Disaster strikes and now you have to depend on whatever you have packed in your emergency survival kit. You can call it a 72 Hour Kit or a GO Bag or anything you want, but the purpose is to enable you to survive an unexpected crisis.
What are the most important supplies to include in your emergency survival kit? You need personalized items from each of these 10 categories to help you physically and emotionally survive a crisis:
- Financial Resources
In this post, we will review all of the basics for designing the perfect emergency survival kit for you and your unique situation.
Why Create an Emergency Survival Kit?
A little bit of advance preparation can make a huge difference when life throws you a curveball. You may get trapped on the highway for hours from closure due to an accident or a blinding snowstorm. I guarantee you will be very grateful for the blanket, warm clothing, water, and snacks you packed in your vehicle survival kit.
Perhaps you need to evacuate your home due to a wildfire and the resources you have in your bag may make your hotel stay a bit more comfortable with familiar items. A winter storm blows in with a furry. Roads are closed and power is out. You are forced to make the best and spend the night in your office. The resources stashed in your little office survival kit come in very handy.
You never know when you may be forced to evacuate your home and a personalized emergency survival kit will be a great resource to have. Chances are you will actually “survive” without the resources you pack in a survival kit. However, taking the time to prepare a little in advance will make the crisis much more bearable.
Exactly what is the possible crisis that may require you to evacuate your home? Identifying the risks you face will help you determine your destination and build the right survival kit.
According to The American Red Cross, your number one risk is a house fire. Make sure you don’t overlook this risk in your planning.
If you live in Oklahoma, it does not make any sense for you to prepare for a tsunami or a hurricane. However, if you live on the coast of Florida it makes perfect sense. As a resident of Oklahoma you need to be prepared for tornadoes. If you live in a wooded area, wildfires are a definite possibility.
Take some time to list all of the possible reasons why you may be required to evacuate your home. Talk with friends or family to be sure you have considered all of the possibilities.
Destination Planning and Evaluation
Now that you understand the risks you face, it will be easier for you to realistically plan your destination. Remember that as soon as you leave home, you become a refugee. Being a refugee is very dangerous.
Know where you are going and how you are going to get there. Plan for contingencies because nothing ever turns out just like you imagine it will. Each of the variables we consider below will change what you will include in your survival kit. One bag will not fit each scenario.
How much time will you have to prepare to evacuate?
If you are preparing to evacuate due to a hurricane warning you may have a few days to prepare, a tsunami warning may only give you a matter of a few minutes. You may know you are at risk for a wildfire, but when authorities knock on your door you may only have 20 minutes to be out.
One little trick that we use to be sure we can be ready for the different scenarios are printed lists. We keep our personal survival kits right inside the front door in a coat closet. On the inside of that door, we have taped important lists along with copies of our family emergency plan. There is a “last-minute things to grab” list attached to each kit and personalized for the individual.
How many people may be evacuating?
A house fire will be limited to the individuals living in the home or apartment and possibly nearby neighbors. However, if thousands of people are evacuating an area there are many other challenges (traffic jams, refueling lines at gas stations, etc.) that can increase the dangers of the situation.
How long until you are able to return to your home?
Evacuation after an earthquake due to downed power lines or ruptured gas lines may allow your return sooner than if your home is structurally unsound and must be rebuilt. You may be able to return to your home within 24 hours after a HAZMAT event while a landslide may prevent you from ever being able to return to your home.
Where is your destination?
We recommend that you plan for at least 3 destinations:
- Outside Your Home – In the event of a fire in our home, we are all to meet at the chicken coop in the back yard. It is visible from most places on our property, away from the home and it provides a little protection from the elements. For us, this destination is a close relative’s home that lives a few blocks from our home.
- Outside the City – Some disasters will encompass an entire city and overwhelm resources in that area. Plan a destination 20-50 miles away so you will be safely out of the affected area. If we need to evacuate our city, we will stay with our son in a neighboring city until it is safe for us to return home.
- Remote Location – This destination is frequently referred to as a “bug-out” location and should be a minimum of 100 miles away from the event. Our remote location is at our daughter’s home 600 miles away. Her home is stocked and ready to accommodate our family for an extended stay. In turn, we are ready to accommodate her family (complete with food, sleeping accommodations, and necessary resources) if the disaster occurs in her home town.
Where are you planning to stay? With friends or family? At a local hotel? Perhaps you are headed for the hills and will need true survival tools and supplies.
