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Field Testing the Altoids Tin Pocket Survival Kit

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The Altoids tin prototype kit was field tested in the summer of 2007 by two experienced backpackers, Josh Sullivan and Jeremy Cline of Bend. Prior to a weekend hike in the Three Sisters Wilderness, they were given the kit with no instructions, but to use it as best they could.

by Leon Pantenburg

The Altoids tin kit is intended as a five-ounce backup, not as the primary collection of survival gear. As with any equipment, it is worthless unless you spend the time needed to learn how to use it! Both men carried complete survival gear with them. (To read what items are included in the Altoids tin survival kit, click here.)

This is from Josh: Leon, I had a great time tinkering with the items you and Mr. Grenfell put together.  Here’s what I found I was able to test, in order of usefulness for me:

LED light: This was by far the most-used item for me. I liked the size of the light and the light’s ability to be turned on, rather than having to constantly push a button to keep it on. Since I was playing with some of the fire-starting tools in the survival kit past dark, I was able to turn the light on and balance it on a rock and it provided me with sufficient light.

Black rubber bands: I was surprised to find a use for these, but they really came in handy after dinner. I had some half-eaten food that needed sealing before I hung my food bag and the rubber bands were perfect for securing plastic bags and wrappers over my food.

Jute twine: I’m a long-time user of the cotton ball/petroleum jelly method (of fire starting) and was delighted to find that jute twine seems to ignite better than cotton. I was able to light the jute faster than cotton and it seems to provide a better flame. In addition to its flammability, I can think of a multitude of other uses for the jute, which makes it a clear winner for me over cotton balls in the future.

Wax-covered linen: (This was actually the 100 percent cotton waxed firestarter. A small instruction sheet was included on how to use it.)
This was the sleeper-hit of the survival kit. I’ve never seen a material like (the firestarter) before and was curious to see how it could be used.
Following directions on the small instructional sheet, I was able to twist a match out of the linen once I got a small flame from the jute. It burned for a reasonably long time and only took a tiny amount of the cloth to twist into a match. I was able to start a second fire by the flame from this cloth alone. I like how lightweight it is, and the wax covering seems to make it more durable. Two thumbs up on this stuff!

Petroleum jelly packet: This goes along with the jute twine. It’s lightweight and I could probably get three, maybe four fires out of just one packet. Fantastic!

Swiss Army knife: The blade on this knife was worlds better at throwing sparks from the flint stick than the provided striker, which dulled after a few passes over the stick. I didn’t use the knife for much more than starting fire, but I can’t imagine a survival kit without it.

Tiny compass: I didn’t actually use the supplied compass on my trip, because I have my own I use while hiking. That said, this is another essential item for the kit in my opinion, and if I had forgotten my compass I would have used this a lot.

Duct tape: A rock from my fire pit exploded and burned a large hole in my tarp during the night. Since the rock made a large noise when it threw shards, I woke up and assessed the damage. I used a strip of duct tape to cover the hole in the tarp. Since it was sprinkling on and off through the night, it was nice not to have a gaping hole where water could enter.

Orange fire-lighter flint: (This item was replaced with the Boy Scout Hot Spark in the final kit design after several people reported difficulty getting it to work.) This was kind of a miss for me. I couldn’t seem to throw enough sparks for my lubed jute twine to light, and while it’s cool to be able to use this with one hand, it just wasn’t effective for me.

Conclusion: With the exception of the orange lighter-flint and the Boy Scout quick-dulling striker, every item I used was great, and perfect for the survival kit. I wouldn’t necessarily exclude the orange flint, because it can be used with one hand. If you’re going to keep the waxed firestarter as part of the final kit (I hope so!), I would be interested in having detailed instructions on how to make the stuff, since I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.

Addendum: I also took along a small magnesium block to test. The clear disadvantage of the block is that the small pile of magnesium shavings are really easy to disturb or blow away while trying to light them.

Something interesting I found, though, is when the magnesium is used with the petroleum jelly jute or cotton ball, the shavings actually stick to the material because of the jelly. When I used the magnesium stick with the jute, I was able to get a fire going faster than by any other means. As an aside, the magnesium block fits perfectly inside the Altoids can.


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