Depending on your background, whether or not you spent time in the military, what type of family you were raised in, etc. you may or may not have received any training in the basic necessities of survival. It’s okay if you haven’t received any training because there are only about a gazillion survival kits available for sale through a boatload of catalog and online companies. But which one do you need? This isn’t a review of which ones are best, but instead a look at what items such a ‘kit’ should contain. Then you can select which one suits your purposes and/or build one of your own.

Bear in mind as you read this that I make a couple of assumptions up front and a very large consideration has to be made before you can start selecting equipment.

The assumptions:

  • I don’t leave my house without a decent folding knife in my pocket; usually two (one on either side). Therefore, I don’t list a knife as part of the survival kit.
  • I always have a lighter in my pocket (because I enjoy cigars here and there) so I don’t consider matches a mandatorypart of my survival kit.
  • I usually have a flashlight with me when I leave the house – either in my pocket or in my pack/bag. Therefore I look at including a flashlight in my survival kit the same way I do matches – not mandatory.

The consideration:

How large do you want your survival kit to be? There has to be a defining line between a survival kit and a bug out bag. For my own purposes, I consider any bag or pack that I have to sling over my shoulder or wear around my waist to be a bug out bag. A survival kit is something I can include in such a bag, or keep under my seat in my Jeep, or (optimally) drop in the cargo pocket of my pants before I head out the door for a hike.

With that consideration given and the assumptions listed, the following is a list of items that I would consider either mandatory or at least nice to have in my survival kit. Obviously, if YOUR idea of a survival kit is what fits in the hollow handle of your knife, then some of this stuff isn’t going to fit.

An emergency or “space” blanket. These fold up pretty small and you can buy them in almost any outdoor store fairly cheap.

Matches. Yes, even though I carry a lighter, I’d rather have matches and not need them than to need them and not have them. I prefer “strike anywhere” white head matches carried in a water proof container. If you don’t have a small or compact enough water proof container, dip the match heads in melted wax and let them cool before packing them. Be careful to dip NOT just the match head into the wax but at least 1/4″ down the wood matchstick as well. If you don’t use strike-anywhere matches then you need to make sure to put a piece of strike paper into the container with the matches.

A compass. Keeping in mind that a compass is only any good if you either 1) have a map of the area you’re in, or 2) are already familiar with the area you’re in. If you don’t know what direction you WANT to travel in, then knowing what direction you’re going is a waste of time.

Signal mirror. Light can be seen for a long distance. Think about it. How far away is the sun? If you can reflect it at a search party, plane or helicopter, you can get their attention.

Signal whistle. If you have the signal mirror than why do you need this? It might be dark (duh). Or you might not be in a position where you can reflect light efficiently. Sound travels well too.

30 feet of fishing line. Odd as it may sound you can use fishing line (the right kind) to build snares too. So, this one section of line can serve you to gather squirrels, rabbits or fish. Food is food when you’re hungry enough.

2 fishing hooks. Um, because the fishing line is no good for fishing without it.

2 sinkers / lead weights. To keep your hooks and bait below the surface of the water.

That’s my minimum list. Many folks I know believe in also carrying some first aid items. I think that’s a good idea depending on the space you have available. If you want to carry a couple of band-aids and a tube of antiseptic ointment, they fit pretty neatly into small spaces. If you want to be able to staunch serious blood flow and you’re not so worried about the scraped knee or minor cut on your finger, then a basic trauma kit might better suit your needs. (hunters should seriously consider this) For information about decent compact trauma packs check out the review of Tac-Pack Emergency First-Aid Packs on the Tactical side of the sight.

Now some of you may want to build your own kit. You may have a handy way of carrying it or simply want to tailor it to your own desires and needs. If you’d rather simply purchase a survival kit, then there are several available online that have those minimum items listed above plus a few other things in each kit.

LifeLine Ultimate Survivor In A Bottle: doesn’t have the fishing supplies.

Doug Ritter’s Pocket Survival Pak: has all of my minimum list and then some.

SAS Combat Survival Tin: doesn’t contain the emergency blanket, nor any first-aid equipment.

When you have decided what you want to have in your kit you have to find something to put it in (unless you buy a kit commercially). There is something to be said for having a waterproof container to hold your survival kit. Otter Box makes a wide variety of water proof cases. From their OtterBox 1000 (3.7″x2.35″x1″) to the OtterBox 3000 (7.6″x3.7″x1.2″) and many other sizes, OtterBox is sure to have a size to fit your intended or desired survival kit. Pelican Case also makes a wide variety of waterproof boxes and they’re available in an assortment of colors too. I don’t know that there’s an advantage to having your survival kit stored in a yellow, blue or red case, but if you see one, Pelican Case has a box for you. In general you can get an acceptable sized case for your survival kit for under $30.

Remember as you plan and built your survival kit, saving money isn’t always the best goal. In fact, saving money may end up killing you in the end. Most of the time you get what you pay for and since what you’re buying is what you’ll stake your life on in an emergency situation, don’t buy cheap. Buy reliable.

Happy trails!


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