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This article may open up a can of worms, but I think the premise needs to be thought on. Altoids survival kits, in my not so humble opinion, suck. It seems to be one of the favorite pastimes of the prepper/survivalist community to make and talk about these kits, and how one could “survive” with them. I think the majority of people who make one of these kits put it in their vehicle or pocket and think that they can survive anything more than a night outdoors, are kidding themselves. And unless the one night you need to survive outdoors is in a northern climate during the winter months, pretty much anyone in decent health can last a night outside without such foolish kits. In other words, the point I’m trying to make is, if all one needs is to last a night before rescue, one can stay a night without one of these kits. Or any gear for that matter. But if things are bad enough that you need a survival kit, I’d want something substantially better. I understand that survival is something that we cannot guesstimate. We don’t know how long it will be before rescue, or finding the way out. Therefore, why rely on some joke of a kit to see you through? There are better options…
The main flaw of an Altoids kit, is that you can hardly put anything in them! The three basics of survival are shelter, fire, water. After those, food, and defense. Let’s look at these basics applied to the Altoids Survival kit.
Shelter: you cannot fold up a tarp to put in an Altoids Survival tin. How much paracord can you get into a tin along with all the other stuff? Not much. A primary tool to make shelter is a good fixed blade knife. I’ve seen where some pics displayed a Swiss Army knife in the kit. I’ve built many shelters in the outdoors and not a one of them would I wanted to have to use a Swiss Army knife to build them with. In reality, the main blade of a Swiss Army knife is good for not much more than sharpening a stick to cook a hot dog on. It isn’t made for heavy-duty use. Now in certain areas and climates of the country, you may not even need a knife to make a debris shelter. But I assure you, in the northern climates where I live, you will need a substantial shelter when snow is on the ground. One that will require a sturdy framework. Which means having a capable cutting/chopping tool. Ever baton firewood with a Swiss Army knife? No me neither.
Fire: OK we can put matches in an Altoids tin. Just don’t drop it in water, because the tins are not waterproof. Bic lighters when wet are iffy. Sometimes they will work sometimes they won’t. You can almost count on it NOT working when you need it most. Some of the smaller ferro rods and strikers will fit into a kit. I’m just not much of a fan of the gimmicky small equipment. When I’m cold and wet and its 30 degrees outside, I don’t want to mess around with some ferro rod that is an inch long putting out measly sparks. I want something that’s gonna rain down a shower of sparks that are 5000 degrees into my bird’s nest of tinder to get a fire going as soon as possible. Yes we can put waterproof matches in the kit. OK, I’ll give you that one. But how many are you gonna need? How many can you put into the kit still leaving space for all other items?
Water: you can’t carry any in a tin. You can’t get a water filter in a tin. The tin is hardly a container. If you’re in a desert environment, managed to get a fire going but need to boil water, your time is going to be consumed filling up your Altoids tin and boiling water because it’s not large enough to carry the necessary amount of water to stay hydrated. Depending on where the water source is, this could be a vicious circle.
Same deal with food and defense. You’re not gonna get a mountain house pouch or MRE stuffed into the kit nor will you get any kind of firearm or blade suitable for defense in one. I see lots of pics on the internet where people put band aids in them for first aid. Folks, a band-aid is NOT going to save your life! Real first aid gear deals with trauma, gunshot wounds, major lacerations, broken bones, etc. Good luck using those band aids on a compound fracture.
I also see people put X-acto blades in their kits. Really?! Trying to use those to cut something when your hands are freezing sounds more like a serious injury in the making. But fear not! There are much better options for a mini survival kit that will actually be of value if the time comes when you need it.
There are many manufacturers out there nowadays making pouches of all sizes, some of which are waterproof and ones that aren’t can be made waterproof by using a waterproofing type spray. These pouches are much bigger than an Altoids can but smaller than say a fanny pack or a butt pack. Lots of them have compartments and or loops made of elastic material to organize the contents. You can pack them with real first aid gear like gauze rolls, tourniquets, clotting agents, etc.
Real fire starting devices like a blast match or my favorite formerly known as the Gerber strike force. Now it’s made under Ultimate Survival Technologies, still known as the strike force. I’ve had mine over 20 years and started 100’s of fires and it’s probably got another 20 years left before I need to replace it. These pouches are large enough to pack a LifeStraw or Sawyer Mini filter to get clean water into yourself to maintain hydration. SOL makes a tarp/survival shelter that easily fits into some of these pouches. At the very least you can pack a space blanket or two. Another item which won’t fit in a tin.
My personal mini kit that I keep in my vehicle is the mini EOD pouch from High Speed Gear Inc. I’ve got enough stuffed into that pouch that I could stay a few nights outdoors, find my way, light my way, stay warm dry and hydrated. I can also stop bleeding while munching on some Cliff bars LOL. I think the Altoids kit is not a serious option when things get salty. For a little money, way better choices can be had. An Altoids kit can be better than absolutely nothing, if you have the proper items put in it, but in my opinion, it’s still a joke.