Many people associate SHTF gear with doomsday preppers, underground bunkers, and enough ammo to support a small army.
The truth is that everyone should have an emergency supply for when shit really hits the fan – not just people who like to plan hypothetical zombie apocalypse-nuclear winter scenarios.
Speaking of zombies, if you haven’t read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) Zombie Apocalypse Plan you really should – no joke, it’s a great start to SHTF planning.
Setting aside some ammunition, extra weapons, and other survival gear is a great way to ensure the safety of you and your family in the event of an emergency.
Today we’re going to look at some SHTF gear essentials that every survivalist needs to have.
Table of Contents
The Essentials to Have on Hand
Above everything else, you want to have a self-defense handgun that’s powerful enough to neutralize any incoming threat.
This will be your primary pistol, so you want to make sure that it’s something you’re comfortable shooting; don’t go purchase that .50 Desert Eagle just yet.
Personally, I believe that the best SHTF gun is a 9mm – and this has nothing to do with the debate over which cartridge is better.
The truth is that the 9mm is one of the most commonly used cartridges in the world, so coming across ammo for it is going to be much easier than a 10mm or .41 mag.
Remember, even the best gun in the most powerful caliber in the world is completely useless if you run out of ammo.
I find the absolute best SHTF gun to be the Glock 17.
Some might argue that there are better guns on the market, but the G17 is built for durability and usability.
And in a survival scenario where you might not have the time to pamper your gun like you normally would, you want a dependable gun that will still shoot accurately and cycle through ammo even with some wear-and-tear.
What about Rifles?
If you’re like most modern firearms enthusiasts, you’ve probably already got an AR-15 on hand.
If not, it’s a great home-defense weapon that you should consider adding to your arsenal. You can learn more about buying your first AR-15 by checking out our AR-15 Beginner’s Guide.
Depending on what kind of shit hits the fan, you might want to have something a little more versatile (or at least harder hitting) on hand than an AR-15 – especially if you live outside of a major metropolitan area.
Some would say that a Scout Rifle fits that role, and it did…70 years ago. While a scout rifle isn’t a bad idea, there are better options.
The AR-10 is a perfect example, get one chambered in .308 Win with a variable scope and you’ve got a great rifle for taking down game, protecting yourself from two-legged threats, and keeping the whole thing light enough to hike with and giving yourself 20 rounds on tap in case things go really sideways.
The Pew Pew Tactical Complete Buyer’s Guide to AR-10s will help you get started off right.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Remember, part of what makes a good SHTF gun is being able to easily replenish ammo, even in a post-apocalyptic world.
You might also want to get you a .22LR rifle if you don’t already have one.
It won’t protect you against the bad guys, but it’s useful for hunting small game to eat… if need be.
The Henry Survival Rifle is a 3.5-pound .22LR rifle that’s portable, accurate, and perfect for hunting squirrels, rabbits, and other small game.
See more light, foldable, and common caliber possibilities in our Best Survival Rifles.
Get a Compact Backup Handgun
As the saying goes, “a .380 in your hand is better than a .45 in the glovebox.”
While I recommend keeping your .45 ACP a little closer than the glovebox (or .357 Mag, 9mm, 10mm, .44 Mag, or whatever handgun you prefer), having a backup pocket pistol on hand can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.
The idea is to have a compact gun available that you can easily grab in a pinch. I like the .380 ACP because it’s small and lightweight, but still powerful enough to neutralize a threat at close range.
Like most Glock models, the G42 is a functional handgun that’s designed specifically for performance.
In other words, it’s not flashy and it doesn’t come with extra features. But it is durable and extremely dependable, which happen to be the two most important things to look for in a backup handgun.
As the smallest of the Glock models, it should go without saying that the G42 is an incredibly easy gun to carry in your coat pocket or strapped to your ankle.
One more thing…Ammo is everything when it comes to the .380 ACP. Unlike some of the harder-hitting cartridges that’ll stop any threat dead in its tracks, the .380 ACP is only as effective as its ammo.
Using it effectively in a high-stress situation means shooting premium, self-defense ammo – not cheap rounds.
One of the more popular choices is Hornady’s Custom 90-grain XTP Jacketed Hollow-Point .380 rounds. They come highly recommend for self-defense by our friends at Lucky Gunner and they’re reasonably priced.
Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .38
If the .380 ACP isn’t your style and you’re looking for something a bit more tried and tested in the field, you can’t go wrong with an old-fashioned .38 Special.
