Making a survival kit

Survival Kits.

Making a survival kit or buying one
by Survival Expert James Mandeville ©2020

This article is primarily for:
The Military and Outdoor Enthusiasts.


Learn how to make a personal survival kit.

BCB survival tinThe Personal Survival Kit (sometimes called a Survival Tin because originally everything was carried in an old tobacco tin) is designed to aid survival when caught up in a life–threatening survival situation when water, food and shelter are limited. The basic idea is to carry with you at all times essential survival items that are impossible to find, or difficult to replicate or manufacture in a survival situation to help you to survive when all else is lost. The items carried assist with the main survival needs of fire, shelter, navigation, food procurement and water treatment. The kit may also include basic first aid items, sugar in the form of boiled sweets and salt.

Photo shows the Military Survival Kit which is the UK Ministry of Defence's version of the Combat Survival Tin used by soldiers in World War II. There are a few additions in the new military survival kit but the items carried remain fundamentally the same as in the World War II version.

The new military survival kit has been redesigned to aid in escape and evasion. Alongside the Aircrew Survival Pack carried in all warplanes, this kit was used extensively in the 1st Gulf War by UK servicemen, including Royal Air Force pilots and Special Air Service soldiers.

The concept of carrying survival aids packed in a small container has been around long before the two World Wars. Mountain guides in many countries would carry essential survival equipment in their pockets as a matter of course. Indigenous peoples carry essential survival items with them as a matter of necessity every day of the week and probably always have done.

Bringing the survival kit up to date

main survival items

James Mandeville's survival kit
People are venturing into remoter places seeking exciting recreation, thus we hear of more extreme survival stories affecting civilians. Carrying a survival kit is a matter of common sense in any remote location.

Most civilians (and many serving military personnel) have surprisingly little knowledge of survival techniques. Viewers of Discovery Channel will notice how often the victims of disaster venture out ill prepared into harsh terrain or take risks that put them in a survival situation. In ninety per cent of these stories, carrying a personal survival kit could have made a world of difference to the disaster victims. However, it is not only the luckless adventurer who can be caught up in a survival situation. Today, exotic foreign travel, the effects of climate change and the threat of war and terrorism, etc., could place the everyday civilian in an extreme survival situation in an instant. If one is caught in an extreme survival scenario, the survival kit suddenly becomes a valued possession. Packed inside the survival kit is the means to light fires, trap animals, make shelter, purify water, signal for help and apply some rudimentary first aid. That's the concept — all of this, in a small container that can be carried on the person.

The question being, is a small tin carried in one's pocket the best way of carrying vital personal survival equipment? The survival tin should be regarded as a supplement to other survival equipment carried in one's main pack. However, it should also be comprehensive enough to stand on its own if everything else is lost. It is also important to decide what you really need to carry in a survival kit and it is equally important to be familiar with the items you do carry and be proficient in every aspect of their use.

survival tinWhen you sit down and think about making your own personal survival kit, the first question that usually springs to mind is what to put in it? After compiling a list of necessary items, the next problem is finding a suitable container. Bearing in mind that every part of the survival kit should have a use, maybe the old tobacco tin is not the best solution. Ideally, the container itself should be multi–purpose (use it for cooking in, drinking from, as a signalling mirror, etc.). Not knowing ultimately where you will use your survival kit makes putting one together somewhat difficult. You could gather many little items suitable for survival on land and end up being cast afloat in the middle of an ocean! If you know you are venturing into a risky area (jungle, desert, etc.), you can plan accordingly and construct or purchase your survival kit to be as useful as possible in the terrain you are visiting.

The commercial alternative

Buying a commercial survival kit is fraught with potential dangers, the greatest being the quality of the contents. If you shop around you will find cheap kits on offer. Imagine you are lost in the jungle and need a knife; the inferior knife in your survival kit breaks the first time you try to use it and the tiny phial of water purifying tables is not designed for use in areas where water–borne parasites are resistant to chlorine and iodine. Suddenly, the cheap solution was not the best. Somecheap survival tin commercial survival kits are okay, some are rubbish, knowing one from the other is not always easy, as the trick is to put a few quality items in the tin to make it look good and bulk it out with inferior goods. Be wary of a factory sealed Survival Tin, always open it and inspect the contents. Do not open it up the first time you need it for real because you could be in for an unpleasant surprise. Reseal it with ducting tape or use it to practice with and buy another one to carry with you.

