Three Tier Survival Gear Kits

One of the more popular ideas for survival gear organization is the “Three Tier Survival Gear Kit”, also known as Modular Survival Kit.  This extra organization for your Bug Out Bag and EDC will help you to survive almost any situation that you encounter.

Let’s talk about modular survival kits. Once you see the advantages of organizing modularity you won’t go back to throwing all of your gear into a pocket and hoping that you have not forgotten anything, but before we get into that, let’s look at what modular means.

“mod·u·lar” – adjective – composed of standardized units or sections for easy construction or flexible arrangement: a modular home; a modular sofa, involving modules: made up of separate modules that can be rearranged, replaced, combined, or interchanged easily.

So with that understood, lets get under way.

First “Tier”

My basic survival gear is divided up into three “Tiers”,  1st Tier is the stuff that is always in my Josh-Bug-Out-Bag-EDCpocket, organized into an easy to carry/can’t leave anything at home by accident fashion.  Its purpose is to get me through the day-to-day routine, but it is also my fallback or bomb burst kit.  If  I were to be stranded somewhere with nothing else except for what I have on my person, then this Tier 1 Survival Gear Kit is what I would have to survive with.  I keep my Tier 1 gear divided up in three locations on my person (Wallet, Key Chain, Pockets & Belt).

Fire Starter:
I keep a small fire steel, a book of waterproof matches and waxed fire-starter in a small zip lock bag in my wallet for making fires in an emergency.

A small signal mirror can be effective if the time is taken to learn how to use it properly.

First Aid:
A couple of band-aids, a razor blade, and an antiseptic pad pack flat but can be very useful.

Phone Card:
An economical substitution to the classic roll of quarters for emergency, non-cell phone, phone calls.

US Dollars:
I keep a small amount of US Dollars stashed in the zip lock bag as well ($85.00 – 3 x$20’s, 2x$10’s, and 1x$5) and will only use it as a last resort.

(I keep a minimal amount of gear in my wallet to keep the size down but if you want info on a freestanding urban survival wallet kit check out this link.

Key Chain
Cordage is an important part of survival.  It’s used for bowstrings, lashings, fishing line, snares, tying down shelters and more.  I carry about 6 feet of military 550 paracord in the form of a key-chain fob.  One of the benefits of paracord is that not only is it strong (it has a 550 lbs rating – thus the name), but it is made up of a strong outer sheath and seven inner strands that can be used for multiple purposes. Just carrying 6 feet of paracord is like carrying 48 feet of cordage!  Another great way to carry a lot of cordage is to make a paracord bracelet, check out this site for great paracord craft ideas.

Pinch Light: These small pinch lights provide enough light for limited travel and nighttime camp activities (building a fire, setting up camp, bathroom trips, etc.), and the LED versions last forever.

Fire Starter: Redundancy is the key to a good kit, another small fire striker takes up very little space.

Pocket Knife: A small Swiss Army Knife will go unnoticed in most environments, although be careful, in our “Politically Correct” society even a small knife is not allowed in public places like schools, and courthouses.

A small flat whistle is way better than shouting when you need to attract attention.

Compass: Commonly known as a button compass or a that-a-way compass, they may not be that be that accurate but they are sure better than nothing.

(Note: This is my EDC key chain which I keep on a carbiner clip attached to my belt loop. I also have a separate key ring for hiking which is a bit more comprehensive)

Pants Pockets and Belt
Pocket Knife:
A full size lock-back pocket knife (Spyderco Manix) with a good clip and the ability to be opened one handed is an essential piece of gear for utility and last ditch defense. Same cautions apply to this as the pocket knife on the key chain.

Cell Phone: In this modern age while it may not be a survival item it is a nice convenience.

Wallet: As above explained

Flashlight: It depends on if I am expecting to be out after dark whether or not I will carry a Mini-Maglight or similar flashlight.

Multi Tool: Another item that may be left at home depending on the amount of weight I am willing to carry is a Leatherman Or Gerber multi-tool which is an extremely nice piece of equipment for utility use.

By carrying my first “tier” kit I have the means to obtain or improvise food, shelter, and water, I can signal, I have a means of security, and I can administer some limited first-aid.

Second “Tier”

The second-tier survival kit includes items that you can fit in a small carry bag (like a fanny Bug-Out-Bag-Tier-2pack or Camelback back pack). This is the bag that I go hiking with and will often keep in the car as a “Get Home Bag”. I have duplicated, upgraded, and added to the items in my first “tier” kit to make up the second “tier”.

