Essential SHTF Gear: When The World (Almost) Ends

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.

PacRim Canceling the Apocalypse
You heard the man, the apocalypse is on hold…for now…

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

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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.

Golden Desert Eagles
This is NOT SHTF Gear!

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.

Newst Generation Glock
628
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.  

Another good choice is the .45 ACP, as it’s an even more powerful cartridge that’s also commonly used.  You can see our list of recommendations for good .45 ACP pistols and 9mm pistols.  

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.

Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s
Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s

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.

Best Semi-Auto Precision Rifle
1490
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

230
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Vertx Commuter Bag and Kel Tec Sub 2000
Vertx Commuter Bag and Kel Tec Sub 2000

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.  

Glock 42

There are a number of excellent .380 ACPs on the market, but I prefer the Glock 42.

Most Reliable .380
399
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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 thingAmmo 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.

Best .380 Defensive Round
20
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

379
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

20
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

10
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take on having a good ammo can and moisture stopper?

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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.

95
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

67
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Editor's Pick
44
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

7
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Water Storage, Food, & Ammo
Water Storage, Food, & Ammo

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.

Better Than a LifeStraw
20
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

70
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Water Storage & Purification for Emergencies
Water Storage & Purification for Emergencies

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.

3M Respirator Plus Goggles
3M Respirator Plus Goggles

Our favorite re-usable respirator is the 3M Half Face model.

Combo-ed with enclosed P100 filters that are oil proof and block 99.97% of particulates.

Check out our full article on gas masks and respirators…from disposable masks to radiation-resistant ones made for rifle shooting.

Hands-On Tested Gas Masks
Hands-On Tested Gas Masks

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.

47
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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:

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”
8.50
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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!

14 Leave a Reply

  • Josh

    As far as being prepared it's a good idea for people to be. And as far as guns go on your list it depends on were you are living glocks are awsome I like them I have one a little sub compact in 45acp that is my edc get home gun/back up for shtf situations. My home defence handgun is a 9mm a sa mod 2 service model which doubles as my handgun of choice for shtf I love that gun fits great in the hands reliable no ftf no jams no problems it is also a soft shooter. Yea probably not going to finde a lot of spare parts like the glock but if the situation is that bad your probably not going to finde much for spare parts for any gun. As far as rifles go ar15 a good choice but as far as ar10 go's and bigger calibers my self personally ones again were you live I would take a bolt action rifle with iron sights and a internal mag. It won't hold as much ammo as an ar10 but I already have an ar15 with a

    3 weeks ago
  • Craig Childre

    Something I believe that went overlooked. A small fishing set up. While a 22 can get dinner, it's loud, and may attract unwanted attention, plus it's limited to the ammo supply.. A pocket fisherman is wildly compact, silent, and can perform indefinitely with a supply of hooks and some extra line. Very minimum you should keep a little spool of fishing line and basic hooks. Someone mentioned a needle and thread... which can apply to catching fish too. Just add some fur and feathers so you can tie your own fly. Last thing, don't forget to carry a small supply of salt. It makes food better. Plus in a survival scenario, if all you can drink is plain water, you will eventually need to replenish your electrolytes. Probably get all you need from what you eat, but times I hydrate heavily and really crave salt, your brain needs it to communicate.

    4 months ago
  • B.

    dont forget... a way to sharpen your knife. also a small sewing kit with thread needle and buttons is good. if you are going to have electronics get batt. charger and a roll up solar panel. para cord for making a bow drill when matches/ lighter runs out. most important of all is ammo. you need a ladle to melt lead and pour, a mold for slugs and buckshot or whatever caliber you use.... this is not good for glocks as will foul and go kaboom. and a small screwdriver to remove wheel weights from car wheels or some other prying device.. ;)

    1 year ago
  • Ken

    Portable generator, extra gas cans, gas siphoning hose, portable rechargeable handheld 2-way radios, hand cranked portable A.M./fm weather and international band radio, 12 gauge short barrel and a 20 gauge long barrel with bird shot, 00 buck, and slugs, lightweight tent and sleeping bags, rain suits, boots, gloves tactical and for warmth, leather holsters for handguns, portable propane stove, propane bottles, adapter to siphon propane from larger tanks to portable bottles, small denomination silver and gold pieces for barter. Also, I have read that bottled water, that has not been opened, and is stored in a cool dark location remains good drinking water virtually indefinitely. Thoughts?

    1 year ago
    • Bobby O

      If you have a pool then find a way of distilling over a wood fire.

      3 months ago
    • David

      Bottled water will still go bad. Not the water itself but the plastic it is stored in, after a long enough time the plastic will degrade and leach chemicals into the water. Stored in a cool, dark location will keep it from going bad longer (sunlight degrades plastic much more quickly) but it will still go bad eventually no matter what. Normal bottled water bottles really aren't designed for long-term storage. If you want to store water for years then you'll need to invest in some high-grade containers that are designed for the task. Personally, the tap water where I live is fairly bleh tasting so I actually use bottled water for 99% of my cooking/drinking to start with. Because of that, I just keep a large store of those on hand at all times and simply use/replace them as I go. This makes it easy to keep a fresh rotating supply of good water all the time with little effort and none of my water is more than a couple months old at any time. Having that water supply on hand is part of my earthquake plan and doubles as a decent SHTF plan.

