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Buy or die: 27 prepper items you need to survive the apocalypse

We’re all preppers now.

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The apocalypse is fashion-forward.

If you find yourself in a big box store during the early hours at the end of the world, you might reach for zip-off cargo pants and Crocs — if you’re an Inverse reader.

This summer, Inverse surveyed readers about what they’d shove into a backpack if they were caught unprepared for the collapse of society.

Interest in prepping spiked in the Northeastern United States in March 2020, and while it’s cooled off from those panicked levels, the concept is now fully out of the bunker. Prepping has gone mainstream for those of us who do not have a house in New Zealand.

Beyond the lockdowns, protests in city streets against police brutality shook up white America and caused arms sales to soar. The escalating destruction from natural disasters — a result of climate change; here’s the data — also drives prepper growth. Personal factors, like a new child, also pull people into prepping.

It’s easier than ever to prep. You don’t need a membership to a warehouse store to buy a pallet’s worth of canned beans. You need only Amazon Prime.

I asked readers of the Inverse Daily newsletter (subscribe here) a few questions about this scenario:

What's in your apocalypse bag? You know, the backpack you carry when the world ends. These are your essentials for the post-apocalyptic world that you can fit in a standard backpack. The setting for our poll is a partially looted big box store outside New Haven, Connecticut.

Precisely 3,292 people completed our survey. While all of the items below require you buy them on Amazon, one tip espoused by preppers for those first 72 hours is to get cash and gas up your vehicle.

Finally, an essential part of prepping is making a plan with your family and neighbors. This seems to rub against the prepper culture — think John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lanebut communication is critical before the S. hits the F.

Below are the survey results and a few selected recommendations...

While an aluminum seat post of a bicycle could prove to be a handy weapon or basic tool, it was the least-picked item.

27. Streamlight Survivor LED Flashlight

The flashlight to end all flashlights. Of nearly 700 reviews, this flashlight has an aggregate rating of 4.9 out of 5 on Amazon. I personally own this one, and it charges quickly (depending on which model you buy). The light beam can cut through thick hazes, good for foggy weather, either from the dust and rubble of buildings after an alien invasion or just when the power is out.

This review from Amazon stuck with me and convinced me to purchase: “I used this light while working in a rescue capacity during Hurricane Sandy that hit NYC in 2012. The Streamlight was the only light that performed flawlessly during the whole event.”

26. Kobalt Telescoping Magnetic Pickup Tool

Perfect for picking up loose nuts and bolts in a pre-apocalyptic world, this telescoping magnetic can lift up to two pounds and extend more than two feet.

The product description also takes on new meaning if you’re fighting off zombies or warlords who are after your gasoline (emphasis ours): “Intelligently designed and engineered for serious, high-stakes projects, Kobalt tools are built to take on-the-job punishment while delivering dependable, impressive results. Kobalt tools are easy to use and made with precision craftsmanship and the level of fit, finish, and detail that changes your expectation of how tools should work.”

Sardines for the end of the world.

25. Sardines for the end of the world

When faced with a food shortage, you can do worse than sardines. Ensure you get enough Omega-3s and stave off hunger as you try to build a life in the New United States of America.

Rope is popular among Inverse Daily readers when compared to winter gloves or N95 masks.

24. Wellmax Diamond Braid Nylon Rope

Readers were all in on rope in the apocalypse. One of the essential tools for the end of the world can be used in ways only limited by one’s imagination. Maybe you need to tie up a loved one who’s about to turn into a zombie. Maybe you need to set a trip wire at the entrance to your temporary hideout. Here in the pre-apocalypse, a rope is great for the trunk of your car, in your camping gear, or with your tools for projects where you need a little leverage.

Of nearly 200 reviews on Amazon, the Wellmax Diamond Braid Nylon Rope has 4.7/5 stars. My favorite review includes this straightforward line: “Use this stuff for rope type applications, you know, like tying stuff up, pulling things around, maybe dropping things in holes. Totally legit stuff here. Get some for solving problems.” Easy!

The vast majority of readers chose medicine over a solar charger or a mystery USB stick with bitcoin.

23. Riapow Solar Charger

An essential for a powerless world. The solar-powered charger will keep your devices alive when the grid goes down. Nearly 5,800 reviews on Amazon, and this rugged charger boasts a 4.5/5 rating. One reviewer notes it’s great for camping — perfect for the end-times when the whole world is basically a camping trip:

“We purchased this for use on a backpacking trip recently. We couldn't run the thing down! LOL, We kept 2 phones charged for 4 days on the trail and LOTS of pictures! It's heavy and bulkier than the sleek, tiny things we're used to, so don't plan to carry it in your purse or pocket, but for no electricity available situations, it is great!”

Two out of three Inverse readers are going for the Leatherman multi-tool.

22. Leatherman Wave Plus Multitool

The best multitool on the market and tough enough for doomsday. The knife is what you’ll likely use the most on this tool — based on my personal experience here in the pre-apocalypse — but at the end of the world, you may also find it the go-to. The second might be the pliers and the can opener.

21. Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe

If you head to the woods — fleeing the city might be a wise idea — during the end of days, a Pulaski ax is a great tool to stuff into your bugout bag. This model on Amazon has a 4.6/5 rating.

“Great ax. It is very well made and has held up to several camping trips. It took a bit to get used to the balance. It is top-heavy. Works great for small splitting chores at the campsite. I don't know if I would use it to limb a tree, but it is a great all-around camp ax,” writes one reviewer.

The official description offers a history lesson of sorts: “Used for light splitting, chopping, driving tent pegs, etc. The pattern is thought to have originated from ‘Biscayan’ in Northern Spain, near France. French traders used this hand ax as a trade tool with Native Americans for fur and other commodities in the Hudson Bay area, St. Lawrence River, and other trade routes.”

20. Seiko Men's Automatic Stainless Steel Watch

Why do you need to know what time it is when society collapses? You don’t, really. But it’s wise to figure out how to time events to navigate your way through a chaotic and seemingly unpredictable landscape.

A common excuse for not wearing watches today is that people say they can check their phones for the time. Not if your phone is dead because the grid has gone down, and a black start doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon.

Enter the Seiko self-winding watch. This is an automatic watch that is powered by the movement of your arm. Wear this watch for eight hours a day or manually wind it by turning the crown.

Duct tape over toothpaste is an interesting choice.

19. Commercial duct tape

Skrrrt! The unmistakable sound of duct tape being ripped from its roll signals that you need to secure something very strongly and quickly, if not permanently. If your basement is flooding, duct tape will buy a little time as you hastily run it up your door jam. If you’re fresh out of medical supplies, well, duct tape may help.

You can never have enough of it, which is why I’m recommending this three-pack of 30-yard rolls.

A tent was the clear winner in this scenario.

18. Rhino Blinds Hunting Ground Blind

On Amazon, this specific tent has a remarkably high rating for a product that seemingly could be used in various conditions. More than 1,200 ratings have resulted in an aggregate score of 4.5/5 stars. Why a hunting blind? If you're forced to live outside, even for part of the year, camouflage is essential. Stay hidden, stay alive.

This model can fit two people and is constructed of true 150 denier polyester in both a vertical and horizontal weave. The manufacturer boasts this tent can be set up in 60 seconds, but I haven't tried getting down to that time just yet.

17. Rokrou Torch Propane Torch

Receiving 11.2 percent of votes in our reader survey was a propane torch. Instant fire in the early days of the apocalypse — or months later, if you end up not using it — can be vital in staying warm and cooking outdoors, or just at home if you have an electric stove.

This torch heats up to 3,000F. Used in the pre-apocalypse by aggressive gardeners looking to eliminate plants that grow between crevices, you can use it however you'd like at the end of the world.

Roller skates may get you around a city faster than Crocs or toe shoes, but they were the least popular choice.

16-14. Crocs, Toe Shoes, or Rollerskates

“Unbranded Crocs-like shoes” was the runaway favorite in one question asking readers what shoes would they stuff into their backpack if given a choice between the spongy zapatos, toe shoes, or roller skates. Some 57.2 percent of voters chose Crocs, proving that comfort rules.

The apocalypse may not look like The Walking Dead, with people wandering in the wilds. It may look a lot like last year’s lockdown. You’ll want to be comfortable.

The second most popular option was toe shoes: The staple of water sports enthusiasts. Coming in third, roller-skates.

A spanner wrench is more key, more than a set of allen keys or tongs at the end of the world.

13. Adjustable Wrench, 12-Inch

In this prologue to the apocalypse, a high-quality adjustable wrench like this is “ideal for plumbing, automotive, and gas industries.” In a grim world where TaskRabbit no longer exists, and the Home Depot is headquarters for marauding criminals, you’re going to want your own wrench.

Made by TOP, a Japanese company in business since 1939 out of Sanjo City, a historically notable metal processes region in the country, this wrench is made of chrome vanadium steel and promises a lifetime of use.

Some 67 percent of our respondents chose this item over the two items below.

12. Stainless steel barbecue tongs

Delicately handle hot or otherwise dangerous objects and give yourself a wee bit of distance between your precious fingers and whatever it is you’re holding.

These tongs are made of non-magnetic stainless steel, and the manufacturer, NYKK, claims they are “suitable for many occasions, catering and tea parties, family gatherings, weddings or daily use.” Could some of those “many occasions” include ghastly chores in a world melted by climate change? Quite possibly. Maybe that’s why 16 percent of respondents chose tongs as the item for their bug-out bag.

11. Bondhus 20399 Ball End L-Wrench

Allen keys are a dime a dozen these days. They come with every piece of cheap furniture that comes flat-packed to your apartment or house. They are included with car parts and accessories and come with any toolset you could buy.

This doesn’t mean they are all the same, though. The ends of cheap Allen wrenches round off after a lot of use and become useless. Not Bondhus, though. These wrenches are made from “Protanium steel for extra-high torque,” One end is a ball-shape, making angular turning easy.

