DIY: Wilderness Survival Tin

Survival tins, (AKA “Altoid survival tins”) are a great thing. They give you an opportunity to have a better chance for survival, should you lose access to your pack, and only have what’s in your pockets. They also give you an opportunity to get creative, and really do some real critical thinking, reasoning, and planning.

What also makes survival tins go great, aside from the convenient and compact nature of them, is the ability to build different tins for varying environments. You can build a wilderness tin, sure, but you can also break that down into a desert environment survival tin, a piney woods survival tin, a rainforest tin, or a reef island tin (you can even build an urban survival tin, which is a post for another day, but we definitely have plans to address that). You can do all of these relatively cheap, and you’ll be amazed at how much you will learn while researching items to put in your tin.

Survival TinHere is an example of a generic survival tin I put together:

  • 1 multi-tool (multi uses)
  • 1 micro-flashlight (illumination/signaling)
  • 1 micro lighter (fire/illumination)
  • 1 sheets of tin foil (cooking/signaling/water collection)
  • 1 signal mirror (remove splinters by scraping)
  • 1 roll of duct tape (too many uses to list)
  • 1 can opener (P51 style. Gut fish/remove splinters)
  • 3 fishing hooks (include fishing line, or use 550 cord)
  • 4 fishing line guides (setting snares/trip wires)
  • 1 mini-saw (saw wood, bone, strike fero rod)

My thoughts on a good survival tin are: pick items that have at LEAST two philosophies of use (POU), and fulfill your most basic needs. Obviously, they also need to be small, so full size lighters and knives are out. But items like fish hooks and tin foil can easily fit into almost any common tin.

Gerber Dime microGerber Micro with 9v batteryOne item I must recommend and firmly suggest is a mini multi-tool. It has so many uses it just would not make any sense to not include. I went with a Gerber Dime micro. (I highly suggest everyone also pack a full size Leatherman/Gerber multi-tool, as this in NO way replaces that).

In this tool you get several small versions of tools you might commonly use like a knife, tweezers, pliers, and a flat/phillips screwdriver. While some may scoff at such a tool as a viable survival item, I will 1) point out that said scoffers have obviously never watched MacGyver, and 2) point out that it would be better to have said micro tool, than not, correct? For $20, I think it’s a no-brainer.

Survial Tin CollageHow does one use a survival tin? It’s really up to you. You may choose to leave it in your pack as a back up kit, or in your car “just because”. I personally choose to carry mine in my pocket when I camp, hike or drive. There’s no telling what can happen to your gear in the field. You might set it down nearby to take in a great view on a cliff (obligatory selfie included, of course), whoops, there it went. Or, you’re canoeing down a river or in a lake, and you capsize, your pack is at the bottom of the lake (if you didn’t tie it down well). Whatever you have in your pockets or on your person is now what you’re left with. If all you had was your pocket knife and your wallet, good luck (I hope you took our advanced S.P.E.A.R. level C course!).

But you don’t need luck. You have skill. You have guts, nerves of steel, knowledge, and you have the most basic of needs covered in a very inconspicuous and compact package, which resides in your pocket. You are prepared. With some determination, a cool head, and just a few basic supplies, you can increase your odds of survival and rescue.

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