Cheap Survival Equipment – the risks, concerns, and reasons why some of it is ok, even if it isn’t world class
This article is about the cheap 72 hour kits and all encompassing survival equipment kits that are all over the market.
After every flood, fire and earthquake, the FEMA (Federal emergency Management Agency) Alerts increase and the market gains a few more purveyors of crappy inexpensive 72 hour kits packaged in a horribly built backpack. Access to inexpensive equipment that can help you manage after an unexpected disaster is not a bad idea. It’s the execution and the borderline unethical marketing and implementation that comes along with this market influx that’s bad.
This article will talk about the concept of bad emergency kits, the poor quality products that are used to populate them, and the important information you need to know to avoid getting taken advantage of these bad market offerings.
The weird marketplace for 72 hour kits
There is a huge difference between the high end and the low end of the market when it comes to 72 hour kits, and by extension, preparedness products. You either have exceptionally expensive, built to last equipment or you have exceptionally cheap, “may not even do the job you bought it for”, products. Sure there is a bit of in-between, but not enough to competently outfit your needs.
Usually what happens is that a new provider (almost invariably an internet marketing company that seizes the opportunity to sell through to a list they’ve curated) finds a cheap, easy to market product in a kit form. People like “value” even if it isn’t actually value, just a cleverly disguised marketing construct.
The psychology of bundling and offering cheap pricing
It’s a hard sell to anyone who has never been negatively affected by a disaster, to try to get them to buy a 72 hour kit. But fear is a powerful motivator. When you see your family in a city 4 states over getting their home ruined by a flood and being displaced. You want to do whatever you can to avoid that situation for yourself.
If you are displaced by a wildfire, you want to do whatever you can to improve the chances of maintaining your quality of life, or avoiding further issues.
“Strike while the iron is hot.” That’s the marketing manifesto. When people see or feel pain and discomfort, they are psychologically more inspired to make a purchase than they were before. If you can present perceived value and offer some semblance of comfort, they consider this marketing pitch a realistic catalyst.
Furthermore, when you bundle “everything you need to survive in the aftermath of a disaster” into a convenient package that even a kid could fit on their back, for the low price of $259, it’s easy to justify a one time purchase.
Itemizing a kit with everything that comes in it, and highlighting a few pieces makes it seem stupid not to buy. But that’s not how prepping works – at least not for smart, preppers who are making decisions based off of reality.
The point of this article isn’t to argue against the product mix of a cheap 72 hour kit, but rather, to show the concerns that come along with making bad decisions on important purchases, especially when in a poor position.
When you have all these things going against you in the aftermath of a disaster, or when feeling vulnerable to future concerns, you can make bad decisions. This article is intended to help you understand how to balance reality, with good purchasing decisions and not get burned by throwing away money on a bundled cheap 72 hour kit.
The actual cost of the goods
The product mix isn’t always all that bad. There are a lot of good concepts and even passable gear in some of these inexpensive 72 hour kits. But it should not be misunderstood – the cost of sourcing these cheap products is unbelievably low. The profit margins on 72 hour kits is unbelievably high. There is enough money in the profit margins to pay multiple middlemen to ensure the product meets with the consumer.
In fact, many of these kits offer 75%+ profit margins. That’s because the price of the shovel in that 72 hour kit is about $3. The price of that first aid kid with those horrible bandaids and near useless gauze is about $8. The price of that fake polycord is about 80 cents. The price of that dehydrated rice and beans packet, or that energy bar is about 24 cents. The whole kit is made from cheap, unrealistic equipment and items that won’t last past the first use and isn’t prioritizing anything but profits for the seller.
So the key here is to understand which items can be procured cheaply, and which items you need to get a better quality version of, so you can rely on it in a time of need. Some things are worth spending on to ensure they don’t fail you in a time of need.
And let’s be completely transparent – most ‘disasters’ don’t end with people living on their own without government assistance for weeks afterwards unless they are truly a result of collapse of several infrastructural components at once – at least not in first world countries.
It’s not lost on this author that disasters happen in impoverished places commonly. It’s not a secret that disasters aren’t always able to be planned for, or that disasters can happen anywhere.
The focal point of this article is that no matter how impoverished you are, or how unexpected the disaster is, you can still properly prepare for it. And you shouldn’t be taken advantage of just because you aren’t willing to spend a ton of money on prepping gear, or cannot afford to spend a large amount at this time.
Can you get away with some cheap products – which cheap survival products are probably OK?
The cheap survival products you can likely get away with are things like mylar reflective blankets for a just in case situation; cheap tarping (though you should choose to have a larger amount on hand), or cases of bottled water.
Tools need to be robust enough to use repeatedly. Additionally, tools need to be mated to the jobs you expect, and the makeup of your location. Having a silcock key in an urban environment makes a lot of sense. Having a large knife and a hand saw make a lot of sense in a wilderness setting. Having water on hand always makes sense. Don’t skimp on quality, and plan to have more quantity than you think you need, on hand. Don’t cheap out on medical equipment like gauze, bandages, and the like.
