The 10 Cs of Preparedness—Plus 5 More You Haven’t Heard Before

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The 10 Cs of Preparedness—Plus 5 More You Haven’t Heard Before

Whether you’ve heard of the 10 Cs of Preparedness or not, this article will be worth your while. It’s always good to refresh your knowledge if you have, plus we’re going to throw five bonus tips your way for staying prepared.

The 10 Cs of Preparedness was coined by Dave Canterbury, author of Bushcraft 101. In general, the 10 Cs are items you want to have on hand at all times. Whether you’re out on a short hike or a natural or manmade disaster hits close to home, you need these preparedness supplies to survive.

Here are the 10 Cs:

  1. Cutting tool
  2. Combustion device
  3. Cover/shelter
  4. Container
  5. Cordage
  6. Candling
  7. Cotton material
  8. Cargo Tape
  9. Compass
  10. Canvas needle

Canterbury believes the top 5 are most important, so focus on those items first if getting prepared in stages. Also, redundancy is important. That means multiples of each item, especially those top five. Your Go Bag is useless if it’s not ready to go or missing items. A Get Home Bag is also pointless if it’s left at home. So you need these supplies in your camping gear, at home, the office, in your car, etc. Anywhere you might get stuck and need them.

Let’s take a look at each item on the list in greater detail. Plus, stay tuned for five new Cs of preparedness at the end - three of them cost zero dollars and take up no space. 

Person using a knife to cut wood.

First, the cutting tool. Being able to cut food, wood, metal, and other materials is an essential skill to use in a survival scenario. Nearly impossible to do without a good blade. In my opinion, the best, most versatile knife is a 4-12 inch bowie-style blade with both a smooth and serrated edge. However, the best cutting tool is the one you’re most comfortable with and most likely to use. For many, that means a saw or even a multi-tool with several cutting implements.

Next, a combustion device. This item you definitely want to build redundancy within each kit you create for yourself. You need several ways to start a fire. Here are some commonly packed items:

  • “Flickable” cigarette lighters
  • Grill/BBQ lighters       
  • Ferrocerium rods
  • Plasma lighters
  • Magnifying lens

The third C of survival? Cover. This can mean both shelter and any protection from the elements (clothing). One popular item that can be deployed as both is a rain poncho or a waterproof tarp. Practice using these items to create cover before you need them. Know your local environment and prepare ahead for seasonal changes. That means packing a winter coat in your gear toward the end of summer if you live in northern climates.

A container is the fourth C of survival. An ideal container is a drinking vessel and cookware in one, although some people prefer to carry both separately as it means less “dishes.” Just remember that you’ll likely need to boil water before drinking in many scenarios.

Fifth is cordage. If you’ve spent any time learning about preparedness or survival, you’ve probably heard someone expound the values of good cordage. Not only should you prepare ahead with the best cordage you can buy, like parachute cord up to military standards, but you should also familiarize yourself with improvising cordage from things like plant fibers.

Woman wearing a headlamp while fixing a breaker.

Candling, also known as a light source, is another item you should have several of. Some people prefer the hands-free, mobile operation of a headlamp. Others like an actual candle for its long-lasting capabilities.

Number seven is cotton material. While cotton isn’t the best insulating material for clothing in a survival scenario, it does have several uses. An old t-shirt is enough material to fashion a sling or tourniquet (another skill to practice beforehand). Cotton can also be made into char cloth for creating embers for a fire.

Cargo tape or duct tape, comes in as the eighth C of survival. Sometimes, I think this should be number one because of how often I use it. Duct tape is useful for all kinds of repairs, first-aid and more. You can even build entire items out of it. Can also be used as a fire-starter.

A compass comes in at number 9. I would add a map to this item as well, as a compass and map together are much better than either alone. This is another item that requires practice to use, but is pretty easy to understand - and can be fun too.

The tenth C of survival is a canvas needle. Also known as a sail needle (#14 size), this tool is essential for repair to clothing all the way up to large shelters made of fabric. A needle of this size is also perfect for threading relatively large cordage like paracord.

So far we’ve covered the original ten Cs of survival. Over the years, I’ve added a handful to the list that I’ve found helpful and am passing them along. The final three take up no space in your pack and won’t cost a dime!

Man zipping up a jacket in the outdoors.

Change of clothes. Having cotton material is good, but a full change of clothes that is not cotton is even better. Wet clothes make it harder for your body to regulate your temperature. Wet socks are just inviting blisters to take hold. One tip to keep your clothes compact in your survival kit is to roll them up and/or put them in a compression sack.

The second bonus item I’ve been carrying for years is charcoal. I only carry a small amount of natural lump charcoal (usually one lump about the size of my fist). This can be used as fuel for fires and cooking, obviously. But it can also remove odors from drinking water (purify/filter/boil the water first. Just place a small piece of charcoal in your water container for 30 or more minutes to deodorize. It can also be ground and used in improvised water filters. A few more uses of charcoal:

  • Ground and used as toothpaste
  • Ground and swallowed as an aid for indigestion, gas, and more - in hospitals activated charcoal is used to adsorb poisons and for overdose victims
  • As deodorant or foot powder
  • Powdered as a treatment for skin infections

Another essential C of survival? Creativity. Thousands of years of creativity and the ability to improvise have brought us out of the wilderness as a species and created the civilization we know today (for good or ill). While practicing use of the items above is essential, learning to improvise and be creative is also critical. And it’s free. A few ways to practice:

  • Build a fire without any of the tools above (or currently at your disposal)
  • Take a piece of duct tape and try to create one of the 10 Cs with it (cordage? cover?)
  • Come up with your own campfire stories; while this might not seem absolutely essential to survival, it can be (more on that in the next tip)

The fourth additional C of survival should be creature comforts. Again, this is not a physical item per se, though it can be. In any survival situation, finding some form of comfort is great for moral and psychological well-being. It can be as simple as telling the members of your crew made up stories or singing a few songs together. A comforting meal, when possible, works wonders. What’s your creature comfort for survival? Let us know in the comments. 

The final, free, space-saving item is calm. A sense of calm is invaluable whenever a survival situation arises. Panic makes you sweat, burn calories, and lose focus, with zero gains. Whenever you notice your heart rate rising while at a state of rest, you’re beginning to panic. This is your amygdala (lizard brain) working, preparing to take on any threat.

While this part of our brain can be incredibly useful for survival, you have to know when it isn’t and making you vulnerable. In these instances, taking a handful of deep breaths, unclenching your jaw and relaxing your shoulders can help to convince the brain to calm down.

We hope you find these fifteen items and tenets useful when approaching your preparedness planning, whether you’ve heard of the 10 Cs before or not. How do you prioritize the 10 Cs of preparedness? Comment below with your techniques and tips!


  • Robert

    Pack a deck of cards or other distraction to pass the time. Cards with extra survival tips carry double duty.

  • Linda

    The information is always appreciated

  • Thomas

    I say you left out one more “C” and that is being COMBAT ready because they maybe certain situations you have to defend yourself and protect what’s yours

  • Colleen Thompson

    I really loved you 10 essential items for your bug out bag.

  • Rick

    Dave, I used to watch you and Cody on Dual Survival. You guys, I thought were a spectacular team. There was good comradery, fairness and success. I envy you for having great knowledge of the wilderness and I was able to attend one or more of your Pathfinder sessions. I have almost finished “Bushcraft 101”. Thanks Dave

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