Uncle AZ's Altoids Survival Kit

Picture of Uncle AZ's Altoids Survival Kit

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!
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worldstrad4 months ago

Definitely one of the better kits around. I appreciate your no-nonsense approach. I really like some of your ideas, like the brass eyelets, and I will add that to a kit I'm building.

Lo Tec5 months ago

Hi AZ -

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

Love the article,


Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)  Lo Tec5 months ago
Lo - Very nice kit! I might substitute something like Kevlar cord for the fishing line. I find fishing line very tough to form into knots, especially in the dark, in the rain, in the teeth of a gale, etc. -- i.e., in a typical survival situation. Even the Kevlar is not that easy to handle, but I think it's a good compromise between strength, weight, bulk, and ease-of-use. You can also "cheat" and wrap the tin in Paracord, which was one of my "upgrade" suggestions.

I like the screw eyes. In my "real" survival kit (which I keep meaning to post), I carry 2-3 of these, a bit longer & more sturdy than the ones you use, but of course that kit takes up the space of half a dozen Altoids Tins or so, allowing me more space for larger items. These are really handy for providing a few rock-solid connection points, and one eyelet in a large tree saves many feet of cord that you'd otherwise need to encircle the tree to provide a tie-off point for a shelter..

Nice Job!
elwood1739 months ago
I like your kit but I must say I love my swiss army knife but I do find that it comes a bit short on my needs. I have never broke one but there have been a few cases were I have noticed the blade flexing more then I'm comfortable with. I find a better match for me is a leatherman squirt and my Spyderco Tenacious. It keeps a better edge, longer, and is much sturdier. I know my knife will not fit into an altoids tin but if I can carry an altoids tin I can carry my Spyderco
Great kit! Very creative and executed ingeniously. Favorited.

I recently uploaded a survival kit of my own. If you get a chance lemme know what you think!
I think yours is very well thought out. If you compare yours, mine, and other good Altoids kits, I guess what differentiates mine is that I allocate less space to the "knife + tools" category, and you can see from the list below what I include instead. Partly, it's because I think that the extra items are more useful than a mini-tool and any sort of "real" knife, and partly, it's because I am even more likely to have my SAK on me than this little kit, so that means that many knofe & tool functions are in my pants pocket, whether I have this kit or not.
Schmidty161 year ago
the plastic vile is an eraiser holer for a pencil am i right i have same vile
Indeed it is. I am a hoarder of such useful little containers, and that one happened to be just right for this kit. I did try to minimize "packaging" in this kit to save space, but it's not really reasonable to have things like pins and needles and hooks and sinkers and whatnot just dumped in there loose, so the vial and the "card" were my solutions for organizing small items and cordage.
im am too an horder of small containers man i love em i made this 1 out of two gateraid containers and i painted it here i have befor and after i made it
Schmidty161 year ago
not a bad kit
Thanks. Not a "real" survival kit, but far better than nothing, and if you add the "cheats" that I discussed, could make a huge difference in comfort & survival prospects for an unplanned night or two outdoors.
Schmidty161 year ago
um dide u take off the key ring off of the mini flash light
Yes, every microgram and every cubic millimeter counts. I not only took off the ring, I disassembled the flashlight so I could remove the little post that the ring attaches to! I also filed off the ring attachment point on the whistle to make it as small as possible, and trimmed edges off a few other items to get it all to fit.
Schmidty161 year ago
and a piece of gum wille help get over hunger for awhile
tomsoulm82 years ago
I was wondering, could you have a mirror cut to fit the inside of the altoid tin? And since the tin is metal, glue 2-4 small magnets to the corners of the mirror so it is removable, then store the sandpaper and paper underneath the mirror until ready to use.
Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)  tomsoulm82 years ago
Certainly possible. I have a small signal mirror that will fit as is, but it is about 1/8 - 3/16-inch thick, and the tin was hard enough to close as it was. The small mirrored cardboard plus the realatively shiny bottom and inside durfaces of the tin itself are reasonable for such a limited kit, I think.
Also, you could use "Glad Press N Seal" in place of the tape on the card holding the needles. It is tacky and would stick to the card well, waterproof, and can be reused if needed.
Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)  tomsoulm82 years ago
I'm not familiar with that, but if it's easier to use than an upside-down piece of tape on my kitchen table, I'm all for it.

