Emergency Preparedness: A Guide to Supplies, Food, and Disaster Planning

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all provide emergency-supply checklists, those lists can be intimidating in their breadth and their specificity. In reality, for the most part you can assemble an emergency kit out of stuff you’d use anyway and may already own. There’s never a bad time to get prepared for a crisis by stocking up on gear and organizing it so you know exactly where it is when you need it most. We did 120 hours of research and tested nearly 100 different products to come up with 30 products that will be indispensable in case of a natural disaster, and helpful in everyday life, too.

Last Updated: October 6, 2015
We’ve spent 120 hours researching and testing nearly 100 different products to bring you this large update to our emergency gear guide, with recommendations for a long-term, heavy-duty water storage container, water purification tablets, energy bars, a quality first-aid kit, a reliable emergency radio, face masks, an excellent lantern and headlamp, a backup emergency candle, a whistle, a power inverter for the car, and a sturdy container to store everything in.
Expand Most Recent Updates
July 28, 2015: We're still working on a full refresh of our emergency guide, and plan to publish it this fall. But in the meantime we wanted to share a preview of our findings, which you can find below.
May 6, 2015: This guide is on wait status for now, but we’ve begun work on a complete overhaul due for completion in early Fall 2015. In the meantime, we recommend visiting the Red Cross for information on what should go into a kit and cross referencing it with our leaderboard where picks exist.
November 6, 2014: Added the Eton FRX5 as a step-up option for a weather-alert radio. At $100, it's twice the price of our main pick, the FRX3 from Eton, but comes with a bigger battery, is splash-resistant, and customizable region-specific alert stations. The FRX3 is probably adequate for most people, but if you want to spend more, you'll get more features too.
June 25, 2014: We updated this guide for 2014 with our latest picks in several categories and added a new item (duct tape). As usual, we will be donating half of all proceeds from this guide to emergency relief through the end of 2014.
May 27, 2014: Half of all proceeds from this guide will once again be donated to emergency relief through the end of 2014.
November 18, 2013: Half of all proceeds from this guide will be donated until the first day of Spring
April 20, 2013: Ryan Block, my friend from GDGT, adds three more items to our list, which he owns and researched before buying: A utility bar for prying open things and clearing glass out of broken windows, etc; some rope for tying stuff up, binding stuff, securing stuff, rigging stuff; a signal light for letting people know you are somewhere.

If you’re starting from scratch, picking up these 12 essentials will get you a best-on-the-block kit at a price affordable for almost any household (about $300 as of this writing): a long-term, heavy-duty water storage containerwater purification tabletsenergy bars, a quality first-aid kit, a reliable emergency radioface masks, an excellent lantern and headlamp, a backup emergency candle, a whistle, a power inverter for the car, and a sturdy container to store everything. In addition to 18 other pieces of gear that would be useful in any disaster scenario, we’ve also outlined a few important considerations to keep in mind for specific disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires.

emergency gear group

All the gear we recommend for your emergency kit. Photo: Dan Koeppel

Of course, disaster prep is about more than just buying stuff. Develop a simple communication plan with your family so you know where to meet and who to call (ideally, someone out of state) if power and cell service go down. Find out if a comprehensive emergency-training class is happening in your area (you can attend at no cost). Participate in community events such as the ShakeOut earthquake drills coming up on October 15, 2015. Take a first-aid course. Mark your calendar to review and refresh your emergency kit once a year. And then sleep easier knowing that you’ll be ready to take care of yourself and your family if disaster strikes.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

Kalee Thompson is a California-based science journalist who has reported extensively on natural disasters and survival skills. She has written about earthquake risk and wildfire tragedy for Popular Mechanics and discussed drought and power grid failures for Popular Science, where she is a contributing editor. Thompson has participated in National Guard and Coast Guard survival-training exercises and investigated the physical and psychological aspects of cold-weather survival in her nonfiction book, Deadliest Sea. A proud graduate of Los Angeles’s CERT program, she recently loaned out her living room for her block’s first Map Your Neighborhood meeting.

Seamus Bellamy is trained as an occupational first-aid attendant and comes from a family that includes a former deputy fire chief and a number of fire paramedics. He spent close to a decade as a site medic for a number of high-profile organizations in Ontario and British Columbia, Canada. He also spent four years working as a health and safety and training-design manager in the security industry before coming to work full-time as a journalist.

About preassembled kits

The easiest way to feel prepared for an emergency is to go to your local big-box store and pick up a ready-made emergency kit. Unfortunately, after studying the contents of a dozen such kits online and getting four to rip apart in person, we can say with certainty that none of them are worth your money.

The ones we looked at, priced from $69 to $200, were each designed to sustain two people for three days following a disaster, and they contained several dozen individual items ranging from basics such as water and “food bars” to protective gear like ponchos, survival blankets, or a tarp. But the key safety gear you need—a radio, a flashlight, and a first-aid kit—were universally of poor quality, far inferior to our picks of the Midland ER300 emergency radio and the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp, for instance. Many kits contained products we know are no good, like cheap collapsible water containers, junky multitools, and off-brand duct tape. Meanwhile, the gritty, block-like food bars weren’t anything you’d want to eat unless you were actually on the verge of starving to death. Even in a bad quake or a once-in-a-decade storm, you’d be better off with a big jug of water and a handful of granola bars or energy bars.

emergency gear radio group

In this case, size does matter. The cheap, bundled radios from the preassembled kits (right) just couldn’t compete with our Midland ER300 pick (left) in loudness, reception, or features. Photo: Dan Koeppel

Certainly, having a premade bag is a lot better than having nothing. But for the money, it won’t be half as good as a kit that you assemble yourself with careful consideration of your own family’s needs in mind. —Kalee Thompson


We think FEMA’s three-day recommendation is unreasonably modest—especially for people in earthquake country.

“You can never have enough water when a disaster happens,” said Jeff Edelstein, who spun SOS Survival Products off from his dad’s California hardware store 25 years ago. FEMA recommends a three-day supply—a gallon per person per day. That’s generally enough to cover drinking water and basic hygiene needs. If you’re caught unprepared, know that the typical home water heater contains 32 gallons of potable water. The water in your toilet tank, which is replaced after each flush, is also generally safe to drink. But ideally, you won’t have to resort to that.

After talking with a half-dozen disaster-preparedness experts, we think FEMA’s three-day recommendation is unreasonably modest—especially for people in earthquake country. As Edelstein told us, “ten days after the [1994] Northridge quake there were 12,000 homes without a fresh water supply.” And that was a relatively localized, 6.7-magnitude earthquake. Scientists fear that a massive rupture along the San Andreas Fault could damage the aqueducts and pipelines that deliver water to Southern California, and that “repairs may take weeks to 6 months or more.” The dreaded Cascadia megaquake in the Pacific Northwest could also leave millions of people without services for months or longer. We’ve seen that floods and hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy can cause massive utility disruptions and contamination of municipal water supplies. Given those risks, and the relative ease of storing water, we think that stockpiling a 10- to 14-day supply is a reasonable goal if you live in an earthquake zone.

You could just stock up on bottled water, but that’s expensive (three 24-count cases of bottled water—a 10-day supply for one person—might cost about $25) and potentially wasteful (most bottled water generally has a two-year shelf life). The do-it-yourself—and free—option is to fill old soda bottles with tap water. Avoid using recycled milk or juice containers, which are more likely to harbor bacteria. The easiest and best way to ensure an adequate and easily transportable water supply is to get some dedicated containers. —KT

Water storage

Reliance Aqua-Tainer
This sturdy, 7-gallon plastic jug is ideal for storing emergency water for one person or using as a vessel to move and pour water stored in a larger drum.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $20.

Rigid water containers made of blue polyethylene consistently perform better than opaque collapsible ones for both storage (they offer more durability and leak resistance, and prevent bacterial growth) and pouring. We surveyed the field of large, rigid plastic water jugs and called in five models for testing before concluding that the oversize, rugged, 7-gallon Reliance Aqua-Tainer ($18) is the best overall choice for disaster-preparedness purposes, and car camping trips as well.

emergency gear water storage group

The Aqua-Tainer (left) was easier to use and able to prevent spills better than any other jug we tested.

The 7-gallon Aqua-Tainer was the biggest of the containers we looked at; the field also included two different 5-gallon Reliance models, the 5-gallon Coleman Water Carrier, and the 3.5-gallon WaterBrick. Its larger-than-most size provides a full week’s worth of water for one person. Unlike the Reliance Water-Pak and the WaterBrick, the Aqua-Tainer has a built-in break-proof handle that is relatively comfortable to use. As with many Reliance products—including all three we tested—the spigot is stored inside the cap when not in use, reducing the risk of cracking or smashing. (The Coleman container’s standard spigot lacks this feature, and the WaterBrick does not have a spigot at all.) The Aqua-Tainer is the only one of the three Reliance jugs we looked at with a tethered, screw-on air-vent valve—meaning no tiny parts to lose and no accidental leakage in transport. Finally, at about $18 on Amazon, the Aqua-Tainer is a better value than 5-gallon models made by the same company.

Some Reliance owners have reported problems with cracking and/or leaking spigots. The company recently introduced a new spigot design: An added plastic “skirt” ring ensures that the threading on the cap lines up perfectly with the threading on the container. Reliance containers have a five-year warranty, so buyers who have encountered subpar spigots can request a free replacement by contacting Reliance customer service at 800-665-0258 or through this contact page. (If you’ve owned your jug for more than five years, you can buy a new cap and spigot for about $5 on Amazon.) The new spigots have a thicker tap with “O” and “I” markings for open and closed, labels absent on the older designs. We’ll be using these regularly over the next year to see if they perform as well as promised, and we also intend to check out a new Reliance product—the stackable Armor-Dillo—when the company releases it in 2016.

A couple of caveats: Unlike some other Reliance models, the Aqua-Tainer is not designed to be stacked. When full, the 7-gallon jug weighs close to 60 pounds. The 5-gallon Reliance Aqua-Pak  (about $22 on Amazon) or 4-gallon Aqua-Tainer  (about $17 on Amazon) may be a better choice for people who lack muscle, or who envision lugging water long distances. Or you could just buy the bigger, cheaper jug and avoid filling it to the brim.

