KF8GR Survival Webpage

You and I both know about survivalists.  They think thyroid pills will stop them from getting radiation sickness after a nuclear attack. They wear executive parachutes in case the high rise they are in is set on fire, and they think they can thrive in the wilderness with nothing but a Swiss Army Knife and the training they got from the TV show McGyver. BULL!

I love the wild, and spend a lot of time playing in nature.  Hunting, camping, Adventure Radio. I also work in the wild. I am a member of West Michigan Search and Rescue, Ottawa County Emergency Communications, and Skywarn. I believe in survival, and survival training, NOT survivalists.

MANDATORY Survival skills

There are several survival skills that must be mastered BEFORE you end up in a survival situation. Most of them can be mastered in your backyard, where if you fail, you can just go inside, warm up, cool down (whatever) and review what went wrong. Learning and practicing these skills are never a waste of time.


In cold weather, firestarting is the difference between life and death. You can live without water for several days, and without food for weeks, but without heat, you are dead in hours, if not minutes. Learn to make fire in all the following ways. Fire Bow and Drill, sparking (such as ferocerium rods with or without magnesium), NATO waterproof boat matches, butane lighters ( it's harder than you think), 0000 steel wool and batteries, and of course with flint and steel, the method of the mountain man.

Making the spark or smoking ember or rozin is just the first step. You must master the art of tinder and small fire building. Practice making tinder nests and teepee fires in all weather conditions. You can't master fire in just dry weather. It will be wet, or cold, or windy, or all the above. Practice under those conditions.

Fire is essential to survival. It is used for light, cooking, signalling, heat, keeping animals that think you are survival food away, and yes it is a general comfort to an isolated human.

Water and food gathering

Look, you're already lost, don't expect to feast on buffalo tonight in a mountain lodge you built in the afternoon. Your food supply will probably consist of fish that you would otherwise consider bait, insects, rodents, snakes, or any other "meat" you can find.

Your water supply could easily be water trapped by a solar still, or by placing clear plastic bags around a succulent tree branch to capture water. Things that you would never consider sticking in your mouth under normal conditions could easily become your sustaining fuel. Deal with it.

Learn how to use your survival kits snares, and fishing kits. Learn how to make deadfalls. After all, if you have been living on earthworms for a week, a coyote would be a 4-star meal at "CHEZ-NATURE".

Know the difference between water filtration and purification. Know how to use Iodine, chlorine, and all types of water purification tablets. Keep a soda can or other lightweight alcohol stove (and fuel) with you for cooking and water purification. If the idea of using a non-lubricated condom for water gathering sounds offensive to you, you have a long way to go my friend.

Water filtration and Purification

Water needs to be filtered AND purified.  If you are in a survival situation, you will need to know how to filter water.  The easiest way is to take good black charcoal from your fire, crush it into smaller pieces, and set it aside.  Now take a discarded plastic drink bottle, or you aluminum foil, and cut a small hole in the bottom.  Pack a clean sock or handkerchief in the bottom of the container, and pour the foil on top of the sock.  Now find a piece of moss at least the size of the top of the container, scrape all the dirt off the moss, and place it on top of the charcoal.  If you have to use smaller pieces of moss, or moss is not available, pack another sock over the top, and start pouring water through the top of the container.  This is a slow process, and will take time.  If the first container of water has sediment in the bottom, pour it through again.  Once the loose charcoal is captured, you should be able to have well filtered water.  Do not drink it yet, it is not safe at this stage.

Now for purification.
If you decide to boil the water, remember, you will need to get the water up to a roiling boil for at least ten minutes, and the evaporation will be significant.  Never boil the water at a lower rate or time.

If using chlorine bleach, never use scented bleach.  Use 2 drops per quart for clear water, and 4 drops per quart for cloudy water.  Let set for thirty minutes.  If you cannot smell the chlorine , repeat the process.

If using Iodine, remember, you do not want to use Iodine if you have a thyroid condition.  You do not want to use Iodine for longer than 3 months, and Iodine will not kill one group of microbes that could leave you sick.

