How To Build The Best Survival Kit

Best Survival Kit
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I knew an old guy who used to tell his students that your chances of surviving are directly proportionate to how much knowledge you carry in your head. Not how many gadgets you carry in your survival kit. In this post we will be looking into building the best survival kit, and some very good alternatives.

Of course you can survive without a survival kit. If you are an experienced outdoors person who has dedicated your life to mastering the primitive survival skills. Unfortunately, many people who travel in the outdoors, or become involved in a survival situation, have not been so dedicated.

But even skill does not always guarantee your survival. Almost every book written by an experienced survival expert advocates carrying a survival kit. Personal survival kits are the foundation for basic survival. They are your first line of defense.

If you always maintain and carry a personal survival kit, you will always have the basic components for survival. The important thing to remember is “always carry it with you.” If you don’t have your survival kit with you when you need it, you’re already at a disadvantage.

When you buy a commercial survival kit, get one that provides high quality components designed for real survival.

Best Commercial Survival Kit

There are many types of commercial survival kits available on the market today. Some of these kits are well made and provide the basics, some are sufficient, and most are lacking in serious survival components.

Although many of these kits provide the basics, the quality of the components must fit the selling price of the kit. I’m not opposed to commercial survival kits, but there are three reasons I prefer self-made kits:

1. Oftentimes a commercial kit does not provide the highest quality components. Items are not always selected because they are the best for your survival.

Often because they fit a pre-determined budget. I have always felt that you should spend as much as you can afford on the individual components for your personal survival kit.

After all, you might depend on your kit for survival, and what is your life worth? This is no place to be frugal.

2. Design your kit on an item-by-item basis. This way, you are familiar with the individual components. By packaging your own kit, you not only know what each item is (after all, you selected them).

But in an emergency you know where each item is located in your kit. When you buy a kit that is pre-packaged, the kit is often tightly packaged to fit in the selected container.

You lose the flexibility of choosing a container that allows space for extra items you might want to add. If you do purchase a pre-packaged kit, be sure you become familiar with it before you need it.

3. Making your own personal survival kit is not difficult. You can determine what you want your kit to accomplish and design it around those requirements.

One of my personal favorite commercial kits is the VSSL Survival Kit (shown in the picture above) The beauty of it is that you customize the contents of your own kit. You can chose your own container, determine the specific components and customize it for your particular needs. It can be the perfect survival kit for you, not one designed by a person who has no idea what your personal needs are. Only you know what is right for you.


The Basic Functions Every Survival Kit Needs

I am often asked how a person knows if they have all the required items in their survival kit. Have they forgotten anything that is essential?

I always ask them what type of activities they have to perform if they get in an emergency or survival situation. Although the components are important, you don’t have to remember the actual component groups by name.

Instead, remember those important tasks you must perform. These tasks will remind you of the component groups. As we all know, a fire is an important aspect of survival.

So, you should have a means in which to start a fire.

When putting together a personal survival kit, keep in mind the basics.

The basics identify specific functions that will have to be performed in order to endure a survival situation. By understanding what these functions are, you gain insight into the type of items, that should be in your kit to accomplish those goals.

The items in a survival kit should allow you to perform the following functions:

  • Build a fire using more than one technique
  • Construct a shelter in various environments
  • Signal for help using more than one technique
  • Gather and purify drinking water and gather food
  • Navigate back to civilization
  • Carry out basic first aid

Your survival kit should be made up of components selected for the specific purposes outlined above. The component selection process considers not only the use of a component, but also the size.

Obviously, if you are going to build a mini kit for a pocket, you need the right components that are small enough to fit into the desired container.

Wilderness Survival Kit

Component Groups

Here is the list of components for a survival kit, no matter the size:

  • Fire and Light
  • Shelter & Personal Protection
  • Signaling
  • Navigation
  • Water & Food Collection
  • Medical
  • Knives & Tools
  • Multi-Purpose Items

In some cases, I recommend more than one item from a component group. In the case of fire, an important task, I like to have at least three ways to start a fire.

For example, for signaling you could use a whistle and a signal mirror. You never know what the situation may require, so having more than one item from a group provides you with more options when you need them.

Seasonal & Environmental Factors

Keep in mind that survival kits can also be based on seasonal or environmental factors. Of course, we cannot always forecast the environment where a survival situation may occur.

That is why the basics always remain the same. However, certain additional items may be chosen for the season or environment that you plan to be in.

The type of shelter and clothes you choose for a summer hike will be different than the ones you pick for winter activities.

