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.

Give us all the brass…

The truth is that everyone should have an emergency supply for when shit really hits the fan — not the people who like to plan hypothetical zombie apocalypse-nuclear winter scenarios.

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.

Tornado Damage Tennessee 2020
Survival doesn’t have to be all about zombie hordes…sometimes it’s things like tornados or natural disasters.

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.

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.

Some might argue that there are better guns on the market, but the G17 is built for durability and usability.

Glock G17 Gen 4
Glock G17 Gen 4

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.

Ruger Scout Rifle with Scope
Ruger Scout Rifle with Scope

The AR-10 is a perfect example.

You can 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.

Cloud Defensive OWL on the Saint Victor AR-10 Pistol
Saint Victor AR-10

The Pew Pew Tactical Complete Buyer’s Guide to AR-10s will help you get started off right.

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 a .22 LR rifle if you don’t already have one. It’s not the best at protecting 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 .22 LR 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 glove box.”

While I recommend keeping your .45 ACP (or preferred larger caliber) a little closer than the glove box, having a backup pocket pistol on hand can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.

Micro Compacts with Red Dots, Front
Micro compacts with red dots

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.

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. 

Finding ammo that will get the job done in any caliber is key.

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.

What do you think of Hornady’s .380? Rate it below.

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.

.38 Special Round
.38 Special Round

The Bodyguard 38 is a modern take on a law enforcement classic .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 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 ACP or a .38 Special 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 or non-functional when it comes time to use it.

Plano Ammo Can Open
In addition to your food and water, ammo needs to be stored properly as well.

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 can kill your stock before the next deer season.

Remington Factory Ammo
Probably don’t want to store it like this…

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.

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.

Get a Good First Aid Kit

Ideally, every home and automobile should have a first-aid kit. For most situations, the standard first-aid kit found in most workplaces will get the job done.

Surviveware Large, Small, and Mini First-Aid kits
Surviveware Large, Small, and Mini First-Aid kits

But if you’re in a situation where you really have to use your SHTF kit, there’s a greater likelihood that you won’t have easy access to medical facilities or professionals. 

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 Survivewear trauma first aid kit has the basic items needed to stabilize wounds until help arrives, including pressure bandages, dressings, and a tourniquet.

If you’re looking for something a little smaller and easier to tote in a bag or backpack, we recommend the Mountain Man Medical kits.

Mountain Man Medical Yellowstone
Mountain Man Medical Yellowstone

These lightweight, compact kits come with all the necessities you’d need for a trauma situation.

We also cover how to build the ultimate Range Med Kit if you like customization. In addition to a first aid kit, you need the training to back it up.

Take a look at the Best First Aid Classes to find the perfect first aid class near you.

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, but it can also be used as an important tool — especially if you’re stuck outdoors for an extended period of time.

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 U.S. Armed Forces.

Another popular knife for your hunting trip or bugout bag is USN-1 Survival Knife by the 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.

Don’t forget a Whetstone for keeping your blades sharp without damaging them. A dull blade is more dangerous than a sharp one and can lead to wasted time or serious injury.

Sharpen Knife
Gotta keep that blade sharp

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, or work on anything that needs tinkering.

Leatherman Skeletool CX and Friends
A quality multitool is nearly indispensable in a survival situation.

Gun Equipment for Your SHTF Cache

As you already know, good gun maintenance is essential to ensuring that your gun is accurate and dependable. 

It’s not guaranteed that you will be able to trek to the nearest outdoors store and buy more equipment, so having it on hand is important.

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.

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.


at Amazon

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 holster so that you can carry your handgun on at all times. You can check out our article on the best concealed carry holsters.

For a survival scenario, I recommend something lightweight and effective without any frills. Concealment Express has a number of lightweight holsters for around $40 that are durable and comfortable.

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.

Life Straw
This is the real deal, but many knock offs are just as effective at a lower price point.

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.

Stocking up on food and water before disaster strikes is always a prudent course of action.

I know a basement full of MREs is the 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, but a water preserver can help with that.

Combine these two so that your water supply will last long enough for you to get you through an emergency situation.

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 of 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 mask will do the trick.

Wearing the MIRA CM-7M
Wearing the MIRA CM-7M

Our favorite reusable is the Mira Safety CM-7M.

Check out our full article on gas masks and respirators, which covers everything 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.

Bug Out Bag
A bug-out bag is essnential to being able to easily transport all the SHTF gear you may have.

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 CVLIFE Tactical Backpack 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. 

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 face protection, as an emergency sling or bandage/tourniquet, as an improvised bag, and much more.

Final Thoughts

When you’re building an SHTF bag, your goal should be to anticipate and prepare for any situation.

This means thinking past the apocalypse and to more common emergencies such as an earthquake, tornado, fire, and other natural disasters.

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! Still not sure where to get started? Check out our ultimate guide to Prepping 101 for Beginners.

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