Confessions of a Cheapskate Prepper: Cool Gear, Fewer Dollars

It took more than a year of saving from my after-school job working as a janitor in a local print shop to buy my first AR-15. I was in the 10th grade. Since that time, I have scraped and scrounged countless times to swing a cool new gun or piece of gear that I just couldn’t live without.

I’ve been disappointed more than a few times over the decades. Deals that looked too good to be true frequently turned out to be exactly that. But some other times I tripped over guns or gear that represented superb investments for the rugged American individualist on a budget. Here are a few reliable examples.

There is no limit to how much you can spend on guns and ammo. While this vintage German MP40 Machine Pistol costs as much as a decent car, the surrounding gear represents quality kit at reasonable prices.


TALON GRIPS

Talon Grips produces adhesive grips for most common tactical weapons. Their grips come in a pebbled rubber texture as well as a gritty, skin-grabbing version that could pass for sandpaper. To apply the grips, clean the gun with alcohol to remove any traces of oil, press the grip material in place per the included instructions, and set the industrial-grade adhesive with a heat gun or hair dryer. Make sure it is in the right place before you quit, as the resulting product won’t budge.

Talon Grips really enhance an existing tactical weapon, particularly those that might be worn smooth with a lot of use or carry. Be forewarned that the gritty version is so rough it can rub through a pocket or abrade skin on a carry gun.

The pebbled rubber versions feel great and don’t abuse your holsters. Once emplaced, these nifty grips really lock a gun to your hands independent of sweat or slime. Talon Grips can resurrect tired iron or enhance your grip on the newer stuff for less than $20 per set.

Appliqué grips from Talon Grips can rejuvenate a beater handgun or further enhance a new one. This rubber pebble grain grip fits the S&W Bodyguard .380 perfectly and makes it stick a little better to my hands when I’m sweaty or rushed. Once set in place with a hair dryer or heat gun, the grips aren’t going anywhere.


LUCID SIGHTS

We’ve all heard the old axiom, “You should spend as much on the glass as you do on the rifle.” That’s great for folks with really deep pockets. For the rest of us, who might be paying for diapers or student loans, there are some great bargains to be had in combat optics if you shop around.

The truly cheap stuff is garbage. I once bought a bargain basement red dot scope that went straight from the box into the trash, it was so bad. But the HD7 sight from Lucid Optics is an exceptionally fine piece of kit at a reasonable price. The sight has a rubber-armored aluminum housing and runs about forever on a single AAA battery. There are four reticle designs and the sight has an auto-brightness feature that adjusts the intensity of the reticle for ambient light.

You don’t want to move from bright sunlight into a dark room or vice versa and have to mess with the controls on your gun sight. The Lucid scope is built like a tank, has the features you need without the fluff you don’t, sports beautiful quality glass, and comes in at less than $300.

Lucid HD7 1X red dot sight offers robust construction, quality glass, four different reticles, and an auto-brightness feature that adjusts reticle brightness automatically for different conditions.


TRUGLO COMPACT LASER SIGHT

As I get older, it gets harder and harder to focus on the front sight of a handgun. Advancing age and the inevitable Presbyopia that adversely affects our near vision are simply the prices we pay for experience.

The Information Age solution to this problem is an onboard laser sight. Where once laser designators were prohibitively expensive, ridiculously bulky, or simply awkward to use, today’s modern offerings are compact, inexpensive, reliable, and effective.

The rail-mounted laser sight from TRUGLO is not much larger than a quarter, fits on standard Picatinny rails, and works like a champ. I find that the green version is much easier to acquire and seems to be more effective at longer ranges than its red counterpart. The TRUGLO sight is small enough to allow you to use many existing holsters, and the controls are simple and intuitive. The TRUGLO laser sight makes me dangerous with a handgun again for less than $100.

Stealth Cam digital night vision viewer offers legitimate night vision capability at a fraction of the cost of milspec units. Powered by four AA batteries and equipped with an onboard IR illuminator, the Stealth Cam lets you navigate your home in darkness or scan the yard for prowlers.


NIGHT VISION

The capacity to operate seamlessly in total darkness is likely the single greatest advantage U.S. forces have over their adversaries. While milspec night vision is available to the general public, it is crazy expensive. For the prepper or responsible American on a budget, lower-priced alternatives exist.

The technology of phosphor tubes and advanced-generation image intensifiers used by military aviators and Special Operations shooters costs a holy fortune, but simple digital light amplification technology is cheap enough to be included in many digital cameras. The Stealth Cam digital monocular is a basic low-light imager that uses digital light amplification technology to see in dim light at a reasonable price.

The Stealth Cam is not powerful enough to fly or drive by, but it allows you to spot game after dark, navigate around your blacked-out house with the built-in IR illuminator, or check the yard for prowlers without exposing yourself via a visible light source. The Stealth Cam runs about $200.

Vehicular Trauma Kit from Solutions Group International contains everything to address modest traumatic emergencies around the home or in the car. SGI’s ingenious pouch straps to the back of the headrest in a car and mounts via tear-away Velcro patch.


