OK, to start, let me say that this falls into the “better than nothing” category, but with a bit of thought and lots of borrowing of good ideas from other kits and other Instructables®, I think I came up with a fairly useful version. There are many similarities to other excellent entries and some of the better commercial kits, but also a few unique aspects, which I hope you’ll find interesting & useful.
Next, I’ll mention that there are a few “cheats” at the end. I designed the kit to be useful without them, but I think that the ones I mention can make a huge difference in the overall utility of your kit.
On the other side of the coin, I wanted my tin to be something that I could plug into a more realistic survival kit, so almost all of the items are useful when supplemented by a more complete selection of survival gear. A few, like the “mirror,” fall so far short of adequate for a more complete kit that I would replace them. I plan to follow up this (my first Instructable®) with a “real” survival kit, bulkier than a single Altoids® tin, but still small enough for a waist pack or a small fraction of a typical day pack.
So, on to the Kit . . . My philosophy for the tin is that in most survival situations, the critical items are dealing with life-threatening injuries or other medical conditions, providing shelter for at least one night, and getting rescued. Because of its usefulness for providing warmth, light, and smoke (i.e., for signaling rescuers), fire-making is also very useful. Water-purification tablets are compact, so those are included as well, as is a minimalist water-container system. Food-gathering is of little usefulness in a survival situation lasting only a day or two, but since a few fishhooks and some fishing line add little weight and bulk, I have included those, as well as a few other fishing accoutrements and some wire that could be used to fashion a few snares.
(Snares are not easy for amateurs to set and place, plus they place some demands on survivors that may be inconsistent with higher priorities. First, hunting by snare demands patience, as well as remaining in the same place for a period of time. Snares have to be set far enough from camp to avoid scaring off game, but close enough to be checked periodically. The best game trails may not be near the best campsite, plus you may want or need to move for other reasons. Active hunting, either by stalking or lying in wait, is a useless concept for 99% of survival situations, not to mention that 99.99% of the population (including me) is not competent to do this with primitive tools & weapons. Fishing does not necessarily require great stealth, plus it can be done within a few feet of camp, if camp is near water, and that may often be a good choice for other reasons, so fishing is the one form of “hunting” that I think is worth considering for a short-term survival situation.)
Picture 1 shows the necessary ingredients for the Kit, or in some cases samples / sources of those ingredients. For most, I have included a link to Amazon or some other source, not implying a recommendation for purchase, but just to give you some reference for the specifications & cost of each item. Top row, from left to right:
1. “Rite in the Rain” Notebook (1 sheet of waterproof paper included in Kit)
2. “Hercules” Swiss Army Knife (not in kit; discussed later)
3. “Deluxe Tinker” Swiss Army Knife (not in kit; discussed later)
4. Bottom of a woman’s nylon stocking, cut off at ~calf level
5. Tiny amber vial with 20 “Potable Aqua” tablets (on stocking)
6. Standard non-lubricated latex condom (on stocking)
Second row, from left to right:
7. Small piece of mirrored cardboard
(scavenged from packaging for a rechargeable flashlight)
8. Small metal whistle (purple)
9. Three mini-glowsticks (luminescent yellow)
10. Mini Flashlight (blue)
11. Button Compass
12. Razor Blade (in corrosion-resistant cardboard sleeve)
(standard single-edge razor blade)
13. Glow-Lime Marking Tape (non-adhesive – 3 feet (folded))
Third row, from left to right:
14. “Gorilla Tape” – 1-foot length (shorter length shown (folded to show both sides)
15. Sandpaper – 180 Grit, small rectangle
(standard “emery paper” suitable for use on metals)