Fixed Blade Knife: A heavy duty Survival Knife like a Spyderco Bushcraft, or on the cheaper end of the scale something like the Gerber Profile.  Something that can serve in a defensive role as well as performing heavy utility duties such as batonning.

Full-Size Compass: Even though I already have one on my  first tier, I like to upgrade to a full-size compass for ease of reading an azimuth.

Water Container: I house my second tier kit in a Camelback, but if internal reservoirs aren’t your thing consider using something like Nalgene or similar.

Fire Starter: Again, for redundancy’s sakes I have a duplicate to what is in my first tier in addition to a water/ wind proof lighter, and a small fire-starting brick.

Water Purification Kit: In a small kit like this, water purification tablets work great.

Flashlight: On my budget I carry a souped-up Mag-light, although I prefer a SureFire G2.

First-Aid Kit:
This is smaller than what I carry in my third-tier  kit, but includes Tweezers, Gorilla tape, 1″ adhesive tape, Ibuprofen, various sizes of band-aids Butterfly closures, moleskin alcohol pads, triple antibiotic ointment Hydro-cortisone cream and a lot more

Simple Shelter: I carry an emergency blanket and sometimes a lightweight tube tent for space’s sake.

Cordage: About fifty feet of para-cord in ten foot lengths.

Signal Mirror: Just a standard signal mirror that has a hole in the center for accurately aiming the reflected light.

Multi-Tool: Usually a copy of what I carry in my first “tier” kit or a Swiss Army Knife.

Rain Gear: A military issue Gore-tex raincoat for when I am expecting rain, otherwise just a Wal-Mart poncho.

Others: I also keep a small waterproof notebook and a pocket addition of the U.S. Army survival manual available.

Third “Tier”

My third “tier” survival kit is equivalent to what is commonly referred to as a bug-out bag Bug-Out-Bag-Tier-3(BOB), or 72-hour kit. This kit includes all the items that fit into a good-sized backpack. It will theoretically sustain me for at least 72-hours.  I also separate my bug-out bag into multiple modules, each enclosed within its own bag - with the most important items being on top. This lets me easily access it at night and in low visibility.

First Aid: I have a very comprehensive first-aid kit for treating major trauma cases in addition to a duplicate of what is in my second “tier”.

Shelter: A good Sleeping bag (Wiggy’s FTRSS), in addition to a backpacking tent and a tarp. Also a form of rain gear such as a poncho, or a duplicate of what is in my Second Tier, and an insulated flannel shirt.

Water: My pack does not have an integrated water bladder so unless I am tag teaming with my Second Tier I use military canteens and canteen cups. I also include another bottle of  water purification tablets as I don’t have a water filter yet.

Fire: This module includes the same items listed above, as well as a small camp stove and fuel whether it be propane, butane, kerosene, Sterno, or dry twigs.

Food: I have some canned goods, but mostly freeze dried foods and MREs.  Make sure you have enough food for three days.

Tools: A 100-ft length of para-cord, some fish hooks and line, and a flashlight are dispersed throughout my backpack, along with a copy of The Survival Handbook, a miniature Bible (for my personal inspiration), and my Survival Flash Drive.  A small hatchet, a fixed blade knife similar to the one in my second “tier”, and a machete or kuhkri of some sort are either lashed to the pack frame or kept in external pockets. These make up the brunt of my tools. Some people choose to carry various firearms in their Bug Out Bags, but that type of weapon is out of the question for me for at least another four years, at least legally.

A frequently debated topic is what type of back pack to use as a Bug Out Bag.  Some say camouflage is the way to go, others say to stick to bright colors.  My opinion is to just try to blend in without looking like a military group which would attract unwanted attention.  Another question often debated is whether or not to have an external or internal pack frame. This is a topic to be covered in another article all together, but my personal preference is to have an external frame for the carrying possibilities it presents.

In conclusion, while the listed modular survival gear kits above are what I use, it may not work for you.  It’s important that you organize and supply your kits with items specific to your environment, needs, and skill level. The best advice I can give you is to practice using the various items in different seasons and weather.  Go hiking and see if you can even carry your gear for an extensive time period.  Drop those things that aren’t working for you and add others you think you’ll need.  Just experiment and find the best system for you.

