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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