Medical Needs

Do you know how to perform open heart surgery? Skin grafting? No? Then leave all the fancy medical supplies to the doctors. Learn how to apply bandages, butterflies, moleskin, and treat puntures, fractures, how to use a sling. Learn what you will need in a survival situation. Knowing how to use dental floss and a sewing needle to sew yourself together is probably about as complicated (not to mention painful) as you can get. IT'S SURVIVAL FOLKS!,


Signalling is a survival skill that has many things to learn. It has visual (like fire, flashlights, or signal mirrors), Audio (screaming, whistles, yodelling, gunshots), etc. Always carry a 1 sq. ft. piece of foil to use as a signalling flag. It can also be used as a makeshift cup, a pot, a windscreen or reflector for your fire.


You need to know how to travel, and WHEN to travel. To travel, you need to have maps, a compass, and pace counting beads or a GPS unit. And you need to know how to use all these items. If a rescue cannot come to you, you must go to the rescue. Don't expect a SAR team no matter how well trained to come looking for you if you never told anyone where you would be, or when you would return.

Always provide a trustworthy person with all the info on your trip, when you will return, and keep in touch with that person. If you do not report in, your rescuers will know your general area, your place last seen, your direction of travel, your last known mental and physical condition.


Do you know how to lash a lean-to shelter together? Make snow-shoes out of limbs and paracord? What kind or rope is good for rappalling? Could you tie a survival knot to save you soul? Do you know what a ridgeline is and how to tie one to make a survival shelter?

Now that you have the skills and equipment to survive, where do you put all this junk?

The Suvival Kit

Survival kit Fundementals

A survival kit is only useful if you have it in your possession. So it stands to reason that the larger and heavier it is, the more likely it is to be sitting in camp, instead of on your person when you need it. Think small and minimal. You do not need a first aid kit the size of your car, or a 55 gallon drum of water.

Nature can provide most of what you need to survive for extended periods of time.

There are four things that are essential to survival. Shelter, heat, water and food. If you have told someone where you will be, and when you will return, your survival experience should be short lived.

Start with water procurement and shelter building in warmer weather, and start with heat, shelter and water procurement in cooler weather. No one will die if they go without food for 3 days. But, thirst and hunger dull the senses, so plan on making time to gather food. While gathering firewood, watch for animal signs and think about where to set snares, traps, etc.. so that you will be able to start food gathering quickly when time becomes available.

Know how to use your survival kit BEFORE you get into a survival situation. Know where to build that Solar still to gather water. Don't build your fire a mile from your wood supply.

Your survival kit is built to increase your chances of getting out alive.  Buy or build it carefully, take care of it, and it will take care of you.  Divide up the survival catagories, and make sure you have at least one item from each survival catagory in you survival kit.  Select and pack the items carefully, and you will not believe how much you will be able to put in the kit.

The most important piece of survival gear you have is between your ears. Think about survival before you need it. Tailor your survival kit to your environment before you venture out into nature. If you are planning a trip into the Arizona desert, 150 miles from the nearest fishing hole, fishing gear is just wasting space in your survival equipment. Take it out, and put in a snake bite kit instead!

Survival Kit Catagories

Survival Group
Item / Use
550 paracord (bowstring, ridgeline, slings, lashings)
waxed dental floss (fishing line, lashing, thread, sutures)
fishing line 6-8 pound test (fishing line, lashing, thread, sutures)
Fire /Heat/Light
fire striker  (used for making sparks)
fire starter  (used to catch sparks and make fire)
waterproof matches (fire making)
dry tinder (keep that fire alive, shavings from pencil works great)
photon microlite  (very small light source)
tea candle  (light, heat, warming food/drink)
wire saw  (cutting wood and bone)
band-aids  (cover small wounds)
butterfly small (use like sutures)
iodine pills or liquid (water treatment)
chlorine (water treatment)
single side razor blade (gutting, cutting bandages etc)
needle  (removing splinters, sewing, sutures etc)
sewing kit (buttons, safety pins etc)
duct tape (better than moleskin, lots of other uses)
moleskin (if you don't have duct tape)
rough direction compass (direction finding)
ranger beads  (pace counting distance measuring)
Pealess whistle (for audio signalling)
signal mirror (for visual signalling)
marking tape (for visual signalling)
pencil (for notemaking)
notepad or sticky pad (for notes, of course)
(firemaking, flashlight etc from above)
Water/Food Procurement
Condom (water gathering and storage)
Snare Wires (catching small game animals)
fishing kit  (catching fish and gaffing small animals)
1 sq.  ft.  aluminum foil (makeshift cup, pan, windscreen, reflector, signalling, etc)
Alcohol stove for cooking
1 sq ft of aluminum foil (for makeshift cups, pots, wather gathering etc.)