BCB Survival kit
BCB make a range of reliable survival kits

If you make your own survival kit:

The container
The first design consideration should be the container itself and how you intend to carry it on your person. As I mentioned above, the survival kit historically was an old tobacco tin and this concept has stuck, so many survival tins on the market use a similar tin. The concept of keeping a survival kit in one's pocket is also a questionable idea. This can also be dictated by climate. If you are wearing heavy outer garments with plenty of deep pockets, fine. If you are wearing shorts and a T–shirt, anything heavy in the pockets of your shorts soon becomes annoying and is easily lost in certain situations — or left behind because it is a nuisance to carry.

The best design concept is to have a container carried in a pouch or bag, which may also be fastened securely on a belt, hung around one's neck or placed in a pocket. The mode of carrying may then be applied to suit the situation you find yourself in. For these reasons, you need a highly durable carrying pouch made of strong waterproof material classified for military and expedition use. Alternatively, consider a leather carrying pouch for bush craft enthusiasts, Black Hawk baghikers and hunters. If you choose to make your own survival kit and are going into seriously adverse terrain, or are on active service in the military, use a waterproof bag like the Blackhawk escape and evasion drop bag (photo, left).
BCB mini mess tinThe second myth is that the survival kit has to be very small and there seems to be a crazed need to make the container as small as possible and the contents as miniature as they can possibly be. I have needed a survival kit for real and I can tell you that miniature is not good! When you are cold, frightened, tired and hungry, your hands shake; you are clumsy and it is easy to give up on using the miniature contents within the first few desperate hours. Find a container that is strong, light and durable, will hold what you need, one you can used as a cup for drinking and to heat small quantities of food and water. Finding a suitable container is a challenge, I recommend the Mini Mess Tin supplied by BCB (photo above). This mess tin has a waterproof seal to keep the contents dry and at the time of writing, there was nothing on the market to beat it if you want a small survival tin. Carry it inside a pouch of some type and pack items around it that do not need to be waterproof.

Other considerations
Is your survival kit going to be general purpose (useful in most locations)? Is it going to be specific (for use in a specific geographic area)? Do you plan to carry your personal survival kit with you at all times? Having a survival kit on a flight is impossible now on most airlines because it contains sharp items (unless it travels cargo). All of these factors need careful consideration. Having collected all the contents, make sure you can both pack and repack them easily in the container. If you fumble with anything or constantly drop any of the small items, try to replace them with other products. Test your design in your own backyard by trying to use the contents in a howling gale and lashing rain, in a snowstorm, etc. Get it right first in a non–threatening situation.

A personal survival kit is designed to support one person; each person in a group should carry one!

What to put in it?

Before making your list, here are some basic considerations
  • Do I need a general–purpose personal survival kit or is my need specialized?
  • Is my need specific to a geographical area?
  • Is my need specific to special activity, i.e. mountaineering, trail riding, etc?
  • What are the basics I need to carry?
  • Will my kit include basic first aid (first help) supplies or will these be carried separately?
  • Will my personal survival kit contain anything edible or perishable?
  • How am I going to carry the kit on my person?
  • What's my budget?
A general–purpose survival kit
By definition, this survival kit is designed to help you in almost any situation that may occur if you have the survival skills and knowledge to back it up. An example of such a use may be if you are in the military, are a private pilot flying regularly over wilderness, an extreme sports enthusiast venturing into a remote area or just want to be prepared for anything, anytime.

