• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


Videos: Ten+ survival items under $20 each that work really well

Green Lakes, Oregon mountains, purify water
557 400 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

Your survival gear needs to work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need the most expensive stuff.

Here are 10 excellent survival items that cost under $20 each.

by Leon Pantenburg

I have been called (by family members) “thrifty” when it comes to outdoor gear. And that is true in some areas. It’s all about budgeting: It is wasteful and there is no point in over-spending for necessary items when something less expensive – not cheap or shoddy – can do the job.

But don’t scrimp on your boots, sleeping bag or rain gear. These can be critical survival items that you can’t improvise. (And by the way, NEVER include improvising as part of your survival/preparedness plan!)


Here are 10+ inexpensive items that will work well in your gear.


Single wall water bottle: A metal, single-wall water bottle can carry your liquids.  A bonus is that you can boil water in it to purify it. You can’t boil water in a plastic or double-insulated metal water bottle

How long should water be boiled to purify it? Bring the water to a boil, and that should kill anything that boiling will kill. Water boils at 212 degrees, then vaporizes. Extended boiling will not make the water hotter or kill more nasties, but it will use up more of your fuel!

Life Straw: My daughter Mary, a world traveler, avid backpacker, rock climber and outdoorswoman is one of my most impartial product testers. If it doesn’t work, she lets me know, and she won’t use it twice. Mary has used the  Life Straw extensively. In high school, her cross country team would run the nine-mile Green Lakes Loop in the Oregon Cascades. Their training route had several clear mountain streams and lakes along it, and Mary’s Life Straw was taken along. Several of the women used the straw to stay hydrated.

Mary has also taken the Life Straw on treks in Central America, and in Europe. A Life Straw is cheap water purification insurance.

Mora Companion/Buck Bantam: Everyone needs a good knife. You can spend as much as you want on one, but it would be hard to find better knives than these two. If you want a quality rigid blade, get the Mora. A great folder is the Bantam. Read the story here.

MRE: Or Meals Ready to Eat. Developed by the military, these meals are designed to be high-energy, concentrated fuel for servicemembers burning a lot of calories. They taste…just fine. I’ve been so hungry elk hunting that the MREs tasted great!

Some of the newer versions feature a heating pack that will warm the meal. A couple of MREs will cost under $20, and the shelf life is several years. MREs are a good choice to survival kits and Bug Out Bags.

Trash bag/ mylar blanket: I don’t like those cheap, flimsy mylar blankets.  Get a space blanket or a 8’x10′ tarp for an emergency shelter. A 55-gallon trash bag makes a great emergency shelter, and here is how to prepare one for quick emergency use.

Paracord and duct tape: These indispensable items can be used for everything, from stringing up a tarp to patching a leaky air mattress. Get the good, military spec paracord with the seven individual strands inside the plastic sheath.

For duct tape, I like the bright, fluorescent colors. These can be used for repair as well as marking things. My favorite duct tape is Gorilla brand.

Book: A good survival book can be invaluable. In camp, it can provide entertainment and knowledge. The book can provide the basis for learning new skills and techniques.  There are some excellent survival books on the market.

Blatant commercialism here: Please check out the one I wrote – “Bushcraft Basics: A Common Sense Wilderness Survival Handbook.”

Portable battery: Keep your cell phone charged with a battery. Most of the small batteries can charge a phone twice. That means your GPS app and communications can last longer.

Headlamp: You will need some sort of light, and a headlamp will prove its worth the first time you use it. A headlamp leaves both hands free to do whatever task might need to be done in the dark.

Collapsible water bottles: Carrying enough water is critical to survival. I’ve used the Platypus collapsibles for years, and they are a lightweight, compact alternative to bulky bottles. These collapsible water containers are available in various sizes as water storage units and they roll up into a small, lightweight pack when empty. I generally carry two or three large-sized extras, rolled up and empty, in my daypack, since they weigh next to nothing and don’t take up much space.

Cotton balls/fire starter: My go-to fire starter is probably the cheapest one on the market: cotton balls and petroleum jelly. They cost pennies each, and each infused cotton ball can burn for several minutes. (Read the story.)

Large tin cup: I usually carry a large (about 24-ounce capacity), metal cup for several tasks. My trusty, large blue enamel cup and a spoon comprised my mess kit for a nine-day canoe trip in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. I never needed anything else. I have brewed countless cups of tea or coffee over various heat sources with that piece of gear, and I don’t leave home without one! (Read the story.)

BIC lighter: BIC butane lighters are survival fire starting tools and they cost about two bucks each. I generally carry several. Here is how modify a Bic lighter to make it a better survival tool. (Check out Pimp Your Bic.)

Ferrocerium rod: What is the best survival firestarting method? My money is on the ferrocerium rod (also commonly referred to as a flint or magnesium stick). The best ferro rods go for about $15. Here are five reasons you need one.


1 comment
  • Marion

    Thank you for this! Wanting to be prepared and learn new skills, yet being broke as a joke, makes it so important to prioritize. I appreciate the advice from people who’ve been-there-done-that!

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