Introduction: The "Everyman" Every-Day Carry (EDC) Survival Kit

About: USAF Veteran, tinkerer
I've seen dozens of Altoid Tin and similar survival kits here on Instructables and elsewhere.  Many of them are quite good, while others--both home built and off-the-shelf--are left lacking some key components.  EDC kits are as varied as the people who create them, but there are some key features and "must have" items they have in matter if you're traversing the urban wilderness or truly miles from civilization.

I just wanted to share the handful of items I carry day-to-day, in the hopes others here would experiment and see what works for them.  The point of an EDC kit is to have something small and light on your person at all times, as a redundancy to the better and more specialized gear you may have for whatever adventure you're planning.  Think of it as the fire extinguisher of your preparedness, in that it should be out of the way and little noticed, but readily available and easy to use should you need it.  While it can be agreed having *something* is much better than having nothing, those "somethings" you carry should be worth their weight and the space they take up.  More importantly, knowing how to *use* those items is much more important than having the best out there.  It's no point to have top of the line gear if you haven't practiced with it, hence the danger of the off-the-shelf "sealed" kits.  Rather than sticking a lighter, stick of gum and a sewing kit into a tin or buying one of those God awful "survival" kits and thinking you're ready to live off the land, these few items are readily available and easy to procure or make.  Remember that survival isn't about comfort, but rather just making it out of there alive.

I should note the best "survival" scenario is to have a game plan and stick to it.  Tell at least two responsible people where you're going, how you plan to get there, when they can expect you back, and at what point they should be alarmed if they haven't heard from you.  Even better, have a description of your vehicle, what you're wearing, and any backup plans you may have should the weather turn.  Have a charged cell phone handy, but realize chances are it won't work when you need it to.  Most survival situations play out within 72 hours, and by far the majority start out as "day hikes".  Pack light and go far, but pack for what *could* happen.  There are many, many articles both on this website and others as to how to plan an outing and pack for it, so I won't repeat those here.

Now on to the "Everyman" (or woman!) EDC kit...

Step 1: The Container

I chose a small stainless steel container for the contents, sealed with a fitted polyethylene lid.  I picked it up at a dollar store, and it was marketed as a stainless steel freezer container.

Why metal instead of a lightweight plastic?

The container can be used to collect and sterilize water, and is even strong enough to use as a digging tool.  Stainless isn't prone to rust and won't impart anything to whatever liquid or food item you prepare in it.  Plus most plastics, especially polystyrene, are prone to differences in temperature and are very likely to get brittle in the cold.  The polyethylene lid on this container is flexible even in the cold, and fitted for a water-tight seal.

Step 2: The Contents

Here are the contents.  Most items should already look familiar, but I'll go over things in detail for the ones that need it.  Many of these items are found in the Doug Ritter "Pocket Survival Pak" from Adventure Medical.  If you must go out with only a purchased off-the-shelf kit, this is the one to get!  You can find them for under $30.  Since I wanted to include more items in a slightly larger container, all the contents from the Doug Ritter kit are incorporated into mine.

1.  Instructions from the Doug Ritter kit.  Small and waterproof, these cover the basics from building a fire, signaling, and building a shelter.

2.  A small, folding pocket knife.  In my case it's a Benchmade Eclipse.  I added the lanyard and bead to make the knife less likely to slip out of a pocket, plus more cordage is always a good thing to have.  Make sure the knife is SHARP!  A dull knife is more dangerous to have, since you have to exert more pressure to make it cut.

3.  Heavy-duty aluminum foil, folded, approximately 3 square feet.  This is useful as a container, a make-shift pot lid for the container, or a wind shield for your fire.  

4.  Oil-filled button compass.  It's not good for much else than judging general direction, and is finicky when not level or near metal, but it's a good compass that won't burst if frozen.

5.  The container.  Go back to step one if you missed it   ;-)

6.  These are three fire-starting straws.  Inside each is a cotton ball saturated with petroleum jelly (Vaseline), and the ends heat-sealed.  To use, simply slit one down the center, pull out some cotton goo and fluff it up, and put a spark to it.  They take a spark readily and have about 30 seconds of burn time each, plenty enough to get a proper fire going.  Since it's petroleum jelly, they can double as a first-aid item.

7.  Cotton ball.  Additional fire starting, gauze, ear plug to keep the bugs're limited only by your imagination!

8.  Howler whistle.  Pealess style so it won't freeze, isn't prone to break, brightly-colored in case you drop it, and about 120 decibels for it's compact size.

