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What is a Survival Kit For?

What is a survival kit for depends on what type of emergency it is designed for. Wilderness survival kits are usually small and lightweight so that you can carry around it in your back pocket or daypack during a hike or camping trip; meanwhile, a disaster survival kit usually fits in a large backpack.

Several companies sell basic survival kits while only a few sell specialized survival kits for certain types of disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and nuclear fallout.  These kits are especially useful if you live in disaster-prone areas where these types of natural disasters are more likely to happen.

Familiarize yourself with the contents of each kit before you buy to make sure that you are getting items that you already know how to use.  An emergency is not the best time to learn how to use the items in a survival kit that you have never used.

What is a Survival Kit?

Survival kits come in all different shapes and sizes, but any survival kit worth buying or making yourself should cover your top 10 priorities during an emergency:

  1. First Aid
  2. Shelter
  3. Fire
  4. Water
  5. Food
  6. Security
  7. Hygiene
  8. Communication
  9. Tools
  10. Personal Items

1. First Aid

All survival kits should have basic first aid supplies to help you treat minor injuries like blisters, cuts, and burns before they become infected. Some survival kits include large first aid kits with pain killers, triangular bandages, and other important/life-saving items. Be sure to customize your own first aid supplies according to your own know-how and specific needs (i.e. medications, inhaler, etc.)

If you are a doctor, Emergency Medical Technician, or have medical training of any kind, then you should include any items that you would need to treat as many injuries as you can, within reason of course.  In an emergency, you may be the only person with the tools and the training required to save lives until the first-responders can arrive.

2. Shelter

Most survival kits only have an emergency poncho and a Mylar blanket as their main source of shelter. While these are better than nothing, you certainly wouldn’t plan a camping or backpacking trip where you would spend the night in whatever type of shelter you could make out of only an emergency poncho and a Mylar blanket.  If that is the case, then it would probably be a good idea to supplement your kit with hand warmers, paracord, and some lightweight backpacking equipment.

If you don’t have backpacking equipment or don’t have enough money to buy some, then you should make the most of what you already have.  I would at least add a breathable emergency bivvy, lightweight hammock, and a military-style poncho with grommets for an emergency tarp/poncho combo!  One day you might have to sleep in your emergency shelter, so be sure to customize your own survival kit shelter according to your needs and preferences.

3. Fire

Almost all survival kits have matches, but a good survival kit should have several types of fire starters and tinder. Few fire starters are as lightweight and long-lasting as a BIC lighter, so I would recommend adding one to your kit, as well.  Store all fire-making supplies in a waterproof container-even if the items themselves are sealed or waterproof.

Deluxe survival kits have folding stoves with lightweight solid fuel for cooking your food.  These work well in a pinch; however, eventually, you will run out of fuel.  Several backpacking stoves burn wood more efficiently than an open fire and are compatible with other solid fuels.

4. Water

Disaster survival kits usually have 4 oz. water pouches that can last up to 5 years. You can just use regular unopened water bottles if you are making your own survival kit; however, you should use thicker water bottles so that they are not punctured as easily.  I prefer using 1L Smartwater bottles because they are reusable, efficient, and I can screw a Sawyer Mini water filter on top for water purification on the go.

Water is so important that I would suggest adding a water filter, iodine tablets, or a stainless steel water bottle to purify more water in case you run out.  Iodine tablets and boiling water only kill the microbes in the water, they do not remove toxic metals, chemicals, and contaminants; however, they make a good back up in case your water filter fails.

5. Food

Deluxe survival kits typically have a couple of days worth of food that can last up to 5 years.  Emergency food comes in many different forms depending on the type of emergency and nutritional needs.

While food bars are the most common type of emergency food in a survival kit, some survival kits may have packages of freeze-dried food, or even Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).  If your kit does have freeze-dried food, make sure that you have something to boil water with, just in case you aren’t able to use normal cooking appliances.  I personally use Mountain House’s freeze-dried meals because they last 30 years and can be re-hydrated with either hot or cold water.

6. Security

Most survival kits don’t include weapons; however, security can be a legitimate concern during an emergency. Disasters can bring out the worst in people especially if they are in desperate need.  Never draw a weapon against someone unless they are threatening to kill you and you are willing to kill them in self-defense; otherwise, you may lose your weapon to them or law enforcement.

If you do plan on carrying a weapon on your person or in a survival kit, then you should get a concealed weapon permit in your state. Weapons left out in the open can cause more harm than good since they can attract unwanted attention.

7. Hygiene

Most deluxe survival kits only have the bare necessities in terms of hygiene: pocket tissues, wet wipes, and a waste bag. You may want to supplement your own kit with items for your additional needs (i.e. feminine products, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.) Walmart and other stores sell travel-size hygiene items which also work well for short term emergencies.

Hygiene is an easy need to forget about; however, in a disaster, good hygiene prevents you from getting sick.  Remember to wash your hands well and often.  Many survival kits have an N95 dust mask or medical masks for additional protection.  You should also pack a change of clothes in a sealed gallon ziplock bag.

8. Communication

A basic wilderness survival kit will probably only have a whistle for communication; however, a disaster survival kit should have an emergency radio.  These radios are different from other radios because they can pick up National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather channels, as well as normal bandwidths.  These radios are normally solar-powered or have a hand crank, but they can also be battery powered.

If you are in a large group or family, then you may want to add walkie-talkies for long-distance communication between yourselves.  Cell phones do not work as well during disasters because either everyone is trying to use theirs too or they are physically downed by natural or human disasters.  Text messages are sometimes still able to be sent when a phone call can’t be made.

9. Tools

Specialized survival kits have specific tools depending on the type of emergency. Car survival kits should have jumper cables, a tow strap, and flares; meanwhile, earthquake survival kits should have an emergency gas shutoff valve, work gloves, and duct tape.  You should look up which disasters are more prone in your area and obtain the necessary tools for mitigating any damage caused by them.  Tools are only as useful as your knowledge of how to use them.  If you do not know how to use a tool, then learn how to use it before an emergency.

Some tools are useful in several emergency and non-emergency situations that you can carry with you wherever you go – I carry a Leatherman with me as apart of my everyday carry (EDC).  Some survival kits are specialized for keeping you alive at work and helping you to return home.  These survival kits are called Get Home Bags and are to be kept in your vehicle if you have a long commute to work.

10. Personal Items

Personal documents, stored in a safe, should be included in your disaster survival kit.  These should include passports, birth certificates, and other documents that are important to you.  Take photos of your property before a disaster occurs, if you are able, for insurance purposes.

You should include some cash in your survival kit, as well.  Be sure not to carry too much money on you or in too large of denominations.  Usually, only $100 in smaller bills of 20s, 10s, 5s, and 1s will be enough to get you through.

Bartering items like silver coins, alcohol, and cigarettes work well especially when cash is unavailable.

Is there anything else that I forgot to mention that you think should be included in a survival kit?  Please leave your comments below!

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,

Kenny Bradley 
Founder of Survive and Thrive with Permaculture

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