Please tell us about your system in your comments below.

Also read – “3 Steps to Building a Fire”

Read More of Josh’s Articles:

Book Review: Back To Basics
Book Review: When All Hell Breaks Loose
Book Review: The Survival Handbook
5 Types of Machetes and How to Use Them

Photo Credits:
The Book of Eli
Spyderco Knives

Written by Josh

Josh is a Boy Scout and an avid outdoorsman. He specializes in knives (and other such tools), various knots & lashings, traditional skills such as blacksmithing & woodworking, bushcraft and fire starting. Read his full interview here. Read more of Josh's articles.

57 thoughts on “Three Tier Survival Gear Kits”

  1. Great article Josh. Glad to finally see someone mention a bible. I have a small NKJV (New King James Version) bible in my BOB. The survival mentality everyone mentions is to "remain calm." I always read some of my favorite passages when I want to calm down. Wonderful!











  7. Being a beginner survivalist I really appreciate articles like this that point me in the right direction either be it organizing a supply kit like this or anything else that sets me off on the right foot. (Thanks)

    Indecently on my travels around the internet I found something that may make the first tier easier to carry around plus able to carry more items.

  8. One thing I have in my BOB (or rather on it) is a pack cover, mine is nylon olive drab (old military flat green) . In a survival situation it can be used to help in cover and concealment, can be used as a rain catch and can even be used as an improvised shelter if need be. I also keep a Cold Steel "Bushman" knife on my kit (along with several other "edged weapons" including a pack axe, machette and USMC trench knife), the "bushman" is great for me because it is a solid peice of carbon steel, holds an edge great (I have used it to shave on the trail) and because it has a hollow handle it can be affixed to a wooden handle to make a spear. That can come in real handy if you have to face someone with a knife or have to defend against a bear or cayote (which are pretty common where I will be traveling in a SHTF scenario). Walking sticks are also in my kit and can come in pretty handy.

    Overall I say nicely done Josh! Also I look forward to more of your insight.

  9. Don' t forget to have a Military Combat Application Tourniquet and Trauma dressing in your BOB. Have yet to seen it mentioned in any forum yet. just my 2 cents

    • My kit is ready to treat every thing up to loss of limb or shrapnel. A tourniquet is something I generally try to stay away from just because of the stories I have heard of their misapplications from combat medics I have had the chance to know.

  10. AS a former Combat medic 68W with actual combat experience time ,and Paramedic ignore those stories. If you can't control the bleeding with a simple 5×9 dressing and good pressure. Then you r in serious trouble, YOU WILL NOT lose your leg below tourniquet, or have lactic acid rush in to your heart and kill you, If the wound is that bad a CAT is the only thing to save your life. Apply the dressing it and check to see if the wound has clotted yet then you can remove once the red stuff has stopped. google TCCC guidelines, or contents of IFAK.

    just my 2 cents b safe

  11. Don' t forget to have a Military Combat Application Tourniquet and Trauma dressing in your BOB. Have yet to seen it mentioned in any forum yet. just my 2 cents

  12. Thank You for this article. I am new to the survival community and have been reading through the articles on this site for a couple months now. This three tier system is very beneficial for me at the moment. I am a college student, and barely scraping by for rent sometimes, so I don't have the money to get head first into a B.O.B. I have though through my years of a boy scout accumulated some gear to start out a temporary bug out bag, but my focuses have been to complete this three tier system you have proposed. It's not only gives me a place to start but I feel covers some basics that I may not have thought of being this young into the survival community. Again, thanks for the article 🙂

  13. Yes, tourniquets do have their rightful place in a first aid kit. The key to remember is the "otherwise fatal bleeding". There is a reason they still teach paramedics to apply tourniquets(luckily I haven't had to slap one on anybody yet). Haven't checked the links yet, but usually the prefab tourniquet devices are a safer way to go, because they have easy ways to reduce and increase the pressure. Then you can slightly loosen it every 15 minutes. This is what I've been trained to do. This will greatly reduce the toxins/muscle destruction issues.

    Whatever you go with, make sure you read up on it, and follow the instructions. Researching the levels of shock, what is significant blood loss, how to estimate blood loss, etc is a good idea too. And if you are in a 'fatal bleeding' situation, remember "Life Over Limb".

  14. Great ideas, I would add that Every bug out bag should include a firearm, unless you are packing your bag to give to some thug with a 38 special.