What do you actually need in a 72 hour kit?
Here are some common items listed in 72 hour kits, and our commentary on them
Bivy or Sleeping Bag
Water bottles/bladder (full)
First Aid Reference Guide
We can’t make the determination for you about what you want or need. What we can say is that if you cannot envision any possibility of you going from your apartment in a densely populated city into the wilderness, maybe dial back the wilderness and bushcraft tooling and opt towards things that help you solve problems more practically in the urban environment.
That’s why it’s not a practical idea to buy a kit and sit back and relax if you want to actually be prepared.
Also, it’s a 72 hour kit. If you’re worried that you will have to go, within a 72 hour period from staying in your city apartment, to making a shelter in the wilderness 75 miles away, you should not be prepping at such a lackadaisical pace, or without getting much deeper into the planning phases.
Most people need help in the first 12 hours and the 4th day of an emergency event. The 72 hour period is one where you need to focus on the basics – FOOD – SHELTER – WATER – COMMUNICATION (not necessarily in that order).
Is more harm done by buying inferior products?
Yes! There is no doubt at all that if a crucial piece of gear or survival equipment fails, you are going to see a negative impact.
But not all the tools in that cheap 72 hour kit are going to be applicable to your needs after a specific disaster or emergency.
The biggest issue usually faced by people in the aftermath of an event is access to communication, transportation and clean water, then food, and then tools that may help with survival.
In MOST modern cities, and even in the rural areas, this is going to be a realistic statement.
So you need gas in the tank, advanced warning, early action to get to a safe place, a way to communicate, as well as a backup communication device or network of people, and water. That’s pretty cheap for most people in most cities. The rest is generally reliant upon good planning.
Fill up some 5 gallon just of water in the trunk of your car and make a basic go bag with some long-term food items and some clothing and you’re likely to be mostly covered.
Of course it’s not that easy. You cannot prepare for everything with a car, some water and a change of clothes, but if you’re the consumer at risk of being taken advantage of a poorly constructed 72 hour kit, these things will go a long way to help you out in a serious crisis.
The point still stands – buy crappy quality tooling and get inferior results. Buy good quality equipment and you will likely have the solution you need in place, even if the payoff doesn’t happen until the moment you have to rely upon it.
What’s the reality that I will ever need any of this equipment in a 72 hour kit? Who cares if it’s not great quality?
And that’s kind of the drawback or paradox of prepping. You buy gear and tooling and food and storage equipment and do whatever you can to prepare for serious concerns, and inevitably, you use those items in day to day life to extract value out of them, instead of using them in the situations you bought them for in the first place. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
To have all the stuff you need for a major earthquake and never needing it, is in itself a value.
To have all the food you need to live off the grid for 9 months and never having to rely on it, so instead having to cycle through it in your normal day-to-day meal prep, is in itself a value.
To have all the survival gear you need to protect yourself in a ‘lost in the wilderness’ scenario, but never getting lost in the wilderness is a NET POSITIVE for you.
The actual truth is, you are not likely to use most of the gear in a 72 hour kit very often, and certainly not for prolonged periods of time. But that’s not the point. The point is: most prepping gear is to have on hand, the items you need in an emergency. Period. So, a 72 hour kit makes a lot of sense, to stow in a closet, a cupboard or a car trunk, just in case.
And, of course there are items you will use more often, and some are daily use items.
Going back to that partial list of items above, you might be able to see some value for certain items, or see that some are basically useless except with prior planning and an actual emergency or disaster event.
Having a $3 camping tarp isn’t going to do much except in an emergency situation, and would be of negligible value if it can’t hold up to sustained use. It’s a one time use product. Having a proper camping tarp built to last from premium materials will net you years of weekly or more frequent use.
Having a crappy $4 multi-tool might not even help you in an emergency. But having a $75 multitool and carrying it or putting it into your glove box or work bag could see constant use with excellent value and help you accomplish a lot of tasks.
A two-way radio won’t do any good unless both parties with a handset have charged them, and have access to them, and are in a position to help each other or to improve information flow. If the batteries aren’t able to maintain a charge, or be recharged, or you don’t have a way to replace batteries in the field during a disaster, they will be rendered useless.
(By the way, most cheap 72 hour kits aren’t sophisticated enough to include a 2-way radio.)
Having good gauze is essential, especially in an emergency. Guess what, having 2 feet of horrible quality gauze is better than nothing, but it’s hardly a proper first aid implementation. That’s where these cheap 72 hour kits are causing real problems for consumers. They lull users into a false sense of security by bulking out lists, but with poorly fit items for real emergencies.