This would be a seasonal factor. An example would be choosing a machete as a tool for a jungle environment, whereas an ice ax would be necessary for a snow environment.

A good knife and folding saw would be appropriate for a wilderness area. Keep these variables in mind when designing your personal survival kit.

Sizing a Survival Kit to Your Needs

Personal survival kits can be broken down further into mini and small kits (which can be carried on your person), medium kits (which can be carried in a fanny or small backpack), and large kits (which can be carried in a large backpack, vehicle, boat, plane, etc.).

The size of the kit depends on what you are doing and how much you are willing to carry. Sometimes a combination of kits can be handy, such as a mini kit in your pocket, a medium kit in your pack, with a large kit in your vehicle. Even though I am an advocate of carrying items that are multi-purpose, I also believe in redundancy.

What I Have With Me As An Every-Day Carry

Before we discuss the various sized survival kits, let’s discuss our real first line of defense: you and what you carry on you. This is normally referred to as “EDC,” or every-day carry.

These are the items that you carry on your person every day. Not occasionally, but every day! They can be carried in your pockets, on a key ring or other ways.

I carry the same items in my pockets every day, no matter what I am doing. So, I always have the same items with me and I don’t have to think about it.

What I Carry In My Left Front Pocket:

  • [amazon text=BIC lighter&asin=B00IMVL206]
  • [amazon text=ARC-AAA flashlight&asin=B01MPVXS6B]
  • Keyring with truck keys and a tube with a $20.00 bill
  • [amazon text=Leatherman Micra tool&asin=B000JCN0FG]
  • A [amazon text=mini-flash drive&asin=B005FYNSZA] encrypted with color copies of all my important licenses, passport, and documents.

What I Carry In My Right Front Pocket:

  • [amazon text=Zippo Lighter&asin=B001E57S96]
  • A [amazon text=space pen&asin=B001E103CY] and a very [amazon text=small Victorinox two-bladed knife&asin=B00004YVB3]
  • A split ring that holds a [amazon text=mini folding saw&asin=B072QWPH45], two [amazon text=Ferrocerium rods&asin=B01HLVV7K2], two strikers for the Ferro rods, a [amazon text=Fox 40 whistle&asin=B0002UPQH0], a small aluminum capsule with fire starters and a socket for a bow and drill

My left rear pocket holds:

  • My wallet, which also contains a [amazon text=one-hand fire starter&asin=B016BF9EKO] and tinder.
  • [amazon text=Fresnel magnifier&asin=B01KADV8HK]
  • [amazon text=Band-Aids&asin=B00006IDL6]
  • a mini zip-lock bag of steel wool and a flat floatable compass.

I wear a [amazon text=tactical nylon belt&asin=B075323GNV] that has a zippered compartment in the back that holds a [amazon text=cable saw&asin=B00GMR0MZS].

My right rear pocket holds:

  • a [amazon text=small notebook&asin=B07488JMMP]
  • a bandana with toilet paper wrapped inside
  • a Kydex pallet that is wound with [amazon text=35 feet of parachute cord&asin=B00UHHPKJ2]
  • The left side of my belt holds a pouch which contains a [amazon text=Gerber Multi-Tool&asin=B00KYO627M] and a [amazon text=Victorinox Farmer&asin=B0007QCOO2]
  • The right side of my belt holds a fixed blade knife and my Blackberry.

As you can see I carry more than most, but I have been doing it for as long as I can remember.

I unload and load my pockets the same every day. I am always my first line of defense.

Supplemental kits

A mini supplemental kit supports your EDC.

I have also created mini survival kits that contain the right components for a specific environment. This kit will fit almost anywhere and when I go into the field I grab and stick it in a jacket pocket.

Here is the list:

  • a small [amazon text=emergency water bag&asin=B00K6JH1XE]
  • [amazon text=purification tablets&asin=B000IBY64W]
  • [amazon text=snare wire&asin=B004YMXOWG]
  • magnetized needles
  • [amazon text=butterfly bandages&asin=B00A2XIZO8]
  • [amazon text=antibiotic ointment&asin=B00H2T9K3K]
  • a compass
  • some tinder


Survival Kit Grenade

Mini Survival Kits

Mini kits are the easiest to carry, so there is really no excuse not to carry one. On the other hand, they provide the least amount of survival equipment, especially shelter items.

Therefore, select your components wisely. Always going for the smallest sized items and multi-purpose features.

