Everyday. Each section will detail and explain what you will need in order for you to achieve each of the specific ‘goals’. 

Before we dive in, it’s necessary to discern just what exactly a “tool” is. According to the Oxford dictionary definition, a tool is a device that is meant to be held in the hand, that we can use to carry out a function. So this rules out rain barrels and cisterns, for example — both are useful for collecting rainwater. But we can hardly refer to a cistern as a handheld device. 

‘Obvious’ tools are also excluded. Such as those that come standard with an ordinary toolbox. The point is, this guide is there to help you prepare with tools that might otherwise have slipped your mind. 

Tools for Harvesting

The word ‘harvesting’ can be applied liberally to mean extracting natural resources for consumption. This can be water, food, or wood for burning and other purposes. Outside of the toolbox, be sure to have the following:

  • Long-handle round-point shovel — this multipurpose tool is very handy for chopping wood and ice, and for digging anything from ditches, to footers, to septic systems, and laying the groundwork for your gardening work.
  • Cant hook — chopping down wood is one thing, moving it is another. Cant hooks are essentially long grabbing tools. With them, you can haul wood quicker and easier, saving your back in the process. 
  • Gardening tool set — growing an independent supply of food is notoriously tricky. It’s much more fun and practical to do it for a sense of accomplishment. That said, a simple gardening toolset will go a long way. A good one will have tools with ergonomic handles and should come with various trowels, a spray bottle, gloves, and pruning shears.
  • Rotary tiller — depending on the size of your garden, it might be best to invest in a rotary tiller to save the laborious handwork. Tillers rapidly ready soil and turn it into a viable seedbed for planting.
  • Buckets — another simple yet great multipurpose tool. With a bucket, you can store and transport tools, water, compost, and more.
  • Tarpaulin — anyone who’s read Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ will have an idea of the importance of tarpaulin. Use it as a shelter, blanket, dust-protector, a quick-drying barrier, and, if used intelligently, to collect rainwater. 

Tools for Health

An off-grid lifestyle puts us more in touch with nature. Unfortunately, that can also mean putting us in touch with more bacteria. In addition to a first aid kit — which generally just includes plasters and sterile dressings, you should have with you the following:

  • Antiseptics — an antiseptic slows the growth or infection rate of microorganisms in the area where it is applied. A good example might be to put antiseptics on your hands if you plan on doing some woodwork, to prevent the chances of infection if the skin is broken.
  • Soap — good old fashioned soap breaks down the membranes of viruses and washes bacteria clean off the hands. Wash your hands as regularly as possible with soap.
  • Tweezers — are ideal for removing small splinters and ingrown hairs. A simple, yet completely viable multipurpose health tool.

Good health doesn’t just revolve around disease prevention. If you are living off-grid, you are almost certainly doing a lot of manual labor. Over time, without the proper tools, this labor can damage the body. In that case, it is also important to have the following:

  • Safety glasses — never leave anything to chance with your eyes. It is best to get into the habit of using safety glasses in most instances.
  • Earmuffs — hammering, sawing, and using power tools, in general, may not seem deafening at first. But over time the accumulated noise pollution can take its toll on your ears. Like with safety glasses, wear earmuffs as regularly as possible.
  • Fire extinguisher — as the old saying goes, “it’s better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it”. An off-grid lifestyle will probably put you at a disadvantage if a fire suddenly breaks out. In that case, you will want something to quickly extinguish it. Just remember to choose the right type for the fire that will most likely occur.

Tools for Repair

A true test of independence is the ability to fix and resolve most problems with limited outside help. A lot of repair tools come naturally under ‘ordinary’ tools (i.e. hammer, screwdrivers) and include some wood procuring tools like a chainsaw (mentioned below, in the ‘Tools for Everyday’ section). 

