How do you prioritize gear purchases? Anyone have an organized system?

So here’s my problem:  While I’m not at all new to prepping, I’m fairly new to the opportunity for online shopping (just got my first credit card during the pandemic) and I’m realizing that my old “system” of making impulse purchases every time I see cool gear I want, is not going to cut it anymore;)

I used to mostly buy prepping gear at flea markets, yard sales, second hand stores, so I basically just bought stuff in the order I found it, rather than in order of how likely we were to need it, how life-or-death that need could be, or anything of that nature. 

Now I keep seeing things I want (mostly on this forum, btw) that are all just a click away, and I’m realizing I need to make some sort of list of things I want and what order to purchase them in.  I’m not talking about things like food storage or tools we use in daily life (groceries and homesteading expenses have their own budgets) but all the fun prepping gear I want “just in case” which is coming out of my fairly small “personal hobbies” budget.

Do any of you keep such a list?  And if so, is it organized purely by how much you want each item, checking things off from the top of the list as you can afford them, regardless of other factors?  Or is price factored in somehow?  For example I might want a $400 item more than any one $40 item, but if purchasing it first means holding off on ten different $40 items, the decision becomes more complicated.  At the same time, I don’t want to endlessly boot the most expensive items to the end of the list, if they’re something really useful or fun. 

What system do others use?


  • Comments (29)

    • 2

      Don’t make impulsive purchases.  Assess your gear, decide upon the most critical deficiencies, do careful research, and then buy.

      A lot of the really important gear is rather cheap….

      • 2

        Oh I’m definitely not going to be making impulse purchases online – I actually haven’t purchased any prepping gear online yet, because I’m still trying to decide how to arrange my list. . .

        I like this bit of advice: “decide upon the most critical deficiencies” 

        While I’m not sure I’d call any of our deficiencies super critical, it does make me think about areas where our gear may be somewhat lacking, rather than the endless list of fun toys I want in areas already well covered.  For example maybe things like a Kelley Kettle, parabolic solar cooker, and one of those cute little Winnerwell portable wood stoves should be way at the bottom of the list (even though I really really want them) since they are just redundant to more boring cooking methods already available.

      • 2

        I know we are talking gear, but what is even more important is skills and abilities.  Can you go into the wild, gather fuel, light a fire, boil water, and cook something?  The cost of the minimal gear for this is trivial, but the skills are not.

        “Survival” means different things to different people and covers different circumstances. but often you have minimal gear,  You must use a tin can instead of the Kelly Kettle, etc.

        Night is coming one, it is below freezing, and you have only a small day pack.  You must spend the night out in deep snow.  what actions do you take?

        Skills and knowledge are more important than gadgets….

      • 2

        I couldn’t agree more! 

        I only limited the question to gear because gear costs money, and therefore can’t all be acquired at once. 

        As for your specific example, yes as long as I brought a way to make fire with me.  Reliable friction fire from materials I can gather locally continues to elude me – sometimes I can get an ember, but more often not.  It’s something I will definitely continue to practice, but considering I’ve been trying for over 30 years with no noticeable increase in my success rate, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for improvement. 

      • 1

        Gear can be accumulated much quicker than knowledge.  It is one thing to read how to do something, but something quite different in actually doing it right.  That takes time.

        With starting a fire from a friction device, technique is important, but having proper fuel & an accelerant makes the task much easier.  With my strikers, I keep petroleum jelly infused cotton balls that will convert that ember into a nice flame that will burn for a minute or two.  I also keep a spare small tub of petroleum jelly & a bag of cotton balls in my get home bag in my truck.  Such accelerants allows you to get a fire going, even if most fuel you find is damp.

        I suggest having a striker that has a built in compartment where you can store a few such cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly.

      • 3

        I think we’re using the term friction fire differently.  I guess a ferro rod or flint and steel also use friction in a sense (as do matches now that I really think about it) but I meant wood friction from a bow drill or fireplow.  Cedar/juniper trees are rare here, which leaves basswood the best option available, and it simply doesn’t always work for me.  The problem isn’t with my tinder bundle, it’s with getting an ember in the first place. 