16. Orange 550 Paracord, showing 7 internal filaments (not in Kit; discussed below (on sandpaper))
17. The Altoids Tin, of course!
18. Small Orange folding saw
19. Two Fire-Starting Tinders
20. Flint Wheel
21. Four wind-/water-proof matches in small Zip-Loc bag
22. Match Striker (on Zip-Loc bag)
Bottom row, from left to right:
23. Small plastic vial
(scavenged; used to contain drafting-pencil replacement erasers)
24. Blue Braided Kevlar Cord – 10-foot length (shorter length shown)
25. Green Braided 50#-test Fishing Line – 15-foot length (shorter length shown)
26. Yellow Kevlar Thread – 25-foot length (shorter length shown)
27. Brass Wire – 20 Gauge – 10-foot length (shorter length shown)
28. Two Green Fishing Swivels
29. Large Sewing Needle (Kevlar Cord size)
30. Medium Sewing Needle (Fishing Line size)
31. Small Sewing Needle (Kevlar Thread size)
32. Tiny Pencil (made with heat-shrink tubing on ordinary #2 pencil lead; described in another Instructable)
33. Wire Brad Nail – 1.5-inch
(standard brad nail available at any hardware store)
34. Two Small Split-Shot Sinkers
35. Two Tiny Split-Shot Sinkers
36. Two Small Brass Eyelets (screw into small piece of wood to fabricate fishing bobber)
(standard brass eyelets available at any hardware store)
37. Two Large T-Pins
38. Two Medium T-Pins
39. One Large Fish Hook
40. Two Medium Fish Hooks
41. Two Small Fish Hooks
42. Small Safety Pin
(standard small safety pin)
43. Four Tiny Safety Pins (only one shown)
(standard tiny safety pin)
44. Medium Suture Needle
45. Large Suture Needle
46. Extra-Long Finger Bandage
47. “Steri-Strip” Wound Closures
48. Neosporin Ointment – Single-Use Envelope
So there you have it. Counting all of the water-purification tablets, a total of 82 items, and they are all going to fit in that Altoids® Tin, believe it or not!
Step 1: Cord Spool
Picture 2 shows the plastic vial, cordage, and the things that fit inside the vial. To organize the cordage and use the vial as a spool, I first ripped the Gorilla Tape lengthwise into five strips of different widths. I then wrapped the vial and its lid with these strips, leaving a gap in between each pair of strips. With a total of five strips, that left four gaps, and the Kevlar cord, Kevlar thread, fishing line, and brass wire each got wrapped into one of the gaps, making a compact unit that fits neatly into the tin. The tape is still useful when unwound, and the end of each strip of tape is a convenient spot to tuck the exposed end of each cord, so it won’t unravel easily but can be got at just by lifting the end of the tape. The finished spool is shown in Picture 4.
Step 2: "Card" for Fish Hooks, Etc.
Step 3: Packing the Tin
For the next layer, I pack the “spool”, glass vial, matches, whistle, flashlight, and compass, at which point it looks like Picture 5. The flint wheel and mini glow-sticks go on top of the matches, the Neosporin and razor blade on top of the flashlight and compass, and then the condom gets wrapped very carefully around the saw (it has no sharp edges exposed when folded) and goes on top of that, until it looks like Picture 6.
Finally, the nylon stocking, which is pretty tough and flexible, goes over all the rest, getting stuffed into little gaps wherever possible, and the “card” and single sheet of waterproof paper go on the very top. Does the lid close? Well . . . yeah, sort of, and without an industrial hydraulic press in sight. I clamped it with a large binder clip for a few hours, and after that everything settled in. The final step is to glue the sandpaper to the outside with contact cement, and the tin will now serve as a poor-man’s whetstone.
Step 4: Using the Kit
Whistle: The advantages of this over yelling as a means of attracting attention of rescuers is well-known. This is the smallest, lightest whistle I could find that could be useful in a survival situation. There are slightly louder whistles that are quite compact, but not as small as this one, and every cubic millimeter counts here.
