What You Should Have in Your Survival Kit

If done right, a survival kit is one of the easiest ways to make sure you’re prepared for an unexpected over-nighter in the wild. Properly designing, stocking, and maintaining your survival kit is not only good insurance against the unexpected, it’s also fun for the whole family, and it teaches the kids — in a fun way — basic principles like self-reliance and responsibility.

Watch the video to see what’s in my kit:


Essential contents of a good survival kit

At the very least, your survival kit should provide you the means to make fire and to communicate over long distances. If stealth is not necessary, your kit should be a bright yellow or hazard-orange. If you need to be more discreet, you should go with a dark color. The problem then is that you’ll be more liable to lose the kit. You can reduce this risk the way I’ve done — attach a Tooblite Mini glow-in-the-dark light stick. It uses no bulbs or batteries, and it lasts forever, recharging by exposure to any bright light.

The very most convenient fire-starter is a butane lighter, but it’s bulky in a small case and it can discharge without your knowing it. So you should have matches or a striker, dry tinder to take a spark, and a whistle. A whistle carries a lot farther than your voice, never mind the fact that you could make yourself hoarse calling when no one is around, and then find yourself mute when help is near. With a whistle, all you have to do is blow.


A signal mirror is good for very long distances and noisy environments, but it will only work if you have direct sunlight, or maybe a light haze. In the dark, or trapped in a cave or crevasse, you’d rather have a whistle. But if a plane or helicopter is searching for you, you’d rather have a signal mirror. Fortunately, Rescue Flash makes a signal mirror so tiny you can carry both, even in a very small case like the model T1000 from S3 Cases. I actually keep the T2000 in my EDC bag, but for the purposes of this article I’m experimenting with a smaller kit that will fit in a pocket.

The T1000 is light, rigid, waterproof, and buoyant. The rigidity is important because it helps prevent crushing the contents. (Be sure not to pack your kit too tight — you might break something inside, like your matches).

Survival kit packing list

There are as many survival kits as there are survivors, but here’s a list of recommended contents for your survival kit:

  • sparker
  • waterproof strike-anywhere matches. (Note: the matches linked here are not waterproof. I waterproofed them by painting them with clear nail polish).
  • cotton tinder to take the spark
  • liquid-filled compass
  • sterile surgical steel blade
  • mini signal mirror
  • pencil and paper (e.g. taking notes about the terrain or calculating river crossing distances)
  • flat magnifier
  • 15 feet (4 meters) paracord (get the mil-spec 550 stuff — it really does matter!) Note: This is a link to a 1000′ spool of paracord. It’s the best value I can find, and if you’re like me, you’ll use every inch of it. It is tremendously useful, and an absolutely essential part of your preps, so buy 1000 feet of it!
  • whistle This is an outstanding whistle. It’s flat-ish, very loud, and has a trill that helps the sound carry very long distances.
  • razor blade. This is the razor I wish I had in my kit
  • mini hacksaw. You can just cut off a piece of hacksaw blade to fit your kit
  • snare wire
  • nylon
  • needle
  • fish hooks and sinkers
  • safety pins
  • 6-inch strip of duct tape
  • jungle-training cards (optional)
  • Tooblite Mini — this helps you mark the case in the dark, and provides light for finding or examining the contents of your kit.
Survival kit in waterproof case

Open survival kit

Survival kit contents

The more we learn from each other, the better off we all are, so please, share your kit contents by commenting below, or sending pictures or even a video link via the contact form.


19 thoughts on “What You Should Have in Your Survival Kit”

  1. I bought Mykel Hawkes Hellion Survivor knife and it came with a whistle, fire rod, can opener (p38 i think) and a small hack saw, which i keep in my coat. came with a lansky puck sharpener too, but that stays in my pack. Also have lighter (zippo), chap stick and a Sog Trident folder. I have a head torch in my coat too. I wear my 550 bracelet and have more as a knife lanyard. Thanks for all the posts. God Bless!

