How to DIY a Survival Kit for Camping and Other Outdoor Adventures

Updated August 4, 2021
Contents of a survival kit

Imagine you're camping and wind blows away your primary shelter, or someone experiences a life-threatening incident. What do you do? No matter how far away from home you are, don't get caught unprepared in case of a serious emergency. Keep yourself and family safe by preparing a do-it-yourself survival kit.

Why Build a Homemade Survival Kit for Camping?

Why should you put together a homemade survival kit for camping when there are plenty of kits on the market already put together and ready for you to purchase? Building your own survival kit will usually save you money, which is great, but that's not the only reason. You take ownership of your survival kit when you build it yourself, and you can make it a much more personalized kit, as well.

Your survival kit should include not only the common essentials that any kit might contain, but also items that are designed with specific family members in mind. If any member of your family has specific health needs, you'll want to consider those needs as you fill your kit with all its necessary items. For example, include candy bars and a few peanut butter crackers for those diagnosed with diabetes or those who suffer from low blood sugar. In addition, if a family member is allergic to bee stings, you may need to include an epinephrine. Even if nobody has a severe allergy, including an antihistamine in the kit is still important.

Building a Survival Kit

The size of your kit depends on how many items you include. In some cases, you may want to create two different kits. One that includes food and drinks and the other that includes items to treat injuries, illnesses, and common survival needs. If you are planning on carrying your survival kit for camping in a backpack, you'll need to bring only the essentials because room will be scarce. Still, it is important that you add your kit to your backpack in case of emergencies.The following is a list of items that should find their way into your homemade survival kit for camping.

Man hands sharpening knife outdoors

Pocket Knife or Blade

This is probably the most essential item in your survival kit. In fact, if you include a Swiss army knife, you'll have several items in one, including a file, scissors, pick, can opener, bottle opener, and maybe even a fork and spoon. These multi-tools can be particularly great for people planning multi-day adventures because they're going to be low on the amount of space they have and weight they can carry. Be sure that the knife you include is sharp enough to cut and whittle branches, as you might need to use them to start a fire. However, you aren't limited to pocket knives or multi-tools; some people prefer small machetes in the place of knives, but be sure you can handle one easily.

Survival Manual

Do you really need directions on how to survive? In some cases, you may need to refer to what to do in emergency situations such as cuts, snake bites, etc. Be sure you laminate your tip sheet to keep it dry during wet conditions, and keep your information as current as possible. Similarly, it's a good idea to include other paper ephemera that can help you navigate the wilderness easier, such as safe things to eat if you have to forage in the area.

Waterproof Paper

Hopefully, you will never need this item, but waterproof paper is a great way to leave notes for others who may be looking for you. It may be upsetting to think about needing this type of paper to leave messages behind should the worst-case scenario occur, but it's always a better idea to have the opportunity than to not get the chance to at all.

Rope or cording

Many survivalists prefer Paracord because of its sturdy construction and strength. You'll want to include at least 25 feet of rope or cording in your kit, and you may want to wrap some of it around your backpack or the shaft of your larger knife for storage (if you keep the knife on an outside pocket of the kit or your backpack).


This is an essential item for your survival kit. A whistle can be used to aid those who are searching for you, signal to those who have wandered away from camp, and even scare away unwanted critters.

Matches and Lighter

That's right; you should include both in your survival kit. Matches are convenient to store, but they are also easy to get wet. A lighter equals many matches and is easy to pack. Waterproof lighters are more expensive than drug stores ones are, but they'll be more reliable if you're traveling to an area that's known for its rainfall.

Magnesium and Flint Bar

Being able to build a start and fire is one of the most important steps in a survival situation. Here's a quick guide for how to use the flint bar to start a fire:

  1. Shave some of the magnesium, creating a small pile of shavings.
  2. Place the end of the flint bar into the shavings and run the dull-side of the knife down the bar several times until the magnesium bar ignites.
  3. Once lit, you'll need to gradually add small twigs to the fire, so have those on hand, as well.

Fishing Line

Fishing line has a multitude of uses, and won't take up a significant amount of space in your kit. For example, the line can be used to catch a fish, but you can also create a snare for catching small animals, or build a shelter using line to tie branches and tarps together.

First Aid Kit

This should include bandages, antibiotic salve, a suture kit, alcohol swabs, aspirin, and anti-diarrhea medicine. You can find small or extensive first aid kits online or at your local outdoor outfitters.

Additional Survival Kit Items

In addition to all of these items, the following should be added to your survival kit, as well:

  • LED flashlight
  • Magnifying glass
  • Mirror
  • Fishing hooks
  • Analog compass
  • Sewing kit
  • Survival blanket
  • Water purification tablets and straw
  • Duct tape
  • Zip-lock bags
  • Small cooking tin
  • Multi-tool
  • Dedicated, durable water container
  • Paper map

How to Customize Your Survival Kit

Depending on what type of camping or outdoor adventures you take most frequently, the survival kit that's going to serve you the best might look very different from your best friend's. Since the purpose of packing a survival kit is to make sure you're prepared for dangerous situations, you want to pack for things you might actually encounter. Take a look at some of the different items you might want to include for a few of the fun outdoor activities people enjoy:

Winter Hiking or Camping

If you're traipsing around the outdoors in the dead of winter, you might run the risk of exposure, hypothermia, and blizzards. To protect yourself from such calamities, try to fill your survival kit with items such as:

  • Hand warmers (electric or non-electric)
  • Gloves
  • Waterproof lighter
  • Foldable metal shovel
  • Emergency blanket
  • Construction tape
  • Socks
Family camping in winter vacation

Hiking with Known Medical Conditions

If you, or someone in your group, has a known medical condition, remember to prep your survival kit with the appropriate medicine or medical tools to ensure that everyone can be properly treated. These are some of the things you might consider adding to your survival kit:

  • Gauze
  • Antihistamines (topical and oral)
  • Iodine
  • Braces (ankle, knee, wrist, etc.)
  • Butterfly closures
  • Bandages
  • Two or three days' worth of personal prescriptions
  • Inhaler
  • EpiPen
Woman hiker rests on trail

Hiking or Camping in Inclement Weather

No matter how often you check the weather before embarking on an outdoor adventure, there's always the chance that Mother Nature can turn on you. If you think you're heading into an area where inclement weather is common -- where flash flooding can occur, for example -- then you'll want to customize a survival kit to get you through a weather-related emergency. Here are a few of the things to consider including in your inclement weather survival kit:

  • Emergency blanket
  • Flare gun
  • Rope
  • Rain tarp/jacket
  • Weather radio
  • Sunscreen
  • Water
  • Waterproof lighter
  • GPS locator
Man caught in a rainstorm while camping

Survival Starts with Preparation

After you build your own survival kit, think about where you are planning on camping and envision any circumstances in which you might need other items. Once you've got your customized survival kit ready, don't let it collect dust for years before you open it back up. Make sure to get into the habit of checking your supplies and restocking anything in your kit you might need more of. After all, survival starts with being prepared.

How to DIY a Survival Kit for Camping and Other Outdoor Adventures