One of the more compact survival kits is called a ‘pocket’ survival kit. It’s primary restriction is, it must fit in your pocket. And we are not talking about a cargo pocket, but a regular ‘shirt’ sized pocket. This generally means that the maximum size is about 4″ by 5″ by 1″ thick. Possibly a bit thicker, especially if the length and width are reduced a bit. Very often, these are built into ‘mint’ tins; those small aluminum boxes which several brands of candy and mints come in. These provide a decent amount of protection for the contents, and can be sealed waterproof with electrical tape, but provide an absolute size limit in each direction. The other common container is a zip-lock vinyl envelope. It does not provide as much physical protection, but it can also be waterproof, and can ‘change dimensions’ to hold some things which just would not fit into a fixed box of equivalent volume.
Of course, these are called ‘survival kits’ with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. Their small size places a severe limitation on what you can fit into them. Consider the survival ‘Rule of Threes’. Can you fit in supplies to handle severe bleeding (3 minutes)? With the exception of a very poor tourniquet (a short piece of rope), no. Ok, how about shelter (3 hours)? Having a decent length of strong (nylon) twine is quite possible. This can help you build shelter from local materials, but this is by no means optimal. Next, we consider water (3 days). You need a container to put the water into, and a way to purify it. Filters are out, boiling is highly impractical, so that leaves purification tablets. These actually are fairly easy to fit into the kit; the problem is the container. Some kits include a condom for this purpose; this is a poor solution, as it will only hold about a cup, and most tablets are designed to handle a quart/liter.
When it comes to food (3 weeks), most kits have some fishing and snaring gear. This is understandable, since this stuff is small, light, cheap and has no expiration date. But it is not really needed for the few day events these kits are intended to handle. Where these kits can really shine is in the areas of signalling and fire.
It is not too difficult to fit in a whistle, signal mirror, tiny flashlight, and a couple of ways to start fires. These are the things which are really of value about these kits. Let us consider one of the better kits available, the Doug Ritter designed, Pocket Survival Pak, from Adventure Medical Kits. Reasonably priced, it provides a good example of this class of kit by itself, and can be ‘extended’ to be top of the class.
The PSP includes:
- Whistle (Fox 40 micro) Alternatives include Jetscream Micro or Acme 636
- Signal mirror (SOL 2 x 3) Alternatives include Starflash or Starflash Micro
- Fire starter (Spark-Lite) Alternatives would be a small ferrocerrium rod (although this would require 2 hands to use) or the brass spark wheel from www countycomm.com. It would be good to have backup sources of fire starting, such as a few stormproof (lifeboat) matches like those by UCO.
- Tinder (TinderQuik) Really, there is no alternative. By the way, you can easily cram 4 more into the envelope these are packaged in.
- Compass (20mm button) These are usually button compasses, although it would be better to include one which has a built in lanyard or lanyard loop.
- Fresnel lens (for fire starting and reading small print instructions)
- Duct Tape (in addition to patching things or connecting things, this can be an emergency bandage or help start a fire)
- Snare/repair wire (Stainless Steel) Brass is commonly recommended; although it is easy to work with, it does not have very good strength. Stainless steel is much stronger than brass or standard steel when all are the same size (measured in gauge, 24 gauge is the most common).
- Nylon cord (150 pound tensile strength) Alternatives are Kevlar or Spectra in the 100 to 200 pound range, although the Nylon is thicker and easier to work with.
- Thread/Fishing line (10.5 pound tensile strength) This is a bit light for my tastes. I prefer 25 or 30 pound test for fishing line, and that still works well as thread.
- Safety pins
- Aluminum foil (Heavy Duty)
- Pencil stub and waterproof paper
- Scapel blade (#22) An alternative is a single edged razor blade.
- Fish hooks, sinkers and swivel
- Survival instructions
As mentioned, this is a useful collection, but not optimal. Of course, it is far superior to the much more complete kit which you left at home. The thing is, it can be improved. Scalpel/razor blades are not the best cutting implements; it would be wise to have a top notch pocket knife on you (not in the kit since it won’t fit). Then, to address bleeding and other first aid problems, a large bandana would be a good idea (again, not in the kit). The next weakness is shelter, so having a mylar survival blanket and possibly a thin plastic sheet would be helpful. Either or both can be in the kit, if they will fit. A tiny flashlight in the kit or a small flashlight in your pocket is useful. Finally, a bag for water and water purification tablets. Now all the bases are covered at least to some degree.
Another possible addition would be a tightly coiled wire saw of good quality such as the BCB Commando (the best quality wire saw is too stiff to coil tightly) or a folding ‘razor’ saw.
The same company offers an extended version of the kit in a bit thicker package. The PSP Plus replaces the scapel blade with a small fixed blade knife (CRKT RSK Mk5) and adds water purification tablets, a 1 quart water bag and a small flashlight (eGear Pico).