What’s this have to do with the apocalypse? Well, about all that flat-packed furniture, those barbecue grills, and those car accessories— you’ll want to strip them for parts. You’ll want the quiet, reliable efficiency of Bondhus when the roving gangs are nearby, listening for easy prey. The 17 percent of survey respondents who chose Allen wrenches were likely thinking about this when they chose. I own Bondhus to work on my bicycles and would trust them during armageddon.

A water filter won out in this health-focused question.

10. Waterdrop Personal Water Filter

Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said they would grab the personal water filter. And when the infrastructure shuts down, and the bottled water runs out, you’ll be glad you had the foresight to grab this filter in the opening hours of the doomsday.

The manufacturer of this specific filter claims this bad boy “effectively reduces 99 percent of harmful substances.” Reviewers on Amazon, some 687 of them, rate this filter a 4.7/5. An solid prepper purchase.

9. Tasker Contractor Trash Bags

The one thing you always seemed to run out of in your twenties will help you here. Please think of the sanitation department and how much garbage they haul away once or twice a week. Now imagine that doesn’t exist.

These garbage bags are a massive 60-gallon (which is about double the normal trashcan size in your kitchen), and they are thick enough to not tear from most items you’d want to put in them: “At this thickness, bags can cope with anything from nails to jagged glass or splintered framing.”

When you have to drain your swimming pool so you can turn it into a garbage hole, you’ll want to have a big supply of the Tasker contractor-grade garbage bags. The type of person who leaves reviews of garbage bags on Amazon also likes them: “In conclusion, not only would I buy these bags again, I would also suggest them to my 78-year-old dearly loved mother.”

8. A gravel bike

Our last question was this one: “As you leave the store, you look at the bike rack. All of the locks have been cut. What luck! Which do you choose?”

A gravel bike was the clear winner, receiving more than 90 percent of the votes.

The gravel bike trend we’re currently experiencing couldn’t come at a better time for apocalyptic preppers. While there are dozens of brands out there, you’ll find the Royce Union Men's Gravel Lightweight Aluminum Bike on Amazon.

It doesn’t require gasoline or electricity. It’s quiet. The present is run by cars. The future is ruled by bicycles.

8a. YYD Robo Foldable Electric Kick Scooter

City streets are increasingly home to electric scooters, whether they be the ones you can rent or ones like the YYD Robo Foldable Electric Kick Scooter, which over the long run, will save you money if you rent scooters or just take the subway.

While whirring between abandoned cars on the Interstate in an electric scooter paints an oddly carefree picture in one’s mind, it’s preferable to hoofing it through a forgotten hellscape.

This model offers a range of 13 miles on a single charge of five hours, and it folds up so you can carry it — or hide it from thieves.

8b. X-Pro 150cc Gas Street Motorcycle

This was the least popular choice among survey respondents, and I must say I was surprised. If given a choice between a gravel bike, an electric scooter, or a gas-powered moped... OK, I still would have chosen the bicycle. But the end of the world will be ruled by gasoline if Mad Max has taught me anything.

A huge percentage of survey respondents would go for cargo pants that zip off into shorts instead of Transitions lenses or marijuana-infused gummies.

7. Cargo pants that zip off into shorts

In our survey scenario, readers were put into the situation where they were in a big box store a few hours after society began to break down. In this situation, they were asked to choose one of three items to stuff into their backpack. Half of the nearly 3,300 people opted to grab a pair of these pants instead of Transitions lenses (the ones that go from regular to tinted frames) or cannabis gummies.

About the pants: “This men's durable convertible pant features one zip-closure security pocket, side pockets with hook and loop closure, and mesh pocket bags for ultimate convenience and security.”

They may be the look for Midwestern tourists in Times Square, but when humanity’s collective misfortune occurs, you’ll perhaps wish you had pants with options.

6-1: Additional prepper essentials:

Look, all joking about zombies and Mad Max aside, there will likely be more days without power because of the increasing number of natural weather disasters created due to climate change.

Spending six days in the dark in New York City’s East Village in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy taught me a lot about the importance of these items. Those have had it far worse because of hurricanes and power outages also can vouch for these six essentials:

  1. Camping fuel to eat your food
  2. Solar outdoor lights to see what you're doing when the sun goes down
  3. Toilet paper
  4. Advil
  5. Paper plates (a game-changer when you’ve not got running water)
  6. Multivitamins (There won’t be a lot of fresh veggies; you’ll need your nutrients)

Two Bug-out bag/backpack suggestions:

1. Chrome Industries Barrage Cargo Roll Top Backpack

I own this bag. It’s massive. It’s waterproof. It’s sturdy. This is the only bag you’ll need.

The downside is that it’s massive, and it’s waterproof, too. Those things can mean heavy and hot.

2. Carhartt Legacy Deluxe Work Backpack

Amazon reviewers love this bag, and its several pockets make it a utility winner. If big and waterproof isn’t your thing, choose this one.

That wraps up our guide. Thanks to all of our Inverse Daily readers who voted. We’ll survey our readers again and share the results in the near future.