Communion Of Dreams

Being prepared.

As I have mentioned previously, I enjoy shooting. And I carry a concealed weapon (legally – by permit and where allowed by law) pretty much all the time. This isn’t paranoia, just a simple recognition that we live in an unpredictable and sometimes dangerous world. That same mindset applies to preparations for any kind of small-scale disaster, whether natural or man-made. If you live in the Midwest, you understand that power outages occur due to weather (tornadoes in Spring, Summer, and Fall, ice-storms in Winter), and that you may need to be self-reliant for days or even a couple of weeks. I’ve long abided by the Scout motto of “Be Prepared”, and while you wouldn’t find a years worth of supplies and a generator cached here, we could manage pretty easily for a period of a couple of months. That’s not too far off what is recommended by both the government and independent health agencies. As I’ve discussed, the onset of a pandemic flu may well cause a disruption of normal economic activity for a prolonged period, and I cite such a disaster as the background for Communion of Dreams.

Anyway, in an accident during one shooting trip this fall I managed to slice open my right thumb pretty well. I had ridden out to the family farm where I usually shoot with one of my buddies, so didn’t have my car, which contains a fairly complete first-aid kit. And, as it turned out, my buddy didn’t have any kind of first aid supplies in his car. We improvised a bandage from stuff in my gun cleaning kit, and things were OK. When I got home, I added a real first aid kit to my ‘range bag’, and didn’t think much more about it.

Then, a couple of weeks later I was back out at the farm with my BIL. We were walking the border of the property adjacent to a state park and marking it as private, since a lot of people don’t bother to keep track of where they are and we’ve had a lot of tresspassing. At one point down in a secluded valley my BIL and I paused for a breather, and just out of curiosity I checked to see if I had a signal for my cell phone. Nope. Hmm.

Now, it was nice weather, just a tad cool and damp when we set out. But it was November, and the leaves were slick in places where a fall could easily result in a twisted knee or a broken bone. I got to thinking – if I were on my own, what did I have with me that I could use in the event of an emergency? Oh, I had plenty of stuff in my car – but that was the better part of a mile away. What did I have on my person?

In truth, I was in better shape than most people would likely be in such a situation. I always have a Leatherman multi-tool on my belt, a small LED flashlight on my keychain, and a pistol and ammo. But still, since I don’t smoke I’m not in the habit of carrying matches or a lighter, I once again didn’t have any first-aid items, et cetera. I had stuck a small bottle of water in my jacket pocket, but that would hardly last long. I could probably cobble together some kind of splint or impromptu crutch, but it would be a challenge to get out of such a situation on my own.

When I got home I got to doing a bit of research about emergency survival kits. Google that, and you’ll come up with about 30,000 hits to sites offering everything from bomb shelters to equipment for first responders. Not particularly helpful. I decided to take a different tack, and started to think about what I wanted to have in a kit small enough that I would *always* have it with me. I set my goal for constructing a kit which would fit into an Altoids tin, since that is small enough to easily slip into any pocket.

This problem has been tackled by others, and there are actually some such small kits for sale that’ll run you upwards of $50. I looked over the commercially available kits, saw what others have done to solve the problems inherent in such a project, and came up with the following:


What you see there is:

  • Surgical Mask (can also be used as a bandage)
  • Fresnell lens for magnification or starting fires
  • 20mm bubble compass
  • Single-edged razor blade
  • Suture pack (curved needle mounted with suture thread)
  • Band-aids & steri-strips
  • Antibiotic packet
  • Emergency whistle
  • Superglue (repairs, fabrication, wound sealant)
  • Mini-lighter
  • Cotton tinder tabs
  • Water purification tablets (can also be used as antiseptic)
  • 30′ of Spiderwire (15 lbs test)
  • Safety pins
  • Small ziplock bag for water
  • Cash
  • Painkillers
  • Benadryl (anti-histamine, sedative)
  • Anti-diarrheal tablets

Yes, it all fits in the Altoids tin. Just. It is not entirely satisfactory, as I would have liked to have a large piece (say 18″x24″) of heavy-duty aluminum foil, a couple of garbage bags, some lightweight steel wire, maybe some duct tape or heavier cord. But it is a pretty good start – any small kit like this is by necessity an exercise in trade-offs. (Edited to add 06/01/08: I wrapped about 15′ of 24ga steel wire around the mini-lighter in a single layer, tightly wrapped.  Takes up almost no additional room, and will be easy to unwrap for use.)

In searching out the items I wanted (difficult to find items linked to my sources), it became clear that in some cases I would spend more on shipping for some of the components than I would for the actual items. So I made one such kit for myself, and another half dozen to give to friends. That got the cost down to under $10 each (not including the cash, obviously).

Your best survival tool in any situation is your brain. But it doesn’t hurt to have a few advantages in the form of useful items close at hand. With this small kit, and what I usually have with me anyway, I am reasonably well prepared to deal with most situations that I can envision. And I thought that since I went to the trouble to construct it, I would put the information about it here for anyone else who might have some use for it.

Jim Downey

12 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Jim –
Thanks for the reminder to get a few of these together. A nice addition would be a survival blanket, which are now available as bags rather than a sheet. I don’t know how it would fit, so I’ll be testing it myself.

Comment by Mike

Yeah, Mike – it is entirely too easy to say “I’ve got to get around to doing that” rather than actually doing it.

I agree about the survival blankets, and I always have a couple in the car. But they’re just too bulky to fit in such a small kit as the one I talk about in this post.



Comment by Communion of Dreams

Ok, Rich will be so proud! Seriously, as an outdoor enthusiast we have many first aid kits: little ones for the car, bigger ones in the camp gear, a small one in my bag I always carry, and a slightly larger one in our backpacking kit. This particular one is the size of a band aid box.

I am frequently surprised by how alike we are as siblings and yet we have rarely occupied the same city, much less the same house. It seems that preparedness runs in our blood.

I love this new kit and I too will make them up as gifts for the special people in our lives as they are most comprehensive and will make a nice addition to our bike bags!!

Comment by Celeste

Celeste – it’s a kick, isn’t it?
Anyway, some pointers: the little bitty ziplock (about 2″ x 3″) bags can be found in hobby supply stores (Michael’s is where I got mine), and I used a “snack” size ziplock for the ‘water’ bag. The superglue is the smallest size, come like 4 per pack, and they fit into the tin better if you leave the top off. I’m going to try to wrap some 20 gauge stainless steel wire around the lighter, and some 550 paracord around the tin itself, since that will give me some more options with minimal size change.


Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

I am proud. Now I have a project for this winter. Only suggestion would be to date the pills and salve. Like you would any thing that could be date sensitive. I even date my ammo so that I use oldest first.

Comment by Rich

Hey, cool – thanks Rich! I owe you for a lot of my philosophy in this regard, and the many things you taught me about being prepared . . . of course it took me a while (how many decades???) for the lessons to really sink in . . . 😉

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

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