What’s in my survival box, and why I have one


I mentioned in my last post about how I like to be a bit over-prepared for emergencies. It’s a philosophy that’s easy to mock, but most people that get into serious difficulties when out hiking or trail running do so because a few foreseeable things went wrong that they weren’t prepared for. My training, both in my job and from scuba diving teaches me to predict what could go wrong and then consider how to mitigate that risk. Of course, you can push it to extremes, and if it starts to interfere with your enjoyment of the activity yourself then maybe you’re going too far. That’s why I like my little survival box – it’s a very simple, lightweight way to quickly add that bit of extra resilience and preparedness to any activity. I don’t have to think about it, I just chuck it in my bag and, like that, I’m better-equipped and better-prepared than I was. I may also need to take other emergency equipment of course, depending what I’m doing, but the survival box is a good start.

It’s based on a lot of off-the-shelf survival tins, although I’ve adapted mine to be a bit more practical. I don’t bother with fish hooks and fishing line, for example, as a lot of survival tins do, because the sort of emergencies I am trying to mitigate don’t really involve being stuck for several days near a body of water in which I can fish. They are more of the kind of breaking a leg on a hike and being stuck on a cold mountainside for 24hrs while I wait for search and rescue, or something like that. I’d advise you taking the same approach with yours, if you choose to put one together. Don’t just buy an off-the-shelf one, or read internet guides and follow them to the letter (this one included). Just imagine a few worst case scenarios, and then think ‘what item that could fit in a small tin would make this scenario more comfortable or more survivable’.

So, what is in it?


The box

Traditionally people used to use tobacco tins or, since those are rare now, the tins that those horrible little mints come in. I use this plastic case – it adds a lot of bulk, but it’s strong and watertight, and won’t annoyingly come open in the bottom of my bag and spill stuff everywhere.

Mini torch

This, like much of the contents of the box, is a back-up for the bigger and better version I’m likely to be carrying anyway. What’s nice to know though, is that if I somehow end up with nothing but the contents of the box, I’ve got a torch and it’s got fresh batteries in it. It goes without saying that light is vital in an emergency situation, whether it’s to cook by, to move around safely, or to signal for help.

Mini penknife

Exactly like the torch, I obviously carry a bigger and better version, and this teeny blade isn’t going to get me very far, but if all else fails it’s enough to open food packets, cut bandages, trim small amounts of wood, and kill bears.

Waterproof matches

Better than any complex fire starting kit, these give me a chance of making heat and light if I do get stuck somewhere. They’ll work in wind and rain and even if soaked through, and come with several strikers.

Water purification tablets

Aside from cold, one of the biggest dangers if you get stranded is probably lack of water. Water purification tablets won’t make dirty water look and more pleasant, but they will kill most of the dangerous bugs in it. In an ideal world you would both filter and purify your drinking water, but filters are big and bulky, while these tablets are tiny, and in an emergency I’d be happy enough to drink water from a river or stream after using them.

Basic first aid items

Like the torch and knife, these are an emergency backup to a proper first aid kit which I carry, tailored to the activity I’m doing and the number of people with me. It can’t do much more than plaster over a cut, but sometimes that’s a start and can certainly make life easier if you’re trying to build a fire and heat some water while your finger is gushing blood. Not pictured are some simple over-the-counter painkillers, and some Imodium, both of which are always worth carrying.

Wire saw

A staple of the standard survival tin, this is getting a little into the advanced multi-day survival stuff that I don’t really feel I need. However, even if only stranded for a few hours on a very cold day, being able to build a fire could save your life, and being able to saw smallish branches will make that a lot easier. Given how tiny it folds up, it seems a worthwhile addition.


A necessity in any emergency situation, and probably of all the items in my box it gives me the best chance of a quick rescue. After all, being able to survive for weeks by making fires and skinning rabbits does you little good if you can’t signal for help, and in most wilderness regions in the UK you have a decent chance of a whistle being heard if you blow it often enough and loudly enough. In the UK, a standard distress signal is either three or six blasts on the whistle followed by a minutes rest, then repeated.

Space blanket

Probably the smallest and most light-weight option for keeping warm in an emergency. Wrapped around the body they are surprisingly good at keeping warmth in and wind chill off, and combined with a fire they are perfect for reflecting heat in the right direction and making the fire as efficient as possible. They can also keep direct sun off and prevent sunstroke and heat injuries, and a reasonably strong one can even be used as a makeshift stretcher. They’re brilliant bits of kit, and carrying at least one per person just makes sense if you ask me.


As I say, I think some people are a bit sniffy about the idea of carrying a ‘survival tin’ on simple trails in the UK, assuming that an obsession with ‘survival’ is more for wannabes reading SAS books than fit people going for a walk in the hills. However I don’t think of it as a survival tin so much as a box of emergency kit, and if you think you can never find yourself in an emergency situation, you’re wrong. Fit people do die hiking in the UK, and even more people suffer through unpleasant nights waiting for rescue simply because they sprained an ankle or fell ill. For the sake of something that weighs a few hundred grams and takes up almost no space, why not just give yourself a slightly better chance of being comfortable.



12 thoughts on “What’s in my survival box, and why I have one

  1. Hey Jake, one thing that I carry with me always is liquid bandaid, it can be really useful.
    I was reading about carrying a 1 oz super glue as well, it can fix things such as leaks, shoes, and even serve as liquid banda ids and blister protection but I haven’t tested that out yet. Just a thought 🙂

    1. That’s a good point – that stuff is great for quick fix of cuts and scrapes.
      You’re right about superglue, and a lot of people also recommend a length of duct tape. Having found myself halfway up Pen Y Fan with the sole falling off my boots last summer, I thoroughly endorse the value of duct tape in even a minor emergency!

  2. I might ditch the wire saw (you can always just break large sticks or just drag and burn the ends of large logs if needed) and add something like a water bag to hold water to purify. Currently you could use the small plastic case you have to purify small amounts at a time but that won’t really be effective.

    1. Thanks – you’re probably right about the wire saw. Interesting point about the water bag. I always worked on the assumption I’d have water bottles with me but of course the whole point of this box is for it to be useful if it’s the only thing I end up with, so you’re quite right it makes sense to have some kind of water container.
      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Consider taking a small BIC lighter, or a small ferro rod and some petroleum jelly + cotton balls. It takes up the same amount of space as the water proof matches, but provide many more lights and is much more resilient. Try starting a fire when you’ve snapped the stick off your matches – not fun!

    I’ve also seen a fantastic trail runners’ survival kit that used several tea candles and 2 mylar blankets / ponchos. The idea was to sit yourself down against a tree with the poncho over you and your knees bent, and light up a candle in the space between your legs. The candle will heat up the inside of your miniature shelter fairly quickly, and with a few candles and a mini bic to light / relight them, you should be able to space them out for a night of bad weather to keep yourself from freezing. If you have time and ability to make a larger shelter, the mylar and candles still come in handy for other obvious purposes.

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