There are many off the shelf survival kits on the market but I wouldn’t buy one. They often have poor quality components that don’t work very well, if at all, and others that don’t serve any practical use; and you might want to vary what you have in a survival kit depending upon environment, time of year and so on. By making your own survival kit you can carefully select what you put in it ensuring both quality and usefulness.
So this post lists a bunch of stuff that you might consider carrying in your survival kit and covers the basics of shelter, fire and water. I’ve included a couple of snacks but not included snares and fishing equipment. The typical survival situation lasts 3 days, after which you are likely to have been rescued or are dead. Because we can go 3 weeks without food, I’ve not treated it as high priority here. Unless you are a skilled and experienced hunter you might well expend more calories in the search for food than you recoup by eating it.
I haven’t gone with the standard ‘tobacco tin’ survival kit. Whilst this type of survival kit fits in your pocket or a small belt pouch so that you can have it on you at all times, this self imposed constraint severely limits what can be included. The survival kit I’ve put together can’t be described as being either small or lightweight, coming in at 3kg (with the water bottles empty; it’s 4.7kg with both water bottles full). So certainly heavier than the “The Two Kilogram Survival Kit” described by Mors Kochanski in his field manual (a must read for anyone interested in survival skills, I recently downloaded it for £1.60).
To that point I should state that there is a lot of redundancy going on in my kit and not every item has more than one use, an often quoted golden rule in choosing equipment to put in a survival kit. But if you’re going outdoors for the day it isn’t an inordinate amount of weight to carry. And most survival situations begin as a day hike, not as week long expeditions where people are generally well prepared anyway.
It’s not cheap either, adding up to £195, much more than many off the shelf survival kits, although I’ve seen some that come in at well over the £100 mark. But I guess it’s worth asking yourself how much you value your life at. And at least this way you know that the things in your survival kit are fit for purpose and not going to break or prove ineffective. If you re-use stuff you already own, shop around and thin out this kit, I suspect you could put something similar together for less money.
Important : Whatever you put in your survival kit, make sure that you’ve practised time and again with each and every single piece of equipment in it, in as many different conditions and environments as you can. Don’t let the first time you use something or try something be in a survival situation, it’s unlikely to go well.
Acknowledging the issues above, why have I put together such a hefty survival bag anyway? Well, predominantly I’ve put together this kit (and more to the point written this post) for people who come on one of our Survival Courses; it’s here as an aide memoir if you like, so that our students can take a look when they get home and want something to refer back to. And as much as anything it’s about triggering thought processes rather than serving as a prescriptive list. And to help with that thinking, I’ve added a list of the kit I’ve put in, what it weighs and how much it costs (although the latter shouldn’t affect what you put in your survival kit).
If you’ve read “98.6 Degrees – The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive” by Cody Lundin, some of the stuff here will seem familiar and that’s because I took a lot of good advice from that book. But it’s far from a straight copy, I’ve left some things out and I’ve included some extras with the idea of tailoring it towards the sort of temperate forests we get in the UK, the environment with which I’m most familiar. And as I’ve already said, I’ve also taken on board guidance from Mors Kochanski. Not only that, keeping on the ‘Dual Survivor’ theme, I’ve also taken into account Dave Canterbury’s 5Cs – cutting edge, combustion, cover, container and cordage.
I’ve used a 10 litre shoulder pack and added two molle side pouches. I’ve replaced the olive green paracord with orange (you could use fire cord here) and added a few pieces of orange gaffer tape to make the whole thing more visible (you’ll see this as an ongoing theme with my survival kit, I don’t want to lose my fire steel because it’s in woodland camo and I put it on the ground and can’t find it again). Of course you could just use a small backpack; you might already have one or even buying one new is likely to be cheaper than the combination shown here. And I suspect a small backpack will weigh less as well.
Tigris shoulder bag | 450g | £15.99
Molle side pouches x 2 | 400g | £12.42
In the photo above is an emergency bivvy bag in orange, a foil survival blanket and a nylon ground sheet.
The ground sheet is 1.8m x 1.8m and has tabs on the corners, meaning that it works very well as a tarp. There is some duplication here as the emergency bivvy bag can be used for the same purpose. But if you have both, you’ve got a tarp and a ground sheet, reducing heat lost to the ground.
Either of the bivvy bag or ground sheet can easily be converted into a poncho to stop you getting wet in the first place, and the bivvy bag, being bright orange, can be used to signal for help.
Rab ground sheet | 290g | £12.00
Orange bivi bag | 336g | £3.50
Emergency foil blanket | 51g | £1.00
Lighting a fire is likely to be high priority, so I’ve given myself plenty of options to achieve that, including a fire steel, weatherproof matches and a lighter as well as tinder and accelerants. At 134g and a little over £16 this fire lighting kit is a must carry.
