Altoid tin survival kits: yea or nay?

A seemingly popular item with many a bushcrafter, camper, hiker etc. these days is the Altoid tin or pocket survival kit. These small kits contain many useful and essential items which can come in handy should you get in trouble in the wilderness. At least this is the theory behind them.

(Not my image – Linked from Field & Stream)

I personally don’t have any kits like this. It’s not that I don’t see their theoretical usefulness, but whenever there’s at least a chance that I’d get caught in a wilderness survival situation, I will have with me (at a minimum) my belt pouch, which in my opinion contains more rugged and practical items:

(FYI: For those of you who have not seen this setup before, there are matches and a small ferro rod in the birch bark case, a needle in the pouch with the small fishing kit and several tools in the knock-off Swisscard (tweezers, toothpick, small blade, screwdriver, file, mirror etc.), in addition to the items which can be clearly been seen in the picture.)

Truth be told, I’d probably have my shoulder bag as well, which would make an Altoids tin survival kit even less needed. “But Weekend Woodsman, what if you lose all your gear, what then? Wouldn’t it be good to have a last-ditch kit tucked away in your pocket?” Well, my belt pouch is my last-ditch kit, and if either my thick leather belt, pants or the pouch belt straps are ever damaged heavily enough that the pouch is separated from me, I’m probably in the kind of situation where I’m going to need something a lot more substantial than a tiny pocket survival kit.

Since Altoids tin survival kits are mainly intended for wilderness survival, as they contain items for fire starting, signaling, water purification etc., I don’t see how useful they’d be if carried in a pocket in the city. How about in the car? What if I break down in the middle of winter on a back road? That’s what the emergency kit in the car is for, which contains food, blankets, flashlights, firestarters etc. etc. etc. In other words, for me personally, I just don’t see the need to have a small pocket survival kit.

Please don’t see this post as a serious criticism of these kits and the people who use them. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert or anything, so if you are a fan of Altoid tin survival kits, please take this post as a challenge, rather than taking offense. 🙂 Tell me your thoughts on them and convince me why I’m making a mistake and should have one!

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33 comments on “Altoid tin survival kits: yea or nay?

  1. wgiles says:

    I vote no on the Altoids tin for the simple reason that it is not waterproof. If you get wet, so do your fire making supplies. I don’t have anything against pocket kits, but I do much the same as you do. Most of my survival tools are already in my pockets. I’m starting to get annoyed by the proliferation of “Survive Anything” books. There are probably some good points in them, but book knowledge does not equate to “Survival”. Only training and experience do that and it doesn’t always work.

  2. Ross Gilmore says:

    I say nay. Like you, I see the theoretical usefulness, and I did used to carry one, but I found it to not be very practical. What ended up happening is that I had an Altoids kit in my pocket, where a whole bunch of stuff was neatly jammed. Of course I would never open it or use any of the items unless it was a real emergency, if for no other reason, it would be a nightmare to get everything back in.

    So, I would end up having duplicate items in my other pocket that I actually used during the day when in the woods-lighter, matches, water purification tabs, repair kit, medications, etc. At some point the Altoids kit just became redundant. The items I had on me for actual use when in the woods were enough in a survival situation (or at least as good as the Altoids tin contents).

  3. American Grouch says:

    It depends. For the traditional thought process I’d say no, largely for the same reasons already mentioned. As Ross alluded to he was carrying redundant pieces and thus never used it. I carry one on the buttstock of my rifle. Depending on which rifle I take I put my tin in the stock pack. The thing is, mine isn’t your traditional Altoids tin. Same in concept different in execution. It’s largely for one thing, and has things that I do use, have used while out in the back of beyond.

    The tin I use is a large round pipe tobacco tin, it holds everything plus some of a normal Altoids, I have the basics covered. Water, Fire, Shelter, in that tin and they are not hard to pack. Three ways to get a fire going, water purification, space blanket, fishing kit, arrow head, some other basics. Is it practical? I’d say yes for me, as I’ve actually used it before. I’m not going to carry something I have not already used at least once, in this way I know I can depend on it.

    I posted the tin I am talking about in my post regarding the Triad Tactical Stock Pack but sometime in the next two weeks I’ll be doing another that will show some newer concepts on minimalists approaches to last ditch items in the backwoods.

    And just for Ross, it’ll include some of the latest greatest synthetic materials in a format that is cutting edge, instead of canvas and leather!

    Good post WW, I agree with your interpretation. Altoids survival kits are for the most part a warm fuzzy product, they may or may not get you through an unexpected overnight stay depending on climate and weather. They are not in my opinion, worthy of betting a life on.

    • wgiles says:

      I haven’t seen a tobacco tin in years. I vaguely remember them and they probably would be good, nearly watertight containers.

