Camping & Survival

Customizing Your Survival Kit

A silver package of sheet plastic, an amber prescription bottle with matches and a silver rimmed signal mirror on a multi-colored floral background.

Injured hikers, stranded motorists, lost children and disoriented hunters make up a majority of rescues performed by many search and rescue teams across the country. Unexpected things can, and do, happen including changes in weather, a twisted ankle or a wrong turn. And when things start to go wrong, the laws of nature seem to amplify the problem. Before you know it you find yourself in an uncertain and perhaps dangerous situation

Customize Your Survival Kit with The Right Supplies
A silver package of sheet plastic, an amber prescription bottle with matches and a silver rimmed signal mirror on a multi-colored floral background.

The key to survival is being prepared, staying calm and thinking on the fly. Having a survival kit increases your odds of getting out alive, having the right items in your kit helps as well.

Whether you are making a personal carry kit, a family-sized kit or even a car kit there are three things to think about with when preparing a survival kit: Seasonal, Personal and Geographical. You can easily organize your survival kit if you remember to categorize the contents under these categories and build from there. Preparing a kit for specific situations will increase your odds of survival.


What do you need personally? Are you a diabetic or have other health issues? If so, your personal pack should include necessary items or medication.


Where will you be going? Geography changes what is necessary in your survival pack. You may need different things if you are planning a vacation in populated areas with consistent cell tower coverage where you can call for help as compared to hiking solo in the wilderness.


Finally, consider the season. A winter survival pack should include wool hat, gloves and proper footwear compared to a summer pack that includes light hat and sunscreen. Many of the basics of the kits are the same but it helps to be prepared for the different conditions for each season.

Basic Supplies

Now that you have your kits personalized and geared towards more specific seasons and locations, you will want to add some of the basics. This list is a general guideline; you may want to add more items.

  • Bottled Water
  • Snacks (granola bars, crackers)
  • Hard candy (less likely to melt in the heat and is a lightweight source of energy)
  • Packets of honey (honey is the only food that does not spoil)
  • Toilet paper (also good for marking a trails and wound care)
  • Cap/leather gloves/socks
  • First aid supplies
  • Sunscreen
  • Knife
  • Small folding saw
  • Emergency Blankets Gold/Silver
  • Waterproof container for matches (old prescription bottles are great)
  • STRIKE ANYWHERE matches (remember even matches have a shelf life)
  • Several fine steel wool pads
  • Magnesium Fire Starting Tool (can be purchased at outdoor supply stores)
  • 9-volt battery
  • Signal Mirror
  • Whistle
  • Water purification tablet-Potable Aqua
  • Metal canteen cup and canteen
  • *50 foot nylon utility cord
  • *6×10 sheet of plastic (6mil works best)
  • *Roll of Scotch 33 black electrical tape

(*use these three items to make a shelter)

An amber prescription bottle with a white cap and matches inside laying on a blue/multi-colored floral background.
A prescription bottle is a great, and inexpensive, way to store matches for your survival kit

Once you gather your must-have items, pack them in a space-saving way. This is where creativity comes into play. For example, a prescription bottle full of matches maybe able to hold a few pieces of hard candy in the space near the lid. Then stow the bottle in the hollow portion of the toilet paper roll. Old fanny packs, coffee cans and small plastic toolboxes make great overall containers for your finished customized kits.

Although you hope you never have to use it is important to remember a survival kit is not a time capsule. When you are in an emergency situation is not the time to discover your snacks are moldy or your battery is corroded. A good rule to adhere to is to evaluate your survival pack a minimum of four times a year, usually with the change of each season and especially before you head out on an adventure.

What would you add to your emergency survival kit? Tell us in the comment section.


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (10)

  1. Robert: there’s Super Glue and then there are Super Glues. Years ago I was warned against it because some have dangerous compounds like cyanide. I’m guessing they’re the ones imported from you know where. Doctors do have a super glue that’s safe but I’ve never seen it in a pharmacy or a hospital supply store. Instead I opted for steri-strips that hold the flesh together almost as well as a stitch. Doctors have used them on me a couple of times so I know they work. If I find out what super glue is safe from my saw bones I’ll let you know and I’d appreciate it if you’d do the same.

    The list goes on and on and it’s only limited by what you can safely carry. I think it’s important that we keep the list going because I fear someday our lives will depend on it. Recently I added a 5′ by 7′ plastic tarp and a Micro Tekk fart sack that only weighs 3 lbs. It’s rated good down to 0 to +5 degrees and I’m still pretty comfortable with the weight of my bug out bag. Hank

  2. How about adding super glue first aid kit, for minor cuts. Instead of a battery operated flashlight, you should have a solar-wind up flashlight. You should also pack up a pencil and little notebook. I have also packed in my kit a solar power-wind up radio. The less batteries you need to carry the lighter your kits will be.

  3. I have since added a tiny hand operated plastic pencil sharpener with a single blade to my fire starting gear. Recently someone sent me an email demonstrating the use of it and I tried it. It works. You can turn a pencil size dried twig into a pile of easy to light tinder shavings with just a few twists. You can find them at anyplace that sells stationary. I already had three of them in my desk. Hank

  4. John: Steel wool, 00 extra fine grade, is great especially when triggered with a battery but I also like cotton balls and hand sanitizer triggered with a match, lighter or magnesium striker. The cotton balls are compressible in a pack and if you don’t need them for lighting tinder you can still use them for their intended use. We sound like a bunch of pyromaniacs, but I’ve had more than one occasion out in the field where the weather turned ugly and I was shaking cold like a dog trying to pass peach seeds while I was trying to light a fire.

