Anyone who has studied survival for any length of time will agree that having the right tools can make a world of difference. While it is theoretically possible to survive without any equipment or tools at all, taking everything you need from the environment around you, that's infinitely harder than surviving with the right tools in hand.
The key, of course, is to have those tools with you. That means having them with you at all times, as you never know when you'll be thrust into a survival situation. A day that starts out perfectly normal can suddenly and unexpectedly turn into a crisis, forcing you into survival mode.
When that happens, you don't have time to rush home and get your bug out bag or put together a pack of tools and supplies to help you through the situation. You may not even be able to get home at all, as you might find yourself in a situation where your challenge is to survive long enough to make it home. Either way, if you're away from home, the equipment and supplies you have at home won't do you the least bit of good until you get there.
That's where a survival kit comes in. Originally, survival kits were for people who were going hunting or hiking in the woods. The idea was to have a small, portable kit, with the essentials you'd need to help you survive, if you got injured, lost, or inclement weather made it impossible to get out.
But the idea of a survival kit has expanded considerably since those early kits. Today, many preppers and survivalists recognize the need to have an emergency survival kit on hand at all times; at work, at school, in the car, and even while shopping. After all, disasters don't wait until it's convenient for us; they come when they want to.
Many would complain that carrying a survival kit with you all the time is inconvenient. Your average business suit doesn't have a "survival pocket" built in, nor do most women's purses have enough extra room to fit in a survival kit. So that eliminates those possibilities and carrying a fanny pack just doesn't look right in business attire.
The easiest solution to this problem is to keep a survival kit where it will be convenient to your daily activities. If you're in school, keep one in your locker. A businessman or woman could keep one in the bottom drawer of their desk. Anyone who drives could keep one in the trunk of their car, or if you're driving a bicycle instead, it could be in the bag where you keep your tools. In reality, a survival kit can be kept literally anywhere you happen to frequent.
Now, let me get something straight in your mind here. You don't have to limit yourself to one survival kit. Unlike a bug out bag, a survival kit doesn't cost all that much to put together. So, you can have as many as you need. If you use a number of different vehicles or spend time in a number of different places, there's no reason not to have a survival kit in each of them, as well as your wife's and kids cars as well (assuming you have a wife and kids who drive).
What Makes Your Survival Kit a Survival Kit?
Maybe this question seems a bit overly obvious to you; but it's not to everyone. I've seen a lot of survival kits around, which had unnecessary things in them, simply because someone bought the latest gadget on the recommendation of someone else. Everything in your kit should be well-reasoned, so that it will help you to survive.
More than anything, that means that your survival kit needs to deal with the survival basics; warmth (which includes fire), water (water purification) and food. You may also find it useful to include some small amount of first-aid supplies, weapons, tools and even a flashlight. If something doesn't fall into those categories, then why carry it along?
Remember, this is about survival, not about sewing a button on your coat or helping you catch the bus. So, you want to limit what you put in your kit to things that will actually help you with those survival priorities. If you need those other things on a day-to-day basis, that's fine, but they aren't really a part of your survival kit.
But for the kit to be about survival, it has to be created for a specific survival situation. What I mean by that is that a kit which is designed for surviving in the woods, isn't really going to have the things you need for survival in the city, and vice-versa. So, build your kit or kits accordingly.
This is actually one of the main reasons why I have multiple survival kits. I select the kit I carry with me at any one time, based upon where I am, where I am going, and what I am going to be doing. The most complete kit I carry is when I'm traveling by car. That one is a full backpack, with enough equipment and food to take care of my wife and I for a week. But that isn't practical for carrying around every day, so when I'm driving around the city, I don't bring it with me.
How Big a Kit?
Survival kits come in all shapes and sizes, mostly because they're homemade, rather than being purchased as a kit. While there are a few commercial survival kits on the market, most people don't bother with them.
A survival kit is a very personal item; so using one made by someone else probably won't be idea. They'll either have things in the kit that you don't need or they'll leave something out of the kit that you do. Either way, you'll probably end up with a much better kit if you build your own.
There really is no "ideal size" for a survival kit. A lot depends on what types of situations you design the kit for, the locations you expect to use the kit in, and your own level of survival training. Carrying fishing gear in a survival kit, just because other people do, doesn't make much sense in a kit that's supposed to help you survive in the city, where you don't have any water to fish in.
