Survival kits, in a variety of sizes, contain supplies and tools to provide a person with basic shelter against the elements, help them keep warm, meet their health and first aid needs, provide food and water, signal to rescuers, and assist them in finding their way back to help. Supplies in a survival kit normally contain a knife (often a Swiss army knife or a multi-tool), matches, tinder, first aid kit, bandana, fish hooks, sewing kit, and a flashlight.
Civilians such as forestry workers, surveyors, or bush pilots, who work in remote locations or in regions with extreme climate conditions may also be equipped with survival kits. Disaster supplies are also kept on hand by those who live in areas prone to earthquakes or other natural disasters. For the average citizen to practice disaster preparedness, some towns will have survival stores to keep survival supplies in stock.
The American Red Cross recommends an emergency preparedness kit that is easy to carry and use in the event of an emergency or disaster.
Salt is an essential mineral for health. Salt containing potassium chloride, sold widely as low sodium salt, can be used to prevent dehydration from diarrhea and can save most cholera deaths. (See Oral rehydration therapy)
Multivitamin and mineral supplements. Zinc supplements are useful in treating diarrheal intestinal tract infections, especially in children.
100% UV protective sunglasses ("UV 400") (protects eyes from harmful UV radiation. Polarized glasses are not necessarily UV protective, but aid with glare only)
Food and water
Most survival kits involve sustenance for short periods of time, to be used and replenished before contents spoil.
Water in sealed containers for dry areas, or water purification tablets or household bleach in areas where water is available but may be contaminated. For emergency water purification see: water purification techniques
Heavy duty aluminum foil to create a distillation tube to remove salt from salt water during boiling/condensation. Must have another receptacle to collect condensate.
Canned food, Ready-to-eat meals (MRE), or high-energy foods such as chocolate or emergency food bars.
Fishing line and gear (fish hooks, lures, and split shot leads)
High power LED light (able to have batteries replaced, and carry an extra battery), white lens, with signaling capabilities. Strobe versions are available for some lights. Use lithium cells only, due to superior shelf life.
Laser pointer with lithium batteries, for superior signaling range. Laser pointers have resulted in at least one rescue: during the night in August 2010 two men and a boy were rescued from marshland after their red laser pen was spotted by rescue teams.
Metal billycan or "water bottle" for water storage, boiling, purification, cooking
Compact saw such as Japanese style backsaw with coarse teeth (folding models available). Bow saws can quickly cut larger diameter limbs and small to medium thick trees, and Folding saws can be small enough to fit into a kit, but big enough to cut small to medium diameter limbs, and possibly smaller trees.
Lifeboat survival kits are stowed in inflatable or rigid lifeboats or life rafts; the contents of these kits are mandated by coast guard or maritime regulations. These kits provide basic survival tools and supplies to enable passengers to survive until they are rescued. In addition to relying on lifeboat survival kits, many mariners will assemble a "ditch bag" or "abandon ship bag" containing additional survival supplies. Lifeboat survival kit items typically include:
Red flare, rocket parachute flare, and/or smoke signal flare
Laser pointer for signaling aircraft (red is color of distress, but green color is higher power and will be seen farther), with lithium cells, in double waterproof plastic pouch (remember that pointers of high power are a theoretical hazard to eyes of low-flying pilots at night)
Survival kits for military aviators are often modified according to the environment of operations:
In desert areas, survival kits may have more water and sunscreen, and have additional items such as shade hats, a compass, a whistle, medical equipment, tinder, matches, and sun glasses.
In tropical areas, a survival kit may have mosquito head netting, additional insect repellent, anti-fungal cream, a machete, water purification tablets, foot powder, matches, a flint strike, a compass, a wire saw, a space blanket, medical equipment (gauze pads, elastic gauze bandage, antiseptic creams, anti-malaria tablets, anti-infection tablets, bandages, etc.), salt tablets, a fishing kit, snare wire, extra socks, a candle, a signal mirror, flares, a sewing kit, safety pins, tinder, tape, a whistle, and rations.
In arctic or alpine areas, survival kits may have additional cold weather clothing (winter hats and gloves), sleeping bags, chemical "hand warmer" packets, sun glasses/snow goggles, snowshoes, a collapsible shovel, a snare wire for small animals, a frying pan, a camp stove, camp stove fuel, a space blanket, matches, a whistle, a compass, tinder, medical equipment, a flint strike, a wire saw, extra socks and a tent designed for arctic use.
For personnel who are flying over large bodies of water, a survival kit may have additional items such as flotation vests, fishing nets, fishing equipment, fluorescent sea marking dye, a flare launching gun and cartridges (and perhaps a revolver and tracer ammunition), a survival radio (e.g., an AN/PRC-90), a distress marker light, a Sea Water Still for desalt seawater, a raft repair kit, a paddle, a bailer and sponge, sunscreen, medical equipment, a whistle, a compass, and a sun shade hat.
The US Army uses several basic survival kits, mainly for aviators, which are stored in canvas carrying bags. Aviators in planes with ejection seats have survival kits in the seat pan and the survival vest (SRU-21P) worn by US helicopter crews also contains some basic survival items.
