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Over the years, we've seen countless variations on the concept of an Altoids tin survival kit. Whether the pocket-sized tin originally contained curiously strong mints, hard candies, chewing gum, or some other consumable item, they're practically made to be repurposed once they're empty. We've used them to carry fire-starters, fishing line and hooks, sewing needles and thread, water purification tablets, snare wire, Band-Aids and antiseptic, signaling equipment, or countless combinations of these (and many other) items. You can even turn one into an alcohol stove, punch a hole in it and use it to make char cloth, or pour wax into it to create a long-lasting packable candle. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
We recently learned about a more advanced, ready-made version of this concept from Colorado-based EDC gear maker Kopis Designs. Its founder, Jon Bahlatzis, has been crafting custom knives and pocket tools since 2014, and decided to create his own spin on the classic Altoids tin kit — a pocket-sized collection of tools suitable for an urban escape and evasion scenario.
The result is known as La Caja — literally “The Box” in Spanish. It's a mysterious-sounding name that matches the clandestine purposes of its contents.
Bahlatzis developed La Caja with input from experts in the escape and evasion, covert entry, and counter-custody fields. These included the Serepick team and OFFGRID contributor Ed Calderon. Based on their feedback, this kit comes standard with 15 tools that can be used to escape handcuffs, pick locks, shim doors, cut through restraints, and even defend the user's life.
Rather than a cheap mint tin, this kit comes in a sturdy steel container that's finished in a matte black coating with the Kopis Designs logo stamped on its lid. The lid snaps securely in place, but a black rubber band is included as an additional safety measure to make sure the contents don't get scattered. Read on as we unbox and analyze each item inside.
You may notice our use of quotations around the word bracelet. Although you can certainly wear this tool around your wrist by looping it and tying a double fisherman's knot, its purpose is more than decorative.
It consists of two early-1900s Liberty Head nickel (a.k.a. V nickel) coins connected by a strand of 900-pound-rated Technora cord. By wrapping each end of the cord around your hands, you could use it as a garrotte to silence an abductor in order to escape unlawful captivity. Alternatively, you could use it as a friction saw to cut through restraints, either with your hands or by placing the coins between your toes and moving your feet in a pedaling motion.
Next, you'll find another defensive tool — a 3.5-inch G10 polymer spike with a glow-in-the-dark die. The latter piece has been drilled out to serve as a removable handle, creating a weapon that can be wielded like a punch dagger or icepick.
The spike small enough to hide inside a waistband or pocket, and it's completely nonmetallic, so it can also be concealed past checkpoints with metal detectors. A simple sheath has been formed from clear plastic tubing, with one end crimped shut and punctured to accommodate a lanyard.
Kopis Designs' site notes that this G10 spike “comes slightly blunted so it can be carried into a non-permissive environment and field-sharpened to personal preference on carpet, sidewalk, nail file, etc.” We brought it to a sharp tip in minutes using a scrap of fine-grit sandpaper. In a pinch, the spike could be discarded and replaced by any other 1/4-inch-thick sharp object that fits the die, such as a nail or drill bit.
If you're looking for additional capability and aren't concerned about metal detectors, Kopis Designs can swap the G10 spike for a steel “deflator” spike, such as the one paired with the El Valiente Micropick handle in the photo below. This hollow, slash-cut tube can be used to puncture tire sidewalls to disable a vehicle… or puncture arteries to disable an attacker.
Everyone knows that a fire-starting tool is critical for wilderness survival, but even if you're in an urban environment where hypothermia isn't a concern, it's still a valuable resource. You could use the fire to signal for rescue during a disaster, trigger a building's smoke alarm to create a distraction, or destroy sensitive documents.
The kit includes a small ferrocerium rod with two pre-drilled holes — these allow it to be attached to a lanyard, keychain, or shoelace, or used as a cinch toggle on a necklace. A cotton ball is also included in a plastic bag. We'd recommend smearing it with some Vaseline to help it take a spark more easily and burn more efficiently.
This tiny blade can be used as a striker for the ferro rod, or as a cutting tool for delicate tasks. Since it's nonmetallic, it can also easily be concealed into non-permissive environments by slipping it into the waistband or hem of a pair of pants. A hole allows the addition of a lanyard, such as a piece of dental floss or thread — this can make it easier to retrieve if you're restrained.
This cord may be thin, but it's extremely heat- and abrasion-resistant and rated to hold 200 pounds. Kevlar cord is ideal for making a friction saw, but it'll also work well for almost any other task that requires a strong binding implement. A 10-foot bundle is included in La Caja.
Here's a bonus tip: if you're ever looking to buy more of this special cordage, don't buy the expensive stuff that's marketed to survivalists. Instead, look for braided Kevlar kite line — it's the same thing, but far cheaper and available in bulk rolls (i.e. 100 feet for less than $20 on Amazon). It can be purchased in a variety of colors and strength ratings.