If you are counting on sleeping at an American Red Cross Emergency Shelter, you may want to read our post The Facts About Emergency Shelters as it will make you reconsider. I plan to stay in a public shelter only as a last resort.
How long will it take to arrive at your destination?
Will you be traveling for a few minutes, hours or possibly days? Think about the amount of fuel required to arrive at your destination. You may want to avoid refueling your vehicle whenever possible to avoid desperate people and dangerous situations. The sooner you arrive at your destination, the safer you will be.
If you are on foot, will you have enough food and water to sustain you or how do you plan to acquire additional supplies
Map out the possible dangers on your route and plan alternative routes. Keep a printed copy in each survival kit and in each vehicle.
What form of transportation will you use?
Will you be traveling by foot, bike, vehicle, public transportation or perhaps on a horse? I have a friend who teaches at a local elementary school. Her husband works from home. When disaster strikes, she is going to walk to the railroad track a couple of miles from the school and head north. He works from home and will ride a horse along the railroad track until they meet up. They designed this plan to ensure they don’t miss each other. The assumption is that there will be few people along the train tracks in our rural area.
Jonathan’s office used to be 30 miles from our home. He would prefer to travel in a vehicle, but he always kept a bike at work so if anything happened he could make it back home taking back roads and unpaved paths as needed.
Personalize Survival Kit for the Destination
As you can see, your destination will significantly impact the items you choose to take up valuable space and add weight to your survival kits.
Building Your Kit
The perfect survival kit is the one that takes care of you perfectly. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” for emergency preparedness. We will disappoint you if you are looking for a list of “stuff” to keep in your personal kit. Our hope is to provide ideas to stimulate your thought process and help you on your way to getting the right stuff, to put in the right container, in order to create the right kit for you.
The Right Container
The container you select for your survival kits are limited only by your needs and imagination, and perhaps your budget. You may want to explore a second-hand store if money is tight. Last year’s school backpacks may work well for younger children
A well-used backpack will not be as inviting to a would-be-thief as a shiny new expensive one. Who would suspect a Barbie backpack to contain valuable firearms or cash?
A high quality, properly fitted, internal frame backpack is a great option for a strong, healthy individual, but it isn’t going to work well for grandma. She is going to need something on wheels. Young children may be able to wear a very light backpack. The family dog can even carry some of his/her necessities with the right pack. Carefully consider individual abilities when selecting the right container for the emergency survival kit.
Ideas for Packs
A properly fitted internal frame backpacking pack is ideal for an experienced hiker or a true “survivalist.” I really want a Züca sports bags for my survival kit. They are a bit pricey and so I have to make do with what I have. These wheeled bags are the perfect choice for an elderly individual or anyone with physical limitations. Züca makes sturdy wheeled bags with a light, strong aluminum frame and over-sized wheels that have the ability to climb stairs. The frame has a built-in seat which may come in very handy. The insert bags makes storage and organization easy.
Rolling backpacks with padded shoulder straps are a good less expensive option. I would select one with external pockets to help with organization and quick access to important supplies. High-quality rolling suitcases or duffel bags may be a good choice. Make sure the wheels are good quality so that they don’t break when you need them the most.
Plastic buckets with gamma seal lids are a convenient water-proof container that can also double as a seat. It would be difficult to carry the bucket for long distances so only plan on using a bucket if you have transportation. We used this method to store our emergency vehicle kit in the back of our van to keep it from getting squished by everything that routinely gets stuffed into the back of a minivan.
Plastic Rubbermaid type totes can work but significantly limit mobility. Some come with wheels, but it is my experience that they do not hold up under heavy use. I would use these totes for items that the entire family would need to share (dishes, pots, large first aid kit, lantern, etc.). They work well to store emergency supplies in a trunk. If you have to start walking it would be difficult to take with you for any significant distance.
Fanny packs may hold enough supplies to supplement a larger family kit and can be worn by most individuals. These are great to keep personal supplies (medication, cash, ID, weapons, snacks, phone, etc.) close and secure without adding much weight. I use a fanny pack to keep items I would normally keep in my purse.
Beware of prepackaged survival kits. Do they really contain the right items for your needs? Often, quality has been sacrificed to meet consumer demand of a low price. Don’t let it give you a false sense of security.
Use a prepackaged survival kit as a foundation for a kit personalized to your unique needs. Make sure you understand exactly what is in the kit and exactly how to use those items.
