Personal survival kit, pocket tin or PSK, we call it a lot of things but in the end it’s the same. A small kit we assemble with what we consider bare minimums, usually in a tin of some sort to assist in a real life survival situation. What that means to me may be different to you, what I consider a must have may not be on your list or may be given a lower priority. While the categories we look to provide a leg up in are the same, food, water, fire and shelter, how we all get there is going to be different. There are links at the bottom of the article for most of the items discussed here, my lovely site software won’t allow me to rename the links and insert them so I had to hang them on the end.
I’m asked a lot about what I consider the most important thing to have in a kit, my response is always the same, that depends. Some of what I carry in my kit here in Florida may be different than what someone in the Bitterroots might need or want. And I would highly caution anyone on buying a premade kit, especially one of the mass market kits. These are designed to do one thing, make the company selling them money. If you’re looking at one of these, ask yourself, do I trust my life on the contents of this box?
And therein raises another issue, cost. Cost is always a concern, more so today for many folks. The kit I am about to detail is not cheap to build, I have nearly two hundred dollars invested in it at the moment. The reason for that is that everything I put in it I know I can rely on, I would stake my life on it though I sincerely hope I never need to.
The first thing to find is the container you want to use. In this case I used a Aluminum Adventurer Tin by BCB International. This particular tin is 7.3″ x 4.6″ x 2.3″. Some may say it’s a little large and it is on the bigger side but it works for me. As I said before, what is right for me may not be for you. You may want a small pocket kit, it may fulfill your needs, in that case, build what’s right for you. One of the benefits of using a tin is you can dig with it, boil water or cook in it. With the size of this tin it works great for any of these uses. The two side clasps have a rubber roller on them to act as tension. These are easily removed to allow use over a fire. Another benefit of this box is the lid has a gasket, it’s waterproof. In my opinion that’s an important feature.
So let’s look inside, I’ll go through the contents by category. First is fire. No such kit would be complete without a firesteel. For this kit I included a 3/8 inch ferro rod. You’ll notice there is no handle, it’s all rod, the whole thing can be used. But as one is none, two is one and three is for me, there are other methods of fire starting. My favorite is the Bic lighter, I’m a proponent of using the best method first, if you start with there and it doesn’t work you have options, it’s always easier to go down, much harder to go up. Then there is the Fresnel lens, while included as a fire starter it has other uses. I’m over forty and with increasing years comes decreasing vision. So having a magnifying lens can be helpful. Aside from the ability to make a spark, dry tinder is probably the most important part of a fire lay, so I included some quick tinder tabs. These aren’t intended for immediate use, if natural material is available I’ll use it. If it’s a rainy day or everything is soaked or I’m wet and staring hypothermia in the face, I’ll go to them immediately.
The next category would be water. Being able to obtain safe drinking water is critical, as we all know. This is one place the really small kits fall short in my opinion. Being able to stick your filter into a water source and get a drink is important, being able to carry water is critical if you need to move. Condoms have been used in kits for years, but as many a new surprised father will attest, they break. Now imagine trying to carry one of these water balloons through the woods. Here in Florida, the palmettos would make short work of them.
With that in mind I found an alternative in a high quality plastic bag. There isn’t a real name, the label calls it a Whirl-Pak Stand-Up Bag. These are heavy duty and carry a liter of water, I’ve included two in the kit. Along with the Sawyer Mini filter and Aqua tabs I have the ability to drink, purify and carry water. The purpose of the two bags is that one could be used for dirty water. If I’m on the move, or have to move I can fill a bag with dirty water and drink it with the filter and straw right from the bag. Water is so important that I wanted to ensure I would have it, there are fifty Aqua tabs in the kit, that’s twenty-five gallons of treated water. The tabs weigh nothing and take up very little space. Add the filter and I have all the fresh, safe water I’ll need.
On the theme of multiple uses of things, here to we can adapt these items. The straw for the filter can be used when burning out containers, just keep it from direct contact with the coal. The water bags can even treat water using the SODIS method. For those unfamiliar with the concept it’s pretty simple. Fill the bag and leave it in direct sunlight for eight hours. The UV will sterilize the water. Don’t short yourself on water, dehydration is an ugly thing.
With fire and water out of the way, food comes next. These kits are made for short term survival, but we cannot dictate the circumstances around such a situation. I’ve included a rather healthy fishing kit. It includes six rubber grubs and three weighted heads. There are a total of fifteen hooks, some may say that’s excessive. But hooks break off and get lost. It’s important to have enough. With this many I can set lines in multiple places. There are three large hooks included, these aren’t for fishing with. They are there to make a gaff, or to lash to a pole and straighten out to make a gig. They can be used for a number of things. There are two small floats and some split shot as well.