The value of duct tape needs no explanation, and Gorilla brand tape is one of the strongest and stickiest varieties on the market. One foot of black Gorilla tape is tightly rolled around a toothpick and included in the kit.
A pair of 1.5-inch mini glow sticks can be used to discreetly illuminate a map or notebook, tag a significant object or path, or leave behind breadcrumbs to help rescuers find you. We previously discussed the uses of these lights in our review of the Blue Force Gear MARCO dispenser. We plan to add some blue and red sticks to our kit to expand the signaling options.
Named after the Office of Strategic Services, America's covert intelligence agency during WWII, this five-piece set is a modern recreation of a tool carried by actual spies during the war. The Serepick OSS tool features three lock picks (city rake, Bogota triple rake, and long reach hook) connected by a pivot.
Also attached to the pivot is a stainless saw blade, which can be used to cut through illegal restraints. The final component is an L-shaped tension wrench for use alongside the lock picks. A rubber sleeve keeps the pieces together.
These three flexible steel tools from Serepick allow the user to defeat various types of locks by slipping into the mechanism and interrupting its engagement. For a step-by-step demonstration of how the forked handcuff shim works, refer to the “Escaping Handcuffs” sidebar in our article on surviving a kidnapping.
Similarly, the Quick Stick is designed to defeat heel-and-toe locking dogs on inexpensive padlocks, filing cabinets, or tool chests (here's a video demonstration). The EZ Decoder looks almost identical but is much thinner and more flexible. It is designed to defeat combination padlocks, luggage locks, and cash boxes (here's another demo). These tools prove that some locks are so easily defeated that you shouldn't even need to get out a set of picks.
Kopis Designs calls this “the Cadillac of cuff keys.” It can be used on a wide variety of handcuff makes and models, ranging from common Smith & Wesson or Peerless cuffs, to more exotic international and high-security cuffs. The stainless steel key is cut at an angle to make it easier to insert while your hands are immobilized.
If you're taken captive by amateurs, you might find yourself restrained by zip ties, rope, or duct tape that can easily be cut with the Kevlar cord, saw, or ceramic blade. If your captors are using high-end equipment, a cuff key might be the only thing that saves you from painstakingly sawing through hardened steel.
This 2.75-inch wire is impregnated with diamond particles, and serves as an extremely durable abrasive surface. You can use it for simple tasks such as sharpening a knife, or as a means of slowly grinding through hardened metal such as handcuff chains. Lots of time and blisters are guaranteed to be involved, but if other options fail, it's a valuable fall-back plan.
You may have heard of the old technique of “credit carding” door locks — this 0.02-inch-thick shim is a thinner and more flexible tool for the same technique. Slip the card between the door and door frame next to the handle, moving the door back and forth as you attempt to work the card into the latch. If it's done correctly, you'll open the door without needing to unlock it. (Note that this doesn't work on doors that are deadbolted — you'd need to pick those locks before attempting the latch.)
The final tool in the Kopis Designs La Caja may be perplexing to those who haven't gone through counter-custody training. These two pieces of heavy-duty double-sided adhesive offer a means of attaching small items (i.e. shims, lockpicks, the ceramic blade, or even the G10 spike) to your body or in other strategic locations.
Experience in Ed Calderon's counter-custody class taught us that taping items to your groin is a surprisingly-effective means of smuggling them past even the most thorough pat-downs. And while removal may involve the painful loss of some leg hair, it's a whole lot better than attempting to use your “prison wallet.”
La Caja retails for $165, and as with most items from Kopis Designs, it's made in short production runs. If you want one, you'll need to keep an eye on the company's site, Instagram page, and/or Facebook page to watch for availability. At the time of publication, La Caja is marked as “Sold Out” on the Kopis web store.
The product page for this item rightly mentions that La Caja shouldn't stay in its caja for very long. It defeats the purpose to keep all your eggs in one easily-confiscated basket. These items should be scattered across your body, your clothing, and your other gear. They should be woven into your waistband, slipped behind your fly, tucked into belt loops, attached to shoelaces, or adhered directly to your skin. That way, if you're ever abducted, you'll have a variety of options to escape. Your captors are unlikely to find all of them.
This pocket-sized kit should appeal to almost anyone with an appreciation for the history of espionage and the darker side of survival skills. Frankly, we suspect that many owners (ourselves included) may not use every one of the tools to their fullest potential in a real-world setting, but the select few who can will be a force to be reckoned with. Even if you're not an international super-spy or E&E expert, the Kopis Designs La Caja serves as a comprehensive starter pack for clandestine urban skills.
For more information on La Caja, go to KopisDesigns.com.