How to Build an Urban Survival Kit that Can Fit in an Altoids Tin

Last Updated: June 7, 2023

There is a lot of talk about Bug out bag lists and how to make a Wilderness Survival Pack. I fully encourage everyone to pack these survival bags and have them ready to go in case an emergency strikes.

But, when a disaster occurs, there is a good chance it will happen while you are at home or work.

Considering that a staggering 80% of Americans live in urban areas, it only makes sense that you’d want to have an urban survival kit to help you through the disaster.

Why You Need an Urban Survival Kit

Most preppers and survivalists imagine themselves fleeing to the wilderness in a SHTF situation. I am all about learning outdoor survival skills like off-grid cooking and how to build a survival shelter, but the reality is that most of us would be better off hunkering down (bugging in) instead of bugging out.

A young, fit man who has knowledge of edible plants and hunting techniques might be fine in a wilderness survival situation, but what about a family with two young children?

Then there is the issue of population. According to recent stats, the United States has a population density of about 84 people per square mile. But that counts Alaska. If you live in the continental USA, then the population density is going to be a lot higher. New Jersey has a density of 1,201 people per square mile. In Florida, it is 364. In Alabama, it is 95.

When SHFT, a lot of people are going to flee to the wilderness. That means it is going to get pretty crowded out there!

Unless your Bug Out location is somewhere really remote, then you are going to come in contact with others. You might as well have stayed put…

I strongly encourage everyone to stockpile survival supplies at home in case of an emergency. But this isn’t enough.

There are plenty of scenarios which could have you leaving your home.

  • Rioters invade your home
  • Your home catches on fire
  • Your home is contaminated from a chemical attack…

You will want to have an urban survival kit handy to help you survive in the city outside of your home. And, even if you are fleeing into the wilderness, you will still have to get through the city first!

The bottom line? Pack an urban survival kit and have it handy at all times!

Factors to Consider

There are a lot of things I’d like to have on hand in an urban survival situation.

A crow bar is one (would make a great weapon and useful for breaking into locked buildings to find supplies and shelter). A camouflage tarp would be great too. But I’m not going to carry all of these things around with me every time I leave the house!

When building your altoids tin EDC, imagine the things you will need right away and might not be readily available.

Sure, a crow bar would be nice to have…but I’m sure I could easily find a piece of scrap metal to use for self dense too…

Here are the main things you will want to consider:

  • Need for water: In a disaster situation, plumbing won’t work and available water might be contaminated
  • Shelter: There isn’t a big need for emergency shelter because you can use existing structures.
  • Looting: Most everyday supplies will be readily available in abandoned buildings. I’m not encouraging looting but, in an SHFT situation, take what you need to survive!
  • Communication: How will you get in contact with your family or seek help?

What to Pack in Your Altoids Tin

1. Multi-Tool

This is the most important everyday carry item you will want to have.

Read our reviews of the best multi tools.

There are a lot of options, but make sure it has the tools you actually need and not the ones you could do without.

For example, you can probably do without the corkscrew and fingernail file!

Do make sure you have these tools in your multi-tool:

  • Can opener
  • Knife
  • Tweezers (for getting out shards of glass from wounds)
  • Wire cutters
  • Pliers
  • Scissors
  • Screwdriver

2. Flashlight

I actually keep a flashlight on my key ring and am constantly finding situations where I am grateful to have it. In a disaster situation where the grid goes down, you’ll be even more grateful to have some emergency lighting available.

Don’t just buy any keychain-sized flashlight to put in your urban survival kit.

Most of them that you find in stores are really terribly made. The battery will only last an hour, and the brightness isn’t enough to help you in a true disaster situation (imagine trying to rescue your family members from rubble with a dinky flashlight!).

Only buy a flashlight if it gives information about the run time and lumens (aka output).

I really like the Thrunite Ti3 flashlight (Amazon Link) because it has 4 brightness levels and is only 2.7 inches long (will fit in your Altoid tin!).

At the 12 lumen brightness level, it will run 6.5 hours. At the higher level of 120 lumens, it will last 30 minutes. It also has a super low setting which will run for over 100 hours.

3. Paracord

There are dozens of reasons why you want paracord in your urban survival kit.

Here are just some of the ways you can use paracord:

  • To fix a broken shoelace
  • To make a clothes line
  • To make an emergency sling
  • To tie gear onto your backpack
  • To hang tarp for an emergency shelter
  • To tie back barbed wire so you can crawl through it

4. Fire Starter

Please don’t rely on a lighter alone for your fire starter! They can break or run out of fuel.  You’ll want to make sure you also have a backup fire starter, such as matches in a waterproof container. There are also plenty of match-less fire starters like flints and Ferro rods. See these best survival fire starters, recommended by experts.

5. Lock pick

Unlike with wilderness survival situations, you will be able to find just about everything you need in an urban survival situation — the problem is simply accessing all of those supplies which are locked away in people’s homes!

I’m not encouraging people to loot, but looting is definitely better than starving to death.

Put a small lock picking kit in your urban survival kit and learn how to use it.

Survival Frog have a decent one and it comes with a see through lock for practicing.

lock pick set
Click image for prices.

6. Water Purification Tablets

Have a few water purification tablets in your urban survival kit.   You can also use a small amount of bleach to purify water. Most homes have bleach, which is where the lock picking set comes in handy.

7. Permanent Marker or Crayon

You will need this for writing messages to people. I prefer a crayon because it doesn’t run when wet, it doesn’t dry out, and you can make big signs a lot faster.

8. Safety pins

A lot of people recommend putting sewing kits in their urban survival kits, but I find this overkill. A few safety pins are nice though. They can be used to hold together torn clothes, remove splints and slivers from your skin, used to hold bandages in place, and much more.

9. First Aid

You will be able to loot some first aid supplies, so stick to the most basic ones here:

  • Antiseptic towelettes
  • Butterfly bandages
  • Packet of antibiotic ointment
  • Packet of burn salve
  • Pain medications
  • Anti-diarrhea medicine

10. Whistle

This is very useful for signaling for help. It also is great for scaring off attackers and feral dogs.

11. Phone Charger

If communications go down, this isn’t going to help you. But, in disaster situations where communication systems are still in place, you’ll be glad to have a portable power bank to keep your cell battery alive so you can call your loved ones.

Altoid and tin” by Schyler at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

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    • Not really practical for a kit in an altoids tin – cash is easier and more useful short term. For a long term SHTF situation they may have some value for barter or trading.

  1. A debut or credit card would be useful if the emergency is personal rather than major. At least you will be able to get a meal and somewhere to sleep.T

  2. A lot of people don’t want to hear it but you will or should have a fire arm. A 22 caliber survival rifle or a hand gun in 357 magnum (you can fire 38 special with it) and a lot of ammunition for them. For hunting and protection. Also some fishing tackle too. It could turn into a cruel world very quickly if everything goes bad. I hope it doesn’t for all of our sake.

  3. Dental floss and/or fishing line [green is best] have numerous use’s:
    sewing, snares, slicing …
    Space blankets:
    warmth: [receive or repel],
    wind protection … put in heavy duty plastic baggie, and use a couple of “Ranger bands” [can be made by cutting a bicycle inner-tube into bands] to attach to outside of Altoids tin.

  4. Good Concept-needed
    Add a 4-way Water faucet
    Wrench-to use on outside
    Urban faucets.

    I disagree on Small Bic lighters
    Durable- fit in small Tin.
    Fresnel lens for reading-fire starting(credit card size)


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