How to Build a Survival Kit: 21 Items You Might Need

Dietrich Easter

How to Build a Survival Kit: 21 Items You Might Need


A survival kit should be full of quality, useful, and accessible items. If the world has learned anything in the past few years, it’s this: bad things can and will happen. Don’t get caught snoozing – learn how to build a survival kit.


Long ago, survival gear and skills were a part of everyone’s life: Fire starting, shelter making, and finding food and water were everyday skills. This article will give you some ideas about how to make a practical survival kit.

21 Items You Need in Your Survival Kit 

This article will outline an all-purpose survival kit - a jack of all trades.


Here are the several categories we cover: 


  1. Shelter

  2. Food and Water

  3. First Aid

  4. Miscellaneous


Below, we will discuss twenty-one items and look at where they fall within these categories. 


Note: This is not in order of importance. However, we will categorize certain items together. Also, this list is meant to give you some general ideas – it is not all inclusive.

Section 1: Shelter Tools in a Survival Kit

1. Emergency blanket


The emergency blanket, especially a good emergency blanket, can save your life. Hypothermia can happen even in mildly cold conditions. And, you can use emergency blankets for shelter building and signaling.


Also, a 100% wool blanket is a great survival tool to keep on hand.


2. Rain Poncho 


Staying warm is directly related to staying dry. When you become soaked with water, you lose body heat really fast. Wet clothes will quickly steal the warmth from your body. A rain poncho doesn't seem super ultra-cool (I've never seen James Bond wear one), but it might just save you.


3. Durable All-Weather Clothes


Many materials hold water for a while. If you can, have rainproof outerwear and wool clothing underneath. Wool can keep you warm even when it becomes damp. 


4. Tarps and Shelter Making 


You can use a durable tarp with natural resources (leaves, branches, etc.) to create a waterproof shelter. This may be necessary if you were stranded without a vehicle, or your vehicle isn’t safe for inhabitation. 


Combine a tarp, a wool blanket, and some good clothes, and you'll be as cozy as a bird in a nest. 


Note: Cordage, like 550 paracord, are also a great tool to keep around.


Section 2: Food and Water for a Survival Kit

5. Water Source 


Your survival kit should contain several ways to procure water. When it comes to a water supply, you want options – A, B and C.


So here are some water ideas: 


  1. Water filters

  2. Water purification tablets 

  3. Container for boiling water (single walled stainless steel or titanium) 

  4. Store some water (secure jugs). At least a gallon per person per day. 


You don't want to skimp on water. 


6. Knife or Cutting Tool 


The knife might be the ultimate survival item. We include it here, as it’s usually related to precuring food or making fire.


You don't need a Rambo knife for your survival kit. Any quality knife will be better than no knife at all. A knife is needed for normal cutting tasks, fire starting, and food preparation. Always be mindful of local laws, but a fixed blade knife is usually recommended for a survival situation. 


Mora (budget friendly) and ESEE make durable survival knives. However, this is a topic of great depth, so if you're curious, check this article on choosing a survival knife


7. Lighters 


The renowned survivalist Les Stroud was once asked why everyone didn't just carry a Bic lighter in their pocket. He responded, "I don't know." 


While it's wise to learn about Ferro rods, friction fire, and the flint and steel, in a true survival situation, you want to make fire fast. Waterproof matches are another good idea. 


8. Flint and Steel or Ferrocerium Rod or Friction Fire


Like water, when it comes to fire, you should always have a backup to your backup. So, learning how to use a flint and steel or Ferro Rod should be part of your survival training. 


Friction fire is very difficult. However, with practice, something like a bow drill can become a reliable form of fire-craft. 


(We include fire-related gear under food and water, but it could be in any section – fire is a very versatile tool)


9. Food for Several Days


For a long-term survival plan, you should have some non-perishable food stored away. However, for a smaller, portable survival kit, you should still consider food. 