  15. There is certainly some great information in this thread alone. To everyone that contributes keep up the great work so we can keep learning. Glad I found this site and hope continue learning an passing it on.

  16. Hello Josh, I've read a few of your aricles on here and like what you have to say. It's great that there are younger guys who have enough sense to prepare. I like the comment on having a sharpening tool on you, ut the hollow handle knife not as much. I carry a keychain sharpening kit too, but in my BOB I only have one fixed blade, a Buck knife used it to process several deer with no issues. My EDC is a Gerber Torch II love never been had issue with it in 2 years. But something I carry for cutting is a boxcutter with the breakaway blade and replacements, cheap, razor sharp, small, having six hunting/survival blades may be hard to legally explain away for now. Now I do carry an Ontario machete, and folding saw, as opposed to a hatchet. And with first aid I have to agree with the earlier comment on the simpler dressing eing enough, I myself was a combat medic 91W, that designation proably dates me haha, but I like to use honey, salt, raw vinegar, and Hot sauce or dried peppers for wounds may sound odd but it's the real deal trust me. Just my thoughts, kepp up the good stuff Josh. And remember you don't win a fight, you survive it.

  17. i would recommend field stripping the MRE's. if you remove all cardboard in the MRE it packs tighter and allows more space.

  18. I think if your looking at a bad situation like, care under fire, a tourniquet is your best option. Because you want to stop bleeding and get the hell out of dodge as fast as you can. I to am a 68W. I think that is the worst case you can find yourself in, in a post apocolyptic U.S. Pressure is the best for something that is obviously not life threatening, and the situation allows you to give better ,more comprehensive care. But I agree tourniquets are a great thing to have in your kit. I believe medical science has come along way with what they know about tourniquets and they now are not a last resort but possible the best resort.

  19. NICE BRO…We have the tiny Gideon bibles for now. We really cant fit the family bible in the BOB These are better than nothing, for sure.

  20. The only personal problem I have with this article is this, "Cordage: About fifty feet of para-cord in ten foot lengths.", breaking up your cordage beforehand might seem like a good idea before you actually have to use it for anything but if you need say, a twenty foot length, you're going to have some problems right off. Bear in mind that to create a longer rope with your ten foot lengths, you'd have to knot them together, and while you may be using 550 cord, knots weaken your rope at each joining point increasing the rate of failure. On top of this, your broken up lengths take up the exact same amount of space as a single fifty foot length providing you store it all together. Sorry for the long winded comment over this simple thing.
    -The Court Jester.

    • Also through my own failure, I forgot to mention that this was a very enjoyable and comprehensive article.
      -The Court Jester

  21. few items I made, for no money, just my time. made tube tent from two 55 gallon drum liners(aka school/work) trash bags and duck tape. an alcohol stove from soda/beer cans, the aluminum energy drink bottles can be used to boiling water/canteen,get the thick ones. regular matches inside a pill bottle are waterproof, I am sure you could make a knife, I didn't , I have a good one. but good scissors and a old hacksaw blade would get you by. a roll of electrical tape make bandaids and cordage.

  22. thanks for sharing. i have divided up my kits too, but im working on more of a disaster based priority bag system. theres the bug out bag, which works in tandem with the bug out vehicle kit. i have a shelter in place kit which is my 72 hour kit. beyond that is my bug out location bag, which works with the bug out vehicle kit and the bug out bag. basically, i start off with sheltering in. if that is compromised then we move to bugging out which may or may not include the bov. if it includes the bov then we head to the safe location and bug out there long term.

  23. Consider all-in one shelter systems which don't take up too much space. The jungle hammock concept is particularly useful. Hennessey hammocks and ENO make great ones. Would recommend against swiss army stuff for the long haul and hard work, they were cute twenty years ago but you can't beat a good leatherman. By the by, 6.8 might be a super hard caliber to find when the supply chain runs out, 5.56 is everywhere. Camelbaks are great, but the integrity of the bladder over time is suspect, and what happens when it punctures. Nalgene HDPE is pretty much the way to go as it is still tougher than the lexan stuff too. Never cut paracord unless you have to; I made myself a belt of 100 feet of single-strand paracord using the slatts rescue knot, check it out. The tier system approach is solid, I use it as well. Keep this one concept in mind: everything in your kit should have more than one purpose, if it doesn't, it's wasting space. Pretty good post, with more experience you will undoubtedly be a great survival writer one day.