Saw: When open, this has a 2-inch exposed blade, and it will cut wood, bone, and most metals. In a survival situation, lacking any more serious tools, this saw has one main function, and that is to allow you to obtain at least one long, solid pole to support the roof of your shelter, assuming the situation calls for a shelter like that. With a bit of patience, a few additional poles could be cut to provide the frame for a tripod or lean-to shelter. The rest of the materials for the shelter will be debris that you can gather by hand, dead branches that you can snap with your hands or break with your feet, or green branches or plants that you can harvest by hand, but if you want a solid structure, you need at least one solid support for its frame. I have used this saw to cut through green and seasoned wood branches up to 3 inches in diameter, which is plenty for a survival shelter. It’s not fun, and it’s slow work, but about 10 minutes gets me to a point where I can break the branch by hand at the cut point. Once you’ve separated your frame components from whatever they were attached to, don’t forget the value of fire as a cutting tool. Lay your frame poles, green or dead, over a hot fire at the point where you want to make a cut, and the fire will do the work while you are doing something else.
As for the firewood itself, you can limit that to dead wood that you can gather and break by hand, or again, let the fire itself help you reduce large pieces to manageable dimensions once you’ve got some smaller stuff going. A wire saw would provide much more cutting capability, of course, but the smallest wire saw worth carrying would take up a large percentage of the space in the tin, so I went with this.
Another option worth considering is to take a 4-inch wood-cutting blade, for example of the type used in reciprocating saws, and pack that along the diagonal dimension of the tin. To use it, you need to get a small piece of wood to use as the handle, split one end of it, then find some way to firmly attach the blade. You can do quite a good job with a single nail 1 to 1.5 inches long (this goes through the handle and through the small hole on the blade), plus a very tight wrap of wire or cord. I’ve done this with excellent results, and the resulting saw is probably the best you can do with a kit of this size, but it does take some time and expertise to fashion.
Razor Blade: This fulfills other functions normally reserved for a knife, including cutting line / cord / rope, fashioning small tools or devices from wood, minor surgical procedures, cutting clothing for repairs or to use the fabric for other things, cutting plastic bags to make ponchos or sections for a shelter roof, etc., etc. Kept in their cardboard sleeves, these seem to resist rusting quite well, and they can be resharpened to some degree with the sandpaper sheet (see below).
Flashlight: Many survival situations involve limited daylight on the first day. Indeed, impending nightfall is often what turns a simple hike into a survival situation in the first place. A fire can certainly be useful for providing light in a broad area around the campsite, but until and unless you have a fire, the flashlight may be all you have, and it can also be useful for signaling or performing more delicate tasks after sunset.
Compass: Obviously, this will not serve for true map-and-compass orienteering, even assuming that you have a map and the expertise to do that, but it can be useful if you know that there is a road or river in some general direction, or to site your camp to catch the morning sun (if it’s going to get cold) or to avoid it (if it’s uncomfortably hot).
Water-Purification Tablets: These are “Potable Aqua” tablets, repackaged into a tiny amber vial with a Teflon seal, which is necessary for storing iodine tablets. Holds 20 tablets, each of which will treat a quart of water.
Condom & Stocking: Condoms have been cited often as leak-proof water carriers, but they are very fragile, especially when full. Placing a condom inside a nylon stocking makes it much more durable. Of course, you can use one of the socks you’re wearing, too, but I’d rather keep those on my feet, and I’d also rather not have my water taste of feet – iodine is bad enough. There is another way to use this system, too – put the stocking INSIDE the condom and filter dirty water through it. The stocking will remove at least the larger bits of dirt, bugs, and whatnot. You can then pull the stocking out, shake the dirt out of it as best you can, turn it inside out, then put the condom inside it, and proceed to add the iodine tablets.
Flint Wheel: Called a “Sparkie,” this is one of many similar devices, and you can use whatever you prefer. This one is about the most compact that you can buy, and therefore appropriate for this kit. I considered cutting off about half of the handle to save some space, but since I actually want to use this in my REAL survival kit, I decided to leave it whole.
Matches: Four water- and windproof “strike anywhere” matches, enclosed in a tiny Ziploc bag, plus a striker surface to be sure that you’ll have a dry one available. Striker is wrapped on the outside of the bag, NOT in contact with the matches, which is a real good safety tip.
