Teen Survival Box - the Best Graduation Present EVER!




Introduction: Teen Survival Box - the Best Graduation Present EVER!

Great. A title written by Captain Hyperbole. Maybe, but I challenge you. Barring vehicles, large sums of money, and exotic travel, tell me about better graduation present that is more useful and says you care like this one. One that will remind the receiver of your thoughtfulness for years as they use it. I said "EVER" and I meant it.

No, a Teen Survival Box is not used to survive a teen, but rather assisting them in surviving. If you know someone graduating from high school and is embarking on some level of independent living (dorm or apartment) for the first time, you have the opportunity to give them a graduation gift that will keep on giving. Over the years, I have given a number of 'survival boxes' and have kept a list of their contents, refining them and incorporating suggestions. Everything can be stored in a plastic tub in a closet or under a bed. It is a nice feeling when a niece or nephew lets me know that they used some new thing from the box to help them out.

While this isn't exactly building a project, there is plenty of room for creativity in both the contents and decorating the box for maximum embarrassment. Personally, I like crime scene tape.

If you plan ahead, a lot of the school supplies can be purchased during August during back to school sales. Of course anything can be trimmed from the list. Full price for everything can easily amount to over $100, although money can be saved if several boxes are made at once, splitting some of the supplies between boxes. Other good sources are dollar stores, Harbor Freight and department stores. You aren't trying to get the best of everything, just a solution that will do in an emergency.

Care should be taken that the contents abide by the rules of where they are staying. Some dorms don't allow matches and candles. I originally included a small folding wood saw but have been told that schools freak out a bit over something like that now. I guess the machete is right out.

I've organized the list from most vital to least, at least in my mind. Your mileage may vary.

Step 1: Emergency Supplies

These are the things that will be helpful in real emergencies or at least when things aren't going well. Basic safety and medicine is the goal here.

Small medical emergency kit

Basic medicines - stomach, head (part of the medical kit I bought)

Sewing kit


Drop cloth


Rain poncho or umbrella

Ear plugs


Ace elastic bandage

Cough drops

Spare shoe laces

Pocket Emergency Tool/Mini Leatherman

Step 2: Tools

How well you stock this depends on your graduate's McGyver capabilities. This list assumes that someone would want some wire to hold up a fallen muffler or even think of that. As a minimum, the tool collection will have them become the go-to person for things that need fixing, even if it is just to borrow a screwdriver to tighten a drawer pull or a file to take a rough edge off of the door latch.

7 in 1 screwdriver

Small files



Adjustable wrench

Tape measure

Allen wrenches - metric and imperial

Jewelers screwdrivers

Hobby or Stock knife

Single edged razor blades

Several neodymium magnets

Zip ties

Wire brush

Ratchet strap clamp

Spring clips of various sizes

Small and Large bungees

Ball bungees

Rope - clothesline thickness


Disposable paint brushes

Disposable gloves

Dust mask

Small and large D-ring


Battery tester

9V, AA and AAA batteries

Extendable magnet


Magnifying glass or loupe


Chop sticks - handy for eating and as a tool

Some kind of grease or oil in a dispenser that won't leak

Plastic scraper

Step 3: Office Supplies

Now you are getting into the more practical daily additions. The idea here is not to stock them with notebooks, pens and other school supplies. It is to be the go-to place if they can't find a pen and have to get to class.

Rubber bands

Paper clips

Thumb tacks

Sharpie - single or multiple colors

White board markers


Hole punch

Mini Stapler

Pencil sharpener


Envelopes - some with forever stamps


Post-it book marks



Small notebook

Laser pointer

Step 4: Electronics

You may not think a lot of this electronics stuff is that important but it is to anyone under 30. A spare SD card, easy way to plug in their lamp, charger and laptop to one outlet and other solutions can make their lives easier. It may seem strange to include a cell phone charger but cell phones are a real safety tool and it is not a good thing to have batteries that are near the end of life. I found a small Li-ion battery pack that will charge a cell phone and work as a flashlight for less than $12 at MCM Electronics on-line.

3 way AC adapter or power strip

Extension cord (some dorms require grounded cords)

Cell phone charger

Memory stick

SD card - ideally a microSD with adapters

Cheap earphones

Blank CDs/DVDs

Velcro cable ties

USB A to microUSB cable

USB A to USB B cable

Ethernet cable

1/8" to 1/8" audio cable

Step 5: Glues and Tape

Many problems can be solved by sticking things together, either temporarily or permanently. A whole array of solutions will guarantee that the best solution will be at hand.

Scotch tape

Packing tape with dispenser

Electrical tape

Duct tape

Velcro dots or strips

Double sided tape - thin and mounting

Poster putty

Super glue

Glue stick


Step 6: Bathroom/Laundry

As with the office supplies, you aren't trying to buy them laundry detergent for the year. The goal is to help them out that time they forgot to buy more at the store. Same thing with toiletries - either for travel or as an emergency replacement, you want to bail them out of a quick shortage. You can certainly get more complex with the travel supplies like deoderant, hoping to make that long distance job interview a win, insuring their long term success in life and fulfilling their dreams - just because of you.