        I suppose how quickly gear can be acquired depends on the size of one’s budget, and I shouldn’t have stated that it “can’t all be acquired at once” as if that were a blanket truth for everyone.  I’m sure there are people who come to prepping quite suddenly and with a lot of money to spend, who order all the gear they can imagine in the first few months, then slowly work on acquiring skills.

        Personally I came from the other extreme, spending my entire childhood acquiring prepper skills (at least in the areas of wilderness survival and homesteading) without being able to afford any gear, and the first two decades of my adult life continuing to build skills while only acquiring gear very slowly as I happened to find things second hand, so I feel like I have a big head start on skills compared to gear.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s always more to learn, and I won’t be “done” learning until I’m dead – but I’m not coming at this suddenly and needing to gain thousands of new skills all at once, either.  I also work alone in the woods, mostly just patrolling for poachers, which when there aren’t any gets pretty boring – giving me lots of time to practice my bushcrafting skills.

    • 2

      Hi Forager! Great question; an overview is that everyone’s priorities differ based on location. Hikerarmor also brought up a key point on one’s skill set, which we can address in a few. The primary breakdown is found or formed into two categories;

      1. Shelter in Place
      2. Bug Out (Secondary Site)
        • Status = Warm Site
        • Status = Cold Site
        • Mobile

      From there, look at what is critical; each person has different needs based on the environment and if you choose to SIP or grab the BOB. Test your gear, every single item. Get to know your equipment, and learn to repair your gear and clothing. Then Practice, Practice, Practice what you have learned, from starting fires to minimizing your signature in the woods. Setting up tents, and reading a map, especially if you’re going to be on the move. Test your water purification, learn to layer clothing in the cold, and if you’re on the move, do you have hygiene products and foot care (Take care of your feet)! There’s a lot of planning that goes into it. Take your time and plan accordingly, based on your environment and if you’re staying or moving. I hope that helps you set up a baseline for your planning purposes. My suggestion would be to focus on the need to have (Basic Needs), then address the nice to have 

      Be realistic e.g. if your going mobile and your walking, don’t think your gonna cover 25 miles in 3 hours going up and down hills with a 60 pound backpack wearing flip flops.

      All the best.

      • 2

        The “. . .wearing flip flops” bit cracked me up!

        “. . .focus on the need to have (Basic Needs), then address the nice to have.”

        I think I might like that as part of my system for organizing a “gear to buy” list.  Like even if it’s just a backup to a backup to a backup, something that could save my life or the life of someone else in my group should probably go before things that would merely provide added convenience. 

    • 3

      For me, it was a ranking of possible events, their likelihood and what pieces of gear would be hardest to get ahold of as tensions or disaster potential ramped up. I started with the hard to get items and worked from there once the food issue was taken care of. Any purchases now are those things needed for replacement of existing items or for the more unlikely disasters. For instance…a geiger counter was my most recent purchase. 

      • 2

        “. . .what pieces of gear would be hardest to get ahold of as tensions or disaster potentially ramped up.”

        I also really like that as a factor to consider, though global supply chains have gotten so complicated that I feel like on a lot of items, I would just be guessing.

    • 3

      Welcome Forager! Three quick thoughts to offer that have helped me:

      1. It’s way too easy to get overwhelmed with all the possible needs as you look into the future. I worked gradually from “If the bananas totally hit the high speed fan and make a big mess, what am I likely to need in the next two hours?” up through “If the bananas totally hit the high speed fan and make a big mess, what am I likely to need in the next year?” Small victories along the way are encouraging.

      2. Know yourself before purchasing “stuff”. I don’t buy the “next thing” on my “want list” until the last thing I bought is paid for, and I am VERY trained at using said thing the right way.  It’s just as hikermore and Redneck have pointed out, skills are what keep you alive and safe. Gear without skill is useless. And that is dangerous when the bananas hit the fan. If you love to rotate food to keep your pantry fresh, canned and glass jar preserved food will probably be your thing. Me, I’m not a “rotator”, and thus 20 year shelf life food and water make more sense. Planning will help keep preparedness a passion and fun, instead of drudgery.

