23 Items Under $5 That Can Save Your Life!

survival items

I grew up in sunny California, and even though I have now lived in Utah for nearly 20 years, I still get this unsettled feeling whenever winter starts to settle in. When I think of how COLD it gets and the things that could potentially go wrong while on the road, or even at home should the power go out, I am reminded of how woefully prepared I am for such emergencies.

I recently came across this article on OutdoorLife.com about $2 items that can save your life and it was just the nudge I needed to at least get SOMETHING together for an emergency kit. Whether it’s a winter survival kit, or just a survival kit in general….you don’t have to spend a fortune to get started. When you think about it, sometimes the most valuable things in an emergency are also the cheapest things you can buy.


Here are some $5-or-less emergency prep items to get you started on your way to self-sufficiency.


survival items

Iodine Tincture

This can be used to disinfect wounds, gear and even drinking water! Just add 5-10 drops of 2% iodine to 1 quart of suspect drinking water. Use 5 drops if the water is warm and clear, use 10 drops of the water is ice cold or cloudy. Shake it up for a moment and wait one hour before drinking.



survival items

Candle Can

Seasoned wilderness travelers always carry an empty soup can and a supply of at least a dozen long-burning votive candles. Put the candle into the can, light it, and it will supply just enough heat to keep you from freezing to death in a closed vehicle after you’ve run out of gas.



survival items

Small Bottle Of Bleach

In an emergency, you can use tiny amounts of bleach to purify water. A small bottle of bleach can disinfect hundreds of gallons of drinking water. It can also be used to sterilize equipment and food preparation areas, as well as for general cleaning. For drinking water, add 2 to 4 drops of plain Clorox per quart of water (2 drops if clear, 4 drops if cold or muddy).



survival items

A Lighter

A $1.39 lighter is worth its weight in gold, no matter how injured you are – if you have a working thumb and a lighter, you have fire. And at that low price, you can afford to stock up.



survival items

Stick Matches

Lighters should be carried as well for redundancy, but don’t forget about matches for a real emergency kit. A case of 10 or a dozen boxes of stick match will usually run you less than $2, and provide you with 300 or more matches.



survival items

Fire Starter

A mini fire log could be used in its entirety to start one fire in horrible conditions, or cut into pieces to start many fires under other conditions.



survival items

Duct Tape

Make emergency repairs on, tents, gear, bags, tarps, packs, sleeping bags, clothing, rain gear, etc.
It can also be used for wrapping sprained ankles in an emergency.



survival items

Super Glue

It is essentially liquid duct tape and can fix many things you’ll inevitably break that you won’t be able to easily purchase again.



survival items


There are literally dozens of uses for these versatile pieces of cloth. Bandage for a wound, fire starter (soak it in oil or Vaseline), trail marker (rip pieces to show where you’ve been), neck and head covering to prevent heatstroke or sunburn, sling for an injured arm, tourniquet for snake bites or wounds where you need to cut circulation.



survival items

Box of Bandages

If you can keep the dirt out of all your wounds, you can keep infections minimized. You can even use the bandages to “tape” things together in a pinch.



survival items

Bread In A Can

This rodent-proof, bug-proof, waterproof metal can of bread with a three-year shelf life might not be the most delicious carbs you’ll ever eat, but it only costs about $2.50 and packs 1,040 calories per loaf/can!



survival items

Hand Sanitizer

When you don’t have easy access to soap and water, you can fight infection by using an alcohol-based sanitizer to clean your hands before and after treating injuries. In addition to its normal use, hand sanitizer can also be used as a flame accelerant thanks to its high alcohol content.



survival items

Sports Tape

This first-aid box staple is great at keeping your dressings and bandages in place. It’s also strong and sticky enough to be used to hold things together, or to make improvised butterfly sutures.



survival items

Pencil Sharpener

Take a twig roughly the diameter of a pencil and use the sharpener to make shavings (or tinder) to get a fire started! Simple and SUPER cheap!



