To make your own survival kit is a real challenge:
The kit has to be light and small enough so you can carry it round the clock but also contain all essentials needed to survive an earthquake, riots, being lost in the wilderness or any other emergency.
Most survival kits you can buy online are crap.
They contain the doubtful items – like fireproof matches or a fishing kit – so manufacturers can market their products as “survival kits” to an unsuspecting audience.
Worse, a good survival kit depends on your location.
In North Canada an additional pair of socks might safe your life but would be of no use to an earthquake survival kit made for southern California.
The best solution is to make your own survival kit.
It’s cheap, personal and nobody deems your survival more important than yourself.
Warning: This guide focuses on real emergency survival. Yes, you can spend less and make an useless kit or spend more and end up with a shitty kit anyway.
- If your kit is too heavy or bulky you will fail to constantly carry it around.
- Weather, season and your nearby environment must influence your kit.
- Think quality not quantity. Don’t add thinks you might need, only what you will need. If you want to spend more money it’s better to upgrade what you already have than to add new unnecessary items to your kit.
Ok, enough rambling :-)…
To assemble your DIY survival kit follow these ten steps:
#1 Choose The Right Container
The container is like your survival kits backbone:
Choose the wrong one and you’ll end up with a broken kit, lost items or injure yourself.
You want something sturdy, possibly water proof or at least water resistant and not too bulky so you can carry your kit around in your car or your briefcase at work.
Avoid plastic zipper bags and leather pouches. They tear too easy.
What works well are either tin cans with a screw or plastic cover or Tupperware made from sturdy HDPE.
DIY survival can kits definitely have the “cool” factor:
You can buy new tins (screw or plastic) or use any old can, grate away the serration on the sides and add your own cover. Imagine your friends faces when you show them a can of beans and out comes a fully fetched survival kit.
Make sure you add some fasteners or your can will open too easily. Rubbers work well but so does duct tape.
Tupperware is less cool but oh so amazing. It’s almost unbreakable, comes in many different sizes and shapes, is water proof and nobody will bat an eye when they see you walk around with some Tupperware.
What more could you ask for?
Buy: Rubbermaid Food Storage Container Set ($9.99 for a set of 18 pieces) and some rubber so the boxes won’t lose their lids too easy.
#2 Survival Knife
Most “ultimate” survival kits include a multi tool, screw driver, hand saw and other survival tools.
I say that’s all bullshit.
That many different tools will weigh down your kit and you’ll either have to invest a fortune or buy shitty crap from China that’ll break on first use.
Instead just add a good survival knife. With some practice your knife can do everything a multi tool does plus so much more.
There’s no substitute for a good knife in your survival kit and if I had to decide between a run-of-the-mill kit and a knife I’d always choose the knife.
Knives are so important I’ve written a guide just about them:
For a survival kit I would recommend a shorter 4 inch knife (most survival knives are longer) so your kit won’t get too bulky.
Buy: Morakniv Companion Heavy Duty ($18.88)
The Morakniv Companion is short, cheap, incredible sturdy (compared to it’s price tag) and simply the best knife for an affordable DIY survival kit.
Check out my Morakniv Companion review here.
#3 Shelter: Space Blanket
You need something to keep you warm and dry at night (or cool at day).
There’s no better makeshift shelter, sleeping bag and emergency cover than a space blanket.
These are the same as the ones in your car’s first aid kit.
They are cheap, light, waterproof and have two reflective coatings on either side:
One to keep the heat in, the other to keep the cold and wet out. Or turn them around and they keep the cold in in and the heat out. They’re so useful it’s best to bring a couple of them.
Buy: Mylar All Weather Blanket ($0.85 each)
#4 Warmth: Fire Starter And Waterproof Tinder
You want to be able to start a fire.
This is handy when you want to prepare food, are cold or need to build a bonfire to alert rescuers. Also great for shameless naked dancing around the fire to celebrate your new post SHTF freedom (hey why not?).
Here most survival kits, even the expensive ones, fail horribly.
I assume you’ve seen kits with waterproof matches before. But let me set you straight: Only idiots carry around waterproof matches. Because…
First, the amount of fires you can light is limited. Got ten matches? You’ll maybe get three fires out of it. If you’re lucky and have good tinder.
Second, every fire starting method is waterproof except regular matches. It’s like crossing a river in a rubber dinghy and choosing your dinghy because the salesmen said its waterproof. But being waterproof is the basic requirement for a rubber dinghy. If you’re smart you’ll rather want some paddles and life vests too.
There are two routes you can go here:
BIC lighters are cheap, last ages are waterproof and you can empty out their fuel for other uses. Don’t believe me? Throw your lighter in the toilet, fish it up, shake it a couple of times and you’re ready to make a fire.
Just ask yourself: If you’re in an emergency would you rather have ten matches… or a lighter?
