Gear I Hate – How to Avoid Survival Gear that Can Get You Killed

Survival gear is supposed to help you… Right? But some survival gear is just junk that can waste your money, time, energy – and could even get you killed. Let’s take a look at a few of the items on my “Most Hated” survival gear list.

I’m keenly aware that hate is a strong word, I did not loosely choose it for this title. I really do hate the pieces of equipment that I am going to take a look at here today.

First Aid KitI am in the business of teaching people how to survive under uncomfortable conditions. Conditions in which gear can often make or break you. I often emphasize that to survive in any condition, you should focus your training on four different aspects in a specific order: Mindset, Skills, Tactics, and Gear. More often than not people reverse that order and focus on the gear. When doing this, it’s easy to fall victim to marketing and get gear that is either a poor choice in general, or you could simply do without with it if you had the knowledge and skill to achieve your goal by another means.

What I want to do for you today is not just point out a few items of gear that are terrible, but also give you alternatives so that you don’t make the same mistakes that I have seen others make time and time again.

First Aid Kit
You will see these virtually everywhere. Small portable first aid kits that have “SURVIVAL MEDICAL KIT” or “OUTDOORSMAN FIRST AID” or similar. You will find these in the big-box stores, sometimes even in the checkout lines. Most of these amount to nothing more than a few adhesive bandages, some useless medical tape, and some antiseptic wipes.

You are almost always better served by building your own first aid kit. I do keep a few adhesive strips in my kit for little boo-boos – the best, most sticky and durable ones that we’ve found are these ones from Band-Aid, but I also carry rolled gauze, and duct tape for extra security.

The whole purpose of using these items is to cover a wound so it does not get bacteria, dirt and/or grime in a wound and set up infection. Gauze and duct tape stay on, much better than adhesive strips.

Also put in a small bottle of hand sanitizer, or alcohol strips to clean around wounds, but not in them. You should also include in your kit, some more useful items like a tourniquet, a chest seal, and a nasopharyngeal airway (nose trumpet). These are bit more technical to use but are used every day and designed to save lives. To use them, you need to find a good remote, tactical or technical first aid class.


A junk compass can lead you astray and even get you killed in a survival situation.

You should have a good compass in your kit and the knowledge on how to use it. What I often see is people getting the cheapest compass they can find. This is a critical piece of gear and you should not entrust your land navigation ability to subpar equipment. Some things to look for are bubbles in the bezel, an arrow that does not spin freely, and a bezel that moves side to side rather than just turning. Compasses are just like knives: you can go inexpensive, that is for certain, but your life may depend upon it. Spend a little more so you can have a piece that you can depend upon. There are a few companies that we recommend. For base plate compasses choose a Silva, Brunton, or Suunto. For a lensatic compass, Cammenga is the way to go.

Wire saw stuck in a tree – which is a typical sight.

Wire Saws
This is one of those items that has two very distinct reasons to be considered at all for a kit. The first reason is due to popular culture. We like logs and sticks to be nice and tidy on the ends therefore we want something in our kits that will help- us achieve that. A wire saw seems to do this easily and it is small, lightweight and affordable. However in my practice and training, which now spans four decades, I can find no real need for such neatness. There are very few traps, fire material, shelter materials, etc., that need real clean cuts. For those cuts I can use a knife.

The other reason I think people want these is because they never actually use them, they like the idea of using them. Once you do, you will quickly realize that they are only easy to use on small material, are it is easy to get clogged, brake, and get dull very quickly. Not to mention the number of calories expended using them should be a serious consideration for survival training.

Your alternative for this item is to gain knowledge so you do not need to have everything perfectly cut, as well as get a Bahco Laplander, Silky Saw or similar hand saw. See David’s Survival Saw Showdown Video for head to head comparisons of top wilderness saws.

Bent shovel

Folding shovel fail.

Shovels or Entrenching Tools (E-Tool)
Shovels and e-tools can be an incredibly useful piece of equipment but not if you get a junk one. There are any number of companies that are selling lightweight, easy to carry shovels, or similar, and they do not stand up to moderate use.