    • Ross Gilmore says:

      lol. Much appreciated.

    • I think the difference between your kit and the typical Altoids kit is pretty significant. You actually use items in yours, making it a part of your regular-use gear, as opposed to a theoretical “survival kit”, which is the reason most people seem to have them (almost always, they are taped or corded shut and tucked away deep somewhere). If your kit covers shelter, in addition to the other basics, I’d definitely not put it in the same class as Altoid tin kits.

      Thanks for the input!

  4. Ron says:

    I’d go for a “no”, too.
    I just do not see the point in them, other than you being a fighterpilot, getting gunned down over hostile territory and you’d have to make due with very, very little.
    Other than that I regard it more as a fashiongimmick. Bushcraft and survival are 2 great salesphrases, so any newbie or fashionably aware cybercrafter will want one…. I have to confess, so did I…. with a BCB-tin….

  5. Ken says:

    No. Where I live in Texas I can be in a McDonald’s in ten hours. However, if I was in a remote woods or mountain range way up north, yes I would like a kit. But not a dinky little Altoids kit. A real deal pack kit.

  6. Finnman says:

    I´d vote for YES. Building those kits for different situations (like woods, urban, car, boat, etc.) is great fun and develop your creative thinking when you try to include all necessities on small space. I carry different kits on different situations and have many times needed something from it, it don´t have to be emergency just need for lighter, safetypin, sewing needle, blade or tweezers on daily life for example.
    I have no comments for Altoids tin, cause here in Finland those are not sold and I have never seen that particular box. I have also several pipe tobacco tins which are quite watertight like American Grouch told. You can also seam your altoids tin with suitable tape or wrap it with plastic bag etc etc. use your imagination, don´t limit on ready solutions.

    [i]”Since Altoids tin survival kits are mainly intended for wilderness survival, as they contain items for fire starting, signaling, water purification etc., I don’t see how useful they’d be if carried in a pocket in the city.[/i]

    That´s what I mean you can freely decide the contents of your “altoids tin” to fit on YOUR needs. My city kit don´t have fishing kit for example.

    Those “survival kits” might be also a trend, but small utility kits have carried centuries and avoiding trend is no reason to forget them.

    • When I started to read your comment, I thought I disagreed with you, but then I realized I didn’t. 🙂 You mentioned having kits for different situations, which I think is a great idea (I have an urban EDC, winter car kit, belt pouch for the woods etc.), but the thing is, these kits are not the classic wilderness Altoids tin survival kits I am talking about in the article. If I packed urban EDC items into an Altoids tin, it wouldn’t be a wilderness Altoids tin survival kit, it would be my EDC items in an Altoids tin. 🙂 Of course there’s nothing at all wrong with this, and people are free to make kits like this, but I wouldn’t consider them Altoid tin survival kits in the conventional sense.

      My point with this article was to express that a more substantial and robust kit is, in my opinion, better suited for the wilderness than the classic tiny Altoid tin survival kit with items of questionable value. I wasn’t trying to say that different kits for different situations aren’t needed. 🙂

      I agree with you that building kits is fun and also very good for developing creative thinking! I have learned a lot from experimenting and kit building.

  7. OZme says:

    I wold say NO for Altoid tin kit, but say Yes for making process.

    Lately I am sold to the idea of having PSK for the reason of “just incase”. Making research for an idea and all I see are Altoid. I just do not see the real usefulness and practicality of limiting the size to such small other than convenient to carry. so NO!

    But I see the point of educational reason of putting together the such small survival kit. Make some-what usable / useful, one really need to think about the weakness of self and possible situation. So because of that value in the process, I would say YES.

    Personally, I have been making several tin can PSK for past year and have not came up with the one that can convinced me that will help. Because of that I am with my emergency package. however, I am now looking for the solution something between Altoid tin and my emergency package which is close to your set up.

    • OZme says:

      Oh, and I for got to mention. go check out the “Survival Kit with Mors Kochanski” on youtube to see how much stuff HE is putting in to his “Seurvival Tin” 🙂

      • Ross Gilmore says:

        Oh, don’t get me started on that one. 🙂 At that point, I’ll just bring my full backpack. If my survival kit is so large that I need to carry it in my backpack, then it kind of misses the point. Why do I need a survival tarp when I already have my regular tarp in the backpack…

      • Great comments, OZme! Agree with you completely. I’m looking forward to seeing the kit you come up with. 🙂

        As for Mors Kochanski’s survival kit…I respect the man greatly, but I have to agree with Ross. 🙂

    • Kerry says:

      I think the crux of it for me is the thought process that goes into designing one.

      If you just buy a pre-made one, then feel you have your bases covered, you are in for a surprise. However, if you take the time to think about what your bare necessities are, then trying to fit them into limited space, you will learn more about your kit.