      3. Test EVERYTHING and look ahead ALWAYS. Store food that you know you can eat and like and be nourished by. Living off grape flavored soft drinks for three weeks does not work, no matter how much you like grape flavored soft drinks. Stuff (and pets) you can easily lift now may be way too heavy to handle in 5 – 10 years. I moved from 20 liter water storage containers last year to a 10 liter version of the same container because they are WAY EASIER for me heave into the cars when the county sheriff just told us to beat feet out of here because wild fire threatens our home.

      And finally, let me offer that you have come to the right place. This site is FULL of good information, all put in place by GREAT people. I learned LOTS by just reading, and gained lots of encouragement along the way.

      • 2

        Thanks for the thoughts.  I will definitely be practicing with anything I get – when I get a new piece of survival gear I’m usually like a kid with a new toy, wanting to play with it constantly for days.  Though that is one more reason to pace things out and not order too many items at once.

      • 2

        “Stuff (and pets) you can easily lift now may be way too heavy to handle in 5 – 10 years.”

        That’s a very important idea to keep in mind. Anything heavy will become difficult to move when you get older… or if you get injured, as tends to happen during emergencies.

        I aim for roughly level 1 on TP’s bug out bag list, entirely to keep the weight around 20 pounds so it won’t slow me down. Anything heavier than that should have wheels.

    • 2

      I really do not buy “prepping gear” as such, as to me its a life style thing rather than an insurance policy.

      This means most of my gear gets used on a regular bases. If I needed to bug out (and it really is the last option for me) then most of the gear I would grab is already used when we go camping. I store food because while rear, we still do get bad weather where I live. My medical grab bag is the one I use for work (I work for a number of private ambulance companies).

      So I would say 80% of my purcherses are planned, usually because I have taken something out my stores or broken something like a spade shank. The other 20% are impulse buys, usually second hand tools or equipment that I know I can repare and use.

      • 3

        Old tools are the best!  I have some tools that belonged to my great-grandfather that have stood up to over a hundred years of near-daily use, as have some of great-grandma’s cast iron pans:)  Also love picking up more as I find them at yard sales and such.  Still, I don’t want to miss out on some of the better modern gear out there, and there’s a certain appeal to being able to find/buy certain things in the order I choose, rather than waiting until I stumble upon them by chance.  “The order I choose” is just proving more difficult to settle on than I had expected.

    • 3

      Hi Forager

      I use my own spreadsheet that I refer to as ‘The List’ for items I think I need for prepping.

       I built it based on recommendations from this site for items I considered it was probably a good idea to have. 

      The List is divided into categories (eg home, first aid, car, get home back etc) the items for each category are then listed in order of priority and a £ listed against it. 

      The idea was originally to have a weekly budget that I could spend on prepping and the items were split into weeks according to the cost. In other words if something could be purchased for less than the weekly budget I get to use the change to pick up additional small items or I could carry it forward towards a week when I was saving up for a more expensive item! 

      It’s not as complicated as it sounds – write a list of things you want – assign them a priority – re-write the list in priority order! 

      I’ve completed my car kit which was a big priority for me as I now drive further for work and with more risk of getting stuck! Currently working on my GHB/BOB and then I’ll work through beefing up the first aid kit.

      My plan was to have a reasonable baseline of consumables then focus on ‘buy once’ items. My next plan is to work on the gaps in my knowledge but at the moment I don’t have a ton of free time to get good consolidated learning in. 

      • 2

        That sounds very organized indeed:) 

        I’ve always had yearly (rather than weekly) budgets for everything, but your comment made me think that perhaps dividing my prepping gear budget for the year into 52 weekly portions would help guide which things to purchase first.  Then I could ask myself, “Do I want this $20 item now, or this $80 item in a month?”  And it might make the decision easier.

        I’m curious, if you don’t mind sharing, what your reasons are for dividing it by category and then focusing heavily on one category at a time.  Is it just so you know what you have and can get it neatly packed away sooner?

