Survival Altoids Kits: Yay or Nay?

The Altoid brand of breath mints was created in the late 1700’s by Smith & Company, a London based company. The mints, which are today one of the most popular brand of breath mints, were initially created as peppermint lozenges to alleviate stomach aches and discomfort. The brand changed hands several times becoming a Callard & Bowser name in the 19th century, which was eventually purchased by Wrigley in 2004.

Originally created and packaged in cardboard, the company switched to the metal tins in the 1920’s to improve the shelf life of the mints. Some of us may have even had a grandparent who carried an Altoid Tin, recycled into a sewing or fishing kit.

If you’re a prepper, you’ve no doubt heard about Altoid Survival kits, sometimes referred to as BOATS (bug out Altoid tins). There are an unlimited number of different ideas to reuse Altoid tins and we’ll cover many of those in this article. We’ll also cover some of the ways that you can modify or alter Altoid tins to create survival items.

Altoid Tins Original Use

Gen Xers and Baby Boomers know what Altoid are because they remember being given these breath mints at some point by a grandparent or a mischievous uncle who wanted to see the reaction to its uncommonly strong taste. The mints were marketed as the “curiously strong” and adults still get quite a kick out of giving one to kids or even other unsuspecting adults and watching their reaction to the strong flavor. As the brand expanded its product line to include products in addition to mints, including chocolate and gum, new tins were manufactured to package the products.

Different Sizes of Altoid Tins

One of the first things to know about Altoid Tins if you’re going to reuse them for survival kits of any kind is that they come in a variety of different sizes and shapes. The most common sizes are the Original tin, the Smalls, and the Mini tins which held the mints, but I’ve seen them circular and even heart-shaped too.

  • Altoid Original (Large) is 3 7/8” Long X 2 3/8” wide X 7/8” deep
  • Altoid Smalls (Medium) is 2 1/16” X 1 5/16” wide. It is 2 3/16” from corner to corner.
  • Altoid Minis (Tiny) aren’t used too often for survival kits but they can be helpful to organize tiny items such as loose pills, seasonings, or other tiny items.

Ways to Reuse an Altoid Tin

For those of us who were raised by Gen Xers or Baby Boomers, reusing an Altoid Tin is just one of the ways to honor our parents or grandparents who admonished us not to buy new unless we had used it all, couldn’t live without it, or had worn it out completely.

Those who lived through the Great Depression learned how to use every last bit of something and then still find a way to reuse the container. Many of them passed this penchant for reuse and recycling on to their children and grandchildren. The Altoid tins are sturdy and close tight every time which makes them an extremely useful and reliable container for a wide variety of items.

First Aid Kit

It’s always a good idea to have a mini first aid kit in your pocket to handle life’s little emergencies as well as to temporarily help with any larger issues that may come up unexpectedly. The original Altoid tin makes the perfect container for a pocket sized first aid kit that can go with you anywhere. It fits in a back pocket or a jacket pocket or can be tossed in the bottom of your purse with everything else and hold up to the wear and tear of rattling around every day.

  • Band-aids of various sizes
  • Single dose pain reliever
  • “Straw” tubes or sample tubes of Neosporin, sun screen, cortisone cream, etc.
  • Cough drops
  • Mini nail clippers
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Iodine tablets
  • Cotton Swab
  • Super Glue
  • Moleskin bandage
  • Butterfly bandage

Sewing Kit

The Altoid tin makes a great container for a mini sewing kit. Be prepared the next time you are at a school play, at work, on a hike or at the beach and need to fix a strap, replace a button, or mend a tear in a swimsuit. And in a real emergency, a sewing kit can come in handy for stitching wounds or repairing a leaky tent.

  • Pre-threaded needles
  • Safety pins
  • Buttons
  • Thread or Seam Puller
  • Thimble
  • Thread
  • Small scissors

Mini Games

Before we had smart phones, boredom was a major threat while waiting for an appointment, in a long drive-thru line, or any other time we had to simply “wait”. People and especially children, have become so used to constant entertainment that during a power outage or other emergency where a long-term bug-in is needed, boredom will be quick to rear its ugly head. Stay ahead of boredom and keep morale high by being prepared with these mini games in Altoid tins.

Fire Starting Kit

Everyone knows how critical being able to start a fire can be to survival in a wide variety of situations. Whether it’s simply an unplanned stay overnight in the woods or a longer-term survival situation, you’ll be glad to have the materials needed to get a fire roaring.

  • Rubber band a full-size lighter to the outside of the tin or use a mini lighter
  • Vaseline soaked cotton balls or dryer lint
  • Windproof/Waterproof matches
  • Wax Candle
  • Fire steel and striker
  • Razor blade (tape to inside of lid)

Fix-It Kit

When you lose a screw from your eyeglasses, accidentally drop your phone, lose a heel on your shoe, or need to mend a fence or reinforce windows against a storm, you’ll be glad to have some of these items on hand. You’ll remind your friends of MacGyver, if you can’t fix it with one of these items no one can.

  • Zip ties
  • Duct tape
  • Mini screwdriver
  • Electrical tape
  • Mini multi-tool

School Kit

If you’re a parent of a child that is organizationally challenged, an Altoid tin school kit in the bottom of their bookbag can really come in handy. Put these items together, throw the kit into their school bag and when they call you because they need something, remind them of the kit. It will save you a trip to the school and keep your child on track for the day.

  • Eraser
  • Half pencil
  • Paper clips
  • Small scissors
  • Spare lunch money
  • Dental floss and wisp on the go toothbrush
  • Binder clip
  • Mini stapler

City Survival Kit

When it comes to survival, those who reside in the city have slightly different needs in an emergency than those who live in rural areas. In the city, you’re more likely to have your purse stolen or be stuck in traffic for hours. Here’s our suggestions for a city survival kit to get you through when your everyday routine is interrupted or an emergency crops up.

  • Aluminum foil
  • Mini lighter
  • Razor blade
  • Mini multi-tool
  • Ear plugs
  • Duct tape
  • String or dental floss
  • Safety pins
  • Spare change
  • $5 to $20 in cash
  • Band-aids
  • Cough drops
  • Rubber band
  • Mini can opener

Fishing Kit/Tackle Box

Whether you love to fish in any spare time you get throughout the day or whether you want to be prepared to feed your family during an emergency situation, a fishing kit in an Altoid tin is a great idea. With a hot glue gun and some popsicle sticks you can create several compartments in the tin, designed to keep your tackle organized.

  • Hooks
  • Line
  • Rubber lures
  • weights
  • Credit card knife
  • Mini wire snippers or utility scissors

Spice and Seasonings Kit

Whether it’s to add some flavor to a bland lunch or help you spice up meals during an emergency or bug out situation, having an Altoid tin packed with spices and seasonings can make a huge difference. Keep one in the bottom of your purse, in your bug out bag, or even in the glove compartment of your car.

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Garlic Powder
  • Beef and Chicken Bouillon Cubes
  • Chili powder
  • Cinnamon

Snack Kit

Everyone needs a snack now and then as they go about their daily routine. And sometimes in an emergency situation, having a snack can keep you calm and get you through until help arrives or the situation changes. Focus on high protein snacks and ways to boost the flavor of water.

  • Tea bag
  • Singles to go drink mix
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter cracker
  • Cheez It crackers

Personal Hygiene

Personal hygiene including oral hygiene is an important part of staying healthy. Altoid tins can be the perfect container to carry supplies to keep yourself clean and healthy.

  • Dental Pick
  • Dental Floss
  • Single use toothbrush/toothpaste or “Wisp”
  • Breath mints or gum
  • Shaving supplies
  • Feminine Hygiene Supplies
  • Baby wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cough drop

Overnight Survival Kit

When it comes to an overnight survival situation, it’s hard to determine just what items you will need without knowing the factors involved. Obviously if you know there’s a chance you will be stuck overnight somewhere, you would pack supplies you might need into your get home bag or car. You should also always have your EDC items with you. But having an overnight kit packed into and around an Altoid tin and keeping it with you at all times can certainly come in handy if you are unexpectedly trapped in your car or even outdoors overnight.

  • Aluminum foil or small mirror taped into the lid (for signaling, cooking, holding water)
  • Razor blade taped into lid
  • Strike anywhere matches and mini lighter
  • Band-Aids
  • Mini can opener
  • Zip ties or bread ties
  • Paper clips and safety pins (or fish hooks)
  • 15 to 20 feet of white nylon string
  • Air filter mask (wrapped tight with rubber band)
  • Water purification tablets
  • Wire pocket saw
  • Seal edges of tin with electrical tape (keeps tin waterproof and you’ll have tape)
  • Wrap duct tape around outside of tin
  • Put spare keys or credit card on top of duct tape
  • Wrap tin with ace bandage and seal inside Ziploc freezer bag
  • Secure with rubber band or hair tie

Cash and Communication Kit

When an emergency happens, especially one that knocks out power in some or all of the area, communication becomes difficult. For most of us, a power outage also means no access to money that we may have in the bank. Use an Altoid tin to keep extra cash, spare change, and other items you might need to get in touch with friends or family in an emergency.

  • Cash
  • Spare change
  • contact list taped inside lid (in case your cell dies)
  • Fully charged spare cell phone battery in zip lock bag
  • Emergency or backup credit card

Bow Tin

If bow hunting is your thing, you know how important it will be to have your supplies organized and ready for use in a survival emergency. An Altoid tin prepared in advance with the right materials and stored in the bottom of your tackle box, your BOB, or even the glove compartment of your car can come in handy as a last resort.

  • Arrow heads
  • dental floss
  • bow string
  • super glue
  • Fletching

Emergency Candle

Attach a wick clip and wick to the bottom of an Altoid tin. Fill the tin with melted wax and let it cool. Tape a book of matches to the lid of the tin and put the lid on tightly. Keep in a cool dry place until you need emergency light. Remove the lid and light the wick for hours of light.

Char Cloth

An Altoid tin can make a great container to make and store char cloth for your fire-starting needs during a survival situation.

Store Electronics Components

If you’re an IT person, a ham radio operator, or an electrician you’re aware of how tiny the different components can be that are used to make repairs. An Altoid tin can be a great place just to store those tiny components. Use mini Altoid tins for each type of component or store multiple components for each type of repair together in one of the original tins. To make separate compartments within the tin, use popsicle sticks and a hot glue gun.


Videos to Modify Altoid Tins for Survival Use

Altoid tins are also used by many people because they are made of metal, they are sturdy with a tight-fitting lid, and because they block electromagnetic interference. Because of this, there are a ton of different ways to modify Altoid tins for survival use. I’ve included video instructions for details on the modifications needed for each use below:

USB Charger/Power Bank

These are handy to have when your cell phone battery dies. Get just enough juice to make an emergency phone call or send a text if you’re stranded on the side of the road.



Who doesn’t need a little light now and then? Turn an Altoid tin into a mini light and keep it in your pocket or the center console in your car so you always have light when needed.


Alcohol Stove

In an emergency situation, there’s no way of knowing when or where you’ll have time to cook up some sustenance. These are great to have even for a hunting trip that gets extended or if you find yourself lost on a hike and needing to spend the night on the trail.


Bake Bread

For the chef in the family, baking bread in an Altoid tin is one of the things that is just a cool thing to say that you’ve done before. But, for a survival situation, knowing how to bake bread in an Altoid tin could be just the boost to morale your group needs to keep going another few days.


Emergency Radio

If you leave home in a survival situation without your radio or if yours is broken during your bug out trip, this handy Altoid tin radio could be just what you need to keep up with what’s happening in your area. Make this in advance, store it in your bug out bag, the glove compartment of your car, or even in your purse or backpack. When you need it, you’ll be glad to have it.


BB Gun or Dart Gun from an Altoid Tin

When it comes to security and self-defense, most of us would rather have a firearm or a weapon with some stopping power when we are faced with intruders or an angry wild animal. But for many people who have a fear of guns or for children who aren’t yet trained to handle a firearm, an Altoid tin can provide some security. It’s also a great backup weapon to have as a last resort to use to scare off an animal or distract someone’s attention and give you time to get away.


Morse Code Oscillator

If you know Morse code and have trained your family to know Morse code, it can be a great way to communicate if someone is trapped. In the video above, you’ll see how to make a Morse code oscillator from an Altoid tin. Imagine if every victim of an earthquake or other natural disaster where they were buried or trapped carried one of these in their pocket at all times. In the right situation, it could save lives by helping you to direct rescue workers or family members to your location.


Use Altoid Tins to Organize Around the Home

In addition to survival uses for Altoid tins, you can use these handy little containers to help organize different areas in your home or garage. Use different colored or shaped tins for different items or use a permanent marker to label each tin with its contents. Examples of other supplies or areas that can become ultra-organized with the help of Altoid tins include:

  • The junk drawer
  • Bathroom supplies
  • Office supplies
  • The workbench (screws and other fasteners)
  • Picture hanging supplies
  • Legos
  • Game pieces

Foods with Long Shelf Life

There are many different foods that you can seal into tiny containers and put into an Altoid Tin that will simply last several years or more until you find that you need them. These foods are good options to include in your survival snack or seasoning tin:

  • Honey
  • Salt
  • Rice
  • Cornstarch
  • White Vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Pure Vanilla Extract
  • Maple Syrup

Other Containers for Survival Kits

If you don’t happen to have empty Altoid tins lying around but you still want to put together some of the survival kits we’ve described above, here are some other containers that are often used to organize, store, or carry survival kits.

  • Sardine tins
  • Large Plastic jars with screw on lids
  • Tupperware
  • Empty 2-liter bottles
  • Fanny or waist pouch
  • Mason Jars
  • Wide mouth pill Bottles with childproof caps
  • Pill Saver Containers for Pills or for Spices

So, you can use an Altoid tin or another type of container to create an all in one survival kit or several different kits each focused on a specific need. You can also use Altoid tins to help improve your daily organization in your home and garage. Regardless of how you choose to carry or store your kits, having the items you need handy during an emergency situation not only makes life easier, it could save your life.

About Megan Stewart

Megan Stewart
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart. For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of nine grandsons and one granddaughter, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.


  1. Avatar

    I recently saw an article on Prepper Journal expressing contempt for Altoid tin survival kits. I commented that one of these little kits could be very useful and possibly even be a life-saver. The author apparently took my comment as a personal attack on himself and viciously attacked me.
    Just goes to show that even good ideas aren’t enough to overcome inferiority complexes.
    Altoid tin survival kits: Yea!

  2. Avatar

    I have quite a few Altoid tins in use. As a sole survival tool, they’re overrated. Someone planning on really surviving an ordeal would want more than a pocketful of bits. But as a sturdy sub-container for a larger survival pack, they’re great! You can get quite a bit of first aid stuff in one, for packing into a backpack. The medium tins will hold thirty 9mm rounds, or 18 5.56. Not a super-arsenal, but an easily stowed re-load. I’m using one tin for a field (gun) cleaner kit.

    Little sturdy containers are just handy.

    — Mic

  3. Avatar

    The reason why I like these little tins are their size:
    It forces me to minimize and prioritize;
    choose sleight and light over weight; and
    to stuff unnecessary Stuff
    increase my mobility without compromising my ability; and finally
    “Small is Beautiful”.

  4. Avatar

    I have one but another use is carrying spare flashlight batteries in a tin along with a high lumen light in double 40mm grenade pouch. Had to slightly modify one side to keep light from sliding through but the Altoid tin fits perfectly in the other pouch. Not very many people carry extra batteries but I have for more than 30 years. VERY, VERY handy when you need them. Before Cree LEDs I also carried spare bulbs for lights that didn’t have them like Mag-light did. I’m retired but still, carry 2 small lights at all times. And a few batteries in a Gerber folding knife sheath when I’m traveling light.

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