Introduction: How to Customize Your Altoids Survival Kit

Picture of How to Customize Your Altoids Survival Kit

Disasters like Japan 2011 and Katrina, remind us. Our only Tools are our Survival Knowledge & whatever we have on us or within reach. While I normally carry a fanny pouch or backpack, I take an Altoids Survival Kit seriously. At a wedding where my major gear would be in the car, that Survival Tin's gear might be my only resources in a sudden emergency. There is no safe place on Earth. Be prepared the best you can.
What should You include in a miniature survival kit like the Altoids tin? And why?
For example, my wife is asthmatic, She would carry two spare inhalers and those are too big for for the standard Altoids container. She needs a "larger Survival Kit" yet small enough to fit in a purse, or back pocket.
Pick your gear wisely: Ounces Add Up To Pounds and Pounds Add Up To Pain!

Step 1: Survival Skills Knowledge & the Need for Small Items

Picture of Survival Skills Knowledge & the Need for Small Items

Your basic Survival needs are Shelter, Water, Food & Medical.  
What do you carry on your body?  I already 'wear' Paracord 550 bracelets (parachute cord = 550 lbs), a whistle, compass & aspirin.
I want each Item I pick for my Altoids Survival Kit to perform double duty if possible.  The miniature lighter and matches may only give me fire BUT fire provides many other benefits: boiling water, cooking food, light and heat.  It keeps predators away and more.  Since most people can't 'make fire', lighters are easiest.  Matches are your back up.  ( *A magnesium striker with its scraper takes a little practice to make fire safely but lasts longer & is more reliable than a lighter.  SEE photo)

Step 2: The Basics of Your Customized Altoids Survival Kit

Picture of The Basics of Your Customized Altoids Survival Kit

I carry one large and two small band aids with alcohol swabs. Beneath them are small items like a cotton Q-tip, toothpicks and sunscreen because of my fair skin. Remember: in an emergency, we may have to walk long distances outdoors.

Lastly, notice I taped a large razor blade to the Altoids Survival Kit lid. It's my back up knife for cutting small items: cord, tinder, skinning game and more.

Some items may seem odd but as you continue to read, I'll explain in more detail.

Step 3: How Can I Carry Water in My Altoids Survival Kit?

Picture of How Can I Carry Water in My Altoids Survival Kit?

This is a two foot long piece of aluminum foil, doubled over and shaped to form a metal bowl. IF I find untreated water, I can gather it and boil it in a cup or pot from my 72 Hour Kit. I'll talk about how to store it near the end. I'll also include iodine water purification tablets and neutralizer for 2 quarts as back up to Boiling which is always best, if possible.

MYTH BUSTER: you do Not have to boil water for two or three minutes. At the moment the water reaches a full boil, all the organisms are dead. It may taste like crap (more later), but it will hydrate you. Drink as much water as you can as dehydration will add to your misery and cloud your thinking..

Step 4: Starting a Fire During a Disaster Situation

Picture of Starting a Fire During a Disaster Situation

You have seen my matches and the mini-lighter. The knife blade on the lid can shave bits of wood for kindling and twigs. During bad weather, wind and moisture can make starting the fire making materials difficult. Here is The Trick: I cut a straw the length of the Altoids Survival Kit Tin. I seal one end (heat, tape or a mini-clamp). I take cotton strips or balls and twist them around Petroleum Jelly. <
Using a chop stick, or any long pointed device, I stuff the saturated cotton into the straw. Once It's filled, I seal the other end.
Easier fire starting is one reason How an Altoids Survival Kit can provide you some serious help.

Step 5: Fire & Boiled Water - Tea Anyone?

Picture of Fire & Boiled Water - Tea Anyone?