      1 year ago
  • John Beebe

    I would add solar recharger given the large amount of items these days that need their batteries recharged

    1 year ago
  • Mitchell

    I harp on my one friend 8 boxes of ammo for a society crash of each caliber. I stock 800 17hmr incase of a crash along with other ammo for defense. If you don't have a full emergency kit with tourniquet your already in trouble in emergencies. As well as 2 water filtration system per person. A face mask should have micron and chlorine gas filtration abilities to protect against the worst case of situations. You can't be stingy either on quality of what your going to rely on. A 22lr is better than nothing in a disaster situation.

    1 year ago
    • Craig Childre

      Our crew pushes a minimum of 1500 rounds per individual weapon. Our standard per weapon is 2500 in reserve, and 500 in operation. Usually the new stock goes straight into reserve, moving my oldest reserve up into service. Don't think you are doing it wrong... but you could tell you buddy what you've recommended is only a half measure to others. A friend once told me "you don't want to get into a gun fight... you want to WIN a gunfight..." and running out of ammo is high on the list of ways to lose.

      4 months ago
  • Tactifool

    Really good piece, here! A *lot* of great stuff on this list--I would add that folks should really consider CERT training (almost certainly available in your area, if you have a fire dept or a community center--and it's FREE!) as well as Red Cross CPR/basic first aid training that you can also get for free. One point of contention: >>"You might also want to get you a .22LR rifle...It won’t protect you against the bad guys, but it’s useful for >>hunting small game to eat… if need be." I still don't buy the idea that .22LR is somehow an inherently inadequate tool for home defense, self defense, and nearly anything else. The oft-cited chestnut from the '89 DOJ study (direct quote: "Probably more people in this country have been killed by .22 rimfires than all other calibers combined...") has been argued about 'til the cows come home, but a few truths remain: * 22lr is way CHEAP, and readily available practically everywhere--a substantial SHTF consideration if there ever was one. * it's STILL gonna intimidate would-be attackers--and (especially fired from a rifle) kill them just as dead, if necessary, as something that makes a bigger hole. * yes, while--strictly speaking--it may *incapacitate* less, it is just as lethal as any round when applied properly. (Citation: .22LR causes the "2nd highest percentage of hits resulting in a fatality and the 3rd lowest rate of incapacitation," from Greg Ellifritz, "An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power," 2011). P.S.: I'm not saying it wouldn't be NICE to have something that punches bigger holes and provides more decisive knock-down power... :-) but I'd debate the idea that "it won’t protect you against the bad guys." At least with my .22, I'd practically never run out of ammo!

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Good tips, especially on CERT training!

      1 year ago
  • 82nd_ABN

    I look at having extra food and water as insurance. I have paid for car/home insurance yet in 30 years I have never been in a car accident..... One thing I did not see mentioned is a heat source. Most of these 25 yr dehydrated/freeze dried foods require warm water to reconstitute. Also know your local climate. especially those is cold weather areas. 6 months of food, and cases of bullets do you no good if you freeze to death... I don't think there is anything wrong with being prepared/prepping as long as it doesn't take over your life and budget... Just do a little each month. It took me a couple of years to stockpile a large variety of things. I also stored extra for some extended family. for those that refuse to do it. The more people you can join with in a bad situation the better you will be.. Lone wolfe "Rambo's" will not do well... You cant be awake 24/7 if things go bad. Plus other people will have skills you wont.. Be it a doctor, nurse, mechanic, soldier... Strength in numbers.... When I started out I just took some time with my wife and made of list in a notebook and added to it when we thought of something.. Then started slowly buying things... And just like insurance I hope I never use it.. I love going to Disney, and eating Pizza on occasion .. One final note is physical fitness .. You don't have to be Sylvester Stallone, But you better be in decent shape in the event you need to use this stuff. Good Luck

    1 year ago
  • For Reals?

    I love all the advice I see on SHTF post about “finding common ammo”. Where, in this kind if situation, are you “finding” ammo? Really life isn’t Call Of Duty and ammo boxes arent hiding behind trees. Stores are closed, homeowners shoot on sight, police stations are choas... if you want more ammo, BUY IT BEFOREHAND. Youre not finding anything other than store-brand diet cola and Q-Tips when things go wrong. So carry what you want but stock up what you have. Oh, and clean air, water, food, and shelter are still WAY more important than a gun.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Scavenger perk, bro! But in all seriousness you are right. I at least try to coordinate with my friends in the area to buy/stock roughly the same calibers.

      1 year ago
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