Tinder: Two Spark-Lite® tinder bundles, which will easily catch fire with a spark from the flint wheel or provide a little more fuel to help light a fire with one of the matches
Vial / “Spool:” Most of these items have obvious uses; the nail is mainly for attaching a message for rescuers to find to a convenient tree, sign, or stick driven into the ground. The two brass eyelets, attached to one end of a small, buoyant piece of wood, will make it into a reasonably effective “bobber” for fishing, as well as having potential uses in creating other handy devices. The “Gorilla Tape” (sort of a “premium” duct tape) can be unwound and used to help with bandaging, gear repair, and the myriad other things such tape is famous for. In addition, there is 10 feet of Kevlar cord (> 100-pound test); 10 feet of 20-Gauge brass wire, possibly useful for snares, but mainly included for gear repair or for fabricating useful tools and devices; 25 feet of Kevlar thread; and 15 feet of 50-pound-test braided fishing line. If I really expected to be fishing, I’d probably use a lighter line, maybe 10-pound test, but the stronger line is also useful for a lot of other things. The Kevlar thread can be used to repair clothing, shoes, or in a pinch, human flesh (i.e., by suturing wounds). I don’t know the breaking strength, but I do know that if you try to break it by hand, your skin will break first.
Mirror: This is a mirrored bit of cardboard that came off the package for a flashlight I bought. It’s marginal as a signaling mirror, but it’s better than nothing, and the inside of the tin itself can serve as a backup.
Hardware Card: This is a trick I learned years ago, and I believe there is an Instructable® that mentions something similar. For items that are hard to organize otherwise, it works great. First, cut out a piece of white paper the size you want, in this case the size of the tin. Lay that on the table as a guide, then on top of it, lay out your transparent tape, STICKY SIDE UP!! Then, just lay out the items that you want, sticking them to the tape as you go. When you’ve got them all laid out, slide out the piece of paper and stick it to the tape over the top of all of the items. You can now see all of the items, and with a razor blade and a steady hand, you can easily remove them one at a time as needed, leaving the others organized and ready when needed. I fold a bit of tape over to cover the back side of the paper as well, and add a folded strip of tape along the top and bottom edges to keep everything secure.
My card contains 5 fishhooks (1 large, 2 medium, 2 small); 5 safety pins (1 small and 4 tiny); 4 T-pins (2 large and 2 medium), and 2 curved needles. The curved needles are primarily for suturing wounds, since this may be the only way to stop bleeding for a serious injury, and the Safety and T-Pins have multiple uses for fixing things, attaching things, and making little tools and devices.
Sandpaper: One sheet of fine-grade “emery” paper suitable for metals. This is useful primarily for sharpening knives, razor-blades, fishhooks, etc., or for putting an edge on anything that needs one. I glued it to the outside lid of the tin to provide some support, turning the tin into a poor-man’s whetstone.
Miniature Glow-Sticks: Apart from the flashlight and the iodine tablets, which he probably would have grasped easily enough, there’s nothing in the kit so far that Nessmuk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_W._Sears) wouldn’t have recognized, but these are very handy and clever items. They are basically a luminescent glow-stick scaled down to the size of a birthday candle, and they work the same way as the larger ones. Bend them to break the internal vial, and they will luminesce in various colors for 6 – 10 hours. Of course, they give off very little light, but in otherwise absolute darkness a couple of them will provide enough light to get some tinder together for a fire or perform other basic tasks. If you need to leave a note for rescuers, one or two of these would also attract attention to it in darkness. And finally, in some situations, one of these in the water will do an amazing job of attracting fish, frogs, etc., which you can catch by spearing, trapping, noodling, or hook and line (using a glow-stick as a “lure”). I’ve included 3 of them in yellow (2) and red (1), with a tiny notch on the ends to distinguish the red. Yellow seems the best for “task lighting,” and I’m not sure what’s best for attracting the attention of rescuers and/or fish.