Reliance officially advises that users replace emergency water stored in its containers every 90 days, a recommendation the company says was inspired by FEMA’s guidelines. But if you wash your hands vigorously before filling the jug to avoid contaminating the water with bacteria, and if you keep it sealed, there’s no reason why you can’t store water in the jug for a year before refreshing it, according to water-quality scientist Max Gyllenskog (PDF). If you do abide by sanitary conditions, you don’t need to treat tap water before storing, but if you’re concerned about contamination you can use regular household bleach or a water purification tablet to treat your water when you’re ready to use it. —KT

Shelf Reliance Deluxe BPA Free 55-Gallon Barrel Water Storage System
This large drum made of food-grade plastic allows you to store an entire family’s supply of water for five years before refreshing. We liked the components that come with this brand best, but we advise choosing a drum in this category primarily on price.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $156.

While the Reliance Aqua-Tainer’s size is a good fit for a one- or two-person household, a family of four would need eight of those jugs to store a two-week supply of water. A more economical and ultimately more convenient option is to purchase a 55-gallon drum. Whether you choose to treat your water when you put it in the drum or when you take it out, tap water sealed tight in a dedicated water drum like this can last for at least five years, according to water-quality scientist Max Gyllenskog (PDF).

You can find two models online that come with all the accessories you need to store and later use water: the Shelf Reliance Deluxe BPA Free 55-Gallon Barrel Water Storage System, which is sold at Costco as well as on Amazon, and the Augason Farms Emergency Water Storage Kit. After testing both, we think you should just get whichever one you can find for less. The key difference is that the Augason Farms barrel comes with a liquid water purifier (made of chlorine dioxide) and the Shelf Reliance drum comes with a water filter; both systems work fine, as does simply adding ⅛ teaspoon of plain, unscented household bleach per gallon of water.

The drums themselves are nearly identical, but we did like the Shelf Reliance’s accessories a bit better: Its pump seemed slightly more durable to us, and its wrench also proved more comfortable to grip and easier to use than the Augason wrench. Still, these are minor details, and we wouldn’t pay even $10 extra for the “better” accessories.

emergency gear 55 gallon water container

Even if you have a big barrel, keeping a smaller container for transporting water is a good idea. Photo: Dan Koeppel

Ideally you should store your water in a cool, shaded location. If it’s on concrete that gets hot, place it on a wood platform before filling. These drums will weigh 480 pounds when full, so if you’re in an earthquake zone, don’t place them where they might potentially tumble off a ledge or down a hillside and hurt someone. —KT

Portable pouches

Datrex Emergency Survival Water Pouch
If you want a stash of light, easily portable water containers, we like the long-lasting, durable Datrex pouches, which have an international seal of approval.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

For around $30, you can get a 64-count box of Datrex Emergency Survival Water Pouches, which are 4.23-ounce packets full of clean drinking water (a total of 2.12 gallons of water). The pouches are tough, flexible, and slim enough that you can easily pack them around your other emergency items in a bag, and they don’t expire for five years.

A number of competitors sell similarly styled emergency water pouches, but we like that Datrex specializes in emergency preparedness and that this product is widely available online and in stores. It also has the approval of the respective coast guards in the United States, Canada, the European Union, and New Zealand for use in their own emergency kits. —Seamus Bellamy

Water purification tablets

Aquamira Technologies Water Purifier Tablets
Trusted by a range of professionals, these chlorine dioxide tablets kill more bugs than iodine does.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $6.

You should use water purification tablets to treat stored water or tap water that you suspect has become contaminated, or natural sources of water when you’ve run out of tap or stored supplies. We spent several hours on online research and surveyed hardcore backpackers and prepper sites before concluding that Aquamira water purification tablets are the standout choice.

The two most common chemical methods of purifying water are iodine and chlorine dioxide. Though both have been proven to wipe out bacteria and viruses effectively, the CDC advises that chlorine dioxide has shown to be more effective than iodine against the protozoan cysts Giardia and Cryptosporidium, both of which can wreak gastrointestinal havoc. (Remember, though, that even chlorine dioxide has only “low to moderate effectiveness” in killing Cryptosporidium, according to the CDC, and that the single best way to kill all pathogens is to bring water to a roiling boil for a full minute.) Water treated with chlorine dioxide also tastes better than water treated with iodine and stays safer for long-term use.

Other chlorine dioxide tablets like Potable Aqua, MSR Aquatabs, and Katadyn Micropur should be equally effective. But Aquamira gets an edge in usability because the aspirin-sized tablets are easier to handle than smaller ones, which you can easily drop and lose. Finally, Aquamira is a brand that many survival schools trust and recommend, and two record-setting long-trail hikers, Andrew Skurka and Liz Thomas, both named Aquamira as their chlorine dioxide brand of choice on the trail.

A packet of 10 tablets, available on Amazon for about $6, will treat 10 liters (about 2½ gallons) of water. That’s a good backup for most people, but those with elevated risk factors for a particularly devastating disaster with a long recovery period—such as people in the Cascadia subduction zone in the Pacific Northwest—will want a larger supply like this package of 50.

Treating the water from your heater or toilet tank may not be strictly necessary, but if you feel more comfortable doing so, popping in a tablet is easier than messing around with bleach. It’s also safer. “When faced with the alternative of not drinking water or drinking contaminated water, the use of common household bleach makes total sense,” said water-quality scientist Max Gyllenskog, who has been part of the response to international disasters like the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines and works as a part-time consultant for Aquamira. “Given the choice, however, chlorine dioxide is clearly the healthier choice. Bleach has unhealthy impurities and side effects if used for extended periods of time, especially at uncertain concentrations used in emergencies.”

For clear, relatively clean water, use 10 drops of plain, unscented bleach per gallon of water. Double the dose to 20 drops per gallon for cloudy or very cold water. —KT

Water bottle

Klean Kanteen
Big containers are good for storage, but a durable small container is better for drinking from and taking on the go.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $17.

If you choose to keep your emergency water in a large storage container, you’ll need a vessel to drink it from. For our guide to the best water bottles, we conducted over 50 hours of research to find the best stainless-steel, insulated, and plastic bottles. Because all three of our picks resist impact, have leak-proof tops, and fit into a backpack, any one of them would be a great addition to your emergency bag (or, in less crisis-filled times, your gym bag). The 27-ounce Klean Kanteen is our overall favorite because it’s durable, affordable, and topped with a nicely sized opening for easy filling and drinking without spilling. —SB


If you keep the freezer door closed, that food should stay safe to eat for 72 hours into a blackout.

The best emergency-food strategy is to stock your cupboards full of the shelf-stable canned and dry goods you routinely eat and love—think soups, fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, cereals, pastas, nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter, and boxed milk (it doesn’t need refrigeration). The items are less likely to expire that way, since you’re eating and replacing them regularly. Popular Mechanics describes a stock-up plan that’ll feed a family of four for a month, all with grocery-store products you’ll eventually eat anyway. If you keep the freezer door closed, that food should stay safe to eat for 72 hours into a blackout. Your grill is a great resource in an emergency, too. —KT

Energy bars

These widely available energy bars taste good, last a year, and can be found for about a dollar each.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $16.

Energy bars are a convenient item to keep in the car or in a to-go bag to eat quickly on the run—say, if you’re evacuating your home in a storm. After comparing 10 popular bars, we like CLIF Bars for their balance of nutrition, taste, and value. Fortified with 23 vitamins and minerals, they can help replace the nutrients you miss when you don’t eat full meals. On average, each bar contains roughly 250 calories, 10 grams of protein, 5 to 7 grams of fat, up to 5 grams of fiber, and around 40 grams of carbs. They’re readily available online and at grocery and outdoor stores across North America, and they typically have an expiration date about a year from the date of purchase (though we’ve eaten three-year-old bars with no ill effects). Cooking Light says CLIF is the best meal-replacement bar, and Health.com chose a CLIF as the best chewy energy bar.

emergency gear rations group

Emergency ration bars will fill your stomach, but their taste will drain your soul. We prefer CLIF bars. Photo: Dan Koeppel

Dedicated emergency ration bars like Datrex or ER Emergency Ration bars do have the impressive advantage of a five-year shelf life, but after testing them, we can’t recommend them. We tasted four brands—Datrex, ER, Mainstay, and Mayday—with consistent results. Eating them feels like chewing on a moist, mildly sweet chunk of compressed sawdust. We didn’t find a standout winner in taste, but we did like the fact that Datrex bars come individually packaged rather than in one large chunk divided into smaller pieces along scores like those you might find on a large chocolate bar. These types of bars can be crumbly and greasy; once you open a large package, it makes a mess. With 200 to 400 calories for a bar smaller in size than a CLIF, they are a viable meal alternative in an emergency, yes. But don’t expect any comfort from these foods. —KT

Can opener

OXO Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch
Those nonperishable canned goods you’ve amassed won’t open themselves.

After going through nine hours of testing, 54 opened cans, and 16 rejected can openers, we can tell you that the $17 OXO Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch is the best piece of gear for the task.

Stuck without a can opener? No problem: We’ve tested both of these methods, and they’ll get the job done—albeit with a bit more of a mess. —SB


22ʺ Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill
We like this model for its culinary prowess with charcoal, but in a pinch, you can burn anything in it.
Weber Spirit E-210
This pick is easier to light, but it’s more expensive and for use with propane only.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $430.

Portable stoves are a popular emergency-kit item, but if you have a grill out on your deck or balcony, they’re redundant. Just be sure to keep a good supply of charcoal or an extra tank of propane on hand so you’ll be ready to cook if the power or gas goes out. Don’t own a grill? Check out our in-depth recommendations for gas and charcoal models. —SB

Health and hygiene

Staying clean helps you to avoid spreading germs or harboring infection—common problems in extended disasters.

The loss of a clean water supply has a far greater consequence than mere stink. Staying clean helps you to avoid spreading germs or harboring infection—common problems in extended disasters. (Gastrointestinal illness and wound infections were the most common infectious diseases in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with at least five people dying from otherwise-minor wounds or abrasions.)

