Dedicated To The Outdoors

Improving Your Survival Kit

Improving Your Survival Kit by Gary Benton
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I’m always visiting survival web sites, looking at lists of survival kit items, weeding out what I think I need and what I don’t really need. Some sites offer premade survival kits, which might be okay for home use, but I hardly need a 300 pound kit that will support a family of 5 for two weeks. I tend to visit sites about Special Forces, Army Ranger, Seals, Air Force Survival Instructors, and other professionals that I know are knowledgeable on what it takes to stay alive in the wild. Granted, there are some good civilian sites on survival as well, only I come from a military background and tend to trust my own. Keep in mind; you want a general survival kit, not a combat or escape and evasion survival kit. Those types of kits will have items in them that you’ll never need in a general survival situation; camouflage stick, IR strobe lights, Escape and Evasion manual, emergency survival radio, and other interesting, but not need items. You will wanted to be seen, where these kits help keep you hidden.

Since I do a lot of backpacking, the last thing I want is to carry additional weight and never use the item. With survival gear, hopefully, you’ll never use it, but you should always carry it. Nonetheless, when the time comes to use it, do you have what you honestly need to survive? Do you even carry a survival kit? Many folks don’t, but mine is my life assurance policy.

I never go out into the field without my survival kit with me. It’s not very big and it doesn’t weigh much, but it could prove to be a life saver. I actually carry most of it in a small plastic box about three inches wide and about five inches long (about the size of a band aid box). I have it in my right pants cargo pocket at all times. What do I have in it?

1. A quality penknife or jack knife.

2. Condoms for water storage, unlubricated.

3. Water proof matches or storm proof matches.

4. Flint and steel, or a metal match.

5. Water purification tablets (Check the expiration date periodically).

6. A long strip of aluminum foil folded up to cook with.

7. Fishing kit, i.e., hooks, sinkers, and some line, nothing fancy.

8. Commercial back packing first aid kit (with instructions). I carry a very small one.

9. One small pack of gum and one of hard candy (energy).

Also, I carry four luxury items on my person.
Good quality space blanket – To retain body heat.
A poncho – To stay dry during rains.
Dry socks – 2 Pair, I hate wet feet.
About twenty feet of 550 cord (parachute line) which has multiple uses from making shelters to setting snares. The inner portion of the line is made of many smaller lines, which have different survival uses.

I have found I can survive with the above items and all of this stuff weighs almost nothing. I carry it all in one cargo pocket and still have lots of room left.

Each of us can deal with a survival situation with more or less gear, depending on our field experience and our survival education level. Having taught the art of wilderness survival for over 12 years, I don’t need as much gear as a new person entering the woods for the first time. I am confident I can start a fire using flint and steel, or a metal match, so I don’t need a bunch of fire starters and a lighter. I do carry a lighter, in the event I’m injured and can only use one hand, but I don’t plan on using it. Then again, who knows what the future holds?

While visiting a friend’s site,, I found it interesting that my friend, retired US Army Ranger Rick, suggested some luxury items as well:

Sponge – To gather water from wet/moist leaves.
Assorted Nails – Making spears and arrows.
Small Bar of Soap – To maintain personal hygiene. (small hotel size is great, but I have them in my first aid kit)
Pocket Rain Jacket – Protection from the weather.
Sheet of 4X6 Plastic, Clear – Building shelters or gathering rain water.
Water Bottles – Carrying water. (I use large baby bottles instead)
Elastic Band – To make a sling shot for gathering game.
Binoculars, compact type – Looking for help, routes or game movement
MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) – Emergency meal
Drinking Cup, folding type – For solar still, you can use the clear plastic sheet, and water
Solar/Dynamo AM/FM Radio – Reducing boredom and know the weather forecasts
Hand Sanitizer – Personal hygiene and starting fires

First, let me say that Rick knows the survival business, he’s a prior US Army Ranger, and what he’s suggested is a good list for some folks, but not for me. For instance, I’ll never carry nails, because I’ll never make a bow and arrow to hunt with. Some of you may want to do that, but since most rescues occur within 24 -48 hours, I hardly expect hunger to be a serious issue. I prefer to place snares out and try to catch my game, because traps work 24/7. But, I will carry hard candy and perhaps a MRE or two depending on where I’m heading. MRE’s are military meals, used in the field by our troops, and if you can find them you’ll be lucky. If MRE’s are not available, consider some of the dehydrated or other commercial meals on the market today. When you see an item listed for a survival kit, stop and ask yourself if you’d honestly use the component. If not, leave it out of your kit.

When I hunt, I usually have binoculars, rain jacket, and a small radio so I can keep updated on the weather. To me, those are hunting items and not part of my survival kit, but it couldn’t hurt to add them to your kit. Just don’t duplicate what you already carry. The only thing I double up on and feel you can never have enough of, is a method to start a fire. I like to stay warm, like the comfort of a fire on warm or cold nights, and hate to eat procured meat raw.

Finally, the hand sanitizer is an excellent idea and it can be used to start fires with, because its main ingredient is ethyl alcohol, which is highly flammable. I don’t carry it, but I do have insect repellent in my first aid kit, which can also be used to start fires, as can lip balm and some other first aid items. The key, I feel, is to know which items you carry offer more than one use, and then they’re good to have.

Areas to consider when making a personalized survival kit are:

First aid and hygiene
Shelter Construction

You’ll notice food is last and that’s intentional. With over 30% of the U.S. obese, food is often the first thing most of us think about, when it should be the last. Few American’s ever miss a meal, granted some do and we have our poor, but for most of us eating is just a habit. We not only eat when we’re not really hungry, we eat too much most of the time. A healthy person can go for weeks without food, but perhaps only a few hours without water, depending on the temperature. Of course, a lot depends on your medical condition too, so stay up to date on your physicals and shots. Be sure to carry extra prescription meds in your survival kit or first aid kit.

You can pick 10 different survival professionals and each of us will suggest different components in a survival kit. But, each of us will be concerned about the basic survival needs: first aid, shelter, fire, water, clothing, and food, because they are priorities for maintaining life. Few of us worry about food, while all worry about good clean sources of water, shelter, fire and first aid. Luxury items are just that, but I have a pet peeve about wet feet, so I carry my extra socks, while yours might be something all together different, like a triple-antibiotic ointment. Personalize it to your comfort level and still cover all the survival bases.

Avoid purchasing your survival first aid kit at a military surplus store, although you can find some real bargains, because many of the components with a shelf-life will be expired. However, whistles, survival mirrors, and other “hard” gear can be a real steal and most of us prior service members like to use gear we’ve used before. We trust it and know how to use it. Just use care when buying surplus, because there is a reason the U.S. military is not longer using the equipment. It may be overage quantities, over aged, or no longer serviceable.

Take a serious look at your survival kit. Isn’t it about time you updated it or removed outdated items you know you’ll never use? Look at your first aid and survival kits, check expiration dates and change components as needed. Many items in both kits have items with a service life of only so long, so pull them if they’ve expired. Look at my suggested luxury items and Rick’s, then do some more looking on line. Add only those items you think you’ll really use and don’t overload the kit, because you’ll have to carry it.

Take care and stay safe in the woods.