Emergency preparedness from a Counterintelligence Agent

Gear: Quality over Quantity

Danner bootsAuthor’s note: For the record, I am NOT a “gear snob”. To me, it isn’t about how much expensive gear you can collect, but rather doing what it takes to keep your ass alive! So other than one item, I am not here to advocate a certain brand over another. But rather my purpose here is to show that quality matters.

A few weeks ago, I was helping my daughter and her fiancé move into their home. By the time we pulled up with the last load of the day, it was dark. Of course Murphy’s Law was in effect, and I dropped my car keys somewhere in her yard while moving in boxes.

“No problem.” I think. I returned to my truck and retrieved the solar powered flashlight my parents had given me several months before. I kept it in my center console of my truck for just such an emergency. And although it wasn’t the highest quality, it would turn on and work when I would test it every month or so…..usually sitting at a red light, bored.

But not this time. This time…..nothing!

However, I am prepared, and the old adage of “Two is one and one is none” is true. I had a spare pocket flashlight in my glove box, and within 3 minutes I was able to locate my car keys.

The next day, I spoke to my mom about the aforementioned situation and the crappy solar powered flash light.

“I know.” She replied. “I got one for me too and mine barely lasted two weeks. But that’s ok. They were cheap.”

You know the saying….You get what you pay for.

Now I’m NOT about to complain about a gift. My mother’s heart was in the right place. And the idea of having a flashlight that never needs batteries is hugely appealing. But had that been a real “life or death” situation, without a backup, I could have been screwed.

This in turn led to a discussion about living in a disposable society, and that a lot of things you buy are not designed to last. (Hence your need to buy more.) It made me think about how much of my gear and supplies were “disposable”.

Let’s face it. Mass produced items such as cigarette lighters and flash lights are cheap. The beauty of it is that you can buy a few, or even several. I have multiple sets of cheap flash lights, cigarette lighters, duct tape, etc.

The downside is that these items are designed to last only a few times before they cease to work and you have to buy new. God forbid your item stops working in an emergency. Or worse yet, the “lights go out” for an extended period of time and you are unable to buy more.

You know the saying….You get what you pay for.

I hate to say this, but if you look through your gear and find that a lot of it is “Ozark Trail” brand from Wal Mart, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. In a long term survival situation, quality will always trump quantity.

Of course all you might be able to afford are the cheap items. And in that case, that is better than nothing. But there are some items where I feel you need to get the best quality you can afford. Even if you have to scrimp and save, I would encourage you to invest some money in the following gear and get high quality:

In any emergency situation, movement will be a critical. Your ability to get away from danger and to a safe place could easily save your life. And if you cannot drive out, you will most likely be on your feet. You must take care of those.

Many people keep a set of walking shoes or boots in the Bug out bag. But what sort of quality are they? Are they built to last? Can they endure the possible rough terrain and maybe even hazardous areas you might have to walk through? Are they at least water resistant? Are they “broke in” enough so that you don’t have issues with blisters? (Or at least a reduced risk.)

I’m not a paid spokesman, and gain nothing from endorsing these, but my personal favorites are Danner boots. I own two pairs, which I have had for 7 years and 5 years respectively. I wear them to work every day, and they are still going strong.

Any situation involving a firearm can quickly become a matter of life and death. And those are the times that quality matters!

My circumstance might be a little different than others. As a police officer, I am in situations where I might have to use my firearms much more than a normal person. Hell, I’m heading straight to those situations! But since I am putting myself in those conditions, I want to make sure I have the highest quality firearms I can get. If I pull the trigger, it needs to go “bang” every time and it needs to be accurate.

Whether you have a bug out bag, get home bag, etc., this is another item I feel needs to be a high quality. All your gear will do you no good if a strap on your backpack breaks, or if a zipper breaks, it won’t close properly, and you risk your gear falling out.

Is your bag resistant to the elements? Is it easily adjustable so that it will fit correctly? Can you move quickly and quietly with it? Much like your footwear, poor quality packs can impede your movement. This is of course no bueno!

You know the saying….You get what you pay for.

Now if you are like me, and probably 90% of other prepared-minded people, then you are on a budget. We don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on an armored RV with solar panels and zombie slaying flame throwers. So we have to balance what we buy versus the costs. But there are some things to keep in mind when looking for quality while trying to keep costs down.

The first is that just because the item is expensive, that doesn’t mean it’s the highest quality or that you need it. It also doesn’t mean you couldn’t get a similar quality item for cheaper. I’ve seen sleeping bags rated down to -60 F that were $1000. But I got a great deal on a Teton Sports 0 F bag for $120 and it does just fine.