survival items

Activated Charcoal

If your digestive system is turned upside-down while stranded, without access to a store, pharmacy or medical facility, activated charcoal can be your best friend. Activated charcoal is used in hospitals worldwide for patients who ingest drugs or chemicals and has saved countless lives.



survival items

Mini Flashlights

Little lightweight LED flashlights are super long-lasting, surprisingly bright for their size, and frequently on sale. They’re a great value for the money and you can stash them in all the different places you might need them.



survival items

A Compass

If you know how to use a compass, it is an invaluable tool. It is a good idea for everyone to learn at least the basics of using a compass, and to have a good idea of basic directional orientation.



survival items

A Mirror

A signaling mirror is great for signaling at long distances or to passing ships or aircraft. It can also be used for checking wounds, rashes, etc in places you would not otherwise be able to see.



survival items

Survival Blanket

A reflective emergency blanket could be the best $2 you ever spend if you’re lost in the wild. It will help keep you warm (if reflects body heat back to you,) and it’s also great for signaling, as it will reflect a lot of sunlight. This can also be used to waterproof your shelter, and to collect rainwater.


survival items

Loud Whistle

When you are lost, injured or stranded, your ability to signal for help is the number one factor in being rescued. Carrying a rescue whistle on your person is an inexpensive and easy way to identify yourself as being in need of rescue. While you’re waiting to be rescued, make lots of noise.



survival items

Heavy Cord or Light Rope

Use it for shelter, whether for tying frame pieces together, or for stringing up a tarp between trees. Also use it for splints, traps, etc.


 survival items

Dental Floss

Aside from dental hygiene, it is incredibly strong and can be used to sew buttons or any material. It is sterile so you can stitch a wound. You can tie down a tent or tarp as long as you don’t wrap it over a sharp edge. You can even fish with it.



survival items

Drop Cloth

Plastic drop cloths can be used for sealing windows and doors when there is concern of pandemics, and they also have a myriad of camping uses. You can make a hole in it and use it as a Poncho, it also makes a good tent to sleep under. Avoid the very thin plastic drop cloths, they should be at least a couple mils thickness.



survival items

Of course these are just a few of the myriad of supplies that might be necessary should you find yourself in a true emergency, but at least it’s a START! Which is much more than I had going on previously!  Now I just need to work on stockpiling insulin and pump supplies for my son. THEN I will REALLY feel prepared. :-)


Please share your survival kit tips!


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      • Angie says

        Well that was rude! Didn’t your mom teach you if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?
        Jen, you could probably click the CleanPrint button at the bottom of the post (before the comment section) and that will hopefully work for you. :)

        • Anon says

          It was not rude, it appears to be just a neutral suggestion without ill-intent. It’s easy to print out a webpage and/or make it a pdf. Your reaction makes me sad. Maybe your taking offense so easily is a reflection that you are inclined to think that way or are used to being treated that way. Please think about how you read things. It can be a reflection of the hurt inside of you.

      • Jennifer says

        I’m sorry but I laughed so hard when I read “make it yourself” that I spilled my coke out of my mouth. I don’t know if it was meant to be rude or not, but Jillee goes through a lot of effort to put these little blogs together. Why should we expect her to make things in printable format, provide links, whatever. Didn’t she do enough to begin with? It seems people are never satisfied.

  1. Amethyst Samia says

    You should ALREADY have a stockpile of insulin and pump supplies on hand for your son Jillee. Wherever he goes should have a supply on hand. I keep a large stockpile due to issues with placing orders, delivery, etc. it once took me 6 months to get an order of pump supplies delivered. Fortunately I was stocked.

    • Jana says

      I have trouble getting my pharmacy to even give me a three month supply of meds my doctor orders. I have often wondered how people manage to get an “emergency supply” when I have to argue just to get what we need. If I go back to the pharmacy earlier than three months, they refuse to fill the order……

      • Tayne says

        Your insurance will allow you to fill several days early. With a 1-month supply, you can usually fill 4-5 days early. With a 3-month supply, you should be able to fill 7-10 days early. This does not apply to controlled substances, of course which insulin is not. If you have a pharmacist that is not allowing you to fill until THE DAY, you have a jerk for a pharmacist. (I can say that because I am one…..a pharmacist, not a jerk.) There is always the chance of dropped/lost doses. Many insulins can be purchased over-the-counter in order to stock up. Especially, insulin-R for emergency purposes.

