The best survival kits to prepare for all the things you can’t predict
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent times, it’s that we simply cannot predict what life is going to throw at us — whether it’s wild weather events, a worldwide pandemic, or a horrifying fungal outbreak that turns us all into vicious zombie-like creatures. Okay, maybe that last one’s not a real threat, but we can’t deny that The Last of Us hasn’t got us thinking about what we’d do if a real emergency — manmade or natural — came crashing onto our doorstep. That’s why we’re here to round up a solid selection of emergency preparedness essentials so you can find the best survival kit or go bag to help you prep for all the things you can’t predict.
Why do I need a survival kit?
Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires, blizzards, blackouts … There’s a seemingly endless list of dangers that can trap us at home without help for an extended period of time, or force us to evacuate at a moment’s notice. That said, you certainly don’t need to be a doomsday prepper with a well-stocked bunker to want to keep yourself safe in case of an emergency. There are plenty of pre-made survival gear kits out there to fit all sorts of needs, whether you want to stash some basic essentials in your car, stock up on goods to hunker down at home, or have a backpack ready to go to your nearest evacuation center.
The best camping gear for beginners
What should a survival kit include?
To gain insight on what should be included in a top-notch survival kit, we spoke to a series of emergency preparedness experts: Bruce Jones, seasoned meteorologist and spokesperson for Midland Radio(Opens in a new tab), a leader in two-way communications and extreme weather/emergency alert technology; Michael Collins, PE, Commissioner of Public Services & Engineering for Beverly, MA and member of the APWA Emergency Management Committee which provides American Public Works Association members with resources to prepare for, respond to, and recover from hazards; and Melanie Papworth(Opens in a new tab), planner and founder of Plan for Awesome(Opens in a new tab), a website sharing practical, approachable, and realistic preparedness resources for everyday busy families. Their recommendations fell into a handful of key categories:
Food and Water
All of our experts agreed that non-perishable food and clean water for drinking and sanitation should be at the top of your list. Jones notes that you’ll need at least three days’ worth of food and water per person (and pet!) in your household — but you’ll want to bump that up to seven days if you live in a hurricane zone, and 14 days if you live in an earthquake zone.
Collins recommends canned food, protein bars, and shelf-stable MREs (that’s a Meal, Ready-to-Eat), while Papworth notes that you’ll want both stored water and a means for water filtration to make clean water from any source, if needed. She loves her family’s Berkey(Opens in a new tab), but a portable LifeStraw(Opens in a new tab), filtered water bottles, or even iodine tablets may be all you need, depending on the water source.
Collins also recommends including single-serving electrolyte powder packets in your survival kit, especially if you may be dealing with extreme heat.
Communications, Navigation, and Light
It’s important to keep a hand-crank radio, flashlight, and charger in your kit so that you don’t need to rely on electricity or batteries. Jones is partial to Midland’s ER310 Emergency Crank Radio(Opens in a new tab) — equipped with NOAA Weather Radio, a built-in LED flashlight and whistle, and the ability to recharge USB-compatible devices — but any similar crank radio will do.
Collins recommends a solar-powered phone charger and a battery pack of at least 10,000 mAh to keep devices charged up. And you may also want a compass, local maps, waterproof matches or a lighter, and a small mirror, flare, or glow stick to signal for help, especially if you’re heading out into the wild.
To help treat yourself and your family in an emergency, Jones recommends a first-aid kit with at least: bandages, antibiotic ointment packets, antiseptic wipe packets, non-latex gloves, gauze pads, and a thermometer.
Papworth also points out that you’ll want to stash some OTC medications for fever and pain relief, as well as any prescriptions and medical devices that are necessary for your survival.
At the very least, pack some moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation in your kit, according to Jones. However, Papworth’s own top three must-haves for an evacuation scenario are deodorant, floss/toothpaste, and chapstick — though a change of clothes is really high on her list, too.
“Can you imagine wearing the same underwear for three days? Enough said.”
Face masks can also come in handy for keeping out dust and debris, and hand sanitizer always comes in clutch as well.
Shelter and Warmth
Collins advises those in colder climates to pack warm clothing, a hat, and space blankets in their survival kit. If you expect to be evacuated, be sure to keep a weather-appropriate sleeping bag for each person, and maybe an emergency tent as well.
“Also pack some trash bags or polyethylene sheeting,” says Collins. “They offer an alternative way to stay warm, collect rain, and protect you from rain or the sun.”
Jones seconds the recommendation for plastic sheeting, as well as duct tape. The latter can repair gear, patch leaks, or even stabilize a broken limb in an extreme emergency. It can also be fashioned into a bowl for eating or collecting water — the possibilities are really endless.
Aside from the almighty, all-purpose duct tape, you should keep a few other versatile tools in your survival kit, including a multi-tool that can act as a bottle opener or survival knife to help you cut through rope or open cans of food. Collins also recommends a paracord bracelet which has a wide variety of applications, from tying up gear to securing shelter. You could even use this survival bracelet to go fishing.
ID and Important Documents
You should always have your driver’s license, passport, or another form of ID on you, and Papworth recommends keeping the originals of all your important documents in a fireproof, waterproof box to grab before an evacuation — just in case of the worst possible scenario. Cash can come in handy too, especially small bills.
And last but not least — as we’re reminded by Ellie with her comics and delightfully cringeworthy book of puns in TLoU — it’s important to bring along a little entertainment to keep spirits light, especially for kids.
“Think small, light, and inexpensive,” says Papworth. “Dice and a Yahtzee scorecard, playing cards, Go Fish, UNO, a coloring book and crayons, bouncy balls, a book, etc.”