Food like granola, oats, trail mix, and high-calorie bars are good ideas – nothing wrong with freeze dried food either. However, if you like Skittles, they are tasty and can keep your mood up.

Section 3: Medical Supplies for Your Survival Kit

10. Trauma Dressing 


A good trauma dressing, like the Israeli bandage, or the OLAES, acts as the swiss army knife of the medical kit. With a good trauma bandage, you can splint a wound, stop a bleed, and even create a tourniquet. 

11. Tourniquet 


If you can, it's worth it to get trained to use a tourniquet. Storing several in the medical section of your survival kit is smart.  


12. Triangular Bandage 


triangular bandage is similar to a trauma dressing - it has a ton of uses. You can create tourniquets, splint limbs, and wrap wounds.


13. Rescue Mask


Carrying a rescue mask will remind you to keep an eye on the airway and breathing status of any patient you encounter.  


Take some time to learn how to give rescue breaths.


14. Medical masks 


Carrying a few N95 masks or surgical masks can come in handy for a variety of situations. Perhaps you need to care for someone who has a transmissible illness, like tuberculosis, or maybe you're looking for a low-key way to conceal your face - if you're trying to escape a dangerous situation. 


15. Medications 


If you or someone in your family needs prescription meds, consider talking to your doctor about having some extra on hand. This is especially important for those with heart conditions or diabetes. 


Over-the-counter medications, like Benadryl, Tylenol, and aspirin, are also important.


Miscellaneous Items for a Survival Kit 


Here are a few items that are easy to overlook. 


Let's talk about them. 


16. Flashlight 


Something like a flashlight, such a simple and common household item, is easy to overlook. Don't assume that you'll have a flashlight ready during a survival situation, and don't assume the batteries will last. 


There are some nice hand crank flashlights, but a glow stick is also valuable to have in your kit. 


17. Cell Phone and Radio 


Being able to communicate is very helpful. Your cell phone may or may not work depending on the situation, so consider also having an emergency radio on hand. 


There are many types of communication. Walkie talkies, satellite phones, cell phones, HAM radios, morse code. The more types of communication you’re familiar with, the better.

18. Child Care: Diapers/Baby Food/Bottles


If you have a kid, consider their needs. Diapers and formulas for babies are necessities. Also, you may consider some form of entertainment for a child, as this can lighten their moods during a rough situation. (Even something like a sticker, which doesn't take up any room or weight, could brighten a child’s day)


19. Small Hobbies and Personal Items 


No, you probably shouldn't pack your Xbox (Though there's no law against it). However, there's a common saying, three weeks without food, three days without water, three hours without shelter, three minutes without hope. 


Keeping your spirits up is more important than you might think!


So, throw a deck of waterproof cards in your survival kit. Also, think about pictures of loved ones or anything else that might be encouraging. 


20. Money and Items for Trade


Stashing some cash in your survival kit can come in handy. Also, think about having a few extra items for trading. For some, that might be extra food. For others, they might need fire starting tools.


21. Books Maps and Knowledge 


When it comes to survival, knowledge is your most trustworthy friend. 


Keep some quality survival guides in your kit: guides to edible food and guides around general survival are smart to have around. Also, never venture into a new location without a paper map (and a good compass) on your person. Knowing the area can go a long way toward staying alive. 


22. (Bonus) Self Defense


Depending on your situation and you training, you should consider self-defense. This could mean a firearm (also good for hunting), but it could also be something like pepper spray (or bear spray for the wilderness).


Always follow local guidelines and get trained!


23. (Bonus) Duct Tape


Duct tape needs no explanation.


Final Words on Survival Kits 

Build a survival kit to meet your needs. People living in Alaska will need different items than people living in New York City. However, the principles remain – plan for water, food, and shelter.


Get trained! Don't think you'll magically be able to start a fire or navigate an area during a high-stress situation. Check out our other articles on building a vehicle first aid kit and how to stop a bleed.