Something horrible has happened or you wouldn't be using your Altoids Survival Kit. Your life is now Hell. (Remember Japan 2011)
One is the BIGGEST problems you face is depression. The tiny human touches I've added remind me of How It Will Be Again.
REMINDER: When the water begins to boil, take it off immediately. All the bugs are dead and it's silly to steam away "good" drinking water.
The water is probably going to taste like crap if you found standing water. When in doubt, Boil All Water.
I pack two drinks: tea and ... (electrolytes, lemonade, your choice). This can give you a great psychological boast. When you've lost everything, this is a simple reminder of a better future.
It's the same basic reason I wrap my matches and striker pad in 80' of Dental Floss and 108' sewing thread. (See photo) First, if I eat, I can clean my teeth plus enjoy the 'minty' after-taste for dessert. It's a small comfort but that's the benefit of the Altoids Survival Kit.
NOTICE the needles in the center of the matches. (Toothpicks or sewing up clothes or a wound)

Step 6: Remember 911 - Dust & Smoke Can Kill You

Picture of Remember 911 - Dust & Smoke Can Kill You

From 911 to fires to nature, we are often blanketed with smoke and dust.  My Altoids Kit contains a tightly rolled up mask and ear plugs bound by rubber bands.  The reason for the mask is now obvious.  (PS: it could also filter water if that were the greater need.) 

Step 7: Ears, Eyes, Nose and Teeth

Picture of Ears, Eyes, Nose and Teeth

The ear plugs are handy with dust or smoke also BUT I want to sleep. In a disaster, getting rest will be a challenge due to noise or conditions.  These simple, cheap little ear plugs have saved a couple of nights in thin-walled Motels on vacations.  The Mask can be used as a head, neck or eyes light protector.  Take care of your health.  Surviving disasters are hard on your body.

Step 8: What Survival Gear Seems to Be Missing?

Picture of What Survival Gear Seems to Be Missing?

Where's the signalling device?  The shiny interior of the Altoids can is a good reflector but - remember the Aluminum foil.  I'd unfold and flash a large, multifaceted shiny surface.  

Step 9: Packing Your Altoids Survival Kit

Picture of Packing Your Altoids Survival Kit

In the seams along the bottom of the Altoids Tin, I tuck the Qtip, toothpicks, and paperclips.  Now I press down the Larger band aid.  Because of the paper bending at the corners, those tiny items fit quite well and are held in place.  The Sunscreen and the two regular band aids fold and fit to one side - creating a deeper cavity on the other side of our survival kit.  (Picture on the next step - but wait)
WHY? The reasons for the alcohol swabs, larger and small band aids is obvious.  People ask why I don't trim the paper back or take it off.  In a Survival setting I might use the paper as fire starter or writing.
Taking care of my health during an emergency is important, thus the toothpicks and dental floss.  Both could double as fire starting materials in desperation.
The paper clips: animal snare makings, or trip wire holders so I can sleep in my defensible position without someone trying to harm me and steal my supplies.  IF I'm smart enough to care supplies, I better be smart enough to defend them.   Thus, I carry the knife blade which has many wonderful, positive benefits besides.

Step 10: The WHYs in My Survival Kit - Altoids or Not - Part 1

Picture of The WHYs in My Survival Kit - Altoids or Not - Part 1

This is loosely packed so I can explain the various components.  In the photo of my Altoids Survival Kit, I'll start from the top edge and left to right.
The blue tube at the top is the sunscreen pressed against our 'water bowl' aluminum. 
The the left - in a mini-plastic bag,  I have 1st Aid Tips wrapping some fish hooks and a paper clip.
Right of that are my two alcohol swaps rolled and wrapped in wax flavored dental floss.  (Tooth care, pleasant flavor and fire starter)
The white and yellow straw - sealed at both ends - contains cotton saturated with petroleum jelly.  (Fire starter or medicinal)
The metal ball is a weight for the fishing line.  The 5 matches, striker and sewing needles are held tight by about 20 feet of white nylon string.  The fishing hooks can double for sew up a wound also.
The mini-lighter will be stood on it's side. 

Step 11: The WHYs in My Survival Kit - Altoids or Not - Part 2

Picture of The WHYs in My Survival Kit - Altoids or Not - Part 2

Once the lighter and matches are positioned properly in place, I'll slide the dental pick in beside the aluminum foil.  The drink and clip are laid along the top beside a water-resistant plastic bag with the rubber band, mask, tea bag, ear plugs and 'gallon' of water purification tablets with their instructions.

