Always Have a Personal Survival Kit with You

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Personal Survival Kits: An Introduction

A personal survival kit (or PSK, if you like initialisms) is one of those pieces of equipment like a fire extinguishers or a can of pepper spray: you probably won’t need it, ever, but when you do, you need it bad and you need it right now.

I’ve carried mine with me around the world on camping trips, long hikes, deployments, and just regular vacations. I’ve never been in a survival situation, but it has come in handy a few times—if you’re caught on the trail with the sun going down, basic fire/shelter/sustenance tools are a blessing. And the truth is that setting up a personal survival kit is quick and easy. Unlike full-sized survival kits, it’s also relatively cheap.

Looking around online, it seems that Altoid-tin survival kits are still all the rage. I can see why: the tin itself is a handy little container that offers some level of protection from damage and weather, and it’s sized right to fit into a pocket or belt pouch pretty easily. You can use whatever container you like, but I’m going to start there, and then move on to some other additions and “nice to haves.”

Any survival kit has to fit your basic needs: shelter, food/water, and energy. The first two parts are pretty obvious, but “energy” can mean anything from heat, to light, to electricity. In a personal survival kit based around a small container, you’re going to need to keep it all as basic as possible. Let’s look at a list of needs:

First and foremost: fire.

You don’t need a high speed military grade lighter: a simple convenience store Bic and some waterproof matches will do. Just make sure you glue a piece of the striking material for the matches to the lid of the tin.

A small knife or multitool.

Again, nothing fancy: just a good quality blade for basic tasks like making a feather stick or cutting cordage. I think everyone ought to have a knife on their person, but your kit needs a separate backup.

Dental floss.

This is an under-appreciated resource: it can be used to suture wounds, make small snares, as fishing line, and a whole host of other tasks. Keep a roll around.

Fishing hooks, line, and sinkers.

Again, just a few, and small. They can keep you fed in an emergency.

Fire starters.

You get your choice here: lint balls, fire logs, small candles, or whatever works for you. In an emergency survival situation, you’ll want fire as quick and easy as possible.

A couple of small safety pins.

These are another great multi use item for emergency first aid (splinters and blisters), as a needle for repairs, or the like.

A small flashlight.

Again, you should have a larger one on your person, but keep one here.

Duct tape, paracord, or both.

Sometimes, you have to hold the world together, whether you are making a shelter or fixing your gear.

Space blanket.

Yep, those tin-foil looking things. They can keep you going if the weather refuses to cooperate with you.

Putting this all together is a matter of taste. I put all the small items in the kit, wrapped the tape and cordage around it to hold the space blanket on, and then stuck it in my back pocket. If you’re crafty, you can weave a belt pouch out of paracord and kill two birds with one stone. Regardless of how you do it, your kit stays on your person: not in your bag, not in your car, not even in your jacket.  Keep it on your belt or in a pants/shirt pocket so you can’t lose it or leave it behind.

And remember: like all things you need to practice and hone these skills with this equipment in advance of go-time. If you need it, you’ll be glad you did.

Photo: Alexander Becker