Chapter 2 – Buy an Altoids ® Tin

Zombies hate bad breath.

Sorry. Took the low hanging fruit on that one. Back to our regularly scheduled apocalypse.

An Altoids ® tin is big enough to hold adequate minimal survival gear to get you through a few days if you’re stuck away from home and your main source of supplies.

In survivalist speak, we’re talking about an “every day carry” kit – something small enough to have on your person at all times so you can respond effectively to “high probability events” like the zombie apocalypse.

Ideally, you will have a cache of supplies at both your home and a remote location, but let’s start with what you can carry on your person every day.

Emergency Supplies as “Every Day Carry”

Pretty much everybody uses some kind of gear bag these days to lug around all the crap we think we need to get us through the day. Not using the bag we’re already carrying to keep an EDC kit with you so you’re ready to bug out at a minute’s notice is kinda stupid. I’m just saying.

Now, a word of caution. Be sure not to run your mini survival gear through security at the airport, though. The TSA gets all upset about things like razor blades and pocket knives. They’re narrow minded that way.

Before the power goes out, you can get on YouTube and find about a jillion examples of Altoids ® tin rigs. It’s almost a hobby among survivalists to create the perfect miniature survival kit.

And actually, treating your EDC like a hobby while you have time to tinker and refine the contents is an excellent plan. I’m going to run down some ideas about things that you can include, but there are no absolutes here. Your environment should affect all your preparation decisions. Urban survival is very different from wilderness survival.

Obviously you’re limited by the size of the tin, but that’s the point. Design something you can have with you at all times.

The Tin Itself

Start with a standard size Altoids ® tin, which will set you back about $1.50. Here’s how much room you’ll be working with:

  • length 3 13/16th inches (9.68 cm)
  • width 2 7/16th inches (6.19 cm)
  • depth 3/4 inch (1.91 cm)

Secure the tin when it’s closed with a couple of thick rubber bands or ranger bands (more on those in a second.) Sure, using the bands will keep the lid in place, but they’re also just one more useful piece of equipment crammed into the overall package. As long as you maintain the low profile of the tin, which is the whole point of this exercise, affix whatever you want to the outside with tape.

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If you’re not intending to open the tin often, seal the lid with a piece of black electrical tape to make it more waterproof. It’ll stay sticky forever. Or go for Gorilla Tape. That stuff would survive any apocalypse.

I actually prefer putting the tin in a small, heavy duty Ziplock ® type bag and then securing the rubber bands in place over that.

My philosophy is to include every potentially useful and re-usable component possible. Weight isn’t a factor, plus, by the time you’re done the tin will be so crammed full of supplies it won’t rattle.

If it does, you can always put in a couple of extra cotton balls, which, as you will see, do double duty for first aid and as tinder to start a fire.

Understand that the tin itself is part of your usable survival gear. You can purify water by boiling it in the tin, and you can even use the tin as a small “stove” for heating food. The material is durable enough to withstand a low flame.

Face it, when the apocalypse hits, you will have missed lunch that day because you’re just that lucky. As I’ve already pointed out, scavenging in grocery stores in the beginning will not be a good idea. Do yourself a favor and start carrying 2 or 3 packets of instant oatmeal around in your regular day bag.

If you’re on the run and just trying to stay alive at the moment, you don’t want to be weighted down with extra junk. You have to eat, but you also have to stay mobile. I guess you could beat a zombie to death with a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup, but I don’t plan to test the theory any time soon.

At this stage of the game, a few spoonfuls of hot oatmeal will keep you alive, and you can easily shove them in your pocket if you have to ditch your larger bag to be more mobile.

(Don’t throw the envelopes away! They’re designed to hold water for mixing the oatmeal, and paper is always potential tinder.)

Remember, the apocalypse won’t have you starved down yet. Two-thirds of all Americans are overweight. For the first month or so, you’ll probably have plenty of fat to burn. Think of the whole thing as kind of a zombie zumba diet.

So yeah, Altoids ® tin oatmeal may taste like day old brick mortar, but all you need to make it is a little water.

Inside the Lid

Use the space inside the lid of the Altoids ® tin to tape small flat items like a:

  • standard razor blade
  • sturdy sewing needle
  • waterproof match striker

UCO makes a Stormproof Match Kit with 25 matches and 3 strikers for $6.75. Use one of the strikers for your Altoids ® kit and include 2 or 3 of the matches.

