Altoids Survival Kits… Are a Joke

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from JD. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.


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.

You can fit a lot of things in an Altoids Survival Tin, but will it help you Survive?

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.

Does this cover the basics of Shelter, Water and Fire?

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.

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61 Comments on "Altoids Survival Kits… Are a Joke"

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R. Ann
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Just logging a thumb’s up while the star system is figuring itself out! 🙂 I’ve had some of the same thoughts while watching/reading some of the mini kits. I do have some mini packs, stuff for a pocket, but they’re mostly supplements or they’re a kit in themselves and the cans/tubs/tins just help with organization. I do keep bandaids in mineand my first-air kits, but they’re the big thick cloth good-adhesive knuckle, fingertip, and bigger squares so I don’t repeatedly snag stuff on a small cut, or so a forming blister on a hand, foot, etc can get dealt with.… Read more »
JD
Guest

Thank you R.Ann! I appreciate your comments as they are always thoughtful, constructive, and insightful. And I just so happen to agree with you on them! Lol. It’s nice to see others on the same wavelength 😉

R. Ann
Guest

Yeah, sometimes it can feel very alone with a certain mindset. Glad you voiced this one.
Plus, I’m both a sports shooter & hunter, and a greenie eco-freak – we are a somewhat rare breed and the overlapping circles regularly don’t get along.
🙂

JD
Guest

A rare breed, indeed! 😉

Jeff DeShano
Guest

Yes I whole heartedly agree. I have a osprey 65liter pack stuffed to the gills in my car. I am on the road 2-6 days walk from home every day. I have everything I need to survive 6-10 days in my trunk at all times. Anyone that does not carry a fixed blade knife and at least a tarp, food, and several means to start a fire and filter water is probabaly gonna die if the crap ever hits the fan.

ChuckInBama
Guest

So true !!!
I live 12 miles from work, but my get home bag is equipped for three days. One thing you can count on when things go sideways; there will be more than one thing going sideways !!!

JD
Guest

Thanks for sharing! The osprey is a very nice pack! That’s what I tell people who are novices getting into prepping that aren’t sure what to put into packs or kits. The bare minimum that should be addressed is shelter, fire, and water. And not necessarily in that order. Environments and circumstances will determine the order of importance.

John Hertig
Guest

Yes, that order. Remember the rule of threes. In inclement conditions, 3 hours (or less) without shelter can kill you. Shelter is difficult to include in a small kit, but fire can make up for lack of shelter to some degree. You can go without water for up to 3 days.

Actually, the bare minimum should also consider including 95 or 99% filter masks and severe bleeding control supplies, as 3 minutes without air or with severe bleeding can kill you.

JD
Guest

I would also like to point out these kits aren’t bug out bags or get home bags. They’re a smaller somewhat less specialized kit that’s meant to be carried easily, either on the belt, in a pocket, etc. when venturing into the woods for a short period. But something may happen that unexpectedly extends your stay, getting lost on a hike, accident, unexpected injury, hunting accident, etc..

Illini Warrior
Guest

EDC – “EVERY DAY CARRY” …. how much space can you devote to PERSONALLY carry a package of items – items that might have to pass security and work policies – not talking a daypack here or a GHB and most certainly not a BOB ….

JD
Guest

Passing security and dealing with work policies are unique to the individual. Only the individual can know whats the best gear to pack and or carry. My EDC consists of my firearm, 2 spare mags, wallet, keys, knife, flashlight, torch lighter and cell phone. All that I carry in or on my pants everyday. Obviously, I don’t wear suits for work! Lol. And what I carry is not gonna work out for someone else’s circumstances. Everyone needs to find out what works best for them.

Jeremy
Guest

Well said, JD. I think many times we all forget that EDC is not a one size fits all thing. I know places that I have gone in which some of the items I carry in my pocket trauma kit wouldn’t be allowed because they would be considered “weapons.” Good point.

John Hertig
Guest

I once was denied entry to the courthouse (for jury duty) because I had a *gasp* small tape measure.