Your personal survival kit may contain these items, many of which should also be duplicated in your main pack:
  • A folding lock knife, several razor blades or scalpel blades.
  • Two compasses. (Keep them apart from each other with magnetic screening material.)
  • Means of attracting attention.
  • Means of purifying and carrying water.
  • Means of lighting fire.
  • Miniature LED torches.
  • Means of catching wildlife for food.
  • A survival bag or survival blanket (probably will not fit into the tin but should be in the carrying pouch).
  • Sewing kit.
  • Commando wire saw and a hacksaw blade.
  • Multi–tool.
  • Magnifying glass.
  • Food grade water bags.
  • Nylon cord and Duct Tape (probably will not fit inParacord the tin but should be in the carrying pouch). A good tip is to make a couple of bracelets woven from Paracord (Photo, right). Untie them when you need them. Each bracelet will contain 3 metres of cord. You can also make a belt that gives you a longer length of cord.
  • Waterproof notepad and pencil. (probably will not fit in the tin but should be in the carrying pouch)
  • A Shemagh or bandanna (probably will not fit in the tin but should be in the carrying pouch).
  • Rudimentary first aid supplies (best carried in the carrying pouch for ready use, not sealed in the tin.) Pre–packed re–hydration mix and/or salt and sugar should be carried in your survival tin. Salt, especially, is essential to survival and is difficult to source in nature.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Personal hygiene items.
  • £50 ($100; €75 or other international currency) in small denomination notes sealed in a plastic bag.
Survival kit to suit special terrain or geographical area
An example of such use may be if you are likely to be in desert, jungle, veldt, extreme cold, extreme heat, very wet, at sea, etc. Add items you may need and leave out items you are certain you will not need – give each item careful consideration.

For example, if you do not need to carry insect repellent, a re–hydration mix or a Shemagh, replace these items with other useful things. If you are going into extreme cold do not pack a metal whistle, use plastic, as a metal whistle can freeze to the lips. Disposable gas lighters are unreliable in sub–zero temperatures so back this up with some lifeboat matches. If you are making a personal survival kit for use at sea, pack a couple of mini flares, forget the animal snares, make sure everything that can possibly float does float, has a lanyard ring and loop, and is unaffected by seawater. Adjust your list accordingly.

Further considerations
Always make sure you are familiar with the use of each piece of equipment (Can you use a signalling mirror effectively? Do you know how to stitch a wound using a suture and needle? Do you know how to catch animals for food and locate water? Can you use a compass?). Pack the survival kit in an organized way, making sure the items you may need first are handy. Think about what happens when you unpack your survival kit — how do you manage the many small items without losing them? Commercially produced, vacuum packed survival kits are notoriously difficult to repack once opened. Carrying some international currency can be useful for the day you find your way back to civilization or for buying food and help from locals who may not otherwise be too willing to help you. Useful items include salt, sugar (boiled sweets) and a few days supply of multi–vitamins.

Carrying the bare minimum
  • A windproof cigarette lighter and a few lifeboat matches.
  • Several Wetfire fire starting blocks.
  • A signalling mirror.
  • A whistle.
  • Miniature LED torch.
  • Strips of foil packed water purifying tablets.
  • Some strong food grade plastic bags for collecting, purifying and carrying water.
  • A length of tube for siphoning or sucking up water or a plastic straw.
  • Compass with lanyard fitted.
  • Gerber Ultralight L.S.T. knife or similar.
  • Assorted waterproof sticking plasters; choose a type with antiseptic impregnated into the padding.
  • Three sewing needles, pre–threaded with strong thread.
  • Survival bag or blanket.
  • The longest length of strong cord you can fit into the tin or Paracord bracelets.
  • A few fish hooks, swivels and sinkers; length of fishing line.
  • Boiled sweets and salt.
All of the above items will fit into a container the size of the proverbial tobacco tin, the survival bag being the bulkiest item, fasten it to the tin with several thick rubber bands (useful); carry it separately if you need to make your kit smaller still.