The second is that used items can still be quality items. This is especially true of surplus military equipment, which was designed to be rugged and durable. I’m leery of buying used items online. But I check military surplus stores from time to time and they generally have used items that are still in great shape. And they cost much less than buying it new.

A third way keep costs down is to time the sales correctly. For example, most sporting goods store begin discounting their winter items in February and March as they start to make way for spring items. August and September are good times to look for sales on camping equipment, as the weather turns colder and less people camp.

And finally, having the skills to repair or build your equipment is truly handy. Most people cannot manufacture their own backpack. But if you know how to sew and can repair your current one, you can save yourself some money.

When shopping for quality gear, ask around about the items you are looking to purchase. And I don’t mean talking to the salesperson whose judgment could be based upon the commission he makes from your sale. Talk to people who already own this same equipment. Talk to people in the field. A gun smith is a great source of knowledge about gun quality. Friends or colleagues who have outdoor experience are another good source of information.

Using my boots as an example, I spoke to many other police officers from several different departments who I saw wearing those boots. They all spoke highly of them. I got online and read multiple reviews from multiple sites (like this one)  and message boards about them. I did my homework on them before buying them. With a limited budget, I wanted to make sure my money would be well spent. It was.

In the end, you know best what works for you and is within your budget. But like I have said all along….You get what you pay for.

About James L

A police officer in Oklahoma, James is a gun enthusiast and certified police instructor. In his off time, he is a single father who enjoys playing with his kids and watching football.

Come visit his Preparedness site at Plan and Prepared


  1. Great points about quality over quantity. When balancing cost vs. quality, I’ve found a few principles to be helpful.

    First, prioritize. When backpacking, I’ve found that footwear has a much larger impact on my comfort and mobility than my pack. I’d rather have good quality in both, but if I had to choose between good $200 boots and a $50 pack or $50 boots and a $200 pack, I would go with the quality boots and make do with the pack.

    Second, learn what is good enough. That $300 Surefire flashlight might be the brightest, most rugged thing around. But a $100 Fenix or Streamlight might do you just as much good for a lot less money. Heck, a $15 Mag-lite might be sufficient for your needs and will serve you well for years to come. I’m not saying it’s as good as the Surefire, but it might be good enough and free your money up for other supplies.

    Third, learn what value-priced items will satisfy your requirements. I got a couple of 8-packs of disposable lighters a few years ago from Walmart for about $2 a pack. They have never failed to light and for 4 bucks I have enough to stock the house, cars, BOBs, etc. with redundant lighters. I consider this a far better proposition than buying one single Zippo that I need to carry with me. I’ve got a cheap folding camp saw (it might even be an Ozark Trails one) that I have used camping, at home, and on service projects for close to 20 years. It’s cut through hundreds, if not thousands, of branches without any problems. I could go out and buy a much more expensive one that might be better, but I can’t imagine the improvement would be noticeable. I’d rather put my money elsewhere.

    • Great points JMD. I think prioritizing is huge. And those items that you feel are most important are the items I would not attempt to penny pinch on.

      And please note I’m not saying just because something is inexpensive means it is no good. Far from it. Like you I have plenty of cheap lighters for example. But as I have gotten older I have learned (the hard way on occasion) that you get what you pay for.

  2. barb8877 says

    We’re maybe forgetting two things: time and cost of purchase. If we buy cheap, and it breaks, we have to spend time to buy another. And money.

    Gas to go to the store. $5.00 Item: $5.00 Lunch for you and friend: $10.00. See stuffed toy in window (grand child’s birthday coming up.) Buy. $12.00 Coat for second grand child. $26.00. Home.

    Now what were we going to do with the thing that broke? Oh yes, loan to neighbor to clean out attic. Neighbor already finished. Put on kitchen table. Instead of where it goes. Next day: lost! Have to buy another. Gas to go to store . . . you get the idea.

    We spent $58.00 for a $5.00 item. And 3/4 of a day.

  3. I find that Amazon reviews are a great way to get the pros and cons of a particular item. If i’m searching for something (say a solar flashlight), I refine my search to list the best reviewed first, then I read through those for any reoccurring issues. Very often you will find that the mid- and low-priced items are as good if not better than going by what costs most.

    • I ALWAYS check amazon for whatever I’m buying, even if I’m buying it at Best Buy or Fry’s Electronics etc. The reviews not only tell you the good and the bad, they tell you more detail of the product than the specs can.

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