> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Building a Great Pocket Survival Kit - Planning



Building a Great Pocket Survival Kit - Planning

Build a great one o' these.
We've had a ton of fun looking at the various survival & EDC kits that have come in over the past month, and wanted to give some thoughts and perspective on what it takes to make a great pocket survival kit (PSK). As you guys and gals know, it's a lot more than chucking some junk drawer left overs in an altoid tin; there's actually something behind it.

Professionals of all sorts have been carrying pocket-sized survival kits for a long time now - heck, the SEALs who took down Bin Laden a year ago had E&E kits in their BDU pockets. They aren't a silly thing, but they are generally a last ditch kind of measure. They're for use if you are separated from the rest of your gear and left with only what's on your person (or less!). They're meant to help you get out of whatever trouble you've gotten yourself into and survive over the short term. A pocket kit is never going to be capable of long term sustainment--they're for keeping you alive and getting you to safety as long as possible.

As with all kits, PSKs should be designed with a specific use scenario and environment in mind. From there, you look at the problems you would need to solve and the capabilities that your kit needs to have.

PSKs pose an especially interesting challenge due to the size constraints--you really have to focus on what would be essential in a given scenario. That's one of the reasons I enjoy PSKs so much.

What am I preparing for? - The Use Scenario
The use scenario is the kind of situation and environment where you would need your kit, and will dictate what you pack inside your kit.

You can't really plan for how you end up in the bad situation--you would avoid it if that were the case! But you can describe the kind of bad situation and, from that, the associated problems that your kit needs to deal with.

The classic pocket survival kit is geared towards Dual Survival-style wilderness survival. In this case, potential use scenarios would be something like:

"I am lost, stranded or injured in the forest." (or desert or wherever)
For urban survival/E&E preparedness, other potential use scenarios could include:
  • "I am at work when a wide scale disaster strikes--I can't get to my vehicle and I'm left with what's on my person."
  • "I am traveling in a foreign country when there is a regional disaster or instability."
  • "I am being pursued by people who want to do me harm."
What problems might I need to solve? - Capabilities
Your use scenario will drive the capabilities that your kit needs to have. Think through the challenges that would be associated with that scenario--the problems that you would need to overcome in order to make it out alive.

Write out and prioritize the capabilities that your kit needs to have, and hold onto that.

Taking the first use scenario ("Lost, stranded or injured in the forest.") the problems quickly come to mind. Navigation. Fire. Shelter. A container for water. First aid for broken bones. Need to signal potential rescuers. Dave Canterbury's 10Cs of survival are a great guide here.

But wilderness survival is what we're probably all used to looking at, right? Let's look at something a bit different - the at work/disaster strikes scenario, something more "urban" in nature.

The problems change. Fire and shelter are probably not as big of concerns. Potential containers are fairly abundant, but purification would be an even bigger problem. Defense becomes a much bigger priority (see U.K. riots, Katrina, etc.). Signalling potential rescuers may still be critical (buried under rubble, stuck in a burning building). Navigation may or may not be important. A good light may be more important than in a wilderness scenario. Cash or other compact wealth could be critical.

If we look at the E&E scenario (pursued by people who want to do harm), things change again. The kit itself may need to be concealed on your person or cached somewhere safe. You may need to escape restraint. Defense again is a big deal. Ability to alter your appearance may be big, as is the ability to prove your identity and credentials. Communication may be hugely important. You've probably got a functional economy, so cash would be an essential.

Capabilities Drive Gear Selection
When you've got your prioritized list of "must have" capabilities, it's time to start picking gear.

For critical capabilities - say fire starting in a wilderness survival kit - I like to build in redundancy in case my primary method fails (usually a small Bic lighter). And go with the critical "probably die if I can't do this" stuff first; make sure you can accomplish those things before you move onto less important stuff.

Also, keep in mind that if you've got to resort to a PSK, you're very likely injured or in terrible conditions. Fragile gear or gear that requires fine motor skills might be just about worthless. You want simple and you want tough.

Finally, the actual container or size of the kit, as well as your carry method, should also be thought through with the scenario and problems in mind. If you find that you can't fit the kit in your pocket and you don't want to compromise on gear selection, it's time to start looking at belt pouches and other on-body carry options like the HPG Kit Bag. Really, a pocket survival kit is a big time compromise, and if you can step up your kit in size and still reasonably keep it on your person, then you'd be better off for it.

If you don't build your PSK with these kinds of constraints in mind (scenario & must have capabilities), your kit will end up lacking or disorganized. Write our your scenario, prioritized problems and associated must-have capabilities, and begin building your kit from there!

A note on EDC kits - I view these as different from pocket survival kits. Much of the contents of these kinds of kits (stacks of bandaids, OTC medication, nail clippers, etc.) is more for convenience than anything critical, life-or-death. It's generally comfort stuff, and I tend to carry it in my EDC bag, versus filling a pocket with it. Your mileage may vary, but pocket real estate is valuable stuff :D.

So, there's my thoughts on planning out a pocket survival kit. In upcoming posts, I'll go through a couple different scenarios, what I think are the must have capabilities, and my gear picks. Stay tuned!


