A Pint-Sized Survival Kit
You’ve probably heard about Altoids survival kits by now. They’ve exploded in popularity over the past few years, and sites such as YouTube allow preppers to share their own kits and thoughts about their usefulness.
A simple Altoids tin survival kit isn’t going to be as useful as a full-blown 3-day pack, but it can contain the equipment that you need to get yourself through a rough spot. It can help you get back to your main stash of gear, and it offers you the chance to test your understanding of survival.
These small kits require a lot of prioritization skills, and they can be a bit difficult to build effectively. So, I’ve created an in-depth guide that covers every aspect of an Altoids survival kit, and I’ve even added a few suggestions that will help you design your first kit.
Altoids, A Brief History
Created in 1780 by Smith and Company, Altoids has become a household name. The chalky mints have been a staple confectionery treat in the United States and Europe for as long as any living person can remember, but now they serve a different purpose for anyone in the prepping community.
The idea to use old Altoids tins to hold various pieces of survival gear came from the SAS’s own military-grade tins. Preppers noticed that they could easily reuse the tins from the popular candy to store quite a bit of useful gear.
This led to waves of YouTube videos and tutorials of preppers showing off their own kits, and a lot of different designs have been created since the concept first became popular.
An Altoids tin isn’t actually made out of tin. It’s made out of regular sheet of steel. Originally, the little candies were packaged in cardboard, but the need for a more durable container led to the change.
The use of steel in its construction makes it durable enough to serve its purpose as a survival kit container, and it makes it suitable for a bunch of other unique projects, too.
Since the tin is essentially just a small and hollow rectangle with a hinged lid, you can easily design your personal kit however you want. Some preppers like to seal the rim with electrical tape, some like to make additions to the tin, and some just like to keep it the way it is.
The inconspicuous appearance of the tin makes it a great way to carry your survival gear without drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. However, as you add external additions, it’ll stand out a lot more. That’s something to think about as you design your tin.
You can use an Altoids survival tin for just about anything. You can use it to store all of your fire starting gear in a pocket-sized package, you can use it for various medical equipment, and you can even use it to store decent fishing or trapping kits.
However, I prefer to make more general purpose kits. These small survival kits are meant to give you a little boost if you find yourself away from your gear. So, it’s good to have all of the basics covered with a single kit that you can throw in your pocket.
Do You Buy One Or Make Your Own?
I highly recommend building your own Altoids survival tin. It’s a fun experience, and it really challenges you to prioritize what you’re carrying. It also forces you to get creative when it comes to storing medicine or other pieces of kit that need to be protected.
However, they are fairly limited. They might get you through a night or two in the woods, but they’re not something that you can realistically expect to survive with in the long-term. I’ve recently read a northern prepper’s opinion on some store bought options that are a bit more substantial however still recommend making your own.
If you do decide to buy one, buy a good one. As prepping has grown in popularity, a lot of low-quality manufacturers have dabbled in creating shoddy pieces of equipment, and you don’t want to carry a useless piece of gear around during an emergency.
Planning Your Altoids Tin Survival Kit
Even if you do end up buying a kit, I highly suggest making your own because it forces you to think about each piece of equipment. The hours you spend putting a kit together will help you understand more about your survival skills, and you’ll get more out of it than just a small tin of tools.
However, you have to plan the kit out to do all of that. You have limited room to work with, and there are a lot of pieces of gear that you’ll want to fit inside of that space.
To plan out your kit effectively, I recommend that you get a solid understanding of the areas you visit frequently, the skills you possess, and the things you’re likely to have access to naturally.
Once you do that, you can figure out what you’ll need from the categories in the following sections.
Breaking It Down Into Categories
Building your own Altoids survival kit can be complicated. There’s a reason preppers take hours or days to properly outfit an Altoids survival tin.
I’ve broken down the general list of things you’ll want in your tin into categories. Depending on where you plan on using the tin, some categories might be more important to you.
Fire is one of the things that you definitely want in your survival kit, and there are many ways to implement it.
You might not have a lot of room in an Altoids container, but you can buy small ferro rods that won’t take up much room in the kit. A ferro rod that’s small enough to fit in an Altoids container won’t shower sparks like a standard model, but it will do enough to light a small cotton ball or ball of lint.
