You can modernize the SAS survival tin for the twenty-first century. The SAS survival tin has been around since the 1970s. John “Lofty” Wiseman, who is a retired SAS Sergeant Major, popularized the use of the survival tin in his book, SAS Survival Handbook (1986). The book is currently in its third edition. Additionally, The survival and prepping worlds have made use of Wiseman’s suggestions for the construction of a survival kit.

Consequently, there are many commercial and private versions of this survival item currently available. The primary purpose of the survival tin is to enable survival in an emergency. As useful as Wiseman’s survival kit is to wilderness survival, its contents reflect the technology and understanding of survival from the 1970s. How can this kit be upgraded to address 21st-century concerns?

The Container

A typical survival-type tin utilizes a simple metal box that measures around two inches in width by three inches in length and three-quarters of an inch in depth. It is sometimes called an Altoids® tin. The current SAS Survival Tin being used is 3.5 x 4.625 x 1.25 inches. Therefore, it is larger than the commercial Altoids tin. Moreover, there are arguments about the practicality of using such a container for emergency survival purposes. These arguments reflect the trouble of taking a military item and adapting it for non-military uses.

The Purpose of the Container

The tin box has purposes beyond being a container of smaller items. For example, the use of such a small box allows for making charred cloth for fire-making. Similar boxes on the market have a rubber or foam seal under the lid to make them watertight or waterproof. These features defeat the purpose of the box. The survival tin box has more than one purpose or function. A sealed version of the tin can still be placed in a fire to make charred cloth, but the seals will melt and become useless to keep out water.

Secondary Uses of the Container

Another purpose of the tin is for water collection. A soldier escaping and evading the enemy is always on the move. The tin can be used to quickly gather water from a stream or during a rainstorm for quick consumption. The survival tin also can be employed as a simple stove to purify water or cook a simple meal of edible plants, insects, or small fish. Wiseman suggests wrapping duct tape around the edges to help make the tin watertight until it needs to be used. Unfortunately, the contents become vulnerable to moisture once the tape is removed

Assessment of the Container

The survival tin should not be disregarded as a legitimate container for a survival kit. Its small and compact size makes it ideal for backpacks, cargo pockets on pants, glove compartments in vehicles, toolboxes, or tackle boxes. However, there are some things that you can do to keep the contents dry. The first is using a small Ziploc-type bag. The second is vacuum sealing the contents. A third option would be to put a Ranger band around the edges instead of the duct tape.

The Contents

The contents that Wiseman recommends for his survival tin are fifteen items. However, these items can be sorted into eight categories of consideration: fire making, land navigation, illumination, food procurement, water procurement, wood processing, first-aid, and equipment repair. Furthermore, the size of the container dictates what kinds of items to place into it.

1. Fire Making

The first category of consideration in a survival tin is that of fire-making. How will you make a fire? Wiseman suggests a “matches” and a “flint steel.” Flint steel is a ferrocerium rod. The author suggests the storage of simple wood matches dipped in wax with the stems trimmed. The flint-and-striker that is pictured in the diagram is still available on the market. However, the idea is to have a mini-Ferro rod in the kit. What would be an upgrade to these fire-making items?

One of the most popular replacements for the matches and ferro rod is the miniature Bic® lighter. You can find many survival tins being discussed on YouTube® that have the miniature Bic® lighter in them. However, in sticking with the military nature of Wiseman’s tin, a simple mini-ferro rod with a striker would be sufficient. An example of such an item would be the Bayite® mini-ferro rod. The NATO Survival Matches by ProForce® are a significant upgrade to the simple wooden matches.

2. Lighting or Illumination

Lighting or illumination is a genuine concern in a survival situation. Wiseman suggests a tea candle and a “Beta Light.” Does anyone know what a beta-light is? A beta light is a self-illuminating light using tritium. These are not an item on the market in the United States. A U.S. equivalent version of this U.K. item would be the snap lights or chemlights produced by Cyalume®. Therefore, an option to consider is the micro-flashlight or a mini chemlight by Cyalume®.

Tea candles have been a suggestion for survival kits for many years. There have been improvements to the tea candle. One such improved tea candle is made with bee’s wax. An example of bee’s wax tea candle is those sold by Best Glide-Aviation Survival Equipment. Exotac® also offers a version of the tea candle, the candleTIN™ Nano. These can be a consideration for an upgrade to the SAS Survival Tin.