In a less space-constrained kit, I'd probably just put these items in a small, flat, round plastic container, but an Altoids tin allows for a minimum of packaging.
Dr. P2 years ago
What a good idea! Just putting these things together will clean out a drawer in my kitchen (and force me to throw out the accumulation of stuff). In fact, the Altoids approach to organization could become (okay, I'm late to the game--it's already become) a niche market.
quatch2 years ago
Very fancy.

Could you polish the inside of the tin as a mirror, and punch a tiny sighting hole in the lid without compromising the integrity of the whole thing? Dish the tin outwards after polishing to get a fire-starting parabola?
Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)  quatch2 years ago
Yes, the inside of the top or bottom can be used as a signalling mirror, even without additional polishing, and the nail that is included in the kit could be used to punch a sighting hole after the other contents had been removed.

The parabola idea is intriguing. No reason that it shouldn't work, but I'm not sure how to do it in the field to a sufficient degree of precision. Maybe a little piecseof cardboard cut the the proper shape to use as a template? The top and the bottom both have "edges," though, so they won't bend easily unless they are cut free to make simple sheets.

I guess with 4 matches, 2 tinders & a flint wheel, and cordage to make a bow & drill, this would be 4th on my list of fire-starting methods anyway. But using the lid as a signal mirror is definitely viable, and there may be some adhesive mirror film that could be applied to make it even more reflective.

EmcySquare2 years ago
Having this as a first instructable is an EXCELLENT start !
I apreciate the honesty and reasoning behind it. very good.
I just don't love those fishing kits much (I see no real use for them) but that's just MHO


Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)  EmcySquare2 years ago
Thanks so much! I agree that fishing is unlikely to come into play in most survival situations, but even in a kit this small, the gear takes up very little space, and the 50#-test line can also be used for sewing and lashing.

If a survival situation does stretch to 2 or more days, fishing can not only be a source of food, but also an activity to occupy the hands and the mind, which can be beneficial psychologically. Also, it's something you can do even if significantly immobilized by injury or illness (assuming that you can reach / stay close to fishable waters).
You considerations are right. Anyway if you consider it the chances to get lost in a place close to the sea or rivers are not that much. In those chances those of having a fish popolated water is even less.

Looks to me that fishing kits are added more out of a habit rather than a real need
Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)  EmcySquare2 years ago
I grew up in a fairly "wet" part of the Northern Appalachian Mountains, and fishable streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and even working / abandoned farm ponds were quite common. I also did as much canoeing and canoe camping as hiking and backpacking, which meant that water was always close at hand.

I now live in the Western U.S., where it is drier, and fishing opportunities are more limited. There is so much variation in survival terrain and climate that even a much larger kit cannot be expected to address them all. But overall, given the very few cubic millimeters allocated to fishing gear, I couldn't think of anything better to include instead in this compact, general-purpose kit.

omnibot2 years ago
Nice survival kit.
About the condom, there are nonlatex varieties for ppl allergic to latex made from sorts of rubber that is oilproof as well as petrolproof in case that is needed. They are seldom very elastic though and may not be suitable for slingshots.
Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)  omnibot2 years ago
Yes, I have previously used polyurethane condoms for non-survival-related applications, and they are not as "stretchy" as the latex type. But I think there are other new polymers being used for condoms, too, and some of those might be superior as water carriers.

In my "real" survival kit, I use a collapsible, self-standing 1-liter water container. It's a little too bulky for this kit, but much more durable and convenient when space is not so limited.

MicahelRoss2 years ago
Very Good and detailed indeed 5/5 stars!
I think your kits are excellent also. I didn't use the "plastic straw trick" for anything here, but I first learned that from one of your Instructables, and I've been experimenting with it . . . maybe in my scaled-up Survival Kit, which is next on my agenda. Thanks!
noahw2 years ago
This is one of THE MOST comprehensive survival kit Instructables that I've ever seen! Nice work.
Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)  noahw2 years ago
As a newbie, I very much appreciate that comment from such a prolific Instructable author. Thanks very much!