If you’re planning to make your own survival kit, don’t forget about the prepper’s favorite — the Altoids tin survival kit.
Every prepper worth his or her salt has made one of these little emergency kits, or at least put together something similar in preparation for whatever brand of SHTF disaster they feel may be coming.
The schools of thought on what should go into a custom survival kit vary widely and there are even different types of kits you could out together (which we’ll discuss later in the article).
The one I’m going to share with you in this article is my personal kit. Just like my pill bottle survival kit, it has a little of everything in it, and it changes from month to month depending on what I have available (and if I use anything in the kit that needs to be replaced). I’ll eventually do more specialized emergency kits, but for now, let’s talk about this one.
Why Use an Altoids Tin for a Survival Kit?
Survivalists and preppers have been using little metal mint tins (Altoids tins) as survival kits for a while now. They’re small, lightweight, durable, and multi-functional. They may not hold enough survival gear to get you through a hardcore TEOTWAWKI event, but they’ll hold enough to do in a pinch for light emergency situations.
These little metal tins are ideal for making charred cloth (or “char cloth”). Just cut up some 100% cotton fabric (like these all cotton bandanas), place inside, and put it on the fire. If you don’t have any spare cotton fabric to use, you can actually char small twigs and other natural material. Once the process is finished (when the smoke stops coming out of container) and the Altoids tin has cooled, you can just wipe down the outside of the container and keep the char material stored inside until you need it.
Using sandpaper in varying degrees of grit, you can sand the ink off the bottom of the tin and bring it to a mirror finish. Now you have a tool to inspect areas of your body that are hard to see for ticks, leeches, injuries and wounds. If you do find a wound, that mirror will serve as a visual for you to be able to repair the wound with a bandage or sutures.
With that mirrored finish, you can also signal planes, boats, and other rescue vehicles to draw their attention. The flash of sunlight off the bottom of the polished Altoids tin is sure to be just the thing you need when rescuers aren’t able to see you plainly. The more prepared you are for rescue, the better your chances of being rescued if you ever get lost or stranded. (You could alternatively just include a signal mirror like this one if you can’t get that good a polish on your Altoids tin.)
The metal tin can also be used to purify water and cook food. Sure, it’s only a small container, but it’s a container, nonetheless. If you’re in danger of being dehydrated or starving, even small amounts of purified water and cooked food is better than nothing. Remember, this isn’t necessarily for bug out purposes, just last-chance survival. (To be quite honest, I would be more likely to purify water using the hot stone method, but still, this Altoids tin method is an option.)
What’s in my Altoids Tin Survival Kit
Before we get into the meat of the article, let me start by giving a disclaimer. This emergency kit is just that — an emergency kit. It is NOT meant to be a replacement for ANY major piece of kit in your bug out bag. Even if you don’t have your main pack with you, you should still carry a smaller day pack or haversack with full-sized pieces of gear inside and attached as necessary. This Altoids kit is meant to be redundancies of redundancies.
That said, when you make your mini emergency kit, you’re free to make it however you like. You’re not limited by what’s on my survival tin checklist. Put in it whatever you feel you will need and leave out the things you think aren’t a good fit for you.
As I said before, this is what’s currently in my Altoids tin kit. I’m sure it will change (constantly), so any suggestions you have as to what I should consider putting in there are welcome. Keep in mind self-reliance (even in an emergency situation) is less about the things you carry with you and more about the level of training you have.
- Container – The Altoids tin itself is a container. No, it isn’t going to get you gallons of water all at one time. When you do have water, it certainly won’t boil large amounts. However, the addition of a simple non-lubricated condom would get you a gallon of water at a time, and it takes up very little space.
- Cordage – I actually have 4 forms of cordage in my kit. They each do various things, some of them redundant (which should be the goal of any emergency survival kit).
- My paracord case is made from a single strand of 550 Type III MilSpec Paracord that is 47′ long! I’m thinking very seriously about writing a DIY Paracord Case post to show you how to make your own… and I may even sell them, too! Paracord can be used in so many ways, I won’t bother trying to list them all here… instead, you can read more in my article “Survival Uses for Paracord During SHTF“.
- 50′ fishing line – Part of the “food procurement” area of my kit, but can be used as tripwire, snare wire for small game, emergency sutures, and gear/clothing repair.
- 50′ waxed dental floss – Believe it or not, dental floss is generally VERY strong stuff. It can be used as emergency sutures, extra fishing line, gear repair, and of course removing food from your teeth.
- 36″ jute twine – Jute twine is more about fire than being used as standard cordage. However, it can be used in a pinch if you need something temporary (because it’s hard to get jute twine tied tight and it not eventually fall apart).
- Cutting Tool – As of this post, my only cutting tool in the Altoids tin is just a simple razor blade. I actually had a small multiknife (very similar to this one) that had a small pair of scissors, can opener, bottle opener, flat head screwdriver, Phillips head screwdriver, corkscrew, nail file and knife blade. However, I typically keep that one in my pocket anyway. In fact, I’m putting together a “Keychain Survival Kit” that I’ll be writing about soon that will include this knife.