The Bodyguard 38 is a modern take on a law enforcement classic – the .38 snub nose.
While the Bodyguard 38 (and other .38 specials) may not be popular services pistols in today’s generation, they’ve more than proven themselves to be powerful, dependable, and more than capable of acting as a backup pistol.
Keep in Mind When Choosing a Pocket Pistol
Overall, the pocket pistol makes a great addition to your SHTF Kit because it’s small enough to carry on your person at all times. I recommend a .380 APC or a .38 Spl because both of them are small and lightweight, yet powerful enough to take down a threat at close range.
Ideally, the pocket pistol is something you’d only want to use as a last resort – like if your primary gun jammed or it ran out of ammo.
Storing Your Ammo Safely
The last thing you want to do is stockpile ammo for an end-of-the-world scenario, only to discover that it’s corroded and functionally obsolete when it comes time to use it.
A lot of people tend to forget that ammunition has a shelf life. However, that shelf life is completely up to you. Store it right and it will last long enough for your grandchildren to use, store it wrong and you’ll kill your stock before the next deer season.
One of the easiest ways to extend the shelf life of your ammo is by storing it in safe, secure containers where it’s protected from dirt and moisture.
You can learn more by reading our guide on long-term ammo storage.
In the meantime, a simple Ammo Can will go a long way towards preserving the life of your ammunition.
Honestly, every SHTF prepper should have at least one Ammo Can lying around. They’re cheap, easy to come across, and are worth their weight in gold if you ever are in a situation where you actually need to use your ammo stockpile.
Keeping a Silica gel packet in your ammo can will help ensure that your ammo lasts almost forever, they are cheap and easy to get – keeping one in every can is SOP for me.
What’s your take on having a good ammo can and moisture stopper?
Get a Good First Aid Kit
Ideally, every home and automobile should have a first-aid kit – especially people who’re outdoor enthusiasts. For most situations, the standard first-aid kit found in most workplaces will get the job done.
But if you’re in a situation where you really did have to use your SHTF kit, there’s a greater likelihood that you won’t have easy access to paramedics and hospitals in the event of the emergency. For this type of scenario, you’re really going to want to have a little more than a burn kit, some gauze, and antiseptic ointment.
The Grizzly Series First Aid Kit by Adventure Medical Kits is a heavy-duty kit designed specifically for the survivalist and apocalypse prepper.
It comes with everything you need to treat injuries, including QuickClot, syringes, and a tourniquet so that you can stabilize trauma victims until first responders arrive.
If you’re looking for something a little more extensive and are willing to pay more for its durable design, the Echo-Sigma Trauma Kit is also an excellent choice.
Designed to meet the needs of law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day, the Echo-Sigma kit comes with all of the tools necessary to treat sprains, fractures, and cuts, as well as stabilize people who’ve experienced serious trauma from knife and gunshot wounds.
And as a bonus, it comes in a pouch that’s easy to carry around if you have to walk for extended periods of time.
We cover how to build the ultimate Range Med Kit too if you like customizing.
Heavy Metal Equipment
You’ll be surprised how much use you can get out of a good quality knife.
Not only does your survival knife act as your last line of defense, it can also be used as an important tool – especially if you’re stuck outdoors for an extended period of times.
Food prep, shelter building, making tools, and even first aid (cauterizing wounds and cutting bandages) can all be done with the help of your survival knife.
The KA-BAR is a tried-and-tested survival knife that’s been a long-time favorite among survivalists – partly because it’s also the combat knife issued to members of the US Armed Forces.
Another popular knife for your hunting trip or bugout bag is Survival Knife by Ontario Knife Company.
Functionally, it’s similar to the KA-BAR except that it comes with a gut hook for cleaning game, as well as a sawback – the serration on the top of the blade just past the hook. It’s made out of 1095 steel and has a 5” blade length, with an overall length of 9.26”.
And don’t forget a Whetstone for keeping your blades sharp without damaging them, like some of the other knife sharpening devices on the market.
Some other tools you might want to consider for your survivalist kit include:
If you ever find yourself away from your toolbox, each of these compact tools makes it significantly easier to set up shelter, make fires, and work on anything that needs tinkering.
Gun Equipment for Your SHTF Cache
As you already know, good gun maintenance is essential to ensuring that your gun is accurate and dependable. If you happen to find yourself in a shit-hits-the-fan moment, you want to make sure that you have all the supplies you need on hand.