  2. Carla says

    Bottled water. I prefer to drink tap water, but in an emergency situation it would be nice to have on hand. Also would be a good idea to keep a few dollars in your emergency kit. If you can, a solar charger for your cell phone or at least a spare battery.

    • Patricia says

      A solar charger is something I hadn’t thought of. I’m kind of narrowly focused on the idea of civil unrest as a reason to stockpile supplies in case we’re stuck at home for a period of time. In a case like that, cell phone service might go down. But other things can happen too. I’ll look into other things.

  3. Sylvia Anderson says

    As usual, you’ve done it again Jillie. This was an especially good post with the ability to save someone in a variety of circumstances, and definitely a keeper. Your blog is my favorite, because it provides so many people with great advice, no matter their age, walks of life, occupation, hobbies, etc..

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all you do to help all of us out here in Blogland, and for all you have accomplished during your life, so far.

  4. Stephanie F. Asbridge says

    Holy smokes! Has that Clean Print button always been there??? I never knew, and I just used it per a couple of comments. WOW! I love that printing option! I was able to print this list without the images and get the font smaller and remove space between wording, so instead of printing on 8 pages, I printed down to just less than 2, front and back of one piece of paper. This is an awesome feature on your website, Jillie! Thanks.

  5. says

    You should add garbage bags and tampons. Garbage bags have a huge variety of uses including makeshift toilet when lined with newspapers and a rain poncho beside the obvious waste disposal which is essential for sanitation. Tampons can become wound or nose packing or tinder and I remember bear grylls saying that even the applicators were good for something. Maybe it was a fishing float when sealed with duct tape or maybe a straw? They also have a string and a package which can be useful. And they take up so little room. A pocket knife is also super important.

    • army girl says

      Oh thank you for the reminder. My winter survival kit needs to have tampons & pads both, as well as some–yes even this evil ingredient–vaseline, put into it. Tampons can be coated with the vaseline & used to plug a puncture wound or a bloody nose–when it is later removed, the vaseline prevents the tampon from sticking & pulling loose any formed blood clots, opening the wound causing it to bleed again. Pads can be used as padding in a bandaged wound or in place of a bandage & secured with tape or even better an ace bandage. After all, it is made to collect blood. I recommend “always” brand as it has the weave covering that prevents sticking to wounds.

      Plastic bottled water can be left in the vehicles during freezes without bursting.

      Dip or brush clear nail polish over matches to make them waterproof. It works better than parafin, but parafin is ok too. Polish is the best though. Can be stored in an altoids tin for storage.

      An old metal coffee can be used used to keep these supplies in. Contained & dry.

      A plastic storage container with NONclumping cat litter in the bottom, a gas can small enough to fit inside when closed {I have always used a 2 1/2 gallon gas can in an 18 gallon container} even has room for the small coffee can w/ supplies & another with toilet paper. This whole thing can then safely be put in trunk or the back of many vehicles or suv’s without any trace of gasoline smell. The cat litter absorbs the odors as well as any spill that MAY occur.

      WET WIPES WET WIPES WET WIPES….NEVER go anyplace with them. Use them for a bit of everything. When you are done using them for everything but #2, they can dry out & be used as tinder for starting a fire.

      Plastic zip top bags, I prefer freezer as they are thickest, can be used for MANY things like melting snow or collecting other water for drinking.

      Anyway, hope these tips are helpful!!

  6. Carol H. says

    Thinking about this, if you rounded up all these items, printed the comment that goes with each and attached to the item and packaged it into a “gift”, it would be a wonderful “Thinking about you” or “I love you” gift for kids or grandkids that are on their own and don’t think about preparing for a long lasting power outage or being stranded in a snow storm.