Think about your destination, are you going to a hotel and just need an overnight bag? Are you headed for the hills? Make sure to pick the right container for your physical abilities and one that accommodates your important supplies and will allow you the mobility you need to get where you are going.
Emergency Survival Kit Basics
Just what should you put in your survival kit? The 10 categories below cover realistic needs worth including with your critical supplies. The examples in each section are intended to stimulate your thought process and get you started. Do not stuff all of the items listed in each category into your emergency survival kit. Prioritize and travel light!
You can only survive 3 hours without adequate shelter in harsh conditions. How are you going to maintain appropriate body temperature? Proper clothing is the first line of defense for both hot and cold extremes.
Hypothermia or heat illnesses are medical emergencies and can quickly lead to death. Pack for weather conditions you may encounter as you travel and those at your destination. Select fabrics that wick moisture away from your body and dry quickly. Wool, wool blends, fleece, nylon, and polyester are ideal. Try to avoid cotton, unless you are packing for hot weather. Select durable, nonrestrictive, loose-fitting clothing.
What do you need to protect yourself from the elements (extreme heat, wet, or cold)? A coat, jacket, winter hat, gloves, long sleeve light shirt (protection from the sun), brimmed hat, Mylar blanket, wool blanket, tent, tarp, fire starting kit, or anything that could protect you from the elements and help maintain proper body temperature.
We do not actually pack seasonal clothing inside of our emergency survival kits. We attach a list to each of our personal survival kits listing items to grab at the last minute. In the winter we need to grab a warm coat, winter hat, scarf, warm gloves, and boots. If the crisis occurs in the middle of the summer, those items would just be taking up valuable space in our packs.
How are you going to provide shelter? What is your destination; a climate-controlled building or the mountains?
Adequate hydration is at the top of our list. According to the rule of threes, you can only survive 3 days without water. After one day, you start to develop symptoms of dehydration which will inhibit brain function, ability to make decisions, and compromise physical abilities. Drinking contaminated water can result in illness and death.
Water bottles, juice, water filter, and water disinfection supplies are important. Remember that alcohol and caffeinated beverages will not hydrate the body.
Plan to take as much clean drinking water with you as possible. Be prepared to find and purify more. Every kit should contain a quality water filter. It may come in handy whether you are in the mountains or in a hotel with nasty tasting water.
To state the obvious, you must be mobile when you evacuate. Your survival kit should not inhibit your ability to get where you need to go. Each emergency survival kit must be properly sized to the owner and his/her physical abilities. It is a mistake to take more than you can reasonably transport.
Prepare and maintain your vehicle well. Keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. Chances are that half of a tank of fuel will get you out of the most dangerous area before you need to refuel.
Comfortable walking shoes and extra socks are critically important. Always keep a pair of good walking shoes in your car in case you get stranded somewhere. Blisters and sore feet can seriously impact your ability to get to where you need to go.
What things do have that would enable you to be more mobile? Bicycles, bicycle trailers, scooters, strollers, wagons, wheelbarrows, hand trucks, wheelchairs, deer carts, or anything else with wheels may be helpful. Be sure to consider how you will care for loved ones with limited mobility if you need to evacuate.
It is important to be as clean as possible in order to prevent the spread of germs. Plan to dispose of your waste responsibly. To learn more about emergency sanitation and alternative toilet ideas check out our post Prepping for Basic Emergency Sanitation.
Toilet paper, wet wipes, tissues, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, feminine supplies, Depends, diapers, soap, shampoo, comb, brush, hair ties, fingernail clippers, deodorant, washcloth, and towel are few items that you may want to include.
Be sure to include a well-stocked first aid kit. Each survival kit should have individual first aid kits. Keep a larger first aid kit in the vehicle or in a family survival kit. It may be important that you have the ability to care for wounds you would normally see a doctor for.
The ability to communicate is critical. Don’t overlook this category! You must be able to receive direction from local authorities and get up-to-date information on the current situation. You also need to be able to communicate with loved ones.
A written list of contact numbers is important. Don’t depend on your cell phone for contact information. A cell phone is a fantastic communication tool as long as it is charged and has service. Perhaps a battery back-up or solar-powered cell phone charger may be a good option.
You will definitely want a quality portable battery, solar, or crank AM/FM radio to receive information. Think about including these items: pen, paper, whistle, signaling mirror, amateur radio equipment, GMRS/FRS radios, alternative energy cell phone chargers, solar-powered battery chargers, or any other form of communication device may come in handy.