I cannot begin to tell you how many of these lighter tools I have seen come to our survival classes and get bent within the first few minutes of use. There are not a lot of uses for these tools in general survival use. We use them a lot more in our tactical survival classes. However, if you want to get one, go ahead and realize that you are going to need to get a solid military issue surplus e-tool. They simply cannot be beat for portability and durability. They are heavier, but that weight is due to hardier materials that do not bend under use.

How to Avoid Survival Gear that Can Get You Killed

Today, it’s really easy to find great gear and avoid gear that could put your life at risk in a survival situation.

First, take a survival class or two. Swap ideas with others and observe what gear performs the best. When you see several people using the same stuff and it works, you may have found your next piece of gear.

Next, search Amazon or YouTube for the gear you are looking for. On Amazon, people are pretty transparent in their comments. When you find gear that has over 4 stars and lots of reviews, you may have just found a “good bet.” On YouTube, watch reviewers that you trust, who have tested and used the stuff you are interested in.

Stay tuned for more terrible survival gear to avoid, that we’ll feature in future posts. We look forward to helping you keep quality and budget minded so you can purchase solid gear, and not break the bank by wasting money on gear that will not last.

~ About Craig Caudill ~

Craig-Toon-BustCraig Caudill is the Founder and Chief Instructor of Nature Reliance School. He specializes in wilderness and urban survival, land navigation, scout/tracking and defensive tactics training for private, public and government agencies. Craig is a frequent survival and preparedness contributor to TV outlets, blog sites, magazines and is a popular online outdoor educator on YouTube via Nature Reliance and Dan’s Depot channels.

Craig also has advanced rank in both Judo and Aikido and continues to teach and train after 20+ years of training in each and is also an avid student of all things gun. Forever a student, Craig always attempts to find ways to help others to develop their mindset and critical thinking skills so they can think on their own and for themselves.


11 Responses to “Gear I Hate – How to Avoid Survival Gear that Can Get You Killed”

  • TheOncomingStorm

    i like your thinking! yes, it’s a shame people (like chris from preparedmind101) put too much emphasis in gear and gadgets. skill rightly comes before gear, especially in the case of bushcraft since a lot of gear can be made yourself.

    also love how you talked about amazon and their review system, although even with that you have to be careful. people will give a lower rating on a product over mindless garbage like how long it took to get to them, what condition it was sent in or other worthless reasons. it pays to read some of the 3 star and below reviews and decide whether the product really warrants such downgrading.

    • Caleb

      I would tend to agree with that. Not slamming Chris – he does a good job (yes his 20 + min vids do get boring), but you can never replace skills with more gear. The thing survivalists/preppers these days tend to be weak on is the ability to do more with less. ratings aren’t always accurate. Many unscrupulous companies pay annoymous people to post bad reviews of products for no other reason than bringing down the name of the product’s company.

    • I have been working on the skill of land navigation through orienteering. I’d love to take a course on back country navigation.

  • Ron

    You made my day! Just learned many of the items I have purchased may be useless. Shovel, compass, wire saw . . . One born ever second. Keep up this type of information.

  • WhiskeyAlphaSix

    It’s amazing how great minds think alike! I could not agree more on each & every item you mentioned, particularly on the pre-packaged first aid kits. To date, I have built 7, relatively compact & well stocked, trauma/first aid kits for myself, my wife, & 5 sons. These were all built around the current crop of USGI Surplus IFAK (Improved First Aid Kit) that are on the market now. The USGI issue IFAKs are, in & of themselves first class major trauma kits, but with a few additions they can be turned into a compact Trauma as well as a First Aid kit and with almost everything you’d need to treat a major, life threatening injury in addition to lesser wounds.

