Discover what Minimum Tools and Supplies You Need

As we continue to look at what it means to be sustainable in uncertainty, we are using emergencies as an example of handling uncertainty and maintaining your personal or individual sustainability. The first focus I discussed was learning what you need to know to survive, or knowledge. Hopefully you can see that knowledge alone is not enough. From that knowledge you need to establish practices around what you can prepare for and thought processes for dealing with the unknowns that will always remain. From the research around what you need to know to survive you hopefully have an idea of the depth of information you want to uncover and you may already have some idea of what tools and supplies you need. You can probably guess what I’m about to write. I cannot give you the right list of things to have to sustain yourself in an uncertain situation or a situation that may require you to survive. However I can tell you that there are a lot of good recommendations out there and you will have to augment these recommendations with your own changes as you discover more about your level of readiness and what you need to support it.

Readiness is a word I have not used a lot. Some may consider it a term associated with being prepared, but I think readiness goes deeper than just being prepared. Now, this is my opinion, but I see readiness as a state a person attains through practice. One can be prepared without practice, but to be ready one must practice. That is what I meant when I said, once you know what you need to know, you have to practice. Any tool or supplies you discover you need to survive with, you will need to practice with. In martial arts you cannot progress without practicing new techniques. I can show you how to block, you can study a new stance, or we can understand the positions of a weapon kata or form, but until you actually practice the technique you will not know how it feels to actually execute it. Whatever tools you choose to incorporate into your preparations, make sure you practice with them to become proficient in their use.


In my personal kit, which I carry with me every day, I have some items that I consider critical. I consider them critical enough that I have them with me every where I go. For the years that I traveled every week for work, I carried them then as well. In fact, I had to carefully prepare my kit for traveling to make sure I could have what I needed no matter where I went. My core kit always contains:

  • A multi-function pocket knife (Swiss Army, Victorinox brand)
  • A multi-tool (I have a couple, Victorinox and Leatherman)
  • A bandanna
  • A water bottle or water container
  • Some form of fire-starter (disposable lighter, ferrocerium rod)
  • A hat
  • Pen and Paper
  • 25 - 50 ft of parracord (550 cord)

When I traveled I usually included a compass in my kit as well. I don’t carry a compass in my day-to-day kit though.

If you compare the items in this list to some common suggested lists (you can find them if you look for things like The Ten Essentials or essential survival items) you will find that most of these show up. Since the day my father gave me my first pocket knife I have carried something like this with me. My reason for these items is that most of them help to provide the bottom tier of Maslow’s pyramid of needs; those things we all need to survive; water, warmth, shelter, and food. The others help provide safety and security (the second tier).  

I share my list to help you start to think about what you should consider having with you. When I consider what I must have with me, I balance the ability to maintain the items with their usefulness. I also think about what level I am focusing my preparedness on (See the previous post for more on this).

On most days and even when I traveled every week, I didn’t carry food with me in my EDC(Every Day Carry) kit, at least not full meals. I often carried jerky of some sort as a snack, but never full meals. My primary reason was space and maintenance required over likely use. This was a trade-off that I felt was important.

Something I didn’t include in the list above was the type of clothing I have with me. On most days and when I traveled away from home every week, I always made sure the clothes I took with me, wore as I traveled, and kept close to me were rugged and capable of helping me get home. For example:

  • I wore some form of boot that would allow me to walk a long distance on unstable ground
  • Shirts with a long sleeve that would provide sun cover as well as protection from insects and briars
  • Multiple layers to allow me to adjust to any environment
  • Pants that would stand up to abrasive conditions and had numerous pockets to allow me to carry things I needed to have with me
  • A waterproof shell

My reasons for this choice was based on the possibility that I may have to sustain myself over a long duration walk. This was my choice. You will have to ask yourself what you want to have with you based entirely on what conditions you think you could face. I did not make these decisions out of fear of what might happen. In a later section we will talk more about fear, but everything you do to prepare yourself to be sustainable in uncertainty is designed to remove fear, not surrender to it. Readiness is not about being afraid, it is about knowing you are capable of handing something that makes you afraid.

There are many other things you can list that might need to be in your kit. I consider the items I have listed as essential. There are some things you may consider essential that I don’t list. You may disagree with my list of essentials. My list is created from years of reviewing other peoples lists, evaluations about what I have used versus what has been dead weight in my kit, and practical applications day to day, but it is my list. I continue to adjust my list, and you will too. My suggestion to you is that you take what you know so far about your level of focus and your daily situation, then ask yourself what do you need with you daily in case something happens. What will help me if I had to rely only on what I have with me. Write it down. Acquire it. Then practice using it, as often as you can. It is not enough to have the tool with you, you must know how to use it.  