- Combustion – Possibly the most important part of this kit is the fire section. If you can make fire, you can purify water, cook food, harden wooden tools (as demonstrated in this video), stay warm, and it’s a huge psychological morale boost. My fire implements include:
- The jute twine I mentioned earlier which can be fluffed up and will catch a spark from a ferrocerium rod, flint and steel, or even a lighter that has no fuel. Speaking of which the jute twine is wrapped around…
- …a lighter. For obvious reasons, a lighter is part of my kit. Let’s face it — it’s fun to practice making fire the primitive ways, but in an emergency, wouldn’t a standard Bic lighter be a lot easier?
- Birthday Candle – I have heard people talk about how stupid a little, tiny birthday candle is to have in a kit, but when you’re trying to start a larger fire, it will help extend your initial flame (and save the fuel in your lighter). In fact, if you get one of those trick birthday candles that can’t be blown out, your chances of getting a larger fires started increases! Also, if you have some better tinder, you can light the candle and drip the wax onto the tinder to help it burn slower and higher (or just shave the candle down onto the tinder).
- Cotton Facial Pad – Tinder material, plain and simple. Fluff up the cotton, and it will catch a spark just like jute twine (only easier). You could also soak this in wax and let it harden, or coat it with petroleum jelly as an accelerant. In fact, if you have some antibiotic ointment in your kit, you can spread that onto the cotton in place of another accelerant.
- Aluminum Foil – 12″ x 12″ square of heavy duty aluminum foil. This can be formed into a container to obtain, carry, hold and purify water (kind of like a small aluminum tin). You can also use it behind your fire as a heat reflector, or underneath your fire to keep it off the wet ground.
- First Aid Supplies – This is where a lot of people argue over little details. Some people say, “if you need any of this stuff, you don’t need any of this stuff.” Meaning, if you need a band aid, you can really do without one… however, I disagree. Sometimes you really do need a band aid. If you’re not planning to put any first aid kit supplies in your Altoids tin survival kit, maybe you could make a stand alone Altoids tin first aid kit (which I’m making, as well… with an article to come).
- Alcohol Swabs – I keep two alcohol swabs in my kit because they’re versatile. They sterilize a blade or needle if you need to cut your skin or dig out a splinter or something. They also sterilize your skin in preparation for wound care (sutures, bandaging, etc). Aside from that, they’re great as fire accelerants. If they’re soaked with excess alcohol, squeeze it out onto the cotton facial pad we talked about earlier.
Band Aids – “If you need a band aid, you don’t really need a band aid.” That’s the exact phrase I heard the other day in a video about “things you don’t need in your Altoids tin survival kit”. The point he was trying to make is, either the wound isn’t bad enough to worry about a band aid, or it’s bad enough that you need more. To be quite frank, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have needed a band aid. I’ve cut my finger pretty deep before and a band aid did the trick to close the wound. In an emergency situation where you’ll likely be using some sort of knife or other sharp blade, the chances you’ll slip and cut yourself increases due to nerves, lack of food, low morale, or a host of other reasons. If you cut yourself somewhat deep, that band aid will definitely help. That said, you could add butterfly sutures to your kit for deeper wounds, as well (which I will likely add in the near future).
- Ibuprofen – …or acetaminophen. Some sort of anti-inflammatory pain relief. Even a minor headache is enough to lower your morale to the point that you make a critical mistake. I have a couple in a short length of plastic drinking straw that is sealed on each end by pinching it with a pair of needle nose pliers (or a multitool) and burning it with a lighter to keep it waterproof (like I did my fire starter straws).
- Allergy Pills – VERY important! You never know when you’ll have an allergic reaction to something and will need this immediately. Mine are in the original blister pack they came in, but you could put a number of them in a length of straw as with the Ibuprofen.
- Antibiotic Ointment – Again, put this in a sealed length of straw so that it doesn’t leak out and get everywhere. This is not only for treating wounds, it can also be used as fire accelerant.
- Safety Pins – Just about every Altoids tin survival kit I’ve ever seen has a couple of safety pins in them. They’re good for clothing repair, improvised fish hooks, digging out splinters, or you can even pin a note to your tent…
- …with note cards and pencil (not shown). There are also small pens that would fit into the tin, but any way it goes, the note cards can be used to either make notes about your surroundings, leave a note for someone looking for you, or actually map out the area you’re in. Plus, if all else fails, they’re good tinder.
- Cash – I’ve got $2 in my kit for now, but I usually keep at least $5 or $10. If you’re in an urban environment, the reasons are obvious. If you’re not, you should be trying to get there, at which time you’ll most likely need some food and water in your system.