Choosing the equipment

Folding lock knives
  • Blade must lock securely into position. One–handed opening and folding with thumb stud or thumb hole, is good (but now illegal in many EU countries, although should not be a problem carrying one in a sealed tin clearly marked as a survival kit).
  • Should be strong and light. Blade should withstand being hammered into wood using a heavy piece of timber.
  • Broadest possible blade. Good cutting edge, easy to sharpen and rustproof.
  • Composite/unbreakable plastic or aluminium handle. Sure grip in wet conditions.
  • Handle should have a hole to allow the knife to be threaded on a lanyard and hung around the neck.
Author recommends:

Gerber L.S.T. Knife.
This knife is my favourite survival kit knife:

Gerber knife
Consider also: Gerber Ultralight L.S.T. Knife.

Specification and supplier:
Blade material: 400 series stainless steel. Handle material: Fibreglass–reinforced nylon. Carry system: Stainless steel clip (removable) Lock mechanism: Lock back. Closed length: 9.2 cm. Open length: 16 cm. Length of blade: 6.7 cm. Weight: 34 g.

Manufacturer: Gerber, GerberGear, 14200 SW 72nd Avenue, Portland, OR 97224, USA

Author's second choice — Buck Rush

Buck Rush
Specification and supplier
Weight: 68 g. Handle material: Anodized aluminium. Carry system: Stainless steel clip (removable). Colour: gun metal grey. Blade steel: 154CM. Length closed: 9.5 cm. Blade length: 6.4 cm. Blade shape: Drop point

Manufacturer: Buck Knives, 660 S. Lochsa Street, Post Falls, ID 83854–5200, USA.

Beware of what you are buying when it comes to miniature compasses, many on the market are little better than toys, so always buy a top brand compass, never cut costs on this item. Remember that small is not always the best when choosing a survival kit compass.
  • A superb E&E compass made by Tru–nord Compass (615 Quince St., Brainerd MN 56401 USA is their model 100c. TRunord model 100C pocket compassIt comes in a brass casing that is watertight. The case is 27 mm x 12 mm (1.06 x 0.50 inches) and weighs 18 grams (0.6 oz). The lens is 20 mm (0.8 inches), which is more than enough to view the sizable dial containing a cobalt magnet that can be custom calibrated by Tru–nord when you order it for whatever magnetic declination you choose. It is best to have it calibrated to magnetic north only. It’s then easy to add or subtract the full declination of your current location without having to worry about how it was originally calibrated, adding that number back in and then calculating for the new declination.

    Price $44.95 (remember you will have to pay Customs charges if you live outside the USA and this bumps up the price of ownership).

    The 100CSS stainless steel model costs $99.95

    Not readily available in Europe but can bought direct from Tru–nord USA.

    The compass comes with a lifetime replacement Warranty regardless of cause of compass failure but you have to send it back to them by UPS – expensive warranty if you live outside the USA.

    The author considers it an equal contender to the Francis Barker Model 1605 NATO Survival Compass (see below) if you need a larger E&E compass in your survival kit that is easier to read and harder to lose.
  • "Escape and Evasion" type compasses are only accurate to +/– 5 Silva 40NLdegrees and they are made to work in one hemisphere but if space is of the essence, an E&E compass is a good one to choose, for example, the Silva SERE compass, which has a lanyard loop (this compass is also sold without a lanyard loop, so once more, take care what you are buying). All Silva E&E versions are robust and oil damped.

    Silva also makes a version of the 40 model that fits on a wristwatch strap. If you use this version, do not fit it on a strap next to an electric watch, as this may make the compass highly inaccurate.
  • Always pack two compasses in your survival kit or one larger and one miniature compass is a good decision. They take up no room at all and you need to have a spare. Keep them apart so they do not affect each other.
  • Do not pack a compass in a tin box that can become magnetised. Keep it away from items such as a survival knife, multi–tool, radio equipment, etc., for the same reason. If packed in a magnetised tin, or kept near a magnetised item, you could permanently damage your compass – another reason for using a small aluminium mess tin as the container. Magnetic screening of items such as knives and Multi–tools is a problem and needs careful consideration when you design your personal survival kit.