3. Food Procurement

Food is an essential part of survival. A person’s ability to procure and process food in an emergency survival situation can determine the difference between life or death. The SAS Survival Handbook suggests placing snare wire and some fishing items in the survival tin. These items continue to be a recommendation for survival kits. However, your food procurement items must be tailored to your environment. For example, a fishing kit may not be necessary for a metroplex environment. Nevertheless, an excellent upgrade to the fishing items in the SAS survival tin would be Readyman’s® Enhanced Wilderness Survival Card or the Fisherman’s Survival Card. You can also read my article on making an emergency fishing kit and place that in the tin.

4. Land Navigation

Land navigation is an important skill to know when you are outdoors hunting, fishing, or backpacking. Interestingly, land navigation also is essential for an urban environment. I recently had an experience with OnStar®, where I came within 300 yards of accidentally crossing into Mexico at night. It turned out that the operator put the wrong destination into the directions as it led me through the city where I live.
The SAS Survival Tin calls for a button compass. A button compass is still a good option if you have no compass at all. However, some excellent wrist compasses would make a significant improvement over the button compass. The Suunto Clipper wrist compass is an example of such a compass.

5. Wood Processing

The early survival kits contained a wire saw. The wire saw, or flexible saw is part of the SAS Survival Tin recommendations. However, the quality of the commercial saws tended to be substandard and often failed when employed in the field. BCB USA/UK still sells a wire saw that is constructed using the military standards and specifications for the U.S. Government. A secondary option for a saw would be a small hacksaw blade cut to 1-2 inches in length.

6. Equipment Repair

Equipment and clothing will always need repair. Many combinations of needles and thread will do the task of mending clothing or tears in a pouch or backpack. However, the best dual-use thread is the Kevlar nylon thread. It is useful for repairing damages or as a fishing line. Therefore, I recommend taking a plastic floss sewing bobbin and wrapping as much Kevlar nylon thread on as is practical for both fishing and equipment repairs.

7. First Aid

Medical treatment always will be a concern in a survival situation. Wiseman recommends several medical items to make up a small emergency first-aid kit. Many of the questions are still available on the market. Therefore, use your best judgment about what to put in your kit. The purpose of a survival tin is as an instrument of last-resort to enable survival in an emergency. As such, it will not hold everything that you may desire for your first-aid items.

8. Water Procurement

One of the more interesting pieces of the SAS Survival Tin is the inclusion of a non-lubricated condom to be used as a water-carrying device. The kits sold by BCB in Britain still include a condom. Yet, condoms can fail in the time of need. A more sure replacement for the condom would be the NASCO Survival 1 liter Water Bag. They are thin enough that two could be included in the kit.

Additionally, Wiseman calls for water treatment tablets. Water purification tablets used to come in bulky packaging, forcing them to be placed in a smaller container. However, water purification tablets now come in aluminum foil packaging in sets of ten tablets each. The new packaging makes it easier to put water purification tablets in a survival tin.

Final Thought

John “Lofty” Wiseman gives a solid starting point for thinking about resourcing your survival. One’s preferred content for a survival tin may vary. Yet, the concept of ensuring that you address the basic needs of survival will not change for any type of emergency survival kit. The answering of the questions about food, fire, water, shelter, and first-aid will characterize any survival kit configuration. The SAS Survival Tin is a great place to start thinking through these concerns. The recommended upgrade to the items in Wiseman’s kit will ensure that you have a kit that will address 21st-century survival in the outdoors or the city

Will compasses keep you on track? Land navigation is an essential skill to learn for wilderness survival. Therefore, the compass is a critical part of successful land navigation. People navigated by the stars, dead reckoning, and terrain association before the invention of the compass or the nautical sextant astrolabe. There are many kinds of compasses available to the modern outdoorsman. Compasses fall into two categories based on the method of needle stabilization, also known as damping: liquid-filled and magnetic induction. Thus, purchasing a quality compass for use in the field is as important as having an accurate topographic map.

1. Liquid-filled Compasses


The most common type of compass on the commercial market are those with liquid damping. Liquid damping is the method of stabilizing needle movement by immersing it in an enclosed, liquid-filled housing chamber. Several types of liquid are in use for this method. Mineral oil, kerosene, or ethyl alcohol are the most common. Minimizing needle movement in a compass ensures maintaining a direction while trekking over land. An example of a liquid-filled compass is the Suunto Clipper Wrist Compass or the Suunto M3 Baseplate Compass. A quality liquid-filled compass is an excellent option for those who enjoy the outdoors recreationally or you are living in an urban-suburban survival zone.


The advantage of a liquid-filled compass is the retail cost to the consumer. Many of the budget-friendly compasses on the market are those that have liquid damping. Commercial button and wrist compasses use the liquid dampening method for needle stabilization. Therefore, compasses manufactured with this dampening method make them accessible to the average consumer. Examples of budget-friendly compasses using liquid-filled dampening are those by Coghlan’s and Coleman.


