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    How to Make an Urban Survival Tin

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    How to Make an Urban Survival Tin

    Most of what’s written about survival kits focuses on wilderness surviva. But urban survival has just as many challenges and requires its own unique solutions. Yet, regardless of the survival situation there’s a common problem with survival kits –we pack them up and never seem to remember to take them with us for when we need them most.

    The reason is that survival kits tend to get somewhat bulky and we don’t think to carry them for short trips or everyday wanderings. That has left many people without their well-planned survival gear when they need it most.

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    Survival Situations Are Hard to Predict

    Storms, wildfires, riots, power-outages –name the disaster and it rarely comes with a lot of warning. Disasters happen fast and while your skills can get your through some tough times, it helps to have some simple items to make the ordeal at least a little bit easier to survive.

    This is not about packing a full, urban survival kit. Very few of us haul an INCH bag to work every day, but if you don’t have anything with you in the event of an emergency you either aren’t reading this -or you simply forgot it like many of us do.

    One solution to this “pack it and forget it” occurrence is to assemble a survival kit that it easy to carry. To accomplish this we’re going to cover the basic things you could pack in something as small and durable as an Altoid tin.

    Altoids to the Rescue

    Altoids are those curiously strong mints that originated in Britain. They’ve been around for a long time and still come in a small, sealed tin that’s the perfect size and construction for an easy to carry survival kit.

    Our primary focus is going to be on an urban survival kit but we’ll cover some variations for a wilderness kit as well. Heck, the tins are inexpensive and you might as well buy two while you’re putting this together.

    Urban Survival Realities

    You don’t have to be wandering through a city in flames to need an urban survival kit. It could be just a bad day at the office; one of those days when all of the trains and buses are running late, or finding yourself stranded in a traffic jam that just won’t move.

    Then again, a significant disaster that strands you in the city complicates everything. The big question is what would you need to get through a day or even a night or two away from home in an urban environment? And no. Hotels are either closed, unavailable or booked so this may mean you’re enduring life on the streets –or at least in an office building without power. That’s sort of a worst case scenario.

    The best case is just a bad day when you’re feeling ill, out of sorts, or when your car breaks down on a highway that looks more like a parking lot than a road.

    It’s a Lean Kit

    You have to think small and prioritize. As durable as an Altoid tin may be, it’s a small canister so it’s important to pack it wisely. Here are some ideas for a general urban survival kit:

    ·  A Small USB Drive

    The idea here is to download information on this small USB drive that you can either plug into your phone, your computer or public access computer. On the card you want to have the following information:

    • Emergency phone numbers in case you lose power or your phone, or are without in the first place.
    • Photos of key documents like driver’s license, passport, or anything else you might need to engage in transactions or emergency services.
    • Brief medical history and list of prescription medicines.
    • Any other information you would need if away from your electronic devices and on your own.

    We depend greatly on our electronic devices to contain a lot of information that we choose to forget because it’s always there. If we find ourselves without those personal electronic devices, and all of the information they contain, it’s going to be a real memory test to see what we can remember.

    · Critical and Basic Medicines

    Some people need to take medications on a daily basis for any number of conditions. The rest of us are always subject to headaches, allergic reactions, intestinal distress or other aches and pains. You don’t need to pack your pill bottles but a couple of your blood pressure pills, blood thinners, aspirin, or one or two Benadryl tablets can make a bad day at least a little better.

    Don’t overdo it but at least have enough to get you through a couple of days.

    · A Needle, Some Thread and a Couple of Buttons

    Even if your biggest challenge is just looking presentable in a business meeting, having at least the basics to make a quick clothing repair is a good idea. Hopefully this mini-emergency won’t be the first time you’re ever sewed on a button or stitched a seam.

    · A Couple of Bandages and Antiseptic Wipes

    Any cut, scrape or scratch can get infected. Don’t let this happen to you. Pack the basics for first aid. This will also go a long way to keeping blood off of your clothing. That tends to attract a lot of unwanted attention.

    · A Small Folding Knife and File

    Whether it’s filing a hangnail or cutting something in an emergency, one of these small knives with some basic personal care tools fits easily into your tin.

    · A Small Lighter

    If for any reason your need to start or fire or just need a flame, these small Bic lighters are reliable and very compact.

    · Black Tape

    Forget the duct tape. It’s just too sticky and unwieldy. A small amount of black electrical tape (about 12-inches) wrapped around your jump drive, or a small stick (even the end of your fire stick) can allow you to tape anything whether it’s improvising a butterfly bandage or attaching your small knife to a stick to fashion a spear.

    · Safety Pins, Straight Pins and Paper Clips

    Whether it’s poking out a splinter, improvising a carrying bag from a t-shirt with safety pins, or using a paper clip to clean out the charging port on a cellphone –these tiny items can be invaluable tools in an urban emergency.

    · A Mirror in the Top of the Lid

    Why not? It doesn’t take up much room and whether you’re checking yourself out if you’re injured; trying to find whatever it is that got into your eye, or actually using it for signaling you can and should include a small mirror. Glue it inside the lid and it won’t take up much space. You can also buy reflective sheeting that’s ultra-thin and easy to cut.

    · A Razor Blade

    A single-edge razor blade is another ultra-thin item that can cut where a knife blade fails. Use your razor blade to cut your medicines in half, or to cut anything requiring precision and a very sharp edge.

    · A Small Pen and a Few Post-It Notes

    Sometimes you have to leave a message. That’s hard to do without a phone or when there’s no wireless service. An easy way to do that is with a Post-it note left on a door, car windshield, or anywhere else you want to communicate to anyone for any reason. You can also jot down any notes you need to keep about anything you see or need to do or remember.

