> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Guidance on Building a Survival Kit



Guidance on Building a Survival Kit

Kits are a big part of survival - you want to have the gear on hand to make sure you can survive. However, it's easy to get carried away, lose focus and end up with a less effective kit. It's also easy to just copy/paste some list off the internet, instead of really thinking things through.

Here are few things that I like to keep in mind when putting together a survival kit. 

What's the plan?  
This is the biggest and one of the most difficult question - what will you need this kit to help you accomplish? An escape and evade kit is going to be different from a wilderness survival kit, which in turn is going to be different from a kit for surviving in urban sprawl or a get home bag.

Your survival plan should directly guide what you pack.

Weight & Size
What are the constraints on the kit? How big can it be and how much can it weigh? Is this an altoids size kit, a bug out bag or something you're going to throw in the back of an SUV?

Weight is huge if you're going to be carrying it on foot--for most, a 70 to 80 pound pack is a no-go. Don't feel like a wimp for having a pack with a manageable weight - in the original Delta Force trials, they gave the candidates 40 to 45 pound packs for long distance hikes, and that was hard enough for them. You want a pack that you can carry all day, over rough terrain and moving at a reasonable speed.

If your pack is going to ride in the back of your vehicle, weight becomes less important. If you really can't cut the weight, organize the pack into sub loads, where you can ditch the heavier/less critical items if necessary.

Ragnar's Rule of Threes
Things don't always go according to plan. If something is essential to your survival plan, have three ways of getting it done. For instance, a long term wilderness survival kit would want three methods of starting fire, acquiring food, boiling water and so on. This is task-specific, not gear specific--you don't need three knives, three axes, three rifles and so on, but you would want three different cutting tools and three methods of defending yourself or hunting.

Keep this rule in mind when developing your plan and the kit to support it. For smaller kits, knowledge of primitive methods and improvised techniques can help make up for gear that you're unable to include.

It can be easy to go overboard in any particular area--I most often see this with knives. I love knives as much as the next guy, but you don't need six different knives of the same basic kind. It's wasted weight in your pack. When trying to meet Ragnar's Rule of Threes, you want versatility--a small axe, a 4 to 5 inch fixed blade and a multi-tool, for example.

It's just as easy to go crazy on consumables like ammo, batteries and food. You'll have to make your decisions here, but you will have to make compromises based on your constraints. If you have a vehicle or cache sites, you'll have much more leeway here. A pack? Less so.

The Pathfinder 10 Piece Kit
Dave Canterbury's 10 Cs of survivability are a great general guide for survival basics. Your individual plan may not require some of the longer term or wilderness focused items, but a good list to review none-the-less. 

Some Commonly Overlooked Areas
These are often overlooked in survival kits of all shapes n' sizes. Your mileage may vary depending on what you want to do:

  • Trauma Kit: Not just some bandaids, but a kit capable of responding to a serious, gunshot wound level injury. Stop the bleeding and keep the patient alive until help can be found.
  • Currency: Cash talks and gets things done. If you have zero faith in dollars, gold is the way to go in terms of portability.
  • Spare Parts: While we like to think that our critical gear will never fail, that's not always the case. Spare parts--in the form of springs, firing pins and so on--weigh little, take up little space and are very difficult to impossible to improvise on the go.
Those are my thoughts for now. Reactions? What did I miss? What else do you keep in mind or review when putting together a kit?


  1. I agree with you about the part of us gathering together a bunch of stuff and having a pack that is far to heavy and filled with a bunch of stuff that we will never use. Keeping things simple is the best way to plan a bag. Great post.

  2. One thought I've rarely seen posted about: If being pursued and you are forced into making a water crossing, how do you float yourself and your kit across the waterway? I'm sure authorities would use bridges as a choke point in stopping refugee traffic both across the roads and along the water.

    Some type of waterproof bag(s) might do the trick, the old GI laundry bags (check to see if seams are COMPLETELY waterproofed!) would be worth carrying. Kinda Walter Middy thought, but if BO situation occurs, you have to consider everything. Might not be practical in the desert, but in areas with lots of water, worth considering.


