Survival kits, how to make

For the car, woods, or home
Updated Jun 29, 2011

This doc will show you how to make a survival kit for just about any situation in North America in a freshwater situation. The kits are made by taking the Basic Kit and adding situation specific materials to it. The basic kit can be kept in it's own container, while the add-on kits can each have their own container. When going out, grab a basic kit and the other appropriate kit for your situation. Print this out and take it with you.

This is not a detailed how-to guide, it merely lists what equipment you will find useful.

Table of Contents

  1. Containers
  2. Basic kit
  3. Forest kit
  4. Car kit
  5. Home kit
  6. Food to store
  7. How to build a fire
  8. Links

The Basics

The most important basic needs in an emergency situation are:


What will you store your survival kit in? There are several types of containers that can be used, the best is water tight so no moisture rusts any metal parts and the medicines don't go bad too soon.
  1. 35mm film canister. One of the most popular containers for kits, but they are a bit small. Alternatively, put meds and things that need to be kept away from moisture in a film container and put that in a bigger container.
  2. Small Tupperware container. Tupperware does make some containers that are waterproof but a bit bigger than the film container. Lock'N'Lock containers are generally square and have a locking tab on every side, plus a rubber seal. These should be waterproof.
  3. Sucrets box. These are plastic now and are a great size. Not waterproof.
  4. Mint box. Those mint boxes are usually metal and are also a good size.
  5. Shoe polish box. These are also metal, but may rust.
  6. Floss box. These are plastic but not moisture proof, and they are small. Might be used to hold fishing line.
  7. Plastic Sealing jar. What is this? I don't know what it is really called, but it is a plastic, glass, or ceramic jar with a matching top, that has a rubber seal in the rim, and when you pull a metal latch over the top it seals tightly. Spreadable cheese used to come in the crock types. And some stores sell them empty. Some dollar stores also have them in smaller sizes. Look around.
  8. Sample makeup containers. Some sample makeup containers are small glass jars which are fairly tough. These could be useful for keeping meds in. If you really want to seal them, put a small piece of plastic wrap over the top of the jar before screwing the lid on.
  9. Waterproof camping bag. Bought at camping store. Great for storing things in like a spare change of clothese, fire making bag, etc.
  10. 5 gallon bucket with lid. Waterproof, mouse proof, floats, can be used as a seat and storage. Very handy.
  11. Lock 'N Lock. These sturdy containers are square or rectangle, but have a lock on every side, and often a rubber seal. Used in geocaching to keep things dry in a variety of outdoor situations. Update: I am now seeing these in Dollar Tree stores and Big Lots. Not sure how well they work though, but they are NOT the Lock N Lock brand.
There are lots of containers out there. Look in your food isle at the store, or other isles. Or you can buy something made for camping or hunting. I prefer something that's big enough to hold what I need, is plastic, and is moisture proof. Dollar or discount stores can also have good jars. I found a perfect sized plastic container with a rubber seal.

First, The Fire Making bag

The fire making bag is all the essentials you need to make a fire in a waterproof bag. Think: if this bag were tossed in a river or pool, would the contents stay dry? How about dragging the bag 5 ft underwater. Does water seep into it? Put in a ziploc with a double zip seal, or get a special waterproof bag for camping. A Tupperware, Rubbermaid, Lock N Lock or other airtight container would also work.
  1. BIC Lighter. Even a dead lighter's sparks will light up dry cotton. This may or may not make sparks when wet.
  2. Matches. In waterproof container. Always have triple redundancy when it comes to making fire.
  3. Firesteel. Have an alternate way of making fire. Even makes sparks when wet.
  4. Tinder. Anything that will light from a spark from your firesteel. All these items have been tested by me and they work with a firesteel: cotton balls with vaseline, paper towel, tissues, anything that will catch a spark. KEEP THIS DRY in a waterproof container.
  5. Kindling. Paper, pinecones, fatwood*, dry pine needles, all make great kindling.
  6. Joke birthday candles. These catch fire easily and won't blow out. Great for starting kindling on fire.
*Fatwood is a species of pine found wild only in the southern US, but could be sold in stores all over the US in the camping section. It is generally a seasonal item, sold only during the camping (warm) season.