That leads me to my second tip for implementing fire. You can take a normal drinking straw, pack it full of cotton soaked in petroleum jelly, and seal both ends to create an amazing fire starter.
I’ve personally used that makeshift tinder to light hundreds of fires throughout practice sessions and camping trips. They stay lit for more than 30 minutes, and that’s plenty of time to make thicker branches of wood light on fire.
If you want to save a lot of room, you can pack a magnifying glass into your kit. I don’t personally recommend relying on a magnifying glass due to it relying on the sun, but it can help you if you time it right.
The last real option you have is a miniature Bic lighter. The problem with these is that they don’t always work when they’re wet, and Altoids cans aren’t waterproof. So, accidentally dropping it in water might ruin your only option for fire.
Your options for light are limited with Altoids kits, but you can still fit a decent flashlight into the small compartment.
Personally, I feel that it’s more reasonable to rely on the fire part of the kit for light. Even the smallest flashlights take up quite a bit of room in a small Altoids kit, and every bit of room counts. When it comes to such a small space, you have to think about what’s the most important, and fire offers plenty of light.
However, a small flashlight can become useful in situations where lighting a fire doesn’t make sense. If you can fit a small Nit Ize or similar flashlight into your kit, you might get a lot of use out of it even when you’re not in an emergency.
You can’t really carry any substantial amount of food in an Altoids kit. There simply isn’t enough room. However, you can carry tools that will allow you to catch your own food in the wild.
Before I get into this, I want you to realize that keeping any food-oriented tool in an urban survival kit is going to be a waste of time. Fishing equipment and wire traps don’t tend to be of much use in the big city.
They can be very useful in rural environments, though. An Altoids container has more than enough room for you to store several feet of fishing line, a few spare hooks, and some weights along with your other equipment. You can also fit the thin wires necessary to make small game traps inside of the small box.
When it comes to food, I believe it’s more important to put trap wires and basic fishing equipment into your kit. You may be able to fit a couple pieces of a Slim Jim into your Altoids container, but that won’t help you survive when you’re starving. If you really want a realistic source of protein in your kit, you need to focus on small pieces of hunting gear.
Water is another thing you can’t keep in an Altoids kit. Well, you could keep a small amount, but it wouldn’t be enough to do anything for you.
I suggest focusing on small and limited forms of water purification chemicals. If you have a fire kit, you won’t need to rely on many other forms of water purification, but a few small iodine tablets can give you a secondary option.
I highly suggest packing a few tablets of iodine or chlorine into your kit, but you can also use the container itself to purify small amounts of water. If you’re really desperate, you can filter water through a makeshift filter, and you can boil it in the Altoids container. You won’t be able to purify a lot of water at once, but it’s an option if you’re desperate enough.
Complex medical gear isn’t really an option with an Altoids kit, but you can add individual pills or tablets to your kit.
Adding pills such as Ibuprofen, Advil, Benadryl, and other common medications is a smart idea. You won’t be able to treat bullet wounds or broken limbs, but you will be able to treat those less dire ailments that can annoy you during an emergency.
A bandage or two might be a good addition, but when you prioritize things, the wounds that a small bandage can help with aren’t very life threatening, and the room can usually be used for more useful items.
I do suggest putting at least one day’s worth of any prescription medications you may need into your Altoids kit, though. An Altoids kit is supposed to be on you at all times, and having your prescription medications inside of it can keep you from missing a dose during your daily life, and it can keep you medicated during 1-day emergencies.
You have a few different options for navigation equipment when it comes to Altoids kits. You won’t have access to very advanced navigation equipment, but you can fit a couple of basics into the kit.
My number one suggestion is a button compass. Button compasses take up very little space, and high-quality button compasses are accurate enough to get you where you need to go. However, you should be wary about using low-quality compasses.
You can also store small instruction cards that tell you how to use natural reference points to find out where you’re headed. If you’re very creative, you can even tie a set of ranger beads around the kit while it’s not in use.
Signalling equipment is easy to implement into your Altoids kit. It doesn’t take much to create a bright flash, and that’s all you really need to have to make your location known.
A small signal mirror can easily fit into the bottom of an Altoids container, and it can be used to signal planes, distant travelers, and boats.