    As purchased online, the currently available IFAKs include a Combat Aplication Tourniquet (CAT), a 4″ wide vacuum packed “Israeli” pressure bandage, a vacuum packed H&H Compressed Gauze, a fr28 Nasopharyngeal Airway, a roll of 3M TransPore Surgical Tape, and 2 pairs of nitrile exam gloves all neatly packed into a removable & tethered insert inside of a heavy duty 1000 denier nylon MOLLE pouch.

    To this basic IFAK, I have added a H&H Chest Wound Seal or a Hyfin Seal (for sealing a sucking chest wound), a 3.25″ NAR ARS Decompression Needle (for treating a pneumothorax – often the result of a sucking chest wound), a Celox 35 gram Pouch (a hemoststatic agent) and/or a QuikClot Z-Folded Combat Gauze (a high dollar item), a 6 gram Celox-A pack (which is basically Celox granuals in a syringe that can be injected directly into a deep wound, like a gun shot wound), a disposable LED Pen Light, & a pair of Trauma Shears.

    I have also incorporated a small boo-boo kit housed in a waterproof LokSak (Zip-Loc baggies simply do not guarantee that the contents will stay dry) The boo-boo kit consists of a 2 gram packet of Celox hemoststatic agent (for lesser wounds), a few Johndon & Johnson Band-Aids, knuckle bandages, Steri-Strips, & gauze sponges of various sizes, a strip of paper backed duct tape, a few alcohol & povidone iodine prep pads as well as a few Benzalkonium Chloride (Antiseptic) Towelettes.

    All of the added items, along with the original contents will fit into the original IFAK Pouch easily. There are spare elastic loops on the removable insert for the Celox-A applicator & decompression needle. The Pen Light can be inserted in the same elastic loop
    that contains the CAT tourniquet. There is space behind the insert when it is placed in the pouch to house the trauma shears, the Celox 35 gram Pouch (&/or the QuikClot Z-Folded Combat Gauze), & the boo-boo kit.

    These are not cheap or inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination, but I dare say you can not buy a prepackaged kit, as complete, for even close for the same money. They are also cheap insurance when you consider the value of the life of a loved one.

    The whole kit can be put together for around a $115 to $135 if you shop around, settle for a few items to be beyond their “expiration date” and buy some of the small items prepackage in bundled groups & spread the cost over several kits.
    I’ve purchased the complete USGI surplus IFAKs (manufactured by SEKRI) for $44.95 each. The final cost depends on whether you opt for the Celox 35 gram Pouch ($22) or the QuikClot Z-Folded Combat Gauze ($43). also, the expiration dates are often pretty meaningless in my opinion, especially when applied to things like tourniquets, decompression needles, chest seals, bandages, etc. There is money to be saved there by buying “short dated” or expired dated items.

    Needless to say, you should only administer advanced life saving treatment & use some of the above items if you are adequately trained and competent in their use.

  • Matthew

    I love it

  • Curt

    This is a good list



    • The point of the article… why take something not good? Yes, you can struggle to make repairs on a broken trenching tool, then use it. The trenching tool in the picture costs not much more than my cold steel one. Why not just get the cold steel one?

      The other point is, don’t just check a box. Make sure the gear you are getting is going to do the job.

      Because when does gear break? When it’s in use. That’s when people can get killed. So although I appreciate your tenacity, I would say it is misapplied with potentially lethal results…

  • hi guys nice site… I’ve also had much practice with these wire saws . Most of them are junk and will let you down when you need them to work. Many times they heat up and just break after a few cuts. I would recommend getting a “sabre cut” chain saw if you want something that really works well. It will cut a 2×4 or tree limb in half very quickly.


    • Carin

      Good point. The chain saw blade deals are better, but cost in size and weight. At that point I just start thinking, “Hmmm, I’ll just bring my Silky Pocket Boy saw…” which will cost me way less effort and calories than a “pull” type wire or chain saw. The good thing here is that we are kicking around ideas. That’s AWESOME! We all have our individual preferences and anticipated needs. We all can only carry so much stuff, so it is good to work out what the most important items to carry really are.

      Thank you for your comment and good advice! Excellent stuff. ~David

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