How to minimize your Personal Survival Kit – PSK

“Got your knife?”

My wife rolls her eyes at me and shows me what is clipped inside the pocket of her hiking pants. She has finally given in on the fact I will keep bugging her to carry a knife anytime we go hiking.

“Have your little kit?”


She finally answers, “It’s in my pack,” as she is loading more snacks into her day pack, in a way that lets me know I am lucky she even has it at all.

I’d really like her to carry the PSK I made for her on her person, but I try to only fight the battles I can win. I have almost made peace with the fact that no matter how much I bug her, no matter how often we discuss the importance of carrying it, it isn’t happening.

The typical kit most people build is designed around a metal case the size of an Altoids tin. This can end up being too big and heavy. It bangs around in her cargo pocket annoyingly and as she puts it, she would not know how to use a lot of what is in the kit even if she had to.

Ok, fair points. 

I, like many of you, have been playing with Personal Survival Kits (PSK) for years. I have read a lot of articles and books on the subject and have even participated in classes where I had to use the contents of my PSK to deal with water, fire, and first aid. Because of the education I have on the subject, I am willing to carry a bit more weight than most hikers I know. I believe in a layered system of gear which follows along the line of non-duplication. 

If I am carrying a backpack full of camping gear, I may not bother with my little tarp and survival bivy. If I am out for a day hike in the White Mountains and do not plan on being there overnight I will carry a small daypack, water, snacks, and rain gear. I will also carry my tarp and Mylar. This weighs less than a water bottle and makes an unexpected night out much less daunting.

No matter how far into my layer system I go, two things are always on my person, my knife and my PSK. When I say on my person, I mean it. They are not in my pack and they are not in an outerwear pocket. They are in my pants pockets where I have the smallest chance of losing them. For instance, if I lose my pack or take off my jacket, it does not matter. I have the rock bottom basics of fire, safe water, and shelter on my person. 

So, how do I convince my wife, and others like her, to carry the basics on their person? I made my kit as small and as user-friendly as possible. However, the mini kit I most recently built takes a few things for granted: 

  • You are carrying a knife
  • You are wearing proper clothes (If you head out for a spring/fall hike in New England wearing cotton, I can’t help you)
  • You let someone know where you are going and when you will be back (Most rescue situations last 72 hours or less if someone knows when and where to start looking)
  • You are carrying a water container of some sort

With these things in mind, I went about stripping the longer-term survival items, such as food gathering, from my kit. I also took out the first aid items since they consisted of little more than Band-Aids and steristrips. So too went repair items such as a needle and thread.

This cuts things downs to the real basics of fire and water. For me, fire is key! It provides warmth, signals rescue, and keeps the boogeyman at a distance. With that in mind, I tripled up on it. This includes a small disposable lighter, a fire steel with attached magnesium, and some artificial tinder. There will be fire, even in wet conditions. And, I still have room for water purification and a couple of other goodies.

For water, I decided on a method a friend of mine showed me. I got a hold of some small dropper bottles typically used to contain breath freshener. Cleaned up they make awesome containers for household bleach. Two drops per liter and you have potable water in 30 minutes. No fuss, no muss, no bother. I have not done the math yet, but I figure I could get a couple of easy gallons from the little dropper bottles. 

In addition to the fire and water I also added a very small compass. Just in case, and because it fit, I added a p-38 can opener. Why tear up a good knife when making a cup out of a discarded soup or beer can for your bush tea?

All this fits in a little plastic case the size and shape of a pill bottle. I wrapped the bottle in 3 feet of duct tape, because well, you don’t really need to explain duct tape. There is no excuse not to keep a kit like this on your person. It’s lightweight, minimal in size, and you don’t need much in the way of training to use any of the contents! I find that dropping this in my pocket has become second nature.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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