Spending time researching something you hope never to use may seem counter-intuitive, but in the case of survival kits it could save your life.
They are called survival kits for a reason – they’re designed to help you make it through an emergency situation – but not all are alike. After all, who decides what goes in a one and what doesn’t?
|Survival Kit||Price||Our Rating|
|Aootek First Aid Survival Kit||Amazon||B|
|SOL Scout Survival Kit||Amazon / REI||A|
|SOL Traverse Survival Kit||Amazon / REI||A|
|Ultimate Survival Technologies FeatherLite Survival Kit 2.0||Amazon / REI||B|
|Everlit Emergency Survival Kit Upgraded 80-In-1||Amazon||A+|
Are a pair of scissors really emergency equipment? How many types of bandages should I take? If I take aspirin, paracetamol and antihistamines can I carry any more pills without becoming a walking pharmacy?
You can see how a “better safe than sorry” attitude could result in emergency kits the size of small suitcases. Equally, if your devil-may-care, it’ll-be-alright-on-the-night friend has their way, an emergency kit will consist of out of date plasters and a miniature whisky as a painkiller!
Clearly, the best survival kits will have the key items needed to tough out difficult situations, without weighing you down so much that the difficult situation ends up being a back injury!
Read on to find out about the key features of good emergency kits and reviews of some of the best ones available at the moment.
Features of Survival Kits
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of identifying the features of good kits, it’s important to fix in mind exactly what is meant by a survival (or emergency) kit. What, for instance, is the difference between a survival kit and a first aid kit?
Is there a difference?
The answer to this is: yes. A first aid kit exists to treat injuries. A good survival kit will contain the resources of a first aid kit, but it will also contain items that can help you endure or escape from dangerous situations. You wouldn’t, for example, find a compass or a multitool in a first aid kit, since neither can treat injuries, but both should be part of survival kits.
No less a source than the Collins Dictionary lists a survival kit as “a set of equipment that will enable you to survive in dangerous conditions.” Dangerous conditions rarely last forever – out on the trail they could be storms, an avalanche or a navigational error (getting lost!) – so sources including Ready (a British government website) often talk of a “72 hour period” for survival.
The theory is that if you are able to survive three days in an emergency that will be enough time for the danger to pass, for you to walk your way out or for a rescue to be made.
A survival kit should, therefore, contain all the resources you need to survive for a 3-day period in tough circumstances.
Are the Ten Essentials Covered?
If you haven’t heard of the ten essentials of hiking then check out our in-depth guide. The list, established by serious outdoors types in the early 20th century and honed for the modern age by the experiences and consensus of thousands of hikers, covers the items you should always take with you when venturing into remote territory.
To summarise, the modern ten essentials are:
- Navigation – e.g. a compass
- Hydration – water or a water purification device
- Nutrition – high-energy foodstuffs
- Protective Clothing – e.g. waterproof jacket, insulated clothing
- Fire Starters – lighters and/or matches
- A First Aid Kit – check out this in-depth Rolling Fox guide to what should be in a good first aid kit (with bonus information about “bug out bags” – self-assembly survival kits!)
- Tools – pen knife or multitool for cutting branches, making repairs, etc
- Illumination – e.g. a torch
- Sun Protection – sunburn is a major risk on the trail
- Shelter – a tarp or emergency blanket
As the above are considered “essentials” for survival by generations of hikers, climbers and outdoor explorers, the first criteria any purchasable kit should be subject to is the question: does it cover the ten essentials?
Many kits won’t cover every essential – clothing and food are two that are regularly omitted – but a good one should address most of the ten.
Is it lightweight and compact?
Ten essentials may not sound like a lot but if you’re carrying tools, torches, shelter, etc that can quickly amount to a significant load – particularly if you’re day hiking and you’re only carrying this gear as a backup.
A key advantage of purchased (rather than self-made) kits is their convenience. You can buy them whole, stuff them into your pack and bask in the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re covered in case something goes wrong.
However, that will only work if the kit you buy is light enough and compact enough that it’s comfortable to carry!
Only lunatics want to take unnecessary risks, but there comes a point when even the most rational and responsible day hiker would say “screw this!” when it comes to putting additional weight on their back.
When selecting a pre-made kit it therefore pays to keep an eye on its weight and the dimensions of the pack. Is it something you could happily add to your regular carry?
How Is it Housed?
Let’s face it, the inside of your pack isn’t a pleasant place to be. Things get roughed up in there, bashed about, smeared with the muck of yesterday’s shirt and the stench of old socks!
Pre-made kits will usually come in a bag or canister to keep the items together and protected. Does the bag/canister look robust? There are a lot of small items in them – fire starters, plasters, tools. Your pack could get even messier than usual if the zip on the bag gives in and disperses them into your rucksack.
It might also be worth thinking about the interior of the survival pack. Does it have pockets for individual components? If so, that could be a major advantage. If you’re trying to access gear in an emergency you don’t want to be wading through bric-a-brac in search of the firestarter you need for immediate warmth.
What Is its Shelf Life?
The chances are your survival pack will remain unopened for years. At least, let’s hope so!
However, when you do get lost on the trail, snowed in or the zombie apocalypse arrives, you’ll need to open that pack. We’ve all had the munchies on a Friday night, opened the cupboard and despaired when the only appealing tinned food is five years out of date. Imagine how you’ll feel if the food and medicines in your survival pack are equally out of date when you need them!
Nothing lasts forever, but it’s worth checking what kind of shelf life perishables in an emergency kit have. And taking a note of when they’ll need replaced.
Aootek First Aid Survival Kit
This Aootek offering contains a lot of gear for a mid price point. In terms of tools alone it comes with pliers, wire cutters, wire stripper, a saw blade, a can opener, a bottle opener, a file, a screwdriver, a blade and a key buckle – most of which are part of one, extensive multi-tool.