    Simple answer for most crossing situations can be addressed with the following:
    Three heavy duty garbage bags... HEAVY BLACK ONES
    Paracord... Should already have this
    Lightweight shoes... Good to have these camp shoes

    Prep for crossing by disrobing down as far as you can go. Put on lightweight shoes. Fashion a seven to eight foot pole. Put your gear and clothes in bags.
    Fast moving shallow water-Use triangle crossing technique with bags over your shoulder.
    Slow moving deep water-Forget the stick and use your gear in the bags as flotation as you swim.
    Fast moving deep water-DO NOT ATTEMPT

    Use the paracord to route the bags shut at top. Add extra air before closing. Double over the to to make bag "air tight".

    Dry off with the towel that is in your gear. Hang the wet shoes on the outside of your pack. Those heavy duty bags are reusable. Fold them back up and dry later.

    If a group crosses, the stronger person should go first and affix a rope taunt across for the others, then come back and all cross together... Strong weak big small strong weak etc...

    And be sure to post an armed guard if possible...just like crossing a linear danger zone.

    1. Ugly Rooster is right on the money here.

      Contractor-grade trash bags work well for this purpose. There are also a variety of dry bags (Sealine) that will keep your gear dry and buoyant. I have a 10L dry bag that I use to hold/organize my basic kit.

  4. A military grade poncho(waterproof) works great as a raft/flotation device and can be used by a individual or several lashed together as a group, can also be used while at weapons ready. We did this in our training and was very effective. Lay out the poncho making sure the head/neck is tied/cinched off. With extra air added to the pack or articles to be wrapped, lay in center of poncho and wrap snuggly, tying or cinching up with no gaps. Slip into water and lay across or hold onto, with weapon laid across like a bench rest. We didvthis with two Alice packsvwrapped up inside one poncho and then that wrapped inside another, worked great for a two man raft. Can be camouflouged with surrounding vegetation if need be, actually pretty handy when one needs to easily float down river, saving time and energy to get where you goin.

    1. Army ponchos are one of my go-to pieces of gear. Super functional. From the obvious (shelter) to a hammock, to an improvised stretcher or raft. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. As far as weight and load, I've got my bug out bags broken down into two packs, both have virtually the exact same gear in them, ammo, fire supplies, fishing gear, sewing kit ect.....a field knife and folder with each pack, as well as stainless steel water bottle and 2QT canteen, rope and pry bar attached to each. When the SHTF we will be a family unit, therefor several people can carry supplies, a pack, should we get seperated or loose a pack/have to dump it, we would still have at least one pack that has everything we need to survive, even long term. I think redundancy is key, as long as you dont go overboard. As far as weight, a consideration, but then, prior planning and getting into shape now would help...I know I need to get back in shape, doing so now would be prudent.

  6. Awesome post. I have just recently began prepping my sister for BO to my dad's remote location. She is only roughly 25miles from him, but has two major rivers to cross. We live in western Oregon. I am about 200miles from dad and have several rivers that I will have to cross if shtf and am on foot away from the choke points such as bridges. My water crossing kit is much like what has been mentioned, 6mil HD contractor bags. These I always carry a few of in any of my bags(BOB, GHB, etc.) as they are super multi use. I also plan on stripping down to the bare min with river shoes, I picked up a pair several years ago at Sportsman's Warehouse, they are columbia, basic sandals made for while swimming. They are light weight, compact and go on and off the foot quickly. I have also made plans to move to within a 15 min walk of my dads place where I have an off grid cabin. So, when I get there the goal will be to map out a cross country route to get my sister back to dad's and my place in a shtf scenario. I was thinking about caching(sp) in a couple of spots on the rivers I will need to cross tire inner tubes like people use for recreation and a hand pump in the kit or with the tubes and use them as an aid in crossing.I actually got to thinking about this while discussing this with my sister as she is a river rat during the summer and already has a couple of the tubes for float trips. Once I get moved down there I am going to map out a route and test the idea, gear, time, etc. it takes to do this. This is some of the most fun of prepping in my opinion, getting out now and testing all the stuff we prep with to make sure it actually works when we need it and as we expect it to work. Sorry to ramble, just wanted to share the thoughts. Great blogsite, i read it every day. -feralgun

