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Leon's View

Survival kit tin cup reduces weight, bulk in emergency kit

Tin cups have been used by military people for hundreds of years as a do-it-all utensil.
Survival kit tin cup reduces weight, bulk in emergency kit

Survival gear doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Some of the best items are common, easily-found products you may already have. One of those items is a large metal cup. Here’s why you need one.

 by Leon Pantenburg

I slogged along in the ranks, Springfield slung over my shoulder, headed toward the sound of the guns. As an embedded journalist in the Confederate infantry, I was covering the battle of Champion Hill re-enactment between Vicksburg and

military tin cups have a place in a survival kit

The Civil War replica, left, and the more contemporary military canteen cup have many uses in a survival kit. (Pantenburg photos)

Jackson,  Mississippi.

Except for the Nikon and ballpoint pen hidden in my haversack, all my accouterments and weapons were authentic. It didn’t take long to form opinions.

The  heavy wool uniform was like wearing a sweatsuit. The small kepi offered virtually no protection from the sun. The canteen was too small, the leather shoe soles were slippery and the authentic food really sucked.

But several common items proved invaluable. My cotton bandanna was soaked in water and worn around my neck to cool and protect it from the fierce sun.  A flint and steel kit could stand up to the hard marching and campaigning, where as matches didn’t last in the heat and humidity. Hardtack was durable, but tasteless.

But the large quart tin cup was a stellar performer. It  served as my mess kit, and worked really well for boiling coffee and heating rations over a campfire. Water stations were set up all over, and we’d stop frequently to hydrate, replenish canteens and pour water over our heads. But the most appreciated use came as we were marching back after the battle.

A sutler set up along the line of march, and would fill any cup with cold beer for a dollar. He would take an IOU, and he did a land office business.

I’ve included a tin cup in my gear for many years.  When I hiked the John Muir Trail in 1976, I carried a metal Sierra cup on my belt. At every running stream, I’d use the cup to get a drink. I also mixed instant oatmeal in it, and used it for just about everything.

That was my first wilderness trip where a tin cup proved its worth. Give some thought to adding one to your survival gear.

Here’s what I have used a metal cup for:

  • Mess Kit: I used a 40-ounce blue enamel cup and a plastic spoon as my only eating utensils during a nine-day canoe trip through the Boundary Waters. Weight was critical because of the frequent portages between lakes. During that trip the utensil was also used  for picking blueberries, dipping water out of the lake for purification, brewing coffee, rinsing off  after a sweaty portage, and various other tasks.
  • Cooking: I typically carry an aluminum can alcohol stove in my 24-ounce metal cup, along with four ounces of alcohol in two small plastic containers. That is just enough fuel to last a day of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or elk hunting. I put the metal cup directly on top of the alcohol stove, and brewing up a hot drink is quick and easy. If you have to warm up a hypothermic person, this tool can be a lifesaver.
  • Campfire cooking: Save your stove fuel for emergencies. Time permitting, you can make a small fire and purify water or cook a hot meal over the flames. And it looks and feels really cool to do that!
  • Bathing: NEVER pollute a water source by rinsing the soap off your body into it. Instead, fill your cup with water, get a good distance away from the source, wet yourself down and lather up. Rinse off the same way. You can also use the cup to hold water for brushing your teeth.

The cup can also be handy for dipping water out of  suspicious source before purifying. In a pinch, you could also dig with it, but I wouldn’t waste my time digging a hole to make a solar still!

The tin or enamelware cups are cheap and can be found anywhere. Include one  in your survival gear and you’ll be surprised how useful it is!

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View Comments (2)


  1. Leon

    09/01/2015 at 08:51


  2. highdesertlivin

    07/28/2015 at 22:04

    I enjoyed reading your post.

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Leon's View

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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