9.  Spark Light fire starter.  Think of this as a Bic lighter without the fuel reservoir, as it works the same way to produce a shower of sparks.  You can use these one-handed and in all conditions.

10.  Maglite Solitaire flashlight.  These are tiny, cheap and readily-available.  Maglite makes the same model in LED now if you want the extra expense, but I prefer common lights that are cheap and easy to find parts for.  There's an extra bulb in the butt cap, and the very common AAA size is easy to find.  Since mine is dark-colored, I wrapped yellow electrical tape around it so I can find it again should I drop it somewhere.  The tape doubles as a bite grip, and you can never have enough tape.

11.  Spare AAA battery.  For these don't get the cheap brands...Duracell actually holds up the best under all conditions and long-term storage.  Rotate these out at least every 6 months or so.  It's best to put a piece of tape with the date you bought them written on it.

12.  Vial with fishing items and safety pins.  

13.  Five strike-anywhere matches, waxed and in plastic wrap.  These have been dipped in melted paraffin wax, which helps water-proof them and adds a few precious seconds of burn time.  Make sure you get the "Strike Anywhere" instead of the strike-on-box matches, since you can flick these on a rock or fingernail without a striker bar and they'll work.

14.  "Tinder Quik" waterproof tinder.  These will work even if wet, although a few choice words will help them get going.  To use, pull them apart until "fluffy" and add a spark to them.

15.  Fitted polyethylene container lid.  Back to step one if you missed it!

16.  Piece of hard candy.  Some may scoff at this, but it's a good morale boost and a great way to get that "gamey" treated water taste out of your mouth.  Every calorie counts, so here's a tiny amount you've packed in.  A bullion cube would work well here too.

17.  Fresnel lens.  Useful as a magnifier for splinters and stingers, and for fire starting.

18.  Ultraslim pencil, for taking or making notes.  Pinning a note to a visible location is a great way to let rescuers know which way you went.

19.  Mini rescue signal flash mirror--one of the good kind with one-hand use and an integrated sighting hole.  Don't remove it from the plastic wrapper until you intend to use it, though, as the housing can get scratched and reduce its reflectivity.  You can practice with the plastic on.  Plus, you never know if your rescuer could be your future Mr. or Mrs., so its never a bad idea to have something to primp with handy.

20.  Swiss Army "Swiss Card", containing several mini tools by itself.

21.  "And on the eighth day, God created duct tape..."  There's no limit to the usefulness to this stuff, so here's about 10 feet of it wrapped around a pen core.  Field repair clothing, have a makeshift bandage or cordage...use your imagination!

22.  Emergency "space" polymer blanket, great to use as a blanket, A-frame shelter or bivy.  This also doubles as a signaling device, both visual and auditory since it crinkles like mad in even a gentle breeze.  Unless you have a PhD in foldology, don't unfold it until you need to use it. 

23.  Spool of nylon thread and 10' length of steel wire.  Use the thread for fishing, repairs, or last-resort sutures.  The wire is most useful as snares.

24.  Lip balm, which is oddly enough one of those things you don't think to have until you actually need it.  Get some with SPF!  If you need more fire-starting materials, pinch some off and rub it into your tinder bundle.

25.  This is about 25' of nylon cordage--not nearly as good as 550 cord, but a fair amount folds into a small package.  Cordage is one of the things most lacking in the wild, so its always safe to carry some in addition to your 550 cord belt and bootlaces.  You have those, right?  

26.  "Little bit of everything" first aid kit, clearly marked in case you need to direct someone to find it.

Step 3: The Breakdown--The Swiss Card

Here I show a breakdown of what the Swiss Army "Swiss Card" contains.  There are other manufacturers of card-type multi-tools out there, so use whatever you're comfortable with.  I like the slim size of the Swiss Card and the fact it contains it's own small blade and the all-important tweezers.

Step 4: The Breakdown--Vial

Here is the small vial, broken down to show what's inside.  I added brightly-colored tape so I can find the thing again if I drop it.

1.  Four very large safety pins:  For field repairs or bend into large fish hooks
2.  Four small fish hooks
3.  Two small lead shot
4.  Swivel
5.  Large sewing needle

Step 5: The Breakdown--First Aid Kit

I suppose this almost deserves its own instructable!  Here are the contents of my "Little bit of everything" first aid kit.  I stuck to the things I find I use most, so yours may vary.  The numbers should coincide with the first picture.  Keep in mind the smallest cut or scrape can quickly get infected "out there", so take pause to take care of it as soon as you're able.