You can also tape down elements of a fishing kit in the lid, but the practicality of that will vary by circumstance.

Mini Fishing Kit

You probably won’t be hanging out in the bass boat after the world goes to hell, but here’s what you’ll need to if you do decide to include the fishing kit option. Almost any insect will work for bait.

  • Three eyelet screwsto put in a branch for threading your line.
  • Three or four fishing hooks.
  • 3-4 split shot sinkers.
  • 15-20 feet of 8 lb. test finishing line.

Tape the flat stuff in the top of the box (or to the sides of the base.) Use a section of hollow plastic pen to hold the sinkers, with your line wrapped tight around it. Seal the ends of the tube off with squares of duct tape.

Emergency Signaling Options

Another option is to take a flat piece of mirror and affix it to the inside of the lid. One of the best places to find a mirror that works is to get one of those travel folding hairbrushes with a mirror in the handle. Just pop the piece out and it will be the right length for the tin’s lid.

A mirror is useful in a variety of ways, including emergency signaling. If you need to send a silent distress signal the flash of light from a mirror is clearly visible at a distance.

Of course, if you’re a hardcore survivalist, you’ll know how to use an emergency mirror to send messages in Morse code, but unless you’re part of a group, the chances that anyone who can read the code are pretty thin.

If you buy an actual survival mirror, the unit will have a built in aiming hole so you can tell where the flash of light will hit when you signal. That’s a nice option if you plan on using the light to distract zombies and head them off in another direction.

We’ll talk more about what zombies can and can’t do physically and mentally in another chapter, but basically, you can get their attention with sound and motion and use it to their advantage when you need them to be someplace other than trying to knock down the door of the house you’re hiding in.

Ultimate Survival Technologies sells a cool little Starflash Signal Mirror for $5.85 that measures 2” x 3”. It’s unbreakable, will float if you drop it, and is 90% more reflective than glass.

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Another signaling option is an aluminum emergency camping whistle. I’ve seen these packaged in sets of three for around $8. They’re loud enough to be heard at considerable distances, but remember zombies come to sounds so only use your whistle if:

(1) you want the undead headed in a particular direction.

(2) you’re up to your shorts in re-animated rotting corpses and you’re trying to get someone to help you.

I’d fold up about a 2’ x 2’ square of heavy duty aluminum foil and tape it to the bottom of the tin. It’s reflective enough to be used for signaling, or you can use it to line the tin for cooking — or for that matter, fashion the stuff into a crude bowl.

Fire Starting and Cordage

Some variation of the above is about all you’re going to get in the lid of your tin. In the bottom of the box, I’d say you’re definitely going to want a Bic-type lighter for fire starting (four for about $6) in addition to your waterproof matches.

Wrap about 20 feet of strong hemp cord around the lighter just to make good use of the space. Never miss out on a chance to combine items in this fashion.

While we’re on the subject of cordage, include about 10 yards of dental floss in your kit. Just bust a box of it open and put the whole roll in the tin. That stuff is tough, and you can use it to sew things together — yourself included, which is why you taped that sewing needle in the lid.

First Aid Supplies

In addition to the dental floss and needle for stitching up wounds, take a length of a plain drinking straw, fill it with Neosporin, pinch the ends, and melt them closed with your lighter, then wrap the dental floss around the tube.

If you don’t have the guts to take a needle to yourself, you might be a little too squeamish for the apocalypse period, but a small tube of Crazy Glue is also an option.

Yeah, it’s probably toxic as all git out, but that’s the least of your worries when corpses are getting up and wandering around.

Use a small Ziplock ® bag, like the kind jewelry comes in to hold one or two doses each of ibuprofen and Benadryl ®.

Keep this package flat and small. Clearly the ibuprofen is for pain, but if you do manage to get yourself in a really secure location and you can’t sleep, the Benadryl ® will calm you down enough to get some rest.

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Include a sturdy pair of tweezers, a couple of adhesive bandages (also known as Band-Aids), one or two alcohol prep pads (which can also be used for starting a fire since alcohol is flammable), and a small gauze pad.

