Things You Don’t Need for Survival

In the decades that I’ve been involved in survival, there have been many ideas that have come and gone. There are also ideas which should have gone, but just seem to keep hanging around. Part of this is due to people without much experience in survival, writing about it. Like anything else on the internet, ideas that sound good are copied and reworded, often without bothering to check the accuracy or validity of the information.

What this means is that there are plenty of books, articles and survival lists in the prepping community, which contain things you don’t really need. Some might be useful, even though they aren’t necessities; while others are truly useless in a survival situation.

Please note that some of these will be qualified answers. I might recommend against something as being part of your main survival plan; but say that it is okay as a backup item. I firmly believe in applying the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid) to survival. Just having to survive is enough of a challenge, without using something difficult to accomplish a task, when there are simpler ways available.


I first started seeing this show up in prepping books and lists about 15 years ago and it doesn’t make any more sense to me today, than it did back then. To me, this is a reflection on how far we’ve sunk as a society, where we think that entertainment is a necessity for survival.

Oh, I get it, they’re talking about our mental health. We all need some time to relax and unwind, to maintain our mental equilibrium. But if we have time for entertainment, in the midst of a disaster, we’re probably not in the midst of a disaster. Just trying to survive a true disaster or the aftermath of said true disaster is going to take all the time we have. There won’t be any time for fun and games. If there is some occasional time, then I’m sure that people will find ways to entertain themselves, without having to stockpile games and movies.

Difficult Fire Starters

There is a lamentable tendency in the prepping community to focus on difficult or obscure means of starting fires. This probably comes from survival instructors, who list their many fire-starting methods are part of their claim to fame. The more obscure the method, the better the instructor; or something like that.

When push comes to shove, we’re going to need something that is easy to use and reliable in all weather conditions. That means being able to use it reliably in the midst of a storm. There really aren’t all that many fire starters that you can count on for that.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s worthwhile learning all the fire-starting methods you can. But that’s not the same as relying on some friction method, like a bow drill, as your primary fire starter. Nor is it the same as relying on a Ferro Rod as your primary fire-starter. Keep the Ferro-Rod, but find something easier to work with as your primary fire-starter.

My favorite fire-starter is a stormproof lighter. It’s easy to work with, reliable and will work in the midst of a storm. Since it is refillable, it will be years before I run out of fuel. I have the others; but this is my go-to when I need to start a fire.

Disposable Lighters

Speaking of unreliable fire starters; who ever came up with the idea that a disposable butane lighter was a good survival fire-starter? All it takes is the slightest puff of wind, and the flame is out. That is, assuming you were able to get a flame in the first place. Those are notorious for not igniting in the least bit of breeze. On top of that, propane doesn’t flash to a gas in cold weather, making it almost useless in the wintertime.

Please note that the stormproof lighter I mentioned above is also a butane lighter; but there’s a huge difference in the design. The one I have constantly ignites, over and over again, so that if the wind manages to blow it out, it relights itself before I can think of doing so. That’s a huge difference, when you’re out in the woods and have to get a fire going.

Propane Camp Stoves

Camp stoves are a wonderful means of cooking food, if the lack of power or gas prevent you from using your regular stove. But I see too many people referring to propane came stoves, when they talk about camp stoves. Granted, that’s most of what’s on the market these days; but they were not developed with survival in mind.

The problem with these stoves is that they use those one-pound propane bottles, which cost about six dollars each. During a crisis, you won’t be able to run down to your corner store and stock up. Once you use the ones you have, that camp stove won’t be useful for anything.

On the other hand, Coleman still makes the “dual-fuel” stove that they’ve been making for almost forever. Those will run off of gasoline. While I’m pretty sure that gasoline will run out in a TEOTWAWKI event, I’m also pretty sure that it won’t in the wake of other disasters. That will be one of the first parts of the supply chain that they manage to restore.