RevIdahoSpud3
Guest
Altoid type kits are located at the checkout of the local big name sporting goods. The whole survival meme has blown itself into a billion dollar industry of hyping everything from a tiny can for $4 to a component package that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. The bottom line for survival is a mindset that has been around for thousands of years and that is ….Be Prepared! There are so many scenarios that make one man’s survival another’s useless junk. I’ll digress at this moment to mention that when saying ‘man’ I am not speaking specifically to the male… Read more »
N.D. The "Deplorable" ✓ᵀᴿᵁᴹᴾ
Guest
N.D. The "Deplorable" ✓ᵀᴿᵁᴹᴾ

I’ve been planning to strap an Altoids Kit to the sheath of my fixed blade knife using Ranger Bands by Gearward that I bought… (I’ve seen others slip an unopened emergency blanket between the kit and fixed blade)

I’m noticing a bunch of small items I could probably throw in there that I’ve been carrying in the front pocket of my backpack — which I annoyingly have to sift through anytime I go digging in that pocket.

I’ll probably continue to build my Altoids Kit and give it whirl for a bit…
to see how I feel.

JD
Guest

N.D., I think that’s the best use for an altoids tin, is to keep small items organized. Stuff like a mini survival fishing kit would work well with an altoids can. Allowing you to keep line, hooks, split shot, swivels, lures etc, in one space so as to keep such small items organized and easy to find and access.

James oftheHeislerfamily
Guest
James oftheHeislerfamily

May I remind you that without education, you are an idiot… and no survival kit will help an idiot. Watch this guy survive with rocks and mud… https://youtu.be/nCKkHqlx9dE

JD
Guest

You are 100% correct James! Skill is of higher importance than gear, any day of the week!

Annette H
Guest

I know some people carry them as a stand alone thing but i can only ever see the point of them being a back up. And not the best back up but a better than nothing back up. So if the shtf and some prick steals your kit then at least you have something. Not much but better than nothing.

JD
Guest

I completely agree with you Annette! It’s perhaps maybe a decent mind exercise to see how extensive you can build a tin, but the reality is you just can’t get anything substantial in one of those cans.

Government Mule
Guest

I think you have it 100% wrong. Nobody makes an Altoids kit as their “only” survival kit. They use them as emergency EDCs or as a means to organize small pieces of gear within their large EDCs or BOBs.
Lighten up and stop trying to be the know-it-all “survival expert”.

JD
Guest
I’m far from 100% wrong as I’ve personally seen and read accounts where people put together one of these kits, keep it in their glove box and consider themselves prepared. I never mentioned the use of an altoid can for organizing small things which is the best use for a tin like that. As far as a survival item, it’s an absolute joke. You do you need to carry one of these in your pocket? Really?! From your vehicle to your workplace? Because you should have something in your vehicle much more substantial, like a real mini kit or bug… Read more »
Government Mule
Guest

I’ll tell you what nonsense is: nonsense is thinking you can write one article and tell everyone else what’s best for them. Everyone knows his own situation, not you. That’s why I say you think you’re a “survival expert”.
Once again: nonsense.

JD
Guest

Hahaha, well thanks for sharing, your, expert knowledge! Hahaha Your armchair is calling you…