This small tin kit was shown in Build the Perfect Survival Kit. The bag was made to hold the contents so they could be lifted out to use the tin as a pot.

Mini kits can be packaged in any small container, from an Altoids tin to a flash drive case. If the container is small and will hold the items you want and still fit in a pocket or small area, you can make it work.

You can also carry a mini kit in a small belt case and supplement it with shelter items or other larger items like a full size compass. You can carry it as is, or always remove the mini kit and stick it in your pocket. The photographs illustrate some of the various configurations you can come up with.

H20 Condor

The [amazon text=Condor H20 Pouch&asin=B01MR0IDV6] comes with a shoulder strap for carry cross chest over one shoulder. A MOLLE pouch has been added to the back to hold an Esbit Folding Pocket Stove.

Another pouch on the side for a signal mirror and mirrored compass. The large integrated front pouch holds a survival blanket, emergency poncho and a small survival kit in a waterproof pouch. The large central section holds a large titanium pot with a stainless steel Guyot water bottle inside the pot.

By using a Nalgene cap on the Guyot bottle, instead of the large cap that comes with the bottle, a titanium mug fits upside down on top of the bottle. A bail for the Guyot bottle slides down the side of the pouch and the entire rig makes for a good day hike or short term survival kit.

Small & medium survival kits

Once you move from a mini kit, you get more room to add more components, such as shelter, and larger items if you wish. There is nothing wrong with carrying a mini kit along with another kit.

In the case of a small kit, using the mini as part of it and adding items, as described in the mini kit section.
You will also find that, as you use your kits, you will make modifications to switch out components for new or better ones, or you might find other ways to make your kit more user friendly.

Various pouches are available that are made to carry water bottles, cross chest, over one shoulder. These bottle pouches have various pockets on the outside or the ability to add additional pouches. This makes them great containers for small survival kits, with room for the addition of a water bottle and even a cup or pot.

Maxpedition makes one called the [amazon text=10×4 Bottle Holder&asin=B00158507E], and Condor makes one called the [amazon text=Condor H20 Pouch&asin=B01MR0IDV6]. It should be noted that Maxpedition, although very well made gear, has a proprietary system to attach various pouches to their products.

The Condor products use the regular MOLLE (MOdular Lightweight Loadcarrying Equipment) fastening system, which is being used by the U.S. military, making the modular pouches of various manufacturers easily attached to Condor’s products.

I prefer the Condor H20 Pouch, as it is just slightly larger around and is less square than the Maxpedition 10×4 Bottle Holder. This allows me to more easily get a pot, which fits over my water bottle, out of the pouch when needed. Of course this is only personal preference and is in no way meant to recommend one over the other.

I have built several different day-hike kits in these type of pouches, as they allow me to carry a small survival kit with some minimal shelter items, as well as water, a pot, and, with a couple of additional small MOLLE pouches, a small stove, a compass and signal mirror.

I am not a big fan of hydration bladder packs for survival, as I find the bladders difficult to keep clean in the field. However, many people like them and they are especially handy for day hikes. Many of these small hydration bladder packs are ideal for supporting a small or medium survival kit with some additional shelter items.

For medium size kits, there have been various side carry bags introduced which allow you to carry a kit, again, cross chest off one shoulder. Maxpedition offers various models such as the [amazon text=Fatboy Versipack&asin=B004Q5E5F6] and the [amazon text=Jumbo Versipack&asin=B001MTG35E].

Tactical Gear offers a similar type product called the PUSH Pack. These bags are large enough for medium sized survival kits and are easily placed over one shoulder. The larger Maxpedition Jumbo Versipack even has an outside pouch fitted for a standard Nalgene or Guyot-type bottle.

I have purchased various configurations of these side carry bags and, although they are becoming very popular with many people, I find the weight of the bag on just one shoulder uncomfortable over time, normally resulting in a stiff neck. This is especially true as they get larger.

Another nice option for medium sized survival kits, especially if they will be for a waterborne situation or attached to an ATV or snowmobile, is a [amazon text=Pelican case&asin=B0002INQT2]. They are indestructible and waterproof. This is also a nice way to go for vehicle and aircraft kits.

As you can see, there are many configurations for packaging a survival kit. Everyone has different needs but the regarding the basics everyone needs the same. It comes down to personal preference and how skilled you are with certain items. I hope this post gives you an better idea of what to focus on and what to keep in mind when you are building your own kit. What are some of the items you carry with you everyday? Or do you have any alternatives that work better for you? Let us know in the comments below!

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