Author recommends — Silva Voyager 9020 Global Compass

Silva Voyager
(This compass is the Author's favourite survival kit compass because it is small but big enough to serve as a back–up to your main compass. If there is room for one in your survival kit, this is worth considering as small is not everything when your life is at stake.

Specification and supplier
Tough construction: Impact–resistant yellow plastic base with lanyard loop; oil filled; sapphire jewel needle bearing for friction free movement; luminous; red arrow points north;   size: 9.5 x 6 cm (3.7 x 2.3 inches); weight: 18 g; declination adjustment and magnifier.

Manufacturer: Silva, Silva Sweden AB, Box 998, 191 29 Sollentuna, Sweden.

SILVA "SERE" model 40H
Luminous E&E compass, the Silva "SERE" model (photo below left); the 40NLH is a non–luminous compass (photo below, right).
Note: The 40H compass is a cheap and reliable miniature compass. If you buy one over the internet, make sure you buy for the correct hemisphere and the compass housing has a lanyard loop fitted, some do not have this fitting.

Specification and supplier

Silva SERE Tough construction: Impact–resistant plastic loop for lanyard but with a tiny hole. Oil filled, luminous, red arrow points north and size is 8 mm and weighs 2.5 g.

Manufacturer: Silva, Silva Sweden AB, Box 998, 191 29 Sollentuna, Sweden.

Francis Barker Model 1605 NATO Survival Compass
Good compass, more expensive than the Silva, but easier to lose. Use glue like Araldite to fix to a cord. The Francis Barker Survival E&E compass is balanced for use in the northern hemisphere (Zone 1). It will, of course, find magnetic north in the southern hemisphere but the dip on the needle will mean holding the case at an angle so the needle can move and this is tricky.

Specification and supplier
Francis Barker compassBrass cylinder, glass front, corrosion–proof; not oil filled; jeweled sapphire bearing;  luminous tritium – two points for north, one for south, no other markings (boost it by holding next to a white light Photon LED for a few moments and the tritium becomes highly luminous for a long time); 16 mm diameter x 5 mm thick. There is no loop hole for a lanyard and the compass is easy to lose.  Weight: 3 g.

Manufacturer: Pyser–SGI Ltd., Fircroft Way, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 6HA, United Kingdom.

Means of attracting attention
  • For a general purpose survival kit, you should include a signalling mirror and a whistle as the minimum. A whistle is the best all–round means of attracting attention (mirror may be best in E&E situation).
  • Use a survival blanket that has a silver reflective surface. It can be picked up in a searchlight beam, be detected by radar and sparkles in sunlight.
  • Carry a small roll of fluorescent red or orange tape. It can be used as a ground marker to signal instructions to air rescue and it can be hung from trees and spotted a long way off. Useful to let rescuers know where you are if you are sheltering in a cave, in a snow hole or behind a rock.
  • A single LED torch can be seen at night from a surprising distance both by land and by air.
  • Here is a tip from an Army friend of mine. Instead of carrying a relatively bulky signalling mirror, use instead a business card CD disk that takes up hardly any space in a survival kit. Use the hole in the middle as a sighting hole. Stick a label on one side with your personal details written on it and burn your personal details onto the disk. My friend is on active service and he has all his personal details burned on the disk and has included messages to his loved ones in case he is killed. If someone finds your body even years later, the messages may mean a lot to family and friends. A disk also makes excellent arrow flights, incidentally, if you split an arrow and fix sections cut from the disk to it.
  • Remember an effective signal in all terrestrial situations is to light a fire and make it smoke. (Dark smoke against a light sky and light smoke against a grey sky.)
  • Mini flares should be carried as part of the marine survival kit and may be carried singly and the launcher modified for terrestrial use if you absolutely know what you are doing.
Author recommends – StarFlash Mirror
(The flash can be seen for 161 kilometres.)