“A lot of people don’t think about hygiene,” SOS Survival Products president Jeff Edelstein told us. “If you have no running water, how are you going to use the bathroom?” Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and super-thick garbage bags are emergency kit must-haves, in our opinion. Many people also wisely pack basic personal hygiene items—toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, tampons, diapers—and a well-stocked first-aid kit in their cars and “bug-out” bags (that is, portable emergency kits). And keeping a couple-week supply of your prescription meds is crucial, since supply chains could be interrupted and pharmacies could be closed after a disaster.  —KT

First-aid kit
Everyone should take a basic first-aid course. Once you have those skills, you’ll want some supplies to use them with. Based on the advice of two paramedic firefighters (one of whom is a CERT trainer), guidelines from the American Red Cross and FEMA, and over 15 hours of research, we can say that the $40 Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Whitetail first-aid kit is the best choice for most people to stash with their emergency-preparedness supplies. This portable, well-organized kit comes with easy-to-follow instructions and everything you’ll need to handle basic (and some not-so-basic) injuries for up to four people. Cheaper kits will give you similar supplies and equipment, but the Sportsman Whitetail’s superior organization and documentation make it worth paying extra for.

Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Whitetail
The Sportsman Whitetail comes with a wide variety of supplies, instructional flash cards, and organization that makes providing first aid as simple as possible (even for the untrained).

Our experts told us that the Sportsman Whitetail comes with more critical supplies and better organization than less expensive kits, without unnecessary extras. At a good cost, it provides most of the items that trained and untrained individuals might need to help an injured person during an emergency.

emergency gear first aid kit group

The Sportsman Whitetail (left) and the significantly larger Sportsman Grizzly both have great organization and instructions. Photo: Seamus Bellamy

While other kits we found, such as the Red Cross Deluxe Family Kit, come organized in sections based on injury type, none let you see all of the supplies you have to work with—clearly labeled with easy-to-use instructions—the way all Adventure Medical Kits, including the Whitetail, do. We also liked that the instructions are supplemented by a comprehensive guidebook that provides greater details on treatments and when it is important to get someone to medical aid right away.

The Whitetail contains the basic supplies you’d expect any kit to come with—gauze, bandages of varying sizes, antiseptic wipes, and the like—plus more advanced tools such as EMT shears, which have a kink in the blades for cutting bandages and clothing away from an injury area (cheaper kits have only safety scissors), and an irrigation syringe for cleaning out deeper wounds. It also includes aspirin, which you use for treating individuals showing signs of heart attack; aspirin is increasingly uncommon in other kits, which tend to opt for painkillers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) instead. (Check with a doctor before using aspirin for heart attack in nonemergency situations.)

emergency gear whitetail first aid kit manual

The Sportsman Whitetail kit comes with easy-to-use instructions for a treating a wide range of injuries and medical conditions, as well as a comprehensive first-aid guide. Photo: Seamus Bellamy

Our paramedics also preferred the Whitetail over the cheaper Adventure Medical Kits Adventure 2.0 First-Aid Kit, which we recommend in our road trip guide. While the supply lists for the two kits seem similar, the Whitetail is better suited for times when professional medical help may be delayed. Only the Whitetail kit includes a guidebook that covers injury treatments in greater depth. The Whitetail also forgoes a number of items that the 2.0 kit has, such as a compass, a small emergency whistle, and insect-repellent wipes, in favor of more useful medical hardware such as a triangular bandage for immobilizing injured limbs or embedded objects, a wound irrigation syringe, and EMT shears.

We previously recommended the $60 Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Bighorn kit, and if the Whitetail is sold out, the Bighorn is a good buy with the same organization and documentation as the Whitetail. But no item in the Bighorn really justifies the extra $20 in cost. The only item the Bighorn has that we’d want in the Whitetail is the QuikClot sponge (for stopping bleeding quickly), but you can purchase that for about $12 on Amazon. The Bighorn is a good kit, but we think the $40 Whitetail is the better value.

Also Great
Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Grizzly Kit, 4.75 Ounce
The Sportsman Grizzly is more comprehensive than the Whitetail, containing additional supplies for treating severe penetrating injuries and broken bones.

If you want something that can handle more serious injuries and offers more supplies, we recommend the $100 Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Grizzly. Spending the extra $60 over the Whitetail is worthwhile if you want to be able to treat severe penetrating injuries, broken bones, and serious bleeding. Such scenarios are typically better left to medical professionals, but if you live in an area where a disaster such as an earthquake or flooding could make accessing medical aid difficult or impossible, this kit is a good buy. Just be sure to take some training classes so that you know how to use it.

emergency gear first aid kit grizzly

In addition to the supplies the Whitetail offers, the Sportsman Grizzly includes important extras for controlling serious bleeding and for splinting sprains and breaks. Photo: Seamus Bellamy

Supplies that the Grizzly offers but cheaper kits often omit include a one-way-valve CPR mask, antidiarrheal medications, additional doses of the painkillers and antihistamines found in the Whitetail, and a C-splint for stabilizing broken or sprained limbs. To stop serious bleeding, the Grizzly also comes with an additional trauma pad, a hemostatic QuikClot sponge, and a SWAT tourniquet (according to our paramedic experts, you should use a tourniquet only as an absolute last resort), as well as the instructions on how and when to use them—features that the Whitetail doesn’t have. To accommodate all this gear, the Grizzly is a bit heavier and larger than the Whitetail (it measures 11 by 8 by 3 inches versus  7.7 by 5.5 by 3.5 inches for the Whitetail, and it weighs just over 2 pounds).

Although you could buy all of these items separately, the Grizzly kit includes instructions with every item, and it’s packed so that most anyone, trained or untrained, will be able to use the supplies properly.

Our paramedics noted that while both kits were well stocked, they still failed to supply enough of certain oft-used items. The experts recommended buying extra triangular bandages (for limb immobilization and stabilization, breaks, sprains, or large embedded objects), 5-by-9-inch trauma pads for stemming serious bleeding from large wounds (one paramedic, Ken, told us that he’s used up to 10 at a time on a single wound during a call), extra nitrile gloves (which you need to discard after every use), and an extra-large bottle of betadine solution for disinfecting wounds.

Note: Most first-aid supplies have expiration dates on them, so you should expect to replace them every couple of years. While an expired bandage will still work, there’s no guarantee that the item will still be sterile. —SB

Face mask

3M 9211 Cool-Flow N95 Particulate Sanding Respirator Mask
Keeps particles out and your face cool, thanks to its built-in exhale-only valve.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $17.

In the event of a fire, earthquake, or hurricane, airborne dust and debris could make breathing unsafe. Even the best face masks can’t completely block germs, but they’re at least useful for keeping particulate matter out of your nose and lungs. The FDA says N95-certified respirators can help to reduce the risk of illness in a public health emergency. Enter the 3M 9211 Cool-Flow N95 Particulate Sanding Respirator Mask, which comes in a box of 10 for about $20. Unlike our former N95 mask pick, the 3M 1860 Medical Mask N95, the 3M Cool-Flow mask comes with a valve to allow the moist air you exhale out of the mask. That’s a win for anyone who wears glasses—the feature will help keep your lenses from fogging up. This mask is cheap and effective, but in a pinch you could cut a 2-foot square from a T-shirt, wet it, wring it out, fold it in half like a bandana, and tie it over your nose and mouth.

Due to its exhale valve, the 3M Cool-Flow mask is far from ideal for preventing anyone carrying an illness spread by airborne particulates, such as the flu, from infecting other people. If this is your major concern, we suggest the Alpha Protech PFL N95 Particulate Respirator mask. A box of 35 will set you back about $35. The CDC recommends this mask for preventing exposure to tuberculosis, SARS, swine flu, and similar airborne viral illnesses and diseases. —SB

Wet wipes

Seventh Generation Thick & Strong Free & Clear Baby Wipes
They’re cheap, plentiful, and effective for freshening up when you have limited water access.

In an emergency that cuts off the water flowing into your home, you’ll have to ration your water carefully—but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay clean and relatively stink-free. A package of 384 Seventh Generation Thick & Strong Free & Clear Baby Wipes costs about $15. Currently these wipes are Amazon’s best-selling baby-bathing product, but they’re great for cleaning big people, too. Recent user reviewers complain that the latest-version wipes are not as soft as the old ones were. While that’s a valid point of concern for anyone cleanling a baby’s delicate skin, the new formulation’s resiliency actually makes the wipes better suited to general cleaning duties (both of adults and their messes). —SB

Hand sanitizer

Method Sweet Water
The lightest and quickest-drying hand sanitizer we tested.

Washing your hands can become nearly impossible if water access is limited. Using hand sanitizer will keep them clean so you don’t get sick. Our favorite is Method Sweet Water (from our picnic and grilling gear guide). It works just as well as Purell and other competing brands but evaporates more quickly, leaving less of a sticky sensation. —Michael Zhao

Heavy-duty garbage bags

Husky 42-Gallon Contractor Clean-Up Bags
Husky’s bags are extra-thick to ward off punctures—important if garbage pickup is delayed and your full bags of trash end up sitting in your yard for weeks or longer.

Heavy-duty garbage bags belong in your kit for several reasons: You can use them for rain protection, as a duffel for transporting stuff in a pinch, or even as a makeshift toilet (when the water is out, line your dry toilet or a sturdy bucket with a garbage bag, go, and seal). A large-scale disaster might delay municipal garbage pickup for weeks. You’ll want to stow your trash in strong bags that you can keep outside without risk of their leaking or disintegrating, and you should have enough on hand so that you don’t run out.

After sifting through professional and customer reviews and researching more than a dozen brands and variations of each bag, we found that Husky’s 42-Gallon Contractor Clean-Up Bags offer the best combination of toughness, value, and availability. You can read more about them in our party-hosting guide. —Kevin Purdy

Light and heat

Sure, stow a flashlight and candles securely in your emergency kit. But have a couple more in other spots around the house.

One of the lessons we’ve learned as we revisit the topic of emergency gear is that a disaster kit doesn’t have to be something you tuck away in a corner and then drag out only when the worst happens. We’ve found that our recommended headlamp and lantern, for example, are among the most frequently used items on our overall list. You can stow the headlamp in a bedside drawer for emergencies, as well as for late-night reading when your partner is asleep. The lightweight lantern can stay on the front table, handy for when you need to walk a friend home after dark. You can practice your fire-making skills over the grill, or on your next camping trip. In fact, if disaster strikes and you’re staring at a bunch of equipment you’ve never used before, you’re asking for trouble.

