A survival kit is supposed to be everything you would need to survive for a week that you can keep on you at all times. Typically, or at least ideally, in a pocket. That way it is easy to keep with you and you will be less likely to leave it behind. Usually this will take the form of a small bag or pouch like the ones below but can also be as small as a film canister (who remembers those?) The nice Thing about the film canisters was that they could be worn like a necklace.

These are not pictures of my film can or pill bottle size kits, but some examples from the internet to give you an idea of what it would look like.

Exciting Scout Crafts - Wilderness Survival Kit
I like this one better as it have more practical or at least useful stuff. A common practice is to wrap fishing line in or along with the duct tape.
14 cool reuses for pill bottles and film canisters
I’m a bit dubious of some of these contents but it give you the general impression

Here is some vintage parts of a survival kit. The bag is even from the 80s I believe. But I actually prefer it over the newer bag for the finer mesh. Things tend to snag less in it. This is not a complete kit but just some old items. Does really highlight the how much I need to go through this stuff though.

So in hind sight this carpet was a terrible background for the picture. it’s much too busy to clearly see everything. Starting at the top left we have a magnesium bar and striker for fire, a wire saw, a whistle (1971 surplus naturally). Then next “row” is a mirror for signaling, a compass, some old matches, some waterproof/windproof matches in an old waterproof container, and a sierra cup. Then at the bottom is an unlubricated condom (that’s older than I am probably), twine, an old whistle, roll of fine wire and a dime.

Close up of the condom. So old it’s called a prophylactic still.

So the condom always get’s a laugh. I even still laugh because of how ridiculous it sounds. Got be ready for “anything” right? Actually the purpose was to use it as a canteen, hence the importance of it being the unlubricated variety. Most of the other items are self explanatory like the compass and matches. The metal wire would be for making snares or other kinds of binding. And the dime would have been for a phone call home once you found your way back to civilization.

My current kit
Or at least the state that it is in currently. Some of this can be swapped out or excluded depending on what your specific needs are. Starting on the top right we have a mirror for signaling, a stormproof matches in a water proof container, a pencil with duct tape, a whistle, a trash bag (the black garden bag is better but any will do) and a small flashlight. The second row has a compass, magnesium stick, paracord, small swine, small wire, a hand saw, bandana and my choice of pain pills. Third rom has a sierra cup, pot holder, multitool and bag.

The trash bag can be used for a variety of things such as a poncho or tarp, or for use in making a solar sill. The light is obvious enough but having one that is led with a long batter life and signal setting is hand more making yourself visible at night. My dad always personally liked these little 9v flashlights as he could start a firs with a little steel wool and the battery way easier that the magnesium. And that is also the point of the whistle, signaling. Although from experience the sound can really bounce off rock to make it sound like its coming from totally different directions so listen carefully. The sierra cup can be used as a cup or bowl for drinking and boiling water to help purify it and also as a shovel.

So the bandana and multitool would most likely not be in your kit, normally the bandana is on you neck or in a pocket. Same with the knife, but if you are not in the habit of religiously keeping in a pocket of on your belt I would keep it in your kit.

Some things I’ll probably change;
I’m considering ditching the matches and magnesium for just a plain bic lighter. They’re just as reliable as the other two while also being light and essentially waterproof as well. I will also probably loose the twine and wire. While its good for snares and such, I don’t really have that much use for them. I don’t get far enough off the beaten path that I would be gone long enough to trap and I don’t remember how to make them anyway. Plus there really aren’t a ton of critters in the southwest to catch period. (only say my first squirrel here after almost 10 years). I should ditch the pot holder too. I put it in there because I the last time I had tried to heat water in the sierra cup the handle melted through the glove I had on. Something that I need to ADD is some water purification tablets. There had been some in there years ago but I tossed them when they fell apart and never replaced them.

So I think it should be pretty obvious that this is not gospel and just scratched the surface. But I hope it gave you a look at what some of the old styles were as well as some of the different options out there. Make yours to fit your situation, just remember to keep it small. If its not small enough to keep on you then it’s not going to be on you when you need it


  1. John M. says:

    “They’re just as reliable as the other two while also being light and essentially waterproof as well.“

    I heard a survival-type guy on a podcast who brought up an interesting con to using lighters: They require a fair bit of fine motor skill to use. I have been cold enough multiple times for my hands to turn into fat clubs and yeah, operating a lighter would not have been easy. Shoot, those childproof ones are like working tiny puzzle boxes anyway these days.

    What’s the dollar bill for in the top kit? If you need emergency cash, it’s not gonna get you very far. Maybe in B***n’s America it’s cheaper to burn a dollar bill for tinder than to soak a cotton ball in Vaseline?


    1. BAP45 says:

      I could see that with the lighter but the using matches requires fine skills too and it you ham fist a match and break it well that’s it. My concerns with lighters in the past was either with the striker wearing out or the gas not coming out properly at higher altitudes.
      I think the dollar was probably intended for a phone call I’m not sure. I originally started putting this together last April but I noticed the last photo was missing items and out of focus and it just took me a while to get back around to it so I forget where I snagged the picture from. Now days the money really isn’t all that useful since there’s virtually no pay phones left.


      1. John M. says:

        I’m not aware of any pay phones that ever took a dollar bill, either. A dime or quarter I would have understood.

        The podcast guy I was listening to recommended one of those magnesium/aluminum rods. Gross motor skills, never runs out, nothing to lose/break. I usually run waterproof matches with a Bic backup, but I thought he was well-reasoned.


        1. BAP45 says:

          Yeah he’s not wrong, they all work. I’ll probably keep the mag rod but lose the matches. Or vice versa. haven’t decided yet


          1. John M. says:

            Here’s the show since I keep yapping about it:


  2. davesnyper says:

    I prefer to ‘wear’ a few dollars too. They don’t take up any space, and if you run out of toilet paper…


  3. ptmn says:

    These tiny kids are great, it shows how those of us on this site actually exercise situational awareness (SA). That same SA spills over to other skills in daily life to prevent or at least lessen the likelihood of attacks or other avoidable emergencies.

    It’s amazing how many “sheep” in the US go out hiking and get themselves in trouble and we later find out they didn’t even have one of those tiny camera film container kits…or even a friggin water bottle. On that note of water and the condom, if anyone is wondering how effective they are considering their fragility, the military survival training teaches a simple solution: once you have water in the condom, you place it in a sock to both protect it and give you a way to carry it. Some may wonder about removing one of their socks to do this…nope, all SF soldiers on field problems carry at least one extra pair of socks.

    Like BAP45, I also keep the magnesium firestarter and ditched the matches for a disposable lighter. Disable lighters are great, but don’t work well when wet, the magnesium then covers that gap. Lighter is also smaller than the army issue match container.

    On the subject of purification tabs, I can’t stand the new Army issue chlor-floc system. It ends up requiring two separate water containers. The old Army issue iodine tabs are a little less effective, but far more user friendly when you are operating light. I keep a wax sealed bottle of them with me when I’m hiking or in the field (which I haven’t been since retiring several months ago).

    One item I think is important, takes practically no room, but isnt in a lot of people’s kit: two Benadryl tablets. Here’s the disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, so seek true medical advice when it comes to Benadryl or any other meds. I’m just mentioning this as something I carry as a result of experiences from my trips “downrange”. I always carry them in the field. When your days or weeks away from any assistance, simple Benadryl(diphenhydramine) might be help if you if you have an allergic reaction and you are completely on your own. Also good for scorpion stings and other unplanned nasties.


    1. BAP45 says:

      I like that idea of the Benadryl.


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