StarFlash MirrorThe StarFlash© signal mirror enables you to aim the flash as far as the eye can see with pinpoint accuracy. It floats, is lighter than glass and is virtually indestructible. Also useful for shaving, to apply camo cream, for inserting contact lenses, as a silent communications tool or for looking around corners or into tight spaces in an urban warfare scenario. Use it for emergency signalling, to send a pinpoint flash to a rescue plane, helicopter, vehicle, or distant search party. Do not dazzle the pilot once you have been spotted; aim the mirror at the tail of the aircraft.

Specification and supplier
Mirror Material: 100% Lexan polycarbonate mirrored surface; vacuum deposition metallization; targeting star: retroreflective encapsulated bead fabric.  Size: 5.1 X 7.6 cm, weight: 20 g or, 7.6 x 12.7 cm; weight: 57 g.

Manufacturer: Ultimate Survival Technologies, 14428 167TH Avenue SE, Monroe, WA 98272–2915, USA

JetScream Whistle

JetScream Whistle(The JetScream™ whistle creates a piercing shriek audible over most other natural and man–made noises. Due to its pea–less design, it even works when wet.)

Specification and supplier
Length: 5.8 cm Weight: 8.5 g. Colour: Black.

Manufactured by Ultimate Survival Technologies, 14428 167TH Avenue SE, Monroe, WA 98272–2915, USA

The Pains Wessex© Miniflare 3
(The launcher can be cut down and attached to a branch with a makeshift firing cord for use in a personal survival kit but do not attempt to do this, or to carry flares out of their container, unless you really know what you are doing.) Pains Wessex FlaresThe Pains Wessex© Miniflare 3 is a personal aerial flare pack containing eight red flare cartridges and a "penjector" firing mechanism enclosed in a tough, water resistant, plastic pouch. The penjector is fitted with a stainless steel spring and striker pin and features a unique bayonet fitting with a simple twist–on action for loading the flare cartridge. The Pains Wessex© Miniflare 3 is designed primarily for yachts, dinghies, personal watercraft and windsurfers but has many applications as a general–purpose distress signal for canoeing, hill walking, climbing, skiing and other outdoor pursuits.

Specification and supplier
Flare deployment height– over 60 metres when fired vertically; flare burning time: 6 seconds; flare light output: 3000 candela; dimensions: 150 x 63 x 18 mm; weight: 296 g and explosive content: 38 g with 5 g per cartridge).

Manufactured by Pains Wessex, Chemring Marine Ltd., Silver Point , Airport Service Road, Hilsea, Portsmouth, PO3 5PB, United Kingdom

Purifying Water
Author recommends — Micropur MP1 water purifying tablets
(MP1 tablets are the only EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency (USA), registered purifying tablets on the market that are effective against Cryptosporidium and Giardia, as well as bacteria and viruses.) This is the only risk–free tablet–based treatment currently on the market at the time of writing that is convenient to carry in a personal survival kit.

micropur tablets
MP1 water purifying tablets kill bacteria and viruses in 15 minutes, cysts in 30 minutes (4 hours in cold or dirty water). Add one tablet to a litre (quart) of water. The tablet releases chlorine dioxide (same as in water treatment plants). Each tablet is individually sealed in foil but has to be opened with scissors or a knife. Water taste is quite good, not as superb as the makers claim but better than most chlorine or iodine–based treatments and much safer to use. Does not require any neutralizer for taste adjustment. Can be difficult to find local suppliers but Katadyn will help if you have problems.

Specification and supplier
Pack contains 30 individually foil packed tablets. Weight: 57 g.

Manufactured by Katadyn Products Inc., Birkenweg 4, 8304 Wallisellen, Switzerland.

