Real Survival Kits for Kids

It can be a lot of fun to build a survival kit with your kids.  Or someone else’s kids, if you don’t have any of your own (just be sure to have the parents’ consent first!).  I used to be a Cub leader, that part of the scouting movement right before “Scout” level, where the kids learn the basics of wilderness survival, camping, orienteering, first aid, those ever-famous knots and so on.  Some time I may relate one of my favourite stories about the Astronomy badge.

Having kids intimately involved in building their own kits gave them a sense of ownership of their kit.  They were intimately familiar with their kit.  They knew what every item was, what its intended use was, how to use it, and they had some ideas of alternative purposes for each item.

We had a few year-long projects that the entire Cub “pack” worked on.  One was learning American Sign Language, another was learning their knotwork, and another was building their very own, personalized survival kits that they would actually use to earn their winter camping skills badges at the end of the year.

That gave us the scope for our kit.  We were looking at a kit to supplement our normal camping equipment that would be useful for bad weather camping.  From this scope, we built some requirements:

It must be small, compact enough to fit in our backpacks.  It must be resistant to the elements.  It must be easy to locate in an emergency.

There were some things that we knew would be a must-have, so we gave the kids a “Scavenger List” to bring in from home of the basics of a first-aid kit – some safety pins, bandages and band-aids, gauze, med tape, needles and thread on a card and so on.  We helped the kids put together this list of first-aid items and other things they couldn’t make on their own, like a mylar survival blanket.  The first aid stuff went into a Ziploc bag to keep it dry.  Some items the kids already had with their regular camping kit, like a compass and a knife, so we didn’t have to concern ourselves with those items.

I’ll highlight a few items from our Cub pack’s kit:

Mirror / signalling device…

This one, we had a great discussion with the kids, to try to figure out something good to use.  The kids identified that it needed to be highly reflective, durable, rust-proof, inexpensive, and something everybody has. 

We had a great time considering different things, working out the pros and cons of each one, and we eventually had an answer that everybody liked – A Compact Disc.  Most kids used recordable discs because they were cheap, but some had decided to recycle some of their own audio CDs that had gotten a little scratched and were unplayable.


The one thing everybody decided was the most important was a sure-fire means to start a fire.  Now obviously, we’re not going to give a bunch of kids a handful of firesteels and kerosene-soaked cotton swabbing.  We needed something a bit more stable and safe, but it also allowed for the most discussion and experimentation.

The experimentation was a fun way for the kids to practice using their firestarters, and it got them thinking about things that could be used in a pinch to start a fire.

In the end, this was the one item in the kit where everybody did their own thing, and largely they were variations on a theme, but the kids would have to show that their firestarters worked when they went for their Winter Camping Skills badge.  All the firestarters used paraffin wax.  It’s a cheap petroleum product that has a relatively low melting point which makes it easy to work with.

Some used egg cartons, ripped up some corrugated cardboard and put it in the egg carton cups, poured in the paraffin and let it cool, then broke the cups apart for individual firestarters.  There was a lot of experimentation in trying different things in the paraffin wax, but everybody seemed to settle on cardboard.  They worked well, but if the exposed cardboard of the egg carton got wet, it would sometimes snuff out the firestarter.

A few had the idea of making what they called “logs”.  Corrugated cardboard rolled into a log shape, tied with twine and then dipped and sealed in the paraffin wax.  They worked very well, with the corrugated cardboard providing an excellent means of ventillation for the flame.

I remember when I was a cub, my firestarter was similar to the “logs”, but using tightly rolled strips of newspaper.  They could be used as-is if it was raining hard, but since the paraffin wax only coated the outside of the rolls, they were more effective when peeled apart and the paper strips crumpled and dispersed through your kindling.

The kids also waterproofed their own matches by pouring some of their paraffin wax into a box of wooden matches. It produced a solid waterproof block that was easy to pry off a single match and keep it dry.

**DISCLAIMER** Always make clear to the kids that they are NOT to do any of this experimentation without adult supervision.

The kit case…

The last thing we did was the case for the kit.  Once we had all the items, the kids decided how to hold it all together.  Almost all of them enlisted the help of their mothers to help sew their kit cases, but a few keeners did it themselves, and one learned to sew just so he could do it himself.

Most went for a folded-pouch design, with pockets of varying sizes to hold the items.  Remember we had identified that the pouch must be easy to find and resistant to weather?  The kids very early on had decided that if they made the contents of their kit waterproof, they didn’t have to make the case watertight, so they decided on some hunter orange loose-weave polyester fabric, because polyester dries quickly when it’s wet, and the orange of the kit would make it easy to locate quickly and could itself be used as a signalling device.

The point is, you can have a lot of fun helping the kids think this stuff through, and you can build a kit that’s quite useful and that they can take personal pride in.

Oh, and all my Cubs successfully earned their Winter Camping Skills badge.

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