Building The Perfect Small Survival Kit

First of all we need to talk about the difference between a survival kit and a bug-out bag.

There are so many definitions and expectations today that the meaning has become blurred.  Here’s how I define a survival kit:  a minimal amount of gear that you carry with you in order to survive various undesirable and unexpected situations you might find yourself in.

For example:  you’re out on a day hike in a piece of forest you don’t know, but the trail is well marked.  Coming back down the mountain you suddenly see a split in the trail that wasn’t visible to you on the way in and you make a wrong turn and find yourself deep in the woods with the sun going down.  If you’re smart you have a small backpack with a few well thought out pieces of survival gear in it.  You might be  uncomfortable, but you will survive the night.

Categories of Survival Kits

EDC – During the day some people have Every Day Carry (EDC) kits, which might consist of a pocket knife, small flashlight, mini fire steel, and a few other small items you can carry in your pocket.

Altoid Tin Kit – Then there are the Altoid tin survival kits, which can contain a small amount of gear that you might keep in a coat pocket.  This would contain some absolute essentials like a small lighter or firesteel, fire starting material, a flat signal mirror and small whistle, and a small flashlight.  I’ll talk more about this in another post.

Hiking Pack – For hiking you might have a minimal kit that includes a compass, lighter, knife, poncho, and a few other small items in a pack.   I’ll cover this in more detail in just a bit.

*Special Note:  In addition to the gear you must have knowledge on how to use these items in order to survive any situation you might find yourself in.

Bug-Out Bag – A bug-out bag is a bag that you can live out of for a certain predetermined amount of time – usually 72 hours – and has everything you need for that time.  Food, water, shelter, clothing, it’s all in the bag and ready to go.  While this is a survival kit of sorts it’s not really what I’m talking about in this post.


First, I wanted to create the lightest Get Home Bag (GHB)/Hiking kit I could make with resources I had available in my house or could easily be purchased at a store, yet still be able to operate in a hostile environment if pushed into it.  It’s important to keep in mind that my GHB is something that I use quite often, thus it doubles as a my hiking pack/survival kit.

In the past I’ve carried a lot of gear in it that usually weighs in around 25 to 30 lbs.  Heavier objects include my wool blanket, military grade poncho, Solo Stove and other stuff.

A few weeks ago I hiked up a local mountain with Mrs. Jarhead.  While I consider myself to be in good shape for my age I was still puffing pretty good by the time we got to the top.  I pulled out my canteen and drank some water and we started back down again.  And that’s all I used!

This got me thinking about how crazy it is to always tote this amount of gear around.  It’s good exercise, but not real practical for doing a short day hike in the hills where I’ve been hiking for 30 years.  When I sat down to evaluate exactly what it was I always used when I go for one of my short day hikes, it came out to this short list:

  • Knife
  • Fire steel/lighter (I like using the fire steel to keep my fire starting skills sharp)
  • Canteen and cup

Then I made another list of gear I use sometimes:

  • Poncho
  • Stove
  • Cordage
  • Multi-tool
  • Map and compass
  • Flashlight

Things I almost never used included:

  • Binos
  • Wool blanket
  • Multiple MREs
  • Other misc. gear

And that was about it.  So I started looking around the ‘Net and found quite a few sites dealing with survival kits.  My research ultimately took me to Dave Canterbury’s site where he talks about the 10 C’s of survival.

What I like about this list is that it’s basically a list of categories and he leaves it up to you to decide how to fill that category.  That means you can use gear that you like and are comfortable with instead of being told to buy something you might not know how to use or don’t like.

Check out his site for the detailed explanation of his survival gear.  Right now I’m going to present his list and show you what I came up with and how much it weighed at the end.  Again, this is coming straight from Dave Canterbury’s excellent web site.

(1) Cutting Tool:

(2) Combustion:

(3) Cover:

(4) Container:

(5) Cordage:

(6) Candle:

(7) Cotton:

(8) Compass:

(9) Cargo Tape:

(10) Canvas Needle:

First, you need a pack.  Since I still have some of the MARPAT assault packs kicking around (you can still buy one here) I used one of those.  (The linked page talks about the packs, but provides links to the store if you want one.)

Here’s the gear I added to my pack to cover each category in the above list.

For a cutting tool I added my Ka-Bar Becker BK2 survival knife.  It’s heavy, which is good for chopping and it’s sharp, and it’s super duty tough.  Maybe not the best choice for creating a light-weight kit, but I wanted something reliable and this was it.

For combustion I threw in a lighter and my firesteel.  I like redundancy.

