Best Survival Playing Cards

“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” Jack Longdon’s quote has all sorts of applications in life, but it really fits survival situations well. One way to play your hand is to be patient and bide your time. When people think about survival, they think of all of the tasks to do- but in reality, there is a significant amount of downtime and waiting.

Survival playing cards are not only proven to help pass the time, but they can also teach you some survival tips along the way. There are a lot of options out there for picking a deck of cards with tons of information printed on them.

This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best survival playing cards, put them to the test, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need a watch to keep time and more, one of our picks will add some survival versatility to your wrist.

Contents (Jump to a Section)

Discover Wilderness Survival Playing Card Deck

The Best Survival Playing Cards

Wilderness Survival Cards

Detailed, Thorough, with Good Card Feel

This versatile survival deck covers everything from bear attacks to an avalanche.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

With survival topics packed onto every card, not many of these are illustrated. That’s okay because this essentially is a mini survival guide book divvied up between 52 playing cards.

Their Edible Wilderness deck is very specific, but a great option if you are looking for something that will help you go beyond the Universal Edibility Test if you are foraging for survival.

Here is what you get with the Wilderness Survival deck:

  • 52 playing cards
  • 2.5″ x 3.5″ x 0.75″
  • 2.1 ounces

With jam-packed survival info on ordinary playing cards, it’s easy to see why Sea & Sky’s Discover Wilderness Survival Deck is the best for survival.

Don't Die Out There Playing Cards

Budget Survival Playing Cards

Don’t Die Out There Cards

Simple, Rugged, and Proven

Less serious and less expensive than the rest, these cards still offer good tips at a great price.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

The Don’t ____ Out There! series has a lot of deck options covering many types of survival. Die is the first and broadest of them all, but they are all highly rated and packed with relevant info. The others include:

Here is how Don’t Die! measures up:

  • 56 illustrated water-resistant playing cards
  • 2.5″ x 3.5″ x 0.75″
  • 3.1 ounces

If you are looking for inexpensive survival playing cards, the Don’t Die Out There Deck is what you need.

Gentleman's Hardware Campfire Survival Cards

Upgrade Survival Playing Cards

Campfire Survival Cards

Giftable, Aesthetic, and Durable

Top-tier survival cards with great illustrations built to be used and survive any conditions.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Nothing quite like sitting with your pals around a campfire telling stories… and playing cards? Gentleman’s Hardware thinks so and they lean hard into that shtick. These illustrated cards and the tin they come in are a thing of beauty.

It might be a tough sell to drop a Jackson on a deck of cards, but these things are waterproof and would make a fantastic gift for the survivalist that has everything.

Here are the full specs:

  • 52 illustrated waterproof playing cards
  • Waterproof storage tin
  • PVC card material
  • 3.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.75″
  • 6.3 ounces

If you are looking for the hands-down best survival playing cards, get a deck of Gentleman’s Hardware Campfire Survival Cards.

Everything We Recommend

Discover Wilderness Survival Playing Card Deck

Wilderness Survival Cards

This versatile survival deck covers everything from bear attacks to an avalanche.

Where to Buy

$11* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Don't Die Out There Playing Cards

Don’t Die Out There Playing Cards

Less serious and less expensive than the rest, these cards still offer good tips at a great price.

Where to Buy

$9* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Gentleman's Hardware Campfire Survival Cards

Campfire Survival Cards

Top-tier survival cards with great illustrations built to be used and survive any conditions.

Where to Buy

$19* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

The Cards We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to several brands of playing cards that we compared: Guardian, Don’t Die, Bicycle, Maxpedition, Ready Hour, Sea & Sky, Speedhook, Kikkerland, Survival Frog, Gentleman’s Hardware, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We considered a huge range of decks at first. We narrowed it down to those with survival information printed on them, and then compared the quality of that information and the cards themselves.

We’re always looking for new and better gear, so if you have a deck of survival cards that you swear by, let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually so we can try to get it in the next roundup round and see if it will beat out our top picks.

What to Look For

The best survival playing cards have a few features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Survival Tips
  3. Card Feel
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Durability

When you get the right blend of these, you can find cards that will keep you entertained and informed in survival situations. Below, we break down what each of these features means for the survival cards that truly set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like cards shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. If you already have a deck of cards and a slim budget, your existing deck could work for you (especially if you have spares to stuff

You never want to spend too much money on one thing when it comes to gear for your kits, especially if it’s just for entertainment. It’s better to diversify your gear and budget to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios.

Survival Tips

When we were comparing and testing the cards, there is a huge range of survival-related info and types being printed on ‘survival cards’. Some of it is useful, some of it isn’t. Some options focused on specific skills, like foraging or knot-tying.

Still, broad survival info offered the best advice for beginners, general survival, and as conversation starters.