  1. AnonymousMay 04, 2012

    Been a great contest, and very interesting. The one thing consistently lacking seems to be shelter - I know the size constraints are tight, but a disposable poncho or space blanket would readily strap to the side of one of those tins. Dry if you get caught in an unexpected downpour and great for improvising shelter (high priority in a crisis)

  2. I agree there is lots of focus on wilderness survival and what are the odds that most of us will face that scenario. Your point on defining the scenario is very important and not made many other places. Great job and keep up the good work!

    1. I agree your kit needs to be geared towards your environment and skills set. That being said I live on an island connected by two bridged, my wife and I are never more then 15 min. From home. There are at least 8 lakes and reservoirs, plus rivers and the ocean a few miles in either direction. I really have no need for things like lock picks, plus working in the trades I have learned a flat bar and hammer can get me in and out of any structure. My vehicle is never more then 50 yards away except when hiking and carries my tools. In my youth I spent months at a time hitchhiking the USA and Europe with a small pack of essentials a travel sheet/ bivy, a ridge rest and fleese blanket for shelter lean-to are easy to set up. Setting up a meeting place when disaster strikes is important
      Me and my wife have 2, a shtf one that has plenty of fresh h2o, small and large game and plenty of fish. The other because of our location is high in elevation just in case tides rise/tsunami

    2. Stich -

      Sounds like you live in an area that would be at high risk of hurricane and/or tsunami. What if your truck gets swept away and those bridges destroyed? Lots of scary videos of the Japan tsunamis out there.

      A PSK is certainly a special circumstance item, and everyone would need to examine how it fits in their life. They're a big compromise, and obviously if you had access to better gear, you would use that. A PSK is basically just ensuring that you always have some kind of important gear, in case something comes along and horribly screws over the rest of your plans.

      A PSK is not going to be for everyone, and especially pocket carrying one a daily basis. My kits tend to be stashed around various locations - desk at work, EDC bag, glove compartments, and so on - so that I can grab it and go if needs be.

    3. I hear ya my everyday kit is entry #23, but I have others stashed in car, I have go bags, I also have a large plastic tub the has all my camping gear, stoves dehydrated food etc. lets face it mother nature is fickle, we have acces to kayaks but in a tsunami we would be pretty much F***ed if we coulded get across one of the bridges to our high ground spot which is about a 1.5 miles away by car and a mile or so hike in the woods, being crafty I'm pretty good with just a pocket knife and a fire source . Having a bunch of gear is great, but being able to adapt to a situation and the gear that's stored in your brain is priceless, and let's face it we plan for the worst and hope for the best. Plus there is so much trash everywhere you go you can collect along the way.

  3. I loved this contest. It inspired me to make my first PSK for my wife and I will be making many more to stash in various places as you suggested. I loved viewing everyone's kits and grabbing ideas from each for the future kits I plan to build. This has also gotten me started looking everywhere I go for something that would make "the perfect container/tin" to make my kits with. There's always the Altoid's tin, but I've tried to begin thinking "outside the box" (sorry for the pun) when building them. I would also like to send out a special thanks to Thomas Spearman for sharing his kits with others. He sent me one of his super sweet PSK's to try out and I have enjoyed carrying it with me knowing that I'm more prepared now than I was before this contest started.

  4. A note on EDC kits - I view these as different from pocket survival kits. Much of the contents of these kinds of kits (stacks of bandaids, OTC medication, nail clippers, etc.) is more for convenience than anything critical, life-or-death.

    PSKs should only include critical items, as you put it. Light, fire, water purification, these are essential.

  5. Emergency situations and disasters happen all the time. If you have an emergency preparedness survival kit you can save yourself from a lot of worry and potential danger. FEMA recommends that you have an emergency kit that will last you up to 72 hours. You can of course put together a survival kit yourself or buy one online and save yourself some time and money.

  6. I like the idea of the PSK but to me its just not practical. In my opinion the PSK usually only makes sense if you always have it in your pocket. For me my pocket space is just too valuable. But what the PSK does help is to sort out what is essential and what is not.

    While I don't have it in an altoids kit I think always have a good assortment of gear in my pockets at all time. Between my wallet (has some good kit items), keys, pocket knife, and cell phone I have some pretty decent gear. And while I don't organize my gear (car kit, bug out bag, edc etc.) in an altoids tin I do try to keep things in lite, organized containers with only the essential tools included.

  7. It's been really interesting to see how people have put their stuff together. I'm really inspired to keep a few kits around the place. Because i've been 4x4 driving for a long time I always kept tools in my truck, however I after looking over these its time to expand the range!


  8. AnonymousMay 15, 2012

    its so much easier to simply carry a lifetime supply of food and water with you at all times, who cares if it weighs 3 tons youre set for life!

  9. Great point on the need to be built with a specific scenario/environment in mind. Sometimes I feel like lots of the commercial/for the masses PSKs are too generalized, and contain many items that aren't really useful in many different circumstances. Thats why you should design your own based off your own knowledges and preference!
    I wrote a whole article on it at: http://dawapple.wix.com/thecritterkid#!Compact-Survival-Kits-The-big-deal-over-them-and-how-they-need-to-be-improved/cmbz/7713702B-D8D7-4F30-928F-4A6C9A877550