The ability to see and be seen is important. You need to be able to see where you are going and to be seen when you need to be. If you are stranded by the side of a road, light and reflectors may save your life.
Light is vital to your safety. The options for fantastic, low energy light sources has never been better. I like my rechargeable solar flashlights and lanterns. These are on my “last-minute items to grab” list and are always charging in a south-facing window.
Store batteries separate from flashlights in your survival kits so they will work when you need them. Lightsticks are a great choice for children. They provide a lot of comfort and turn a stressful situation into a grand adventure. Jonathan prefers a headlamp to a flashlight to leave his hands free to work.
If you wear glasses or contacts, put an extra pair and supplies in your kit. We purchase a quality pair from our optometrist and then ask for a printed prescription so we can purchase an inexpensive pair online to stash in the survival kit. Sunglasses can be helpful to protect your eyes. You may want to consider using a lanyard to keep glasses from getting lost.
Food is not as important as shelter or water so you should be careful that food does not displace more important items. You can survive for 3 weeks without food. I wouldn’t want to … but food is lower on the list.
Survival kits should include non-perishable, high-calorie, high-protein foods that require little or no preparation. A sudden change in diet is sure to cause stomach problems at inconvenient times. Try to stick with foods you are accustomed to eating. I personally keep Snickers bars in my kit to motivate me to rotate my supplies regularly.
Dehydrated or freeze-dried meals are lightweight and require little preparation other than boiling water. Plan additional water to re-hydrate these meals. Granola bars, Cliff bars, energy bars, trail mix, Ramen noodles, dried fruit, instant breakfast mix, oatmeal packets, cold cereal, cocoa packets, jerky, Gatorade mix, peanut butter, tuna packs and hard candy are examples of lightweight foods with a long shelf life.
Canned soups, beans, pasta, fruit, and stews are heavier but can be eaten out of the can without heating. Purchase them with Pop N Pull tops or be sure to include a can opener.
Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) can be eaten cold or warmed using an MRE heater. However, they tend to be constipating. I prefer canned soup over an MRE any day.
Carefully plan to include cooking pans and fuel according to the type of foods you have selected. Can you have an open fire at your destination? It is possible to avoid the need to cook altogether. Check out our post, Safe Indoor Emergency Cooking Solutions for ideas on how to safely cook indoors.
Quality sleep keeps your brain clear and improves your ability to make decisions. Do not underestimate the need to get sleep even when the world is in chaos around you.
A blanket, sleeping bag, pillow, ground pad, hammock, mosquito net, pajamas, robe, sleeping aids, or a Teddy bear are ideas of some things which you may want to consider. Sleeping in a strange environment can be challenging. What do you need to ensure you are able to get a good night of sleep?
The need to evacuate will undoubtedly be a highly stressful event. Including a few comfort items may be quite valuable to help you cope emotionally and survive your grand adventure.
Chocolate is my comfort food so I include several Snickers bars in my survival kit. It doubles as both comfort and energy. A special stuffed animal, blanket, chocolate, Diet Coke, scriptures, pictures, and an iPad are examples of items that provide comfort for different individuals.
If you have any form of legal addiction, a stressful evacuation is not the right time to break the habit. Be realistic and pack what you need to improve your ability to cope. You do not want to add nicotine or caffeine withdrawal symptoms to the stress of the event. Now is the right time to overcome your addiction!
Consider what each member of your family may need to reduce the stress and provide a little bit of comfort in all of the craziness. It is important.
Cash and credit cards are a vital component in your emergency survival kit. Depending on the event, you may be able to purchase everything you need. It is important to keep a stash of small bills in your survival kit in order to purchase additional supplies as needed. Small bills are ideal so you do not draw attention to yourself and allow the vendor to easily make change.
As long as the financial system is working, a credit card might just be a lifesaver. It can be used to buy food, rent a hotel room, or purchase necessary supplies. A credit card may be a way to finance that spontaneous trip to Disneyland you take to get out of the path of the hurricane.
You may need to disguise the cash in the survival kit to prevent family members, or others, from pilfering it when needs arise. Split the funds up in a few different pockets. Consider sealing the cash inside of a small Mylar bag or place it in an envelope to disguise it.
The best life is one that is free from debt. However, a couple of credit cards where you do not carry over a balance may be the best option to see you through some disasters.