FIRST AID

The Vehicle Trauma Kit (VTK) from Solutions Group International brings you everything you might need to deal with emergencies on the road or at home all packaged up in a handy storable kit. The VTK straps to the back of the headrest in your vehicle and sports bright red handles. If the vehicle is upside down or you are simply in a hurry, the SGI VTK is easy to locate and grab. Hook and loop fasteners hold the kit in place.

Inside are all the basics to handle traumatic medical emergencies. Trauma shears remove bloody clothing, chest seals buy time for someone with a sucking chest wound, and bandage material combined with Celox clotting agent manages bleeding.

In case the world really goes sideways, the VTK includes the remarkable RATS Tourniquet, which was designed by a career Special Operator and is the most effective and easy to use tourniquet system I have ever encountered. Everything comes in a remarkably compact package, and it sets you back about $100.

A frugal prepper can accumulate a decent starter loadout without dumping the kids’ college fund. Penny pinching and plenty of research make your prepper money last longer and go farther.


OLD COP GUNS

For the frugal shooter, police-surplus handguns represent a great bargain. Modern tactical handguns last approximately forever, and most law enforcement weapons are carried a lot and shot a little.

Do some comparison shopping, particularly at a gun show where you can pick through a pile to find a cherry, and you can land a top-end handgun for a fraction of the cost of a new pistol.

Glocks, S&Ws, HKs, and Berettas are available if you search diligently. Some polymer-framed guns show a lot of holster wear, but I have found a few that were just pristine. Upgrade one of these “beater” cop guns with a set of inexpensive Talon Grips and the gun will render splendid service longer than you will.

Surplus cop handguns represent excellent bargains for preppers on a budget. This LE-surplus Beretta 92 9mm and HK USP .45 were both in great shape and, after a good cleaning, functioned like new.


LONG GUNS

Yes, you do get what you pay for, and a really nice high-end rifle will cost you a couple of grand. But I have many times found myself in the position where I just couldn’t drop the equivalent of a monthly house note on a new black rifle.

As most of us will not be humping the Hindu Kush with our weapons, a DIY parts gun is a good place to start, and it makes for a capital father-son project. The lower receiver is the only piece that has to come through an FFL. As most kits come with the uppers pre-assembled, you really don’t need any special tools beyond what you might find in a typical handyman toolbox.

TRUGLO laser sight is available with either red or green laser and takes up very little space on the rail. Controls are intuitive and the low profile of the device allows the gun so equipped to use many existing holster designs.


Fitting the bolt release may require a little body English to keep from scratching the finish, but none of the build is really challenging. As long as you use decent quality parts from a reputable manufacturer, you can end up with a nice AR for a good bit less than the cost of a pre-built factory gun. You can always Google any technical questions you might have.

A beater Kalashnikov is nearly indestructible and typically a good bit cheaper than an AR. Magazines and accessories are inexpensive and plentiful, and ammo is dirt cheap. The 7.62x39mm round has about the same ballistic energy as a .30-30 Winchester, so in a pinch you can hunt most any North American game animal with it as well.

If an AK is still too big an investment, get a pawn shop SKS. Slap an aftermarket stock on the gun and invest in a few extended magazines, and you have the functional equivalent of an AK at a much reduced price point. It looks a little lame, but will nonetheless run like a champ.

Anybody even modestly handy with tools can build his own AR from a kit. This particular rifle is accurate and reliable. Judicious application of a few low-cost accessories makes it all the more usable.


LIFE’S HARSH REALITIES

Out here in the real world, I have to justify to my wife why I want to spend the better part of a month’s pay on some cool new gun. My bride has long since gotten wise to the “investment” angle and now helpfully observes that it is not an investment if you never plan to sell it.

In an economic environment wherein gas, the kids’ orthodontics and college costs, and the electric bill all take precedence over sniper rifles and body armor, this Rugged Individualist has to make his prepper dollars last as long as possible. But just because money is tight doesn’t mean your family has to be defenseless. Be smart with your purchases and scheme everything out in advance. Shop around for bargains and prioritize your needs.

One benefit of a DIY rifle build is the capacity to customize the weapon to your individual tastes. My son picked the Punisher motif from Spike’s Tactical to adorn the lower receiver.


Impulse purchases at a gun shop or gun show are fun, but be careful. Pull out your phone and bounce the particulars off a like-minded friend who can render a dispassionate opinion before you drop the plastic for something you might later regret.

Prepping for unpleasant eventualities really is a bottomless hole. The concerned American can drop a king’s ransom on cool-guy stuff and still not have it all. But judicious comparison shopping sprinkled with a fine dusting of patience and restraint can build a proper prepper loadout without breaking the bank.

SOURCES

LUCID
(307) 840-2160
www.mylucidgear.com

TALON GRIPS
(970) 879-9600
www.talongungrips.com

TRUGLO
(888) 8-TRUGLO
www.truglo.com

SOLUTIONS GROUP INTERNATIONAL
(877) 844-8744
www.solutionsgroupinternational.com

STEALTH CAM
(877) 269-8490
www.stealthcam.com

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