10 Must-have Survival Tools You Probably Already Have

Living through and after a natural disaster like Superstorm Sandy means improvising with tools you have on hand. Which are the best to keep? © Julie Dermansky/Julie Dermansky/Corbis

Life's journey can be difficult enough to navigate even under optimal circumstances. There are bills to be paid, hours to log at work and in-laws to deal with. Yet, most of these obstacles are likely to fade into the background in the event of a disaster like a hurricane, earthquake or zombie apocalypse.

As unlikely as it may sound, survival scenarios can and do happen, whether it's a hidden sink hole suddenly gobbling up a suburban home or a tornado blowing an entire town off the map. Fine, maybe there's no proof that zombies are immediately threatening our way of life, despite how real these brainless creatures are made to look on TV. One can never be too safe, however, and it's important to be prepared.

Fortunately, you already have many of the things that can help you ride out a storm, flood or influx of the walking dead. Click ahead to see what those items are, as well as some surprising ways to use them.

Phone Book
Just because the flood waters are rising doesn't mean you mightn't have to heed the call of nature. If TP is in short supply, improvise with the phone book. Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Just because the lights are out, the floodwaters are rising and the end may be near doesn't mean you might not need to go to the bathroom. When nature calls, and you've unfortunately run out of toilet paper, dial up that old dusty phone book.

Tear out a few pages; crumple them up and smooth them out a couple times to make them more pliable and wipe away. Just don't flush them, or you risk clogging the plumbing (and the plumber won't be making house calls just then). This makeshift TP might be a little harsh on the backside, but chances are you'll have bigger worries to contend with [source: MacWelch].

Engine oil is a must when you have to run a generator. maxuser/iStock/Thinkstock

All the power generators in the world won't do you much good if they aren't properly lubricated. Gas is a no-brainer, but engine oil can be easy to forget. It will make your generator run more smoothly, reduce wear and tear and save energy [source: Henry].

If you run a lawn mower or like to change the oil in your car, you probably already have some on hand. The amount you need for a generator depends on the size of its engine, so check your equipment's user manual. A new generator requires its first oil change within 25 hours of use, and you should refill the machine's oil supply every 50-60 hours or so [source: The Family Handyman].

Duct Tape
Duct tape can be used to seal almost anything -- except air ducts. suslik83/iStock/Thinkstock

This survival item has so many uses you probably didn't know it was originally intended for keeping moisture out of ammunition boxes during World War II, while still making the boxes easy to open under fire. (Hence its original name of duck tape). But soldiers soon found other uses for it, including patching guns and jeeps [source: Kilmer House].

That versatility makes duct tape good to have around in emergency scenarios. Whether you need to patch a hole, bandage a wound, fashion a belt or make a water cup, duct tape is one of the first household items to turn to when disaster strikes [source: MacWelch]. Just about the only thing you should not use it for is sealing air ducts, because it loses its adhesiveness pretty quickly in heat [source: Preuss]

Aluminum Foil
Foil can be used to sharpen knives, warm up a room and wrap everything from chocolate to chicken. Dmitriy Sechin/Hemera/Thinkstock

Like duct tape, aluminum foil makes the list because of the seemingly endless array of ways it can be used. The nearly 100-year-old product is lightweight, durable and even recyclable in the event there's much of Mother Earth to be saved. You can use foil to wrap and cook food, make a funnel or even sharpen knives (just fold a sheet of foil several times and cut through it with the knife to sharpen the blade.) You can use it to warm up a room by wrapping a piece of plywood in foil and stowing it behind a radiator to reflect heat; or tape the foil to a window, shiny side out, to keep the sun out. For well-used power generators, a couple foil scraps will serve as a tool for rust and corrosion removal [sources: Urban Survival Site, Stimpson].

Baby Wipes
Stay fresh – and clean wounds – by rubbing yourself down with a couple of baby wipes AntonioGuillem/iStock/Thinkstock

OK, maybe keeping clean may not be your top priority in a survival situation. But you might get pretty dirty and smelly moving debris and taking a shower could well be out of the question. Stay fresh – and clean wounds – by rubbing yourself down with a couple of baby wipes. You can also use them to wipe down sticky kitchen counters or objects, or sticky children [source: Urban Survival Site].

Some people use WD-40 to remove wax and dirt from skis; others to take off or prevent rust on them. And non-skiers have a hundred uses too. © Richard Hamilton Smith/CORBIS

This stout lubricant was originally invented in 1953 to prevent rust and corrosion – the name comes from the fact that it was the 40th version of the formula that worked [source: WD-40]. Since then, people have found lots of survival uses for it, from winterizing boots to keeping falling snow from sticking on windows to warding off rodents and other critters by spraying down their lairs. You can even use it to soothe bee stings [source: Dick].

An Asian bus driver once used WD-40 to remove a python that had coiled itself around the vehicle's undercarriage, and police officers relied on the product to dislodge a naked burglar stuck in an AC vent [source: WD-40]. Good to know in case you get trapped crawling to safety in an underground pipe.