    • Patricia says

      That’s one of those little things people often forget. There are lists online of the top 10 or 100 (or whatever) things that will disappear from store shelves in an emergency. There will be things you might not have thought of. People thing of food and water, but not always things like feminine hygiene, pet needs, cards and games for diversion, etc. The list goes on.

  7. PB says

    Just a note that bleach contains chlorine, which is a gas that dissipates over time and so to use as a sanitizer for water, it needs to be fresh bleach (buy new at least yearly). After adding the bleach, it should sit for 30 minutes before using.

    Great list of items.

  8. Catherine Smith says

    For stick matches, you can coat the match heads with wax to help protect their shelf life and store them in a clearly marked container. I’ve used an old pill bottle. Also a couple of throw pillows can come in handy. A small shovel is also a good idea.

    • Susan says

      You will have to pay out of pocket for the diabetic supplies. Insurance doesn’t like you to stockpile & it is only going to get worse and more expensive with obamacare rammed down our throats.

    • ChrisP says

      You can get activated charcoal tablets or capsules in the ‘stomach remedy’ section at the drug store. You take them orally. They absorb the bad chemicals, help relieve gas, and can even help with a mild bout of food poisoning.
      I keep them on hand at home all the time. They can be used if your dog gets into some chocolate.

  9. Ann says

    A great list! Thanks Jillee! I would also advise anyone that can afford it, to buy a gas powered Generator. We just purchased one for under $700 from Harbor Freight, including shipping charges. Wish we had had one in ’93 when we had a huge snow storm that knocked out power for days. Thankfully we had a fireplace to keep us warm but it was rough. A natural gas grill or stove also comes in handy when you have no power, for heating up soup, etc. It’s tough to cook over a fireplace. lol

    You should also think of extra pet supplies if you have a dog or cat. :)

  10. jasi says

    this is a very good list for those who like to camp or are living in rural areas but isn’t the whole survivalist pack fad a little silly for most of us in the burbs? it’s all good and well to have an extra lighter and drinking water about for heavy snow but iodine and charcoal? are we expecting zombies or apocalypse? i’m not sure it’s not just a whole bunch of people excited about buying more stuff and organizing it. but still, jillee, your list is very thorough. i’m honestly impressed.

    • Beth says

      likely that is more an issue of insurance coverage, most insurance won’t pay for “excess” meds. I f you tell them you will pay out of pocket it may help. If the medications are controlled drugs it isn’t just the pharmacy, it is the law that gets in the way of stockpiling, wouldn’t want anyone to get them to sell or abuse.

    • Susan says

      We live in a smaller city….cut off for nearly a week due to a bad snowstorm….and we lived IN TOWN. No way to get our of our neighborhood. So yea, few things like that would come in handy. There is no way an ambulance could have gotten in in case of emergency.

      I also lived in SE Texas. Weather is weather and you can always be affected. Even if you are not personally, your town can be. Did you know that grocery stores only have a 3 day supply?

      it’s not a fad, it’s smart.

  11. Paige says

    Jillee, Thank you so much for the list of survival kit items. I live in earthquake country and have seen a multitude of lists but the can candle, pencil sharpener, bandanas and iodine tincture are all new additions – - and so very practical!! They will be added to my list today! From one parent of a CWD to another – Thank you.

  12. CTY says

    Every area has its weather woes/emergencies/SNAFUs. It’s just a matter of do we want to have a few things around to take care of them so that our little lives are not so easily disrupted. I like to keep an “ace up my sleeve”.
    For me instead of paint tarps, I have a few dollar store shower curtains liners so if I need plastic for something its around & if not I have replacements to use.
    Whistles too. We had a whistle hanging in every room when the kids were growing up. The whistles were to alert the family if there was an emergency in the house. They got used exactly twice–once when an outlet started smoldering and once when the toilet tank cracked.
    Thanks for the post.

  13. chris says

    Jillee, We need your reminder to think ahead and be organized. We all need to take responsibility for our loved ones and ourselves and not count on someone else coming around to rescue us (at least not right away). Whistles are an excellent item. Also, like already mentioned, to keep ahead on medical supplies such as catheters. Thank you for caring!