Making Fire
  • There are many ways to make fire in a survival situation but the concept behind the personal survival kit is that you can easily light a fire immediately and have the means to light fires in the long–term.
  • To light a fire easily, you need tinder material in your personal survival kit and a means of igniting it. I personally prefer to carry light, disposable cigarette lighters rather than a heavy and bulky storm proof gas lighter. Nothing wasted, the empty disposable lighters can be recycled to make useful items such as fish hooks from the metal parts, floats from the plastic body; you are only limited by your own ingenuity.
  • Finding tinder material is nearly always possible but there are times when it is difficult. Carry WetFire© tinder blocks (illustrated below) in your personal survival kit to start a fire fast, in rain or high winds.
  • For longer–term fire making (after the first shock of being in a survival situation has worn off and you are settling into your new environment), fire making usually becomes an evening ritual. I prefer to carry a Swedish FireSteel™, illustrated below. If you can take the extra bulk in your survival kit, choose the Army model, do not bother to pack the striker plate that comes with it, the FireSteel works best with a knife anyway.
  • Some people like to pack wind proof matches; I cannot see any advantage in carrying a source of ignition that can only be used once.

Author recommends – Swedish FireSteel©
(Survival Tip: Gives a bright spark — can also be used as emergency signal.) FireSteel

Originally developed for the Swedish Department of Defence. Its 3,000°C spark makes fire building easy in any weather, at any altitude. Used by a number of armies around the world, Swedish FireSteel's dependability has already made it a favourite of survival experts, hunters, fishermen and campers. Works with any tinder material, (char cloth speeds up ignition) but for rapid results use with WetFire™ blocks.

Specification and supplier
Durability – lasts for from 3,000 to 12,000 strikes (Scout/Army model); Practicality – Works equally well when wet and produces a 3,000°C spark.

Manufactured by Light My Fire AB, Västkustvägen 7, 211 24 Malmø, Sweden

Silva Helios storm proof lighter
Silva Lighter

If you have to carry a water proof storm lighter that also floats, then this is the one to choose. Withstands wind speeds of up to 25 m/s. Filled with butane gas; window on the side of the lighter shows how much fuel is left. Adjustable flame and piezo ignition that can be used over 30.000 times. I admit I own one, but would not personally use it in a personal survival kit unless it was being configured for a special use. In my view, more at home in one's general equipment.

Manufactured by Silva Sweden AB, Box 998, 191 29 Sollentuna

WetFire™ Tinder
(Ultimate Survival Technologies WetFire™ Tinder is the best fire–starting tinder material available anywhere in the world.)

Wetfire tinder™Any military personnel can find themselves anywhere, in any kind of weather. They require tinder that will light a fire in a rainstorm if needed, yet extinguish instantly to avoid detection, leaving no residue, no odour and no smoke. Even if your survival needs are not so exacting, you may need to start a fire in any climatic conditions and fast.

WetFire™ Tinder burns at over 1,300°C yet cools almost instantly when snuffed out. A small pile of shavings is enough to start a small fire. The perfect accompaniment to the Swedish FireSteel, WetFire can help you get a blaze going even in a downpour. In fact, the cubes actually burn longer when wet!

Specification and Supplier
Weight (per cube): 57 g. White; 8 individually foil wrapped cubes per package; non–toxic, leak proof and smokeless.

Manufactured by Ultimate Survival Technologies, 14428 167TH Avenue SE, Monroe, WA 98272–2915, USA

Other items worthy of close attention

Best kit and where to find it:

LED torches
photon_lightAlways pack three Photon I or Photon II MicroLight© LED torches in a personal survival kit. The Photon I is less bright than the Photon II but is totally water resistant, however, to use it you have to keep pressure on the switch and this becomes tiring in prolonged use. The Photon II has an on/off switch, which means you cannot use it under water but it performs well in adverse weather conditions. The new Photon III MicroLight is water resistant but has an annoying range of microprocessor–controlled functions that make it too complicated for use in a survival situation. Depending on the configuration of your kit, choose two white lights and one orange. The white lights have a life of 12–14 hours and the orange light a life of 120 hours. If you are in the military and building a personal survival kit to be used in possible E&E situations, replace one of the white lights with green for night vision use. The green light has a life of 12–14 hours.

Specification (Photon II)
One 5 mm LED; on/off switch and squeeze on/off; lanyard attachment; weight 5.5 g; size: 3 x 2 cm and visible for over a mile. Replaceable cells: uses two Duracell DL2016B 3V lithium coin batteries that are easily replaced but needs a screwdriver or sharp pointed knife blade (pack some spares). Available from most outdoors shops and sports shops, many suppliers listed on the internet.