There are too many tools and circumstances to list all of them here. Instead, here is a list of basic tools that everyone will need from time to time:

  • Carjack — flat tires not only can happen, but they will also happen. Given the implied remoteness of off-grid living, and that a car is likely to be your main method of transportation, it would be wise to have a car jack.
  • Duct tape — there are many different types of tape that you can buy. The highest quality is often waterproof, tear-resistant, and extremely durable. It is pretty much a certainty that you will have to resort to duct tape at some point.
  • Carpenter pencils — especially useful for marking cut lines on boards, posts, wood, and more. If you ever need to engage in a little DIY repair, carpenter pencils are more than handy.
  • Ropes — literally hold things together. A polypropylene rope is even better as they are very sturdy and durable. Ropes are one of the ultimate multipurpose tools.
  • Electric sander — a sander renders a lot of handiwork viable by removing splinters and smoothing out the edges. You can buy ‘mini’ sanders, which resemble clothing irons. They are especially useful for sanding small and hard to reach places. 

Tools for Everyday 

When the first English colonists visited America there was a massive failure because no one thought to bring along the necessary everyday tools for survival. These tools aren’t immediately obvious — in that at first they seem easy to overlook in favor of other tools and forgotten about.

Catch A Glimpse of Green Beret Outdoor Survival Ingenuity

But everyday tools (or a lack of them) can make or break your off-grid lifestyle. It is very important to consider them, and properly. A pair of walking boots might not seem crucial, for instance, but without them, your risk of injury is much greater.  

  • Chainsaw — for obvious reasons, these motor-powered beasts are great for clearing brush, trees, cutting firewood, and even for DIY purposes.
  • Work gloves — it is important to buy high-quality gloves and multiple gloves at that. Find a long-lasting, well insulated, and comfortable brand and save your hands from the misery of blisters and aches.
  • Walking boots — a good pair of walking boots will last ten years. The best ones are insulated, chemical and cold weather-resistant; slip-resistant, and steel-toed. If you are doing a lot of manual work, such as preparing and carrying wood, you will want steel toes for when a plank eventually falls on them.
  • Bicycle — bikes are so ingenious of a design that our descendants will likely be riding them about thousands of years into the future. They are easy to repair when they breakdown, green, and (for the same reason) never run out of petrol. A bicycle is an excellent form of relatively quick transportation.
  • Solar power — infinite, renewable, free energy from the Sun. Sounds alright, doesn’t it? Nowadays you can purchase mini-briefcase solar panels to power your batteries, solar backup chargers for mobile phones, and even solar-powered water heaters that can heat enough water for a conservative shower in about four hours. 

There you have it. A far from an exhaustive list, but an essential list outside of the orthodox. Living off-grid requires a “jack of all trades” kind of person and takes a lot of preparedness. The tools listed here will not address every problem, but they will come immeasurably handy as you adjust to the lifestyle. 

