Basic Survival Kit
Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in trying to be prepared that we overlook the more basic items of our plans. Such is the case when I recently realized that I hadn’t covered a basic survival kit yet. I have lists and lists about what to put in survival kits, and I have many lists for the items that I have in my kits, but as I recently was writing a different article for this website and went to refer back to a list of basic survival kit supplies and whoa! There wasn’t on on the site.
So I decided to remedy that and not only post an article on it, but also do a podcast on it.
This podcast joins the Back To Basics series, which are a collection of podcasts that are great for reviewing the essentials or for someone who is new to preparedness. You can find all the Back To Basics podcasts here:
As so much of our preparedness relies on having the right gear, we should look at what constitutes a basic survival kit. The reason I call this a “basic” kit is because the items in it are for a general survival situation. It doesn’t make any assumptions for what the disaster or event will be, and simply provides you with the essentials that would be needed in order to get through most common survival events.
Anyone who has put together a survival kit before knows that the one thing you always run out of is having enough space to pack everything into. Even if you were to use a bag big enough to pack everything you wanted, it would weigh so much that you wouldn’t be able to carry it anyway. Fortunately, the fundamentals don’t take up much room. Keep in mind that s basic level of supplies doesn’t mean that you’re going to be comfortable, only that you’ll live long enough to able to tell people how miserable it was.
While the basics typically will only provide just enough to help us survive, it is a great place to start when building other survival kits or packs. Starting with the these core-level gear and supplies, you can add and expand on these to increase the duration that a kit would sustain you, and any special circumstances that you’re planning for. I like to put a basic kit into a separate bag and pack it into larger kits.
For example, inside my Fast Pack, which is my main survival bag, I have a small waist-pack that has a basic kit inside it. In any situation where my survival is at stake, I would take this pack out and wear it all the time. By having the basics with me all the time, the odds for my survival don’t decrease if I were to become separated from the rest of my supplies.
Looking at the Survival Hierarchy of Needs from Episode 115, we know that the basic needs for survival are: Air, Food, Water, Shelter, Fire, Sanitation. For a survival kit, I would also add First Aid as part of the minimum amount of stuff to have.
- N95 mask, with exhaust valve.
- Goggles for eye protection from dust and debris.
Generally, we don’t think about breathing; it’s something that happens naturally every second of the day. However, for those times when the air is filled with dust, smoke or fine debris, a basic dust mask would be quite useful. Not only would it allow us to breathe better in such an environment, but it could very well prevent heath issues from developing down the road.
Some examples where a dust mask would really come in handy include events that cause buildings to collapse, like bombings or earthquakes, to wildfires, and even volcanic eruptions that throw a lot of particulate matter into the air. (Just to be clear, I’m not saying that you can wear a dust mask in a house fire and not die of smoke inhalation, only that it will help cut down on the particulate matter that you would breathe into your lungs.)
A simple N95 mask would serve this purpose. There are a lot of N95 masks available; but the type you’re looking for will have an exhaust valve and be fairly flat when sealed in its package. Because the exhaust valve allows your breath to escape through the valve opening instead of through the filter material, this prevents moisture from building up on inside of the mask. This is important because moisture shortens the length of time you can use the mask. I know it seems that a wet mask would be more efficient at filtering stuff out, but that isn’t the case. The valve also makes it a little easier to breathe as your exhale isn’t restricted.
The kind of N95 masks that I use are the ones are the 3M 9211 particulate respirator. I like this mask because it’s flat, except for a small bump where the valve is, which makes it easy to store in a pack. It also seals around the face well, and they’re cheap, typically less than $2 each.
If you have heard my previous podcasts where I talk about these types of masks, you might remember that I recommended only using the N100 masks. However, back then we were talking about a pandemic situation and here we’re just concerned about dust, which is much bigger than a virus.
Something else to consider then thinking about air filled with dust is eye protection. You could affect your escape from ground zero if you could protect your eyes and lungs from all the dust and junk in the air. While goggles can be fairly big and cumbersome to store, consider a pair of swimming goggles. They’re small, compact and can probably get them to fit under your eyeglasses, if you wear those. You can also get these types of goggles in a prescription, which could be quite useful in all sorts of environments.
- Shelf-stable, long shelf-life foods, such as Mainstay or Datrex bars are a good choice, as these are stable even in high heat.
- Energy bars, like Mojo, Clif, etc. Need to check the expiration dates on these, as not all of them have long shelf lives.
- Freeze-dried and/or dehydrated food
- Hard candy
Food is so basic that we sometimes forget how important it is. That is, until we get hungry. In general, food that you don’t have to cook would be best for a simple kit. I would focus on whichever had the highest calories in the smallest package, and then only keep a little of the others, if desired. Keep in mind that you’ll burn far more calories in the winter with the cold, so you want the food to be as calorie dense as possible.
Selecting food for your survival kit has some interesting challenges. Much of this depends on where the kit will be stored. At the very least, though, you need to select foods that can be stored at room temperature, have a reasonably long shelf life, and high a fairly high-tolerance to high temperatures. Otherwise, you will have to rotate this food out often.
- Iodine tablets or iodine crystals are good to always have, even if only as a backup.
