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Staying alive

Prepare a personal survival kit

This article was published March 9, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.


Personal survival kits should be customized to fit the user’s needs. The items inside need to be those that fit the specific environment in which they could be used and the activities of the user.

Lucky people rarely face life-threatening situations. But even the luckiest among us never know for sure when trouble might strike. It’s possible for anyone to be thrust into a survival situation anytime, anywhere, without warning.

A sudden storm capsizes your boat in rough water. Vehicle problems strand you in a remote area. Your fishing partner cuts himself deeply with a knife. You get lost in the backcountry. A tornado, hurricane, earthquake, flood or ice storm leaves you without shelter, food, water and/or electricity.

Hopefully, you’ll never be involved in serious situations like these. If you are, however, your story is much more likely to have a happy ending if you follow some sage advice: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. That preparation includes purchasing gear that can help you stay safe and alive and to procure food, water, shelter and other necessities until the emergency is over.

Prepackaged survival kits

A survival kit is a collection of supplies that can help you cope with unexpected events. A wide variety of prepackaged kits is available, and if you know you won’t find time to assemble your own kit, consider buying a commercial package.

These range in size from basic kits with just a few important items that will fit into your pocket, like the Adventure Medical Kits Pocket Survival Pak, to more complete versions like the Ultimate Survival Technologies Deluxe Survival Kit, which includes a larger combination of camping and survival gear in a watertight, durable carrying case. Check out the variety of kits available, and purchase one that best suits your needs.

Personal survival kits

A personal survival kit should be light and small enough so it is always with you. Contents depend on individual preferences, environment and activity, but essentials in each of these categories should be included.

First aid: If anyone is seriously injured, rendering first aid should be the top priority. A personal kit isn’t large enough to carry a full array of supplies but should include basic items such as bandages, gauze, alcohol swabs and pain reliever. If space permits, you also may want to include adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment and butterfly wound closures. Small prepackaged kits are available from several manufacturers, including Bass Pro Shops, Orion, Adventure Medical Kits and others.

Shelter/warmth: Where there’s a likelihood of getting soaked in cold weather, wearing wool clothing that insulates even when wet is a good idea. But you also should carry additional items for emergency use. A small emergency poncho can help keep you dry. Space blankets are waterproof, windproof and available in sizes small enough to be ideal for inclusion in a personal survival kit. Wrap up in one to reduce body heat loss in cold weather, or fashion the blanket into a temporary shelter or windbreak or a signal for rescuers.

If you get lost or stranded, you’ll also want a fire to get warm and dry quickly and for signaling rescuers, cooking food and providing a feeling of comfort and security. You can keep matches in a waterproof container for this purpose, or use devices like Coghlan’s magnesium Fire Starter or Ultimate Survival Technologies StrikeForce Fire Starter.

If you keep it dry, a windproof butane lighter is one of the best tools for quickly lighting a fire. Each lighter provides hundreds of lights and furnishes a larger, hotter flame for a longer time than matches. Butane freezes at 15 degrees or below, but you can keep the lighter functional by warming it under your arm. You also should include in your kit a candle stub and/or some type of fire-starting aid that will help you get a blaze going fast.

Signaling aids: In an emergency, getting help quick should be a prime concern. Attract rescuers’ attention using a whistle, flares, a signal mirror, a smoke canister, a distress flag and/or other devices kept in your personal kit. Then provide a homing signal from a small waterproof flashlight, strobe, chemical light, whistle or other signal to guide the responding party to you. Many outdoor recreationists now also carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) such as the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger Personal Tracker or ACR Electronics’ ResQLink PLB that can be activated in the event of a critical emergency to notify emergency services of your GPS location and need for assistance.

Tools: A good stainless multitool such as those made by Gerber, Leatherman, Wenger and SOG can be invaluable for repairing equipment, preparing shelters and food items, making cooking utensils and fashioning other survival equipment.

Water purification: Having a plentiful supply of potable drinking water is another necessity. To prevent waterborne illnesses from bacteria, viruses and protozoa, carry Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets or a compact filter like the SteriPEN Classic Handheld Water Purifier.

Miscellaneous items: Include necessary prescription medications in your kit, and, space permitting, consider the addition of compact items such as insect-repellent swabs, energy food bars, a compass (that you know how to use), fish hooks and line, sunscreen towelettes and hand warmers. A folded piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil doesn’t take up much space and has many uses. Make it into a drinking cup, use it as a windbreak when starting a fire, fashion it into a container for boiling water or cooking and much more.

Container: All items should be kept in a durable, waterproof container that’s small enough so you can (and will) keep it on your person. Small belt pouches work well, but you also can use zip-seal freezer bags, an Army surplus first-aid pouch or just a small plastic container with a snap-tight lid. You also can use a vacuum food sealer to create a small, watertight bag that fits easily into a pocket.


Perhaps soon you can say, “My survival kit is ready.” But are you ready? Do you know basic survival techniques: how to signal, how to use a compass and GPS, how to build a fire in rain or snow and so forth? Anyone with a kit full of items he can’t use may be in trouble.

Can you make decisions without panic in the face of adversity? If you can’t rely on yourself, all the survival equipment in the world won’t help you.

Do you have the judgment and maturity to back away from unsafe situations? Remember, the best survival kit is one you never have to use.

And finally, does your survival kit go along on all your outdoor ventures or stay properly stocked and available in your boat, vehicle or home? Even the best kit is useless if you don’t have it with you.


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