Waterproof Paper: One sheet of notebook-sized paper, plus a 3-foot section of brightly-colored trail-marking tape (neon green). In many cases, there may be a logical spot for rescuers to look for you, or where they are likely to pass by in the process of looking for you, but this spot may NOT be the best place for you to hunker down to survive. In this case, you can greatly improve your chances of rescue by leaving a note for the rescuers. Note the names of those in your party, injury / health status, time / day when you departed from the point where you left the note, and describe what you plan to do next. Use the tiny pencil in the “spool” vial to write with, then put the note in the tiny Ziploc bag used to hold the matches (or just nail it to a tree – it’s waterproof!). Then take the nail (also in the vial), and use it to attach the bag, note, and a section of marking tape to some prominent tree or sign, or if there is nothing like that handy, to a stick that you then drive into the ground in a likely spot. If people might be searching for you at night, activate a mini glow-stick or two and pop it in the bag.
It’s also a good idea to note how you will mark your path henceforth; my preference: “Our path at any junction or turning will be indicated by rocks or sticks on the ground in a “T” – the BOTTOM of the “T” points in our direction of travel. This way, you can help rescuers track you down even if you have to make various twists and turns after leaving the note. In the absence of this communication, just make some obviously unnatural arrangement of rocks or sticks, within sight of the point where you turned, and ON THE PATH that you took. This only takes a few minutes, and if it moves up rescue by a day, it will be well worth the effort.
First-Aid: This is where I have to throw up my hands in despair, because even if I left everything else out, a tin this size would be woefully inadequate to contain a reasonable wilderness first-aid kit. And since an injury can often be the very thing that turns an otherwise ordinary outing into a survival situation, I suggest ALWAYS carrying a separate and adequate first-aid kit. Mine is in a zippered fabric pouch and maybe 4x the size of an Altoids® tin, but still less than one pound. That being said, I have tucked a few items into the kit. For wound closure, the suture needles and the Kevlar thread would be the only hope for a truly serious injury. For lesser injuries, or as an aid / supplement to suturing, I include a pack of “Steri-Strip” closures, which are a significant improvement on butterfly closures, plus one “extreme length” bandage for covering finger cuts, and one single-use antibiotic ointment.
Any other bandages will have to be fabricated from clothing and boiled or at least rinsed with clean water to minimize the chance of infection. In a survival situation, though, not bleeding to death trumps the danger of infection, with the idea being to survive long enough to get rescued, after which you can seek expert medical attention.
If I had access to some very powerful pain killers, I would probably include a couple of those, but there’s no way to cram enough over-the-counter pain meds into this kit to make a difference. Aspirin: Worth considering when you have space. It is a pain-killer, can reduce fever, and is also the only meaningful intervention beyond CPR for a heart attack that is available to the layman in a survival situation. Chewable “children’s” aspirin are probably best here.
FWIW, antibiotics are of little use in most survival situations. Most issues that can be treated with antibiotics will not cause a problem in the time scale of the survival situation. Even severe bacterial or protozoan-borne (giardia) diarrhea will usually not manifest quickly enough to be a problem, and even if they did, the TREATMENT would not be effective in a useful time scale. The other problem is that bacteria call for a different antibiotic than giardia (e.g., Cipro® vs. Flagyl®), and other maladies call for other antibiotics, or are not treatable by antibiotics at all. For intentional, long-term wilderness travel, I have seen a good discussion / recommendation by a medical doctor for carrying 4 oral antibiotics plus one ointment plus one further oral antibiotic for issues specific to women, plus of course having someone along who is capable of diagnosing which of them is called for, if any. For a month in the wilderness, I’d bring all six and spend the time necessary to learn to diagnose the most likely situations; for survival situations, I leave the antibiotics at home except for the wound ointment.
Step 5: A Few "Cheats" . . . and Perhaps Cheating Death?
Wrapping the kit in 10 feet of paracord provides a lot more material for shelter-building and other uses, and adds only a few ounces. Mine is bright orange. The wrapped tin is shown in Picture 7.