The fishing line is wrapped around a small bobbin, two hundred yards of ten pound braid. That’s enough line to set many, many lines. There is another bobbin as well, spooled with a heavy waxed string. This is for repairs to gear or anything else where it could come in handy. The string goes good with the brass wire for snare making. The string can be used for snare parts saving the wire for the actual snare. The green tube is a sewing kit I added the fishing kit to so it contains the usual sewing kit items, thread, needles, pins, thimble and a couple of buttons. Being able to keep your clothes serviceable is critical, after all it is part of your shelter.
While I didn’t include it in the categories, rescue is just as important, if you want seen that is. For the kit I included an MPIL, Marker Panel, Individual, Lightweight, from ITS Tactical. A visual signal is key to rescue and the fluorescent colors stand out in any environment. Of course no kit would be complete without a signal mirror and whistle. The signal mirror can also be used to look at some of those hard to reach places to check for unwanted hitchhikers, hygiene is critical as well.
Shelter is an obvious need when stranded. Where you find yourself will dictate just how elaborate it needs to be. As I said before, your clothes are the first part of your shelter so always dress accordingly. I am always amazed when I board a plane and see people in shorts and flip flops. How in the hell do they think they would get out of a burning plane? Oh that’s right, it never happens. Well, for those of us who think it could, dress for it. If you’re going into a wilderness setting you should be appropriately attired. It will keep you warm, keep the bugs off to a degree and keep the sun from scorching your skin. Beyond that, shelter is required.
In the kit is sixty feet of cord, the 250 pound variety and a space blanket. The blanket can be used for shelter, wrapping up in, building a smoker, the uses are endless. The cord can be used with natural materials to construct a suitable shelter, only your imagination and the material at hand will limit the possibilities.
If you have room some first aid items should be included. In this kit are assorted band-aids, some pain relievers and a couple of antiseptic wipes. I’ve also included some antibiotic ointment, burn cream, hydrocortisone cream and a pack of lip balm. A pair of tweezers rounds the kit out. These were selected based on my location in Florida, the lip balm could be critical if exposed to the sun for long periods. This could also apply to those caught in a high altitude or cold environment. If you are on maintenance meds you may want to include those. Think about your first aid and use quality items.
The last items in the kit are tools. One of the most important things in a kit to me is a knife, while I always have one on me, this ensures I do. I included a ESEE Zancudo folder, a quality carbon steel blade at a good price. Being as the blade is carbon it will work good with the ferro rod. Since the only thing worse than no knife is a dull one, I included a DMT card steel. I know someone out there will say to use a rock, but this is where geographical differences come in. I live in Florida, the only rock we have is Limestone and even that is hard to find around my area. Additionally there is a small combo razor and saw, part of two is one, one is none. I included a bandanna as well, the uses of which are too numerous to list and limited only by your imagination.
Knowing which direction you’re going is a good thing when you’re wandering around in the woods. If you have a general idea where you are then orienting yourself may allow self rescue. With that in mind I included a Suunto Clipper compass. You can wear it on your watch or clip it to your shirt pocket. If you don’t know how to use a compass, learn now, before you need it.
There is also a Best Glide Commando Saw, the original eight wire saw. This is not a cheap Chinese saw, this is a Mil-Spec tool and will hold up to use, but it isn’t bulletproof. The BCB saw has two rings, one smaller than the other so it can slip through the larger of the two to allow use as a snare. When using these, people often stick their fingers in the rings and pull the saw over the wood. That’s what kills these saws, the proper way is to cut a limb and use it as a impromptu bow saw. It makes the work easier and the saw last much, much longer. The last item is a Streamlight Nano and spare set of batteries. This is pure snivel gear, it’s not needed but would be very nice to have. Since I have a light on me at all times in normal life, I wanted to make sure I had one in a pinch too.
No tin full of stuff is going to save your life. But combining it with your skill, knowledge and most importantly, your will to live can tilt the odds in your favor. Take time to learn skills in fire making, shelter construction, trapping and snaring. Bushcraft is a great hobby, it’s a fantastic way to introduce kids to the outdoors and build their confidence. When my young daughter built her first fire on her own she was so excited she couldn’t stand still. I was proud of her, she’s learning skills she will have for the rest of her life. While survival tins and gear can be lost, stolen or destroyed, what’s in your head will always be with you.
Links to the items listed above.
Sawyer Mini Filter
ESEE Zancudo Folder
DMT Diamond Card
Brass Snare Wire
Saber Cut Razor Saw