I’ve always been drawn to the mystique of the miniature survival kit. Imagine that you have been instantly transported to the wilderness, and must survive with only the gear that fits in an Altoids tin! If it was packed right, you’ll be able to assemble a shelter out of sticks and leaves, start a fire with some waterproof matches, and catch some fish to fry up with some hooks and dental floss! (Don’t ask where the frying pan will come from.)
In an actual survival situation, things may be a bit different. For one thing, you probably got to the woods somehow, and thus, there was a time when you packed your kit. Which means you had some sort of context for packing your kit: a sense of what you might need, how long you might be in the woods if things go wrong, and the kinds of dangers or issues you might face.
To build the optimal survival kit, you need to think about those things: where will you be, and what will you already have with you? For example, the survival kit guide at Man Made DIY doesn’t include a knife. They point out that if you’re the kind of person to pack a survival kit, you are probably also the kind of person to not go into the woods without a knife.
So let’s look at survival kits in terms of the Ten Essentials, a time-honored guideline for packing gear for a hike or camping trip. All of these things should be accounted for somewhere in your supplies, and some of these are great candidates for being packed into a mini survival kit.
Navigation: Asmall compass can go in your kit, but remember that it’s much more useful if you have a map to go with it.
Light: Aheadlamp or flashlight, with extra batteries, is great to have. If you find a flashlight small enough to fit, remember the tradeoffs: it’s probably not very bright, and/or probably doesn’t have much battery life.
Sun protection: Sunglasses, hats, and protective clothing won’t fit in the Altoids tin. But you can bring a couple of sunscreen packets.
First aid: With limited space, stick to top priority stuff. A single band-aid isn’t going to make the difference in your survival. But you may want to include bug repellent wipes, Benadryl or other anti-allergy medication, and foot care items, in case you need to walk a lot longer than you planned to.
Knife and gear repair: If you don’t otherwise carry a knife, some kind of blade will help. For gear repair, consider sewing needles, dental floss (which can be used with the needles, but is stronger than regular thread), and a rolled or folded length of duct tape to make an impromptu patch.
Fire: A pocket sized flint and steel are great, or you can include a mini lighter. If you want to go old-school, waterproof some matches by dipping them in wax. You can also carry tinder or DIY fire starters, like cotton balls dipped in vaseline, but in many areas it’s easier to make your own tinder from dry leaves or by using a knife to make feather sticks.
Shelter: You can’t fit a whole tent in there, but an emergency bivvy or space blanket is small enough to pack alongside.
Extra food: Nothing that fits into an Altoids tin will sustain you very long, but if you have some spare space, you might as well leave one of the mints.
Extra water: Water won’t fit, but you might want to consider water purification tablets and a sturdy ziploc bag to hold water. (Or upgrade to MRE beverage bags, which are designed to hold drinks and are slightly more heat resistant than your standard kitchen baggie.)
Extra clothes: Sorry, I think we’re out of room. (That space blanket might be nice to have if we’re cold, though.)
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With those needs in mind, here’s what I would pack if I were making a kit to go on a hike or trail run and wanted to prepare for the possibility I might get hurt or lost and need to spend the night out there:
A mini compass, to use with a map packed separately.
A whistle. It’s not on the list above, but the places I’m likely to get lost are likely within earshot of somebody who can rescue me. If my ankle is broken and my phone is dead, I’m gonna blow three blasts on my whistle and repeat until somebody comes.
A mini flashlight, the keychain type. It may not provide much light but I’d still rather have it than not.
Sunscreen and insect repellent packets, which will probably get a lot of use, since I’m always forgetting one or the other and not noticing until it’s too late.
Allergy medication. Bless you.
A tiny knife or scissors, sewing needles, and dental floss.
Maybe a little roll of duct tape.
A printed or published map of the area.
A space blanket.
I’m not including fire supplies, since my goal would be to survive a night in a place that was warm enough that I went on a happy little daytime hike in the first place. I’m not bringing water supplies because I’m not likely to be lost so long that water will be key to my survival. I’ll already have extra water and snacks, since those are a part of my usual packing for a hike or trail run. And I’ll check the weather and bring appropriate clothing, but the space blanket will be nice to have just in case.
But that’s just me. With these considerations in mind, what would your mini survival kit include?