Small hand sanitizer

Disposable wipes package

Mesh bag

Single use laundry soap

Bleach pen/spot remover

Traveling toothbrush and paste

Disposable razors

Toothpicks or plaque removers


Traveling mouthwash

Traveling deodorant

Traveling soap

Traveling shampoo

Traveling tissues (can double as TP)


Lint brush

Air freshener

Clothes pins

Step 7: Kitchen

Even if they are on a meal plan, having some minimalist food and drink capabilities will be useful. It is your call whether you think a corkscrew will be useful. They may develop their own opinion on this.

Sets of plasticware

1 steak knife

Some paper plates, bowls and cups

Bottle opener/corkscrew

Can opener



Several sizes of zip lock and garbage bags

Step 8: Entertainment

Now we get to the unnecessary but fun stuff. You are not trying to replace Cards Against Humanity but you might have some idea that a simple ping pong ball can be the focus of an evening's entertainment.

Deck of cards



Ping pong ball

Superball or tennis ball




Silly putty

Birthday candles

Step 9: And What to Give a Person Who Has Everything? a Box to Put It All In

This part depends on your and the receiver's degree of organization. You can go for a basic tub. If you break up larger packages for multiple boxes, you might use a few organizers to put each item in it's own spot. If you are both highly organized, there are some great tool chests with lift out trays, swing out organizers and wheels. They take up more room, which can be a problem in a dorm, but they are certainly going to have a place for everything, and everything in its place.

MacGyver could conquer the world with this box.

So there you have it. Not so much hyperbole, huh? The best graduation present EVER!

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    3 years ago

    Awesome lists! One thing to add; Gaffer tape is exceptionally useful because it's strong and easy to tear (and is perfect for patching up costumes quickly backstage)


    Reply 3 years ago

    Agreed, gaffer's tape is one of the great marvels, including being able to be removed without leaving a sticky residue. Cost-wise it is pretty steep for this box unless you know of a place to buy small rolls < $5. I would certainly put it in a similar list for makers and repair oriented people, along with heat shrink tubing, hot glue, quick set epoxy, and self-fusing silicone tape.


    5 years ago

    Add some wood grain contact paper to the bin and call it a hope chest! lol


    6 years ago on Introduction

    You forgot to add condoms. If you love your children, you want them safe don't you?

    Thanks to this, my kids will be ready for that big day of moving out of the house in to a place of their own.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    My Mom had a drawer in the kitchen sink, second one down from the top, right hand side, that contained HER screwdrivers, a hammer, and a multi-headed wrench, etc. Dad used to borrow them and not put them back, until she painted all the handles pink. When I got married many years ago, I soon had "hammer, screwdrivers, socket set, tape measure, oil filter wrench, etc." on my birthday and Christmas gift lists. I got laughed at, but that's how my own survival kit got started.


    6 years ago on Step 9

    this is brillient!!!

    I love the way you put this together

    My mother started a tradition for new (expecting) moms that was similar....

    the thought about the things you would need in the first year and just never remember to pick up at the store....

    contents included:

    baby thermomiter

    baby nail clippers

    burp rags (cloth diapers)

    mucas bulb .....

    and soo much more....

    she was a nurse in the NIC unit and was always tweaking the list...


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    It sounds like you are half way to having your own Instructable!


    6 years ago

    Step 2, what is InstaMorph? Never heard of it. Google to the rescue again! :-)


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    It certainly wasn't in my college box 40 years ago but it is great stuff for solving problems, has a long shelf life and isn't too expensive. Certainly worth googling.

    David the R
    David the R

    6 years ago on Introduction

    NIce 'hit the road, Jack' box. One other box with clothes, a tent, and cooking gear


    6 years ago on Step 9

    Love it. I don't have any moving out this year, but #1 Grandson graduates from HS next year. He will appreciate a box like that more than most. I probably need to start putting it together now so it will be ready a year from now.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I got a box of craft supplies when I was a kid, best gift ever. : )


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I had forgotten I did that with my nieces and nephews. I made up a box with feathers, googly eyes and piles of other weird stuff as a present for crafting. Thanks for reminding me.

    A cute tool box with tack hammer, multi driver, picture hangers, screws, measure, and other household essentials has been my go-to wedding shower gift for years. I get teased for not giving something "girly and sexy", but I am also told later by the bride that it helped them hang curtains, pictures, and do basic repairs in their new home. The tools even come in pink now! The rule is always that the husband is not allowed to take anything from the box without asking his wife first - those tools are HERS and if he takes them she'll never see them again. LOL.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Very useful and I like the implied message that she shouldn't be dependent on the guy for repairs and such. My daughter was given a tool kit when she was fairly young and was the envy of her geek friends. She took a wood shop class too and was never discouraged from using tools at home. Great gift.


    Stuff-in-a-Box is always wonderful and highly underrated. Who doesn't love getting stuff in a box?! We did "Exhibit in a Box" https://www.instructables.com/id/Maker-Exhibit-in-a... a while back. Cats have the right idea. Boxes are awesome!

    In thinking about it, a reverse Teen Survival Box for Parents isn't a bad idea, though. Maybe you can do a series of these! Studio Apt in a Box, Emergency Roadside Kit in a Box, Survival in a Box, etc. Great grad present, congrats on both the utility and clean simplicity of a truly useful Instructable!


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I did the equivalent of a Roadside Kit in a Box for my kids when they got their first cars. I think you are right, that would make a good Instructable. First Camping Trip in a Box might be good too. Really, baby and wedding showers are just Stuff-Not-In-A-Box but the same idea.


    6 years ago

    Wow sir! This is really awesome.