Prepping101: How to use basic survival tools effectively after SHTF
By Zoey Sky // Aug 30, 2022

Before SHTF, you will need different survival tools in your bug-out bag (BOB) or survival kit so you can build a shelter, start a fire or find food.


But as many preppers know, your most important tool is something intangible: your prepper skills. Before disaster strikes, prep your BOB, learn how to use your tools and practice your prepper skills so you can survive when things go south. (h/t to

What is a survival tool?

A survival tool is anything that can help you find or build what you need after SHTF. This could be something as simple as a knife or something more complicated like a water filter.

But even the most expensive equipment will be useless if you don't know how to use it. Whatever you're including in your survival kit, learn how to use it and practice until you are proficient.

You don't need all the survival tools in your kit so choose which ones will be most useful to you when facing common disaster scenarios that may occur in your area.

Survival tool categories

When SHTF, having the right tool and knowing how to use it well can save your life.

Survival tools can be divided into three categories: shelter, fire and water.


Shelter refers to any structure that can protect you from the elements. This can be something simple like a tarp hanging from several trees, a camping tent or a simple debris hut.

Whatever you have in your BOB, learn how to build something that will keep you dry and out of the wind or heavy rain.


Fire is one of the most important survival tools. It can keep you warm, light up your camping spot and protect you from predators.

A big enough fire can also be used to signal for help.


Water is essential for survival.

With a fire, you can boil water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Make sure you pack a water filter or purifier in your bug-out bag.

How to make DIY survival tools

Preppers know that you should never be complacent because when SHTF, you might lose your gear. If that happens, you need to know how to build makeshift survival tools using things you can find around you.

Here are some tips on how to make some of the most essential survival tools:


To make a firestarter, you need a piece of char cloth. Follow the steps below to make DIY char cloth:

Char cloth is a source of tinder and this dark, carbonized material can easily catch a spark or small flame for starting a fire. Use char cloth to start a big enough flame to light larger pieces of wood for the foundation of your fire.

To create char cloth, place natural materials like cotton in an almost airtight container and heat it slowly and steadily over a long period of time. The cloth will go through a process of thermal decomposition where all that remains is carbon.

The carbon that remains catches a spark easily and burns slowly, which you can add to a bundle of tinder until it spreads so you can make a larger fire.

  1. First, place some small pieces of 100 percent cotton fabric torn from an old t-shirt, denim or cotton balls into a metal tin with a lid that is almost airtight. Use a mint tin or a tuna can. Don't pack the cloth too tightly or it may not char all the way.
  2. Use a sharp tool to punch a hole in the top of the tin. This will act as a vent and expel smoke. The smoke might catch fire and look like a little burning torch.
  3. Place the tin into the coals of a campfire or over a camp stove. Leave it for 15 to 30 minutes. Once the flame goes out and no more smoke is released through that vent hole, the char cloth is ready. Pull the tin out using some tongs or a stick. Let it cool down before opening.

Store the char cloth in an airtight tin can and don't let the material get wet.


You need a sharp knife for food prep, cutting wood, hunting and self-defense.

If you lose your knife, make one using a piece of metal (preferably steel) and a rock. Take the piece of metal and sharpen one end on a rock to create a blade.

Fasten the sharpened piece of metal to a sturdy piece of wood with cordage or strips of cloth.


To build a shelter, you need some sturdy branches, a piece of cloth and a rock.

First, find a good-sized rock and use it to pound the branches into the ground. Take the piece of cloth and drape it over the branches. If you have cordage like paracord or woven vines, tie the cloth and secure it to the branches.

Water filter

You need a water filter to produce clean water in a survival situation. If you have two containers, you can use a piece of cloth to filter water.

Take the first container and fill it with water. Next, put your shirt or other porous material over the other container.

Put some pebbles on top of the cloth and filter the water by pouring it over the stones and into the container. Next, remove the pebbles and put sand, which is a finer material, on top of the cloth. Filter the water again before using.

Survival tools you need in your survival or bug-out bag

When SHTF, having some of the tools in the list below can mean the difference between life and death.

Cell phone

If the grid is still up and running, you can use your cell phone to call for help or to signal for rescue. You can also call your family and friends using your phone after SHTF.


Include a spare change of clothing in your bug-out out bag. You need the right kind of clothing to protect yourself from the elements.


Cordage is essential for building a shelter, repairing your tools and shelter or catching food via fishing or setting traps. Pack a length of paracord or fishing line in your BOB. (Related: Odd items that can be life-savers following an SHTF event.)


You need fire to stay warm, dry your clothes, cook and purify water. You can also use it to signal for help.

Always include a firestarter like matches, a lighter or a ferro rod in your survival kit.


When SHTF, a firearm can be used for self-defense or to hunt for food.

First aid kit

You need a first aid kit to treat injuries when disaster strikes. Make sure you know how to use the contents of your kit so you can quickly help an injured person if medical services aren't available.


You need a flashlight to light your way or signal for help. It can also be used to scare away predators.

Hiking boots

If you're going camping or bugging out, invest in a good pair of hiking boots. A comfortable and quality pair of boots will protect your feet from blisters and injuries.

Hiking boots will also help you keep your footing while walking on slippery or uneven terrain.


A very sharp knife is crucial for for self-defense or building a shelter. A hunting knife can also be used to catch food.

Map and compass

Learn how to use a map and compass so you can find your way back to civilization if you get lost.


If stores are still open after SHTF, you will need money to purchase supplies or pay for services.


A multi-tool has many different features that will be useful in a survival situation.

Signaling mirror

A signaling mirror can be used to signal for help if you get lost after SHTF.


Use a tarp to build a shelter or to catch rainwater in a survival situation.

Water bottle

Hydration is important in a survival situation. A water bottle will help you stay hydrated and healthy until you are rescued.


A whistle is a small and simple tool that can be used to signal for help. It might save your life if you are injured and are lost in the wilderness.

Before SHTF, prepare your bug-out bag and learn how to use your tools well so you can build a shelter, start a fire or hunt for food.

Watch the video below for useful tips on how to start a fire in the rain and wet weather.

This video is from the Survival 101 channel on

More related stories:

22 Must-have prepper tools for your survival bag.

Survival essentials: 10 C’s of wilderness survival.

10 Must-have camping tools that can teach your kids survival skills.

Sources include:

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