As noted above, I did not try to fit some tiny little knife into the tin, partly because the saw and razor blade will replace some knife functions in a pinch, but mainly because a general-purpose knife is one item that I truly count as “Every Day Carry” (EDC). My EDC knife is a Victorinox® Swiss Army “Deluxe Tinker” Knife (Picture 8) which I have so far found to be the best multi-function knife / tool for the price and the weight. Yes, I would like a better set of pliers than the small ones in this knife, but they are quite useful, and I have yet to find a plier-based multi-tool that is as functional as a knife or nearly as light for all the rest of the functions. In addition to the handy little pliers, the knife has a large and a small blade, which are useful for a whole range of things, scissors for cutting thread, fishing line, small cord, fingernails, etc., regular and Phillips screwdrivers, a very handy awl / reamer, plus a multi-function hook that can be very helpful in tying tight knots in Paracord (especially when hands are cold & clumsy), or in carrying anything heavy with only Paracord as a handle. Add to that a can opener, bottle opener, toothpick, and tweezers, and there is a lot of functionality in a 3.5”-long, 4.3-ounce package that easily slips into a pants pocket.
If I know that I will be in the outdoors, or travelling through less-inhabited areas, I trade up to my standard “outdoors” knife, the Victorinox® Swiss Army “Hercules” knife (Picture 9). It has a larger, locking main blade, larger pliers and scissors, and a very nice 3.5-inch saw blade, in addition to most of the other blades on the Deluxe Tinker. It does lack a small blade for fine work, it adds a small Phillips screwdriver, and it has an essentially useless corkscrew in place of the hook. Still, it is very handy, and still just 4.5 inches long overall and weighs only 6.3 ounces.
You may have guessed that I am not a “Big Knife” fan. There is probably no single topic that excites as much discussion and strong feelings among outdoorsmen as knives, and there are those who favor larger fixed blades, larger folding blades, plier-type multi-tools, and so on. From my perspective, the only common outdoor / survival chore that requires real heft in a knife involves cutting / splitting wood, and for that, I normally carry a small (6.5-inch), very light (3.2-oz.), but effective folding saw. Combined with my EDC knife or the larger Hercules model, that gives me better real survival capability than the Rambo wanna-be’s with their commando knives (in case the Swiss Army Knives didn't give it away, I'm more of a MacGyver wanna-be ;-). Since the folding saw is not EDC, and I don’t always carry the Hercules knife with its little saw, I do include a mini-saw in the Altoids® kit. It’s marginal, but ultra-compact, and my testing indicates that it would be just adequate for a 1-time shelter build, plus a variety of other potential chores.
(When you dig deep into the psyche of the “Big Knife” crowd, the argument inevitably comes down to “Self Defense,” which means using a knife to kill a person or animal, or to be more politically correct, to stop a person or animal from killing you. A real discussion of self-defense would take pages, not a paragraph, but in the case of other human beings, a big knife is rarely effective, and in the case of animals, there is a very narrow window between animals that can be dissuaded with sticks, stones, shouting, and fire (>95% of all real-world encounters) and the ones that will kill you whether you have a big knife or not (most of the rest). The Davy Crockett scenarios that fuel the purchase of most Big Knives may be entertaining, but they are exceedingly unlikely. And finally, when a knife blade gets much longer than 4 inches, most people will assume that it is a weapon, not a tool, and “most people” includes most law enforcement personnel. Especially in an outdoor setting, my Swiss Army knives and folding saw will not be seen as anything but what they are – tools.)
Finally, one of the toughest things to do in building survival shelters is creating a rainproof roof, and staying dry can be critical in staying warm and staying alive. Even a cheap disposable poncho or a single garbage bag can make an amazing difference in protection from the rain that a survival shelter offers, so pack one with your kit. I carry a bright orange “Contractor’s Cleanup Bag,” which is 3 mil thick and 7 feet x 3 feet as a bag, or 7 feet x 6 feet when sliced open to make a tarp (8.9 oz.) (http://www.bepreparedtosurvive.com/ShelterProducts.htm).
Take the Altoids® Kit, the Hercules knife, the orange bag and my little saw, and it’s less than a pound and a half, and virtually “ready for anything!” I hope that you have enjoyed this Instructable®. I do plan to create future ones on a somewhat larger survival kit and also a first-rate compact First-Aid Kit. I appreciate any constructive criticism, as I am always trying to improve my survival gear