A while back, there was a craze amongst the prepping community for making survival kits in an Altoids mint tin. Personally, I don't think that's big enough. While you can actually fit quite a bit in there, if you are very careful about what you select, you end up having to leave things out, as well as compromising on the quality of the items you carry, as there just isn't enough room for the better quality tools.
But, then again, if all you have room for is an Altoids tin, then by all means, make yourself a survival kit in one and carry it with you. At least you'll have something to work with, when and if the time comes.
My EDC kit on the left dwarfs the smaller survival kit on the right, even though they were both made for the same purpose, to help me stay alive. Obviously, the larger kit contains more, as well as including larger items, such as the sheathe knife you see clipped to the left side.
I have made survival kits that range in size form about the size of a thick paperback book up to that full-sized backpack I mentioned. I generally carry the smaller size in a suitcase or backpack, when I am traveling. But the kit I carry everyday, my EDC bag, is built in a Condor EDC bag, which is designed to be worn cross-shoulder. That gives me enough space to carry quite a bit, while still being small enough to sit in a corner of my car's trunk, out of the way, where it doesn't bother anything.
I personally like making my survival kits in something that makes them easy to carry, whether that's a pouch that will hang on my belt, a small backpack or the Condor EDC bag I just mentioned. I've seen others use anything from coffee cans to cardboard boxes, but those aren't as portable. Even an old briefcase or handbag would be better than that, as it has a handle to carry it by.
While you may find yourself needing to create a kit that is very compact, you're better off letting the equipment you put in the kit determine its overall size, rather than letting the case dictate your equipment. In other words, gather the stuff and then buy a case to fit it in. Generally speaking, when the case is picked first, you end up being forced to leave some things out that you'd rather have with you.
What Should be Inside?
So know we come to the crux of the issue, what you need to carry in your survival kit. I always make the assumption that the kit is all I'm going to have, even though I tend to carry a number of items with me, as part of my EDC. However, there's always the possibility that I won't have one of those items that day, or that it will become lost in the disaster. Better to be safe, than sorry, especially where survival is concerned.
That means my kit needs to provide items for all my basic survival needs: heat, shelter, water and food, although I'll have to say that food isn't a priority in a short-term survival situation. In addition, it's a good idea to carry along some minimal first-aid supplies, as well as tools needed to build a temporary shelter.
But the single most important piece of survival equipment doesn't fit into any of those categories, although it is definitely a tool; that is, a knife. A good knife will help you in a number of ways, especially in building a shelter, starting a fire and feeding you. So, the first thing you need in any survival kit is a knife.
How big a knife you have and what type of knife you have is going to be dependent on the size of your survival kit. Ideally, you want a reasonably sized sheath knife, with a full tang. If you didn't already know it, the tang is the part of the blade that extends through the handle a "full tang" means that the tang goes all the way through the handle, to the back end of it. That's important, to keep the knife from breaking.
You won't have room for a full tang sheathe knife in a smaller survival kit, so you'll have to settle for a folding knife. One with a 3 to 4 inch blade will do. Make sure that it's a quality knife, made with quality steel. You don't want it to break or even get dull easily.
Maintaining your body temperature is the single most important survival need. More people die of hypothermia or "exposure" in a survival situation, than any other single killer. Maintaining your heat requires a number of different things, but the most important are shelter, clothing and a heat source.
That means having the ability to start a fire. Most survival instructors tell you to carry two primary and two secondary means of fire starting. Primary fire starters are matches and butane lighters, with pretty much everything else being considered secondary fire starters. The idea behind carrying two and two is to make sure that you always have a means of starting a fire. But in reality, you're probably going to use one of the primary means.
This is one of the places where size has to be taken into account. There's no way that you can carry two plus two fire starters in a small survival kit. Instead, you'll probably find yourself limited to two methods. If so, one should be a primary and the other a secondary. Of the primary methods available, lighters will start many more fires than matches will.
If you have the room in your survival kit, it's a good idea to carry along some sort of accelerant for fires as well. There are a number of good ones on the market, such as the WetFire cubes, which will actually burn, even when wet. You can also make your own out of cotton balls and petroleum jelly. Simply work the petroleum jelly into the cotton balls and then store them in an airtight container.
It is all but impossible to carry along any sort of shelter in a survival kit, as you just don't have the space for it. The only one of my survival kits which actually has any sort of shelter is the full backpack. However, I always carry along things that can be used to help make a shelter.