Another lesson: Redundancy is your friend. Sure, stow a flashlight and candles securely in your emergency kit. But have a couple more in other spots around the house. As survivalists know, you never want to have just one way to make fire. —KT

emergency gear lights group

Our lantern, candle, and headlamp picks will keep your environment lit in a pinch. Photo: Dan Koeppel


UST 30-Day Lantern
Gets bright enough to light a path, dims enough to keep things cozy, and runs for up to 720 hours (on low).

Having no light during a power outage can be frustrating, demoralizing, and, under certain conditions, dangerous. After putting in 20 hours of research, we discovered that the $35 UST 30-Day Lantern outperformed LED lanterns that were twice the price and (in some cases) larger. About the size of a 1-liter water bottle, it has a built-in handle for easy carrying or hanging. It gets bright enough to let you see your surroundings up to a distance of 38 feet (on its 300-lumen high setting), gets dim enough to read a book by (29 lumens), and can last up to 720 hours on three D batteries. —SB


Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
No headlamp model gives you more lighting options for a lower price.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $33.

Although a lantern, flashlight, or candles can address most of your lighting needs during a power failure, they can be bulky or cumbersome to carry. Keep your hands free with the $40 Black Diamond Spot Headlamp—the most capable headlamp we could find after exhaustive research and testing. Its spotlight mode lets it cast long-range spot illumination for seeing what’s in front of you in the dark, while its floodlight mode allows it to cast a softer glow for close-up work. It even has a night-vision-preserving red-light mode. It will run for up to 200 hours on three AAA batteries (50 hours at its maximum illumination setting). —SB


115 Hour Plus Emergency Candle
This “candle” burns far longer than any other we found, without leaving a mess behind.

A headlamp or lantern will be your best primary form of light in an outage, but you’d be wise to have a few emergency candles on hand as backup, and to help you preserve battery power for when you really need it. A good emergency candle should remain stable and should burn long and steady. We tested five popular brands side by side for more than 25 hours before concluding that Emergency Essentials’s 115 Hour Plus Emergency Candle is the best all-around choice. It burns about three times longer than competing solid candles.

emergency gear candle group

The Emergency Essentials liquid candle burns longer than its solid-wax counterparts. Photo: Dan Koeppel

This “candle” is actually a sealed liquid-paraffin lamp that burns without odor or smoke for more than four days. We found that a couple of popular tri-wick brands overstated their burn time, though their paraffin-candle base was still three-quarters full after 25-plus burn hours. The tri-wick canisters themselves can also block light once the wicks burn down a bit, making these candles a poor choice for, say, reading, or using the bathroom in a power outage. The only drawback we discovered with the Emergency Essentials lamp was that a slight breeze could easily blow out the flame on the tiny wick, so it isn’t a good choice for outdoor use.

Also Great
Sterno Emergency Candle
With a thick wick that stays lit in a breeze, the 55-hour Sterno is our top pick for outdoor use.

If you’re looking for an emergency candle that performs well outside, consider picking up a $10 Sterno Emergency Candle, which will burn for about 55 hours. Of all the candles we tested, it had the thickest wick and largest flame, and it was the only one that refused to be snuffed out by a stiff breeze. Unfortunately, unlike the 115 Hour Plus Emergency Candle, the Sterno candle is messy: Because it doesn’t come in a protective canister, the melted wax gets everywhere. That said, dripping wax is easy to contain with an old coffee can or plate, so the mess isn’t a dealbreaker. —KT

Fire-striker tool

The Friendly Swede Magnesium Alloy Emergency Easy Grip Firestarter
No backup firestarter we tested was as easy to use or threw as many sparks as this model from The Friendly Swede.

Cook your food, dry your clothes, keep you warm, signal distress—fire does it all, provided you can start one. A lighter or matches are your easiest option, but your best bet is to have a backup plan in case you run out (a favorite topic of discussion among doomsday preppers). A single magnesium firestarter can last for years, and with the better ones, a complete novice can successfully light a fire after just a few tries. After testing five top-rated models by trying to light Vaseline-infused cotton balls, we found that The Friendly Swede’s Magnesium Alloy Emergency Easy Grip Firestarter (two for $17) is the best choice. Several Amazon reviewers who have tried multiple models consistently cite it as being the easiest to use, and our testing confirmed that. The trick to getting strong sparks with these tools is to scrape down the flint firmly and quickly. This was easier to do with the Friendly Swede model’s relatively long flint than with smaller, cheaper tools like Amazon’s best-selling SE FS374 Magnesium Fire Starter or Coghlan’s Flint Striker.

emergency gear swede fire starter

Testing the Friendly Swede sparker. It’s easy enough for anyone to pick up and start a fire with no prior practice. Photo: Dan Koeppel

A couple of the other fire starters we tried might be difficult for the uninitiated to figure out if the tools become separated from their instructions. For example, you can use the Ultimate Survival Technologies Sparkie Mini Fire Starter one-handed, but knowing where to place it relative to the tinder isn’t intuitive if you’re a novice.

We found that the Friendly Swede model was intuitive and reliable, but if you’d prefer to rely on something more familiar, the UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case worked well in our testing. While normal waterproof matches can be lit when wet, these UCO matches will also stay lit in windy conditions and will continue burning even when doused with water, thanks to the extra fuel that extends halfway down the length of the stick. —KT

Fire-starter cubes

Adventure Medical Kits SOL All-Weather Fire Cubes
These convenient, individually wrapped fire starters produced a robust flame that lasted for 10 minutes.

Once you’ve started a flame, you’ll want to keep it going. After testing two leading fire-starter materials, we like Adventure Medical Kits SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) All-Weather Fire Cubes. Dependably flammable and individually wrapped, they aren’t liable to leave flammable residue on the rest of your kit—unlike the cheaper Weber Fire Starter Lighter Cubes, which aren’t as well protected from moisture and can create a mess in your kit once you’ve opened the package. The SOLs also burned for 10 minutes whereas the Webers lasted only 8½ minutes.

A six-pack of SOL cubes costs about $10, and a single cube burns for 10 to 12 minutes at 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit—enough to start a fire under even the most adverse conditions. If that’s overkill for your needs, you can break a cube into six pieces, each of which will burn for two to three minutes, according to the manufacturer.

We’ve used these cubes with great success over the past few years for lighting beach fires on Vancouver Island and while stealth-camping in Spain. They’re also perfect for lighting charcoal in a grill if you don’t have a charcoal chimney (or even if you do). —SB

Communication and power

In an emergency, hearing the latest news and getting in touch with family and friends is paramount. But doing so can be tough when the electricity goes down. By investing in a few reasonably priced pieces of hardware, you’ll be able to contact loved ones and power gadgets until the local utility companies can restore services to your neighborhood. —SB

Corded phone

AT&T 210M Trimline Corded Phone
A corded landline like this can run even if the power is down.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.

When your cellular or Internet service goes down, or when your area loses electricity and you can’t charge a cell phone or a cordless phone, a corded landline phone will let you call for help if needed, so long as the phone lines stay up and operating. It will be tied to a physical address, too, so 911 operators will know exactly where to send responders if necessary. If you don’t own a corded phone and you want to include one in your emergency preparedness kit, the $15 AT&T 210M Trimline Corded Phone is a solid choice. Although we haven’t had a chance to test it (yet), it’s the most popular corded landline phone on Amazon, with a four-star average rating across 2,174 reviews as of this writing. It comes with a lighted keypad and a 10-number speed-dial memory function to store your important numbers. If you don’t have a landline of your own, check with your neighbors to see if they have one that you can plug the 210M into. In a bad situation, pooling resources as a community is a good idea anyway. —SB

Signaling whistle

Shoreline Marine Emergency Survival Whistle
This cheap, brightly colored whistle proved louder and easier to hear at a distance than more expensive products.

No one wants to think about being trapped during a natural disaster, but it does happen. Screaming for help might get a rescuer’s attention, but the high-pitched shrill of a whistle is far more likely to cut through the din of a fire, a windstorm, or emergency sirens.

emergency gear lake

Ideal whistle-testing conditions. Photo: Dan Koeppel

We tested six whistles over water in varying wind conditions and through densely wooded forest. Our conclusion: The Shoreline Marine Emergency Survival Whistle is the best choice for disaster preparedness. It was both the loudest and cheapest whistle we tested, registering a piercing 101.1 decibels, according to the NIOSH-recommended NoiSee app we used. The only tested whistle that registered louder, the $12 Acme Thunderer metal coach’s whistle (101.2 decibels), was not audible at longer distances. In fact, while a couple of the dedicated emergency whistles claimed to be audible from a mile away, none of them even came close to that in our testing. Even at half a mile over calm water, just three—the $3 Shoreline, the $8 Markwort Storm Safety Whistle, and the $9 Fox 40 Sonik Blast CMG Whistle—could be heard clearly. The REI SOL Rescue Howler Whistle and the metal ACME Thunderer coach’s whistle we tested could barely be heard even at a quarter mile, and the Coghlan’s Emergency Survival Horn we tried disintegrated on the first use—the rubber membrane that makes the noise detached from the rest of the horn.

emergency gear shoreline whistle

The loud Shoreline whistle is so intuitive, a child can use it with no issues. Photo: Dan Koeppel

If you ever need to use one, call on the international whistle code: One blast means “Where are you?” Two blasts means “Come to me.” Three blasts means “I need help.”

The Shoreline is brightly colored (and thus easy to spot), and because it looks like a normal whistle, anyone can pick it up and know how to use it in an emergency situation. Since it’s just $3 a pop, you can keep one whistle at home and another in the car. If you ever need to use one, call on the international whistle code: One blast means “Where are you?” Two blasts means “Come to me.” Three blasts means “I need help.” (A blast should last three seconds each.) —KT

Emergency weather radio

Midland ER300
This radio had better reception and sound quality, better charging options, and a brighter light than any other radio we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $55.