And that’s the real crux of this article: These inexpensive, mass produced 72 hour emergency kits are fine from a conceptual perspective, but they aren’t fairly outfitting users. They aren’t as comprehensive in the practical sense as they should be, and they utilize bad catalysts, and fear to drive purchases during times of need.
Of course in a perfect world everyone who could be affected by a natural disaster or other emergency would be natively and organically prepping for that potential event, and wouldn’t be able to be taken advantage of. The simple fact is that education, understanding and resources are still lacking to see this happen.
If you’re reading this article, you aren’t at as high a risk as others who aren’t proactively searching for education on this matter.
Why people become hardcore preppers
It only takes a single event to convince most people that they never want to feel as vulnerable or uncomfortable as they did in that emergency scenario. But many aren’t so lucky. Some people never get a second chance. Tsunami victims that were on the beaches or bays of those places destroyed by the waves could have been the best preppers in the world and not been fast enough to outrun the danger.
Those who were in cars on bridges in earthquakes may not have been able to safely exit cars or get to safety.
These same catalysts prompt us to consider gear and tools that may help us avoid the concerns many have after a major event.
The sadness or fear we feel when we hear about tragedies is not nearly as compelling (oddly enough) as the stories of prolonged annoyance or displacement of an event that affects survivors. Think: Hurricane Katrina, or the California Wildfires. There was enough warning that many avoided death. But the aftermath was a life changing event for many others. Many lost their homes; many were looted as store owners; many were displaced for weeks or months.
These stories of feeling helpless for a long period of time is what compels many to become hardcore preppers. Some are those who don’t even face similar potential disaster conditions, are pushed to become preppers because they can imagine similar discomfort from some disaster or event.
What benefit is prepping when it comes to the reality of emergency planning?
It’s true – many events may not be benefitted through proper preparedness. As weird as that sounds, preparedness is a mindset, and it is not always going to be the panacea some people make it out to be. Yes, you benefit from shifts in mindset, uncovering information and gaining experience. But if you are a prepper that preps for global financial collapse, you may not be properly prepared for a freak volcano explosion that causes a huge volume of ash to make agriculture problematic.
Similarly, if you live in California, and you prepare for Earthquakes, but then a wildfire is the disaster that causes you problems, the overlap may exist, but you won’t be fully prepared for all considerations.
The real benefit of being a prepper is that you are gaining knowledge, experience and preparing for practical needs that cover more than one or most of the conditions you may find yourself in, even if it doesn’t make you invulnerable to all types of specific disasters or emergencies.
Here’s an example: You are a prepper, convinced that a super volcano will cause major issues for you, even though you are a full state away from Yellowstone National Park (for example). Part of your preps include a massive food stash, and multiple ways to access clean water, as well as substantial water storage. You also have begun to make an orchard and multiple vegetable gardens.
You lose your job. The market is soft. Employment outlook is bleak for at least 18 months.
Your disaster is that you cannot afford to pay a lot of bills and need to survive. Because you have prepared with a large food storage component in your preps, you are able to wait out a large period of time without your usual income.
The super volcano never happens, and in fact, you find a remote work position and are able to make an income again, and replace/replenish your food storage. Your preps have provided benefits in the most important way, even if they didn’t apply to the catalyst that made you prepare in the first place.
What about the government?
Many preppers are prepared because they DON’T TRUST their Government. Many preppers prefer not to be in a position to have to rely on the government. All bias or political opinion aside, in the United States *(a vast majority of our traffic for this website, and therefore an applicable geolocation) very few blunders by the Government are talking points for reasons not to trust that there will be help from Government organizations in the aftermath of a disaster.
While that is a blanket statement and every disaster has it’s nuances, the US government has been relatively capable at helping after a major event of emergency or displacement.
Here’s the deal though – the help from the Government is not necessarily aligned with the type of help you may expect or desire to feel comfortable. As such, prepping makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. Simply picking up a cheap 72 hour kit is not going to provide that comfort and confidence like buying real gear or planning properly will.
Some important final notes about 72 hour kits
- Having something is almost always better than having nothing…
- But, most importantly, you need clean air, food, clean water, and shelter. Those are the most important things in the aftermath of an event like we generally prepare for
- Most cheap 72 hour kits do little if anything to help provide those things
- You should build a kit based on the most likely to occur conditions, and the items you may need to use to survive
- If you live in a city, and have no bushcraft knowledge or skills, having a saw and paracord may not help you as much as you think it will – yes you can find things to use those items on, but how relevant are they?
- In the above urban environment, you’d be better served with a bag of clothes, water, food, and backup communications device, as well as a full tank of fuel for your vehicle
Your needs are going to be different than everyone else’s, and that’s why the most important takeaway of this article is this:
Don’t get lulled into a false sense of comfort just because you made a purchase of an inexpensive 72 hour kit. Your best bet is to understand what you would do in the event of a major emergency situation or disaster. If you plan based on your existing understanding and skills, you can refine your plan, your tooling, and your purchases as you go to be ever more prepared.