      • 2

        I suspect it sounds more organised than it is!

        The reason for separation of categories was really to be able to see where my gaps are. 

        For example, once I’d got my 2 weeks supply organised I decided to prioritise my car kit as I was travelling for work to quite remote areas. I was able to use the list to see what items I thought would be useful to have and then use that to repurpose items I already had like a spare fleece blanket and a water bottle. I could then prioritise the other items, as it was summer I wasn’t likely to need traction boards so they were at the end of the list. 

        It’s not so much about focusing on 1 particular area more about identifying the easy wins and I admit I haven’t stuck to the order as if I see an item on the list at a good offer price I might just get that instead as in the long run it will save me money. 

    • 6

      Life is FUN. Gear is FUN.  You don’t always have to be practical.

      Having said that, once I prioritized the most important things (first aid supplies, etc), I basically made a “wish list” on Amazon and then kept a very very close eye on prices (across different vendors).  When an item I wanted dropped by, say, 40%, I’d go ahead and buy it. 

      There is no perfect decision – the old cliche of “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.  

      And also, if you have “decision paralysis”, try flipping a coin. Really. “Heads I buy the solar cooker, tails I buy the generator.”  And then do what the coin says. Every time. Really. You will be amazed when using this system means that the world continues to revolve on its axis and you end up having zero regrets.  And you spend far more time enjoying your finds and far less time worrying about the decision itself.  

      If I want something I cannot yet afford, I just remind myself that I have survived all these years so far without it. And if I can afford the thing, I stop obsessing and get it.  I view it as a “gift to my future self”.  Which has turned out to be the case, such as with the Pooping in a Pail incident.  Future Self was very grateful to Past Self for having had the foresight to spend twenty bucks for a pail in which to poop. (It was twenty bucks because it had a seat on it. Future Self very much appreciated the seat, vs. having to squat).  

      • 4

        Ah, a fellow gear enthusiast! 😀 

        I think I’ll incorporate your % off idea as part of my system.  Probably not for everything (if an item is cheap enough at full price) but for the more expensive items, I should list the price I found them for in an initial search, then next to it the price I want to find them for, meaning if they drop below that they shoot to the top of the list and I go ahead and buy.

        This is starting to feel fun now – the list itself will be like a piece of gear 🙂

        I’m not sure the coin flip would be right for me – it’s really not in my nature to leave things to chance (mild OCD) but if I can’t decide for myself I could always put it to a vote among the people I share a homestead with.  None of them are really into prepping as a hobby the way I am, but I think if I asked, “Which would you rather we had in an emergency, this or this?” They would be willing to weigh in.

        Thanks for the great response!

    • 2

      At this point I don’t have that much of a system, because (aside from rotating in replacements of things with a shelf life), most of the remaining gear purchases fall into the “nice to have” category rather than the “must have” category. I decided to comment anyway because I don’t think anyone has mentioned the idea of using Kit Builder to make a priority purchases list. You just use the categories to represent what months in which you’ll buy the items (e.g., “December 2023”) rather than traditional categories of items (e.g., “Clothing” and “Food”). I don’t remember who on the forum suggested this, but it was not my idea— I just adopted it and found it useful.

      The reason I think it’s relevant to prioritization is the ease of moving items around and seeing what the monthly total looks like as information and priorities change. To be honest, I find myself prioritizing by gut a lot. Like, it’s easy to read something in this forum and be like, “Oh, I really need an X!” because I’d never known that X exists or thought about why it might be useful, but by time the month in which I was planning to buy X rolls around, I usually have a fresh perspective on how much I actually *need* X, relative to some comparatively mundane thing that has been on the list for a while. Being able to see it all in one place and play around with tradeoffs by dragging and dropping items helps me set and re-set priorities, which also happens fairly often based on finances, seasonality of needs, and world events. 