Mini survival kits
"Mini survival kits" or "Altoids tin" survival kits are small kits that contain a few basic survival tools. These kits often include a small compass, waterproof matches, a fishing hook and fishing line, a large plastic garbage bag, a small vial of bleach, a small candle, a jigsaw blade, an X-Acto knife blade, and a safety pin. Pre-packaged survival kits may also include instructions in survival techniques, including fire-starting or first aid methods. In addition, parachute cord can be wrapped around the tin. The parachute cord can be used for setting up an emergency shelter or snaring small animals. They are designed to fit within a container roughly the size of a mint tin.
Fire making kit contained in tin
Another level in some preparedness plans are Vehicle Kits. In some cases, supplies and equipment may be loaded into vehicle such as a van or truck with bicycle racks and an extra “reserve” gas tank. Some survivalists also carry a small (e.g., 250 cc) off-road-capable motorcycle in the van or truck.
Food supplies in the bug-out vehicle include hundreds of pounds of wheat, rice, and beans, and enough honey, powdered milk, canned goods, bottled fruit, vitamins, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, salt, pepper, spices, and oil for several months. In addition, the kits often contain high-calorie energy bars, a cooking kit, utensils, liquid soap, and towels. The water supplies may include bottled water, filtering kit, bottles, collapsible water containers, and chlorine bleach for water purification. Food preparation and washing equipment may include items such as a grain grinder, a bread mixer, a strainer, a manual can opener, a steam canner with canning jars and O-rings, cutlery, knives, an electric 12-volt cooler icebox, kerosene lamps and heaters, kerosene or propane stoves, extra fuel, a clothes wringer, a foot-operated treadle sewing machine, and an electric hot plate (which would require an inverter to operate off a car battery).
The medical supplies may include a blood pressure gauge, stethoscope, scissors, tweezers, forceps, disposable scalpels, two thermometers (oral and rectal), inflatable splints, bandages, sutures, adhesive tape, gauze, burn ointment, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, rubbing alcohol, ipecac syrup, sterile water, cotton rags, soap, and cotton swabs.
The transportation items may include bicycles with off-road tires and suspension, emergency tools and spare auto parts (e.g., fuses, fan belts, light bulbs, head light, tire pump, etc.), and an inflatable raft with paddles.
In addition, the kits may contain typical individual "survival kit" items, such as nylon tarps, extra clothes and coats, blankets, sleeping bags, matches or other fire starting equipment, a compass and maps, flashlights, toilet paper, soap, a pocket knife and bowie knife, a fishing kit, a portable camping stove, a power inverter, backpack, paper and pencil, a signaling mirror, whistle, cable saw, bleach, insect repellent, magnifying glass, rope and nylon cord, pulleys, and a pistol and ammunition.
The communications equipment may include a multi-band receiver/scanner, a citizens band (CB) radio, portable "walkie-talkies" with rechargeable batteries, and a portable battery-powered television. The power supplies may include a diesel or gasoline generator with a one month fuel supply, an auto battery and charger, extension cord, flashlights, rechargeable batteries (with recharger), an electric multi meter, and a test light. Defense items include a revolver, semi-automatic pistol, rifle, shotgun, ammunition, mace or pepper spray, and a large knife such as a KA-BAR or a bowie knife.
Tools may include cutting tools such as saws, axes and hatchets; mechanical advantage aids such as a pry bar or wrecking bar, ropes, pulleys, or a 'come-a-long" hand-operated winch; construction tools such as pliers, chisels, a hammer, screwdrivers, a hand-operated twist drill, vise grip pliers, glue, nails, nuts, bolts, and screws; mechanical repair tools such as an arc welder, an oxy-acetylene torch, a propane torch with a spark lighter, a solder iron and flux, wrench set, a nut driver, a tap and die set, a socket set, and a fire extinguisher. As well, some survivalists bring barterable items such as fishing line, liquid soap, insect repellent, light bulbs, can openers, extra fuels, motor oil, and ammunition.
The US government's Homeland Security website provides a list of in-home emergency kit items. The list focuses on the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air and materials to maintain body warmth. The recommended basic emergency kit items include:
Water, at least one gallon of water per person for each day for drinking & sanitation (should be rotated every 3 months)
Food, non-perishable food for at least three days which is not required to be cooked or refrigerated
Emergency food bars, preferably products with 2,400 or 3,600 calories and contain no coconut or tropical oils to which many people may have an allergic reaction, in addition to non-perishable food which does not require cooking or refrigeration
Battery- or hand-powered radio with the Weather band
LED type flashlight (battery- or hand-powered)
Extra batteries for anything needing them, lithium type is preferred for shelf life
The term "survival kit" may also refer to the larger, portable survival kits prepared by survivalists, called "bug-out bags" (BOBs), "Personal Emergency Relocation Kits" (PERKs) or "get out of Dodge" (GOOD) kits, which are packed into backpacks, or even duffel bags. These kits are designed specifically to be more easily carried by the individual in case alternate forms of transportation are unavailable or impossible to use.
These bags contain supplies such as food, water purification equipment, clothing, medical equipment, communications gear, and tools.