Basic kit

Minimal items you will need in a survival situation. This is not intended to be used by itself, but is combined with other kits to make a full kit. Regardless of the situation, you will need these items.
  1. Fire kit. See above.
  2. Small water filter.
  3. 2 Water bottles. Fill this the day you leave, especially if you are in a hot climate. Potable water is critical to survival. One water bottle is for "dirty" unfiltered water. Filter the water and put it in the second bottle. Clearly mark both bottles with a permanent marker.
  4. Metal can. Used to boil water to purify. Alternate water purification method used over a fire. Nest with other items if possible.
  5. Pocket knife. If it has a screwdriver, all the better. The knife should have a sturdy knife blade. Many Swiss Army or Multitool knives are thin and cheap. Think twice before using those.
  6. Sturdy Fixed blade knife. Mainly for splitting branches during a rain. So you can get at the dry wood in the center of the branch to start your fire. You don't have to spend a lot of money on a knife, but avoid hollow handle "survival" knives. They are cheaply made and not worth the money. You can get a good fixed blade Mora knife for $15us. Avoid any knives not made in a G7 country (that includes all of Asia.)
  7. Bandanna. Has many uses: remove sweat from brow, tie up something, arch support for your shoes, face mask, water prefilter.
  8. Dental floss. Can be used for a variety of things, like tying light items together. Strong. Use for: fishing line, shoe laces, tying shelter.
  9. Pain medication. This includes aspirin, tylenol, ibuprofen, or naproxin sodium. Get about 5 doses (about 10 tablets/caplets).
  10. 3 small bandaids, 6 larger bandaids (like 3.5" wide).
  11. Anti bacterial spray, cream, gel, or wipes. Good for cuts and such. Also, clean hands are very important.
  12. Tweezers. For removing splinters and other fine work.
  13. Scissors. Used mostly to cut in awkward areas where a knife wouldn't work so well.
  14. Whistle. Used so searchers can help find you. 3 whistle blasts is a call for help.
  15. Small flashlight. I love the LED flashlights, especially the mini ones on keychains. Though they could cost $10 to buy, it may cost you $8 to put new batteries in them. But they use very little power and are very tough. Get one that has an on/off switch. You may want the light on while your hands are doing something else. Remember, night time is often when you are in a pinch and need your kit.
  16. Candle. Long-term light source. Heat source is neglible. Make sure it is in a wind-proof container. Multiple tea lights could be used to boil water.
  17. Safety pins. These have a lot of uses also, like pinning a tool to your clothes, etc. You can take one large safety pin and put the point through the loop of several medium pins, and it will hold them all together. I have used these to keep my backpack straps from slipping and loosening.
  18. Survival book. To refresh your memory on the all important skills of water purification, getting food, staying dry and warm, staring fires, etc. It will give you something to read on those rainy days also.
  19. Hand sanitizer. Can be used to wash hands or light fires outside. Prevention of illness is very important where there are no doctors, so keep your hands clean.
  20. Sunscreen. Use when working or playing outdoors.
  21. Bugspray. Keeping the bugs away makes the outdoors more pleasant.
  22. Paracord. Can be used to rig shelters, shoe laces, or inner threads can be used as sewing thread.
Optional items.
  1. Paper and pencil. To help you map where you've been so you don't go in circles. Also good for taking notes.
  2. Razor blade. Can be used to perform minor injury maintenance if needed, like lancing a boil. Or to dress animals. A utility knife is also good. Don't get the cheap, all-plastic ones, they break easily. Get the metal reinforced ones, not the all-plastic ones.
  3. Bicycle tire tube. Make an old bicycle inner tube into thick rubber bands by cutting it into 1" circles. I have seen whole inner tubes at the dollar store for $1us.
  4. Entertainment. Playing cards, a book, a journal, etc. For those rainy days stuck in the tent.