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If we ever do live to see the collapse of our modern civilisation then we can expect almost the entirety of our technological healthcare systems to vanish overnight — along with the peace of mind that it brings. With such a loss, even the most banal injuries, such as a simple cut to the arm, could potentially be fatal if an infection poisons the blood. A loss of access to the miracles of advanced medical treatments, such as antibiotics and surgery, will also likely coincide with a drop in the average life expectancy of the survivors — a drop of perhaps as much as a decade. Even if a large number of healthcare workers survive, their skills will be almost useless without the gear to implement them. And while it will be impossible to meaningfully talk about even a tiny bit of our current medical knowledge, what this article hopes to do is explain the fundamentals. So that if you are unlucky enough to live through the end of days, you will at least carry with you the basic principles that will be so essential in rebuilding all of our medical knowhow — and that will assist in the discovery of almost everything else from the ground up. Reinventing basic hygiene and sanitation Let us start with an easy one. At the end of the world, whether you are scrambling over the rubble of ruined cities or just trying to butcher and cook an animal for food, you are very likely to pick up an infection that could be lethal. To make sure this doesn’t happen, you will need an understanding of the basic hygiene practices that we so often take for granted. If there is one good thing to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, it is that we are more aware of how germs spread and the importance of good hygiene. Regular hand washing — as often as you can — and limiting how often you touch your face are both really important. Germs are everywhere. But in this new world you will have to take special care to avoid so-called ‘enteric’ illnesses that spread via faecal-oral transfer. Regular hand washing will help to break the cycle of how these bugs spread. One notorious example of an enteric disease that used to ravage older communities is cholera. (Which incidentally, if you do catch, can be cured by drinking a portion of clean water mixed with some salt and sugar.) Reinventing medical check-ups and examinations The lifesaving CT scans, X-rays and other procedures will be a thing of the past once civilization unravels, and so will much of the medical expertise that will be necessary to use them. But laying the foundation for the road to recovery is easier than you might think. For most of history, and even up to the early 1800s, doctors had no way of seeing inside the body. They could only rely on considering the external symptoms, or if the problem was internal, by pressing an ear up to the body and listening or by prodding about inquisitively with their fingers. One day a French doctor, René Laennec, was doing exactly this to a French woman. Feeling rather indecent and awkward, he devised a shockingly simple apparatus to make the process less intimate. He rolled up a piece of paper and placed his ear to that, instead of the woman’s body. What he found was, the paper-tube actually amplified the internal sounds in the body. Thus, the stethoscope was born. Technicalities aside, a makeshift stethoscope can be anything from rolled up paper to a hollow wooden tube. They are particularly good for listening out for irregular heartbeats, the cracklings and wheezing of diseased lungs, the health of unborn babies — even if the bowels are obstructed. Before the end of the Victorian period, the doctor’s most helpful instruments were the stethoscope, the thermometer and a set of inflatable cuffs to help gauge blood pressure. All three were used in tandem to help chart and reveal various types of specific illnesses. Until there has been a significant rebuilding of civilisation, the stethoscope will be your key tool for medical check-ups and diagnoses. X-ray technology unfortunately, will remain unreachable without some degree of laboratory sophistication. Reinventing modern medicine Almost all of the fancy drugs, pills and tablets we use today are synthetic and derived from real world, natural products. You might already be familiar with quinine, the anti-malarial substance found in cinchona tree bark. Willow bark is also effective for treating back pain and also to lower a fever. While tea tree oil is famous for its antiseptic properties and digitalin — a foxgloves extract — is even useful for bringing an irregular heartbeat under control. But of all the medicines to reinvent, painkillers are probably the most important. Although painkillers don’t actually treat the underlying causes of a problem, they are among the most commonly taken medicines in the world. Pain relief is also an essential prerequisite for surgery. Two natural extracts that offer some mild pain relief can be found in chilli pepper and in mint plants. Both work on opposite ends of the spectrum, with chili pepper masking pain with its illusory fiery burn, and with mint working to drastically cool an area of the body (a bit like how Tiger Balm works today). But the best painkiller is opium, the milky pink sap which oozes out from the flowering poppy. To harvest opium, take a knife and make some shallow slices in the plant’s swollen seed pods. Wait for the sap to pour out, and for it to dry into a black crust. Then scrape up the black crust — which contains morphine — and use it. This painkiller is so good that even today almost all painkillers are extracted from poppies. There is a danger with natural medicines, however, and that is a matter of dosage. After all, administering too much of a dose can sometimes be lethal. Unlike the carefully controlled concentrations in modern-day medicines, unfortunately the application of these natural medicines will have to be a trial and error process. Our technological civilisation had to wait for the late 1940s before it got this bit right, and you will also have to. But it will be a start. Reinventing surgical procedures Before you can even start thinking about surgery in a post-apocalyptic world, you will need your A game. Actually, three A games. That’s ‘anatomy’, ‘asepsis’ and ‘anaesthesia’. For ‘anatomy’, it is vital that you develop a comprehensive road map of the inner structures of the human body. This knowledge must include a sound understanding of the functions of each of the organs and what they look like, not to mention the paths of all the major blood vessels and nerves. Even if you manage to salvage some of the appropriate academic textbooks, it still might not be enough. Meaning if there is a body at hand, it will be for the benefit of future living persons if you practice on them. The second A, asepsis, refers to “the absence of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms”. It is the principle of stopping infectious agents from entering the body while the surgery is being conducted. To make a truly aseptic environment suitable for a surgical operation to take place, a scrupulous cleaning is first necessary. Wash the place down with an ethanol solution that’s at least 70 per cent, and make the patient wear sterile robes. If you are doing the surgery, you will also need sterile clothing, including gloves, a sterile makeshift mask, and some surgical instruments that are heat-sterilised. The third A, anaesthesia, does nothing to cure or kill germs but is essential nonetheless. Without some form of anaesthetic, surgery is an immensely traumatic experience (and should only ever be a last resort). The so-called ‘laughing gas’, or nitrous oxide, was the first gas to be recognised for its anaesthetic applications. Inhale so much, and you will be rendered unconscious to the point where suitable dental and surgical work can be carried out. Laughing gas is a natural by-product of the decomposition of ammonium nitrate (when heated). You can make ammonium nitrate by reacting nitric acid with ammonia, and then capture and cool the escaping gas as it decays. (Don’t heat it too much though, past 240°C, laughing gas can be explosive.) The gas itself can then be cleaned of impurities and cleaned by bubbling it through water. Laughing gas itself can be merged with other anaesthetics for greater effect. One such anaesthetic is called diethyl. You can make this particular substance by mixing an ethanol with a strong acid (such as sulphuric acid) and by then distilling the mixture as it reacts. Diethyl has the bonus effect of not only rendering a person unconscious and providing pain relief, it also helps the muscles to relax — these attributes all make it a create candidate for performing surgery. Reinventing germ theory and microbiology In Earth Abides, the famous post-apocalyptic novel, the lead protagonist resigns to the fact that he cannot save humanity from relapsing into a simpler way of life. If this happens in real life, then it won’t be long before knowledge that we take for granted becomes ‘lost’. Germ theory — the discovery that most illnesses are caused by microscopic creatures — is one such fact that may be lost. But armed with this knowledge, you should be able to construct a rudimentary microscope to see the germs with your own eyes. Start by getting a hold of some quality, clear glass and heat and draw the glass out into a thin strand. Then melt the glass at one end over a hot flame so that it starts dripping. Do this often enough and with luck the drips should produce some tiny, perfectly spherical glass beads. Then find something to stick the bead in, such as a piece of wood or metal, so that you can hold the glass up and peer through it. Then look at a sample. Thanks to the warping of the glass into a very tight curvature, you should have created a glass bead with a very powerful focusing effect. So that when the light passes through it, it reveals the microscopic world to us. In fact, this is exactly what the microscope’s inventor, Antononie van Leeuwenhoek, did. He studied his own diarrhoea to see the root of his problems: a protozoon, which he referred to as ‘animalcules’. Do this, and you alone will have kickstarted germ theory again — single-handedly advancing society forward potentially by thousands of years. Do all of the above and you will have single-handedly laid the groundwork for so many of the modern miracles of medicine that we each take for granted with every passing day.