A disadvantage of compasses with liquid damping is that the liquid can form bubbles. These bubbles can affect compass accuracy. Another problem with these kinds of compasses is that the liquid can thicken in arctic temperatures. Consequently, the thickened oil restricts needle movement. This characteristic of oil-filled compasses limits there use to non-military applications. Moreover, the high temperatures in the summer in arid environments can cause the liquid to expand or evaporate. Consequently, if the housing becomes cracked, the liquid will leak out. Thus, the compass becomes inoperable.

2. Magnetic Induction Damping Compasses


Compasses using magnetic induction damping are the second most common compasses available to the outdoorsman. A compass utilizing magnetic induction is one in which the needle is stabilized through a magnetized field created within the needle housing. The most common way that this happens is by a magnet passing through an electromagnetic field.

However, magnetic induction damping in a typical lensatic compass occurs when the magnetized needle is moving through a copper needle housing. The U.S. Army M-1950 lensatic compass is an example of this kind of compass. Magnetic induction damping compasses are the preference of most militaries around the world.


The significant advantage of a compass using magnetic induction damping over liquid damping is its use in extreme temperatures. The compass with magnetic damping is usable in extreme arctic and extreme tropical or desert environments. The absence of the liquid in the needle housing eliminates the concern over the liquid freezing or expanding due to extreme temperatures.

Another advantage of these kinds of compasses is they tend to give a more accurate and stable reading when shooting an azimuth. The stability of the needle enables their use for land navigation in both night and day situations. Most military compasses copy the lensatic sighting mirror compasses first introduced by the British on the eve of the twentieth century. You can learn more about the U.S. Army lensatic compass in my article, “A Short History of the U. S. Army M-1950 Lensatic Compass.”


A disadvantage with compasses that have magnetic induction damping is that they can be more expensive to the average consumer. The process that creates the magnetic induction damping feature of the compass is more complicated than merely filling the needle housing with liquid. Furthermore, the compass housings must be of metal construction for the magnetic damping to work. Consequently, the cost increases to manufacture these compasses.

The second disadvantage of a compass using magnetic induction damping is that it can be complicated to use. For example, complaints often heard against the U.S. Army’s lensatic compass is that it is hard to use to take an azimuth and for land navigation. By contrast, those trained and experienced with these compasses use them as well as a person favoring the Suunto MC-2 Compass. Furthermore, the U.S. Army lensatic compass was designed to meet the specific needs and standards of the military and for military operations. They were not designed for use to survive the apocalypse, SHTF, or grid-down scenarios. Therefore, it is understandable why there are complaints about lensatic compasses.

Final Thoughts

A quality compass is a must-have item in the packing lists of your various bags. The two most common types of compasses are the liquid-filled and those using magnetic induction damping. Additionally, the compass that you adopt is one that should be accurate, durable, and magnetized for the proper hemisphere. You do not want to stake your life on a compass of lower quality.

Most survival experts advise spending money on a good fixed-blade knife. The same recommendation is valid for the purchase of your compass. Furthermore, if you are a world traveler, there are quality compasses available for use in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Suunto and Brunton have compasses that meet this need. A quality compass is an instrument that will enable your survival should you get lost on the trail or the backcountry. Therefore, choose your compass wisely and deliberately.

The best compasses for your kit considerations are those of proven quality, durability, and accuracy. The compass that you choose to include in any level of survival or outdoor packing list is one of the essential items in your loadout. As well, there are strong feelings among many about what brand or type of compass is the best on the market. However, the best compass on the market is the one that you have used and are the most confident with when you are in the field. However, the best compasses for your kit are the following:

1. U. S. Army Lensatic Compass

The U. S. Army Lensatic Compass conforms to the military standards published in MIL-PRF-10436N. Also, the military lensatic compasses are made in the United States. The current manufacturer of this compass is the Cammenga Company in Dearborn, Michigan. Of note, the previous maker of these compasses is Stocker & Yale, Incorporated in Beverly, Massachusetts. For example, the two lensatic compasses that I own are from Stocker & Yale. Moreover, you can purchase one of these Cammenga military lensatic compasses at the Sigma 3 Survival Store.


A lensatic compass is a magnetic compass that uses a magnifying glass to read its scale or dial. The U. S. Army lensatic compass is an induction-damped, handheld, north-seeking instrument with an internal, self-exciting light source, in other words, it is self-illuminating (tritium or phosphorous). The baseplate construction is of high-grade aluminum with a powder coating. The needle moves within a non-liquid filled needle housing. Thus, the military lensatic compass is one of the best overall compasses on the market.