Forest/Warm Weather kit

Add this kit to the Basic kit to get a kit suitable for a forest or camping. This kit is for warm weather only.
  1. Fire kit. See above.
  2. Basic kit. See above.
  3. Fish hooks and 50' of line. Plus 3 sinkers. Use wood onsite for a float/bobber by tying a slip knot in the line and tightening around the wood. Use dead, dry wood.
  4. Signal mirror. Here in the US there are not too many situations which demand use of a signal mirror to signal a search plane overhead. Thus, when I go on short trips fairly close to home, I leave this out. If I'm lost, it's more likely I will find a road before a search plane is even launched. Many hard drive platters (inside the computer hard drive) are already polished and make an excellent mirror. They already have a hole in the center.
  5. Parachute cord (aka "para cord"). Can be used to build a shelter, bind a limb, etc. Get about 30' or so.
  6. Dry condom. These can hold about 2 liters of water. Good for carrying "dirty" water to the campsite, or using to take a shower. (2 liters is a little more than a gallon.) The condom would be used to carry "dirty" unpurified water. Have your drinking bottle hold the potable water.
  7. Water tablets or water filter. Water is essential for survival, even more than food. So getting safe drinking water is critical. Or you can bring water to a boil to kill organisms. The water may not look nice but it will be safe to drink.
  8. Snare wire. Used to make snares. This can be picture wire, electrical wire, or something else just as strong. I think the green flower wire sold in garden shops will work here also. If you do not have experience with snares you can omit this. Your time will be better spent gathering nuts and berries. Go with what you know.
  9. Compass. Just a small one will do, to help get your bearings.
  10. Metal pan. For cooking and boiling water. You might want to have 2, one for water, one for cooking. A metal can will also work.
  11. Wood or alcohol stove. Make these out of a juice can or large fruit can. Plans on the internet are common. Also plans on
  12. Straw, plastic. Used for drinking or getting water from tree bags or holes in the ground. Flexible aquarium airline tubing is also excellent for this, and cheap. Get it at the pet store.
  13. Plastic garbage bags, 2-3 gallon, 2 each. Used for catching transpiration from tree limbs for water. Use straw/tubing for drinking water in bottom.

Car kit

Use with Basic Kit. These are mostly supplies used in the winter where your car gets trapped somewhere and cannot walk to safety (it's too far or weather conditions do not permit it). You will need things to keep you warm while you await rescue.
  1. Basic kit. See above.
  2. Wool Blanket. Many situations occur during the winter when a car gets stuck in the snow. Get a foil-like emergency blanket (they really do work) or a nice wool blanket which keeps you warm even if it's wet.
  3. Knit hat. Your head loses a lot of heat. Keeping it covered in layers helps keep you warm. Especially while you sleep.
  4. Wool socks. If you get trapped, put on these wool socks over your regular socks, then put on your boots. Keeping your feet warm also helps keep your body warm.

Home kit

This section assumes you lost power at home and have other items to use for helping yourself. Get one or more of these in your blackout kit. Use with Basic Kit and Forest Kit.
  1. Fire kit. See above.
  2. Basic kit. See above.
  3. Candles. Used for light mostly. Several tealights together could be used to heat or boil water. This candle lantern seems pretty safe. The UCO candle lanterns are also safe and long-burning.
  4. Alcohol stove and cooking set with 2 pots. Use one pot to boil water and the other for cooking dinner. There is an East German surplus at which I bought for about $13. It looks pretty good and it all stores inside the pots.
  5. Kerosene lantern. A single kerosene lantern is safe to use indoors, but it might generate mild kero fumes. Stop using if you feel dizzy, confused, numb extremeties, or other abnormal symptoms.
  6. Hand crank radio. The ideal radio could have a solar power, or hand crank which recharges the batter. It would receive AM and FM to get news on your situation.
  7. Wool blankets. These are very warm, and if the heat goes out in the winter, you'll need at least one or two of them per person.
  8. LED flashlight. Good for light and the batteries last 100+ hours, much more than the 10 hours for a regular flashlight. Go to a camping store to find an LED headlamp, then you can keep your hands free for other tasks, like reading. Or order online from They have a keychain LED light for $3.
  9. Water storage containers. Use some for flushing toilets, some for washing up, and some for making drinkable water. 5g buckets with covers work well.
  10. Gun. For hunting small game even a .22 is fine, or a BB or pellet gun. Squirrels are easy to shoot, clean and cook. Good for protein. Even a high powered BB or pellet gun can shoot squirrel. Pellet/BB gun should be 650fps or higher and the kill shot shold be an eye shot or back of the head. Do not expect to bring down a squirrel with a pellet gun and a heart/lung shot. Be sure to have plenty of ammo. Best pellets are pointed pellets but flat heads also work.
  11. Entertainment. Books, playing cards, journal, stuff for the kids. Survival book to brush up on skills. Bikes to ride around during the summer.


