Tiny, light and infinitely transportable, this affordable little kit might save your life in an emergency. Here's how to build your own mini survival kit and how to use the stuff in it.
Why Altoids? The tins are universally available, well made and designed to keep the stuff inside them intact and safe from crushing. With a little work, you can even make them waterproof. They're also designed to ride in a pocket or glove box, under the seat of a motorcycle or even on a knife sheath.
You can go fancier and build a kit in a small Otterbox waterproof case, but the whole idea here is to create something small enough that you have no excuse not to carry it and cheap enough that you have no excuse not to make one.
The items in this kit aren't the kind of stuff you're going to want to rely on through hard, frequent use. They're small, light, works-in-a-pinch stuff, intended to give you a diverse level of extra capability should you find yourself stuck somewhere with nothing else to rely on. The kit will work best when paired with a rugged survival knife. If you don't want to or can't carry a large length of steel on your hip and want a knife you can pack alongside this kit (but outside it, won't fit), we recommend the ESEE Izula, which will be just the thing for wood processing, fire making and shelter building in a real pinch.
Let's break this list down by the universal survival priorities. These remain the same no matter where you find yourself, desert, mountains, forest, whatever.
Photo: Alexander Becker
Shelter: The quickest way to die is hypo or hyperthermia — getting too hot or too cold. Shelter isn't necessarily a structure or cover, it's clothing too. And remember, the most effective shelter isn't necessarily one you build. It can be a natural feature such as a rock overhang, fallen tree or just a big pile of leaves you climb inside to stay warm at night.
Packing a little plastic poncho of the kind handed out at music festivals is always a good idea, but even if you can squeeze one inside an Altoids tin, it'd preclude packing anything else. A thin trashbag can do the same job and you may be able to fit it inside.
Instead, focus on the basic ability to create some shelter. A small wire saw will help you trim tree limbs to size and a small amount of nylon (stronger than natural materials) cordage or fishing line can help you tie those limbs together.
Duct tape can be handy here too. Pull 18 inches or so off the roll and fold it up as thinly as possible. When it comes time to use it, tear it into thin strips, doing that will make a limited amount stretch much further.
If you want to include one of those Mylar survival blankets, wrap it around the outside of the tin after the kit is complete. Cut an old bicycle inner tube into one-inch thick strips and use those as the world's strongest rubber bands to secure the whole package closed and protect the delicate Mylar from being torn. Gold side towards your body if you've got to use it.
Photo: Andrew Yang
Water: You'll need some sort of container and the ability to purify dirty water. Two unlubricated, plain condoms can each hold a gallon of water, while taking up very little space in your tin. Leave them in their wrapper to protect them.
A few water purification tablets can be a good idea too, giving you the ability to make water safe to drink without relying on boiling it.
Alternately, some people favor clear plastic Ziploc bags. They can be left in the sun (full of water) and the UV rays will kill any bugs in there after a day of exposure.
A Loksak makes a great waterproof case for the kit and can double as that clear water container.
Fire: Glue a match striker to the lid of the tin and pack a few windproof, waterproof matches. Also include a Mini-Match Magnesium Fire Starter; to use it scrape shavings of the magnesium into a pile, then use the other side, which is a ferro rod, to strike a spark into those shavings. A couple cotton balls soaked in Vaseline are also a very good idea, they're the world's best tinder, giving you a reliable two minutes of four-inch high flame, regardless of weather.
A box-cutter blade — flat and small — makes a good backup blade that can fit in your tin. It'll allow you to shave that magnesium and spark the ferro rod, as well as perform all those other knife duties.
Bicycle inner tubes make the best rubber bands and fit the kit perfectly. Photo: Alexander Becker.
Food: Packing fishing line as your cordage give you a multi-use capability, making the most of your limited space. A few small fish hooks and a couple lead weights will allow you to fish for food if necessary. A small bundle of thin steel wire gives you the ability to create snares for small game.
Food is the last of your survival priorities. You won't starve to death for two weeks or more, so prioritize rescue over long term self-sufficiency. Food is also pretty hard to come by in the outdoors, frequently requiring a lot of work and a lot of time.
You can also use your little cable saw, knife blade and cordage to create a spear to catch small game and fish. In a survival situation, small prey should be your focus, it's easier to catch, much more abundant and, cumulatively, can actually add up to a lot of food for not much work. Find a strong, green tree limb, trim it to be the same height as you, then split one end into four pieces. Push green twigs down those splits to separate the points, then tie cordage around the limb and those twigs to secure the whole gadget. Sharpen the points et voila, you're Meera.
A little tin foil, folded up flat and small, can make cooking much easier and can create a container for water too.
First Aid: You've got duct tape and the ability to tear or cut your clothing, so you have the capability to close wounds and make Band-Aids, slings, splints or cover blisters. Some people like to pack a couple Band-Aids too, but those aren't multi-purpose, like the duct tape.
Signaling and Navigation: Pack a small LED flashlight and a spare battery. If you've got the room, a 1xLR2 light will pack the most output and runtime for the space, but most people include one of those flat, button-cell lights.
You'll also want a small button compass so you can tell direction and a small, flat signaling mirror will give you the ability to call for help. A flat whistle is also a great idea, it's much louder than even the loudest shout and you can blow on a whistle long after you'd have lost your voice hollering. Three blasts in quick secession is the universal call for help.
When in doubt, walk downhill and follow flowing water downstream.
Other Stuff: Every person is going to make their kit a little differently. We all have unique needs and operate in unique environments. If you require any prescription medication, for instance, some of that (keep it fresh), will be a good addition.
I've also seen people include safety pins (great for fixing wardrobe malfunctions), cut-in-half tea candles, small nubs of hot glue sticks, tweezers, cash, magnifying lenses, knot guides, cut-down pencils, waterproof writing paper and other supplies in their kits. There's no hard and fast rule for what you must include, just consider the survival priorities and your own abilities or weaknesses. Knowledge, mental flexibility to solve problems and a calm, confident attitude are going to be your best friends in a real emergency, so go armed with those first.
Top Photo: Dois Espressos
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