Now for the most contentious issue– guns. Let me preface this by saying that everyone has their pet favorite, and to them that is the only gun that will ever work and it will do everything. Being chased by a grizzly bear, someone will tell you how you can totally take that bear out with your 10/22. Want to go dove hunting? Somebody will tell you how you really need a Barrett .50 cal. to take those tough little suckers down. The reality is that the only gun you will ever need is the one in your hand when everything goes south. Guns are going to be the single most expensive thing you will buy for your survival kit. They don’t have to break the bank, though. You can get a used S&W model 10 in .38 spl. at a gun show or pawn shop for under $200. Granted, the finish might not be in the best shape, but those guns are hard to tear up. You’ll no doubt hear all about how your .38 revolver isn’t up to the sky-high standards of a 9mm with a 15 or 17 round magazine, but if you ever find yourself fighting for your life, that little .38 will do whatever you need it to do. Or, if you have to have a semi-automatic with a magazine, hi point makes a cheap gun. I think they are about $200 brand new. I don’t know how good they are; I’ve heard good things about them, but I’ve never been overly impressed what the ones I’ve looked at. I’ve seen the old Ruger P series selling used for around $300, and those are top of the line guns. Shotguns can be bought very cheap. Again, that you have a gun is more important than what kind of gun you have. A used single shot H&R 12 gauge can be bought for under $100, and there’s virtually no way you can tear one of those up short of blowing it up. Used pump shotguns from Mossberg and Remington can be found for around $300, though they are likely to be a few years old and have some wear on them. CZ makes a 12 gauge pump that sells new for around $300, and CZ is a very reputable company. Rifles will be the most expensive gun you’ll buy, if you decide to buy one. Semi-automatics will run the most, with the AR or AK type rifles running $1000 or more. There are some, like the M-1A, that are more expensive. For the budget-minded prepper, though, there’s the SKS. It’s semi-automatic with 10 rounds if you stick with the factory mag, and it’s super reliable. They will run around $200-$300 at gun shows or pawn shops in the standard configuration (as they rolled off the assembly line). There are many, many after-market parts for them, from stocks to magazines. For under $500, you can have a polymer stocked SKS with a 30-round detachable mag. If you want to go with something less expensive and still a battle-tested rifle, the Russian Mosin Nagant can be bought for around $125. It’s a bolt action, 5 round internal magazine, 7.62x54R. If you don’t feel that you need a semi-automatic fighting rifle, you just want a rifle to put food on the table, there are bolt action hunting rifles for around $350-$400 with a 3-9×40 scope already mounted and sighted. I don’t recommend that you try to use one of them without taking it out and verifying that the scope is mounted and sighted correctly though.
For most of your survival gear, like tents, sleeping bags, knives, and such things, the best places to shop will be in sporting goods stores or in the sporting goods section of Walmart or Target. Some things, like the hatchet, saw, tarp, and other items that I mentioned above, can be bought at Home Depot for less cost than on the camping aisle of Walmart. Walmart, if it’s a super center (I’m not sure if any of them aren’t super centers any more), is okay for food, but Sam’s Club or Costco is a good place for bulk purchases of food, water, and household items, like bleach and first aid supplies. Clothing will be an issue that I want to cover separately, but there are no shortage of places to find good clothes economically. Of course, the dollar stores– Dollar General, Dollar Tree, The Dollar Store, and so forth– are good places to find a lot of this stuff. Something I haven’t touched on here is tools, the reason being that most people have the tools that they need, so that shouldn’t be an issue. If you think of something that you’d want to put in a bug out bag/emergency kit and just leave it there, you should do that. I’ve always taught that your emergency gear should be stocked and packed according to your individual needs; there is no cookie cutter pattern for what someone should or should not have with them in an emergency, other than the absolute basics of food, water, shelter, first aid, and protection. Some people may have a specific issue with their vehicle or a piece of gear that they need to keep a certain tool or tool kit to deal with. If that is you, than by all means, have the tool or tools with you. If you want to buy spare tools to keep packed for an emergency, I would not recommend buying Craftsman or some name brand. Harbor Freight has decent tools; some of them are available for $1, so you can stick them in a bag or box and leave them there. If you are wanting to build a home or automotive tool kit, then by all means buy the best you can– probably Craftsman, unless you have the thousands of dollars to spend on Snap-On or Mac. However, for an emergencMilitary Surplus/Tacticaly spare, $20 for a 1/2” combination wrench at Sears vs. $5 for a similar wrench at Harbor Freight is a no-brainer. That said, do not scrimp on roadside emergency gear, such as tow chains (preferably not tow straps or ropes), a four-way wrench, and jumper cables. You don’t want something that’s going to fail when you need it. Obviously, online shopping can be very helpful, especially with your gear. Cheaper Than Dirt is a good site for survival/emergency gear, and there are a number of sites with tactical and camping bags and packs that are affordable and good quality. Any of the major retail stores have websites where you might be able to find things more economically than you can find them in the stores. Just watch out for deals that are too good to be true; a lot of the sites I’ve been on will try to charge you $12 for shipping a 1oz. plastic buckle. (That’s not a joke.)