If you are bugging in, you have more room to store stuff. Here are some food suggestions for long term (about 1 year) storage. These foods were chosen because they do not require refrigeration. If you open a can of something, eat the whole thing right away unless you have a cold (40F) place to store it.
  1. Grits. Grits are ground, dry corn. A dry food easy to store and easy to cook, just add boiling hot water. Can flavor with one of: butter, salt, jam, syrup, sugar, etc.
  2. Cream of wheat. Wheat is the same as grits, but made from wheat.
  3. Oatmeal. Another dry grain that is easy to make.
  4. Quinoa. A gluten-free grain you simply boil for 15 minutes. Add raisens, dried fruit, butter, or anything else you want.
  5. Canned vegetables. One of the most important foods for getting vitamins.
  6. Dried vegetables. If you can find them.
  7. Canned fruits. Also important.
  8. Dried fruit. These might go moldy in very humid areas.
  9. Canned meats. Required for protein and long-lasting energy. Ex: chicken, ham, spam, tuna, or anything with meat like chili.
  10. Canned or dry beans. Good source of protein. This includes canned refried beans.
  11. Rice. Filling, can be flavored many ways. While dried rice is cheapest, they also make canned spanish rice, a good alternative.
  12. Pasta or noodles. Any type of noodle, whether from wheat, rice, or something else, is good. Easy to make, easy to flavor.
  13. Jerky. High in salt and protein. Not good for people with high blood pressure.
  14. Dried milk. For kids or for cereal.
  15. Cereal. Cereal can be eaten with mixed up dried milk, or just plain dry. It's not pleasant but it can be done. Drink plenty of water with it.
  16. Instant potatoes. High in salt but good for carbohydrates.
  17. Alcohol, booze. Good for trading for other things. Can be an anti-bacterial on wounds or used to sterilize medical instruments. High proof (140 proof or more) can be used to power an alcohol stove, if you want to waste it that way.
  18. Whiskey. Supposed to be a good cure for a sore throat.
  19. Spices. Spices can be used in cooking or trading. Salt is required for life (but not too much). Good spices to have on hand is: salt, pepper, hot pepper, cajun spice (a mix of peppers and salt), minced garlic (stays fresh longer than powdered), minced onion. Liquid spices: soy sauce, BBQ sauce (it's so salty it should not go bad without refrigeration), vinegar, cooking sherry. Honestly, with all the sodium in canned/prepared foods, it is highly unlikely you will need to add more salt. But spices make plain old rice, beans, and pasta a little tolerable.
  20. Oils. Cooking oils keep things from sticking to the pan, and also provide some calories. Extra virgin olive oil stays fresh longest without refrigeration.
  21. Electrolytes. When you sweat your body loses sodium and potassium. These are 2 electrolytes. You can get sodium from regular salt (sodium chloride) and potassium from bananas, or salt substitude (potassium chloride). Be sure your salt subst. is really potassium chloride as there are several types. Mix with water, coolaid, or juice, and drink. Use 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt subst per liter of water. The resulting drink should taste slightly salty.

How to build a fire

This section tells a novice how to build a fire outside. Fires should not be built inside a car, even in a metal container. Fumes will build up which could kill the occupants. Fires in a building could get out of control. But if you are careful and make the fire in a metal container, you could make it work. This is, after all, an emergency situation.

Important points to remember:

  1. Fire rises, so does heat, therefore place your unburned logs above the place that is currently burning and they will light also.
  2. Fire needs oxygen to burn so don't place so much wood or tinder over your fire that it goes out.
  3. Small diameter wood burns faster. Larger wood burns smaller.
  4. Practice practice practice. It gets easier with experience.
  5. Wet wood does not burn well, so try to find the dryest wood you can. You may need to use your knife to split wet wood to get at the dry wood in the core. Once a bed of coals is made, even wet wood will eventually catch fire, but try to use the smaller sized branches first. They dry out more quickly and light sooner.

Finding tinder.

Tinder is something that will catch a spark and light into a flame. Some of these I have tried with a firesteel, some I haven't. A wise person would try them in person to evaluate how well they work. All items must be bone dry to work, so keep them in a water tight container.

  1. Find a place for the fire. On top of bricks, in a metal container, or in a pit dug in the earth will contain the fire. Remove any flammable materials from within 2' of the fire pit/place.
  2. Gather the materials you will need. Matches, tinder (cotton ball or similar), kindling (small sticks of wood from pencil-size to thumb-size), firewood (larger pieces of wood for the longer-term fire).
  3. Feather out the tinder. That means take a piece of cotton ball (a half should do well) and pull it apart so it is thin and gauzy. A big fluffy cotton ball burns better because more oxygen can get to it. Do not pull it into pieces, just stretch it out in all directions.
  4. Place the tinder in a dry place in the fire pit. If the pit is not dry, use a dry leaf on which to place it.
  5. Now place kindling over and around the back of the tinder. Make sure when you light a match you can light the tinder. You do not need to use lots and lots of kindling, but use say, 10 pieces of 12" long kindling should be enough to capture the fire from the tinder. The shape of the kindling pile does not matter. What matters is when the tinder is lit, the flames should go upward and light the kindling.
  6. Light the tinder with a lighter or match. On a windy day, kneel close to the fire BUT NOT OVER IT. Fire and smoke go up and you don't want to be in their path when the fire lights. Shield the tinder with your hands or some other container until the file is going well.
  7. Once the tinder is lit, watch it so that the flames are going into the kindling. Move kindling if some of them are not catching the fire. If some of them will catch the fire, leave it alone.
  8. Add larger pieces of wood after 1-2 minutes, when the kindling is really burning well. Let the wood start burning for 2-3 minutes before you put a larger piece on.
  9. Now your fire should be going well with wrist sized pieces on fire, and starting the larger pieces on fire.
  10. That's it! Oh, put away your tinder to keep it dry.
If your fire goes out, like if you went to sleep, restart the fire like this:
  1. Gather some kindling and larger logs. You might need tinder also.
  2. Find the hottest part of the fire. Blow on it to blow away ashes and you will see where the red embers are.
  3. Place a handful of kindling over these embers. Let the kindling touch the embers if necessary. Now take a deep breath (away from the fire, you don't want a lungful of smoke) and blow slowly but firmly on the embers below your kindling. It should be a long but firm breath. If that doesn't work, repeat.

Misc tips

Plant food

Out in the wild in North America there are many edible plant foods, especially during the summer. This section deals with plants found during the summer months. When in doubt about the safety of something, cook it. Cooking it kills many bacteria and toxins. Plants may have been sprayed with pesticides or may contain dangerous fungal toxins. Always wash with fresh potable water before cooking or eating them.
Another very common item, which is the seed of the oak tree. It is a round nut which comes to a point on the bottom, and the top has a "cap" which attaches to the tree. These nuts have a lot of tannic acid in them so they must be shelled, smashed, then boiled in water before they can be eaten. Change the water 2-3 times at least. The mash can be eaten cooked or dried and made into flour. The only hazard is too much tannic acid could give you a stomach ache.
This is a weed found in many lawns. It has an oblong almond shaped leaf. Some leaves have warped edges and are called "curly dock".
Carrot, wild or "Queen Ann's Lace"
This is a tricky one, since it is VERY similar to the killer wild hemlock. The leaves look like typical carrot leaves, with a small root, which is usually white. Wild parsnip also looks like this. But I can't describe the differences between this and hemlock. I would just avoid it for now.
This is probably the most common and most easily identifiable plant in North America. Cattails grow on the edges of swamps and lakes and rivers. They have long, flat leaves. When they flower they have a cylindar-shaped brown fuzzy mass on top of a round hollow stem. Some cattails have a point that comes off the top of the brown mass. Many parts of cattails are edible. The shoots grow below ground and can be boiled and eaten. The brown mass can be chopped, mixed with water, heated and eaten. Even when the brown mass turns to fluff that can be eaten.
The leaves can be eaten, though the milky sap may taste bitter. Flowers may also be eaten. The leaves are oblong getting very skinny towards the plant center. The leaves often have small points going around the edge of them. There are also weeds which have leaves similar to dandylions. These leaves are often deeply cleft. These plants are often wild lettuce, whose leaves can also be eaten raw.
Nuts are also common. All these are edible: walnuts, chestnut, almonds, butternut, beech nut and many other tree-growing nuts. They can be eaten raw. Some nuts, like walnuts, must be speciall processed before being eaten or the person may get sick.
Onion, Wild, chive, garlic, leeks (ramps)
The difference between wild onion and chive is the size of the root. A larger root bulb indicates an onion. And a garlic bulb smells of...garlic! These are easily identified because they are just small versions of our store bought onions. They have a hollow stalk with a round cross-section, grow about 6" high, and they like wet shady places in the woods (that's where I've found them anyway) or 5'-10' away from the edge of water (lake, stream, etc). Break off a stem and smell it, if it smells like onion, you can eat it. Eat it raw or cooked. Eat the root too, or use it to flavor other dishes. They tend to grow in groups but can be found alone.