Cotton balls are also an option. They’re good for first aid uses and as tinder. Also, when they’re stuffed in the kit, they’ll keep it from rattling. Remember, when in Zombieland, silence is golden.

Light Source

Definitely get a light source in there. The Streamlight 73001 Nano Light is an excellent choice for under $10. It’s made of machined aluminum and it outfitted with a 5mm white LED. The whole thing is only 1.47 inches long and you’ll get about 8 hours of declining usable output.

Find some red transparent cellophane and cut a square large enough to be folded over the end of the Streamlight and secured in place with one of your rubber bands. Red light preserves night vision but provides enough illumination to work by.

The snap hook on the end of the light is a multi-purpose bonus. You can either remove the clip and use it as a secure attachment for another purpose, or tie on some cord and suspend the light to create a small work lamp.

Some people opt for those little keychain LEDs you pinch together with your fingers. They’re definitely flatter and will fit better in a crowded tin. Here’s a tip. If you go that route, take your knife and work the battery and the LED out of the plastic container. All you have to do to get the LED to burn is just clip it on the battery.

Lay out a piece of electrical tape and put the battery and the LED on it, then cover them with a second piece of tape. That’s about as flat and compact a flashlight as you could ask for and you can re-purpose the tape.

Cutting Tool

Lots of home-brewed, armchair, “I kill zombies in video games” types well tell you to go get a cheap knife down at Wal-Mart, break out the blade, and put that in your mini kit. Yeah. Right. Cause I’m looking to do the end of the world on a budget and lose several fingers in the process.

Do not go the cheap route when it comes to your cutting tool. Buy the CRKT RKS MK5 for about $20-$25. The high quality 3.81-inch blade sits in a fixed handle. Total weight: 1 ounce with the included sheath. The whole package is small enough to fit angled across the base of the tin.

You won’t get enough reach with a knife like this to put a zombie down, but thanks to the open handle and the holes at the top of the blade, you can lash the MK5 to a long, thick pole. Until you can get to your own supplies or acquire a better weapon, this rig should get you out of solitary zombie encounters.

As for a herd? Run Forest, run.

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Other Useful Items

Don’t count on navigating by landmarks alone. Find yourself a little mini compass to the tune of $5 or so. These little babies are often called “button” compasses. They’re not the most accurate things out there, but they’ll do in a pinch and they’re literally no larger than a coat button. If you have a map or can score one, all the better.

A simple folded up coffee filter will filter big debris out of water, but I’d definitely get some water purification tablets. A package of 10 Ef Chlor tablets will get you a long way. That’s enough to clean up more than 50 gallons of water for $10 and they pack is flat enough to fit in the tin. (I’ll talk more about water contamination here in a bit.)

Unbleached Coffee Filter

A two-pack of Military P-51 can openers will only set you back about $2.50 and will do a better job of opening a can than your knife. Truth be told, though, you don’t need a can opener at all.

Find a flat, rough surface — just plain old concrete — and rub the top of a can back and forth until you’ve scraped the edges down. Just squeeze the can and the lid pops right off.  (I’d recommend practicing a few times, but once you get the hang of it this trick works great.)


As crazy as it sounds, one of the reasons I hear all the time for not preparing for a disaster of any kind is how much all the supplies will cost.

Are you freaking kidding me? Nobody ever saved their life in the middle of a crisis and said, “Damn. I wish I hadn’t spent $100 on that fire escape ladder.” There’s tight ass and then there’s just plain stupid.

Since you’ve probably already got a lot of the items I’ve mentioned just laying around the house (assuming you’re a pre-apocalypse reader), the basic stuff I talk about here is a pretty cheap EDC rig to assemble when you get right down to it. Obviously the extras or the alternate ideas will up the price, but the functionality in a survival situation is still more than worth your investment.

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The stuff I figure you already have or that you can bum off a buddy includes:

  • Ziplock® bag
  • razor blade
  • sewing needle
  • eyelet screws
  • fishing hooks
  • sinkers
  • fishing line
  • aluminum foil
  • hemp cord
  • coffee filter

If you do have to spend some money on that second list, I’m guessing $25 tops. You can’t cram all of that into one Altoids ® tin (and it’s not out of the question to have two), but you should pick what’s going to work best in your situation — now.

The new definition of procrastination? “Purina Zombie Chow.”

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