We acquired a couple of credit cards from different companies after an experience where our bank put a hold on our Visa because we had traveled out of the area and failed to notify them in advance. We were 400 miles from home and had to use our cash reserves to buy gas. Lesson learned. Preppers always have a back-up plan. Now we even have a back-up credit card.
Make a copy of the keys to your home, vehicles, and destination location and keep them in your emergency kit. One woman had to evacuate her home due to a downed power line after a micro-burst. She grabbed her kit on her way out the door but was stranded because she left her car keys on the counter inside her house. Her truck was parked across the street, but emergency personnel would not allow her back into her home for two days and she had no transportation because she had forgotten her keys.
Last-Minute Items List
Make a list of last-minute items to grab. Some items are needed on a daily basis and are not practical to keep inside of the kit. Prescription medications, seasonal clothing, and additional bottled water are examples of things on our list. Don’t assume that you will remember. Take time to create a physical list!
What would you need to grab? What items would you need to take if your home might be destroyed, such as evacuation for wildfires or flooding?
Every scenario is different. Evacuating in a vehicle is much different than having to leave on foot. If the vehicle may be abandoned along the way, is it best to leave highly valuable items inside of it?
This is the list that I attach to the top of my survival kit and post on the inside of the coat closet where the emergency survival kits are stored. We may not take every item on this list depending on the situation and our destination. It is a great reminder list.
Mylar Thermal Bags
On top of the personal survival kits, we keep several inexpensive Mylar thermal bags as shown in the photo below. If we need to evacuate, we will fill these bags with fresh items we have in the refrigerator and pantry. Bread, fruits, vegetables, cheese, luncheon meat, drinks … any fresh foods that we can quickly throw into the bag and take with us.
We may also want to take shelf-stable favorite foods that may be open in the pantry such as cold cereal, crackers, cookies, and chips. Whatever we have space and time to throw in. The thermal bag will help extend the life of the fresh foods for a little while and stretch the food supply we have in the survival kits.
Emergency Survival Kit Goal
The goal is to create an emergency survival kit that has the necessary supplies to sustain and comfort you until life returns to normal or you have the ability to acquire additional supplies.
These kits are called by many different names: Emergency Preparedness Kit (EPK), GOODieBag (Get Out of Dodge Bag), GO Bag (Get Out), To-Go Bag, Disaster Bag, What-If Bag, Blizzard kits, Emergency Response Kits, Scramble Pack, Get-Home Bag, Survival Bag, BOB (Bug Out Bag), and 72 Hour Kit just for starters. We simplify things by just calling them emergency survival kits because regardless of the situation they will help make life a bit more comfortable and increase the odds of our surviving the crisis both physically and emotionally.
Do not be deceived by the name 72 Hour Kit. I am not sure where that name originated. Perhaps the hope was that 3 days should be enough time to get you through until the cavalry arrives. Recent history has shown that this time frame is more reasonably 7 to 10 days.
Plan to do everything you can to take care of yourself and your family without depending on others coming to the rescue. That independence will enable you to bless the lives of others and help them through the challenges they face. Be willing and prepared to share your resources.
Final Evaluation of Your Survival Kit
How do you know if your survival kit will work as intended when you need to evacuate at a moment’s notice and live off of your supplies? You take time to practice and actually use the contents of the pack. I challenge you to make it into a grand adventure. Learn valuable lessons and improve your pack through experience. Regularly inspect and rotate the contents of your kit. Pack Snicker’s bars (or your favorite treat) if that helps motivate you to rotate the contents routinely.
Store your kits where it makes the most sense. A personal emergency survival kit should be near one of the exits from your home such as in the front hall closet, in a mudroom, or on hooks in the garage. The garage may not be ideal due to fluctuations in temperature. Remember you may not have time, or the physical ability, to hunt for your emergency survival kits in the basement during a real emergency. They should be where you can quickly grab them and go.
Survival kits contain expensive items, including cash, and may be a target for thieves. Take precautions to disguise and protect them. Specialized kits should be created to meet other unique needs. In addition to your personal emergency survival kit, you may want to create other survival kits including; a pet survival kit, a vehicle emergency kit, a workplace survival kit, school emergency comfort kit, along with any other specialized kits that make sense in your life.
Get to Work!
That was a lot of information. Take a deep breath and let’s figure out where you go from here. You can get a copy of a free copy of an action plan at Survival Kits Action Plan. Now let’s get started and make sure you are ready when disaster strikes.
Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones