RK Budget Emergency Survival Kit

By Kurt Hoffman

What is the Budget Emergency Survival Kit?

First, it is a kit that is designed to be purchased at readily available stores in your area with equipment that is a good value for the price. This equipment is simple and easy to locate for the average person and readily available at most common stores.

Second, it is designed to be inexpensive enough that you can purchase multiple kits for each of your vehicles, RV's, boats, ATV's, etc. for each of your family members - even the ones that don't really care about 'survival stuff'.

Lastly, not only is it easy to find, but also easy to use by the 'average' person that has had little or no training in outdoor survival, which the majority of people are not. This is for the man or woman that thinks about these things maybe once or twice a year and doesn't have the time, money or the knowledge to purchase one of the more "advanced military style" kits.

I started out with a $20 target price. This is an approximation, but I have found still holds close to the original cost, even after a couple of years of testing this equipment. Also, the products here are only a 'generic' representation of the tool I have in mind. You can 'add' or 'enhance' any of them as you choose, but these are some basic items that if you do not know or do not have the time or experience to get 'better' ones, you can purchase locally in one trip to your local Walmart, Kmart, Lowe's or drug store and very quickly have ready to go. The point is, this kit is easy to acquire and inexpensive on your budget.

Let's look at the kit.

Here is what you get:

1.Knife – 3.5" stainless steel, plastic handle $.97 Anglers Edge Bait Knife
2.Matches – 128 strike on box type $.49 Blue Diamond
3.Tarp – plastic 6' x 8' $3.98 Ozark Trails
4.Flashlight – sealed battery, disposable $2.24 Garrity Life Lite
5.Knife Sharpener – Ceramic rod type $1.17 Rapala
6.Compass $2.96 Ozark Trails
7.Whistle   --
8.Thermometer   --
9.Fish Hooks (Snelled) – with line $.46 Renegade
10.Twine – nylon, 260', 15 lb. $1.89 Wellington
11.Canteen – 24 oz. plastic bottle $1.00
12.Food – dried, enough for 2 meal $.20 Ramen Noodles
13.Aspirin – 100 tablets $.99 Walgreens Generic
14.Band-Aids – 60 adhesive band-aids $.99 Band Aid
15.Soap- anti-bacterial bar $.59 Generic
16.Tent pegs, 10" steel $1.96 Ozark Trails
17.Lighter - Disposable or Butane $.97 Bic/Robinson
18."Tea" lights $.10ea. misc.

TOTAL $21.00

** I included the bottled water here at $1.00, but that can be purchased much cheaper or free if you use an empty plastic coke bottle.

The Knife:

Originally designed and sold as a bait knife at Walmart, this knife is a good, very inexpensive blade that is hard to beat at 10 times its price of $.97. A simple thing, it is very durable and stainless steel. The handle is of good size, giving you a good grip. You can 'enhance' the grip by wrapping either nylon cord or duct tape around the handle till it fits your individual hand. The blade is a usable length at 3.5" for most general purpose chores. Remember, the knife is a sharp bladed tool; it is not an axe or machete. Yes there are bigger knives that can be used for this purpose, but your basic camp knife is not. This knife is plenty big enough for fish and game cleaning, whittling of wood and general uses. Your knife is one of your most important pieces of equipment, do not abuse it unnecessarily.

Knife Sharpener:

This is one of the most overlooked pieces of equipment. If your knife is not sharp, it is useless. Even the best of blades will dull with usage. Any knife expert will tell you that. That is were the 'real' trouble begins – sharpening the blade. Sharpening a knife to some people is a 'gift', to others it is a skill, that can be eventually done and still to most people, they could not buy a good edge no matter how hard they work.

This type of sharpener, made by several manufactures, is simple, quick and provides a usable edge. Most importantly, it can be used by anyone, regardless of skill and experience. Not to mention, that it is almost indestructible and safe to use; which is probably its best characteristic.

First Aid Kit:

Most survival kits include some type of first aid kit, but what do you really need?

First thing to do in any 'wound' type of emergency is get it CLEAN. Ask your doctor, nurse or veterinarian, if you don't believe me. That means wash it out with simple anti-bacterial soap and water. How many first aid kits have you seen with soap in them? The next thing is to KEEP it clean by using clean bandage materials. Ok, now you are clean and your wound is taken care of. What happens tomorrow if you lose your bandage material while scrounging or your wound needs to be additionally cleaned each day? Most kits only include a few bandages. This is a problem that you don't need to deal with in a survival situation! This kit includes 60 band-aids, which cost about $1.00 and a bar of soap, costing around $.60 at your local Walmart or drug store.

Also, instead of your 'traditional' one or doses of aspirin, you have a bottle of 100 tablets. Most pain relievers last 4 to 6 hours. Then after it wears off, what do you do? Get a bottle, it costs about $1.00 and averages about 100 tablets. Now you have a good source and number for pain relief, enough bandages to last several days and soap to get the wound clean and on its way to healing – properly. Total cost for all of this: about $2.60.


Shelter is one of the single most important goals for survival. Take it seriously, because being exposed to the elements is what kills most people. It can be made with a variety of ways including the use of a PVC poncho or all weather foil blankets. Although I will concede that the PVC poncho does in fact make a decent shelter and is compact, under extreme circumstances, such as high winds, it is easily ripped or torn. In this kit, I include a 6' x 8' Plastic Tarp with 4 - 10" steel tent pegs. This is a real shelter! You can easily make a long lasting shelter with it. With a little practice, you can design a large, Lean-To, a basic pup tent or a 'tubular' tent. The 'tubular' is the best of the bunch because it is low and less likely to take wind damage and gives you a plastic floor to lie on instead of the ground. Personally, I can live without padding to sleep on, if I can lie on a dry area. The one drawback of the tarp is that it is harder, not impossible; to use it as a mobile shelter like you can in wearing a poncho. It will also allow you to easily move your camp. If it is raining, you need to be collecting water instead of walking around anyway.

The tarp also gives you shelter for several people. Even thought the PVC poncho does make a dutiful shelter, it is only usable for a single person. You can design your shelter to be occupied by several persons. The plastic tarp is absolutely the best choice for shelter in a survival situation.
The steel tent pegs, that I have included, are heavy in weight when compared with plastic or aluminum ones, but they are better. The main reason is that you will probably have to 'drive' them with a rock or piece of wood. Plastic pegs will shatter and the aluminum pegs will bend, especially if struck with an improvised hammer. The 10" steel pegs also can be used to break up hardened ground to help you dig and can be used to make very good falling traps. In an extreme emergency, the steel pegs can be utilized as a weapon for your personal protection. I think this offsets the weight issue. You can decide for yourself.

The plastic, aluminum and steel pegs all run about $2.00 at any of the above stores and the tarp costs about $4.00.

Why the tarp instead of sheet of plastic? The tarp is much easier for most people to build a shelter with due to its construction and addition of corner rings for tying to. I think the plastic sheet works well for rain coverage, but not as a sun shade. The plastic sheeting is not as durable as the tarp in the high winds of a storm.

A note here about emergency pocket ponchos and the survival foil blanket. Emergency ponchos are not any better than a plastic garbage bag for rain coverage. They easily tear and rip as you move. Do not use it for your survival gear! Get a PVC poncho if you want, but not the emergency one. The foil all weather survival blankets is a little more usable than the emergency poncho, but not much. I agree that it works best of keeping you warm if you are in danger of hypothermia, but it is mostly a 'one shot' usage. This blanket will tear easily, even more than the emergency poncho. It has its place in getting you warm after, say falling into water, but remember it only works once. The plastic of the tarp works pretty well at keeping in the warmth. Not as effective as the emergency blanket, but it does the job and isn't as fragile to use.

Duct Tape:

Okay, there are literally hundreds of uses for this and I am not going to go over them all, but I will share with you a few uses as it relates to my equipment. The versatility of duct tape is the actual value of having it around. To fix your tarp, poncho, canteen, flashlight, gloves, boots, hat, jacket, bags, boxes and anything else you can come up with. You can use it to "tie" things together. It works to "improve" your outer garments against the wind. It is water "resistant". And on and on and on. Look, duct tape is one of the best things to have and a small roll will run you about $2.00 up to about $4.00 for a large roll. Get it. Pack it. You'll be glad it's around.

Compass/Whistle/Thermometer tool:

This is a really good item for its cost of $2.97. I am not sure if it's the compass or the whistle that makes this tool great, but it has them both. The basic idea in survival, IF there will be a rescue, is STAY PUT. So you don't need a compass, but I am the kind of person that doesn't go out into the field without a compass. It is the basic directional finding equipment. This compass, although inexpensive, is dutifully accurate if you need it.

The whistle is a core signaling device. Next to the signal mirror, the whistle takes the least amount of energy to use and can be heard at great distances. Ask any rescue services person what is the most important signaling device for a person to carry and you will get the whistle.

In addition to the compass and the whistle, this handy little device also includes a thermometer and a magnifying glass. I like having the thermometer available, just because I like to know the temperature outside. The magnifying glass is good for finding splinters in your finger, but I don't have a lot of other uses for it. I, personally, have never been able to start a fire with one and I don't think this particular one is good enough for that, but it comes free with the other stuff.


Clockwise and number in a box (standard Blue Diamond matches(32)(suggested above), Fire Chief "strike anywhere" matches(32), Coghlan's "wind proof" type Lifeboat matches(20) and Ozark Trail's waterproof matches(45))

Fire starting is the single most important thing to survive in any environment. Fire can be used for light, cooking, protection and proves a general 'mental' state of calmness, which is so important to any survivalist. Starting a fire can be a difficult task if you do not have the right tools for the job. Even then, actually getting a fire going can be difficult for most people. There are really 2 parts to fire starting: A) the spark and B) the tinder.
The spark is easiest with a lighter or match. On the average, it takes a person about 3-5 matches to really get a fire going. Sound crazy? Try it. Then try it in high wind. Then try it in wet grass. Most people do not have extended experience lighting fires outside of their BBQ grill or birthday candles. This kit has 128 matches of the Blue Diamond standard wooden matches. Yes it is a lot of them, but if you have trouble lighting your fire, it could take up to 6-8 matches to get it done.

I have also included a simple deposable lighter in this kit. It's cheap and easy to use. Sometimes it is just easiest to use the lighter, instead of the matches. You have them both. At $.50 to $.99 its cheap. Get one of the "safety" lighters that have a "lock" on the button. This will help you keep from accidentally hitting it while carrying it.

Tinder is the other tool to get a fire started. What is tinder? To the average person, this means something that burns. To a survivalist, it means the very bases for their success at getting a fire started. Many survivalists spend a great deal of time to perfect their own way to 'tinder' their fires. Most people do not. I do not include anything specific for tinder in this kit, because it has 'trash' for tinder. The packing materials (paper) from your items can provide easy 'tinder' for you or even the cotton from your aspirin bottle will work. Roll up a little piece of the cardboard backing of one of the packages and you have usable tinder. Even you have to use a 'stack' of several matches to get your fire going, you have them to use. Fire starting is important, don't short yourself on matches.

I also suggest that you add a couple of "tea lights" to use as tinder/starters. They are easier sometimes to light and hold it under something that might be moist or wet to dry it and light it. This will let you save on your matches and lighter fuel. They run about $.10 each.

Keeping your matches dry is an important thing and can easily be done with a pill vial or 35mm film case. It is not fancy, but it works. I like the pill vial because of the length. While you are at it, get one of the boxes in there too. Keep your 'striker' dry too. If for some reason your matches get wet, don't freak out! Let them dry in the sunlight. You would be surprised at what a 'standard' match can take and still work. There are 'better' matches, specifically waterproof and the best of all, Lifeboat matches. These both work very well, but they are MUCH more expensive. If you take a little care to use the pill vial or film case, your standard matches will be fine.

I will also note here that if you want to spend a little more money for the waterproof or lifeboat (sometimes called "wind proof" matches), it is definitely to your advantage. The "lifeboat" type matches are about $3.00 for 40 matches and the waterproof ones are about $3.00 for 90 matches. I didn't include those because of price, but they are better matches and since fire starting is one of your MOST important issues, this is a good place to add your money for an "upgrade". Also, some of the more expensive "wind proof" lighters would be good too. They can run in the $50 - $80 range, so they are expensive. The standard matches above, where you need them, is better than the $80 lighter you have at home and not with you when you need it.

Why a flashlight, instead of candles?

Does a candle burn in the rain? Can you turn a candle on and off without using up your precious fire starting materials? How easy is it to walk and hold your candle? How much more dangerous is a candle under a poncho than a flashlight? Answer these questions and you will see why the flashlight is a better choice for general purpose lighting.

This model is the Garrity "Life Lite" and has a sealed battery which lasts for 8 hours of continued usage and 2 years in storage (per their packaging). It is cheap and effective for the price of $3.00, which as noted, includes your batteries. I have a couple of these that I have been using and I don't know the exact amount that this flashlight works for, but it's A LONG TIME.

Also, the 'bubble' pack it comes in makes a handy cup for drinking or water collection.


For a canteen a plastic water bottle that you buy Aquafina or other brands in works great! Even plastic soda bottles, empty and washed out, work well. If you really want to 'bulk' up your canteen, use a 2 liter bottle. I use a piece of para cord tied around the top of the bottle and into a loop that I slip my belt through. This is an easy way to have water available to you. Also, it is very 'in style' to carry bottled water around with you on a daily bases. So don't worry about a special canteen, just use what you have. If you can find one of the little carry pouches made for hikers, that are made to carry a bottle on your belt, they work even better than the cord.

Fish Hooks:

I catch a lot of flack over these, but I use 'bait holders' or 'snelled' hooks that cost between $.50 to $1.00 at most of the above stores. They are simple and easy to use.

