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Making Survival Kits

Make an Altoids Tin Survival Kit

Make an Altoids Tin Survival Kit

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to focus attention on preparedness and wilderness survival.

by Leon Pantenburg

The world is a dangerous place, and you could be stranded out in the thick of things without the slightest warning.

This Altoids Tin Survival kit weighs about what an iPod does, and contains many basic survival items.

This Altoids Tin Survival kit weighs about what an iPod does, and contains many basic survival items.

When safe inside your home or behind your office desk  it’s easy to forget how fragile our lives are. The Altoids Tin Survival Kit and the supplies within could very well be the difference between life and death when you need it most.

The idea behind the Survival CommonSense.com Altoids Tin Survival kit started after two fatalities in Central Oregon in late 2006.

In November, veteran snowmobiler Roger Rouse, 53, of Bend, died of hypothermia in Deschutes National Forest, about 10 miles west of Bend. He and his son had intended to only be out for a morning ride when a fierce snowstorm overwhelmed them. (To read the complete story, click here.)

Less than a month later, in December 2006, Californian James Kim, 35, died in the Rogue River Wilderness after leaving his wife and children to get help. The family car was stuck in snow on a remote road. (To see Larry King’s coverage of  the Kim tragedy, click here.)

Shortly after the Kim tragedy, the editor of  The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, asked me to put together a

practical winter survival guide.

“Talk to (Deschutes County) Search and Rescue, find out what the trends are, and what gear people need to take with them,” the editor said. “Then, come up with a practical survival kit for our readers, based on the experts’ recommendations. This is an investigative assignment. Check out all sources, and test everything.”

The Altoids tin kit is a small piece of that project, and it is by no means all you should carry for survival!!! But you need to have something in your pockets, in the event you are separated from your gear.

This keyring kit is one way to keep some of the basic survival tools with you at all times.

This keyring kit is one way to keep some of the basic survival tools with you at all times. On the keyring: LED flashlight, fingernail clippers, whistle, Boy Scout Hot Spark firemaker and Classic Swiss Army knife. The other knife rides in a pouch on my belt, wherever it is legal.

I couldn’t find a pocket-sized commercial survival kit that was worth a damn. In some, the quality of gear was pathetic. In others, unnecessary or cheap filler items were included to flesh out the list of “necessities.”

One kit, I found at the local sporting goods box store is called “The Essentials Survival Can” and retails for $4.99. The components are: one book of “waterproof” matches; three feet of duct tape, four fish hooks, a whistle, and emergency cord.

In January, 2007, I asked the late Dr. Jim Grenfell of Bend to help develop a survival kit that would fit into a standard Altoids mint tin. This pocket kit would be limited in size to an Altoids tin, and weigh about five ounces. (That’s about what an iPod weighs, or my wallet, depending on which side of payday we’re on!)

An incessant tinker, Grenfell was also an Air Force combat veteran and graduate of three Air Force wilderness survival schools. I made an Altoid kit, too, and for the next several months, we added and subtracted gear, and tested, researched and refined the final kits.

Once the kit was completed, two veteran outdoorsmen took the prototype on a backpacking trip for final testing. Their input lead to further refinement. (To read their review, click on Altoids tin survival kit test.)

The final kit is not cheap to make. It will cost between $50 to $60, depending on the quality of the materials. But I have several, and one rides in my coat or hip pocket at all times.

Carry your Altoids survival kit in a waterproof container for added security.

Here’s the list of what you need:

• Altoids tin

• Six pieces of duct tape, about 2-1/2 to 3 inches long, layered on top and bottom.

• Rubber bands cut out of bicycle tube. They can be used for firestarter, as well as keeping the Altoids tin cover shut.

These items go inside:

1. 12-inch square of aluminum foil

2. Bicycle tube rubber bands on outside of container

3. Two alcohol prep pads

4. Petroleum jelly: use for medical needs, and in conjunction with jute twine and flint stick for fire-making

5. Compass

6. Emergency whistle

7. Boy Scout Hot Spark wrapped in 18 inches of jute twine. Used with petroleum jelly and item 13 for fire-making

8. LED flashlight

9. Glover’s needle and 2 feet of dental floss

10. Signal mirror

11. 6 feet of seine twine

12. Pills: aspirin, Imodium, Benadryl, water purification

13. Knife — (Swiss Army Classic: contains knife and screwdriver blades, scissors, tweezers and toothpick)

14. Safety pins and nail

15. 12 feet of 19-gauge annealed wire

16. Waxed fire starter

Not intended to be the primary collection of survival gear, the Altoids tin kit is designed to be compact, and easy and convenient to carry. It was never intended to replace a complete survival kit.

For more information, click on making your own survival kits!


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Making Survival Kits

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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