  7. My BOB used to be like 70 lbs. Fine for a short walk but way too heavy for anything longer. Another downside was everything was packed neatly away in a bag (it was an alice pack, most stuff was deep in the large center packet). One night there was a blackout in my area--lasted a while. I had tons of survival candles but finding them in near pitch black darkness, buried deep within my BOG was next to impossible. Then I rethought my philosophy regarding kits. You usually DONT need to have a bag already to go. I got an action packer bin and loaded it up with all my good gear. In most disasters you'll have at least 5 to 10 minutes to chuck some crap into a bag. If I'm bugging out by car I can just put the whole giant bin in the trunk. If not I'm pretty sure I'll have at least a few minutes to pack things into a bag. If you don't have 5 minutes then you probably wouldn't be able to get to your already-packed-bag anyways. I still have stuff 'kitted' out; a small bag of chargers I keep in my EDC bag, a fire kit, a trapping kit, a bag full of "bug out clothes" etc,; but its not all just sitting in a bag. The stuff I use frequently I keep where-ever is most convenient. Just my opinion, but usually you don't need to cram stuff into a single bag, where everything is hard to get to. This way in a disaster you can get to what you need, and if needs be quickly pack what you feel the situation demands. This means gear will be better organized and much more accessible.

  8. Similar, but a slightly different take, from me. I'm single and work from home, so a somewhat unusual situation. I have access to 'everything' most of the time. I sort by something akin to 'threat-level'.

    Whatever pants I'm wearing at the time have a folding knife, a belt-pouch with multitool and flashlight, 2 butane lighters and a plastic box of first aid and 'repair/fishing' supplies and a phone. More tools on keychain (flashlight, small multitool, firesteel, carbide sharpener, handcuff keys, aspirin and allergy meds, cordage) and things like bandaids, blood coagulant and zipties in my wallet.

    If I'm going farther than the mailbox or 7-11, I bring along the EDC kit, an old Sigma camera bag (no, it's not a man-purse :) ) with dups of the beltpouch , energy bars, tea and coffee bags, boullion packets, etc.,small camera, notebook, pens and pencils, an e-reader and/or netbook, a sealed waterproof first aid kit and random junk.

    The vehicle always has a set of repair tools, a 72-hr "get-home-bag" including clothes and rain gear, sheath knives (Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife), 3 days food, axe, hatchet, machete, crowbars, a 2-foot D-handle shovel, propane stove, gas, cookware, water, a tent and a couple 'fannypack' dups of the beltpouch contents (passengers?).

    If I'm going farther than 10 miles or so, I bring along the 'extended EDC' bag - a shoulder-bag (plain black) w/added MOLLE pouches and full water bottle. (The issue I find with lots of smaller pouches is remembering WTH I put in each one, I'm getting old....)

    In a "grab the guns and GTHO" scenario, like a railroad chemical spill, (possible here), there's also a (too-heavy) internal frame backpack ready to grab, with more of the above.

    If there is some forewarning, 6 months stored food is in plastic totes, and water containers and I have ratchet straps to hold them to the roof of my 4wd vehicle.

    You can't carry a 50 lb backpack everywhere you go (unless you are Chuck Norris). It would be nice, but sometimes taking an Abrams tank to a schoolyard slap-fight is just not worth the weight. You PROBABLY don't need an AK-47, 6 days food, a gasmask and camo utilities, if you're just walking to the mailbox. Be prepared to deal with the worst case, but use your common sense and situational awareness to determine your carried gear at any given time. If your vehicle breaks down, and you could walk home in 10 minutes, or call a tow truck, don't bother putting an engine-hoist in the truck bed :)

  9. Chuck Norris doesn't need survival gear....inside his bug out bag.....there is just another fist.

  10. Your spot on about the rule of 3...I live by this and teach this...Especially when it comes to fire building and water purification. Two is one and one is none!

  11. Somebody smart once said the more you know the less you need to carry. The only situation where I would go real heavy on comsumables would be like a full on Doug Carlton type situation.