Step 12: Survival Kit 101 - Thinking Outside of the Cube

Picture of Survival Kit 101 - Thinking Outside of the Cube

During my test runs, as I pushed down the lid, I popped the hinges on my first Altoids box.  It made me realize A) they needed reinforcing and B) I need to include duct tape.  I used about a yard.  WHY?  It's extremely strong and I could use my blade to cut it into strips for securing items like pant legs to keep out bugs or a sling for a wound plus plus plus.  The tape also protects the box and increases it's water resistance.
On top of the duct tape, I laid a Wire Saw - capable of cutting through limbs, lumber and simple objects.  Good for fires, shelter, medical and other tasks, like Trip Wires for my sleeping security.

Step 13: CUSTOMIZATION - What Would Make Your Life Slightly Better During a Disaster?

Picture of CUSTOMIZATION - What Would Make Your Life Slightly Better During a Disaster?

I will wrap my Altoids Survival Kit in a spare elastic band aid - knee brace - arm sling. This protects my pocket or purse and my survival gear plus it makes it about the size of my wallet for balance. I hold it all together with a girl's hair ribbon - very strong.
I have arthritis thus a spare knee brace could improve the quality of my situation in a Survival scenario.  What would you include in your kit?

Here is my Altoids Survival Kit Inventory:
Regular size Altoids Tin - Protects your gear, can boil water or cook small game, Rescue reflector
Aluminum Foil - gather water, boil it (doubled over) and Rescue reflector

Step 14: BONUS Survival Tip - Water Storage System

Picture of BONUS Survival Tip - Water Storage System

Do you want the Absolute Best, Customized Altoids Survival Kit?

Put your Altoids tin into a Double Sealed Freezer Bag.  One of the accurate complaints about the Altoids Survival gear is the can is not water tight.  Put your finished, customized kit into the bag and 'bleed out' all of the air and then seal it.  Lastly, I wrap one of those heavy, hair bands to hold it in place. 

The Freezer Bag - IF replaced yearly - should provide a larger water container for travel.

REMEMBER: Enjoy the Best of Life but Be Prepared for the Worst.

Step 15: An Important Final Thought

Picture of An Important Final Thought

My Logo is a Clue.

Yin-Yang - good & bad, up & down, male & female, left & right.  Life needs to be in balance to work effectively. 

Enjoy the Best that Life has to offer; but Prepare for the Worst.   

IF you would like to see what I learned from Japan's 2011 Earthquake & Tsunami: Lessons From Haiti and Japan

You can get a free Survival Gear Checklist and Newsletter here. 


ebabin (author)2014-03-23

Q tips for ears? It does say on every box ever not to insert into ears... I'm sure there's either a better use (first aid) or a better item in its place.

Survivor Jack (author)ebabin2014-03-23

Suggest an item, ebabin. That is the fun of the "Altoids Survival" tin exercise.

You are right, Qtips are not ideal for cleaning ears. They can push the wax further in. During an Emergency, I'm willing to risk it.

PLUS, I can use the cotton for fire starting & the wax for 'greasing' a bow drill. The cotton swab stick could be used for 'Early Warning' or an animal snare.


itsruthanitha (author)2016-07-23

You can go enthusiast and build a kit during a tine otter box waterproof case, however, the total plan here is created one thing sufficiently small that you just haven't any excuse to not carry it and low-cost enough that you just haven't excuse to not make one.

Here's a useful link that I thought I'd share on an article that lists 100 things you'd need in case of an emergency.... there's several on there that I din't even think of until reading it

MartinP15 (author)2015-06-09

If you have the time and the patience, drinking water more slowly will actually hydrate you more as otherwise your body doesn't have sufficient time to absorb it.

elcaminosoldier (author)2015-06-06

I really think the straw with the cotton balls and petroleum jelly is a really nifty idea i never thought of that i just made a tin tonight and will be showing my unit a few things in an upcoming survival class im teaching thanks for the new trick

nuelma (author)2015-05-17

few things have the package

coloradoevie (author)2014-06-25

Thank you so very much for putting this together. I appreciate the instructions as well as the uses. Great job. One thing I never see in a kit though, is some type of blood stop. A small packet of black pepper (like the kind from a fast food plastic utensil kit) will help stop bleeding. Thanks again and yes, I am taking your tips to heart!

Survivor Jack from Aurora - Thanks - You are right about the Black Pepper. I mention it about three times a week. Good Sugestion.

PS: Please help me become Ellen DeGeneres's DJ.

For five minutes of your time, I promise some smiles and a laugh.