Fancy Bug Out Vehicles

I’m probably going to raise some ire with this one; but there really is no need for those fancy four-wheel-drive bug out vehicles that people put a minor fortune into. If you think about it, a bug out vehicle serves one purpose, and one purpose only; to get you from your home to your survival retreat, assuming you decide you need to bug out. Once you’re there, the bug out vehicle has no purpose and probably won’t have any fuel to go anywhere anyway.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying that you shouldn’t own a four-wheel-drive truck or SUV, if you want one. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t allow that purchase to keep you from buying other prepping equipment and supplies that you need. Justifying it, by saying you have to be able to get out of Dodge, may be actually fooling yourself, rather than protecting your family.

Survival Gadgets

There has been a plethora of survival gadgets that have come out in the last decade. Some of these were developed by preppers and survivalists, trying to solve a problem or find a better way of doing things. Many of those are quite good. But there has also been a mountain of gadgets that the “prepping and survival niche” have developed, with the main purpose of relieving us of our money.

Many of these devices try and combine multiple functions together in one device. The manufacturers do this to make it look like you’re getting more value for your money. But what’s really happening is that they’re reducing the quality of the individual components, so that they can afford to add those features. With survival knives, for example, they use a lower quality steel, saving money there, so that they can afford to add the other whistles and bells that you’ll probably never use.

By and large, you’re better off investing in simpler, quality survival gear. The more they combine in one piece of gear, the more there is to go wrong. Sadly, when something does go wrong, it probably disables the entire device, along with all its functions.


I’m not sure where the idea of replacing a hatchet with a tomahawk came from; but it sure is popular. The thing is, the two aren’t the same, no matter how similar they might look. A hatchet is designed with a wedge-shaped head, so that it can be easily used to split wood for a fire. The tomahawk, on the other hand, has a very thin head, so that it will penetrate well. It’s a weapon, where penetration is important. But that penetration doesn’t mean that it will split wood for a fire, as it doesn’t have the wedge action that a hatchet does.

The tomahawk is a weapon, primarily used at melee range, but with the added ability to be thrown for short distances. In an age of firearms, it is a novelty of a bygone age, more than anything else. If things get bad enough that we need to use tomahawks as weapons, we’re going to need to take a good look at other medieval melee weapons, choosing the most effective of the lot.


I’m not sure where the idea that the Leatherman multi-tool and all the other tools fashioned after is were created to be survival tools, but they’re not. Don’t get me wrong; I have a couple of multi-tools and find them to be very useful tools, on a day-to-day basis, especially when I’m away from home and don’t have a toolbox with me. But I can’t think of a single survival instance, either a real one or a practice one, where I have found a multi-tool to be useful. They’re for repairing things, not for survival.

That’s not to say that a multi-tool will never be useful in a survival scenario; just that it isn’t useful for what we consider to be survival tasks. Where it might be useful is if we have a piece of survival gear break, which we can use it to fix. Of course, that’s assuming we can fix the piece of survival gear, which would be very iffy in a survival situation, where we don’t have access to hardware and other parts.

Written by

Bill White is the author of Conquering the Coming Collapse, and a former Army officer, manufacturing engineer and business manager. More recently, he left the business world to work as a cross-cultural missionary on the Mexico border. Bill has been a survivalist since the 1970s, when the nation was in the latter days of the Cold War. He had determined to head into the Colorado Rockies, should Washington ever decide to push the button. While those days have passed, the knowledge Bill gained during that time hasn’t. He now works to educate others on the risks that exist in our society and how to prepare to meet them. You can send Bill a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • A hatchet may be best used in an urban area with flat-topped roofs, most that I have seen have at least a small parapet (like a wall) around the roof. Tie it to a rope and climb to the top of the roof to get away from anyone you may be unable to outrun, or to find a safer place to stay during dangerous times. Some urban flat-top roofs have chain-link fences attached that can make climbing and descending easier. They can also be used to climb trees that have had their lower limbs sawn off; but pick a tree where you cannot easily be seen. Hatchets with pick ends can open ground much more quickly than a knife (and save the knife blade from dulling. The pick part can also be of help on ice, such as when sliding downhill. It can chop through ice much more safely than trying to use a knife (for ice-fishing). I have lived in cities with 500K people in and around town. Business districts can extend for miles. My opinion is that a pick/hawk is more essential in urban areas than in the woods: self-defense, climbing, throwing. Tie a rope to a hawk; and the hawk to a root, rock, tree-part and you may be able to safely descend very steep cut-offs, like down to a river or stream; and get back up again, as need be. It could easily be disguised with the rope covered by dirt..