Minimalist Survival Kits

Ranger Rick's Special Operations Survival Necklace

This is a fine survival kit for trained survival types, and augments the less experienced survivor's survival gear.  Remember "Two is One, One is none!" is a prime directive of survival training.  The Ranger Rick Survial Necklace contains the following, a rough direction button compass, a "glow in the dark" tornado whistle (that you can set the compass on to navigate in the dark), a fire starter with room in the bottom for a cottonball saturated with Vaseline), a polished ID tag to use as a signalling mirror, and another ID tag for ID, which can be sharpened into a knife/razorblade type cutting tool.  The "chain" of the necklace is a wire saw inside of a plastic tube for cutting wood and bone.  To this necklace I have added a Micro Photon flashlight, a small container for a condom (for water gathering) and a small fold-up pair of scissors.  Other items will be added later.   The total weight of this survival kit (after my additions) is about 2 3/4 oz.  To get a better idea of this unique piece of survival gear, check out the Ranger Digest Website.

Keychain Survival Kit

The Keychain Survival Kit is too minimalist.  It has a rough direction compass, a pair of scissors that look like a key,a Micro Photon Lite, a P-38 can opener, and a "spy capsule" full of matches.  If used as a backup to a survival kit, it has some merit, but, too me at least, it seems to cluttered and dis-organized. To visit their webpage go to SurvivalKeyChain.com

Small and Complete Survival Kits

Survival Kit in a can

Don't get me started on this stupid idea. This kit comes in a sardine type can, with a metal sealed lid. If you open the can to practice with or verify the contents, the container is destroyed. If you trust a disgruntled employee who is P.O.ed because he didn't get a great holiday bonus, be my guest. What a STUPID idea. If you want to use one of these kits as a starting point for an Altoids or "SAS" kit, it is not a bad investment.

Do it Yourself Altoids Survival Kit

Survival Kit Jpg

This is one of my favorites. You build it, You decide what goes inside. You can even change the case. Put it in a military compass pouch, or a dental floss container. Hell, see how many items you can get into a Tic-Tac box. Anything you desire. If you build it, they will come. Many of the ideas which I have used for this kit come from other websites and the SAS Survival Handbook.

Other sources include the FEMA water purification papers and US Army and USAF Survival manuals as well as others. The weight of my Altoids survival kit (minus the 550 paracord, survival blanket and trash bag which are wound around the outside of the tin is about 4 oz. Not exactly a burden to carry.

British SAS Survival kits

These are commercial kits based on the British SAS survival kits built in a "tobacco tin" which is larger than an Altoids tin, but still comfortable in a shirt pocket. These kits use high quality parts, although they are often oversized for their function, and I am sure that if you purchase one, you will be pleased.

If you buy one of these kits and improve on the contents, you will not believe how much will fit into this container.

For instance, the Pro-Force kit comes with a 1.25 in diameter compass which can be replaced by a 10mm for a substantial size savings.
The whistle that comes with the kit can be replaced with an Acme Tornado 636 for a substantial size savings.
The ferrous striker can be replaced by a StrikeLite at an amazing size differential.
The Storm matches can be repackaged to take up much less space.
The rings on the wire saw can be downsized unless you have truly huge hands.
The water purification tabs are sealed in paper, scrap them!

What to do with the space you saved!