    1. Thanks Mac. I’ve been looking at that knife, but I haven’t pulled the trigger. Is the chap stick good for anything besides chapped lips? God bless you back!

  2. Working on re-inventing my organization – its a mess right now.

    EDC includes 2 phones, one with Echolink capability, frequently I carry a Yaesu VX-3R as its so small.
    Planning to get another Wouxun HT and AA battery pack for a go-kit to ensure I have comms capability.
    For late Summer / Fall I have a Duluth Trading "Force Nine" jacket with extra pockets – Keep a Ritter / Adventure Medical survival kit and the small first aid kit (added Lomotil, Benedryl and other meds) in one pocket, ‘space’ blanket, a couple 4X4’s, nitrile gloves and an ACO Hardware ‘flat pack’ of duct tape on the other side. Chest pocket has a Rite in the Rain notepad and there are a couple pens available. One micro lock pick set is clipped inside. LED flashlight is in its own pocket on the other chest pocket, next to the pocket for packs of tissues. Typically there is a small cap and a pair of "Wristies" (fingerless gloves) in the lower outside pockets along with a couple tear-open to activate hand warmer packs. Lately I’ve been more focused on keeping warm… but the gear will make the migration to the Winter parka soon.

    If I don’t have my SOG or Leatherman tool on my belt, I’ll likely have one in the jacket.
    Keep a lighter, razor knife (Stanley folding), Swiss Army Cyber Tool, nail clippers, spare medication, handcuff key, hankerchief and 7′ of cordage in the pants pockets. Also keep spare keys to all family member’s houses (and a spare car & house key for my own) — A common mugging tactic is to take the victim’s keys and throw them on a roof or down a sewer so you can’t follow. Police takedown tactic requires you to drop your car keys out the window. Criminals might have seen that tactic once or twice… so having another key handy could be useful.

    Homemade laminated Emergency Contact card in the wallet lists all of the home/work/cell numbers of family and close friends on one side with a medic alert box for those who need it, back has lawyers numbers, meeting locations, out of state contacts, Poison Control, Utilities… Stuff you might need to call when bad things happen.
    Each family member has one so that if we ever did evacuate we would at least know the initial rally points – I still need to scout the locations and identify specific points within the sites.

    Smith & Wesson 360PD typically rides in the pocket holster, currently carrying a Kershaw folder a friend gave me.

    That covers most of the little stuff.

  3. Then the car has its own compliment of stuff that needs review and improvement – jumper cables, entrenching tool, rag rugs, spark plug wrench, better lug wrench than the car comes with, "sportsman’s blanket", bigger first aid kit including bloodstopper dressings and a SAM splint, bottled water, 60 watt dual band plus D-STAR radio capable of standalone repeater operation and a remote car starter / alarm capable of monitoring battery voltage and running the engine whenever voltage gets low. I’m working on a micro tool kit for the car – GearWrench and a Lowe’s brand screwdriver are key pieces — Lowe’s has "bit driver" bits that have about 4" shanks so you can actually use them for recessed screws.

    Then there are other "Go-Bags" – a couple for CERT and the State Guard missions, piles of stuff that could certainly come in handy but isn’t organized well enough to be useful in any timely fashion… I’ve got work to do.

    One module that is available now is the Hospital Go Kit – that was initially built when a family member had cancer and we fairly often spent nights in hospitals… bunch of quarters (vending), several new chap-stick tubes (hospitals are very dry, leave one with the patient), paper & pens (doctor who? what medicine? – stuff you wouldn’t remember otherwise), plastic bags (you only have to take your grandma’s underpants home once to realize the value of a spare plastic bag), tissues (sometimes people cry), nuts / beef jerky / antacids / tylenol, flashlight, foam ear plugs.
    At least that is the content I recall offhand.

    There is a "shelter in place" kit which includes the requisite plastic sheeting and duct tape, also has crank-powered radio which can also charge phones, N95 masks and one cartridge pesticide rated mask, folding fans (hey – you are supposed to turn the A/C off), cards, a book… planning to add a couple sleeping pads (camping style) and dog treats. In my house the sensible place to shelter in place is a bathroom – just imagine trying to remain comfortable in a bathroom for 48 hours waiting for the radioactive dust to settle or whatnot. Gotta get some padding! The sleeping bags will be relocated to a spot near the shelter in place kit so that they can be grabbed too. I have it, but it isn’t in the box yet – one pack of "lifeboat rations" — keeps for years and is survival food for days.
    Just bought some survival food tablets – going to give them a taste test to decide if I should buy more – but one canteen sized bottle can keep you going for 2 weeks providing you aren’t exerting yourself too much.

    One very clever Go Kit item a friend showed me is a pint of 100 proof Vodka – analgesic, antiseptic, fuel, barter…

    Interesting you mentioned the Tooblite – I just ordered some along with the sheet version – planning on keeping the sheet inside a pack so that initially one can easily find stuff inside the pack and otherwise use it for myriad purposes – identification of the command post, for instance.

    There is also a "Micro Kit" — I started with a PockIts belt sheath by NiteIze, it has EMT shears, laminated incident command reference cards, flashlight, KaBar folder, SOG paratool, nitrile gloves, whistle, pepper spray… I forget what else – I suppose I should go inventory that…

    Sorry for rambling… working through a cracked rib and I’m ‘happily medicated’ at the moment.

    1. That’s a very detailed response, Ron, thanks! Not just the little SK, but your whole go-bag. Very useful, and chock full of good ideas. I have a general ticket myself, k1ccx. Sorry about your rib. I’ve broken them before, and I still get a twinge now and then. Happy healing.

      1. RE: your chap-stick question – just heard from a Katrina survivor who strongly recommends the little jar style lip balm as it works on chapping you might encounter on other parts of the body too…

        If a survival situation changes your diet or if you get some less filtered than you’d like water, something to help versus chapping might be welcome.

      1. Just tried "Survival Food Tabs" and found them to be almost as tasty as candy. Supposed to be completely digestible / a product of the ’60’s space program. So – both a boost and some nutritional value.

        When I did an exercise a while back I spent the night in a shelter – even knowing my house was still there and my family was alive, it was an eye opening experience. My preparations have been modified significantly since then – especially the reality that I’m more likely to be staying in my car or a shelter than in a tube tent. Anyway – the point of this is the amazing psychological value of a cup of tea or hot cocoa. No matter what else you are dealing with, for that moment you are absorbed in the warm beverage.

        I’ve read about why tea or bouillon cubes were in survival kits – I always figured it was to get you to stay put long enough to be found… but there is much more to it than just that!

        1. That’s a great point. I’ve often discussed the importance of good morale as an essential ingredient in survival. For a kit this small I don’t really think of a bag of tea, but for my EDC bag I need to reconsider.

        2. Ron,

          Agree 100% . When we were going through Katrina we were without power for about 6 weeks. Even though is was summer and extremely hot, having a warm beverage was a nice treat and really helped psychologically.

      1. I thought thats what it looked like but I thought I saw a bottle holder on the side in your video. Aftermarket? I have a Pygmy Falcon for my truck bag and a Sitka for my everyday bag (your review of the Sitka was a big help in that decision). I like the radio/phone holder you have on the right strap. May put one there myself now. Thanks for all the hard work you put into this site.

        1. And thank you for being here! That’s actually a Maxpedition holder, and although the Berkey doesn’t fit perfectly, it does fit.

  4. I’ve been using the Katadyn sport bottle for the most part. I like that I can detach the filter and just use the straw for known clean water and have the filter in my bag, but I’m really liking the Sport Berkey and plan to get a few for the family. Your review was really good and it convinced me to give them a try….even if it didn’t filter out the toxic waste. How is your boy feeling? Lol.

  5. I actually keep a mess tin in my pack around my waist. Kinda bulky but I think it’s worth it. I also keep a tallow candle in my ruck which I use as light, slight morale boost, and in a desperate situation, I could eat it or fry things up with it.

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