The humble Altoids tin, designed many years ago as packaging for ‘The Original Celebrated Curiously Strong Peppermints’, has since become the survival kit container of choice amongst the prepper and survivalist community. Pocket-sized, robust, readily available, and with a seemingly TARDIS-like interior volume, this little mint tin just happens to be a great way of keeping a survival kit neatly and securely stowed away.
There’s no set list of survival kit ‘ingredients’ that go into an Altoids tin survival kit; more often than not they are very personalised kits, with components carefully selected based on the location and the climate in which the kit carrier regularly finds themselves, as well as on personal preference and experience. In fact, the very building of an Altoids tin survival kit is a thought-provoking exercise in preparedness, as the kit carrier should be thinking about the main survival priorities, and how each item would help to address them. Building up a survival kit with one of these tins is also seen as a bit of a rite of passage for survivalists and preppers, so I thought I’d try my hand at it as a little project, and see how I fared.
So I began with the tin itself. The first obstacle was the 50g of sugary peppermints that filled the tin. These were swiftly dealt with by eating a couple of them, before emptying the rest into a grip-seal bag to save ‘for later’. So now, armed with a clear mind and minty fresh breath, I could think carefully about the survival priorities that my kit should help me address. I’ll list the main survival priorities below, in no particular order.
Fire is an extremely useful survival tool, because as well as its main function of keeping your body warm, it can also help out with addressing some of the other priorities, like water purification and signalling.
So I made sure that there were at least two methods of ignition included in my kit, as well as some reliable tinder. For ignition, I went for a BIC Mini Lighter in a grip-seal bag, and a small ferrocerium rod as a backup (to use with a knife, which I included in this kit for many reasons). For tinder, I added a bunch of 10 lengths of waxed jute twine. This waxed jute remains waterproof until it is needed, at which point it can be untwisted and fluffed up into a ‘tinder ball’, with the added bonus of increased burn time due to the wax.
The need for water is a crucial survival priority. Depending on climate, just a couple of days without water could kill you, and in the shorter term it is essential for effective functioning of the body and mind. So in order to stay properly hydrated, you will need to have a supply of water that isn’t going to make you ill.
To address the need for drinking water in my kit, I included a condom as a water gathering and containing vessel, along with 10 NaDCC water purification tablets, each good for purifying a litre of water. Boiling suspect water is another method of making it fit for consumption, and in an emergency the Altoids tin could be used as a vessel to boil up 50ml of water at a time.
A lack of suitable shelter means that you’re exposed to whatever elements the climate decides to throw at you, which in the UK usually means wind and rain, and we have it relatively easy here. However, exposure to wind and rain can quickly be fatal; hypothermia is a very real killer. In warmer climates, heat stroke and dehydration are what make shelter a priority.
So this is the priority that I found most difficult to address within the confines of the Altoids tin, simply because by its very nature even a portable shelter will take up a large space. Even a foil emergency blanket would have been suitable as a makeshift survival shelter, but there was no way that was going to fit into the tin. What I was able to include, though, was 10ft of 550lb paracord, for lashing together a shelter frame from large sticks, and a useful-sized Spyderco Grasshopper folding knife, for cutting the paracord, and preparing plant material and strips of bark for cladding the shelter. While we’re on the subject of knives, I think of them as an extremely versatile and multi-functional general survival tool, but an interesting point to make about them is that they are far less useful in areas with little to no plant life.
Navigation / Signalling
The importance of navigation and signalling stems from the fact that they are the ways out of a survival situation, either by getting to safety, or getting help to come to you. So once you have stabilised and addressed the immediate priorities, your attention should turn to these two.
The inclusion of a 20mm liquid-filled button compass in the tin means that I would have a way of getting my bearings and finding my way out, even if landmarks were proving tricky or the Sun was obscured by clouds / the Earth.
Signalling has been addressed in two ways in this kit; audibly, with a whistle, and visually, with the ability to make distress beacons from fire, and a retro-reflective surface installed in the lid of tin. These retro-reflective surfaces brightly reflect both visible light and infra-red, which would really aid rescue at night when a search party / helicopter is sweeping the area.
Blood loss (in the short term) and infection (in the longer term), would both be real showstoppers in a survival situation. So anything that you can include in a survival kit to help yourself or others with addressing these can only be a good thing.
In this kit, I included two IPA alcohol swabs, for wound cleaning / sterilisation. Wounds can then be dressed with a makeshift bandage from torn clothing. For immediate blood loss concerns, a tourniquet can be created by using some of the paracord, or the condom (stretched and tied).
In a survival situation, food, while arguably a lower-priority concern, is still a useful thing to be able to find. In colder climates particularly, where your body burns through calories far more quickly, food can be vital for sustaining your body (and your core body temperature). In all situations, having something to eat helps keep morale up, and that’s one of the keys to survival.
To this end, my Altoids tin includes a mini fishing kit, which comprises hooks and weights (as well as safety pins and a sewing needle) sealed in a small length of plastic straw, then wrapped in 8 meters of 6lb fishing line. Also, a spear can be fashioned using the earlier mentioned Spyderco knife, lashed to a long stick with some of the 550lb cordage. So with some perseverance and skill, I could potentially feed myself with fish and small game.
The finished Altoids tin survival kit
Here’s the finished article. One extra addition I could make is to waterproof and seal the tin with some nice wide butyl rubber ranger bands, which would have the added bonus of making great emergency tinder / kindling. But for the purposes of this exercise, I wanted to stick to things kept within the confines of the tin. Making it was a nice little afternoon exercise, and of course it did help that I make survival kits for a living, having many of the components to hand. If you haven’t tried making one of these up before, I’d really recommend it, as it gets you thinking about how things could play out if you found yourself having to survive with just what you had in your pockets and your immediate surroundings. Also, at the end of the exercise you end up with a nice little kit to keep stashed away in your pocket or rucksack, which hopefully will be the best survival kit you never have to use.