The zombie uprising is not coming—I promise you. Now that that’s out of the way, c’mon: we’ve all thought about it—nay, yearned for it. For me, at least half the appeal is just thinking about my Z-day everyday carry kit.
What’s the value of this miserable anti-fantasy? I don’t have any PhDs that can explain to you why so many folks have fun thinking about a scenario in which everyone they know is dead, and they have to tough it out with disagreeable strangers. My guess is this: our rose-colored apocalypse goggles make a world with zombies but without student debt look mighty pretty. In our complex, bewildering world, things are too big and out of our control for our ape-brains to make proper sense of what is and isn’t important. So we naively dream of life-or-death simplicity.
Update, 10/5/21: Checked content for accuracy. Updated links for quarterstaff, knife, and bear mace.
It’s a fantasy because most of us don’t know how hard surviving in nature can be, and the grass is always greener somewhere else. And because lots of people want to mash up zombies.
But there is actual value in Z-day preparation thought game—so much so, that even the U.S. Center for Disease Control famously has a blog on zombie apocalypse survival. The reason? People like to think about Z-day survival, and they don’t really like to think about how a hurricane might destroy their home in the near future. So anything that gets people to want to think about disaster survival is going to be a boon for whenever the next major weather event knocks out some infrastructure, and the locals are on their own for days, weeks, or months.
Anyway, that’s the justification for this, my list of everyday carry stuff I’d sure wish I had, should the dead ever rise to feed on our salty people bodies. I’m breaking these down into highly empirical categories. Oh, and I’m presuming Romero-style zombies for this scenario—undead, gotta kill the brain, and they don’t sprint like those terrifying rage-virus humans in the 28 Days/Weeks movies.
N.B.: This is day-one stuff—enough to get you ready to head out and scavenge for essentials like food and other odds and ends that aren’t in the kit. Depending on where you live or how you think, your list could be well different.
These are things you’ll need to either carry in hand or wear, say, on your belt or hanging off your pack. Suffice to say, things like weight, usefulness for a variety of tasks, and profile are important. You’ll be doing a lot of hiking, hiding, and squeezing between things (scavenging and the like). The more uses an item has, the more weight you save.
- Laminated Hickory Quarterstaff: There’s lots of online debate out there about the ideal Z-day weapon. Lots of folks pick guns, swords, axes, etc. But guns need ammo, swords need maintenance, and most axes these days aren’t built to be agile enough for self-defense. The quarterstaff is, however, exceptionally lethal. I practice medieval martial arts myself, and quarterstaves are a no-go for sparring. We just don’t have protective gear capable of safely negating a quarterstaff strike to the skull, which means zombies don’t either. As a bonus, you’ve got a six-foot stick that’ll keep you well out of arm’s reach, you can choke up your grip and use it Darth Maul-style for close combat against multiple biters, and when you’re not fighting (i.e., most of the time), it’s your walking stick. This will be critical for when you twist your ankle on a tree root (your real enemy in a survival situation) or need to test your footfalls in a murky, flooded area, or on weak ground. Hickory is the harder, more common wood in North America, but ash was also used traditionally.
- Survival Hatchet/Crowbar: I probably wouldn’t use an ax as my go-to defense tool, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing to have as a backup. More importantly, it can be used to get into/out of tight spots. Chop a door down, bust a hole in a flooding attic to escape, and, yeah, bash or cleave zombies that get past your staff—just be wary of getting it stuck in a zombie skull. Sometimes it’s simpler to pry a door open than it is to chop a Jack Nicholson-hole in it, which is why this ax has a crowbar. Plus, it has a hammer to seal things back up (use the built-in nail puller to gather up nails from stuff that doesn’t need nails anymore).
- Trench Knife with Bolo Blade: This little guy is my sidearm pick, and follows the same “weapon but also tool” philosophy. The blade is indeed a weapon, but also serves for clearing brush (better than a typical trench knife), has some chop to it, so it can be used to fashion tools and camp structures, and is reminiscent of the sort of thing you’d find on a 19th-century military scout. And the brass knuckles on the grip? Well, even zombies can’t bite with a broken jaw. Nice to have the hand protection, too.