Orange Light My Fire Scout fire steel | 25g | £8.99
Magnesium powder | 7g | £1.00
Lifesystems Windproof matches | 37g | £4.25
Petroleum jelly | 30g | £1.29
Cotton wool balls | 3g | £0.10
Gas lighter | 9g | £0.50
Bio-ethanol fuel tablet | 23g | £0.50
The average person can last 3 days without water, but you can start to feel the effects of de-hydration much quicker than this, especially in extreme temperatures or if you’re carrying out hard physical work. So make sure you carry kit that will allow you to filter and purify water.
I’ve included a collapsible 5 litre water container, an emergency filter, some water purification tablets and some flexible hose.
I’ve also put in 2 water bottles, a 1 litre wide mouth bottle with some paracord taped to it (the wide mouth makes it easier to fill up. The cord means I can lower it into a stream without getting myself wet; it’s also a handy way to carry some duct tape). There’s also a water bottle with a built in filter; these are good bits of kit but I wouldn’t want to rely on it solely, anything technological is prone to failing.
A container is an incredibly versatile item to have with you and the first item in Mors Kochanski’s 2kg survival kit. I’ve included a 1/2 litre pot in the survival kit. I’ve put it in the ‘water’ section as it provides the ability to boil water, providing another option for purifying (the 1 litre water bottle fits snugly inside it, so not taking up any extra space). And then you could dispense with the water bottle filter system, reducing the overall weight and cost.
Water-To-Go water bottle & filter | 113g | £15.32
1 litre water bottle | 168g | £2.99
5 litre collapsible water container | 65g | £6.99
1m clear flexible hose | 5g | £1.50
Water purification tablets | 1g | £2.48
Emergency water filter | 33g | £11.41
1/2 litre stainless steel pot | 155g | £12.99
Navigation & Signalling
Finding direction is likely to be important and whilst you can use shadow sticks, your watch or the moon to find direction, a compass is going to be helpful. The compass also has a magnifying glass, providing another fire lighting option.
I’ve added a whistle, a signalling mirror and some orange surveying tape. The tape can be used for signalling for help or marking out a path for either yourself or others to follow.
Compass | 35g | £4.99
Orange flagging tape | 9g | £3.07
Orange distress whistle | 8g | £1.50
Signalling mirror | 10g | £2.75
If you find yourself in a survival situation, it might well be because you’ve been injured. So it’s important to carry a few simple things to help yourself out. I’ve included steri-strips, various sized dressings and a bandage.
Steri strips | £2.50
Large dressing x 2| £2.78
Bandage | £0.50
Eye dressing | £1.24
Finger dressing | £0.30
Mepilex wound dressing | £2.00
Large plaster x 282 | £0.30
Total weight 82g
I’ve also added in a few over the counter meds. Alkaseltzer is an effective pain killer, but it also can be used to carbonate water; fizzy water is absorbed into the body quicker than still water, so if you’re de-hydrated this could be a useful hack. Also included are caffeine tablets; if you’re feeling weary, need a pick me up or need to stay awake, these are likely to help. I’ve also added some Immodium and Diarolyte in case of diarrhoea, although the Diarolyte is also handy if you have been de-hydrated.
You might want to add paracetamol and ibuprofen, both inexpensive.
Alkaseltzer | £2.55
ProPlus | £2.65
Diarolyte | £1.20
Immodium30 | £1.80
Total weight 30g
The bandanna can be used for many tasks from an emergency filter, a container, a bandage, a hat, to signalling.
A knife is a must so I’ve put in a Morakniv HD. The knife sheath has a hole in the bottom, so you could put some of the cotton wool in the sheath and use it as a water filter.
The glow stick can be used to provide light, mark your camp if you have to venture off at night, and maybe more importantly, to signal for help.
I’ve put 2 torches in my survival kit, plus spare batteries for each. Two torches might be overkill, but I do like a head torch for some tasks and a hand held torch for others. I’ve taped a short piece of paracord around the hand torch so I can hang it up easily.
15m of paracord – hopefully no need to say anything more about this choice.
Whilst a person can go up to 3 weeks without food, sometimes you just need an energy boost, so I’ve put a couple of Snickers and some dextrose tablets in my kit.
Cree torch | 76g | £2.63
Head torch | 60g | £2.00
Spare batteries | 71g | £2.50
Orange Mora knife HD | 136g | £17.99
Glow sticks | 25g | £1
Ziploc bags x 4 | 2g | £1
Orange duct tape | 10g | £5.49
Snickers | 86g | £1.00
Dextrose tablets | 48g | £1.00
Bandana | 21g | £1.00
So there you have it. As I said at the outset this is as much about getting you to think about what survival kit you should carry as anything, so I hope it proves to be of some help. Feel free to leave any comments you might have.
You can see photos from our survival courses, as well as all of our other courses on our Facebook page.