      The last thing I would say is that if you’ve already got a lot of skills and gear, which it sounds like you do, that seems like all the more reason to set a monthly budget and just trust your gut about where to spend that prepping money each month without sweating it too hard: Just get what you’d love to play with or would give you peace of mind or what would be an awesome deal. (And sometimes, the thing that gives me peace of mind is not spending money on prepping at all, which is fine, too.)

      Not sure if any of that is remotely helpful, but that’s how I approach prioritization!

      • 2

        Another great answer – thanks!

        I should make a rule for myself that when I learn about an exciting new (to me) product, I wait at least a certain amount of time – say six months – before potentially purchasing it. 

        Funny story: I like gear so much that sometimes I’m tempted by “backups” for things I don’t have in the first place.  One time someone was talking about a battery operated hot shower for camping or power outages, and my first thought was, “That’s so cool!  I wonder how much something like that costs?” but then my second thought was, “Wait. . .  I don’t have hot running water at home under normal circumstances, so why on earth would I need it on a camping trip or during a power outage?” 

        On something that obvious I catch myself right away, but there are other things where I start to talk myself into ways an item could be useful under certain circumstances. . .  For example fuel efficient cooking methods are something that I’m always really drawn to (I want them all!) even though firewood is so abundant here that it’s not like we need to worry about running out of dead sticks to build ordinary campfires out of.  Plus my regular kitchen stove is propane.  Plus we have two wood stoves (one in my house and one in a guest house friends are living in) which much of the year have to be going anyway for heat. . .  Still I find myself thinking, “But if TEOTWAWKI comes, the propane tank will run out in two or three years, then in the summer when the wood stove isn’t going, I’ll be cooking outdoors.  I should really get X, Y, and Z to make that easier!”  😀

    • 4

      Great topic. I have a large spreadsheet with different tabs for different categories of things (Bug-out-bag, vehicle-specific supplies, prepping library, bug-in supplies, etc.). The bug-in supplies is a pretty big list so it’s broken down into separate tabs for ease of review. Within each of those lists, I prioritize things I think I need ASAP versus things that can come later.

      This is roughly my prioritization framework:

      1. Food, water, normal meds, cold weather clothes/sleeping bags, lighting, and cooking ability in case of 14-day grid down situation.

      2. Car kit (I prioritize vehicle-specific things and things that would be enough to get me home to the rest of my gear)

      3. Bug-out-Bag list, starting with tier 1 and working up to tier 3 (most of these things also help with bug-in)

      4. Survival and Prepper books (start with “if you only buy a few”)

      5. Bug-in supplies including medical supplies, home garden, tools, etc. 

      My goal was to fully complete 1-3 as soon as possible. I’ve been working my way through 4 and 5 based on the below criteria in descending order of importance:

      – What would be the most critical item to help ensure survival based on my family’s needs, my immediate environment, and the most likely situations we’d encounter?

      – What could be very difficult to procure in the future (I’ve found many quality tools have been out of stock for months)?

      – What would make life way easier in a survival situation?

      – Leverage seasonal sales for key merchants/suppliers when possible

      – What would make life more comfortable/enjoyable? (while it’s last, this can also sprinkle in higher up the list if I find a good sale or find something that I also will use in every-day life)

      I also prioritize things that check off multiple boxes of things I value. I grow some of my own food because it’s healthy, cheaper (after initial investment), gets me outdoors and provides exercise, teaches me useful skills, gives me the satisfaction of producing something useful, and provides a way to produce some of my own food if I ever needed to rely on it. 

    • 4

      Great question, and it’s been interesting to see how others think about this. For myself, I don’t have a big system, but maybe I have two principles I’ve found helpful. The main one is advice I think I read on this site, to keep within your budget while focusing first on what you need to survive 72 hours if things go sideways (especially in most-likely scenarios like big storms), then what you need for a week, then two weeks, etc. At this point I think I have my bases covered OK for many weeks, and at least one backup for many items. But I still like getting gear and want to get more than I can afford, so I’ve been trying to use another principle I only really thought of recently: only get something if it would provide kind of transformative capability. There’s a particular type of gear I really like and I want to get more of, but I realized that getting more of that gear wouldn’t change my situation much. I also realized that if I spend that same money on particular training for my kids that could be transformative for the family. So while I still kind of window-shop for that gear I like, and I’ve gotten a couple of small items recently that seemed very helpful for the price, I’ve also found some classes I want my kids to take and I’m trying to mostly wait for those classes to open up instead of buying more of that gear. (I’ve also been trying to use some of that “gear money” on more home repairs or paying down my mortgage a little faster.)