With this space saving, you can add aluminum foil for multi-use.
You can add a photon light.
You can add a condom for water storage.
You can add butterfly bandages, triple antibiotic ointment, and duct tape for blister prevention.
You can add iodine in sealed plastic straws for antiseptic and water purification.
Add a couple OB female tampons for firestarting tinder.
A homemade set of ranger beads made from small beads.
A fresnel lens for fire starting and splinter removal.

Cutting down the sides of the tea candle or replacing with a candle stub to save space.
Replacing the band-aids with better ones.
Adding a tiny vial of puritabs or other water purification pills.
Adding trick birthday candles for firestarting on wet days.

Larger Survival Kits

There are survival kits for home, cars, buildings etc. but these fall beyond the scope of personal survival. With one exception (in my case). Another build it yourself kit. This one is built in a GI first aid kit circa 1970's. It is a larger plastic box inside a nylon pouch that will attach to web gear with LC-2 connectors. The first aid items in the pouch are way out of date, so I just threw them away.

Into the plastic pouch I put a 2 1/2 day candle, a map compass, a set of ranger beads, maps of the surrounding counties, a small first aid kit, a Solitaire Maglight, a wire saw, a plastic trash bag that could be used as a poncho or shelter, 50 ft. of paracord, water purification tablets, a tea candle, an emergency poncho (orange), a tube tent (orange), a space blanket, a whistle, a signal mirror, a sheet of aluminum foil, a condom, a mini multi-function tool, a couple of small chem lights and various extra first aid supplies. And still had room enough for a Ranger Rick water filter in a film canister.

Besides a survival kit, you should ALWAYS carry the following items in your pockets, just in case. A pocket knife (like an Old TImer Trapper), a mini butane lighter, some roll candy or Charms and some gum. Dentine packs small, and will keep your whistle wetted. Keep a multi-tool on your belt, a signal mirror in your wallet, a small flat shirt pocket first aid kit, and maybe even a tiny FRS radio. Survival can happen on the highway as well as in a forest. Keep a survival kit in the glove box of your car. If you need medication, buy a spy capsule and keep some spare meds on your keychain.

Now, what do I carry when I go into the field on a search mission? First I have a vest full of SAR only gear. A military compass, A Garmin E-trex GPS, a small set of binoculars, a first aid kit, a G.I. poncho, good boots, layered clothing fit for the weather, 2 one quart canteens of water (and purification tablets) and in the canteen pouch around the canteen a canteen cup and stove with trioxane in pockets, an angle head flashlight with red lens, a AA maglight with red lens, a 2meter handheld (or 2m and 440MHz), an FRS radio and lots of batteries. On a search that may continue intothe night, I carry night vision. On my web belt along with my canteens I carry the GI First Aid kit converted into a survival kit. In my shirt pocket I carry an Altoids survival kit, and around my neck (under my shirt) I wear my trusty Ranger Rick Special Operations Survival Necklace. It may sound redundant, but just like layering clothing for cold weather, layering your survival kits can save your life.

Helpful Hints

You can use the laser hologram on a credit card for a signalling device.
You can use an aluminum walking stick to store drinking water.
Condoms make great water containers.
There is a big difference between water filtration and water purification.  Look them up.
For stove cooking in the wild, check out my KF8GR Stoves page.
Thirst can be reduced by placing a pebble under the tongue and sucking on it.  Do not swallow the saliva (or the pebble, for that matter)

Survival Links

Here are some good links to survival kits, gear, and how to use it.
AAA Wilderness Survival
a survival teaching page
B.E.S.T.  Survival Kit
a survival kit in an altoids tin
Equipped to Survive
A very good general survival site
Ranger Rick's Ranger Digest
Some of the best survival info anywhere, at any price.
Suggested Survival kit
Looks a little overkill to me
More Survival info
wilderness survival
A huge resource for wilderness survival
Wilderness Survival Kits at photo.net
No Rambo knife required, other than that, this is a nice kit.

There is much to learn about survival, and I have only scratched the surface on this page.  Find out as much as you can, keep building the better survival kit, keep your mind and body fit, and you too can survive.

If you have any good survival ideas, let me know, I will post them (with credit given) on this page.

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This page last updated by KF8GR on May 17, 2005