IF You chuckle, "Like It" or Comment, and Link It where you enjoy sharing 'social media' news or add a happy "PS" to your family or friend's emails.

For example,
PS: my friend, Survivor Jack, needs your help to become Ellen's DJ. Smile and laughs at his audition (2:47). Please Like It or Comment at

Listen carefully from the beginning.


Lo Tec (author)2014-01-28

Hi Survivor Jack!

I'd love for you to check out my Altoid Survival Tinand provide some comments to improve it. Here's a link:

Love the article,


Survivor Jack (author)Lo Tec2014-01-29

I added a few comments. Keep teaching "Survival" - it forced You to learn more. Be Honest, Be Excellent & Walk About Prepared. Survivor Jack

Lo Tec (author)2014-01-19

Hi Jack. Love the tin! I will be making an Instructable soon of my own Altoid's Smalls Survival Tin. These tins are about 60% smaller than a regular Altoid tin, so it will be a real challenge! One thing I would recommend is switching your Mini Bic lighter from yellow to white. The white color can be used as a light diffuser along with a flashlight to keep a low profile and also allows you to see fuel levels easier. Also, by putting a cable tie around the red "trigger" on the lighter, you can stop the use of fuel until you need it. With the cable tie, you can still use the lighter as an effective sparking device. Also, I would use something called "RangerBands" instead of a ladies' hair tie. They are simply rubber bands cut from an old inner tube from a bicycle. They are extremely strong and can make your tin much more compact. Thanks for the great Instructable,


Survivor Jack (author)Lo Tec2014-01-21

I love the 'cable tie' idea around the butane button. I did have a buddy who backed an item against his 'spare lighter' and found it empty because the object depressed the trigger and let the butane out. PS: the spark is good either way. Thanks Lo Tec

zfrye0 (author)2014-01-06

For fire starting you can add a small piece of dryer lint to help start fires

Survivor Jack (author)zfrye02014-01-07

I am always careful with dryer lint. I want only cotton or other natural fibers. No Synthetics!

jberry15 (author)2013-12-18

That's just it though. If I couldn't get to it or was separated from it in any way, the Altoids kit would have what I NEED to survive. The full kit carries things that would be an extreme advantage but wouldn't be completely necessary. The pocket kit is by no means the only thing that should be carried. I carry my pocket kit and full kit everywhere.

jberry15 (author)2013-12-17

I like's the but.....BUT.... The purpose of the Altoids kit is to fit easily in a pocket and have the basics. Mine carries just that the basics for survival (eg. Fire starting tools, fishing gear, knife, etc.). It seems that yours contains too much "luxury items" that I carry in my full survival kit but not in my Altoids kit. Just a thought

Survivor Jack (author)jberry152013-12-18

What IF you can't get to your 'full survival kit' or your car? Another Thought! THIS is why this is such a good game for preplanning. When I went to my son's Wedding, I didn't carry my full kit, but I did have my "Tin" in my back pocket.

shakedowndoug (author)2013-11-30

I used double sided tape on the inside of my lid and attached fish hooks and dry flies. Sealed split shot sinkers inside a pen cap and punched a hole in one side of the tin. Added a nail to go through the hole turning it into a handle for the tin making it a small cooking tin.

When I wrote the article, I forgot to mention I had a large razor blade taped under my lid. That's a smart use of space, SDDoug.

I have seen another 'survival tin' where two holes for a nut and bolt and a slit in the tin held a saw blade. The Tin became the handle. Cleaver but how sturdy?

Keep thinking ahead! It will serve you well IF you have to improve during an Emergency. Survivor Jack

Ghosthost5468 (author)2012-05-12

Oh,bye the way,you should also find something like a mini harmonica
(which I have) to fit in the survival tin.

Good Idea, I'm going to see if I can find one. Or maybe use the dental floss and a twig to make a small bowed instrument and pluck out a tune that way??

Music can lift one's spirits, or help us express our blues. I'd be playing the whistle around my neck. ha-ha or LOL

AuntyGoogol (author)2013-04-02

I have bad eyesight so I add a lens from an old pair of glasses. Then if I need to, I can use it like a monocle and squeeze it onto my eye so I can do small stuff, like thread a needle. I guess it could start a fire, too, because it is a magnifying lens.