I wanted to give this gear its own section. Military surplus gear is great for survivalists and preppers for a lot of reasons. First off, it is durable. Now that we have been at war for over 13 years, there is a ton of the stuff on the market. It is also made for being outdoors, in the elements, and carrying everything you need in one place, on your back. If you are in a rural area, it will blend in well to the environment. Even the older OD green stuff will work better than wearing your red skiing jacket or your blue and silver mountaineering pack and trying to hide in the brush. That said, military camo, even the newer digicam and the far superior Marpat camo, is probably not the best thing for where you live. Military camo is a universal camo. It is designed so that a soldier can blend in reasonably well in a multitude of environments and is not made for one specific place or environment. Hunting camo, like RealTree and Mossyoak, are made specifically to blend in with certain environments and can render you virtually invisible if used right. However, RealTree and Mossyoak can be expensive and Mil Surp is not usually. It you are going to go with a military pattern camo, I would recommend the old woodland camo that was used in the 80s and 90s; even the army is unhappy with their current digi cam pattern. If you feel the need to be cool and have the digital camo, like everybody else, hold out until you can find the Marpat camo used by the Marine Corps. Higher end gear from some of the tactical makers have many of the same advantages as the Mil Surp gear listed above. It is made to be durable; it is weather resistant, though often not to the same degree that military gear might be, and it is made for survival use. While Mil Surp gear can include clothes, the tactical gear will not. The few tactical makers that do make clothes, like 511, are very proud of them. Think $50-$75 for a pair of cargo pants; you can buy three to five pairs of surplus BDUs for that. But their bags, belts, pouches, and holsters are usually high quality and can be bought fairly inexpensively. 511 is going to be the exception to the “cheap rule” here; their stuff is absolutely top of the line, and it’s priced like it. Maxpedition is another maker, mostly of bags and packs, that are top line but very expensive. Makers like Condor Tactical and NcStar are more reasonably priced but still high quality. Also, as far as holsters, belts, and pouches go, stay away from mainstream law enforcement brands like Bianchi or Don Hume and the suppliers like Galls. Obviously that gear is some of the best on the market, but it will also break the bank. Shopping online is the best way to find the inexpensive yet good gear. Some stores may carry it, but it will be marked up for retail sale. Often times you can buy from a website where you can get your gear at near-wholesale prices. The downside of using any mil surp or tactical gear is, of course, that it can send a message to others that you may not want to send; that message being “I’m a prepper, and I have stuff”. In a SHTF scenario, you don’t want to draw unwanted attention to yourself. You will want to be a “gray man” and not stick out. About the best way to stick out in an emergency is to run around wearing BDUs and carrying a loaded ALICE pack. That says to the many people around you, who will not have been in any way prepared for an emergency, that you have things that they need, and they will not be shy about asking for them, or just flat out taking them. After a few days, when the reality sinks in and you may need to be armed and geared up, it won’t make much of a difference who knows what; there won’t be any hiding that you and your family have food and water for long anyway. That will be the time to break out the weapons, camo, and tactical/military gear, but for the first couple of days of panic and anarchy, you don’t want to make yourself any more of a target than you have to.
I know this is long, and for that I apologize. Hopefully this gives you a starting point for beginning to live a more prepared life. I have not included anything in this article that is difficult to find, and I have tried to stay away from things that may be more involved or complicated than need be. To survive any disaster, remember the basics– food, water, shelter, clothing, first aid, and defense. Any of this can be fairly affordable if you put some effort into it. There are many good, knowledgeable people out there who can help you if you just ask; many of them are probably in your community, and many more of us are online.