After all, it’s not guaranteed that you will be able to trek to the nearest outdoors store and buy more equipment.
For this reason, I recommend keeping a few extra cleaning kits around. Preferably one for your SHTF Bag and another for the trunk of your car.
Our favorite M-Pro 7 kit from Best Gun Cleaning Kits is perfect for handling most of you gun maintenance needs on the go, and it’s compact enough to be stowed away without taking up significant space.
I also recommend picking up a few packs of Break Free Weapon Wipes. They will go a long way in keeping your guns, knives, and tools clean, lubricated, and protected against corrosion – especially if you’re ever in a situation where you have to use your weapons and tools daily.
And if you don’t already have one, you should think about getting a CCW holster so that you can carry your handgun on at all times.
You can see some recommendations by reading our concealed carry holster review.
For a survival scenario, I recommend something lightweight and effective, without any of the frills. Concealment Express has a number of lightweight holsters for $35 that are durable and comfortable to carry around.
Food, Water, and Air
This really should be self-explanatory. You need food and water. You also need a way to get food and water after your stores have run out.
Getting food is where your firearms will come in handy, but water is a little more complex since you can’t just drink any water you find laying around – that is a quick way to get all kinds of nasty sicknesses.
For water purification, you need two options at least, one for you to get drinking water right now and one method for you to purify a lot of water.
Don’t forget – water isn’t just for drinking. You’ll also need it for cooking, cleaning, and treating injuries.
To get drinking water right away, I love my LifeStraw.
But when it comes to purifying larger amounts of drinking water you’ll need something like the Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Before the apocalypse strikes, you should have stocked up on food and water also.
I know a basement full of MREs is the more classic prepper thing to do but…anyone that has had to eat MREs for an extended period of time can tell you that…almost any other option is preferred.
Each of these pails is a 30-day food supply for one person. That is a lot of food! Throw in the fact that each of these only weighs 23 pounds and what you have is a fairly lightweight option for long-term food supply.
Long-term water storage is a little more complex than food, you’ll need water – obviously, but you’ll also need a water preserver.
Combine these two so that your water supply will last long enough for you to get through whatever has hit the fan!
Check out our Complete Guide to Water Storage for the best containers and ways to purify your water.
Prepping for air isn’t something that you may have thought off before – but it should be on your list. If you really want to be prepared then you’ll want to find yourself a full biological suit…
…but for more run-of-the-mill applications, a good respirator will do the trick.
Other Essentials to Have on Hand
Being stuck in an emergency situation means that you could be forced to pack up and move at a moment’s notice.
For this reason, you need to have a dependable backpack large enough to carry your essentials like water, knives, tools, and first aid kit.
I recommend a 60-liter backpack because it’s large enough to hold your necessary equipment but not too large that it starts getting bulky and in the way.
The Tactical Backpack by Trekking King is a popular 60-liter backpack that’s durable and comfortable enough to withstand long hikes and hunting trips.
Aside from looking cool, the Tactical Backpack has a number of extra compartments for maximizing your storage capabilities. You can load it up with survival material and store it in your trunk, garage, or closet and grab it at a moment’s notice.
Here are a few things that you want to keep in your backpack to keep you prepared for the unexpected:
- MicroPur Water Purification tablets
- Matches or a lighter
- Backup Flint and Steel kit
- Tactical flashlight
- AA and AAA batteries (and any other batteries you need)
- Streamlight Headlamp
You should also think about buying a Shemagh from Condor Outdoors.
This traditional Middle Eastern headdress was made popular in the western world by the British SAS. It’s a versatile cloth that can be used for a number of things including:
- Protecting your face from UV rays, dust, and sand
- An arm sling, emergency bandage, or tourniquet
- A headscarf
- An improvised bag, or “hobo sack”
Surviving Whatever Is Thrown at You
When you’re building an SHTF bag, your goal should be to anticipate and prepare for any situation – not just the apocalyptical, but also the more common such as an earthquake, tornado, fire, and whatever else is possible to your local area.
Choosing good survival gear isn’t always about maximizing your firepower.
It’s also about making sure that you’ve got clean water, shelter, and enough supplies in the event that you have to gather your things and leave at a moment’s notice.
Are you a prepper? Do you have a store of SHTF gear? Let us know all about it in the comments!