Thanks, Aunty - I like your thinking. A lens does serve two purposes.

theargha (author)2013-03-13

U can use a broken mirror.

Survivor Jack (author)theargha2013-03-13


BudgetBugout (author)2013-03-10

Survivor Jack, I'd be honored if you would take a look at my Altoids PSK that I just uploaded. I feel that it is more comprehensive than most but I feel that it could be further improved. This weekend I also plan on uploading a larger survival kit I keep in arm's length of me in the car. Happy prepping! God bless!

tomsoulm8 (author)2012-10-31

I have enjoyed your instructables immensely. Congratulations on your recent achievements! I am inspired to start making these for friends, family, and our service members overseas - well, at least as many as my wallet will allow. I have a couple of ideas that could make additions to the kit. First of all, I saw that either the inside of the tin or the aluminum foil could be used as reflective material. I thought that maybe adding a small mirror or mirror-type material would be helpful. Also, I used to see soap sheets sold in some places. I figured since they are as thin as a sheet of paper there might be room for a few. Might come in handy when you come across water and want to clean up a bit. Finally, I think a metal nail file might be helpful. Maybe some of these metal objects might secure to the inside of the lid by small bits of magnets glued to the tin. It could hold a razor blade, a nail file, and other metal objects. OR, if you glued a small strip of magnet to each end of a small mirror, there would be a bit of space to hold paper, foil, etc.

Thanks again for the great ideas!

JonasSchwenck (author)2012-09-18

You could also use a tampon. Its already wrapped and pure cotton as well. Also, depending on the size, you might even fit 2 in there taking up about the same amount of room as the straw...

Ghosthost5468 (author)2012-06-27

Sorry,don't mean to bother again but try to fit the top of a birthday horns "whistle"
by cutting off the rest of the bottom for a smaller cheap whistle

the dashing hero (author)2012-06-26

Drink as much water as you can as dehydration will add to your misery

i now that first-hand... it makes you vomit...

Ghosthost5468 (author)2012-05-11

Well,I may be in China(Beijing) But this is sure to come in handy for
everyday worst case situations.But also, did you know that you could use
the cotton for bloody noses?My friend happened to be bleeding a lot
probably because of the heat,and i just happened to have my kit.So thanks
for the creative kit for worst case situations!

Smart. Improvise - often more important than what-you-have.

KittyF (author)2012-05-04

it wouldn't pay me to buy paracord, LOL I have NO idea how to use it.

Survivor Jack (author)KittyF2012-05-07

First Aid
Sling - broken or dislocated arm
Dental floss – food gets stuck in your teeth even in disasters / Pull out the internal strands and keep up your hygiene
Clothes Line – wet clothes are a danger in a survival scenario
Use the nylon core for emergency surgery (You do carry needles, don’t you?)
Tie straight sticks around a broken limb to make a splint.
Make a tourniquet to slow loss of blood. (WARNING: last resort only – IF you use a tourniquet, the limb below that point most likely will have to be amputated)
Make a stretcher by lacing paracord between two long ‘limbs’ or poles, or fashion a ‘branch drag’ to move an injured person.
Food & Water
Preparation Snares for small game in survival situation
Stringing up large game (to butcher and keep away from predators)
Use it to make a bow drill for fire starting to boil water, heat and protection ... (note: it takes a lot of practice to start a fire with a bow. Don't rely on this unless you've done it before!)
Make a slingshot to throw stones for protection and food.
Tie a bola for hunting large birds
Fishing line is available by cutting a length and pulling out the internal strands. There are seven of them, if you aren't catching really big fish. IF you are, tie them together.
Make a fish stringer. If you’ve just pulled the strings out to make fishing line, the remaining kernmantle (the colored sheath) would be plenty strong enough to hold fish. Otherwise just cut a length, and tie through the gills. Secure your boat or raft
Make a net for fishing (if you forgot your hammock) Defensive Trip Wires (you need to sleep but awaken if someone is coming your way)
Build a Sleep and Weather Shelter
Tie up a person

