Making Your Own Survival Tin

Have you ever wondered what to do with all those neat, little Altoid candy tins that you have lying around your house? One the more popular options is to create a miniature survival kit using one. The idea of making a survival kit the size of a candy tin may sound ridiculous, but it really shouldn’t. Survival tins have been used by the U.S. military for decades and are currently standard issue for foot soldiers, special forces, pilots, and aircrews.

The idea of a miniature survival kit that can fit in your front pocket is actually pretty sound. Not only is it small, but it also weighs less than half a pound. If having such a small, lightweight kit makes sense for the military why not for civilians like us who like to travel and who enjoy the great outdoors? Sure, it’s unlikely that we’ll find ourselves in emergency situations as dire as our brothers- and sisters-in-arms, but you never know. Accidents and other types of emergencies can and do happen. It’s best to be prepared.

The items you choose to place in your survival tin should provide you with basic necessities and should also be tailored with your own specific needs in mind. For example, if you take medication on a daily basis, place a couple of days worth of that medication in your kit. The types of items that should be placed in every survival tin include:

  • Fire starting equipment
  • Water purification tablets
  • Food procurement items
  • Navigation and Signaling items
  • First Aid items
  • Medication
  • Tools and other useful items

While the small size of an Altoids tin means that it can be stored and carried practically anywhere, it also means that you have to be selective of what you put in it. When possible choose items that have more than one purpose. If you’re having trouble deciding between two similar survival items, choose the one that is smaller and that can perform another task as well. You’ll also want items that are water-repellent or waterproof and that are durable. No sense storing a survival item that breaks the first time you use it.

Finally, I should stress that this survival tin should not be considered your primary means for dealing with emergencies, rather more of a backup to a more substantial survival kit. Basic survival items should be included in your every day carry bag or bug out bag. For instance, on hikes I like to carry a backpack filled with food, water, a knife, an emergency sleeping blanket, a small first aid kit, and a few other odds and ends while at the same time carrying my survival tin in my shirt or pants pocket. Keeping your pack and survival tin separate means that if you happen to lose one, you’ll have the other. It’s good insurance. Here are the specific items I recommend placing in your Altoids or similar sized tin:

  1. Ritter Mk5 CRKT Knife (comes with an Altoids size storage tin):
    Perhaps the most important item in your kit. This excellent little knife can be used for constructing a shelter, hunting, skinning, a ferro rod striker, and for self-defense.
  2. Nano LED Mini-Flashlight:
    A great little flashlight. LEDs provide more light and consume less power than traditional lights. Can also be used for signaling.
  3. Emergency Water Bag (1 Quart): Water is critical as you can only live three days without it. Yes, this item takes up a lot of room in your tin, but it provides an effective way to collect water from natural sources like lakes and streams.
  4. Water Purification Pills (4 ea):  Each pill sterilizes 1 liter of water. Remember to wait the required amount of time for the bacteria to be killed.
  5. Compass, Button Size: Navigational aid for those who are directionally challenged and for those who are in bad weather and/or poor visibility.
  6. Matches, waterproof (6 ea): Fire is absolutely vital in a survival situation. It can keep you warm, cook your food, sterilize your drinking water, and can be used as another source for light at night. Having a fire is also good for morale and if you’re in a survival situation, that can be pretty important.
  7. Match Striker: Needed to light your matches.
  8. Cotton Tinder (3 ea): A great fire starting aid.
  9. Spark-Lite Fire Starter: Another great source for starting fires. Can start 1,000 fires.
  10. Vargo Titanium Whistle:  A durable signaling device to call for help.
  11. P-38/51 Can Opener: Can also be used as a small cutting tool, ferro rod striker, or flat-bladed screw driver.
  12. Tin Foil: Can be used in cooking, for signaling, for collecting water, or as a drinking cup.
  13. Duct Tape: A multipurpose gem and a MacGyver favorite. Duct tape can be used for repairs, restraining, affixing, and attaching. It’s use is limited only by your imagination.
  14. Fishing Kit: Small assortment of hooks and sinkers. You gotta eat and being able to fish may help with the boredom, too.
  15. Fishing Line, 20ft (bobbin): Can be used not only for fishing, but also for clothing repairs, and for stitching up deep cuts.
  16. Alcohol Wipes (1 ea): For cleaning wounds and as a fire starting aid.
  17. Band Aid (1 ea): For cuts, abrasions, and blisters.
  18. Butterfly sutures (1 ea): For closing up cuts and wounds.
  19. Needle: For digging out deep splinters and along with a little fishing line can be used to stitch up wounds and repair clothing.
  20. Benadryl (2 ea): Allergy season can be rough! Also great for allergic reactions to stings.
  21. Imodium AD (1 ea): For when you get a bad case of the runs from bad food or water.
  22. Aleve (2 ea): Pain Killer and Relaxer.
  23. Safety Pin: Perfect for securing items to your clothing, removing deep splinters, and for making temporary repairs to clothing.
  24. Ranger Band: Essentially a giant rubber band cut from an old bicycle inner-tube and used to secure the tin. Can be used as a small tourniquet or as part of a sling-shot.

You may be wondering how I got everything on that list to fit into a small tin that measures just 4.25 inches long, just 3.15 inches wide, and only 1 inch deep? It’s not easy, but it can be done! The trick is to pack thin, narrow items along the sides of the tin to make room for the larger, bulkier items to be packed into the middle. You’ll need to be adept at using every little nook and cranny in the tin. Some items may also need to be placed on their side or flipped upside down to make them fit. Think of it like a Rubrics Cube or 3D puzzle, the picture above helps illustrate this.

About Mello Mike 899 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. A communications expert and licensed ham radio operator (KK7TCA), he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, holds a BS degree, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side. He currently rolls in a 4WD Ram 3500 outfitted with a SherpTek truck bed with a Bundutec Roadrunner mounted on top.


  1. Great article Mike. I tried the same after not being able to conveniently find a tobacco tin as recommended by the author of a book I read. I found the Altoids tin to crush and not hold up in my pocket. I found my solution in a pocket size Plano brand fishing fly container in the Fred Meyer store, maybe Walmart too. I's forward you a list of items I fit in mine if you're interested. I love self preparedness planning.

  2. I love posts like this! I'm copying it over to a Word File and will try to assemble what I have and what I need to add from the list. Hopefully I'll never need it, but it is a kind of insurance, isn't it? Cheap insurance.

    Thanks Mike.

    PS Still don't have a really good Roadrunner photo. Just the usual walking across the street pictures. 🙁

    • Thanks, Barbara. Yes, it's very cheap insurance if you like to be in the great outdoors. Hikers are always getting into trouble and having a little kit like this can save lives. Hope you get a great Roadrunner pic in time. 🙂

  3. I agree with the others. It is a great idea to make such a kit. Following your advice I just ordered a tiny button compass to get my kit started.

    One thing I wondered, would it be practical to polish the bottom of the can to use as a signalling mirror? If the can were aluminum it should be possible to get a mirror finish. I'm thinking it might serve the purpose better than aluminum foil. (I'd still keep the foil in the kit).

    • That's a great idea that others have done. The fun thing about these kits is that there are so many ways you can modify and adapt to you own specific situation and needs.

    • Awesome! I have the same CRKT in my tin. The one thing I forgot to add to mine was the water purification tablets. But I keep those plus a Sawyer system and my Katadyn Vario in a backpack that never leaves my truck.I'll remedy that tomorow. Thanks for the article.

    • Thanks. I'm glad you found it helpful. I have a portable water filtration unit, a Doulton GSS Mini, but having the water tablets is good insurance.

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