    · A Small LED Flashlight

    These things are very portable and you can even find them at the Dollar Store. A lighter can always give you some light, and in a pinch you could always fashion a torch. However, walking through a building during a power outage with a torch is probably not the best idea. A small LED flashlight will at least help you find and get down the stairs until you get outside –where once again you’ll probably need a flashlight at night if the lights are out.

    · Cash

    Cash is very important if for any reason credit cards aren’t an option. Then again, if your wallet was lost, stolen or forgotten a little cash can at least get you through the day. $20 bucks is a good place to start, more if you can afford it or are overly concerned.

    Anything Else?

    A lot of that depends on you and how much room you have left in your tin.

    • Some people would pack one of those small multi-tools if they think they’ll need an expanded yet portable tool set.
    • Chapstick if you have any issues with chafing, and a lip balm can be used anywhere on your body –not just your lips. A few sheets of toilet paper if you’re afraid you can’t improvise or that’s a priority for you. Given the run on toilet paper during the pandemic it’s apparently a priority for many. This obviously assumes that no public bathrooms are available.
    • A survival whistle is also small and quite portable. It will definitely get everyone’s attention although some people may think you’re simply a protester. It all depends on the situation.

    Making It Easier to Remember Your Survival Tin

    It doesn’t seem to matter how small a survival kit is, we pack them and forget them in a closet at home or in a kitchen drawer. Maybe it’s time for a little behavioral change.

    • Put your urban survival tin in your glove compartment of your vehicle. It’s small and you’ll always know where it is.
    • Keep another one in a drawer in your office.
    • Pack it in your briefcase, purse or backpack. Whatever you carry to get to work or travel in the city is a good place to at least have this little urban survival tin.

    Another idea is to put together more than one of these survival tins and keep one in the car, another in the office, and another one in your briefcase or purse. The stuff you’re putting in it doesn’t cost that much and you’ll always know you have one –somewhere.

    Then again, you could pack a more robust urban survival kit that’s much larger than an Altoid tin and store it in your car or office, but it’s of no use in a briefcase, drawer, purse or backpack.

    And While We’re At It…

    If you’re thinking about pulling together an urban survival tin or two, you could also take a little time to put together a wilderness survival tin. And it may not just be for the wilderness.

    If you drive to work and have a long commute, you may find yourself in remote locations just trying to get home. If you’re car breaks down in the middle of nowhere on your way home from work, you may need more than safety pins and Post-it notes.

    Then again, a catastrophic disaster could result in you walking home or anywhere out of the city into more rustic and wild areas. Now you’re facing the possibility of camping or at least spending more time outdoors than you had planned. That’s why you may need to add or substitute some things for a wilderness survival tin.

    The Wilderness Survival Tin

    We’re not going to reinvent the wheel here, but some of the things that make sense for an urban survival tin will be either replaced or upgraded a bit. We’re going to use another Altoid tin and make some changes to the contents. Here’s what we’ll keep and then we’ll get into the new wilderness stuff.


    • The Lighter
    • The LED Flashlight
    • The Critical and Basic Medicines
    • The Mirror
    • The Razor Blade
    • The Whistle
    • The Cash
    • And The Tape

    In addition you’ll want to add some new things to your wilderness tin that will help you in a more primitive environment. This would include:


    • A 1-Pint Plastic Bag with Potable Aqua Tablets Inside

    There are no guarantees on finding drinking water anywhere but it’s fair to assume it may be easier in an urban environment than in the wilderness. The good news is that natural water sources abound in nature but it requires purification. A plastic bag with a halizone tablet sold as “Potable Aqua” would do the trick.

    You could include this in your urban kit if you’re not sure about finding safe, drinking water but in the wilderness it’s a necessity.

    • A Swiss Army Knife

    The small, manicure knife in our urban kit may not be enough for the number of things you’ll have to do in the wilderness. A Swiss army knife with multiple features is a good bet.

    • More Bandages and Antiseptic Wipes

    Figure on 4 bandages and 4 antiseptic wipes in the wilderness kit. We just seem to get more scratched up and scraped in the woods and the wild and infection is never worth the risk.

    You can buy these very small compasses on Amazon. They don’t take up much space and work fine. If you’re trekking cross-country after a disaster it will help keep you on track. If you know how to determine direction without a compass you might still want to keep one of these in the kit. This is another consideration for the urban kit but most of know our directions in the city.

    About 6 feet of wound and bound nylon cordage will be a welcome addition for binding the simplest lashings. Find the smallest diameter with the highest tensile strength.

    • Fishing Line, Hook, and Sinkers

    Skip the sewing kit and replace it with a basic fishing kit. It takes up the same space is a needle, thread, and buttons and no one will be making any judgments about your appearance. This isn’t to say you can’t fish in the city but your opportunities and the fishing will be better in rural and wild areas.

    • A Small Fire Stick

    If you’re in the woods you’re most likely living and sleeping outside. A fire is important anywhere but is critical if you’re constantly exposed to the elements.

    It’s great to still have that small lighter but if the lighter just won’t light a fire stick is a great backup. Use the knife blade on your Swiss army knife to create your sparks, and practice before trying to start a fire with one of these for the first time.

    That About Does It

    It may seem like we overdid it a bit, but these things are so easy to put together it’s worth spending a little time on a weekend to assemble them. Between Amazon and the Dollar Store all of the stuff is easy to find.

    What may be more important is taking a little time to hone your general survival skills. Here are some links to some great articles and books on urban survival and bushcraft that will make the sparse and limited parts of these kits the perfect tools for any urban or wild adventure.

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