The produce is compact and lightweight – measuring at 5.5 by 3.5 by 1.6 inches and weighing in at 7.4 ounces – and comes in a carry case that has a few pockets but not loads. Many of the ten essentials are covered – e.g. first aid supplies, a silver emergency blanket for shelter – though whether you consider fishing lines and hooks to meet the Nutrition category may depend on your confidence in your angling abilities!
- Accessible price point
- Large quantity of materials contained in the kit
- User reviews confirm that the kit is compact enough to be stored in car gloveboxes and backpacks
- User reviews suggest there is a lack of sturdiness in the case, with the zipper particularly liable to break
- Numerous complaints were also logged about the kit’s flashlight – in a survival situation the failure of an illumination device could be fatal
SOL Scout Survival Kit
This low-priced offering from SOL contains significantly less kit than the Aootek emergency pack. By its own admission the kit is geared around addressing immediate emergency priorities identified as “escape the elements, stay warm, and signal rescuers so you’re easy to find.”
A survival blanket large enough for two people addresses the issue of shelter, while a Fire Lite striker and waterproof tinder should allow you to get a fire going even in miserable conditions. A signal mirror and a whistle could help you attract the attention of rescuers, while duct tape, a compass and a survival fishing kit are add ons that seek to address the question of self-reliance (if a rescue isn’t forthcoming).
- Low price point
- Sometimes less can be more and this is a very focussed pack – you’re unlikely to waste time rattling around inside it trying to find something!
- Comes in a compact, sealable and waterproof bag
- The lack of first aid supplies, a knife/multi-tool and a source of illumination makes this pack a gamble in survival terms
- The price point could be seen as deceptively low since you may decide to purchase more of the essentials to complete your kit – e.g. a flashlight, a multi-tool
SOL Traverse Survival Kit
The SOL Traverse Survival Kit is slightly more expensive than the previous SOL pack and covers one additional area of survival essentials: Water. The three existing areas covered by the previous SOL offering – Shelter, Fire and Signalling – are met by similar means: an emergency blanket, a fire starter, tinder and a whistle. The need for water is met courtesy of water purification tablets and a foldable, one-litre bag.
Perhaps the main USP of the Traverse is the throwback tin container it comes in, clearly designed to capture the feel of days gone by and the comfort of an era when things were well-made and solid. That being said, the kit remains lightweight, measuring 6.25” by 4 by 1.5 inches and weighing in at a mere 6.1 ounces.
- Cool, retro tin is pleasing on the eye, reassuring and compact
- The one litre bag is a nice touch and, in conjunction with the purification tablets, could save your life
- While one more of the ten essentials is covered, water, the kit still fails to provide illumination, first aid and tools, amongst others
Ultimate Survival Technologies FeatherLite Survival Kit 2.0
This ten-piece “FeatherLite” kit doesn’t quite live up to its name – at 9 ounces it is the heaviest of the kits so far, but is it also the most reliable? The kit covers many of the ten essentials via commonsense items like an emergency blanket, knife, whistle, glow stick, flashlight, compass and waterproof matches.
Some will be pleased with the lack of gimmickery to the package. There are no promises of a 22 function multi-tool (20 functions of which won’t be of much practical use, a cynic might think) and the kit comes in a sturdy-looking kit the orange of life jackets and other unglamorous but potentially life-saving devices. The mid-price point is as down to Earth as everything else about the kit
- The no nonsense, lack of clutter in this kit is bound to appeal to stalwart types
- Function rather than fashion is surely true of survival kits above all else
- Not all the ten essentials are ticked off – Water and Nutrition are notable absentees
Everlit Emergency Survival Kit Upgraded 80-In-1
If anyone knows about survival it is military men. Everyone knows that “basic military training” essentially means sending recruits on death marches through remote terrain, with nothing but the gear they can carry on their back and sheer desire to help them make it through.
Members of the US Military helped customize this Everlit kit, a fact that is reflected in the combat colours of the sturdy satchel that holds all the gear together. The kit’s contents reflect the common sense approach to survival you’d expect, with many of the ten essentials covered, but there is a military twist in there, too. A combat pen (essentially, a pen solid and grippy enough to use as a self-defense tool) is an unexpected bonus and could even address a survival need the ten essentials neglect: the need to protect yourself from attack.
- Addresses all of the ten essentials except for Water and Nutrition
- The tried and tested nature of the kit and US Military involvement will assure many of its quality
- The tactical pen will be a pleasing bonus for some
- The highest price point so far (though still mid-price)
And the winner is the Everlit Upgraded 80-In-1.
In truth, it wasn’t a close contest. When it comes to survival kits you don’t want to cut corners, you want to select the fullest, most robust kit available, and, while the Everlitt Kit was the most expensive on the list, the increase in cost is justified by the greater likelihood that it will save your life.
While the Everlit kit doesn’t address Water and Nutrition from the ten essentials list, it is to be assumed that before setting out on a hiking trip a responsible hiker would bring some energy bars and water reserves (or water purifying gear) with them. Moreover, an essential the Everlit kit addresses that all the other kits on the list fail to address, aside from the Aootek, is a First Aid Kit.
Having a first aid kit as a constituent part of your survival kit makes a lot of sense – for one thing, in a true emergency it’s easier to grab for one bag than two – and the Everlit kit meets this need.
The Aootek offering contains a first aid kit and has a lower price point than the Everlit, but suffers in comparison due to concerns about the quality of items such as its flashlight and the kit bag itself.
In contrast, the Everlit kit and bag are robust, reliable and rated by some pretty robust members of the US Military. If your life may depend on something you want that something to be dependable and the Everlit kit fits that bill.