I’ve been struggling with the cover.  At first I added just an emergency blanket, then I gave in and threw in my lightweight poncho as well.  I’m still mulling this over though.  I’ve also got a contractor bag in there to take up any slack.

For a container I used the water bottle and cup combination you can order off Dave’s site.  It’s consists of a canteen cover, steel water bottle, steel cup, and a small stove ring that you can put in a fire.  (In case you’re wondering I’m not getting any kickback from Dave’s site.  It’s a product I bought and use and I like it a lot.)

Cordage was obviously paracord.

Candle – I used a small flashlight and an actual candle for this category.  The candle is one of those eight hour candles and the flashlight is a small, but powerful handheld.  I’ll probably change this over to a headlamp in the near future.

For a compass I used the small racing compass I got awhile back.  This is an excellent compass that I like quite a bit.


Cargo tape – I bought a roll of camo duct tape for my pack.  I’ve only used it in the field a few times, but I can see how it would have a lot of utility.  I’ll probably take the cargo tape off the cardboard roll to make it a little smaller.

Canvas Needle – for this I had to buy a small kit of needles.  They weigh next to nothing so I threw the whole kit into my pack.

Since this kit is also used for hiking and fooling around out in the woods I also added a titanium spork and a few other small pieces of gear plus some light food items.

 Pack Weight

Total weight of the pack is under 15 lbs and that’s with a full water bottle.  Using the above model I was able to cut my pack weight in half and man, does it feel good!

Another upside is that it leaves a lot of room in the pack and if I decide to throw in a hat and gloves, or whatever, there’s no issue of trying to move stuff around or pack it tighter to get everything in.

1018131828b I still have a “Go” bag set up like my heavier kit, but my hiking/survival kit is now much lighter.  None of the gear in it (except maybe the spork) would be considered ultra-light, but that wasn’t the p0int of this exercise.  I was able to take equipment already on-hand and turn it into a light-weight hiking bag/survival kit.

Now I need to give it a real test and take it out in the woods for an overnighter.  It’s getting cold up here in Maine now – down to 32 F. the other night – so a big part of keeping warm will be using wilderness experience to make a good shelter, get a proper fire going, and use the tools in this kit to maximum advantage.  Surviving shouldn’t be a problem, but can I stay comfortable while doing it?

That remains to be seen.

It’s my opinion that a survival kit should be tested before you really need it to see if everything really works.  If you decide to set something like this up make sure you take it out in the woods and try it out.

Now tell me about your light-weight bug-out bag or survival kit!

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor

29 comments… add one
  • Don November 8, 2013, 11:11 am

    Great ideas for the kits. I just found your site, but be assured I will be returning frequently
    The only things I would add are a small hikers first aid kit, and some coffee singles. (The Folgers Coffee singles are in every one of my kits, and they are life savers.) Maybe a few pieces of hard candy, I like to have a few to pop in my mouth when hiking to keep my mouth from drying out.

    • Jarhead Survivor November 8, 2013, 12:25 pm

      Ah Don, once you’ve been reading here for awhile you’ll know that the coffee singles are a given with me. I wouldn’t head into the woods without a half dozen nestled in my pack somewhere. :-)

    • Chris December 25, 2016, 1:07 pm

      Great thread one advantage I’ve found works well is to have a military style fanny pack with the necessities as my light pack and my backpack has the Full deal long term stuff in it for inch bag or bugout stuff but i feel nobody really focuses on having a bag set up for shtf, where you are fully set up for standalone indefinite survival in the wilderness or suburban areas…Bugout means you plan to come home after a short time but what do you carry for long term?I think my books are the most important pieces in my bags

  • Bill K. November 8, 2013, 11:41 am

    I like the kit. My C(utting tool) is a Habilis Bushtools knife. I love this blade and it seems to be indestructible.

  • Novice November 8, 2013, 12:49 pm

    I think that the ideal situation is one where your survival kit is detachable from your BOB. If you have to drop weight RIGHT NOW to make it out alive I would like to still have my 10 c’s instead of my extra pair of socks.

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. November 8, 2013, 1:43 pm

    My personal ‘wilderness’ is a ranch I’ve been to for 45 years, so getting lost or ‘et by bears’ risk is pretty remote. :^) My kit is pretty much taking care of my daily needs. A 1 qt. USGI canteen w/ cup, knife, hammock, BIC, multi-tool, bandanna, camera and leather gloves, all stored in a 2 qt. USGI canteen cover. A neck knife (Cold Steel Trout Bird) with Sliver Gripper tweezers (don’t leave home without them!), a pocket knife in pocket and that is pretty much it. My truck has a kit of its own, that is what I carry around hiking.