An emergency radio that can tune in to AM/FM and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration channels (collectively known as a “weather band”) can keep you informed and entertained even if the power goes out. After considering dozens of emergency radios and testing six different pieces of hardware, we found the $55 Midland ER300 to be the best emergency radio for most people. It produces loud, easy-to-understand audio on AM, FM, and NOAA bands, comes with a built-in audio/visual NOAA weather alert, and can run on crank, solar, or USB power. Additionally, it was the only radio to escape our counter-height fall and splash testing unscathed. And its 130-lumen flashlight was four times brighter than the next-closest competitor and will actually light up the path ahead of you. Should anything go wrong with the hardware, Midland covers the ER300 with a three-year limited warranty—the longest of any radio we tested.

emergency gear radio group

The Midland ER300 (bottom right) beat out Etón models and other popular radios thanks to its superior sound and reception quality, as well as its brighter light. Photo: Seamus Bellamy

The ER300 comes with a large, easy-to-read backlit LED display and chunky rubber buttons that you can easily press even while wearing winter gloves. It can operate on standard AA batteries or on a user-replaceable, rechargeable 2,000-mAh lithium-ion battery pack that you can juice up via the built-in hand crank, solar panel, or Mini-USB port. In a pinch, you can also use that rechargeable battery to charge your smartphone via its USB output port. And when the NOAA issues a weather alert, the radio’s loud, audible alarm and flashing display will make sure you notice it, fast.

When that alarm sounds, press any button on the ER300, and it will switch on to your favorite NOAA weather channel to give you the news. If you fail to turn on the radio before a minute goes by, the ER300’s weather memory indicator will flash every five seconds to let you know that an alert has been issued. So even if you were out of the house when the alarm went off, you’ll still know that some ugly conditions are headed your way.

On its highest setting, the ER300’s built-in flashlight/signal light produced 132 lumens of illumination when we tested it at a distance of 1 foot; its built-in light was by far the brightest of any of the radios we tested. The next-brightest lights came in the Etón FR1 and FRX4, which were tied in our tests at 35 lumens. In addition to a signal light, the hardware comes equipped with an ultrasonic dog whistle to help rescue workers find you if things go really wrong.

Although the ER300’s manual claims that one minute of cranking would yield nine minutes of radio play, we had to crank for three minutes before we could turn the radio on. Once we did, we were able to listen to FM radio at a reasonably high volume for close to 50 minutes before the battery died—better results than with any of the other radios.

The one feature that the Midland model lacks is support for SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) alerts, which are much more area-specific than regular NOAA alerts. If the idea of receiving more-personalized weather alerts appeals to you and you’re willing to spend more to get them, check out the $100 Etón FRX5. Keep in mind, however, that it costs significantly more than our top pick but has an otherwise identical feature set, and all modern smartphones come with these alerts enabled by default (here’s how to disable them if you want). We don’t think the FRX5 is a great value, but it is a solid radio if our pick is sold out.

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $34.

Epica Emergency Radio
It lacks key features and has poor sound quality, but it’s durable and better than nothing.

If you’d rather not spend $50 on something you’re not going to use frequently, the Epica Emergency Radio is the best budget product among many mediocre ones. Weather radios costing less than about $30 all have similar problems: a lack of power options, poor sound quality, and—typically—no built-in weather alerts. The Epica has all of those problems too, but at least it offers a durable, water-resistant enclosure and multiple charging options. The similarly priced FRX1 we checked out broke very easily when we dropped it, whereas only the carabiner clip fell off the Epica. We think spending an extra $20 to $30 to get our top pick is a worthy investment because of its superior reception power, audio/visual weather alerts, and larger internal battery, but a cheap radio is preferable to no radio, and this model is still better than anything you’d get in a preassembled kit.

Power inverter (for the car)

Bestek 300W MRI3011J2 Power Inverter
More-sensitive gadgets may not function correctly while using this AC-to-DC converter, but a smoother converter costs $100-plus.

A power cut-off can keep you from being able to call for help or to charge tools and devices—unless you own a car, that is, in which case you can harness the vehicle’s 12-volt DC electrical system to run or charge a wide variety of the 110-volt AC hardware you’d normally plug into a wall at home. The $30 Bestek 300W MRI3011J2 Power Inverter is a good, cheap option that will work with less-complicated electronics. Although you can use it with a laptop, you might run into issues with screen flickering or even risk damaging your electronics if you have a cheaper power supply (such as the one that came with our tester’s Dell Chromebook).

If you primarily want to power a laptop, a TV, or other sophisticated electronics, you should spend more on the $150 Go Power! GP-SW150-12 Pure Sine Wave Inverter. For more details, check out our road trip gear guide. —SB

Solar charger

RAVPower 15W Solar Charger
This panel charges as fast as any other model we tested and won’t be stymied by passing clouds.

If you don’t have a vehicle to run an inverter, and your home’s electricity is down, you can rely on the power of the sun to charge some of your gear. The $50 RAVPower 15W Solar Charger is our pick for people who are looking to power phones, tablets, and portable batteries when they’re off the grid. It produces enough juice to charge up most tablets in a day’s worth of sun, and it’s smart enough not to be stymied by passing clouds.

emergency gear ravpower solar charger

Our favorite solar charger. Photo: Seamus Bellamy

Consisting of three panels, each about the size of a sheet of printer paper, stitched into a nylon sleeve, the RAVPower 15W Solar Charger folds up to just 8 by 11 inches and weighs 1½ pounds. That’s the sweet spot in portable solar gear right now—anything smaller doesn’t give you the amount of power or reliability you need off grid, while bigger panels are unwieldy and costly. In our testing, the RAVPower generated a respectable 1.53 amps on average over the course of a sunny day, in line with the fastest models we tested. More important, it resumed charging at full speed after a brief stint in the shade while many of the cheaper competitors did not due to poorly designed charging controllers. Overall, you won’t get faster, more reliable charging at a better price than you will with the RAVPower. —SB

Disposable batteries

Duracell Quantum Alkaline AA Batteries
These score highly in third-party tests for capacity and storage ability, and they have a 10-year shelf life.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $20.

Most of the time we recommend cost-effective, environmentally-friendly rechargeable batteries to power hardware that you can’t recharge or plug into a wall outlet. But during a power outage, rechargeable batteries aren’t all that rechargeable, unless you plug a USB battery charger into a solar panel to juice them up—a time-consuming process. So we say it’s smart to keep a few disposable batteries on hand, particularly Duracell’s Quantum Alkaline AA Batteries.

Available in boxes of 28 for about $20 from Amazon (and also available in AAA and D sizes), the Quantum batteries received a score of 91 out of 100 from Consumer Reports, becoming CR’s highest-rated alkaline battery. Perfect for use with flashlights, headlamps, and portable radios, Quantum batteries have a 10-year shelf life, so they’ll very likely be fully charged and ready to use when the time comes to pull them out of storage. This life span is significantly longer than that of most alkaline batteries, many of which have a shelf life of around two years before their amount of stored power begins to degrade; it’s also equivalent to the shelf life associated with pricier lithium AA batteries.

Duracell Quantum batteries are a little expensive: Based on the price of a pack of 28, a single AA Quantum battery will set you back about 71 cents. But we think that their long shelf life and test-proven staying power when used in low-drain devices are worth the cost. That said, if you’re looking for something more affordable, a 48-pack of AmazonBasics AA Performance Alkaline Batteries costs only about $14. With a score of 62 out of 100 from Consumer Reports, the AmazonBasics batteries provide less power than the Duracell Quantum batteries do, but their price is right and they also have a 10-year shelf life. —Mark Smirniotis

USB battery pack

Anker 2nd Gen Astro E4 13,000-mAh External Battery
This pack will quickly recharge your iPhone 6 up to five times or your iPad once at full speed.

A high-capacity USB battery pack can keep your gadgets powered for several days at a time. After a total of 310 hours of research and testing so far, we recommend the $30 Anker 2nd Gen Astro E4 13,000-mAh External Battery (the Astro E4 for short) as the best high-capacity USB-charging battery pack. The sleekly designed Astro E4 offers full-speed, high-current charging from both of its two USB ports—each of which optimizes charging speed for whatever device you plug into it—and can nearly fully charge a depleted first-generation iPad Air. It offers a greater charge capacity at a lower price than the competition, charges devices faster (and charges faster itself) than other batteries we tested, and has a small enough design to fit easily in a backpack or purse. —MZ

Gas generator

Honda EU2000i
Quiet, efficient, reliable, with enough power to run a fridge and then some, and light enough for one person to carry.

Having spent a dozen hours earlier this year researching generators to supplement the solar panels on my off-the-grid homestead, I learned a lot about what makes a good generator. If you can afford a Honda, they’re the best around; they’re known for their low noise level, fuel efficiency, and reliability. In an emergency—or at your next tailgate party—the Honda EU2000i ($1,000) can quietly keep lights, communications, and even your refrigerator running. And at about 50 pounds when full, it’s light enough for a single adult to carry it. The next step down in Honda’s line saves you just 20 percent in cost while losing 50 percent of the power, and the next step up doubles the price and weight in return for more power and outlets you won’t need in an emergency. If a generator is in your budget and you really want to be prepared for anything, the Honda EU2000i should give you reliable, efficient service for years to come.

You’ll commonly see generators divided into a handful of categories, but the EU2000i is one of the best in the class of “portable generators” or “inverter generators.” Briggs & Stratton, Generac, Yamaha, and other companies all make competitive units with their own pros and cons. But users have been extolling the reliability and sound levels of the Honda in just about every corner of the Internet since the line’s introduction over a decade ago.

At the higher end of the generator market are “standby” or “residential” generators that will set you back a few thousand dollars plus the labor cost of a professional to permanently install it at your house. One of these models can be worth the investment if you live in an area with frequent blackouts, but they’re beyond the scope of this guide. On the lower end, you’ll see inexpensive “jobsite generators” advertised at most hardware stores. For under $400, you can get a brand-name unit that will produce over 3 kilowatts of power, or enough to power a squadron of our favorite window air conditioners. But that generator will be heavy (more than 100 pounds), loud (95 decibels, potentially enough to cause hearing damage), and, most important, liable to subject sensitive devices to damaging electrical variations that they aren’t designed to handle.

At the very low end, you’ll also see generators based on simpler two-stroke engines. The WEN PowerPro 56101 2-Stroke Generator, 1000-watt ($135), the best-reviewed model in its class on Amazon, seems like a great value, but the bad reviews describe some major lapses in quality. —MS


The key tools to have on hand for an emergency—everything from an atlas to good duct tape—are also key tools to have on hand for life in general. A common theme that we noticed in this category is that while a great tool can be a genuine joy to use and serve you well for years (if not decades), cheap imitators will waste both your money and your time. Go for the good stuff. —KT

Gas shut-off tool

On Duty 4 in 1 Emergency Tool
This simple but versatile wrench was invented for disaster response.