Jeremy
Guest
I would have to lend my voice as well (even as an admitted novice prepper) to others such as Government Mule and say that I would question whether or not truly sees an Altoids kit as something remotely akin to a true BOB or even a get home bag. I know that any articles I have read about them have specifically said that they are great for carrying numerous, small items that would be useful to you in a pinch, but never as the be-all, end-all survival item, or the “only” thing you need in a total collapse/complete disaster situation.… Read more »
JD
Guest
Well Jeremy, thanks for your input as it was a good post and a worthy addition to the commentary. In regards to the article, I don’t think I came off as brash. The article was not to suggest altoids kits were a substitute for a get home bag or bug out bag. But rather to point out, point out in my personal opinion, that these kits are nothing more than mental masturbation. I personally know and have read about people who truly believe these kits are all they will need in a survival situation. Mind you, bugging out is something… Read more »
JD
Guest
Well Jeremy, thanks for your input as it was a good post and a worthy addition to the commentary. In regards to the article, I don’t think I came off as brash. The article was not to suggest altoids kits were a substitute for a get home bag or bug out bag. But rather to point out, point out in my personal opinion, that these kits are nothing more than mental masturbation. I personally know and have read about people who truly believe these kits are all they will need in a survival situation. Mind you, bugging out is something… Read more »
Jeremy
Guest
Thank you for the courtesy in your response, JD. I appreciate that, and the fact that we can see things differently, express our opinions and discuss it rather than argue about it. I am 100% with you as far as skills vs. being an “armchair commando” is concerned, as well. I remember reading a quote that said, in essence, that having X, Y and Z survival gear is fine, but if you have never used it, or tried to use it while cold, or wet, or hungry, or in the dark, you really have no idea as to whether or… Read more »
Mr. P
Guest

This is why I love this website. Always different articles with different opinions.

JD
Guest

I agree Mr.P! It wasn’t long when I found this place that it quickly became my favorite site regarding prepping/survival!

Outdoor Survivalists
Guest
I don’t think a small kit is necessarily impossible, but you do hit your limit at some point of what you’re able to include. I keep my PSK (based around the CRKT tin kit w/ knife) on me day in & day out for the last 5 – 6 years… and I’m very confident that it meets most all of my immediate needs, with the exception of shelter. I’ve made a few small adjustments to it, but I feel like it is complete for me. I do also keep my SOG Seal Pup Elite knife on me with it, with… Read more »
Bolofia
Guest
Good article JD, and I agree with you wholeheartedly about the concept of Altoid survival tins. There is another reason that I don’t carry them, or permit myself to be around anyone else that does: Noise. Apart from the fact that they cannot carry a useful quantity of anything, a poorly packed tin, or one that can come into contact with another metallic object or rock, will cause noise – especially if running. There are a lot of ways to pack a bag so that it and its contents don’t rattle or clank. If you need to organize small items… Read more »
JD
Guest

Excellent point Bolofia!! As usual! Noise discipline, extremely important, thanks for posting that!

Huples
Guest

I do not have one. I have a back pack with 1/3 of it filled with get home stuff and it goes everywhere I go. My EDC is one knife in my pocket.
The main objection I have to tins, other than the ones outlined which I agree with, is they can cause severe leg or arm or chest injuries if you fall on them or suffer blunt force trauma.

JD
Guest

Another good point Huples! Thanks for the input!

The Deplorable Cruella DeVille
Guest
The Deplorable Cruella DeVille
Late to this party, but here goes. I actually do have a similar collection that lives in my laptop bag. It holds a mini-swiss army knife, some moleskin, a pencil with some duct tape wrapped around it, a 70L light, 100yd of unwaxed dental floss, and an N95 mask. That’s it. It’s sole purpose, in my circumstances is to get me out of the building I work in and out to my car. The most important bits I consider to be the light and the mask. It is also in a hard shell eyeglass case – not a rattly metal… Read more »
Michael Davis
Guest

I once heard someone say that the two dollar knife you have with you is better than the five hundred dollar knife you left at home. An Altoids tin survival kit may not be much…but it’s fairly simple to keep it with you. A knife, a saw, a fire stick, and a compass might not be much…but it’s better than nothing. Don’t knock the Altoids tin. Make one yourself if you can’t find one that suits you.

JD
Guest

And when you need to do something with that 2 dollar knife, it will fail you. If it’s a folder, the lock could fail and fold the blade onto your fingers, exponentially increasing the suck of your situation. That’s the point of the article, if your going to make something, make something that’s worthy. Yeah I suppose something is better than nothing, I am just of the mind that my, something, is going to be much better than an altoids tin.