Make sure you have a street-level map on-hand and practice using it before you have to joebelanger/iStock/Thinkstock

A world atlas probably won't do you much good, but a local street map can certainly go a long way if you need to get out during a disaster situation. Google Maps, MapQuest and GPS all require electrical or battery power and an Internet connection. That's not to mention that sometimes they're plain wrong on the directions front.

A paper map is a good backup in case you're trying to get out of town on a road less-traveled. Make sure you have a street-level map and practice using it before you have to. Bonus: the map may have additional uses if you can't find the phone book [source: Jorgustin].

Store at least 3 gallons of water per person for emergencies. Ivan_Spasic/iStock/Thinkstock

Water should be one of your biggest concerns in a survival situation. The wet stuff comprises 78 percent of the human body and we Homo sapiens need about a gallon a day to remain properly hydrated. We can only last about three days without water before we die, while we can last three weeks without food [source: Tkaczyk].

In the great outdoors, the best sources of water are springs, head-water streams and morning dew. At home, stock up on enough water to have at least 3 gallons (11 liters) per person which would give you a three-day supply. (Of course, store more if you can in case the emergency lasts longer). And don't forget to boil it for two or three minutes before drinking [source: Tkaczyk].

It's good to have a range of flashlights on-hand for different needs. fontgraf/iStock/Thinkstock

When the power goes out, so do the lights. Even if you have a couple of well-oiled generators, it's a good idea to keep a handful of flashlights — and extra batteries — around the house. Mix up the types of torches you keep: The big powerful ones illuminate the most, but they also take up a lot of space in a survival kit and can be a pain to lug around. Supplement with a smaller but longer-lasting flashlight. Energy efficient LED flashlights are a good place to start [source: Jorgustin].

During emergency situations, cash is king. goodapp/iStock/Thinkstock

Forget the conventional wisdom -- putting a little bit of your hard-earned money under the mattress isn't such a bad idea after all. If you're able to get out of your home in a disaster scenario, you will need greenbacks — not plastic — to pay for things like gas, food and water. When the power goes out, card readers can't operate and ATM machines can't dispense. So, keep some cash on hand [source: American Red Cross].


Futuristic Survival Capsule Aims to Provide Shelter During Tsunamis

Futuristic Survival Capsule Aims to Provide Shelter During Tsunamis

The spherical orange pod could be a saving grace when a storm gets too rough to escape. Learn about the survival capsule at HowStuffWorks Now.

Author's Note: 10 Must-Have Survival Tools You Probably Already Have

While I'm fortunate to have many of the items on this list already stocked in my apartment, there's one other staple of my survival kit worth mentioning: Buffalo wing sauce. I already use it liberally in order to mask the barely edible concoctions that I come up with in the kitchen. The next time a super storm blows through town, I may have to resort to even less appealing sources of nutrition. At least they'll be buffalo style.

Related Articles:


  • American Red Cross. "Get a Survival Kit." (April 20, 2014) http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/get-kit
  • Dick, Jonathan. "WD-40 Survival Guide." Ready Stone. Oct. 22, 2013. (April 23, 2014) http://www.thereadystore.com/diy/5118/wd-40-survival-guide/
  • Henry, Pat. "12 Survival Items You May Have Overlooked." The Prepper Journal. March 27, 2013. (April 29, 2014) http://www.theprepperjournal.com/2013/03/27/12-survival-items-you-may-have-overlooked
  • Jorgustin, Ken. "Best Survival Flashlight." Modern Survival Blog. Dec. 6, 2013. (April 20, 2014) http://modernsurvivalblog.com/preps/maps-and-direction/
  • Jorgustin, Ken. "Maps for Your Car." Modern Survival Blog. July 3, 2010. (April 20, 2014) http://modernsurvivalblog.com/preps/best-survival-flashlight/
  • MacWelch, Tim. "25 Practical Survival Uses for Duct Tape." Outdoor Life. June 5, 2012. (April 20, 2014) http://survival.outdoorlife.com/blogs/survivalist/2012/06/25-practical-survival-uses-duct-tape
  • MacWelch, Tim. "Survival Skills: How to Make Do With What You Already Have." Outdoor Life. Oct. 29, 2012. (April 20, 2014) http://survival.outdoorlife.com/blogs/survivalist/2012/10/survival-skills-how-make-do-what-you-already-have
  • Stimpson, Jennifer. "10 Uses for Aluminum Foil." This Old House. (April 20, 2014) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20225533,00.html
  • The Family Handyman. "Generator Maintenance Tips." (April 23, 2014) http://www.familyhandyman.com/smart-homeowner/generator-maintenance-tips/view-all#step2
  • Tkaczyk, Filip. "Basic Survival Skills." Alderleaf Wilderness College. (April 20, 2014) http://www.wildernesscollege.com/basic-survival-skills.html
  • Urban Survival Site. "50 Survival Items You Forgot to Buy." Jan. 14, 2013. (April 20, 2014) http://urbansurvivalsite.com/50-survival-items-you-forgot-to-buy/#ixzz2zC4FlWgs
  • WD-40. "Myths, Legends & Fun Facts." (April 23, 2014) http://wd40.com/about-us/myths-legends-fun-facts/