If you smell, hear, or see evidence of a gas leak in the aftermath of an earthquake or some other disaster, your first priority is to turn your gas off. To accomplish that, you need to do two simple things: Learn where your gas valve is, and find a wrench that will do the job.

A quarter turn of the metal gas valve from the vertical to the horizontal position typically shuts off your supply. In almost all cases, a 12-inch or larger adjustable crescent wrench will work. If you already have a crescent wrench, consider keeping it in a waterproof Ziploc bag duct-taped to the house or to a pipe next to the valve. That’ll ensure you won’t have to spend even a couple of minutes looking for it in an emergency (be sure to show the location and instructions for shut-off to everyone in the family). Preadjust the wrench to fit your valve before sealing it into the bag.

emergency gear On Duty gas shutoff

The On Duty tool was designed by firefighters to work in a pinch. Photo: Dan Koeppel

If you don’t have a crescent wrench, or if you prefer to keep it secure in your toolbox, you could purchase a dedicated shut-off tool. After a couple of hours of online research and discussions with a handful of experts, we feel comfortable recommending the On Duty 4 in 1 Emergency Tool. It was designed by firefighters in the aftermath of the San Francisco Bay Area’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and is often recommended to graduates of CERT emergency-preparedness classes.

The 11-inch aluminum tool is sturdy and rustproof, and it won’t risk causing a spark as a steel tool hitting steel might (important when gas is leaking). You can also use it to shut off your water valve, pry open doors, and dig through debris.

Don’t be too quick to use it, though. Smell a leak? Yes, turn off the gas. But note that in most cities, the gas company has to come to your home to turn your gas back on. In a citywide disaster, scheduling that visit could take days or even weeks. So avoid turning the gas off preemptively if you’ll need it to cook, boil water, or heat your home during a blackout or some other power outage. —KT

Gas can

This can had the easiest spout to operate by far, and in our tests it didn’t spill a drop when pouring.

If you’re planning to store gasoline, know that you probably shouldn’t. Motor fuel is volatile, and even small quantities can flame up. That’s especially true for keeping extra gas in a vehicle. That said, storing a couple of gallons in a safe place—away from your house, far from electrical equipment or other potential sources of flame—is something you might consider if you’re pairing the gas with a backup generator. (As for your car, better to simply keep the tank at least half full, which is probably good for your vehicle’s engine to boot.) Another drawback to fuel-can storage: Gas loses potency over time, so long-term supplies need to be preserved with an additive product, but even then, you should rotate it out at least once a year—if not every season.

Despite all that, having an empty gas can around is a good idea in case you ever need to obtain or transfer gas without a car—they were among the most coveted items during Hurricane Sandy. Full or empty, the container you choose should be leak-proof and easy to pour with. After performing eight hours of research and testing four different cans, we chose the 2½-gallon plastic container from No-Spill ($24) as our pick for most people. Federal antipollution standards have led most gas-can makers to use unwieldy spring-loaded trigger valves in order to keep gas fumes from escaping. Unfortunately, these cans are a pain to pour with, and neither of the two cheap cans we picked up at local auto stores could dispense liquid without spilling. The No-Spill stands out because it has a patented, proven nozzle design that predates the standards; you just push a button and pour. We also like its unique fuel-level window, which lets you see how much gas is in the can. (Note that our chosen size weighs over 20 pounds. If your particular disaster leaves you on foot, you might opt for No-Spill’s 1¼-gallon version; a 5-gallon version is also available. Both have the same great nozzle.)

emergency gear no spill gas can

The No-Spill’s push-button valve is easier to use than competitors’, and the clear window in the front allows you to see how much gas is inside. Photo: Dan Koeppel

Though the No-Spill is the best choice, some emergency-prep types who insist on storing fuel might go for our runner-up, the NATO Gas Can (about $80) by Wavian (the product is commonly known as a “Jerry Can” because the original design was used by the German army during World War II). The rugged NATO can, as the name suggests, meets a military specification for storage and is better suited to moving fuel around frequently, if that’s a concern. It’s a favorite with off-road vehicle enthusiasts for this reason, but it’s probably overkill for home usage. Versions sold in the US include a rather obtrusive but well-thought-out nozzle: Spring-loaded so it won’t leak, it also includes adapters to fit multiple-size filler necks. In our tests, though, the NATO can wasn’t quite as easy to operate as the No-Spill. If you decide to go this route, make sure to get a real, Lithuanian-built Wavian, since knockoffs with inferior nozzles abound. —Dan Koeppel

Duct tape

Duck Brand MAX Strength Duct Tape
This all-around best version adheres to pretty much any surface around.

Ideal for binding, mending, gaffing cable, or even handling certain first-aid duties when the right materials are unavailable, duct tape is (as any MacGyver fan will tell you) an indispensible tool. Duck Brand MAX Strength Duct Tape is the best all-around duct tape we could find, and it should serve you well in a pinch, even if the task includes sticking the tape to masonry, wood, plastic, or glass. —SB


Leatherman New Wave Multitool
A favorite of tool aficionados, it has every feature you’ll definitely need—and more.

Small enough for you to wear on your belt or to toss into a bag in its included nylon sheath, the $85 Leatherman New Wave is a multifunction tool that everyone should consider as a component of their emergency-preparedness kit, if not as a part of their everyday gear. When Sweethome senior editor Harry Sawyers tested it for us, he discovered that it offered better construction and more functionality than any other multitool we could find.

The New Wave contains needle-nose pliers, regular pliers, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, a 2.9-inch 420HC knife (HC stands for “high carbon,” which means the knife will hold an edge better), a serrated knife, a saw, spring-action scissors, a wood and metal file, a diamond-coated file, a large bit driver that flips between a flat head and a Phillips head, a small bit driver with an eyeglass screwdriver, a medium fixed-blade flat screwdriver, an 8-inch/19-centimeter ruler, a bottle opener, a can opener, and a wire stripper. Short of a hammer, that’s just about everything you could possibly need to make an emergency repair in the field or around the house. —SB

Map and compass

Rand McNally EasyFinder
Easier to read than any other road atlas.

Most people have a smartphone, and most smartphones have built-in GPS receivers and navigation software to get you where you’re going. But when your cellular connectivity goes down, Google Maps and many other popular apps won’t be able to give you directions to emergency aid or shelter. Granted, a number of navigation apps will let you download mapping information to use, so a cellular connection isn’t required, but you’ll be lost once your smartphone runs out of power. To get around that, we recommend keeping physical maps of the area you’re living in, or visiting, in your emergency kit or car.

For navigating urban areas and highways, we like Rand McNally’s EasyFinder Maps. Typically available for well under $10 from Amazon or Rand McNally’s website, EasyFinder maps are available for all US states and Canadian provinces, as well as for major cities across North America. Each map displays thorough street, rural road, highway, and interstate information as well as the locations of hospitals, police stations, schools, public buildings, and religious institutions—all of which can be vital rally points during a disaster. Because EasyFinder maps are resistant to UV light and laminated with tear-resistant folds, you can use them in wet conditions or write on them with a dry-erase marker or grease pencil.

Unfortunately, Rand McNally’s maps don’t provide detailed coverage of a vast number of the smaller cities and towns that dot our continent. If you live in such an area, we recommend taking a look at OpenStreetMap. Unlike Google Maps, this site provides free-to-use street maps that you can print or save as a full-page PDF. You can also view the site’s maps with a “humanitarian layer” that highlights emergency buildings and evacuation routes—an incredibly useful tool when you need to get away from danger or find help.

In cases of flooding, fires, and other natural or manmade obstacles, taking to the streets might not be safe. If your predicament requires you to head through the wilderness to reach safety, you’ll want a detailed topographical map to learn about the terrain you’ll be traversing. In that case, check out MyTopo, which specializes in custom maps that you can print to suit your needs and laminate for use in any weather.

Of course, even if you’re lucky enough to have a good old-fashioned paper map with you, determining which direction you’re headed in can be difficult. That’s where a compass comes in handy.

Suunto A-10
This cheap, reliable compass is perfect for basic orienteering.

The Suunto A-10 is an inexpensive, high-quality baseplate compass that provides everything a novice orienteer needs to stay on course on marked trails, around city streets, and in areas where landmarks abound. For about $20, you get a compass made of scratch-resistant acrylic with a fixed declination correction scale, a jewel bearing, and dual scales (centimeters or inches) so you can use it with maps that employ either unit of measurement. The A-10 even comes with a brief basic guide on how to use a compass and map, though you’re likely better off learning as much about orienteering as possible before you need to put the skill to use. —SB


Where you store your cache of disaster supplies will depend on your region and your risk factors. Are forecasted hurricanes and winter storms your main concern? You’ll have no problem storing supplies in the garage or deep in a closet. Is flooding a probable hazard? Don’t keep your emergency gear in the basement. For those in earthquake territory, storing supplies outside may make the most sense, especially if you live in a mild climate and don’t have to worry about freezing temperatures, which can damage your items. In the 1994 Northridge, California, earthquake, garage doors were knocked off-kilter and jammed, trapping supplies inside. If you are storing your gear outside in a warm climate, try to choose a cool, shaded spot to avoid sun damage. —KT

Storage container

Clear Watertight Totes
This easy-to-carry container is the best water- and impact-resistant storage bin we can find.

We like water-resistant bins because you can store them outside, unlike a duffel or most other bags. After considering close to two dozen containers and testing 10 models by dropping them, soaking them with a garden hose, and hauling them around stuffed to the brim, we concluded that the Iris Clear Watertight Tote (a little over $20 for the largest size, 74 quarts) is the best water- and impact-resistant storage bin we can find. (It’s the same design as the $16 Ziploc 60-Quart Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box, which is the upgrade pick in our full storage-container guide, but it’s available in larger sizes.)

Chunky hand grips make the Watertight Tote comfortable to carry, and the stiff sides refuse to flex whether the bin is empty or stuffed. Although our drop tests showed that the plastic may crack a little if you hit it hard enough, this container won’t pop open, thanks to its six-latch locking lid. That’s important when you’re storing foodstuffs and electronics for months—even years—at a stretch. And the clear plastic allows you to easily see what’s inside while it’s closed.

emergency gear container group

The Iris tote (top) is tough and water resistant, but clear enough for you to see what’s inside. The Rubbermaid ActionPacker (bottom) is larger and burlier, if you need that, but overly heavy otherwise. Photo: Dan Koeppel

The Iris also comes in 46.6- and 63-quart sizes, but only the largest size, 74 quarts (that’s 18½ gallons) was big enough to store all our key emergency gear—minus water and extra food—with room to spare. You could add a second bin to store emergency meals. —KT

Also Great
Rubbermaid 1191 ActionPacker
A larger, burlier box is a good choice if you want to be able to lock up your gear or throw it into a pickup bed and take it on the road.