Suspend your food high up in a tree (sometimes called Bear Bags) Secure an animal to a tree or post, or make a leash
Use it for signaling by tying a mirror or colorful cloth to the top of a tree Lower yourself or an object very carefully down from a height. (Note: paracord is NOT climbing rope; do not expect it to protect you should you fall. For security double or triple the thickness if
Weapons from Paracord:
Bow and Arrow,
‘David & Goliath’ slingshot,
Atl-atl for throwing a spear further
Tie a heavy weight to one end for throw and retrieve system.
General Uses
Tie up a tarp or poncho to make an awning to keep off sun or rain
Tie yourself to your buddy so you can find each other if you get caught under snow, in dust storms, dense fog or torrential rains.
Emergency shoelaces
Equipment repair (Purse strap, clothing, back packs, etc.)
Improvised lashing (tie additional items to you, or .....)
Emergency belt or suspenders – easier for up and down)

to name only a FEW things that popped to my head!

KittyF (author)Survivor Jack2012-05-07

Well, I'm SAVING this. Now I have to try all that stuff so I know how to do it. LOL

Survivor Jack (author)KittyF2012-05-07

Your most valuable tool during a crisis your mind. The more you learn and practice, the more natural will be your reactions. Learn to improvise. You can't carry everything.

Beggsie11 (author)2012-04-28

You really have covered all the priorities in this tiny kit
Well done

Beggsie11 (author)2012-04-28

You really have covered all the priorities of survival in this tiny kit. Good job

reikimaster5555 (author)2012-04-18

what an awesome kit. some things that i never would have thought of. if i ever need a survival kit, i would want one like yours. you really know your stuff. so glad i stopped at your site to check it out.

I'm working on a video version. I'll let you know when I post it.

freeza36 (author)2012-04-15

I have that same pocket saw

mistyp (author)2012-02-24

Thanks for the excellent Instructable! Because of this I added ear plugs and a dust mask to the kits I'm making. Would there be any damage to the ear plugs having them compressed for such a long time before use? Will they expand even after being compressed for a year or more?

Thanks again!

Survivor Jack (author)mistyp2012-03-26

>>> Will they expand even after being compressed for a year or more? I'm not sure I know. BUT, let's pretend they stayed flat - I would roll these into a tight ball - perhaps folding it over once. The key is to improvise. (paper from a notepad could be temporary ear plugs) Forage and Improvise! It's NOT what you carry; it's what you know. Items can be lost but - unharmed - your mind is your greatest ally.

mistyp (author)Survivor Jack2012-03-26

Good reminder!

Survivor Jack (author)mistyp2012-02-25

Good question but I'm not sure I have the 'whole' answer. Mistyp - I have 'unpacked' mine about six months later and they were fine. I do use them periodically for shooting or Travel. We've used them in 'hotels' where the walls were poorly insulated. I carry them because of dust, like 911 & IF I have to sleep after a Disaster, like in a shelter. I replace my "supplies" periodically and before "Trips".

busterbuster18724 (author)2012-03-04

what other tin can i use because i live in nz and they dont sell altoid tins here

I actually prefer small, plastic, fishing boxes because they are slightly larger, have compartments and, ironically, are water resistant.
NZ doesn't have Altoids? How very unBritish. Don't worry, Buster, the candy tin survival kit is a brain-exercise. Size doesn't matter. The fact that you are thinking about 'cleaver little items' to include is the point.
A wallet in one pocket, my 'tin' in the other, a knife on my hip and I'm ready for the world. Walk About Prepared™

kryptohawk (author)2012-03-02

Is It A Good Idea To Keep A Bit Of Food In Your Pack?

Survivor Jack (author)kryptohawk2012-03-03

You absolutely want food and water in your pack. Both will spoil so you want to rotate those items as well as your medical supplies. Since we carry 72 hour bags in each car and BOBs at home, we use Halloween and Tax day as our "supply check" days (roughly 6 months apart - Spring & Fall).

In summer months, I rotate my food and water more frequently because of heat Alcohol swabs and other liquids should be checked frequently in desserts or prolonged extreme heat.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm &quot;Survivor Jack&trade;&quot;, since my NatGeo's &quot;Doomsday Preppers&quot; (S1E9) episode. Help me Please by viewing &quot;Survivor Jack auditions for Ellen's DJ&quot; ----- http ...
More by Survivor Jack:Survivor Jack's Ultimate Emergency Car PackWhat's the LEAST Survival Gear You could carry?         The Essential EDC PocketThe Big WHY for 72 Hour Survival Kit Items
Add instructable to: