Planning is critical if you want to survive the Apocalypse.
Are you looking for the best survival tools and survival weapons (that aren’t guns)? This guide will show you how to plan your gear strategy and pick the best survival gear, including:
Each of these critical tools and potential weapons will keep you alive. I know what you're thinking: I’ll have a gun. That’s the only survival weapon I ever need.
Yes, a gun is a must. But what happens when your ammo runs out? One big firefight in a survival situation could deplete your entire ammo supply.
Relying solely on a gun for self defense is a mistake, and it could be a costly one. You also need a bladed weapon that can reach out.
To put it another way: why not have multiple options? Multiple backups? Backup tools and weapons could mean life or death in a survival situation.
Here's another example from Myth Busters. Guns are great, but they are more complicated to operate than a melee weapon. Spoiler alert: the axe beats the gun. Pro tip: you want both.
Great comparison, right? It's not intuitive because we're spoiled with unrealistic movies and video games that have infinite ammo and optimal distance control. But back on task.
A quick intro about me: My name is Paul, and I’m a machinist that loves survival planning.
Did you know: most people don’t plan ahead for a survival situation. They pretend it will never happen to them. Sadly, they aren’t going to make it.
But you’re different. That’s why you’re here.
Survival Planning Is Critical
When it comes to selecting the best gear, there’s several things to think about. We’ll discuss the top factors in this guide.
There’s lots of cool survival gear on the market, but how much of it is cheaply made junk that will break fast?
What you should know, when selecting the best survival equipment:
- What wilderness survival tools and weapons are available and what they’re designed to do.
- How to develop a gear strategy that prioritizes your top survival tasks and then selects tools that complement each other based on those priorities.
This guide will brief you on what tools are available and show you how to select the right ones for your situation.
Myth #1: One Tool Can Do It All
A common mistake: most folks new to survival planning think that one tool should do everything for them.
This is a fantasy, unless you’re a master at making bushcraft tools. Even then, you’ll want as many tools as you can get your hands on starting out.
Having only one tool is what happens when you’re caught off guard, unprepared, buy cheap crap that breaks fast, or your tools are taken away from you.
Myth #2: The Best Tools Are Expensive
Another common mistake: that getting the best tools will cost you a lot of money.
When you know what to look for, you can get some of the best tools on the market at very reasonable prices.
Here’s the bottom line:
In this guide, I discuss how to select the must have survival tools for your situation. Additionally, I'll discuss the most critical factors to consider for each type of tool when making your selections.
Best of all, I completed extensive research on the top survival tools on the market, and I share my top recommendations in this guide and in several other guides in the links below.
So let’s get started. I hope this guide saves you a tremendous amount of time and helps you plan ahead.
First, I'll give a top level summary of my top recommendations.
Then I'll walk you through step by step on how to identify what tools and melee weapons you need in the wilderness as well as the top factors to consider.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Best Survival Tools and Weapons Summary Table
What Is a Survival Situation?
This is going to be obvious, but let's define what a survival situation looks like. A survival situation is one that is or can quickly become a matter of life, death, or limb.
Whether you're stranded in the middle of nowhere without access to resources, society has collapsed, or it's a zombie apocalypse, your survival knowledge, choices, and gear will greatly impact whether you survive.
Quality Gear is a Must
Because of the seriousness of a survival situation, the gear you select is critical. You want to make sure that you're selecting the top survival gear available.
What are the most important survival items? To answer this question, you have to really define your situation and your survival needs.
In addition, if your gear fails quickly or cannot perform the tasks that are critical to survival, you or someone you love could die.
In contrast, the cool survival tools you choose for sport: the backyard, camping, hiking, backpacking, etc. can be less scrutinized.
If you're just in the backyard playing around, you don't need to do serious thinking and planning. However, choosing quality gear for survival also makes for the best camping tools.
In summary, if you're looking for tools and weapons for a survival situation, spend some time to think about your needs and get quality gear. As it turns out, that doesn’t mean spending a lot of money. Instead, it’s a matter of knowing what to look for.
Types of Survival Tools and Survival Weapons
Let's briefly talk about each type of survival tool and weapon and what they're used for. Most of these tools should definitely be in your top 10 survival items list.
This information will help you solidify how to select your must have survival gear, particularly the tools and weapons you'll need based on your survival situation.
A machete can be a powerful addition to your gear in a survival situation.
Machetes are typically used to clear brush and vegetation as well as other crude cutting tasks. They can also be used to craft wooden handles for other tools.
A machete is also an excellent choice for a weapon used for self defense and hunting.
There's several things to think about when picking a machete, so I wrote a separate guide on how to select a machete for a survival situation.
Axes are tools meant to process wood.
By processing wood, I mean any tasks that seek to convert trees into a raw resource (usable wood).
In that sense, axes are often used to harvest trees and to cut, split, and shape wood. They can also be used as weapons.
When it comes to survival, it's important to educate yourself on the different types of axes available so that you can select the right type of axe for your situation.
For folks that haven't explored axes, there's lots of specialized options available.
Types of Axes
A “one axe to rule them all” doesn't exist. Although some axes are versatile, that flexibility always comes at a cost.
There are some general multi-purpose axes; however, they do tasks in a less efficient way vs specialized axes, as they're meant to do lots of things okay but not any one task really well.
In some situations, selecting a general purpose (versatile) axe might be best. However, if you will have frequent wood processing tasks of a certain type, a general use axe might be a bad choice as it's far less efficient than specialized axes.
In a survival situation, energy (calorie) preservation and time efficiency are critical to staying alive. So is tool sustainment.
Using tools for tasks they were not designed for can lead to premature tool failure.
You want tools that are designed specifically for the task at hand so that they are very efficient, saving you life sustaining energy and time.
Using tools for exactly what they were designed for also allows them to last longer.
I wrote a separate guide specifically about how to choose the right type of axe and hatchet for a survival situation. That guide discusses the different types of axes in detail.
Overall, hatchets are like small axes. That's an over-simplification, but it's close to reality.
Hatchets are tools designed for wood processing just like axes and can potentially be used as weapons.
The major technical difference between a hatchet and an axe is that hatchets are smaller. This is pretty obvious, right?
Hatchets also typically have a hammer head on the opposite side of the blade end, but some smaller axes do too. In essence, the line between an axe and a hatchet is sometimes unclear.
Depending on your situation and survival needs, selecting a specialized axe and hatchet combo can really provide you with robust and redundant capabilities in your overall gear, which is a very good strategy.
Smart planning as discussed earlier in this article can give you lots of capabilities and options.
If you're looking for an axe or hatchet for camping, hiking, or backpacking, I wrote a separate guide on what to look for and the best ones available.
Tomahawks are a great choice as a weapon for self defense.
They are very versatile as weapons and as tools used for breaching, wood processing, and hunting.
For wood processing tasks, tomahawks are often used as an alternative to a hatchet and are usually smaller and slimmer. They typically have a spike or hammer on the opposite end of the blade.
A tomahawk is one of the best survival weapons that isn't a gun, in my opinion. Like axes and hatchets, there are lots of options available. I wrote a detailed guide on how to select a tomahawk for every situation.
Saws are great tools for cutting logs and branches.
Whether you're cutting logs out of a downed tree or cutting branches to make kindling, a good saw is a must have tool.
There are multiple types of saws that are great for survival: a bow saw, a folding saw, and a pocket chainsaw.
Each type has its own advantages. I prefer one of each for increased redundancy and situation flexibility. On that topic, I wrote a detailed guide on saws and how to select the best one for a survival situation.
Folding Shovels and E-tools
A shovel or entrenching tool (e-tool) can be invaluable when it comes to manipulating dirt or sand.
Typical uses include digging trenches, latrines, redirecting water, digging holes to capture water, planting/farming, digging defensive trenches, hiding stuff, filling sand bags, etc.
A folding shovel/e-tool is a great addition to your tool set in a survival situation.
For more information, see my other guide, which discusses everything you should consider when selecting a folding shovel or e-tool.
How to Select Bushcraft Tools
When it comes to surviving in the wilderness, your tools and weapons are critical. You want to make sure you have the best that you can get and that they will last.
The capabilities of your gear should also be complimentary, or in other words, overlap on critical tasks that you will need to perform to survive.
For example, what if you live in a big city. What urban survival tools would you need to get to safer ground?
Or what if you live in East Texas where there’s lots of wooded areas and you plan on using a lot of wood? In that situation, you will want to make sure you have some very good wood processing tools. Pretty obvious, right?
What’s not obvious is the need to have multiple (yet diverse) tools that can accomplish these tasks in case one tool fails or is lost. In critical designs and planning, it’s called redundancy. It’s why planes typically have more than one engine.
Having “gear overlap” might sound complicated, but it’s not. It's easy once you pencil out your situation.
Think About Your Situation
Grab some paper and a pen/pencil or pull up a text editing software, and in less than 10 minutes you can have a working knowledge of your situation and a solid plan to get gear that overlaps on critical survival tasks.
First, define the most likely survival situation you would find yourself in.
Describe the situation. What is the environment? What is the temperature (hot/cold/seasonal)? Is there lots of trees or no trees?
Next, briefly list the top survival tasks you would need to perform to sustain life.
For example, fire is necessary to cook, sterilize water, stay warm in cold environments, craft, etc. Fire needs fuel and wood is obviously a great source.
Continue on this train of thought. Where would you get fuel? How would you sustain the fuel source? Continue to define the tasks you would have to complete to maintain these necessities.
Once you’ve created a list of the tasks you would need to perform to survive, prioritize them in terms of the ones you would need to do most frequently AND the ones most critical to surviving.
This prioritization will define that tools you need and what attributes are best for your situation. In addition, you can develop redundancy (gear overlap) in your tool selection based on this information.
This is a critical first step, so let’s look at a quick example I created.
Quick Example: East Texas
Here's a quick example of how to pencil out your situation.
In East Texas, there's lots of wooded areas and lots of wild animals to hunt.
It's also somewhat cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
- Self Defense/Hunting
- Shelter Building
- Fire for Water Purification
- Building Fire for Warmth
- Fire for Cooking
- Building Base Fortifications
- Crafting Hunting Spears/Arrows
- Ability to Craft and Repair (wood tools, handle replacements, etc.)
Tasks needed to meet these requirements:
- Protecting self and others with a bladed weapon
- Chopping down trees (felling)
- Sawing logs
- Refining logs for shelter needs (hewing logs)
- Creating kindling (chopping/breaking limbs and branches)
- Splitting logs into firewood pieces
- Creating sharpened stakes
- Crafting arrows, handles, and other items
So what tools would you need for this situation?
Survival Tools List
The requirements in the example above are heavy on wood processing with a great range of needs. Fortunately, there are different axes and hatchets that are designed specifically for these tasks.
If my top wood processing need is chopping down trees, then I would prioritize my axe selection for an axe that is designed for chopping vs. splitting. Pretty obvious, right?
Next, I would choose a hatchet that is great at refining smaller logs for shelter building and crafting, creating kindling, but also decent at chopping as a backup in case my axe breaks or is lost.
As mentioned before, redundancy on critical tasks is important.
I would also select an additional axe that is designed specifically for splitting logs into firewood. Splitting wood is hard work, so if you plan on doing a lot of it for firewood, I recommend getting a specialized maul or axe for that task.
On that topic, I wrote a separate guide on how to select an axe and maul for splitting wood.
Additionally, I would also need a saw to process downed trees into logs that I could use to build with or split into firewood.
Since I have the wood processing covered with four tools in the example above (2 axes, 1 hatchet, and 1 saw), I would pass on a tomahawk and go for a machete as my self defense weapon.
If my needs had been based on light wood processing, and I had only selected one wood processing tool above, I would choose a tomahawk as a weapon instead of a machete due to it also being a good wood processing backup tool.
See how it works? Pretty easy, once you start thinking it through, not to mention being A LOT of fun!
Gear Strategy Summary Points
To sum up what we discussed in the example above, it’s critical that you do the following before selecting your survival gear:
- Identify your survival situation (the most likely scenario) and its characteristics
- Define your primary needs for survival (i.e. fire building, shelter building, water purification, etc.)
- Determine the tasks needed to meet those needs (i.e. chopping down trees, sawing logs, splitting logs, etc.)
- Prioritize those tasks based on the highest frequency and life sustaining importance
- Select specialized tools and weapons based on those priorities
- Ensure redundancy in tool and weapon capabilities in case one fails or is lost
So far, we've discussed the different types of critical tools available, what they're designed to do, how to define your survival situation, and how to identify your tasking needs.
Now let's discuss the critical factors to consider for selecting your gear.
When it comes to choosing the right gear for your situation whether it be survival or sport, one of the top considerations should be design. What is the tool designed to do? Is it well designed to perform that task efficiently and to last?
Some of the biggest factors are the material the tool or weapon is made of and whether or not it is ruggedly designed (for example, does it have a full tang).
Carbon steel is often the best choice for tools and weapons, although stainless steel is also common. Overall, Carbon steel is generally tougher than stainless steel; however, stainless steel is generally more resistant to rust.
So it's a trade off. Stainless steel is often the material of choice for the cheapest gear available (but not always). I recommend carbon steel for survival situations.
Stainless steel can be acceptable if you plan on using your gear for sport and casual use only.
A full tang is best described as being one full piece of metal from the blade to the bottom of the handle.
Cheaper designs will use less metal in the handle or even weld the handle to the blade, creating a weak spot that may fail.
A full tang is a must have for tools that have that option available. For example, always look for a full tang for a machete or a tomahawk.
There are 3 basic handle designs for axes and hatchets. Let's take a brief and oversimplified look at these 3 designs.
1. Wooden Handle Design
One type of design is the wooden handle. Typically, with this design, the axe or hatchet head is steel and the handle is wooden, often times being hickory.
This is a very traditional and robust design. The main advantage is that the wooden handle can be replaced if it breaks, which is great for survival. In addition, hickory wood is said to have decent shock absorption properties.
One disadvantage of this design is that if you have an overstrike on your swing, it can break a wooden handle. Also, if you don't know how to replace a wooden handle or you don't have the tools out in the wild to do it, the primary advantage goes away.
2. Composite Handle Design
A second type of design is the composite handle. Some composites are very strong, with companies claiming that they can are even stronger than steel.
The main advantage of a composite handle is that if you overstrike during a swing, the handle will be more forgiving and not as likely to break. However, the main disadvantage of a composite handle is that in most cases, if it breaks, you can't replace the handle. If that happens, the axe or hatchet is no longer usable for its intended purpose.
3. Steel Handle Design
A third type of design is the steel head and handle. In other words, the axe or hatchet is made from a single piece of steel, so it has a full tang. This makes the tool very tough and hard to break.
However, if the handle were to break, like the composite handle, it's not repairable. This design is a great choice if you don't want to have to replace wooden handles (if they break) and you don't trust composite handles.
Size and Weight
Size and weight are obvious considerations. You want to balance mobility with capability. This consideration can get complex, as some tools require more length and weight in order to be more efficient at their task.
For example, an axe or maul designed for splitting wood needs to be heavier and longer to ensure efficient energy transfer (momentum transfer) is accomplished when hitting the log.
Cost is always a factor. When it comes to selecting gear, the cheapest of the cheap is typically the worst designed or built. It's simple economics.
This is not always the case, but it's a great rule of thumb. However, the most expensive is typically not the best either. I don't recommend paying more just for a "brand", as it doesn't mean anything in the wild.
Somewhere in the middle price range, you usually find a good balance between great design, competent manufacturing, and reasonable price.
Best Survival Gear on the Market
Based on extensive research on the factors discussed above, I've pulled together a list of the top tools available.
I highly recommend adding a machete to your gear. It's a useful tool and an effective weapon.
The Ka-Bar Kukri is my top recommendation for a machete, as it's one of the most versatile machetes available.
Overall, the kukri blade design has three different zones. Near the handle, the blade is thinner and designed to do finer wood processing.
At the mid section of the blade, it's wider, which makes it more efficient at chopping tasks.
The tip of the blade is designed for stabbing, making it good for self defense and possibly hunting.
Ka-Bar is a trusted brand, and their Kukri is 17” long, has an 11.5” blade, and weighs 1.7 lbs.
It has a full tang and is made with 1085 carbon steel. A wise choice of material. This is an excellent weapon and tool, which is why it’s so popular.
With this machete, you get a lot of overlap in survival tasking capabilities.
Below are my top 2 recommendations for axes. Below is a quick review of each.
The first one is a versatile axe that is great at chopping and also finer wood processing tasks, while the 2nd is specifically optimized for splitting wood for firewood.
The Husqvarna Carpenter's Axe is my top recommendation for a versatile axe.