- Water filter, pump type, one that is rated for a minimum of 100 gallons.
- Containers – Camelbak, Nalgene bottle, canteen, collapsible flasks, etc.
- Metal cup, also allows for mixing, cooking and warming up drinks.
If space is an issue, just go with the iodine tablets, like Potable Aqua. Either get the PA Plus that includes the vitamin C (ascorbic acid), or include some of your own. The vitamin C will help get rid of the iodine taste.
If you are sensitive to iodine, or looking for an alternative, check out the Micropur tablets from Katadyn. These are chlorine dioxide, which is basically the same thing as using chlorine bleach, but the tablets are easier to carry and have a shelf life over 5 years.
With either the PA Plus or Micropur tablets, a metal cup and a 1 liter flexible flask, you would have a very decent emergency water kit that takes up very little space.
- Tarp, military poncho, or other waterproof material.
- There are some people that use Tyvek as a lightweight waterproof tarp, which is especially good as a ground cloth to keep dry on a wet ground.
- Cordage, parachute cord (AKA, paracord) is preferred.
- Consider a Land-Shark bag; expensive, but a very cool product.
At it’s basic function, you need enough shelter to protect yourself from the weather. For this, it’s hard to beat a good tarp or military poncho (sure, a tent would be great, but we’re talking the basics here). Add as much cordage that you can stuff into your pack, as you can do so much with it and you’ll quickly run out if you find yourself stranded in the wilderness and needing to make a better shelter than you can get from just a tarp.
For a quick, emergency shelter, I really like the Land/Shark bag. Essentially, it’s a tarp bag, sealed on all sides except the opening where you would crawl in. One side is a bright International Orange color, which is great for signaling, and the other side is a neutral desert camo.
Need to make fire in 3 different ways.
- Flint and steel units are hard to beat. Personally, I have an old Strike Force that continues to work well.
- A butane lighter is convenient, but doesn’t work too well when cold, or if the butane leaks out.
- Tinder; probably the best stuff I’ve seen is also the easiest to make: Vaseline coated cotton balls. You can get a lot of them in a small container and can be real lifesavers when you need a fire.
- Magnesium bars are okay if you can get one that has real magnesium in it. I’ve seen too many that have too much “alloy” and not enough magnesium in them to work.
- My third way to start fires is another type of sparking device, called the Spark-Lite Fire Starter. This is a little unit that has a striker wheel like a lighter and produces sparks. Small and convenient.
- Matches are also an option, but their “one time use” properties can limit their effectiveness.
Here on The Preparedness Podcast, we are always pushing the concept of having 3 ways to do everything, but this is especially important with fire. Fire can do so much for you, that when you need it, you need to know that you can get one started. Make sure you know how to start a fire in all types of weather.
Hygiene & Sanitation
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Toothbrush, with salt and baking soda for toothpaste.
The TP, wipes (when dry) and sanitizer can be used for starting fires. If the sanitizer has enough alcohol in it, you can use it as a fire starter. Be careful, though, as alcohol flames are nearly invisible and it can be difficult to know when it’s burning.
Brushing your teeth isn’t needed in order to survive, but it can be really great for morale. A small travel toothbrush and a travel sized tube of toothpaste, or even a small container of salt and baking soda, take up very little room in your kit.
- Small, basic kit that has the basics of bandaids, antibiotic cream, gauze pads, gauze rolls and tape.
- OTC Meds and any prescriptions that you cannot, literally, live without.
- Foot powder and moleskin.
- Lip balm and sun block.
- Stimulant, like 5 Hour energy, Vivarin, even some packets of freeze-dried coffee and sugar.
Obviously, this first aid kit isn’t going to handle all medical emergencies, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t even have these simple items in their kit.
These are the basic items that should be the first things you load into your survival kit. If you have the room, consider adding the following:
- Whistle – for as small as they are, whistles are a very efficient form of signaling. The sound from a whistle can carry much farther than a human yelling and a lot less tiring.
- Probably a good idea to include some tools:
- Knife, fixed blade, full tang, something about about a 6″ blade.
- Multi-tool like a Gerber Multitool, Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife.
- Small compass, along with a map of the general area that you are mostly within.
- Aluminum foil, heavy duty. Foil has so many uses and is light and easy to pack, might as well include some.
- Flashlight, LED, spare batteries. Preferably a hard lamp. A few of the Cyalume light sticks would be handy too.
- Car charging cord for your mobile phone.
- List of contacts for family and friends. This needs to be written down, not just stored in your phone.
All of the above still only constitutes what a minimal survival kit would be to see you through a very short event. Using this as a starting point, consider these shortcomings of the minimal kit:
- no clothing, outer gear, or even spare socks.
- no defensive capability.
- no communication, transmit or receive (like AM/FM).
- no money.
- no spare eyeglasses, for those that need them.
- no tools other than some small items.
- no map or navigation gear
This is what I would consider for a basic survival kit. It could be a 72-Hour kit, or an immediate evacuation bag, or perhaps even something that you keep at work. There is nothing fancy or special about this kit, but it’s a good place to start when you’re going to put together any kit together for the purposes of being ready for those “Just In Case” emergencies.