If you want to grow your own chives, buy a pot or plant them from seed. They are very hardy and will come back every year, after a very cold winter with lots of snow! Caution: They spread a lot because the seeds grow so well.

Pine nuts
Pine nuts are the seeds you find in pinecones, which are from pine trees. Pull off a "leaf" from a brown pinecone that has opened. Look at the end of the leaf you just pulled out and there should be a nut which is easily pulled off. I'm sure there are pine nuts from some trees which taste better.
Plantain leaves were eaten by the Pilgrims. They actually raised them as a crop. Now they are nothing but weeds in someone's lawn. There are 2 kinds. These are the plants where, if you pull out a leaf, you can see the leaf veins hanging out where the leaf broke off. Check these links for pictures.
Puffball mushroom
This is probably the only mushroom you should eat as it is easily identified. When it goes to seed, children jump on them and a cloud of spores come out. Puffball's have a very small (less than 1/4") or no stem. They are very round, white on the bottom to light or dark brown on top. Get them before they go to seed. Slice them and fry them in oil or butter. There are some puffballs which are all white, and they have flakes of skin on them which seem to be peeling off. When crushed they also give off a strong foul odor. I would avoid these, they just don't look right.
Raspberries, blackberries, etc.
Raspberries grow on tall, canelike stalks with leaves that contain rough edges. Stalks usually 3' to 7' long, bent over, but can be longer. Fruit usually red when ripe, sometimes black. Stalks contain lots of thorns, like roses. Wild raspberries can be red or black, and are hollow, like a bowl. But there is also a domestic raspberry that is yellow when ripe.

Blackberries have similar leaves to raspberries, but they grow low to the ground. Fruit looks like raspberries but is usually black, and is solid, not hollow. Unripe fruit is red. Has smaller thorns on stems than raspberries. Also called brambles, they will often get caught on your jeans as you walk through them.

Strawberry, wild
These are small versions of our commercial strawberry. They usually grow in sunny patches, they are low to the ground. The red berries are about size of a nickel or smaller. Unripe berries go from white, to green, then to red as they ripen.
Tree fruits
There are many wild tree fruits, but I'll cover a few here. Mullberry: has yellowish bark with oblong fruits which look like a raspberry. Berries are edible raw. Cherries can also be eaten but the fruit part is often small compared to the size of the pit. Chestnuts and buckeyes are also edible.
This is why you brought the fishing line and hooks. You did bring them, right? Use for bait: worms, insects. Look under logs or stones. Use these for a float: driftwood or other piece of wood. Tie and slip knot in the middle of your line and put the wood through it.
Mollusks, clams
Clams are found in salt or fresh water. Freshwater clams should not be eaten raw as they may contain human parasites, they should be cooked thoroughly. Before harvesting a clam, smell it. If it smells even faintly rotten, it may be dead or have an infection. Do not eat it.