  14. Deborah Jennings says

    Hard candies, and crackers to keep from being so hungry. Or how about some protein bars? And some kind of blanket.

    Now, I need to get the items I don’t have. I do have a first aid kit in my car. Now I need to get a water proof box to keep all the supplies. I also want to mark the box with a big red + for First Aid.

  15. Keellyn says

    I also think this is a very good list, Jillee! I have a BOB (Bug Out Bag) in both my home and my car. It is packed FULL of items, but a few of your ideas are going to be new additions to them! The pencil sharpener and the brown bread are genius! I also always carry at least 2 gallons of water in each vehicle, along with a machete that doubles as a saw, and a folding camp shovel. I never had any of this stuff in my car when we lived in Florida, but now that we live in Colorado, I can sure see the need for it! It would be SO easy to drive just a little bit off the road, into an embankment, down a hill, or into a huge snow bank. You could be stranded for DAYS! Also, I have a 4 function whistle on my keychain. It has a compass, magnifier, and a thermometer in addition to the whistle! Everyone should have one on their key chains! Keep up the good work Jillee!

  16. Diane says

    Get a safety can opener, the pic with the cut lid is scary an chance of cutting yourself and will need to use some of the other items mentioned!! Nice smooth edge an can seal the can back up!!
    Thanks for all the good tips

  17. Lora says

    In the winter, we also keep an extra coat and warm blanket in the car because you never know when (if) you are going to come on a car crash or emergency where someone is going to need the extra warmth. Yes, we have used them.

  18. Susan says

    Another item for wound care are sanitary pads – make a great dressing and large enough to cover a large wound. Also, gallon ziploc bags are nice to have to make a bucket for gathering water as well as to keep the items in your “Essentials Kit” dry and bug free.

    Thank you, Jillee, for compiling this list and to the readers who have added to the list of “necessary” items!

  19. Pam says

    I grew up in the Australian bush, one of the first things my siblings and i were taught by our Father was to look for clean spider webs on trees to use if we were cut when playing, as the webs will help to co-agulate blood. thus giving us adequate time to get home for help/first aid.

    I have used this bush first aid on a man I pulled out of a car wreck, which gave me time to get him to the hospital an hour away, saving him a heap of blood.

    White pepper is also an excellent co-agulator of blood.

  20. Don says

    Something about the iodine I want to mention. Regular store bought iodine is supposed to be poisonous to drink. Not sure what a few drops would do to you, Lugol’s Iodine is non poisonous and can be ordered cheaply and easily off the web. It even comes with the dropper. You can probably find it at Nature’s or any large health food store. This list is a pretty good basic list and of course you always want a pocket knife in your kit. I like that candle can. That would be a life saver if you were stuck out in the cold. There is a VERY good place that sells first aid and survival items of high quality and for almost dirt cheap prices. Can I give them a plug here? They are super good and worthy of a recommendation. It is called SAFE ZONE LLC. You have to add the LLC to the web address. And no I do not own the place or am i affiliated other than being a very happy repeat customer. I just ordered that knife belt from them. Should be here Friday..pretty cool! Stay safe out there!

  21. rara says

    Last year when bad flooding occured in a big city in Aus the number of people who went out and stocked up on frozen food mystified me! There was no power to many places for days. Canned food is a saviour as is dried, but frozen! Some people who live in big cities have no direct experience of having to make do in an emergency and do not think it through!I have always travelled with an emergency pack in my car and once when my car borke down way out in the bush my sister and I and three kids were able to survive quite happily for over 12 hours until help arrived- in 38 degree celcius heat!

  22. D says

    some great tips, and a good list of the usual suspects as well. Dental floss is not sterile, though. To be sterile, it would have to be stored in a sealed container, which those little plastic boxes are not. In a pinch, it will be useful for stitching, but the crazy glue will also work to seal wounds (a type of crazy glue is actually used sometimes in place of sutures in medical settings)


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