Card Feel

Cards aren’t just made out of paper. They aren’t rigid but they also don’t crease or fold easily with regular use. They shuffle well and give a satisfactory snap when you slap one on the table.

A few of the cards we tested did have a papery feel that we knew wouldn’t be as durable to handle over long periods. Just because some survival info is printed on some cards, we’re not going to pick them over a new Bicycle deck for our kits if it isn’t going to feel and perform at least as well.

Size & Weight

In the context of survival kits, we’re always concerned about size and weight. Well maybe not concerned, but at least keeping it in mind as we put them together. Cards don’t weigh much and all take up about the same amount of space.


A deck of cards is only as good as they last. Dealing hands, shuffling, and the like all wear down cards over time. Once they are completely worn out there are still survival uses for them. But anyways- we’d like them to stick around for their main purpose for as long as possible.

Why Cards are Useful for Survival

Playing cards are meant to facilitate fun games to pass the time, but in survival situations, they can become more. Practically, here are our favorite supplemental uses for cards:

  1. Fires Starting: Playing cards are typically made of paper or cardstock, which can be used as tinder to help start a fire. Tear or shred the cards into small pieces and use them as kindling to ignite a flame when combined with other fire-starting materials.
  2. Cordage: You can turn playing cards into improvised cordage by cutting them into thin strips and braiding or twisting them together. While not as strong as traditional rope or paracord, cardstock strips can be used for lighter tasks like securing items or constructing small traps.
  3. Notetaking: You can turn playing cards into improvised cordage by cutting them into thin strips and braiding or twisting them together. While not as strong as traditional rope or paracord, cardstock strips can be used for lighter tasks like securing items or constructing small traps.
  4. Repairing Holes: If you have damaged or leaky shelter materials, playing cards can be used to patch small holes or reinforce weak spots. Attach them using natural adhesives like tree sap or with other available fasteners.

There are more uses beyond those- but I want to move on to talk about specific games and gambling. Here are the 5 most popular games that you’ll find most people know, and how they can help in an emergency:

  1. Poker: From casual games to high-stakes gaming, poker is easy to play but impossible to master. If you’re skillful at the game you can use it for an edge if you play others for money, barter, or other survival needs.
  2. Bridge: A four-person game that I’ve personally played the least on this list. Apparently, it is a competitive and strategic game that helps many people in nursing homes pass the time.
  3. Solitaire: The ultimate game to play by yourself, sorting cards can be kind of fun. Popular in prisons to pass the time.
  4. Rummy: Match like-cards into sets and runs to beat your opponents. Another multiplayer game that is easy to pick up.
  5. Blackjack: A game much more complex than it looks, the dealer has no strategy but has the tie advantage. A card counter or professional player can still overcome this advantage making it a tough game to bet on in a survival situation.

Gambling with survival resources isn’t a great idea, but there will be plenty of people looking to do it. Escapism, financial desperation, and the hope that ‘luck will turn’ all run rampant during tough times, and it has been statistically proven that gambling increases during recessions.

Who Needs Survival Playing Cards?

Cards have a universal appeal and are great for passing time alone or with friends. There are countless games to learn, master, or just have fun with. Cards are especially good at keeping kids entertained during disasters and emergencies. There can be plenty of idle time for everyone affected, but kids may need help coping and passing the time.

For that reason, we suggest you add survival playing cards to these mobile kits:

Because they aren’t necessary and do bring some size and weight, we merely suggest you consider them for your loadout:

Playing cards are also great for camping, hiking, and backpacking as well. Heck, you don’t even have to get outdoors to appreciate survival cards at the kitchen table.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best survival playing cards are useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical survival experience:

Baggerly, J. (2006). Preparing play therapists for disaster response: Principles and practices. International Journal of Play Therapy. Volume 15. Issue 2. Pages 59–81. (Source)

Scarce, R. (2011). Doing Time as an Act of Survival. Symbolic Interaction. Volume 25. Issue 3. Pages 303-321. (Source)

Watanabe, C. (2021). Playing through the Apocalypse: Preparing Children for Mass Disasters in Japan and Chile. Public Culture. Volume 33. Issue 2. Pages 239–259. (Source)

The Final Word

Entertainment isn’t essential, but your sanity is. Cards are a great way to bond with those you love and strangers alike. Almost everyone knows a card game or two, and they’re easy to learn on the fly as well. Stash some survival playing cards in your kits to make the best of the time you’ll inevitably need to pass.

Here are a few other guides and reviews our subscribers have found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Sea & Sky Discover Wilderness Survival Cards to be the best option given their value, survival tips, card feel, size/weight, and durability.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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The Best Survival Playing Cards

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer, Air Force veteran, emergency manager, husband, dad, and experienced prepper. I developed emergency and disaster plans around the globe and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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