      • 1

        Thanks for these last two responses. I only have a few minutes at a time to spend online now that my vacation is over, but after responding individually to the first several comments, I didn’t want to go completely silent.  You both brought up some good points to consider.

    • 2

      I have a very beefy Excel sheet I use for this more because I find data table creation meditative rather than because it’s strictly necessary to have ten color coded tabs. The tabs are physical spaces like EDC or Car. Each tab has its own set of variables. I don’t care how much something weighs on my shelf, but I care of if it’s in my BOB.

      I focus on how likely I am to use something, how important it would be if I needed it, cost, and how hard it is to store and use. Then I rank the priority by category. Then I work through the first priority rank in order of lowest to highest cost, tab to tab, so I finish EDC rank 1, then Car rank 1, through the rest of the rank 1s, then circle back to EDC rank 2 and so on. 

      Because I’m still a student living at home, the priorities are a little different for me than they probably are for you. I have a limited budget, limited space, and limited control of that space, so I prioritize smaller and more usable preps. I’m focusing on my EDC first since those things are smaller, more useful, and have a space already.

      No idea if this kind of system will work for anyone else, but I really enjoy it. 

      • 3

        Meditative gear lists……you are clearly amongst your “people” here at The Prepared!

        One other small thing I do is write notes to myself after trips, camping etc. I make a list of what I brought and never used, what I wish I had had but didn’t, and what I was so grateful for bringing. I always think I’ll remember, but I don’t.  If possible, I go shopping right after trips like this to buy whatever the thing was I wished I had brought so I have the requirements top of mind.  A great time to make a list is right after a trip or “practice disaster”.  

        Examples from last camping trip:

        Brought and never used:

           Fold-out table (too heavy), “Hero hooks” (not really necessary)

           Extra-bright lantern (was too much for the campsite; dimmer lanterns were better)

        Wish I had brought, but didn’t:

           Comfortable clothes to sleep in (I brought pajamas but wish I had brought comfy clothes that I could just go straight from tent to morning campfire)

           “Chip clips” or similar to close food containers 

           Pour-over coffee maker (not really from that trip but from a previous one where I had serious caffeine issues from having trusted someone else to provide coffee – big mistake!)

        So glad I brought:

           Slip-on shoes with toe protection for midnight bathroom runs

           Battery-operated fan (immensely useful for stoking the fire; who knew?)

           Battery-operated jump starter – friend’s car battery died and this saved the day

      • 3

        I agree on the “write it down” approach. I have multiple draft emails on my phone where I keep lists of things while it’s still fresh in my mind. I’ve also found that to be a helpful practice when reading through my survival books. If there’s a piece of gear, skill, or other memorable take-away, I’ll add it to the draft email dedicated to that book. Otherwise all those “aha” moments fade over time.

        One recent example: I had a loved one in the hospital (everyone is fine), but I noticed when they had her in the recovery room, the hospital was using a small, eggshell mattress topper cutout as a pillow. While that’s not a critical piece of survival gear, I added that to my list as a light-weight, compressible, and effective bug-out-bag pillow. A good night’s sleep makes a world of difference and some sleepers are “needier” than others. But knowing my family, I definitely plan to pick up a twin size topper and chop it up into small pillow sizes. Should have enough to pass around to extended family, too.

      • 2

        Well, Hans, if I may add something to your holiday shopping list: I absolutely love the Sea to Summit ultralight pillows.  I take one with me wherever I travel (though until I saw your post, it did not occur to me to keep one in my BOB – thank you for that idea!)  They are really great. I’ve had one for almost a decade now, with zero problems.  And I have a few extra because to your point my family members were always stealing them.