You can also polish the inside of the lid or the bottom of the container with toothpaste or any other compound to create a makeshift signalling mirror.
You obviously can’t shove your family into an Altoids container. However, you can store emergency numbers and other contact information in a kit.
When a large-scale disaster strikes, it’s unlikely that you will be able to simply call your family members. However, having contact information can help during isolated emergencies.
Picture yourself becoming lost in the woods, and when you find your way out, you have no choice but to contact a family member from a public phone. If you have a list of important phone numbers written on a small flash card, you’ll be able to contact them with ease.
Storing power in an Altoids kit is difficult. You can only really afford to store small batteries in an Altoids container, and that won’t usually get you too far. However, if you have a small flashlight or other device that requires small batteries, you might want to consider stashing a few spare batteries in your Altoids kit.
Multi-purpose tools are a necessity for any survival kit. They’ll come in handy for a lot of different situations, and you might find a use for a couple small tools throughout your daily life.
Primarily, you’ll want to focus on fitting a small knife into your kit. I suggest stashing a relatively flat fixed blade in the bottom of the container. A small knife won’t allow you to chop down a tree, but it will handle sharpening stakes, self-defense, and harvesting most smaller animals.
Tweezers are another type of multi-purpose tool that fits well in an Altoids kit. Tweezers will allow you to work with small objects, and they’ll allow you to remove splinters and bee stingers with ease.
Finally, thin forms of cordage have many different uses, and you can easily fit decent amounts into a survival kit the size of an Altoids container.
Choosing The Contents
When it comes to survival, you have to secure 3 things before you focus on anything else. You need fire, water, and shelter.
So, you need to focus on tools that help you acquire those things before you focus on stuffing your kit full of other items. What you choose to help you purify water and create fire is up to you, but take your skills into account when you’re choosing.
Putting any form of shelter into an Altoids tin is going to be nearly impossible. Even space blankets are a bit too large to fit inside of one. However, you can learn to use cordage in your kit to make simple debris shelters. If you’re in an urban environment, shelter is everywhere.
Once you’ve chosen items to help you with acquiring water, fire, and shelter, You should focus on food, medicine, and a knife.
Food is going to be difficult to handle with your kit if you’re in an urban environment. You can’t fit anything worthwhile in it. Also, you’re unlikely to be in an urban survival situation long enough to need food. By the time you need food in an urban situation, you’ll also need a much larger kit.
However, you can put in a few items that help you fish or create primitive traps for rural survival. Trap wires will take up a bit of room, but you can at least fit one inside of your kit, and fishing line and hooks can easily fit in your kit.
Medicine is easy to keep in your kit. Prioritize any prescription medications over basic items like pain relievers and gastric aids. Your prescriptions are more important than having access to Advil or diarrhea medicine.
Your options for storing a knife are limited, but you should have a decent cutting tool on your belt or in your pocket at all times in the first place. So, whatever knife you put in your Altoids kit is purely a backup option.
I recommend picking a small fixed blade. SOG and Boker both have very thin and small options available. There are also many small folding knives that will fit inside of an Altoids kit with ease. Whatever you decide to use, make sure it’s a high-quality knife. You might have to rely on it.
After you cover your basics, the rest of the items you choose are up to you, and they should be chosen based around your own needs.
It’s Personal To Your Situation And Environment
What you put in your kit is extremely personal. Everyone has different skills that can affect their ability to survive with different gear, and different environments require different pieces of gear to survive in them.
When you go to build your pocket-sized survival kit, there are a few things you should take into consideration:
- Your skills
- The environment you’re in most often
- How long you might have to rely on the kit
If you don’t have the skills necessary to use a specific tool or item, then you should just keep it out of your kit until you learn how to use it properly. You see preppers making this mistake pretty often with their 3-day bags.
They’ll have entire pockets dedicated to paramedic-style medical equipment, and they’ll have no idea how to use any of it. Improperly using some of that gear can be more dangerous than a lot of survival situations. That space would be more useful if it were packed with more food or tools that they knew how to use.
There are a lot of different environments in the United States, and each one requires a very different approach to survive during a crisis. Learn what you personally need to survive in your own environment.