      It’s a great project for a rainy weekend – and I intend to make a couple soon – but it certainly wouldn’t be what I would want to rely on. In most cases, I can justify carrying a pouch at the minimum, IRL…

  8. Sam says:

    I would say no to an Altoid tin “survival kit”, but yes to Altoid tins. Most of the reasons for not relying on an Altoid tin kit for survival have already been mentiond. Hopefully you will already have every thing you need while in the wilderness with you, and two or three of the most important items in diferent locations in your kit. Also the knowledge someone has is more important than the tool he uses. I think Altoid tins are very useful in my camping gear for several diferent reasons: first, you can pack alot in them and still keep it tidy, and second, they keep things from being crushed. I have one that I use for a first aid kit and I really like it, another I keep a snack in for easy access. Just a few thoughts on the Altoid tin, and thanks for a great post.

  9. Smithhammer says:

    It’s been my impression that the Altoids kit phenomenon really began as a bit of a fun, problem-solving exercise to answer the question – “can you actually fit a practical survival kit in an Altoids tin?” And it took off from there.

    But truth be told, it’s putting the cart before the horse, imo. It’s kind of like going grocery shopping and deciding you’re only going to buy what you can fit in a handbasket, whether it fits everything you actually need to buy or not. It has some value as an exercise in minimalism, but rather than confining oneself to an Altoids tin, I think it’s far better to start with figuring out all of the survival gear that you truly, actually need, and THEN set about finding the proper container to put it in, not the other way around.

  10. Warlan says:

    Pocket tins are stupid waste of time. If you are going to make a edc kit make one thats real ( that you can bet your life on) and not some child’s Boy Scout kit. Get the maxpedition fatty pouch and a small dry bag then go to town with the thing but use items that will work every time not one use throw away items please ..

    Been there done that .

    • 🙂 I do agree that a more substantial kit is probably the way to go. 🙂

      • Fuzz says:

        Let me begin by saying I know I’m late to the party.
        I disagree. I have several altoids survival kits. The difference is that I don’t EDC them. All my kits have the same supplies which are fairly basic. Kit one is in my survival bag and is used as a redundancy kit. Kit two is in my glove box. Kit 3 gets moved around between checked baggage, my big field coat, the boat, ect. I carried a similar kit in Afghanistan (my whole unit did) and I personally know 3 guys who survived a couple days stranded with their tin kits.
        My point being that the tin kit on its own especially as an only means of survival is stupid, but better than nothing. When forced to ditch your pack/ out of all other supplies/ or just plain training it’s an excellent tool.

  11. This is extremely late, but when many people dismiss the altoids tin, they are failing to realize that not everyone has the same needs as them. For me I spend 9 hours in an office building each day. I cannot carry even the smallest “tactical” bags or pocket kits without drawing a lot of attention. Also in dress pants or even basic blue jeans I do not have enough pockets to organize a full survival kit. The altoids kit is the get to the car kit or the avoid a trip to the car trip to grab supplies that I cannot carry in a organized manner in pockets. Duct tape, floss, extra battery, basic meds, bandages, tweezers and the such means I have a convenient kit of things that means when something happens I have it in my pocket in something that won’t draw unneeded attention. It means I don’t have to walk back to my bag at my desk, or down to the car, and can still look professional. It is the same reason you Conceal carry in those situations. You want to be ready for bad things, but at the same time you don’t need to let everyone know about it.

  12. Michael says:

    I just found this site and I love it. GJ! The altoid tin debate is much that of the What knife to carry debate. All sorts of things come into play like skill level, situation, uses etc etc. Personally I like the tins. Small, light weight, and keeps things even smaller organized i.e. needles, lighter, hooks, razor blade etc. They are cheap and easily replaceable. Plus I already carry a few things on my belt and don’t want to add another so this is a good option to toss into my pocket or day pack when I meander away from camp just for redundancy’s sake. It also is nice to have to make char cloth with or polish to make a signaling mirror. The more uses for 1 item the more I value it as an item for survival.

    I can put them anywhere due to the nature of the item. Work locker, glove box, every bag I own, school backpack, outside of my car (get creative =) in case I get locked out, tackle box.

    As for the waterproof issue, inside are hypothetically a bic lighter, easily dried and used again, petroleum jelly cotton balls…uhh yea, storm matches, uhh yea, fatwood (19hrs submerged will still light), fero rod, space blanket yup, getting my point yet? gorilla tape around the seam is multi-use and re useable.

    No matter what you choose, the mind is the lightest, best survival tool.

    • Thanks for the comments and compliments! Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you.

      You make some great points. Having a small kit with something in it is definitely better than not having anything at all!

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