    I see we’re both fans of BICs. They’re cheap and my buddy and I just split a six pack. I like the way you can regulate the size of the flame. There are a lot of things that you can use to light your tinder to get your kindling going to start a fire and BICs are at the top of my list.

    Have you seen the fire starter sticks that you strike like giant matches made out of what looks like glued together pressed sawdust? They’re about four or five inches long, about an inch and a half wide and about a quarter of an inch think. There are about eight in a box, they look like over sized matches with a combustible red striker head and a lighting abrasive on the side of the green box. They’re a popular brand, Coghlin or Coleman, I think. They’re cheap and I bought a box. As long as they’re dry they should work but I haven’t had the opportunity to use them yet. They say you can use them to light fires, bar-b-cues, etc. Have you used them? Hank

    At the Mountain Leadership School at Pickle Meadows, California they apparently still teach the Marines to light fires a lot of different ways but their favorite method still seems to be with the bow. I didn’t care for it and I wonder if when the instructors aren’t looking if they’re still using their trusty Zippos.

    I have a friend who carries a pocket full of shredded paper in his field jacket but I prefer to fill my pockets with Hershey bars. I guess there’s a way whenever there’s a need and a will. Hank

  5. Hank: Thanks for the great info. Like you and your friend, I opted for a small Bic for my bug out bag. I put 1 in a ziplock snack bag with a little fine steel wool and a couple waterproof fuel cubes (from cheaper than dirt). Like you, I want 2 or 3 ways to start fire.

  6. John: Unfortunately you’re right, those Chinese Magnesium fire starter knock offs we see in stores don’t work worth a darn right out of the box. But they can be improved. They give you a piece of a hack saw blade on a little chain attached to a drilled stone base that has a magnesium dowel strip attached to the side, I assume it’s glued. They tell you to use the top edge of the attached hack saw blade, not the teeth, but it’s heavily coated with paint. The magnesium strip is also coated with something. I tried it their way and in the grips of hypothermia I wouldn’t want to count on lighting a fire with it right out of the box before I froze to death.

    I took their hack saw blade striker off the chain and stripped the paint of the top flat edge with my wire buffing wheel just to see what would happen. Once I got clean metal I was able to scrape off the coating on the magnesium dowel strip and it worked fine. For what it’s worth, the back of my knife blade works just as well once you get the coating off of the magnesium strip.

    A friend was setting up a bug out bag and he bought one of the more expensive ones that you see in most sporting goods stores that are identical and he complained about the same problem. I told him what I had done and and once he got the striker and strip down to metal on metal his worked a lot faster and better. We’ve both agreed matches and a Zippo or a propane/butane lighter are easier and more dependable. We’ve both added a little can of lighter fluid to our packs and we’ve relegated the magnesium fire starters to a plastic zip lock snack bag and third place option for fire starting. What’s your take on this? Hank

  7. be careful when choosing fire starters. Many of the “Magnesium” bars from China are not what they claim to be. You can tell good from bad by shaving off a bit. Shavings are good, flakes are bad (and won’t light with a match-let alone a spark)

  8. Whether you’re preparing a bug out bag or a field survival pack for urban or rural conditions your creativity is what’s going to make it complete, suitable for the climatic conditions and weight manageable.

    A first aid kit is certainly a must and there are a lot of good commercial products available but few that I have seen are really complete. One thing I find missing in almost every commercial first aid kit on the market is a simple triangular bandage. It’s versatile and it can be used for almost any thing from your head to your hands to your feet and everything in between. It’s compact and you can use it to: keep a compression dressing in place, wrap a sprained joint, it makes a great sling and two can hold an improvised splint in place. In the worst case scenario, with the additions of a stick, it makes a great tourniquit. If you can get a hold of an old copy of the American Red Cross’s, “FIRST AID AND PERSONAL SAFETY,” manual they covered all the possible uses. Triangular bandages are also very inexpensive.

    In the absence of a sterile dressing we used to advise our students to keep feminine napkins on hand. They’re sterile, individually wrapped, they’re compact and highly absorbent. We encouraged them to build their own first aid kits and it’s amazing what they could fit in anything from a quart to a gallon zip lock bag.

    Sheet plastic can keep the rain off of you but I’ve replaced it in my pack with a heavier duty blue plastic tarp already equipped with grommets. You can find them almost anywhere. The 4′ by 6′ tarp is too small for anything other than an improvised lean to but the 8′ by 10′ isn’t that much heavier and it’s much more versatile. They’re easily unfolded, used and refolded where the heavier duty plastic painters tarps didn’t always do as well. They can be rolled up and tied onto the top of your pack for quick use when you get caught in an unexpected rain squall and they’re flexible enough to line the inside of your pack. They’re big enough to make a sturdy improvised shelter, especially if you brought some strong cord. If need be it’ll keep you out of the sun. They usually come in: gray, green and blue so they’re easily seen from the air if you picked a contrasting color to your surroundings. They’re also inexpensive. I hope this helps and I can get some better ideas from the rest of you. Hank

  9. A smalls multi mode LED flashlight that takes a single AA battery with two lithium batteries. Lithium batteries have a shelf life of ten years, and are more stable in extreme heat or cold. Plus AA batteries are probably the most common batteries out there so you may happen upon them when in need. Most quality single cell flashlights now a days have a “moonlight” mode that can extend battery life for days and days of use.

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