Manufactured by L.R.I. (Photon), 93890 Pope Rd., Blachly, OR 97512, USA

Survival (Space) Blanket
space blanketA survival blanket or survival bag, sometimes called a "Space Blanket" because the technology was developed for NASA astronauts, is useful as a survival aid in many ways. I have tried several types and there is nothing to choose between them in real terms. Some claim to be "breathable" but if the idea is to keep in body heat, "breathable" is a good way to lose it!

The blanket will reflect body heat, protects from sun, rain and snow, can be a makeshift poncho, is useful for a makeshift shelter and is reflective both to light and to radar. Buy a blanket that is silvered on both sides or orange on one side and silver on the other and specified to reflect 80–90% of body heat. There are many makes and many suppliers. These blankets are cheap and available from almost any sports or outdoors shop and can be found easily on the internet. Most are one–use; reusable blankets are bulkier. In the average sized personal survival kit, a survival blanket will take up 50 per cent of the container, so it is best packed in the carrying pouch, not in the container itself.

A word of warning
space blanketThese blankets work by reflecting body heat, so if the body is cold the blanket cannot heat up the body. They have no thermal insulation properties so if you wrap up in one and lie down on snow the "blanket" will adapt to the ground temperature and the cold will pass to your body. They are meant only to reflect the heat of the body that is already there. You must use insulation from ground cold and get into a shelter of some sort to protect yourself from cold air and ground temperatures. Once protected in this way, the space blanket will help to conserve your body heat. Cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief or similar to reduce heat loss by respiration.

A miniature multi–tool is invaluable in a personal survival kit. I like the MiniBuck 350 best and always have one in my personal survival kit but the Leatherman juice is a close second favourite. Be aware that most multi–tools can throw out a strong magnetic field so keep them away from your compass:

MiniBuck 350
mini_buck_multitoolThe MiniBuck weighs only 39 g and is just 6.5 cm long when closed. Yet it comes complete with 10 implements, including needle nose pliers as the primary tool and scissors (that actually cut) as a folding component. The MiniBuck includes a drop–point knife blade, tweezers, a nail file/cleaner, a lanyard ring, metric and inch scales, a small Phillips screwdriver and a bottle opener/cap lifter that also serves as aminibuck small slotted screwdriver. Symbols on the handle help the user to locate each implement (you need terrific eyesight to read them), while a nail–notch system allows easy access to the tools when needed. Each tool snaps into place. Backed by Buck's lifetime guarantee. They can be difficult to find and are not even listed on Buck's website but most Buck suppliers can order one for you – worth having.

Manufactured by Buck Knives P.O. Box 1267, El Cajon, CA 92022

Leatherman Juice S2
leatherman_juiceThe Leatherman Juice S2 is bigger than the MiniBuck being 10.5 cm long when closed and weighs 125 g. It has: Needle nose pliers, a straight knife, wire cutters, hard–wire cutters, extra–small screwdriver, small screwdriver, medium to large screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, lanyard attachment, can/bottle opener and scissors. Made of stainless steel, with anodized aluminium scales and is available in different colours. Available in most sports, outdoor and tool shops.

Manufactured by Leatherman Tool Group, Inc., P.O. Box 20595, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Commando Wire Saw
commando_wire_sawThere are several commando wire saws on the market, illustrated is my choice made by BCB. Can be used for escape and evasion, will cut wood, nails, plastic and bone. Can be made into a bow saw.

Things to watch out for are:
  • A wire saw must have a breaking strain of around 50 kilos.
  • It should be made from stainless steel.
  • Study the way any handles are fixed to the blade, this is weakest point.
  • Choose a saw with handles made from nylon tape, rather than steel rings as ring are painful on the fingers with prolonged use.
  • Take care not to pack the saw in close proximity to your compasses if it gives off a magnetic field.
Recommended Manufacturer
BCB International Ltd, Clydesmuir road, Cardiff, CF24 2QS, U.K.


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