Buy: BIC Classic Lighters ($1.19 each)
For a couple more bucks you can upgrade your standard lighter to a Zippo. The’re sturdier, last longer and come with a windproof design that makes it easier to light a fire in a real world setting.
Buy: Zippo Brushed Chrome Pocket Lighter ($9.76)
Fire starters (or fire steel) are the ultimate solution for your survival kit. They’re also the most expensive and you need a knife or a flint to use them.
That said the’re just as bulky as a lighter and you can start thousands of fires with them.
A common misconception is that it’s harder to start a fire with a fire steel because they only shoot off sparks. The truth is that these sparks are about 3.000 degrees hot (compared to maybe 800 degrees for a BIC lighter) and will ignite dry tinder like it’s gasoline.
Buy: Light My Fire Original Swedish Fire Steel ($18.40)
To start a fire you’ll always need a heat source and some tinder.
Read more about it here:
You won’t always be able to find dry tinder in an emergency. You can always find something to burn from old furniture, chopped off branches to your stained underwear.
Most bigger things are hard to ignite though and when it rains you got a real problem
It’s much smarter to carry some Vaseline soaked cotton balls in your kit.
They’re waterproof, ignite even in heavy rain, snow or wind and you can jam two dozens into a tiny plastic zipper bag.
Be careful when you ignite them though. They’ll burn in a six inch high flame for up to one minute.
Perfect to incinerate anything from a campfire to your neighbors garage.
#5 Water: Bottles & Filtration
Now that you’re cozy and warm you’ll get thirsty:
The human body can survive for three days without water but symptoms will gradually appear after a couple of hours and include nice things as tiredness, headache, dizziness, fever and seizures.
You really don’t want to get anywhere near that third day.
There is a simple solution to your water problems and it’s called a LifeStraw.
The LifeStraw is a water filtration device you can stick into any source of water and clean, purified water comes out when you suck on the other end.
This filtration technique works flawless to protect you from water contamination, bacteria and other things you don’t want to end up in your body.
You could probably suck water from an outdoor toilet or muddy puddle with your LifeStraw and the water would still be cleaner than what comes out of your tap.
A single LifeStraw filters up to 1000 liters (~264 gallons) of water which is enough to survive for about two years for one person.
Buy: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter ($17.96)
If you’re a Cheap Charlie you can always go for water purification tablets instead. Be wary though because they’re not as safe as you’d think and you’ll have to use them like they’re intended to.
Buy: Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets ($0.17 each)
#6 Food: Peanut Butter, Trail Mix & Energy Bars
It sucks to be hungry.
Yes, you can survive without food for three weeks. But after just two or three days you’ll start to feel symptoms like weakness, dizziness and reduced alertness.
Because your kit has to stay light so we need to pack foods that give a lot of energy without taking up too much space.
And since you’ll only use your survival kit for the first few hours or days until you got home to your bug out bag we don’t have to choose super healthy foods.
That leaves you with three easy choices:
My favorite is an often overlooked super survival food:
Cheap, versatile and loaded with 17 out of 21 essential vitamins and minerals you’d only need 12 ounces (340 grams) of peanut butter to feed a fully grown man for a day (on a 2000 calorie diet).
Even better the calories in peanut butter come mostly from fat. In a survival situation fat is king.
A generous portion of fat compared to carbohydrates will keep you full longer. You’ll also feel more awake and alert because there won’t be any spikes in your blood sugar.
Store your peanut butter either in a small plastic jar with a spoon or stuff it in a plastic wrapper like the sauce’s you get from Asian take out places.
Buy: Jif Creamy Peanut Butter ($5.48) – refill in your own jar and devour the leftovers! Mmmmh!
If you don’t like peanut butter there is always trail mix.
It’s called trail mix because people have used it to stay fed while hiking and traveling since ancient times.
Since it’s made from dried fruits and nuts it’s healthy and energy dense.
And who doesn’t love cranberries?
These are great for their versatility:
Peanut allergy? Have to follow a special diet? Just want some mashed cow brains in your survival snack?
With your own homemade energy bars you can have it all.
Energy bars are easy to make and with a little bit of practice they can be healthy and delicious.
Check out these 34 healthy energy bar recipes. They cover all categories from granola bars, to fruit, protein and nut bars.
The downside is that you’ll have to replace them often because they don’t last too long. But if you enjoy making and eating them that’s small price to pay.
You even could combine your survival kit with your work or school lunch box. This way you’ll never forget your kit at home.
These are my top three choices but there are obviously other foods that fit well into a survival kit.
If you’re a meat lover you can go for jerky, pemmican or even hard cheese without remorse.
#7 First Aid: DIY First Aid Kit
Real, professional, first aid kits weigh something like twenty pounds.
The wide array of diseases, injuries and other painful conditions our body can take on is dazzling.
We don’t want to carry that much though so we’ll have to decide what’s important and what we can leave at home.
The most likely medical conditions you may encounter after a disaster or outdoor trip are cuts, bruises, bacterial infections and fractures.
