Survival kit for your pocket
Fitting inside an Altoids tin, this kit is easy to keep on hand at all times. Spencer Jones

Survival kit for your pocket

Fitting inside an Altoids tin, this kit is easy to keep on hand at all times.

Your life is on the line. Would you rather trust a store-bought survival kit, one in which the components were selected to apply to the greatest number of people while maintaining an affordable price, or a custom collection of equipment that you selected, tested, and assembled yourself? I know what I’d rather have.

In the survival courses I teach, I always recommend that students build their own kits. By doing so, you can ensure that quality and utility are the biggest priorities for individual components. You also get to tailor it to your specific activities and locations. And when you pick your own survival tools, the items become familiar before you need to rely on them in an emergency.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of survival gear out there. The following three kits of mine will give you a good idea of what to carry, and the worksheet at the end of the story will teach you three easy steps to building your own.

Fitting inside a pocket tin, this kit is easy to keep on hand at all times.

This is ideal for anyone who wants to have the essential survival gear along each time they head into the field. Everything fits in the Altoids tin [BRACKET “1”]. It meets all your needs except for shelter and protection, but add a survival blanket to your pocket and you’ll be covered.


  • Mini-Match magnesium fire starter [BRACKET “8”] with steel striker [BRACKET “9”]. One side is magnesium and the other is flint. You scrape shavings off the former and then light them with a spark from the latter.
  • Waterproof-windproof matches [BRACKET “4”] with a striker [BRACKET “3”], placed in a mini zip-seal bag, then rolled and taped.
  • 5 Tinder-Quik fire tabs [BRACKET “22”], which light even when wet. They’re great for stuffing in all the extra spaces of a survival tin to eliminate rattling.
  • Candle [BRACKET “17”]. I cut a 1/2-inch-diameter emergency candle down to the height of the Altoids tin, so it fits in one corner.
  • Photon Micro-Light II [BRACKET “6”], a bright LED flashlight.


  • Water bag [BRACKET “7”]. A Reynolds Oven Bag does the trick, cut down to fit in the tin, with a 1-quart marking as a guide for using iodine tablets.
  • 20 Potable Aqua water purification tablets [BRACKET “26”], repackaged in a mini glass vial.
  • 50 feet of braided fishing line [BRACKET “27”] wound on a round sewing-machine bobbin.
  • Fishing tackle kit [BRACKET “13”] in a plastic tube. Inside are assorted hooks [BRACKET “14”], swivels [BRACKET “15”], and split shot [BRACKET “16”].
  • 10 feet of 24-gauge snare wire [BRACKET “2”].


  • Custom-made signal mirror [BRACKET “29”]. Commercial versions are all too thick to fit in this kit. I used a durable, ultrathin piece of plastic called mica (locksmiths slide this between a door and jamb to push the lock back). I glued on a piece of Mylar film, rounded the corners, and made a sighting hole.


  • 20mm AA liquid-filled button compass [BRACKET “21”]. It’s the best-quality instrument that will fit in the tin.


  • Commando Wire Saw [BRACKET “5”], a small survival cable saw.
  • 2 X-Acto knife blades [BRACKET “20”], without the handle. You should always have a real knife on your person; these blades are for backup.


  • Small packet of antibiotic ointment [BRACKET “23”].
  • 2 butterfly closures [BRACKET “11”].


  • Several yards of nylon string [BRACKET “12”].
  • 2 magnetized sewing needles [BRACKET “18”] for sewing or making an emergency compass (floated in water on a leaf, the needle will face north).
  • Small piece of glue [BRACKET “28”], cut off a glue-gun stick.
  • Small laminated card with instructions [BBRACKET “10”] for the water purification tablets and fishing knots.
  • Fresnel magnifier [BRACKET “24”]. This lens can start a fire by magnifying the sun’s rays to a point on your tinder, causing combustion.
  • Safety pin [BRACKET “19”], for repairing clothes and straps.
  • 2 feet of aluminum foil [BRACKET “25”] for making a cup, signaling, cooking fish, etc.