Latest comments
  • Come-a-long….force multiplier.

  • Power4Patriots had a sale on their 1800 watt solar generator that came with two, 100 watt panels. I got it and really glad I did. For a minor shtf or even teotwawki, I’m a little closer to having what we need to survive. I also got an emp bag just in case. Now if the power goes out for an extended period of time, at least we can cook, make coffee and run the fridge/freezer, even the 1200 watt microwave. It’s a little pricey, but how much is your survival worth? My wife got a little pissed at me, but she’s ok with it now that she’s seen what it will power.

  • A lot of rural tasks require moving HEAVY stuff from here to there. A wheelbarrow, with a steel yoke and bucket and no-flat tire. If can be afforded, another yoke and tire with no bucked for hauling irregular sized loads like fire wood, which can be strapped to frame.

    Thanks for this list a lot of good suggestions.

  • I have never used a shovel for chopping wood or ice….and to use a chain saw is NOT for the inexperienced….and a cant hook is not for doing anything ohter than turning logs

  • Gas/Diesel fuel along with an additive and some type of transfer pump
    2 cycle oil and bar oil for the chain saw.. Maybe an extra bar,chain, and carb kit.
    Premature alarm.:

    • And spark plugs!

    • We use electric battery chain saws and electric log splitter.These are charged with an off the grid solar system. We also have a separate solar water pump that pumps the water from spring to the top of property to underground storage providing gravity pressure to house. The house solar system also provides power to fans in our solar heated greenhouse. We also have a separate solar gate and solar security cameras. What would we do without the power of the sun?

  • Another use for tweezers is tick removal. Even if you don’t get Lyme from the initial bite the head can tear off during removal, embed in your flesh and leave a persistent open wound. Not a good thing when shtf.

  • Don’t forget about non electric kitchen appliances,