- Space Blankets - These paper thin aluminized plastic sheets are a heat reflector, which will go a long way towards keeping you warm. You'll need something between you and the space blanket for insulation; but dry leaves or crumpled up newspaper will work for that. Carry a couple, as one is never enough.
- Paracord - High strength type III paracord gives you a lot of rope for your money. Technically only one-eighth of an inch in diameter (although it usually measures a bit more than that), it will support 550 pounds. You can use it to lash together branches for building a shelter in the woods, or to stretch a space blanket to use as a windbreak.
- Duct Tape - Along with paracord, this gives you a great way to hold the various components of your shelter together. While you probably don't have room for a roll, you can easily wrap a couple of yards around a pen or straw-type water filter, making it possible to take it along, without using much space
- Rain Poncho - While not normally considered a part of your shelter, a rain poncho is just that. If it's raining, it will keep the rain off you. If not, you can stretch it out to make an improvised tent. I carry rain ponchos in all of my survival kits that are large enough to have room for them.
- 55 Gallon Plastic Bag - If you can't carry a rain poncho, carry along a 55 gallon trash bag. Cutting holes for your head and arms turns it into a pretty good rain poncho. You can also use it without the holes, as a makeshift sleeping bag. While it doesn't provide insulation, it is an effective barrier against the wind and rain.
Water is a bit of a problem for survival kits because of its weight and bulk. You really can't fit a liter bottle of water in a pocket-sized survival kit. You can't even fit it in my EDC kit very easily, although I do keep a liter bottle with it. But no matter what, you're going to have to have water.
This is a big issue for me, because I live in a very hot and arid part of the country. So I have to have water. Even so, it's unrealistic to carry it around, waiting for that time when I'll need it. So, what I usually do is to carry collapsible water bottles with me. That way, if I find myself in a survival situation, I can fill those bottles at my every opportunity, ensuring that I'll have water to drink.
If you don't have a collapsible water bottle, heavy-duty quart sized plastic bags work great. Not only that, but they pack up in a very small area, allowing you to carry a couple of them along with you. Just be sure to roll them, rather than fold them, so that you don't damage the zipper.
The other part of water preparedness in your survival kit is a water purifier. This is about as important as being able to start a fire, so you'll want to have more than one with you. Ideally, you should have some sort of a water filter, such as a straw-type filter and something that you can use to filter water in your water bottles. If the bottles themselves don't have a filter, then you might want to carry along water purification tablets.
Another cheaper option is to carry some bleach with you. Eight drops of normal laundry bleach will purify a gallon of water. So you'll only need two drops for each of those quart sized zipper storage bags. Just makes sure that you have the bleach in a container that won't break and that you have something you can use to get it out in drops. If nothing else, a hollow plastic coffee stirrer works well.
As I already mentioned, you won't need food for a short-term survival situation. Even so, I carry some high-energy food bars and jerky in my EDC. That way, I've got something to munch on, which will give me a boost of energy if I need it.
For longer-term survival, you'll need to be able to think about food. As I mentioned earlier, my full backpack that I travel with has enough food for five days. That's five days of tight rations though. But more importantly, it has the means of cooking food, something I try to include in all my kits.
Granted, there isn't enough room in a small survival kit for pots and pans. But there is room for some aluminum foil. Heavy-duty aluminum foil can be used to make a pot to boil water, or can be wrapped around a fish or squirrel to cook it in the coals of your fire. Putting a couple of pieces of foil in your survival kit doesn't take up much room, and gives you that option if you have the opportunity.
Two valuable items, which will fit in almost any survival kit are a military P-38 can opener and a spork. These can openers, which used to be issued with C-rations, are small enough to go on a key ring, but will allow you to easily open a can of food, if you find something canned. The spork makes it so you don't have to take time out to whittle one out of a piece of wood. You might also want to consider a collapsible metal cup, if you've got room in your kit.
You'll also want to consider how you can gather food in that situation. A small fishing kit, consisting of fishing line, bobbers and hooks will allow you to fish almost anywhere there is water, and it doesn't take up much room. Adding some wire, such as guitar strings, allows you to make snares to catch small game.
Injuries happen; so you may as well be ready for them. If you aren't, those injuries can easily become infected, which can be extremely dangerous in a survival situation. So, it's a good idea to have at least a minimal first-aid kit along.