If you want a larger, burlier box, we recommend the Rubbermaid 1191 ActionPacker ($60). At 35 gallons (140 quarts), it’s almost twice as big as the largest Iris; it’s also heavy-duty enough to serve as a bench or stool, and designed to be locked with a cable lock or padlock if you’re concerned about theft. Drawbacks: It’s heavy at 16.3 pounds, you can’t see what’s inside at a glance, and it’s difficult for an average-size woman or a small man to carry alone when it’s packed full. But if your location leaves you vulnerable to disasters that might cause you to flee your home—wildfire or hurricanes, say—and you envision throwing all your gear into the back of a pickup and possibly camping out until the danger passes, this badass bin could be your best bet. —KT

Additional disaster-specific considerations

For everyone: In addition to assembling all your supplies, form an emergency plan with your family. Designate an out-of-state contact that you can rely on to relay information (making long-distance calls is often easier than calling locally during a disaster). Ideally, carry that person’s phone number in your wallet, not just in your phone. Collect copies of important documents and keep them either in your emergency kit or in another secure place where they remain easy to grab.

If you wear glasses or contacts or take prescription medication, consider keeping backup supplies with your other emergency supplies and adding hard copies of your prescriptions in case you need to get them filled in a new location.

In an extended disaster, ATMs and credit card machines may go down. Save up a couple hundred dollars in small bills to keep with your kit or documents.

For parents (of children and pets): If you have small children, diapers and formula and/or baby food may be important items in your emergency kit. Prepare on behalf of your pets by stocking up on extra food and prescription meds, and keeping a leash or crate at hand. “There was a huge increase in awareness and demand for pet kits after the wildfires that we had in southern California in 2007,” Jeff Primes, president of disaster-preparedness company ReadyAmerica, told us. “Over a million people had to evacuate their homes. All of a sudden there was a realization: Not only do I need supplies for me, I have to take care of the pets.”—KT

In the car: Keeping emergency drinking water, some long-lasting but appetizing snack bars, a basic first-aid kit, an emergency blanket or two, and some old running shoes in your vehicle is a good idea for everyday breakdowns as well as for times of greater crisis. We also have a number of other car-specific emergency supplies in our road trip guide. Keeping your gas tank full, too, is one of the smartest things you can do.

Under the bed: Foot injuries have been common in previous earthquakes such as the Northridge quake, which struck at 4:30 a.m. and caused about 8,700 injuries and 57 deaths. Shocked people stagger out of bed and end up cutting their hands and feet on broken glass. Experts recommend that people in earthquake territory keep a pair of sturdy shoes, protective gloves, and a flashlight under the bed.

For people in earthquake territory: You can take several steps to help your home—and your valuables—ride out a big earthquake. First, make sure your water heater is secured to the wall with dedicated straps if it is not already. This guide will help DIYers; metal straps are available at Home Depot and Amazon. Use TV straps to protect your flat screen, too. Specialized hooks with closed loops can easily replace regular ones to prevent framed artwork from falling off the walls (avoid hanging heavy objects over beds). Earthquake putty can secure knickknacks and other valuables to shelves. Cabinet latches, like those used for childproofing, can keep kitchen cabinets closed and prevent dishes and glasses from shattering. We haven’t methodically tested these products, but Kalee Thompson has personally installed the ones we’ve linked to in her own Los Angeles home and found them to be reasonably priced and easy to use. We plan to do more extensive research and testing of these items for a future update.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect your assets from earthquake fallout is to bolt your wood-framed home to its foundation. This job will typically cost between $3,000 and $8,000, but local incentive programs are sometimes available, and a permitted job should increase the value of your home. Then there’s the complicated question of earthquake insurance. In California, where just 17 percent of homeowners are covered, such insurance is regulated through the California Earthquake Authority. (Regular homeowner’s policies typically do not cover earthquake damage.) Deductibles can be high, and earthquake insurance generally makes more sense the more equity you have in your home.

Finally, remember that when you feel a tremor, you should “drop, cover, and hold on.” If you are inside, do not run outside. Do not stand in a doorway. Move away from windows and mirrors. Wait for the shaking to pass before getting up.

For people in hurricane territory: Unlike earthquakes, hurricanes can be forecast, giving you extra time in the preceding days to prepare. A good raincoat and boots will of course be essential for staying dry. Coastal residents who are in likely evacuation zones should be sure to keep copies of critical documents and prescriptions ready to go, and to stash them in a weatherproof bag. In addition to general emergency-kit supplies, those in the path of a hurricane may want to stockpile sandbags, a couple of tarps for leaks, and plastic sheeting or plywood to protect windows (here’s a nice list of preparations from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management). During Hurricane Sandy, many people found themselves desperate for a portable gas can. After Katrina, when floodwaters trapped residents in attics and on roofs, some people began keeping an ax on the upper floor of their homes. The National Hurricane Center provides links to assessing your home’s risk for storm surges, flooding, and wind damage. Popular Mechanics provides some more tips for prepping your home for hurricanes, including a plan for installing reusable storm shutters.

For people in tornado territory: Even the worst tornadoes—like the one that killed 158 people in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011—affect a small geographic area compared with hurricanes and earthquakes. If tornadoes are your primary hazard, you should be more concerned about knowing how to shelter in place than about surviving without help for an extended period after a storm. Though many communities have tornado sirens, a good NOAA-equipped weather radio is crucial for people in Tornado Alley. Identify the best “safe room” in your home—a storm cellar, a basement, or an interior room with no windows on the lowest floor—and gather there before the storm hits (bring your pets, too!). FEMA has recommendations for where to go depending on where you are when a storm is approaching.

Flying debris is a major tornado hazard. If your safe room contains windows or unattached objects, covering yourself with a heavy blanket could help. When you emerge, wear sturdy shoes and heavy gloves to protect yourself from broken glass. Though the CDC has reservations about recommending helmets for tornado protection—spending time looking for a helmet could delay the more crucial goal of getting to a safe space, the agency says—studies suggest they can be lifesavers, especially for kids. Bigger is better; motorcyle and football helmets are more protective than bicycle helmets, according to scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

For people in wildfire territory: Since 2000, close to 2,700 American homes have been lost to wildfires in an average year (1,050 structures alone were destroyed in California’s Valley Fire in September, and with almost 9 million acres burned, 2015 is currently on track to be the biggest wildfire year in US history). There are a number of reasons why: A century of aggressive fire suppression has led to an unprecedented fuel buildup that feeds larger, more violent blazes. The western US has been hotter and drier, and climate trends are likely to make matters worse. Meanwhile, far more people are building homes in what firefighters refer to as the WUI (pronounced woo-ey), or Wildland Urban Interface, where suburban communities nudge up against the edge of wilderness.

Despite convincing studies proving that people can effectively protect their houses from wildfire by creating fuel-free “defensible space” zones around the home, the rate of compliance is low. Two of the best programs to get you and your community prepared are Firewise and Ready, Set, Go. WUI residents should be prepared to flee when authorities order an evacuation (know at least two routes). Keep key documents and supplies in a to-go bag. And know that an N95 face mask provides only limited protection from tiny smoke particles; learn how to protect yourself and those at high risk.

For people in tsunami territory: Are you in a tsunami risk zone such as the Pacific Northwest coast? Did you just feel a big earthquake? Do not pause to grab anything. Just run or drive to high ground. (Oregon and Washington coast-dwellers, enter your address here to assess your risk.) Put important documents on a thumb drive today and give them to a relative (or another trusted keeper who lives in a different area). If you aren’t familiar with the quickest route to higher ground from your home and work, learn it.

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  1. Take a Class, American Red Cross
  2. Community Emergency Response Teams, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Originally published: October 9, 2015

We actively moderate the comments section to make it relevant and helpful for our readers, and to stay up to date with our latest picks. You can read our moderation policy FAQ here.

  • walterunderwood

    Two poor choices here, the Streamlight Nano Light and the water treatment options. Also, one omission, WFA training.

    The Nano Light is cute, but turns on easily in a pocket or bag. When you replace the dead batteries, you’ll find they cost more than the flashlight. I used teflon plumbing tape on the threads to fix that, but you should not need to hack your flashlight like that. Instead, get a Streamlight Stylus that takes AAA batteries. Mine went through the washer and still works great. Just used it to direct traffic last night as a ham radio volunteer helping with July 4th crowds.

    Water filters are fussy to use properly and require regular maintenance. This is exactly what you do not need in emergency gear. If you drop the output hose in the dirt (I’ve seen Boy Scouts do this a lot), you now are making dirty water until you boil the hose. Also, if you use a filter to put clean water into a dirty container, you will have dirty water. With chemical purification, the water cleans the container.

    The Steripen is neat, but electronic (batteries, failure) and slow for larger quantities.

    Potable Aqua chlorine tablets are old technology. We now have more effective, less smelly options (chlorine dioxide).

    What you want is chlorine dioxide water treatment. Katadyn Micropur tablets are easy to use but expensive. Aquamira drops are slightly more complicated (mix, then use), but cheaper and have a great shelf life.

    For more details on water treatment, refer to the CDC guidelines on backcountry water treatment.


    Probably the most important thing you can buy is first aid training, preferably wilderness first aid. In a disaster, calling 911 is not going to get you EMTs in ten minutes. You will need to provide aid for hours or a couple of days. This is a 16-hour course and usually costs around $100. Check with your local American Red Cross chapter or Boy Scouts, who are requiring WFA for longer treks.

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      I agree on the Streamlight Nano. I used them for a while until they started unscrewing and falling apart in my pocket. I prefer the Photon Microlight II. Easy to use, small, and doesn’t fall apart in pocket.

    • Raivyn

      I also agree about the Nano light. I had one on my keychain and it came unscrewed and fell apart. The batteries cost as much as a new one.
      I use a Fenix LD01 now – Fantastic light, durable, and uses a single AAA battery.