1.  Large, waterproof bandage

2.  Large breathable bandage

3.  Three standard sized bandages

4.  Four medium bandages

5.  Packet of SPF 30 sunscreen

6.  Container.  I recycled the bag the space blanket came in, and removed the button snap since it took too much room.

7.  Gauze

8.  Packet of Emergen-C.  The vitamin C will kill the taste of questionable but treated water, and is a little morale boost.

9.  Four butterfly closure strips

10.  Strip of medical tape

11.  Two alcohol prep pads

12.  #22 sterile scalpel blade.  God forbid you have to do any field surgery, but this will help if you need to clean up a wound for irrigation, or anywhere you need extremely fine cuts your pocket knife won't do.

13.  Four chlorine-based water purification tabs.  Each tab treats a liter (a nalgene bottle amount), and takes four hours to treat.  Use a sock to prefilter the chunks out so the reagent can do it's job more effectively.

14.  Single-use Neosporin ointments in sealed drinking straws.  The packets of ointment are usually too much for me, so I whipped these up thanks to another Instructable!

15.  Single-use liquid bandages, for something too small for a regular bandage.  This stuff takes a flame very well too.

16.  12 feet of surveyor's tape, wrapped around a toothpick.  This isn't really a first-aid item, but it fit well in the space left.  Use this to mark trails and trap locations, or your passage to let rescuers know where you're been.  Tie off a small piece at about eye level in the direction of travel, making the next just visible beyond the last.

17.  Small sheets of paper, for using that ultraslim pencil, of course!  You should already have enough fire-starting material available, but here's one more if you need it.

18.  Assortment of medication wrapped in aluminum.  Here I have two Tylenol, a 500 mg Motrin, two Sudafed, two Zyrtec, and a chewable Pepto tablet.  Pack what you need and what you have room for, but don't forget to rotate your stock.

Step 6: Making It Fit...

My mother always yelled at me that video games wouldn't teach me anything, but here I've proved her wrong.  

All those years of Tetris have paid off!

So how do you get all of that in there?  The first thing I put in was the instructions, as they're small and flat.  Since in a "situation" I'd likely dump the contents out, the instructions would consequentially be on top if the whole kit is upended.

Step 7: Making It Fit...

Next in goes the folded aluminum foil.

Step 8: Making It Fit...

Here I tucked the fresnel lens inside the space blanket, and it goes in next.  The little package of matches fits up against the side of the container, slightly under the blanket, and the Maglite fits into one of the pockets next to it.

Step 9: Making It Fit...

Here the ultraslim pencil fits right alongside the blanket, and you can see I've started stacking the fire starting straws on top of the matches.

Step 10: Making It Fit...

Next in goes the fire starter and spare battery, cotton ball (in the lower left), cordage and Tinder Quik.  I folded the Tinder Quik in half in it's little baggy so it would take up less space.

Step 11: Making It Fit...

The Swiss Card and signal mirror lay side by side on top of the blanket.  I moved the battery to the top, since it fit there better.

Step 12: Making It Fit...

Next in is the first aid kit.  Since it wasn't equally thick, I rotated it around until it lay flat, which happened to be upside down.  The folding knife fits nicely in the pocket just above it.

Step 13: Making It Fit...

In the space to the upper right, the candy, compass, and vial all drop in.

Step 14: Making It Fit...

All that remains is the duct tape, whistle, lip balm, spool of thread and wire, so its just a matter of finagling things around to fill gaps.

Step 15: Making It Fit...done!

Snap on the lid, and done!  The plastic lid is forgiving, so it's OK if things bulge a little but it maintains a seal.  The entire kit fits into a pants cargo pocket or coat pocket, so it's small enough to go with you anywhere.

Some may opt to wrap it in more duct tape or even 550 cord, but I choose to stop here since it keeps things more readily accessible.  I'm more likely to stop to make camp when I should rather than push the envelope, not wanting to go through "all that stuff" first if it's wrapped in layers of something.

This kit isn't designed to build and throw in your glove box--keep it *on* you, readily available, and *practice* using the stuff inside.  Think ahead and know that if you're in a real survival situation, you're more likely to be cold, hungry, dehydrated, panicked, and lose most of your fine motor skills.  That isn't the time to experiment with the fire starters and signal mirror.  Whatever you decide to pack in yours, use and abuse it!  As you get familiar with what you'll most likely use, rotate out your stock for something newer and more compact.  Experiment when you go camping, and trying using *only* this away from your main camp for one night.  When you start making observations like, "it would be nice if I had this...", change your kit!

Hopefully this has a been a useful guide in making your own.  As you see, you don't need to spend loads of money for this stuff and can likely use what you have available.  Be safe out there!