Therefor you’ll need at least:
- Bandages ($0.33 each) and cloth tape ($4.92) to dress wounds.
- Something to sterilize a wound, like antiseptic wipes ($0.07 each).
- Ibuprofen to combat pain and fever ($0.38 for ten pills) and a good antibiotic (I’d take 3x500mg of Azithromycin but better to discuss that with your doctor).
Don’t forget your personal medical conditions. If you’re allergic or got asthma don’t skimp on that.
The most important thing though is to know what the fuck you’re doing:
#8 Rescue: Cheap Mobile Phone & Whistle
We’d all like to be a real survivor:
With no food except the occasional grasshopper we’d fight trough leagues of dense jungle or even amputee own arm to escape a boulder.
But the truth is that most survival situations end with you being rescued by professionals.
And we should be friggin’ thankful for that. Because when shit turns real it rarely is as much fun as in a TV show or a book.
To facilitate rescue always carry around a charged, old mobile phone.
One of the keyboard phones that people used like ten years ago. They cost next to nothing, keep their charge for two to three weeks if used sparingly and most come with a flashlight so you can hit two birds with one stone.
And no you can’t just use your smartphone. Modern phones run out of battery too quick and are much less sturdy than the phones of old.
Buy: BLU Zoey II Quadband Unlocked Dual Sim Phone ($22.04)
You’ll also need a whistle.
Many people have died just hundreds of meters away from a rescue team.
To locate someone in a big forest or under rubble after an earthquake is hard enough. But if you’re incapacitated all you can do is yell and your voice carries only ten to maybe fifty meters in most cases.
A whistle on the other side can be heard clearly over multiple miles and is a much better way to signal rescuers compared to obscure techniques like lighting a bonfire or using a signal mirror.
They’re cheap and tiny so there’s really no excuse not to bring one.
Buy: UST Marine Hear Me Whistle ($2.99)
#9 Navigation: Compass, Area Map & GPS
You’ll never know where it’ll hit you.
To build your own survival kit puts you’ll have to make difficult decisions.
You don’t know when, where or what is going to happen and you’d have to bring about a billion different things to cover all eventualities.
While most people think about when (flashlight at night) or what (bandages for injuries) they’ll often forget the where.
Nothing is more humbling than to stand in a large stretch of forest and realize that you’re lost.
There doesn’t even have to be an emergency. An exploratory spirit is admirable but can get you in trouble really quick.
The solution is to have a basic understanding of navigation.
Know how to read the sun and stars for directions, bring along a compass and a map of the area you’re in and you can almost always find a path back to safety on your own.
Buy: Classic Pocket Style Camping Compass ($3.63)
In case you’re not a skilled pathfinder you can bring a cheap GPS or at least download GPS app to your phone.
#10 Utility: Aluminium Foil & Large Plastic Trash Bags
The next two items don’t fit into any neat category but are just too useful.
You’d be crazy not to pack them.
Aluminium foil is the ultimate cooking utility. I see people bring cast iron pans and pots in their bug out bags. How ridiculous is that?
With aluminium foil you can boil water, fry meat, bake foraged root crafts in a camp fire or simply use it as a plate so you won’t have to eat from the ground.
You can put a huge amount of foil in a very tiny space and reuse it for… well forever.
Aluminium foil comes with an outer layer of aluminium oxide which prevents any form of corrosion (“rust”).
The only danger to your foil is when you tear it apart carelessly. To make your life easier you can buy extra thick industrial aluminium foil.
Buy: Reynolds Wrap Non-Stick Foil ($3.49)
And there is so much more you can do with aluminium foil!
Plastic trash bags are another great utility item.
You can build a nice survival shelter from branches, saplings and leaves with nothing but a knife but it will rain trough your roof and it’s a lot of hard work.
With some plastic garbage bags you can stretch or clamp one over two branches and done is your survival tent.
They’re also great for all sorts of shenanigans:
So you couldn’t resist to loot that Seven Eleven? Carry more stuff around you didn’t plan to bring in your garbage bags. Use them like a carpet to keep moisture out of your survival shack or build a makeshift sleeping bag.
Buy: Hefty Drawstring Multipurpose Bags ($0.25)
Don’t buy the cheap and flimsy ones, leaf and compost bags are best.
Again, the survivors creative mind is rewarded with many applications:
Wow, well that was a long list but you have to remember that these items are only suggestions.
It’s crucial to tailor your survival kit to your unique location, the most likely emergency and your personal requirements.
There are huge differences between a Southern Californian earthquake kit and a Alaskan outdoor survival kit.
I tried to only include the most important survival items in this list that you’ll want to add to any survival kit. Start with that and then think about what else you might need or what you can omit.
Remember that your kit is for immediate survival as in the first 24 hours until you make it back home or get rescued.
Don’t make your survival kit too heavy or bulky because ideally you’ll want to carry it around where ever you go.