Survival Kit Contents
by Pete Kapustynski
American Survival Guide, March 1994

The obvious question is, what should you have in your survival kit? This is a question that must be considered carefully since you may be betting your life and possibly the lives of your companions on it during an emergency situation. There are many types of survival kits, but in this case we are considering the small ones you would carry on your person, sometimes called "personal kits".

First of all, space will be limited to some extent for a personal kit. Even once you have a kit made up, you or someone else might say, "Well, that's fine but what if..." You can do this until your kit is so big you can bury it in the ground and live in it.

We want to end up with a kit that you can carry around with you easily so you won't ever be tempted to leave it behind. Although I previously deni-grated the use of the "what if" question, if used intelligently, it can help you fill your kit appropriately.

Mental Preparation -- Let's start with something that does not have to be put into your kit, but is probably the most crucial item you can possess. This item is survival information. It's weightless, limitless and free (from your local library), you can't lose it or break it and it can take the place of missing equipment. For example, the knowledge that boiling water for 10 minutes to kill bacteria can take the place of a filter or purification tablets.

Read survival books, but also look at books on camping, cross-country skiing and biking, etc., to get ideas. Read accounts of people who are involved in real life survival situations. There are anthologies with stories of these people, and you can read about those who were prepared for an emergency and those who weren't. The stories tell you how they managed to survive, what they used to do it, and what they didn't need.

Another way of deciding what may be missing from your equipment is to think through a situation, be it camping or an actual emergency, imagining an entire day's activities.

For example, think of a disaster such as an earthquake. Your house is no longer safe. You can go to your sister's house, she'll put you up. What if she's on vacation? Is there a river between you? The bridge will be a bottleneck of evacuees. If it still stands. What if your vehicle breaks down on the way there? Is there a shorter route on foot? Can you get food and water along the way? Imagine the whole trip, from trying to dig your clothing and valuables out of your basement and digging your vehicle out of the garage, up until you arrive at your destination.

If it's a camping trip, think about it from the time you pitch your tent the first night to the next night when you crawl into it again. Think about how you would cook breakfast, make a fire, or heed a call of nature. Imagine all the items you would use in each activity. Are they on your list?

What if you are out hiking after making camp, and a sudden storm catches you away from it? That pleasant nook that shielded your tent from the wind has now become a drainage ditch. You're wet and your stuff is gone. It's about ten miles to civilization. Do you have a map and compass? How will you stay warm once night falls? Do you have any food or water? What if you lose your backpack? What if you fall and break your arm?

Do you need prescription medicines or eye-glasses? What if you lose them? How well can you see without glasses? Should an extra pair be in your kit? How far can you walk without shoes? Through the woods, water, or snow?

What if you're not alone? Do your companions have first aid or survival supplies of their own?

Think through all the steps involved in surviving one of the above situations. Getting food, shelter, firewood. How will you make the fire? How will you sleep? By imagining things step by step, you will know what you need for each activity. You will know if it's in your kit and if it isn't.

Survival Hardware

This brings us back to the question of contents. I once met a green beret who was teaching a survival class to a group of Boy Scouts. I remember him telling the scouts that the bottom line necessities for survival were the ability to cut things and the ability to make fire. This is as good a place to start as any. This is also as small as it can realistically get. Look at the suggestions for survival kit contents in camping and wilderness survival books from your local library. Compare and contrast all of them. Each will have some items in common, but each will also have some differences. Think about each one carefully.

You could look at the contents of survival kits, both commercial and military. For example at a sports-man's show some years ago, I purchased a "KIT, SURVIVAL, PERSONAL. TYPE PSK-2, COM-PLETE PACKAGED OCT 1959." It consists of two plastic cases, sealed with tapw, in a cardboard box. It is so old, most of the things inside are stuck together. There are a number of vials of pills (antibiotics, pain killers, etc.) long since expired. The contents we are concerned with are: (Part I) Adhesive plaster, matches, gauze compress, bullion cubes, sweet chocolate ration bar, absorbent adhesive bandages, aluminum foil, wrapped soaped tissues, sewing kit. (Part II) Adhesive plaster, matches, gauze compress, bullion cubes, sweet chocolate ration bar, absorbent adhesive bandage, wrapped soaped tissues, water purification tablets, hack-saw blade, preventive sunburn lip-stick.

Consider how big the final kit will be. I've seen survival kits that, although quite good, were too big and usually got left in the tent, car, or at home. Find a pouch that you are willing to carry everywhere. Even one you would carry to work or school.

If you can't fit in some favored item, think about moving up to a larger pouch or box. But think hard about how necessary that item is. How big will it make the kit??

How about the pouch itself? Does it need to be waterproof? Can it be used for something else? It is easy to find inexpensive cases or pouches. For example, empty personal NBC decontamination boxes can sometimes be found for as little as 25cents each. They are tough, waterproof and can be clipped to almost anything.

I have an older style cotton duck medical pouch I purchased at a sportsman's show for $2. This is the container for my "core" kit. A few more items can be squeezed into this pouch, and will be. For example, it lacks a sewing kit (I lost it on a trip). The present contents of my "core" kit are: First Aid kit (in a heavy Zip-loc bag); 2 liquid crystal thermometer strips, 10 adhesive bandages of various sizes, gauze sponge pad, roll gauze, roll tape, 24 aspirin tablets, suture set, antibiotic cream.