    A handgun (ALWAYS!) and rifle is taken as well, private land allows that.

  • Pineslayer November 8, 2013, 3:34 pm

    I really like Dave’s bottle and cook set. I have a couple of those tan covers that come with the set, very nice and can attach to anything including your belt. I put a Swiss Ranger Volcano Stove in it, good fit. All that being said is there a better set-up than the Military 1qt canteen set. Simple, rugged, and inexpensive. When filled with water it makes a pretty good projectile too. Multi-purpose.

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. November 8, 2013, 8:58 pm

      Is the volcano stove the one with nesting 1 qt. aluminum bottle with cork top and ribbed aluminum stove body ? I have a pair of those as well Sportsmans Guide and its a good design for warming liquids. Love that Swiss military surplus!

      One caution – don’t build a strong fire under it for heat. I did that once and the weight of the water filled bottle and high heat from the fire collapse the stove because of the lightweight material. That was with a wood fire instead of heat tabs. Lesson learned.

  • Ray November 8, 2013, 4:01 pm

    I have been doing gear testing this week and would add the following ; Gas stoves have a “flare up” when you first light them that can be seen for MILES . I tested 8 gas stoves over seven days and ALL of them had bright white flares to a greater or lesser extent. The only “cooker” that allowed “stealth” was “Sterno” and my wife’s alcohol stove. If you want to be found that’s not a problem BUT if OPSEC is in play it could turn into an issue FAST. So now I’m starting to ask How much of my gear gives up my Position. Glad most of it is military.

    • irishdutchuncle November 9, 2013, 4:28 pm

      would “fire paste” help to reduce the flare?
      (or won’t it get the gas generator hot enough)

      • Ray November 9, 2013, 6:35 pm

        I don’t know Irish, But I’ll give ‘er a try. Thanks

  • Ishimo November 8, 2013, 8:31 pm

    If you anticipate ever having to deal with a hostile environment that you include binoculars. Granted they are a bit bulky for what little they are normally used, but in a situation where people are liable to be hostile they can be life savers. If you are in a wilderness survival situation and their weight is excessive, dump them and get a new pair when you get home. If someone might be shooting at you they could be worth their weight in gold.

  • Steve suffering in nj November 8, 2013, 8:58 pm

    8×10 tarp, 20lb test fishing line, multi tool, lighter, fire steal, soup can with holes cut in sides for air AAA mag light.

    Tarps big enough for ground cover and a roof when it’s wet. It becomes a 3 sided shelter. Dry place to sit, wind break and a roof. Soup can I make a small fire in with twigs. It’s contained and small enough to sit almost on top of. Unless temps are very cold it’s good enough. Spent a early spring night with a quad that went through a frozen lake with that exact set up.(not my quad by the way). Tarp was a god sent as it was raining and snowing. But the back side of the tarp into the wind and we had a dry seat and a roof. Soup can fire between the two of us and it wasn’t a bad night. Less the tarp and fire it would have been miserable.

  • irishdutchuncle November 9, 2013, 7:25 am

    I’ve been carrying a lot of this same kind of stuff around in the pockets of a BDU shirt, now I’m trying to figure out how to re-pack it all for winter.
    (plus I keep too much of this stuff in the car too…)

    I’d like to add a sail needle, and some fish hooks, if I can figure a way to not puncture myself. maybe I will buy myself some Altoids…

    I want to replace my dollar store poncho, with a large scrap of TYVEK. I have some imitation paracord, signal mirror, compass, mylar blanket, pocket kit with lighter and whistle…
    spork, exam gloves, headband flashlight, fire steel, tinder…
    I’m starting to feel a little silly about this.

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. November 9, 2013, 10:42 am

      Irishdutchuncle – sail needle container – coffee beverage straw. Leave a bit of the rear end of needle to extract it. You can wind thread around this container. The fish hooks – tape inside doubled (folded) clear wrapping tape. Keeps points safe.

      I saw these ideas on a blog and tried them – they work. Maybe they will work for you as well.

      • irishdutchuncle November 9, 2013, 4:20 pm

        thanks, j.r.
        very good ideas. I’ve been meaning to make up a good, (but smaller) sewing kit. still trying to decide what assortment of fish hooks and line to include in the pocket kit. now I have some new directions to look in.

      • Jarhead Survivor November 9, 2013, 4:27 pm

        That’s a great idea, j.r.!!