Finally, a small kit isn’t likely to help you out for more than a day or two, but you still need to think about the types of disasters that you’re likely to experience, and you should think about how long those disasters will last.
If your area is prone to flooding, it might be difficult to escape, and you might need to focus on items that allow you to stay alive while you signal for help. Likewise, if your area’s biggest natural threat is a windstorm knocking out your power for a week or more, you might just want to focus on a few basics that will help you get to your car to leave the area.
Survival Tin Content Suggestions
While each kit needs to be made to match its owner’s specific needs, I can suggest a few items for the most common types of kits. These are just suggestions, but they’re a good start, and they should help you get an understanding for what you need in your kit.
Survival Tin For An Urban Environment
In an urban environment, a lot of modern resources will likely be available, and it won’t take much to get them. Shelter is available in tons of forms, and tap water may be available depending on the situation.
So, when I make an urban it, I don’t focus on trying to shove shelter-related items into the kit, and I only add a few water purification tablets to help me out during a really bad emergency.
I also don’t focus on items that can help me acquire food from the wild. When is the last time you saw a rabbit or deer in the big city?
Instead, I’ll focus on having a good knife, medicine, light, fire for cooking, and signalling gear. The city is a dangerous place during an emergency, but it’s also pretty rich in man-made resources. A lot of the things you need in the wild are common in the city.
Most importantly, it’s usually a good idea to pack things that help you get out of the city. The dangers of staying usually outweigh the dangers of leaving during a disaster.
Survival Tin For The Wilderness
Wilderness survival is highly dependent on your location. People living in the north need very different types of gear to survive than what people in Florida or Texas will need. So, take your location into account, and if you travel, adjust your kit for the location you’re going to.
Regardless of your environment, I suggest a knife, plenty of water purification tablets, cordage, fishing or trapping equipment, and at least two types of fire tools. It’s also a good idea to pack a signalling mirror into your kit. Signalling for help is even more important in the wild.
Suggested Kit For The Car
You never know where you can end up when you’re driving. If you’re traveling for vacation or going to a job hours away, you can end up stranded just about anywhere.
For that reason, I suggest making your car kit cover the basics extensively, and there are two tools that I think you should add to it. You need a belt cutter and a window breaker.
One of the most likely situations you can end up in is a wreck. Being able to cut your way out of a jammed seat belt or shatter a window can save your life.
The basic tools you put in your kit should be similar to what you’d use in an urban or wilderness kit. Pick items that benefit both types of survival. You can easily end up in either type of environment while you’re traveling.
How Often Should You Upgrade The Contents?
You should upgrade your kit regularly to keep it at its maximum level of effectiveness. However, the exact time is dependent on what you put in it.
For instance, different medications expire at different times. You’ll want to rotate your medicinal items each time they’re set to expire.
Other items may not expire, but new options may make your kit more efficient. If a new type of knife or tool is made, and it will be more effective than what you have, it may be worth upgrading that part of your kit.
Fishing line also has to be replaced. You might not know this, but fishing line degrades over time. If you’ve had the same piece of line in your kit for a year or two, it’s likely going to snap the second a fish bites onto it.
A good rule of thumb is to upgrade your kit once a year. You’ll probably have to restock your expired items before then, but it’s unlikely that any of your tools will become obsolete within a year.
An Altoids survival kit is a very personal piece of equipment. It’s not going to help you survive for months in the wilderness, but it can give you the little boost you need to survive short-term situations.
There are also mental benefits to designing an Altoids kit. A lot of preppers focus on packing large bags full of expensive products, and they can fit practically anything in them. Those large kits don’t force a prepper to think a whole lot.
A small kit like an Altoids can is the exact opposite. It forces you to put a lot of thought into each item that you store in it. You have to decide what will truly be useful to you.
That in-depth thought process can help you understand your own survival skills a lot more, and it can help you develop your own philosophy on survival in general. What is really important to you? An Altoids kit can help you figure that out.
That’s why I suggest that everyone in the survival and prepping community should make their own Altoids kits. They may not be as robust and bulletproof as a massive bag of gear, but they offer a unique challenge that can help everyone develop as a survivor.
If you’re still not sure where to start or just want to take the convenient route then there are a few kits available to purchase already made. Here are a few to consider.