Fishing kit (a 35mm film canister); bobbin wrapped with 20lb. test fishing line, 5 bobbers, 9 weights, 6 swivels, 40 hooks, 2 fly lures.

The pouch holds the fishing and first aid kits listed above, plus: plastic survival cards, Swiss Army knife, sharpening stone, liquid filled compass, roll of waxed cord (dental floss), roll of 20lb. test monofilament, roll of copper wire (out of a transistor radio), roll of cord, P-38 can opener, vial of multi-vitamins, a heavy Zip-loc bag, flint rod, wire saw, signal mirror, snake bite kit, water purification tablets, waterproof match case (with a flint rod on the bottom), birthday candles (the trick kind that are hard to put out), small disposable lighter.

If camping or hiking, I wear the "core" kit on a belt with a butt-pack and a canteen (with a metal cup and water purification tablets in the canteen cover) and sometimes a sheath knife. Never keep your survival equipment with the rest of your stuff, like in your backpack. Keep it separate and close. I always keep my belt on me or within reach.

In the butt-pack, I put some emergency rations, maps, compass, flashlight, poncho and liner. I also will include other items necessary for the particular area where I am going to travel. For example, if I'm going to a dry area, I may carry an extra canteen or one or more roll-up plastic water bladders, sunscreen, insect repellent, hat, etc...

For cold and snow, the dangers are becoming wet, leading to hypothermia. In the butt-pack, I might put extra food (need calories to keep warm), fire starting materials, spare insulated socks and underwear, polypropylene ski mask, tinted goggles, plastic bags (to cover feet, etc..) and lip balm.

Additional items could be included if traveling by vehicle. Include items to keep the vehicle running, blankets, and additional food, clothing, first aid items, shovel, etc...

The problem with many kits (the two listed above included), if used alone, is that there is no provision to carry water. The kits often include water purification tablets, so how are you going to purify the water? Or boil it over a fire? That is why I include roll-up bladders and tablets, or carry a canteen and metal cup with my "core" kit. Again think about your list of equipment or a list in a catalog. Ask yourself, can this item be used alone?

You can also look at the lists of military survival kit contents in books or commercial kits in mail order catalogs for more ideas on kit contents. For example, Appendix B in the "Survival Field Manual" (FM-21-76) lists the contents for six military issue survival kits of various sizes.

One example is this listing of the SRU-21P Aviator's Survival Vest contents: survival vest, tourniquet, AN/PRC 90 survival radio, .38 cal tracer ammunition, .38 cal ball ammunition, .38 cal revolver, butane lighter, signalling mirror, individual tropical survival kit, foliage penetrating signal kit, SDU-5/E distress light marker, drinking water storage bag, pocket knife, fishing gill net, lensatic magnetic compass.

In the case of the aviator's vest, the vest serves as the core kit. The "survival kit, individual tropical" in the vest could be switched for a cold climate kit, or over-water kit depending upon the terrain you are operating on. A "rigid seat survival kit" carried under the seat of the plane holds all three types.

Look at all the items on these lists and think about each one. For example, how many times can a disposable lighter light? Informal research of a lighter used to light a gas stove about once every other day over a period of approximately 153 days (before it quit) gives us 76.5 ignitions. Being conservative, a disposable lighter may very well take the place of 50 matches. If it gets wet, once dried off, it will still work. But they can fail, so always carry some strike-anywhere matches as well, and a birthday candle or two in a waterproof match case.

Be aware of expiration dates on items, especially food and medicine.

When purchasing equipment try to get the best you can afford. But remember, the most expensive is not always the best. Shop around, comparing different catalogs. Consider the total price for the item; include shipping and the cost for any accessories. With equipment you intend to bet your life on, you'll want to get everything you need to make it perform for you.

What about after you get it? Are there seals or filters that have to be replaced periodically? Can you afford to maintain it?

Don't take everything you read (especially in catalogs) at face value. Question it and think about it. What if this is true? What if this is not true? What if I didn't have this item? Do I own something comparable already?

Do the dame thing with the contents of your present kit. Look at every item in it and say, what would happen if I lose or break this? Can I make do without it? Can I perform a similar function with something else? Can this item be used by itself?

Try to find the item in a store so that you can see its size and weight as well as how durable it looks. Attend outdoor, boating, hunting and gun shows. You can often look at a lot of camping and survival items, from different vendors and all under one roof.

Consider getting equipment that can be used around the home or when camping. The problem with this is, you may break it or wear it out. Consider buying two of the items, one for general use, and one for emergencies. The benefit of this is, you will learn how it works, how easy it is to use, and how easy it is to break. All in the comfort of your backyard, where you aren't betting your life on it. If they don't work well, then dig up your receipts and take them back to the store.

Consider purchasing equipment with multiple uses. For example, the GI poncho with a liner. By itself, it can be used as a ground cloth, as a tent, and as a sack. I've heard of the older, heavy rubber GI ponchos being used to carry injured soldiers. With the liner it can be used as an insulated ground cloth, as a sleeping bag, or as a blanket. The liner alone can be an extra blanket around the house.

Get in the habit of looking at everyday objects and saying to yourself, what can I use this for besides its primary function? For example, a box of dental floss. It says, "Waxed, 50 yards," on it. If you open the box you will find a small spool, less than an inch in diameter. A spool of waxed cord that can be used to tie a piece of torn clothing together, make a snare, etc.... It's very cheap too.

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