This axe by Husqvarna is 19 inches long, weighs 3 lbs, and it comes with a leather sheath.
It’s the perfect choice if your survival tasking for an axe will be chopping down small to medium trees, processing a lot of smaller to medium wood, and crafting weapons and other tools (i.e. spears and stakes).
The Carpenter's Axe is made of hand forged steel. It has a straight cutting edge, which gives the user the ability to complete very fine wood crafting tasks, including whittling and carving.
The Fiskars Splitting Axe is ideal for splitting medium to large logs.
It's my #1 recommendation for splitting logs for firewood.
This best selling “Splitting Axe” by Fiskars comes in 4 different lengths: 17” (the X11), 23.5” (the X17), 28” (the X25), and 36” (the X27).
This axe has a head made with hardened forged steel, a composite handle, and comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s designed tough and can take a beating, which is perfect for a survival situation.
The biggest advantage of a composite handle over a wooden one is that a composite handle is less likely to break during an overstrike while splitting wood. In addition, Fiskars claims that the composite handle is stronger than steel.
A disadvantage of this composite handle is that if it breaks, you can't replace it.
The Husqvarna Hatchet is an excellent choice and my #1 recommendation for a hatchet to take into a survival situation.
Overall, the design is robust and consists of a hand forged steel head with a hickory wood handle.
This hatchet weighs around 2 lbs and is 13" long. It comes with a leather sheath.
The handle is replaceable if it fails, which is a huge advantage of this design.
The CRKT Tomahawk (Kangee 2725) is made by the Columbia River and Knife and Tool Company (CRKT), which is a very respectable brand.
This tomahawk by CRKT was designed by Ryan Johnson, a legend in this arena.
It’s 13.75” long, weighs around 1.75 lbs, and it comes with a molle compatible sheath.
The best part is that it’s designed as 1 piece of SK5 forged carbon steel and has a full tang, making it a tough little weapon and tool.
For bow saws, the Bahco Bow Saw is my #1 recommendation.
It comes in 3 sizes and with various blades specialized for cutting both green wood or dry wood.
This saw is the best option for cutting thicker logs from downed trees.
The biggest advantage of a bow saw is that you can easily replace or change out the blade. This allows you to have multiple blades specialized for different types of wood, particularly dry and green wood.
For folding saws, the Bahco Folding Saw is my top recommendation.
It can cut right through both dry and green wood, as well as bone and plastic, making it an obvious choice for a compact saw for survival.
This saw has a 7” blade and is 9” long when closed (folding). It weighs under half a pound.
The blade is also coated for rust protection and low friction. In addition, it can cut both forward and back, which makes sawing more efficient.
Top Pocket Chainsaw
It’s always great to have a pocket chain saw in your gear, especially as a backup tool.
The Chainmate Survival Pocket Chain Saw is my top recommendation for a pocket chainsaw.
It’s extremely compact, lightweight, very effective at sawing logs, and also very cheap.
In addition, it comes in 3 lengths: 48”, 36”, and 24”, and the teeth are made with carbon steel.
When it comes to folding shovels/etools, there’s a lot of cheap ones on the market that fail quick.
The US GI Military Original Issue E-Tool Entrenching Shovel is my top recommendation.
It costs a few bucks more but it’s worth it for the superior quality.
This etool is built tough and weighs around 3 lbs. It's heavier than other options, but it's designed stout enough to used as a weapon in a pinch.
It extends to 24” long and folds to a 9” length.
I hope this guide helped you to think about your survival situation and to develop a gear strategy based on your survival needs. That strategy will help you acquire the right tools and weapons to make sure you survive a crisis.
In addition, the type and quality of gear that you get could mean life or death. It's important to know what to look for when making your selections.
You want to pick specialized tools for tasks that you will be doing often. Most importantly, you want redundancy in your tools (gear overlap). You also want to pay attention to the design, material, and quality of manufacturing.
Last but not least, the best tools are rarely the most expensive. You can get some epic gear at very reasonable prices. However, avoid getting the cheapest of the cheap as the majority of the time, it's poorly made.
Somewhere in the middle price range, you can find some great gear. Pay attention to other customer reviews!
Now it's your turn. I'd love to hear your feedback in the comments below. Please share your survival story or experiences with certain tools.
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