Michael Davis
Guest

It’s not really about the $2 knife…it’s about the portability of the Altoids tin. What you put in it is up to you.

Matt VanCamp
Guest

I’ve seen one that made sense, the urban survival tin; it contained six or eight quarters for emergency parking meter food, a rolled up $20 bill, spare car & house keys, matches, a penlight, breath mints, a paperclip or two, rubber bands, sani-wipes/alcohol pads, contact phone numbers… shit like that!

Priori_Tyes
Guest
I have used similar for simple kits for kids, contact info, the “plan” a compass and a mini map, and nothing that could get them kicked out of school. (which is almost anything nowadays) I also have one in a “formal” purse for the rare occasions that I attend an event where it would be socially inappropriate for me to have my large hand bag or fanny pack etc. A aqua purification tablet could go in for water, along with some tin foil, but to me, these are all add ons to a bigger bag with fillers that someone thinks… Read more »
Flattop
Guest

If you have fire, you are ok. I took a half gallon mason jar with sealing lid, put in some moisture absorbent pack, filled it with stick matches, and put the lid on. When the need comes—I got fire.

Zendelle Bouchard
Guest

The best Altoids tins I have seen are “Preparedness” kits, not “Survival” kits. Preparedness is about having things you need, when you need them. Little things like a safety pin, paper clip, a couple of bandaids, a few quarters, some Super glue, etc, that you don’t want to have rattling around in your pocket or purse. There is so much more to the art of preparedness than just SHTF.

Defiant
Guest

Altoids kits are a joke unless you need something that’s in the one you have when you need it.

JD
Guest

An absolute, joke. Again, see above comments. There is nothing an altoids kit can contain, that a slightly larger pouch could contain that’s better. Real tools, not gimmicky micro tools. Ever use one of those wire saws with the two rings? Lol complete udder crap. They break after sawing through a couple branches. The real saws of those type, use basically a chainsaw type chain with ‘T’ handles for gripping. Those work. Why would you give yourself a false sense of security packing an altoids kit?

Curtis Richard
Guest

always have dehydrated water in my altoids survival kit along with ‘stones” for stome soup (hanky ou captain kangaroo…my good friend bel
dar comehead provided me with a firecracker sized nuclear warhead ….

Milkshakesuds
Guest
I suppose one could tear the thin metal of the tin to get a rough cutting edge, arrow head, spearhead, booby trap,,,, the shiny metal interior could be used for signaling,,,,portions of the tin can be formed into hooks, lures or other useful implements. Poking holes through the tin and stuffing it with fabric can make a rough filter or glare glasses in a high glare environment or a cooking grill. I suppose if i had to i could form a hinged carburetor valve with one as well as many other parts. (i used to have a vw bug). It… Read more »
JD
Guest
I would like to see how you would ‘tear’ the metal of the tin. I can bench press 400 pounds and I cannot tear the metal of an altoids tin. It isn’t tin foil. By trying to do that in a survival situation you run the risk of slicing your hands wide open. A wound in which the band aids in your can will do nothing for. I have mentioned, in the above comments how an altoids tin could be useful for something like a mini fishing kit. As far as the other uses you mentioned, a filter? A grill?… Read more »
Milkshakesuds
Guest
Hmmmmm? 400 hundred pounds? im skeptical. Unfortunately I haven’t the ability to visually demonstrate tearing the metal to you, but perhaps the idea of fold and bend fold and bend fold and bend, then tear. might jaunt some idea of one way its done. The whole point is just how useful could the tin be or as a kit, In fact ive been mulling over the filter idea all night and am going to try this weekend succeed or fail, its the only way to know for sure. As far as the grill or ill expand to say cook pan… Read more »
JD
Guest
Lol I don’t really care how skeptical you are, I’ve got nothing to prove to you and I know what I’m capable of. The only reason I brought it up, is because I know I am stronger than the average man in my age group, and other groups for that matter, and I’m not gonna tear an altoids tin into pieces. Unless you plan on filtering bottled water, I wouldn’t drink questionable water after going thru a filter made with an altoids can. It’s not large enough to provide any real filtering capabilities! What are you gonna grill on an… Read more »
milkshakesuds
Guest
Respect, “Isn’t that part of being a prepper, being prepared?” Yes, of course, mentally and physically. Everything becomes a useful tool then. (but I don’t claim to be Mcguyver) I get your point and I wouldn’t venture out into the bush with just an Altoids tin, but in my many deep bush tramps, I travel light and tend to utilize other peoples trash I find along the way. Some of my associates go out for weeks at a time with nothing but the clothes on their back. Im not that savy, I like warm and dry but it does nurture… Read more »
JD
Guest
Well bud I applaud you for your resourcefulness and creativity. There’s nothing wrong with what you do. I was never a Boy Scout but when I was a teenager I used to go out in the woods for days and up to a week at a time with nothing but a small pack with spare underwear and socks and a strong fixed blade. So I know the value of being resourceful and creative. I also know now at age 43, I don’t want to work as hard! Having the right gear makes life so much more enjoyable. My reasoning is… Read more »
Steve Struthers
Guest