- Fishing Kit – Even the most basic way of catching fish can be very successful. I keep 1 lead weight, 1 freshwater fish hook, and 50′ of 8 lb test monofilament fishing line. I’ll probably add a second weight and hook to the kit since they take up very little room (two is one, one is none). I could go with a heavier test line, but I’m not trying to hook a monster — just something to keep me from starving.
- Water Purification Tabs – on the offhanded chance that I find water and can’t boil it, I’ve always got these as backup. Again, I have these sealed in a plastic drinking straw. I would sooner carry water purification tabs in a small Altoids kit than in my bug out bag — chances are I’ll always be able to boil water if I have my main gear with me.
Other Possible Items for Your Altoids Survival Kit Checklist
Some of these things I don’t have on hand as I’m writing this article, but I will eventually have some of them. Some will go into separate kits (that we’ll discuss in later articles). At any rate, here are some alternate items that could go into your Altoids tin:
- Unlubricated condom – Sounds gross, but a condom actually holds up to a gallon of water. As an added bonus, you can put some water (roughly a pint) into it, push out the air, twist up the end, and use it as a lens to start a fire.
Whistle – An emergency whistle is good for audible signaling for help. 3 short whistles (because everything in survival is done in threes) is a signal for help… or you could blow 3 short bursts, 3 long, and 3 short (Morse code for SOS).
- P38 can opener – Also called the “John Wayne” can opener, it is a common item in an Altoids emergency kit. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind having one, but I would probably put it in an urban Altoids tin as opposed to one geared more towards bushcraft. How often will you find canned food in the wild? (But then, how often would you find a McDonald’s, yet I have money in there… (beat you to it, trolls! lol))
- Tape – As I redo this kit later, I’ll most likely add some flat-pack duct tape. Other options would be gorilla tape gaffer’s tape, and electrical tape. You could wrap the sides of the kit with some of this tape to help keep the contents waterproof.
- Ranger bands – These are basically rubber bands that have been cut from bicycle or motorcycle inner tubes. They’re rubber (whereas “rubber bands” are usually latex), so they tend to last longer than a typical rubber band. You can use them to hold your Altoids tin closed, and if you find some that are big enough, you can wrap the entire tin so that it’s waterproof!
- Plastic bag – A small Ziploc style baggie can be used for water collection as well as gathering wild edibles, holding bait that you find for fishing, and if done right, you can pack it with sand, grass and small pebbles then cut a hole in one of the bottom corners to use as a makeshift a water filtration system.
Fresnel lens – I have one of these in my Altoids tin fire kit (which we’ll cover in a future article). They’re about the same dimensions as the tin itself, but they’re flat, so they take up very little room. Use a fresnel lens to focus the rays of the sun into a narrow beam to start a fire (think back to when you burnt ants with a magnifying glass as a kid).
- Small pen/pencil – I mentioned this was in my kit, but in my research, I found this telescoping pen (that comes with three refills) that I’m going to be ordering for my Altoids survival kit! This thing is seriously cool because it will fit right into the tin, but when you need to write with it, you can telescope it out to a full-sized writing utensil!
- Small flashlight – I had one of these in my kit originally, but I took it out. I don’t think it’s as important as many people may think, to be honest. Either you have a fire and can see what you need to see at night, or you shouldn’t me moving around much in the first place. Get some sleep, why don’t ya?! Actually, I’ll probably be adding one of these to my Urban Altoids tin (future article in the works) as well as my Keychain survival kit (future article also in the works).
What’s in your Altoids Tin Survival Kit?
The coolest thing about the Altoids tin survival kits is that they’re so small and compact, they weigh next to nothing, and you can carry multiples without weighing yourself down. Make a second kit… and a third. Heck, you could make and carry half a dozen if you’re wearing BDU style cargo pants (which I often do).
I’ve named a few other kits earlier in this article that I’ll be making and writing articles about for you in the near future, but I failed to mention vehicle first aid kits. You can make family emergency kits for each member of your family with items specific to that person. The kids will love knowing they have their very own first aid kids kit!
In fact, I’m wondering what I could possibly do to create a homestead kit or garden kit with an Altoids tin. Some sort of self-sufficiency kind of tin. I’ll have to think on that one. If you have any ideas, feel free to leave me a comment below to let me know!
If you’re planning to make a bunch of these diy survival kits, you don’t have to go buy up an entire stock of Altoids mints. You can usually find wholesale metal tins on Amazon or other places across the internet. Before you know it, you’ll be making a survival kit for every little detail of your life!
Here are a few examples from some of my friends:
- Urban Altoids Kit from Ed That Matters
- Altoids Tin: Urban EDC First Aid Kit or “My Boo-Boo Kit” from Ed That Matters
- EDC for Women from Homestead Wishing
Additional future articles to come on this topic include:
- Fire Kit
- Fishing Kit
- Urban Survival Kit
- Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (S.E.R.E.) Kit
- Vehicle Emergency Kit(s)
- Bushcraft Survival Kit