  • I enjoyed this article.
    I agree with almost everything you said…
    While trying to prep…I have puzzled over the bug-out vehicle issue.
    I agree…you need 4-wheel drive or a truck if you live in the country, in the North etc, but most often if you do, you have one.
    I do not see a huge off road mud trip or down mountain issue in most futures….. besides EMP issues or fuel concerns. Something reliable…fixable, and functioning…good to go. If not leaving area…get a bicycle or plan on walking. Money spent better in other areas.
    I have always thought…basic knowledge in a variety of areas and competence in basic skills are VERY necessessary., more than things.
    Only thing about entertainment…a favorite plushy or blanket…may quiet a child…especially. If hiding…
    A deck of cards is small and multiple games/uses.
    Other than that kids use imagination..adults will want to colapse!
    Great article!

  • BILL WHITE: I agree with everything you recommended and special kudos to you for having the guts to nix “entertainment”. We have gotten so spoiled and sissy as a society that too many of us are obsessed with having constant entertainment–suchh as headphones with music while at the workplace and while jogging It’s. because we’re too weak to concentrate on the task at hand and give it our all. Participation trophies at school contributed greatly to this along with tteachers trying to make everything a “game”. Disgusting.

  • Great Article. And you are 100% right about tomahawks, cheaply made gear, and the abundance of off road vehicles. I honestly laugh at some of the features they use to sell those things, and the money spent for the add-0ns. One type has a push button lifter, I kid you not, so people don’t think they need a Jack anymore. Where I live, we have a plethora of surplus military vehicles, and Jeeps -and 4×4’s with snorkels, but we are 100 miles inland, so not sure what thats about. I enjoy the diversity of what people believe will come to pass. Some think a great flooding, or the caldera at Yellowstone, or something else. I live where people think they are going to bug out to, and I have news for them. There are two roads in and out of this town, and they wont be welcome just because they passed through here on the way to somewhere else. Currently with the housing crisis in my state, we are getting a huge influx of the poor from the major city, who can no longer afford to live in their area, so they are coming up here. And thats an element (Gangs and such) that I moved away from to begin with, so now I am eyeing other states for my little piece of Shangri-la. Some of us who live in our bolt holes, see what you are seeing and its nice to get confirmation that we are not crazy; we are just prepared.

  • A reference to 1 pound propane bottles. They are refillable. You can get an adapter from harbor freight tools and other places for about $ 20. Follow instructions that come within. I have refilled many over the years. Some bottles will hold the gas and some leak off. Discard the ones that leak, of course. Store in a ventilated place to test. Ask your camping friends to save their empty bottles for you.

  • Multitools are good for fashioning things out of junk. Fish hooks, other metal doo dads, cutting wire from scavenging, taking items apart (if an emp hits, stripping cars will be needed), in a pinch can be used for surgery, dental work, if it has a magnifying glass, fire, usually will have a can opener (not as good as my P-38 or P-51!), a file, usually a wood saw, and of course and extra knife blade. I tend to keep one in my pocket and one in my truck. In a pinch, it’s probably better than a roll of quarters in my palm..

  • I have MULTIPLE MULTITOOLS, and they frequently come in handy, not just for goofing around but for lots of very useful things. Asa home remodeler by profession, I own lots of ordinary tools, but find myself reaching for these multipurpose tools almost daily. One lives in my pocket every day I work, and I keep several around my own house and in my vehicles.

    In the event of having to deal with life in an unfortunate event, you can just bet I’ll be counting on these. I keep a good quality one in all of my gear/bugout bags, and a top notch one on my waist or in my pants pocket.

  • I agree with what you say but there is one survival item You would probably disagree with me. MY Bible. That is as important as food and water to me. The Bible will keep me on a mental level and I just love reading it. There are many things that I can learn from my Bible that I wont find in any other book you can have. I have lots of them because I buy a new one for each family member for Christmas. My husband buys me one each year. ;There is nothing like reading the Bible when things are going bad.