Most of the tools found in a Altoids survival kit could be better replaced by a good-quality Leatherman-type multi-tool. Such a tool wouldn’t weigh a lot more, or take up a great deal more room than an Altoids tin would.

At best, a kit housed within an Altoids tin could be a useful adjunct to a larger and more comprehensive survival kit.

Les
Guest

I don’t think any rational person believes that an Altoids tin stuffed with various little items can, or is meant to, provide the means to survive an unforeseen emergency for long out in the bush. I have packs in my vehicles that are supplied with items that can give me a good chance of survival in such a circumstance albeit maybe not comfortably. A .22 single-shot rifle wouldn’t be my choice for a firefight, but it does have its place and can’t be discounted for use where its applicable.

Budget Bugout
Guest

You’re using my photograph without my permission to promote your article (and you make a profit off of your site). Remove it immediately or legal action will be pursued next week. This is Marty from Budget Bugout. Contact me at budgetbugout@gmail.com ASAP.

Joe Rock
Guest
I have a pocket-sized survival kit in a container a little larger than an Altoids tin. I think such kits can be somewhat useful. The most important thing I carry is a very small bottle of bleach (I have it in a hot sauce container from an MRE) and an MRE beverage bag. No, it isn’t much, but I can fill the bag with water, add 2 to 4 drops of bleach, and drink it. I figure that will give me at least a quart of clean water. I also carry a packet of bouillon powder and/or powdered coffee to… Read more »
JD
Guest

If filtering water is paramount, why not just carry a life straw and be able to filter 250 gallons?

DougO
Guest
I couldn’t agree more! I can’t think of a single scenario where I have to run out of a building with nothing but my Altoids tin and survive. Plus the stuff in the Altoids tin as you mentioned isn’t that helpful. Its like a very bad version of everything you wish you had. Its like “Gee I wish I had a knife…oh good I have a tiny razor blade instead.”. There is nothing I can fit in an Altoids can that I don’t already have a better version of in my pockets as part of EDC. And no, I don’t… Read more »
DougO
Guest

Can we also agree that no one in the history of paracord bracelets has ever actually taken one apart and used it for anything….ever. Paracord is great, keep a roll around, the rest is prepper fashion.

JD
Guest

Thanks for your input, and very good point about the bracelets! I agree that it’s along the same lines as the altoids tin. Next to useless. People don’t realize, a lot of what they put into these kits, is good for one or two time uses. A piece of tin foil to make a cup or container (face palm) sure it will work once or twice to boil water then it will crumble. Hopefully they get rescued within 2 days. But how can you know? The reality is you don’t.

Adam Ensign
Guest

I keep a couple of the tins around. You can put a few spinner baits, flies and poppers in them, and just stuff it in your back pocket. I like to take them on hikes because I usually get the fishing itch.

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