  24. Outstanding article… I've had an interest for some time in traveling light, minimalistic and whatnot. I imagine one could be fairly comfortable, just adding a bed-roll and some food to the second-tier kit, but I'm sure I'm missing something. To somebody still making his kit, would anyone have some pointers as to what I might include?

  25. I've had 2 over my life. One I forgot I had in my wallet and had to surrender at an airport.
    The other resides in my survival vest combo (Arborwear charcoal grey vest over a small black Truspec 24/7 vest. Keeps me looking grey while allowing me to carry decent gear without a bag/while in jeans).

    They are of the best credit card multitools. You won't get much out of the screwdriver if the screw is rusted or requires any serious torque, and the knife wouldn't be much use as a weapon, but would be great for finer cutting chore around camp.

    The LED (where available) is decent. Mine was red. It got switched on in my wallet a few too many times and wasn't much use, as the switch was on the narrow side and slid easily. The newer ones with the thumb slide might be bigger.

    The ones that have a compass in lieu of the light seem more useful to me, and that's what I carry. Decent little button compass. One trick: Take the rest of the tools out of the card prior to using the compass. The knife for sure will scramble your reading.

    Also has your token tweezer/toothpick combo, like a SAK. Ruler on the side doesn't take any extra space, so why not?

    Overall a decent niche tool. Jack of all trade, but certainly a master of none.

    Hope this helps.

  26. Great article Josh, like you I'm looking at a modular way of organizing my kits. Teir 1 is mostly what I carry every day and is adjusted according where I'm going that day. Teir 2 adds stuff that I can get by for a short time with and Teir 3 grows my kits into the bug-out-bag.

  27. The information and the aspect were just wonderful. I think that your viewpoint is deep, it’s just well thought out and truly incredible to see someone who knows how to put these thoughts so well. Good job!

  28. Great article – remember if you are actually IN a survival situation, do NOT consolidate all your gear into the Tier 3 bag. Your Tier 1 gear should stay on your person, so that if something happens and you need to ditch your bag, you still have the minimum on you.

  29. Stating much appreciated should not simply be sufficient, for the gigantic clarity in your composing. I will quickly snatch your rss channel to stay privy of any redesigns. your summations and will thirstily anticipate your inevitable overhauls.

  30. I agree. These are some of the necessities for survival. Back home, in addition to these gadgets, we consider phone card australia as essential to have in our pockets. You don't know when the next emergency will happen, so it is vital to be ready with the means to get the necessary help.

  31. I use a tier system as well. I use a swiss army jacket (without sleeves and hood) as a survival vest/72-hour kit; lots of large pockets, front and back as well as a detachable backpack. I have more water-carrying capacity because I live in a dry climate (semi-arid); 2-2quart canteens, 1-1quart with canteen cup and stove. Also the two side pockets of the backpack each can carry a 2-quart bottle (used soda bottles) easily; heavy, a bit, but in my opinion, after air, water is the most important need, and thus never unnecessary weight! Other not mentioned add-ons include a fishing kit, hammock (usable as a fish net, animal trap, shelter material, drying rack, etc.), a 12-liter Lock&Lock container that fits in the main pocket of the backpack (modified a bit) to carry mostly food in meal-size ziplock bags (mostly dried or FD) and any other item that I don't want wet (socks!&towel!). An added benefit is positive buoyancy in case I must swim. Lots of disposable lighters for trade items. Also a large caliber handgun and ammo (self-defense), out of sight, but quick to access! As well, a .22LR/.410 combo rifle (hunting,small game) with attached ammo. Why not a large caliber hunting rifle, because unless you have a prepared location with a large drying rack (or similar meat-prep system) most of the meat from a large animal will probably go to waste as well as attract predators (including two-legged). This system allows me to carry shoulder bag(s) as well, especially a standard duffy bag, which will also carry all the fore mentioned items except for my tier 1 items (always on me,pockets and belt), which serves to hide my gear from long-nosed people! In addition, I keep a full set of camping gear (backpack-sized) in my vehicle, as well as 2 (or more) caches underground near water sources.

  32. Im sooooo screwed! The middle of arizona desert is my only hope. I just pray its not 122° I know im not telling any of you anything special but instant ice pack.and a brimmed hat also help immensely. I always carry wet wipes that ive dried out and pour aple cider vinegar on. Bug spray and sunburns make this a neccesity


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