Survival Kits-Part 1

A Few Thoughts on Survival Kits

There are about as many opinions on what makes a “good survival kit” as there are people on this rock, so this article is by no means meant to be the Be All, End All on what is or isn’t a good survival kit. What you decide to put into a survival kit will depend on a number of factors:

  • The area you are operating in
  • Your budget
  • Your skill sets
  • Your ability to “make do”
  • The time of year
  • Your mind-set

A survival kit can be as simple or as complex as you care to make it. As a general rule you your kit should always have at least a good, quality knife and a way to make a fire. With just those two things you can make or gather everything else you will need to survive, as long as you have the skills necessary, though it does make things a bit tougher having just those two things in your kit.

While I am a firm believer in having primitive skills, I am always a bit skeptical of people who rely solely on those primitive skills for their survival. Having the right gear at the right time, as well as those primitive skills, is a better approach to your survival, whether it is because you are lost in the woods and the sun is going down or TSHTF.

Survival Kit Basics

As I mentioned earlier, survival kits can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make them. The survival kits I will cover in this series of articles will include:

  • DIY “Altoids Tin” Type Survival Kits
  • Military Issue “Pocket Survival Kits”
  • “Complete” Store Bought Survival Kits
  • Larger DIY Survival Kits

Regardless of which type of kit you decide is right for you it should have at a minimum the following:

  • A good knife
  • A way to start a fire
  • Water or a way to purify water
  • A way to navigate
  • Food or a way to gather food
  • Shelter or a way to make one
  • Cordage (550 cord, rope, etc.)
  • Basic First Aid Supplies

Having a good, quality knife can literally mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation or if TSHTF. This is one area you really need the best knife you can afford. I don’t mean buy that nice and shiny, high-speed, low drag $600 custom knife you saw at the gun show because, “If it is $600 it MUST BE A GREAT KNIFE!” knife. That isn’t always the case. I have had a couple of those in my life (all gifts) that didn’t last more than a few hours under survival conditions.

Conversely you definitely don’t want that 10 for $10 knife from the flea market either. You are looking for a knife with a full tang, simply put that means the blade and handle are one solid piece of steel or if you are going to use a folding knife you want one with a liner lock locking mechanism. the liner lock is a piece of steel that drops in behind the blade when open to hold it in that position. Avoid folding knives that have the push button on the back if you can. They use a small hook of sorts that slips into a small notch on the back of the blade. After time the steel will wear down and not provide a positive lock allowing the blade to fold back into the handle, usually at the worst time possible.

Those hollow handle survival knives may look all bad ass but they WILL break under survival use because they are very weak where the handle and blade join together so just leave them where they belong, Rambo Movies.

Gerber, Buck, and SOG among others each make good knives that are more than suitable for survival use that won’t set you back an arm, a leg, a DNA sample, and your first-born male child. I use either a Gerber Paraframe Survival knife or a SOG Combat Tanto in our survival kits. Neither knife will set you back more than $35.00 and will deliver years of service.

If you are going to go with a folding knife Gerber, Buck, SOG, and Kershaw among others all make good liner lock folders that are more than capable for a survival kit.


You should have at least three (3) ways of starting a fire in your survival kit.

  • Fire Steel
  • Storm Matches
  • Lighter
  • Magnesium Bar
  • 9 volt battery and fine steel wool
  • Magnifying glass/Fresnel Lens
  • Flashlight Reflector

Fire in a survival situation is your best friend. It allows you to signal for rescue, provides light, allows you to purify water, cook food, and it gives you a psychological boost, especially after the sun goes down. It can also help keep beasties at bay during the night.

If you are going to rely on nothing but primitive fire starting methods like a bow and spindle, fire sticks, etc. you are greatly reducing your chances of getting a fire going. You may not be able to find the proper materials, or they may be too wet.

By having at least three ways of starting a fire you enable yourself to create fire regardless of what Mother Nature is throwing your way.


Cordage can be as simple as your shoe or boot laces or as high-speed. low drag as mountaineering rope you’d use for scaling the North face of Everest. Regardless of the type of cordage you choose you should have at least 10′ of it.

550 cord or Paracord is one of the best choices you can make for a survival kit. Its lightweight and strength make it a great choice. You can pull the inner strands of the 550 cord for fishing line or snares if you need to. You can use it to lash shelter together to keep you out of the weather, make repairs to clothing and gear, or about a thousand and one other things.

By replacing your boot laces with 550 cord you increase the amount of cordage you are carrying. The same is true of “Survival Bracelets”, most of them are made with 9′-10′ of 550 cord. Add what you should have in your survival kit, your boot laces, and a survival bracelet and you have 30′-50′ of 550 cord and that will only help you survive.

First Aid

Any survival kit should have at least a basic first aid kit that consists of a few various sized Band-Aid’s®, some “moleskin”, and alcohol prep pads or some other way to clean a small wound. Next to hypothermia or hyperthermia the leading killer in a survival/SHTF situation is from traumatic injury leading to infection. Being able to treat the most common injuries will increase your chances of survival.

Like survival kits the first aid component in your kit can be as simple or as complex as you think you’ll need. Personally I like to have a fairly comprehensive first aid component in all the survival kits I put together because it is Better to have and not need than to need and not have.

The first aid component if your survival kit should be in addition to the IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) you carry when ever you are in the woods. It is an adjunct to that IFAK and there if you have to ditch everything or you lose everything and find yourself in a survival situation.

Now that you know the basics of  a survival kit in coming articles we will show you examples of various survival kits that you can buy or put together yourself.

I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train to Survive!


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