Once you have your basic kit, ask yourself if it needs something else during a different season. For example, I have friends who live in a hurricane prone area. Certain times of the year their kit may include items that are specific to that type of weather. People who live in areas with a lot of water around their roads may consider adding a glass breaker to their kit.

This covers your personal kit and what you may want to consider having with you all the time. There are other kits to consider as well; kits for your car, house, office, etc. Each one will require a similar approach. Many of them can be found in the same books and web sites I have already discussed. Remember, the kit is useless without two things: The mindset to understand why you need it and the readiness (practiced knowledge) to use it.


I focused most of my energy on the kit because I think it is more important than supplies, but I will not ignore the need to have some basics essentials on hand. My reason for this perspective is the amount of time I spent away from my home. I could never carry with me enough supplies on a weekly travel schedule to different places. In one instance I was able to stabilize my travel for a few months. During that time I was able to put together a bag that would help me get home.

This bag was a survival bag that was designed to get me home if I had to walk back from my assigned station. Obviously, I could never carry enough food, water, and fuel to get that far. The pack contained the tools I could carry or ship to me and the supplies I could use to get myself to a safe location where I could start to hunt for food to sustain my travel. This was my choice to handle the specific situation. Please consider it a guide for your thinking, not a recommended load out. You must prepare your own list of supplies based on what you think you will need for your perceived or specific situation. In addition, you must practice with these supplies to determine if they meet your needs.

The supplies I chose to carry for that purpose, understanding that they were a limited emergency supply and had to be replaced were:

  • 1 week supply of dehydrated meals (focused on 1 main meal/day, 1 small supplemental meal, and a snack)
  • A stainless steel water bottle, a dromedary and a water filter (I would have to fill up from some supply initially)
  • A personal first aid kit (IFAK)
  • A backup first aid kit with longer duration supplies
  • Refillable fuel bottle (I could not carry or ship a bottle of fuel. I would have to find fuel for my stove)

Obviously, the supplies I carried required some additional tools. In fact, the kit list grew larger than the supplies list. I had to consider what I needed to find food, make fire, build shelter, because I was looking to sustain myself over a longer duration. This had to move out of the survival mode. I’m not going to go deeper in this post about the specifics of the kit because I want to focus on what you should consider to prepare yourself for emergencies. What supplies should you have on hand. From the list I compiled above, you should consider the areas I focused on.


I made sure I had a way to supply myself with clean, drinkable water. This is not supplies necessarily, but without it, you may not be able to get water. Because water is so critical, I maintain several tools to allow me to acquire clean water. The water is the consumable supply, but I could not overlook the need to store and clean it.


I want to have a supply of food on hand that is shelf stable so I can focus on other critical items. This does not mean I don’t have to think about food, but having some on hand makes it possible to use energy on other things, like...


Several of the supply items I suggest you have on hand are safety supplies. Any medications you must have, normal OTC medications you use, basic first aid supplies, and key trauma supplies should be considered important parts of your safety supplies.

The challenges with supplies is keeping them stable and replenishing them over time. Supplies have a shelf life. Some have very long shelf lives, some not as long. Either way, a major challenge to keeping supplies on hand for emergencies is keeping them within their usable age. If you choose to keep these items on hand, you will need to establish a rotation schedule to keep them ready for use. You have to decide if this is important enough for you that you want to put this type of effort in. That is a personal choice based on the level of focus you are putting into your readiness. The other challenge is keeping them stable, and that means storage. Where and how you store these items is important. For example, if you chose to use MREs as your food backup, storing them in the trunk of your car is not advisable. The temperature profile of the trunk does not provide safe storage for that type of backup food. That is an example and every consumable item you chose to keep on hand will have its own requirements.

Based on the situation you may face, you need to decide how much food, water, and supporting consumables you need on hand. Once you have the total list of what you must have on hand, you will know what type of replenishment or rotation cycle you will need to create. Do not overlook the maintenance required on your supplies. You never know when you will need these supplies to help you.

Use this as a guide to help you think about what you need with you or ready. Your list will be different than mine. Practice using everything. Build up your readiness through practice. Be aware that letting fear drive your practice will bias your learning. You must learn to deal with those fears and make this clinical. I will share more about that in the next post.  

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