Although most people, that don't normally do this regularly, have probably fished at one time or another in their life, but very few have actually 'tied' their own hook. Tying your hook is just as important as learning to fish. Most people are not good at it and the last thing you need, after you catch a fish, is to lose it because your hook came untied. So the snelled hooks work great. The line attached to the hook is approximately 8" long. That is not enough to fish with. But if you attach it to a piece of your twine, it is. Now the issue is can your tie a knot in the twine. This task most people can do, so it moves the skill to something that is more commonly done. Now you can go fishing with more confidence.

If you want a more 'advanced' kit, I suggest a roll of 10+ pound test line ($1.74), a box of split shot ($.77) and a box of hooks ($.88). That kit will run you $3.39. Now you have lots of fishing line and hooks. I like the split shot for my survival kit because it can be continuously reused. Although there are some advantages to this kit for more advanced people, I have not found it to be vastly superior to the basic snell hooks and technically, this advanced kit is 6.5 times the price.

A small note here about small game snares verses fishing. Most people in this world cannot make a snare, let alone know where to use one effectively. I have been trying for years to get it right and I cannot. There are trained persons out there that can use a snare for small game, and my hat is off to them all, but the majority of the world cant. So leave the snare at home and concentrate your energy on fishing, which you have a much better chance of catching a fish, than using a snare. Or keep a small .22 caliber firearm close at hand for your small game hunting.


Waterproofing your gear is simple with zip lock bags or using the duct tape. I like the 1 gallon freezer bags. It's easy. Add several to your kit to keep things dry.

What to pack your kit in?

I cannot even begin to say how many ways or things you can pack your kit into. I do offer a couple of suggestions only to get you thinking. I simplest is just to use the plastic grocery bags that you bought your items in. They work. The first I considered was the gallon 'zip lock' bag. Easy to use, found anywhere and water proof, this bag works great. The biggest drawback for either of these bags is they have limited durability when tossed into the truck of a vehicle or behind the seat. Also, they have a 'trashy' look, as my wife describes them. I tend to agree. The idea here is to have it when you need it and most people who are not 'survival minded' will not like either of these in their vehicles.

Keeping in mind our budget goal, my preference is for the 'coffee can' version. Okay, this is not the most 'pretty' idea, but it works well and has other uses. First, if you are a coffee drinker or know one, there are always coffee cans to be had. The can itself is durable and water 'resistant' with its lid in place. It is also easy enough to take some duct tape and tape the lid closed to seal it. The coffee can is also a good pot for cooking. No it is not the best, but it can work if needed. Also, the coffee can will provide you with a good bucket for water collection and can be converted into a makeshift stove. (That is another subject for another time.) This still does not have the best appearance for your kit, but it is a good alternative.

The best is some sort of sling, canvas bag, backpack or plastic tool box. Any of these can be better at the appearance issue. They can also provide a good tool for field carry of your gear. I have a 'briefcase' case bag that I picked up at a convention that I like.

There is one other suggestion, that will probably make most of you laugh. One of the other containers I like is a used 'cat litter' bucket. If you or your family has a cat, you know there are plenty of these available after the litter has been used. The newer ones have nice little 'hinged' lids as well. It is large enough for your kit and anything else, like clothing and shoes, that you might want to personally include in your kit. This container is usually not bad at being accepted for appearance and provides a good area of sealed, dry space for your kit. It can also be used for field carry and water collection and water holding. Just get it cleaned out good before you use it. Soap and water will do the trick.


Here are a couple of suggestions for "add ons" to your kit. Most are either very cheap or something scrounged around the house or office.

Safety pins; simple but effective ways to fix buttons and zippers.

Needle and thread; needle to repair things, threat optional if you want to "unravel" your twine.

Small mirror (from a craft store); bag of them is about $3.00 so you can add to all of your kits as an alternative signaling device.

plastic cups, dinnerware and bowls; scrounged from empties or otherwise to help as containers to collect water in, drink from, or keep things dry. Kid's cups from a restaurant have little lids that work as a funnel to pour water into your canteen.

Clothing; T-shirt, hat, gloves, socks, anything just to have extra if you need them. Especially footwear if you normally wear "dress" shoes. These could be as good as hiking boots or as little as "tennis" shoes, but are much better for walking in than your dress type shoe.

There you have it, the RK Budget Emergency Survival Kit. It is simple, easy to get, easy to use and works. If you have a 'better' item, then use it. But remember, if you keep your 'best kit' in your house or your vehicle, it isn't with you when you need it if you go out in your wife's car or in your boat. Most people cannot carry a survival kit or "pocket" survival kit on a daily bases, it just isn't practical, but you can put one close at hand. With the price of this kit, anyone can afford it and you can afford to put it in all your vehicles. Then when you get 'jammed' you will be covered, no matter what vehicle or where you are.

If you have questions, criticisms, or things to add - email me please.

Or mail Kurt directly
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