While you really can't carry enough along to take care of major injuries, you can carry a few basics with you. These should include:
- Adhesive bandages (use the fabric ones, as they are flexible and will last longer)
- Larger bandages (at least 2" x 3", if not larger)
- Antibacterial ointment
- Medical tape (the new cohesive tape is wonderful)
- Gauze (especially the stretch gauze)
- Pain relievers
- Something for diarrhea
You can fit all of that into a plastic bag that's about 3" x 5", if you crush the cardboard core for the tape, allowing it to be folded flat.
I've already mentioned the importance of a good knife. Many people also carry a multi-tool. While this isn't actually a necessity; it can be extremely useful in some situations. So, if you have one, it's a good idea to add it. But I'll have to say that other things are more important, especially when you can easily spend as much on a multi-tool as you do on the rest of the kit.
A wire saw is useful in your kit, as it allows you to cut tree branches to build a shelter. Only buy the kind that are made with three wires, not the single wire kind. The advantage of the triple wire is that if one wire breaks, you still have two wires to cut with.
You might also want to include a flashlight, although, once again, it's not a requirement. However, most people are uncomfortable at night, when in a strange place. So a flashlight might add some comfort, as well as make it possible to find things that you drop. Pack a spare battery or two as well.
While those are the major categories of things to have in your survival kit, there are a number of other things that you should carry along as well. Since they don't fit in one of the major categories mentioned above, I've decided to mentioned them here, all together.
- Compass - So you can find your way home
- Map of the area
- Waterproof paper and pen - To take or leave notes. Don't depend on your memory for important information, like directions; write it down
- Whistle - For signaling for help
- Signaling mirror - For the same reason
My Survival Kits
This is my small survival kit. It's built into a Condor MA16 pouch, which is 4-1/2" wide, 6-1/2" tall, and as I've got it stuffed, 3" thick.
Contents of my survival kit (clockwise from top left):
- Aluminum foil - 2 pieces
- First-aid kit - adhesive bandages, 2" x 3" bandages, medical tape, antiseptic cream, ibuprofen, Benadryl, diarrhea medicine
- Flashlight and spare battery
- Mechanical pencil with duct tape wrapped around it
- Quart sized zipper bags
- Straw-type water filter
- 25' Paracord
- 5 fire accelerants - cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly
- Water purifying tablets
- Matches in waterproof container (blue). This container also includes a compass and whistle
- Wire saw
- Space blanket
- Sewing kit, with thread, needles and safety pins - thread doubles for fishing line
- Guitar strings for use as snares
- Fishing kit - bobber, hooks, split shot weights
- Pocket knife
- Small multi-tool
- Signaling mirror
- Waterproof paper
- Card with information on building snares
- Freznel lens (not visible) for starting fires
- 55 gallon bag (not visible)
- Butane lighter (added since picture was taken)
My EDC bag, which is considerably bigger, not only has survival gear, but also has some addition things to help me through my daily life. It's contents are:
- 2 rescue blankets
- 20' paracord
- 10 yd duct tape
- Rain poncho
- Water bottle
- Spare plastic bags (4)
- Esbit stove & fuel
- Collapsible cup
- P-38 can opener
- Snacks (jerky, granola bars, nuts)
- 2 - 12" x 24" heavy duty aluminum foil
- Fishing kit (line, bobbers, weights and hooks)
- Fire starting cubes
- Stormproof matches (in waterproof container)
- Metal match
- BlastMatch Jr.
- Cotton balls in petroleum jelly
- Stormproof lighter
- Spare batteries
- Wire saw
- Lock pick set
- Signaling mirror
Everyday tools and helps
- Phone charger
- Car cigarette lighter adapter
- CR123 batteries (2)
- Hair bands (for use as rubber bands)
- Paper clips & binder clips
- Safety pins
- Pen & pencil (waterproof)
- Waterproof paper
- Copies of my driver's license and passport
- Emergency contact phone number list (laminated)
- Mini office
- Fresnel lens
- Anti-bacterial hand cleaner
- One-use toothbrushes
- 3 Compressed towels
- Abdominal bandage
- Knuckle bandages
- Adhesive strips
- Cohesive medical tape
- Stretchy gauze
- Insect repellent
- Alcohol wipes
- 3 day supply of my personal medications