- Gore-Tex Anything: I don’t know where you live, but I live in New England, where things are wet and cold. I’ve also hiked 15 miles in wet boots before. Don’t be dumb, like me—be smart, like you. You want a waterproof top (with a hood), pants, and definitely shoes. I love anything with Gore-Tex in it, and there are loads of manufacturers that use the tech in their clothing lines. For under-layers: wear things that dry quickly. Jeans are bad. Cotton is bad. Wool, synthetic stuff that dries quickly, bamboo fiber—these things are good because they don’t stay wet. Also, a general note: wear long sleeves and pants. In real life, you won’t want to be catching bug bites or scratching up your legs on thorn bush before wading through stagnant water. Meanwhile, in the fantasy, guess how hard it is to bite through a jacket sleeve with human teeth? Very hard. Throw a sweater on underneath a windbreaker, and you’ll be damn near invincible.
- Paracord Bracelet: You’ll need cordage for all sorts of reasons. Caught without shelter for the night? Tie yourself to a tree limb and sleep there, safely out of reach. Tie a tourniquet, play cat’s cradle, fashion a snare trap, whatever. This cord is rated for 550 lbs and disassembles to about 4 meters of cord. I’m opting for the bracelet here, just so you always have it on you.
- Tactical Backpack: I didn’t mention this first because it goes without saying, but you’d be well screwed if you tried to carry everything on this list in your hands. Here, I’ve suggested the CONDOR 3 Day Assault Pack for a few reasons. For one, it comes in black or camo. I don’t know if zombies can see colors, but people can, and people are the real monsters, aren’t they? Second, it’s got a military vibe, and anything you can do to make yourself look like you know how to handle yourself (even if it’s a complete lie) will make you look less vulnerable to predatory survivors. Third, it’s got quick-release buckles on all the body straps. If a zombie grabs you by the pack, you want to be able to detach yourself.
- Balaclava: You’re going to want something to protect your face, even if it’s just from windchill or zombie spatter getting into your nose and mouth. Will their zombie gore turn you if it gets in/on you? You’ll have to learn that the hard way (hopefully by seeing it happen to someone else who isn’t a main character in your life), but I promise you this: it will taste bad. Added bonus: you’ll look sharp for intimidating other survivors, should you go the bandit route. Maintain some measure of the anonymity the internet affords you in a post-internet world.
- Medic Kit: You’ll need some first-aid capabilities, but also: all things in moderation when you’re carrying your life on your back. With this “SWAT Medic” kit, you’ll at least be able to do some quick, potentially life-saving triage. A tourniquet, compressed gauze, and trauma shears will all come in handy and hopefully delay your exsanguination long enough to get some real help or loot a hospital or whatever. Ultimately, survival is all about dying slower.
- Upholstery Kit: What is our skin if not body upholstery? After you’ve put a figurative pin in your big bleeding wound, found some shelter, and finally worked up the nerve to put a literal pin in your injury, it’s time to sew. Also: you can repair your clothes.
- Firestarter: Depending on where you’re spending your apocalypse, it’ll either be super easy to loot lighters from derelict convenience stores or damn near impossible to find anything. Either way, a little magnesium flint fire starter is cheap, takes up virtually no space, and weighs next to nothing.
- Water Flask: Hydration may well get you before the living dead do (especially in real life), so anything that’ll hold you some water is vital. Even better if it’s got a filtration device.
- Strong Tape: I love me some Gorilla Tape, but any duct tape will be better than no tape. Fix or reinforce clothing, layer it up for makeshift armor, or use it to fashion a makeshift wallet, once society has begun to rebuild itself from the ashes. Basically, it extends the lifespan of most of the things you have.
- Tarp: So important and versatile, yet so simple. Throw up a pup tent, wrap yourself in it like a poncho, loop some paracord through the grommets and hang it off your quarterstaff as a bindle, wrap it around your clothing and pack to keep them dry while you ford a river in the nude, lay it on the ground to sleep after a rainstorm—you’ll probably discover new uses I haven’t even thought of here.
- Kinetic Flashlight: Light’s good in a pinch, especially in the dark, and I sure like the idea of an emergency flashlight that doesn’t need batteries. This Red Cross model doesn’t have to be that light, necessarily, but it could be. It also can charge some other devices, which could come in handy if you need to get back on the grid, even for just a minute.
- Cut-Resistant Gloves: Professional oyster shuckers and whittlers already know this, but: if you tool around with sharp knives long enough, you’ll cut yourself. A mail glove is a nice thing to have for when you’re fashioning tools at the campfire. Plus, you could straight-up jam a mailed fist into a zombie’s mouth, and there’s not much their dumb, dead teeth could do about it.
- Bear Mace: Just because it’s the zombie apocalypse doesn’t mean there won’t still be bears. Also, fun fact: bear mace also works on human bandits.