The survival tin made out of an Altoids can is fairly popular, and I’m nothing if not a popularity-seeking sheep that loves to follow the masses. With that, I present my own Altoids survival tin!
My Altoids survival tin, wrapped in 6 feet of electrical tape for waterproofing and survival use.
Most homemade survival tins use repurposed tins from something else. Altoids tins are the most popular, but I’m also experimenting with “gift card tins” which have become popular. I picked one up for $2 at Cabela’s, and I’m going to try it later. Right off, though, I know I’d have to get a different whistle since only Altoids tins are tall enough to hold the one I have.
Here’s a list of my survival tin’s raw contents, some of which have been modified to fit:
- 2-3 cotton balls
- orange whistle
- mini pocket knife
- button compass
- fishing line
- 2 fish hooks
- 2 fishing line sinkers
- nylon thread
- sewing needle, magnetized
- sewing thread
- snare wire
- 2 razor blades
- 2 safety pins, different sizes
- 5 small pieces of paper
- 3 band-aids
- 1 alcohol swab
- the Altoids tin itself
- 6 feet of electrical tape
All the contents of my survival tin, minus the fish hooks.
I only had to buy three things to put this kit together: A can of altoids, cotton balls, and a larger survival kit from Wal-Mart that I paired down to the essentials. You can buy survival tins for not much more than I paid for the individual pieces. If you do this, I recommend buying two – one that remains sealed for emergencies, and one that you open and play with. The advantage of my kit is that I decided what was important, I’ve played with all the pieces, and I can unpack/repack them at will because I designed how they fit together.
Everything is designed for multiple uses where possible, and often many items come together for one purpose. I’ll outline the purposes below:
Making fire. I ripped the front cover off my match book, for the added room. It’s not very thick, but the extra folds over the matches took up room. The candle was carved down to fit in the last available space of the tin, which is why it’s shaped so funny. It’s mainly for lighting a fire – if I can light the candle, it can stay lit under kindling until a bigger fire emerges. The cotton doubles as rattle-proofing for the kit, and as excellent tinder. I wanted to include flint/magnesium, but I didn’t have room. I should ultimately replace the matches with waterproof strike-anywhere matches that are dipped in wax to keep them from lighting in storage.
Securing food. The snare wire can be used for trapping smaller land animals for food. The fishing gear (line, hooks, and sinkers) are used for fishing, but in a pinch they can be used for other tasks. In fact, I used the extra space in the blue spool of fishing line to wrap as much nylon cord as possible, so that no space is wasted. I can use the small pencil in my kit as an “axle” to allow the fishing line to spin freely as needed, and to help in reeling.
Medical care. The cotton can be used to stop bleeding, the alcohol swab to sterilize, and the band-aids to prevent infection. The needle and thread can be used to suture a wound first, if needed.
Navigation. The kit includes a button compass, and also a backup. I magnetized the sewing needle so I can set it on a leaf in calm water and it will point north, should I lose the compass. Backup compass requiring no extra space was a no brainer once somebody suggested it. The pencil and paper can be used to map your route, or take notes on landmarks or surroundings.
Getting found. The whistle was a costly item – it takes up a lot of space, which is a waste since it’s hollow. I had to cut off the plastic loop used for a lanyard, and file it down to fit better in the kit. But I’ve heard that when you need to attract attention, your voice doesn’t carry as well, and wears out easily. A whistle cuts through ambient noise, and lasts as long as your breathing. The tin itself can be used as a reflective surface to attract attention on a sunny day.
Crafting/repairing clothing and shelter. The remaining pieces are largely for the work you’ll need to do while you’re waiting for rescue. The pocket knife required a lot of engineering to fit, but I felt it was worth it. The nylon thread, safety pins, and razors can be used to repair clothing, tie together shelter, or even craft weapons for hunting.
As I mentioned above, the kit is closed and wrapped in electrical tape. The first layer is mainly for waterproofing the kit. I added 5 additional layers so that I’ll have that much extra tape as part of the kit. Every wrap around the tin is about 1 foot of tape.
My kit doesn’t have everything I want. I just bought a compact cable saw I’ll have to add by replacing/repositioning something else. I wish there were more fire tools, and a light source. I’m limited by room and budget, which is fine. My kit also doesn’t have much for rope, just a few feet of nylon thread. However, I’ve started wearing a belt I made out of paracord, and I plan to replace the laces in my shoes as well. I also replaced my watch band with braided paracord which actually looks pretty good.
I’ve decided to carry my kit at all times for one month, to see how it feels. I think the Cabela’s tin might be better for me, since it’s flatter and holds more. It’s not as compact though, so I’ll have to experiment and see what feels right. Below, I’ve included pictures showing how my kit fits together. You can spend hours deciding how to make everything you need fit, and it’s not a bad idea to do so.
To start, I line the bottom of my tin with a stretched out cotton ball to quiet any rattling. The whistle is so big, I have to form the cotton around it. The knife goes in as well.
Continuing to add the bulkiest and oddest-shaped items first, I place the matches, fishing line spool (with nylon thread added), pencil (which I had to cut down by an inch) and compass.
Next, I push the sewing thread reel into the middle of the snare wire to save space. I add some cotton inside the reel, to keep from wasting any space.
I shaved a tealight down to the height and shape I needed to fit the tin. I wanted as much wax as possible.
I added cotton everywhere it would fit into the nooks and crannies of the other contents. The more, the better. It eliminates rattling, and is valuable tinder.
This is a little backward, but I added the razor blades and safety pins after the cotton. I should have done it the other way around, but in my head I knew where I wanted them so I left space.
This is the tin, packed with all the odd shaped objects, filling the deeper half of the tin to capacity.
I added the paper, band-aids and alcohol swab to the lid of the tin. I add them last because they add very little width, and fit perfectly.
I add one last layer of cotton to take up the extra space.