The Secret Sauce to Building a Legit Survival Kit

What does Ötzi the Iceman and modern man have in common? It’s tale of a hard life vs a life of ease, separated by time and incredible technological advances. Despite it all, there is ONE fundamental commonality: the necessity of a survival kit and weapons.

This enduring need highlights a timeless aspect of human nature – the instinct to prepare for and adapt to the challenges posed by our environments.


Ötzi, from the Copper Age, carried tools and items essential for survival in the brutal conditions of the Alps. His kit included a copper axe, a flint dagger, a bow with arrows, and a fire-making kit, demonstrating an intimate understanding of his environment and the skills required to navigate it. These items were not merely for sustenance; they were his lifeline, integral to his hunting, self-defense, and shelter-building activities.

Fast forward to 2023, and while the context has dramatically changed, the concept remains strikingly similar. Modern survival kits, though more advanced, serve the same purpose. They typically include items like multi-tools, fire starters, emergency blankets, first aid kits, and sometimes, depending on local laws and individual preferences, personal defense items.

These kits are designed for a range of scenarios, from wilderness adventures to urban emergencies, reflecting an understanding that despite our advanced society, we are never completely free from the unpredictability of nature and circumstance.


Survival scenarios are not limited to the wilderness. Urban survival is an often-overlooked aspect, yet equally important. In cities, survival challenges differ vastly from those in the wild. Instead of navigating through forests or mountains, one might need to find safe shelter, navigate through disrupted infrastructure, or deal with the absence of everyday utilities like electricity and running water. One only need to look to the current conflict in Gaza to see Urban Survival play out in the extreme. 

Indeed, different environments demand specialized tools and skills, however at a basic level, any survival kit for any mission will always require the same fundamental gear.


The cornerstone of being prepared is the construction of a basic survival kit. This kit should be guided by the 5 C’s of survival: Cutting tools, Covering elements, Combustion devices, Containers, and Cordages.

  1. Cutting Tools: A good knife or multi-tool is indispensable for tasks like preparing food, making shelter, or even self-defense. Choose the knife based on the mission and environment. For a wilderness survival I prefer the rugged Mora Garberg. In the urban space, I typically carry a Gerber LMF II.

  2. Covering Elements: Items for protection from the elements – such as emergency blankets, tarps or Mil Spec ponchos are essential. Shelter selections will vary based on the environment and season. Tarp and hammock are well suited to jungles and sub tropical environments while mil spec ponchos can be perfect for summer.

  3. Combustion Devices: The ability to start a fire is vital for warmth, cooking, and signaling for help. A Bic lighter and Swedish Firesteel are great choices for the basics. Add your own tinder and backup fire starters for redundancy. 

  4. Containers: A container, preferably metal, allows for boiling water to purify it, cooking food, and carrying water. The container is one part of a cookset which can set up in various configurations. My current favorite is the Pathfinder stainless steel canteen & cup, the Uberleben flat pack stove, and the MSR PocketRocket.

  5. Cordages: Ropes or cords are necessary for building shelters, repairing gear, and numerous other survival tasks. A 100ft of Mil Spec Paracord combined with No.36 bank line will go a long way to meeting all your needs.


Possessing a survival kit is only the first step. True preparedness involves training with the gear, understanding its uses, and learning from experience what works and what doesn’t. This hands-on approach is vital. Regularly practicing with your kit – setting up shelters, starting fires with your combustion device, using your knife for various tasks – builds familiarity and confidence in your skills and equipment.

It’s also important to continuously refine your gear based on these experiences. What worked well in one situation may not be as effective in another. Adjust your kit as you gain insight into its practical application. This iterative process of testing, learning, and modifying is what transforms a mere collection of items into a true survival toolkit.

Follow these basic steps to evolve and expand your survival kit and skills:

  1. Define the Mission: This can be anything, ranging from surviving a natural disaster to a nuclear war. The best bet is to keep the mission within reason.

  2. Build The Survival Kit: Refer to the 5 C’s of Survival for packing the basics and then expand to add food, cookset and related items per the mission spec. Check out a complete packing list here.

  3. Select The Pack: Pack selection will vary based on the size of the survival kit and mission at hand. Ideally the pack is suited for the environment (urban/wilderness) is built tough with robust zippers and seams, provides customization options and fits and rides well over long distance. For urban missions, I’m a big fan of the D3 Flat pack, it’s simple, small and discreet. For the wilderness I prefer the Ghost Mk II by Direct Action. 

  4. Add Custom Gear: Also known as snivel gear, this can include anything of your preference from a proper hygiene kit to your favorite snacks. Items that are not absolutely necessary for the mission.

  5. Simulation: Once the gear is packed and ready for action, it’s time to simulate the mission. If the mission calls for evacuation from a natural disaster, plan according and conduct the exit from your location to a predefined safe zone. Maybe the mission calls for three days of wilderness survival, then it’s time to head to the woods and reconnect with the trees.


The best survival kit is a combination of experience and tools. Allocate the time NOW to get that vital experience that you need. Time is precious which means taking Action on a regular basis is key to success. Your knowledge and experience can then be passed on family members and friends, empowering everyone to be capable and prepared to deal with a world of chaos and confusion.