Cammenga makes this compass with two options: model 3H with a tritium luminous dial (NSN: 6605-01-196-6971) or model 27 with a phosphorous luminescent dial (NSN: 6605-01-571-6052). Interestingly, Cammenga produces these compasses in the following colors: Olive Drab, RealTree® Camo, Black, and Coyote Brown. The compasses have a free-floating needle instead of the needle floating in a liquid (water or oil). They are also waterproof and dustproof under most field conditions. They will function in temperatures between -50°F (-46°C) and 150°F (66°C). The compass is also shockproof is dropped from up to three feet (90 cm). Additionally, they also have two needle options: Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere.

Additional Comments:

Moreover, the lensatic compass is the standard compass in all my backpack load outs. I have other compasses, but my U. S. Army lensatic compass is the one that I keep coming back to when I need reliability, durability, and accuracy. Most of all, I do not have to wait for satellite synchronization or linkage with the lensatic compass. There are no extra batteries that need to be carried in a pack because it is an analog magnetic compass. In addition to these features, the military lensatic compass also fits comfortably into the LC-2 ALICE First Aid Pouch or the MOLLE Grenade Pouch.

Best Uses:

Advanced and Tactical Day and Night land navigation
Hiking & Backpacking
Game Hunting

2. K&R Alpin Sighting Compass

The next type of compass that can be part of your loadout is the mirrored sighting compass. One of the best on the market is the K&R Alpin Sighting Compass. The compass is a product based on input from the German Mountain Rescue Service. These compasses are made in Germany.


A mirrored sighting compass is a compass in which the compass dial can be viewed using a mirror while simultaneously sighting an object through the sighing notch or slot on the compass lid. That is why these kinds of compasses are not in the category of being a lensatic compass. The sighting compass is sometimes called the hand compass, forester compass, or cruiser compass. They are one-hand use compasses. Their easy use quickly found them being a favorite of the geology, marine, and forestry professions.


The Alpin Sighting Compass has several convenient features. The sighting mirror is polished stainless steel. The baseplate, compass lid, and compass capsule are made of high-impact plastic. The result is a compass that is very durable and lightweight. The needle moves within a liquid filled needle housing. The bezel is self-luminating with two large sighting notches (12 and 6 o’clock positions) on the bezel for night navigation. It also has a clinometer to measure incline while traversing uneven or mountainous terrain. K&R has three measurement options for this compass: standard, metric, and mils.

Additional Observations:

This particular compass is an excellent alternative to the military lensatic compass. The large glowing bezel makes it user-friendly for trekking at night. It is easy to use and probably a better option for those unfamiliar with using the military lensatic compass. A rival to the Alpin is the Suunto MC-2 Sighting Compass. Both of these compasses fit comfortably into the MOLLE Gen II Flashbang Grenade Pouch. The K&R Alpin and the Suunto MC-2 compasses represent the best of the mirrored sighting compasses on the market.

Best Uses:

Advanced Land Navigation
Hiking and Backpacking
Game Hunting
Emergency Preparedness

3. Suunto M-3 G Compass

Finally, a third type of compass option for your outdoor activity concerns is the simple baseplate compass. The baseplate compass is the most common type on the market. One can purchase these kinds of compasses with various levels of quality and in various price ranges. The primary use for the baseplate compass is in conjunction with a map.


Baseplate compasses have a clear plastic base upon which the compass mechanism sits. The sides of the baseplate usually are marked in standard increments. These markings allow the baseplate to function as a ruler for measuring distances on the map. The baseplate also has a magnifying glass embedded for observing small map details. The needle mechanism usually is liquid filled and jewel bearing.


The Suunto M-3 G Compass has several useful characteristics. The bezel is luminescent. The G model has a globally aligned needle so it can be used anywhere on the earth in both hemispheres. This model also comes in just a northern hemisphere (NH) needle orientation and a southern hemisphere (SH) needle orientation. It is incrementally marked in metric and imperial UTM scales. The compass also has a clinometer for determining the slope of an incline. This compass originates in Finland

Additional Observations:

The baseplate compass is one of the most versatile compasses that one can own. The Suunto M-3 compasses offer the basic navigational needs for most scenarios and applications. They are small enough to fit easily into a MOLLE Flashbang Grenade Pouch. They come with a lanyard which allows attachment to the shoulder strap of most backpacks. These compasses are easy to use and are an excellent option for the occasional outdoorsman or weekend hiker or backpacker.

Best Uses:

General Land Navigation
Hiking and Backpacking
Game Hunting
Emergency Preparations

© Copyright - Survival School Site Built By: Overhaulics