The Curiously Useful Altoids Tin
Posted on April 27 2016
The simple Altoids tin, designed several years ago as packaging for ‘The Original Celebrated Curiously Strong Peppermints’, has since become the survival container favourite amongst the EDC community. Pocket-sized, sturdy, readily available, and with seemingly interior space, this little mint tin just happens to be an excellent way of keeping a survival kit neatly and securely stowed away.
There’s no solid lineup of survival kit ‘ingredients’ that go inside an Altoids tin survival kit; they are highly personalised kits, with components carefully chosen based on the situation and the environment in which the kit carrier frequently finds themselves. In fact, the very building of an Altoids tin survival kit is a very thought-provoking lesson in preparation, as the kit carrier should be considering their key survival priorities, and how each item would help to address them.
Creating a survival kit with these tins is also viewed as a bit of a rite of passage for EDC'ers, so I thought I’d try it as a little project, and see how I managed.
Altoids Tin Mints
So I started with the Altoids tin. The first barrier was the 50g of peppermints that packed the tin. These got quickly dealt with, so now, armed with a cleared mind and minty fresh breath, I could now put my mind towards carefully thinking about the survival priorities that my kit should help me address. I’ll list the main survival components underneath, in no particular order.
Fire is a remarkably useful survival tool, because as well as its principal role of keeping your body heated, it can also help with tackling some of the additional priorities, like water purification and signalling.
I made sure that there were two means of ignition added in my kit, as well as some decent tinder. For combustion, I went for a BIC Mini Lighter, and a little ferrocerium rod as a backup (to be used with a knife, which I included in this kit). For the tinder, I added a batch of 10 lengths of waxed jute twine. Waxed jute stays waterproof until needed, at which point it can be untwisted and fluffed up into a ‘tinder ball’, with the bonus of increased burning time due to the wax.
The requirement for water is a critical survival priority. Depending on the environment, just a couple of days without water could be fatal, and in the shorter term, it's essential for efficient functioning of the body and mind. So to stay properly hydrated, you require having a supply of water that wont to make you ill.
To address the demand for drinking water in my kit, I included a condom as a water gathering container, along with 10 NaDCC water purification tablets, each suitable for purifying a litre of water. Boiling water is another method of making it fit for drinking, and in an emergency, the Altoids tin could be used as a pot to boil up 50ml of water at a time.
Lack of proper shelter means that you’ll become exposed to everything the climate decides to throw at you, which in the UK typically means wind and rain, and we have it easy here. Nevertheless, exposure to wind and rain can quickly be fatal; hypothermia is a real killer. In warmer climates, heat stroke and dehydration are what make the shelter a must.
This priority I found the most challenging to address within the limits of the Altoids tin because by it's very nature even a portable shelter will use up a large space. An emergency foil blanket would have been suitable as a temporary survival shelter, but no way was it going to fit inside the tin. What I was able to include was around 10ft of 550lb paracord, for binding together a shelter frame from big sticks, and a useful-sized folding knife, for cutting the paracord, and preparing plant material.
While we’re on the topic of knives, I find them an extremely versatile and multi-functional survival tool, but an interesting point to make is that they are far less helpful in areas with little to no plant life.
Navigation / Signalling
The importance of navigation and signalling arises from the fact that there are always ways out of a survival situation, either by reaching safety or by getting help to come to you. So once you have addressed your immediate priorities, your focus should turn to these two.
The addition of a 20mm button compass in the tin means that I would have a way of getting my bearings and determining my way out, even if landmarks were proving difficult.
Signalling gets addressed in two ways in this kit; audibly, with a whistle, and visually, with the capability to make distress beacons with fire, and a reflective surface fitted in the lid of the tin. These reflective surfaces brightly reflect both visible light and infra-red, which aids rescue at night.
Blood-loss and infection, would both be real showstoppers in a survival circumstance. So anything that you can add to a survival kit to help yourself with addressing these can only be a good thing.
I included two alcohol swabs, for wound cleaning/sterilisation. Injuries can then get dressed with a temporary bandage from torn clothing. For critical blood loss, a tourniquet can be built by using some of the paracord.
In a survival scenario, food, while arguably a lower-priority matter, is still a valuable thing to be able to find. In colder climates especially, where your body burns calories far more quickly, food can be essential for maintaining your body. Having something to eat helps keep morale, and that’s one main key to survival.
My Altoids tin includes a mini fishing kit, which comprises hooks and weights, as well as safety pins and a sewing needle all sealed in a small length of plastic straw, then wrapped in 8 metres of fishing line. So with some determination, I could conceivably feed myself with fish and small game.