    • irishdutchuncle November 11, 2013, 4:06 pm

      yeh, what Whitmog said. (see below)

      mosquito head net, plus gloves. I pick gloves to resist
      “road rash” more than the bugs. plus, you need to add a warm hat, and wool socks for after sunset. (even during bug season)

  • Wyzyrd November 10, 2013, 8:08 am

    A decent (and free) carrier for small sharps, like sewing needles, smaller-size fishooks, etc. can be gotten by walking around the parking lot of a suburban convenience store on a Saturday or Sunday morning. You are almost guaranteed to find one or two discarded plastic cigar tubes, with caps. (You could even buy a cigar and smoke it…) Since the tube is an even diameter, the cap still works even if you trim down the tube with a saw.

    A heavier plastic “Garcia y Vega” tube, cut down to about 3″ in length has worked for me as a case for canvas and leather-working needles for about 12 years, before I finally ran my truck over it, and it cracked a bit. Ducktape fixed that.

    • irishdutchuncle November 10, 2013, 11:14 am

      another good idea, thanks.
      I was looking for a way to protect myself fromthe treble hook lures also.

      • j.r. guerra in s. tx. November 11, 2013, 8:13 am

        Thats a bit trickier (trebles), but we’ve used garden hose gaskets to keep all three points covered. Finding the correct sizes is what is tricky – take the hooks with you to the store. BUT the upside – virtually eliminates them getting tangled with other items.

        • irishdutchuncle November 11, 2013, 2:59 pm

          thanks, j.r.
          I can see now, this is going to evolve into a few different kits…
          one for my pocket, one in each car, one for “bug-out”,
          and a bigger tackle box.

  • Whitmog November 10, 2013, 9:27 am

    I now include a mosquito net for my head and bug proof gloves in my emergency supply. Light weight and so needed in the end you are stuck out there. A survivor in Northern BC was fine after days of being lost EXCEPT for the swollen face from the bugs.

  • GoneWithTheWind November 10, 2013, 11:34 am

    Good article. The problem is that a survival kit must be small enough that it is actually possible and reasonable to always carry it, or at least always carry it when you go into the wilderness. But the opposing issue is to make it complete enough to meet all your survival needs. As everyone knows if you sit down and make a list of everything you would need to survive indefinitely it would be so large a pile of stuff you couldn’t carry it all. So paring it down is essential. What I have done is created three levels of “packs” (a fanny pack, day pack and back pack). Within this I have kits, such as the 1st aid kit, survival kit, cooking kit, sleep kit, etc. The smallest “pack”, my fanny pack contains my survival kit and a small 1st aid kit and other items. The day pack is intended to be used with or supplemented from the fanny pack thus creating a complete day or even multiday pack. the Back pack is intended to be supplemented with the contents in the day pack and fanny pack. (I can comfortably wear the fanny pack with either of the two packs and this is the ideal configuration because it allows me to always have the essentials on my body even if I set my pack down.) I have a complete color coded list of all the items in each small “kit” and in each “pack” and I carry the list inside each of the packs. This allows me to make sure I have everything and as a memory tool to remember what I have. The list is very complete and since I lean towards ultralight the packs are not heavy even with all the gear. The complete list makes up my long range hiking pack (and my bug out bag and my get home bag and my GOOD bag, etc. It’s not perfect, there probably is no perfect system but it is a good system and has been tested and refined over the years. It gives me confidence whether it is hanging in the closet when I’m home, in the motor home when I’m traveling or on my back when I set out to hike.

  • Danny November 10, 2013, 11:55 am

    I received a leather waist pack(fanny) as a gift from my last employer. It has three pockets on the face and the belt has two small (as in smalllll) pockets on the belt corners. I made a plastic shelter by cutting a 9by12 painters tarp in half, making a 6 by 9 shelter. I reinforced the attachment points with duck tape and it works pretty good if the wind is not too excessive. I carry a mini ferro rod,multi tool,lighter,energy bar,paracord,compass,fish hooks and line. My knife rides on the belt with my canteen.

  • Anonymous November 10, 2013, 9:45 pm

  • Spook45 November 11, 2013, 6:20 pm

    I keep two bags in my truck all the time, and this sounds like my laundry list. I could add a few items but basicly the same…

  • trout fishing August 26, 2014, 9:50 pm

    You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the moet useful blogs online.
    I’m going to recommend this site!

  • Ruth February 3, 2016, 12:34 pm

    Recently I bought this Emergency Survival Kit, In my opinion, it’s convenient and reliable, I love survival whistle, Includes led Flashlight and Multi Function tools card. I got this code “PD10” and got a 10% discount.


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