  • Greg Anderson

    You said the high power USB surge protector has 2 high power USB plugs in it. But upon closer examination of the specs, although it has 2.1a output, that’s total. So you could charge 1 iPad or 2 iPads at half the speed. Not technically 2 USB high power ports sadly.

  • Toke Nygaard

    For a flashlight I can recommend the Nitecore MH1C which has a USB input for charging. That would go well with the multiple charging options you display here. Is also very bright at 550 lumens – have seen it at $60.

  • Cat

    Very helpful and interesting article, however, I was wondering if you would mind removing the red cross picture from it? The thing is – most people don’t realise – but the Red Cross isn’t a trademark or a logo – it’s an internationally protected emblem.

    To read more about what this means you can check out this link: http://www.redcross.ie/our-work-overseas/international-humanitarian-law/the-emblem/

    Thanks so much!

    • http://Twitter.com/mlmabie light&shadow

      Sorry Switzerland…
      And your emblem’s simply on a product, go talk to that company instead if you’d like.

      • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

        Actually, we did remove it for that purpose! 😉

        • Cat

          Thanks very much, Tony, I appreciate it – and like I said,very interesting article!

      • Cat

        FYI – the Swiss flag is a white cross…

  • http://hpka.net/ Henry Armitage

    Since this article was written a lot of prices have increased. The Mountain House Meals have gone up to $62 (making purchasing them from REI, discount if buying more than 10 matches the price near enough, and you can choose your own), the WetWipes to $28 (too much now).

  • Vit

    It would be helpful if you include best bag/backpack/vest/anything else for storage and transportation all of this survival stuff (w/out generator of course).

  • Marc Williams
  • banx

    what about zombie vaccine and axe?

    • Jennifer Tait

      I bought these two things for the apocalypse: Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks and the Zombie Annihilation Crate from Mancrates.
      Bring it!

  • Michael Schmitz

    Aladdin lamp. Not sure what would give more light for an extended time.

  • Maureen

    I would recommend testing the darn tough socks. Made in the USA, with a lifetime guarantee. I used to be a huge smartwool fan, but I feel like the quality has really gone downhill.

    • Scott

      Totally! Smartwool socks barely last a month now, in my experience, and Darn Tough lasts a really long time–and they have a lifetime warranty. You should do a best wool socks.

      • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

        Great feedback! Thanks!

  • Ron Nelson

    I picked up the Aquapak 7 last time our water was knocked out, and used it for packing in water to backwoods trips. Very solid solution, no issues with taste (passed the wife test) and a spigot that works well. Reading this reminds me (along with yesterdays water main break) that I really should keep it filled rather then empty here at home…

  • Karl Abrahamson

    The reliance jugs are well built, and well known in Canada, although mostly just as big blue jugs. Collapsible jugs are always problematic. I wouldn’t bother with them.
    For backpacks, REI and MEC house brand packs are a good choice for someone who might need a pack, but doesn’t want to break the bank, or just find a used one. I would avoid the tactical looking packs, as most are poorly designed and worse built. There are a few exceptions, but you pay a premium. And you gain no real benefit, besides making yourself look like a prepper. Not in a good way.

    For water, there are several gravity fed filters that are good options, including one by life-straw. These might be better for families as you have a tap for clean water, no worry about accidental contamination or ‘is that boiled?’ The miniworks is a great filter, but it takes work, and that gets old fast once you are doing 10+ liters a day.

    Flashlights are personal taste. own lots. cheap ones, good ones, doesn’t matter so long as you use them. Stored flashlights die.

    Oil lamps……. make sure you test them, the quality on almost all brands has really dropped, and you don’t want a leak. they are dangerous, and difficult to use by those who have never used one before.

    One final thing that I recommend is a USB drive with all your important docs, any spare glasses, and any spare meds, plus any comfort items you might need in a bag by the front door. Enough to get you to monday morning in a hotel, shelter or friends house. Not all emergencies leave you time to think, and if you have to run, you don’t want to be struggling with a child and 50lb bug out bag. The world might not end, but a house fire, or localized emergency is not as bad if you can walk out knowing you have everything in order.

  • Photohaat

    A website that provides complete customized home and lifestyle shopping. On here you can purchase all types of customized water bottles with personal picture and text. You can also design your promotional water bottles for your office or travel. This website (Company) based in Gurgaon (India) providing free services to design your personal bottles for kids. http://www.photohaat.com/shop/home-and-lifestyle/water-bottles/

  • Rhkennerly

    need to add steel shank, steel toe waterproof lace up boots (slip-ons get sucked off in deep mud). And long denim jeans. If your structure collapses there will be nails and cut hazards everywhere, same if you need to help a neighbor. It’s unwise to become a casualty yourself.

    Also, prep by having an up-to-date tetanus booster for every member of the family.
    BTW, instead of trying to run an entire house on a generator, it’s better –at least more manageable on a budget– to set up a storm room. We use the MBR. We have a small window mounted AC in the wall, as well as plugs just for the genset output. We roll the Fridge into the MBR. The Genset is in a small featherlight brick hut away from the house.

    Disaster preparedness is so much simpler when you’re just trying to fortify a small area.

  • Chaz

    I use these water purification tablets: http://www.amazon.com/MSR-Aquatabs-Water-Purification-Tablets/dp/B0076ZRZX2. They are a little more expensive than Potable Aqua, but are virtually tasteless.

  • lsocoee

    Do you think you could maybe add some more gadgets that require different batteries??? The mini flashlight, headlamp, flashlight, and lantern all use different batteries. No thanks. I’ll standardize on the cheap and readily available AA batteries. Please consider batteries more closely when you are making these recommendations.

  • myckxgtijgvh

    REI Npower link is broken…

  • Read Weaver

    Have you done comparisons on the different freeze-dried meal companies? It’s been a while since I ate any of them, but I’d bring some backpacking and didn’t notice differences in quality. Backpackers Pantry has more variety, and a lot more variety for vegetarians; AlpineAire too. Their prices may be higher though.

  • http://hpka.net/ Henry Armitage

    On the water filter front – I’ve recently come across Sawyer Filters: http://sawyer.com/products/sawyer-squeeze-filter-system-sp131/

    They are $35 (model linked with 3 bags – cheaper choices available) and have a 100,000L guarantee. Looks like a great simple system so I’m going to buy one for outdoor use. Research indicates it will do bacteria and particulates in water, but won’t filter viruses or chemicals. Also you cannot freeze them after you use them for the first time.

    As for water purification drops, I usually use either tablets or drops (preferring drops) from Pristine: http://pristine.ca/

  • ki6h

    Battery-powered television. Having been through a major fire, minor earthquake and multi-day power outages, the one thing that soothes like no other is television. You get to learn what the scope and scale of the crisis is, what is being done, and learn how other people are being affected. The news radio stations, which once were valuable, have largely been gutted and what you mostly hear are listeners calling in (“Sam in Cucamonga says a painting fell off his wall!”) For any actual reporting you have to have TV. During a recent fire/power outage all my neighbors were gathered around my tiny television, grateful to see the Mayor, Fire Chief, etc. on the news. I use a 3.5″ RCA LED tv (DHT235A) powered by AA batteries; over-the-air reception is excellent outdoors (spotty inside.) They’re about $75 (I paid $99 back in 2009.) There may be others.

  • FigLeafFatality

    I don’t know why you are recommending the leatherman new wave over the swisstool spirit x when your own article on multitools said that the swisstool was clearly better than the leatherman. The only reason why you recommended the leatherman before was because it was only $51 compared to the $90 swisstool. Now that Leatherman jacked up the price to $90 on the new wave it is exactly the same price as the swsstool. Since you said that the swisstool was better constructed than the new wave wouldn’t that be the obvious choice now? Or am I missing something?

  • Lori S

    Really great article. Would love to see a section on emergency evacuation products for pets: solid crates for traveling with large dogs; portable crates for traveling with small dogs or cats; car harnesses for dogs (instead of crates); leashes that can be slipped over the head (easier when a dog is panicking); items that can be stored in a box, ready to throw in your car (e.g.,collapsable bowls; pet-specific emergency kit). And so on.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Thanks for the input!

  • http://www.brettsmccoy.com Brett S. McCoy

    In this article you all suggest the “Coleman 2 Burner Dual Fuel Compact Liquid Fuel” stove but in the “Great Gear for Picnics and Grilling” you suggest the “Stansport 2 Burner Propane” stove… are you suggesting them both for different situations? Is their functionality (e.g., fuel type) different enough to have two different suggestions?

    • http://www.brettsmccoy.com Brett S. McCoy
      • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

        Yes that’s correct – and there are actually just 2 recommendations. The Coleman 2 Burner is recommended as camp stove in our Summer guide & an emergency stove in our Emergency Gear guide. It uses liquid fuel or gasoline & is rated 10,000 BTU’s. The other one (Stansport) uses propane and has a higher BTU rating (25,000), which cooks much faster & is better for picnics and the likes.

    • BonzoDog1

      I keep Coleman liquid fuel stoves and lanterns, picked up at yard sales from ex-campers for a few bucks. Even old units are easily restored with online information, then all you need is mantels for the lanterns and gasoline, which you can siphon from your car, if necessary, to keep the lights on and your food hot in an emergency.

      • YaanG

        Modern cars have rollover emergency valves that prevent siphoning fuel.
        For most people propane is going to be a better choice anyway, for ease of use and no fuel spills. However, I admire your devotion to the classics.

  • Matt

    The steri-pen is redundant with the MSR filter. The filter is a better all around choice in case the water is not clear. The steri-pen only works in water at least as clear as weak lemonade.

    The UV light in the steri-pen is rated for 8000 uses, but the CR-123 batteries are only good for 100 0.5L treatments. I always do 1L at a time with mine. I used a pair of batteries for 20-40L of water, then put it away for the winter. This year when I went to use it the batteries were dead on the first try. Luckily I brought spares! (and chemical tablets as a backup).

    The best price I could find on a good brand of these batteries was buying a 12 pack of brand name ones on Amazon. I think they are genuine, but I can’t really tell. They are so expensive I would never want to own a CR-123 flashlight.

    • mark

      This year when I went to use it the batteries were dead on the first try.

      ..then you must have used all the juice. those batteries have a 10 year shelf life.. and I have some that are approaching that age.

      funny – just about all my flashlights are CR123 – they are expensive batteries, but a high end flashlight (LED) are efficient.. and can throw a lot of light when needed.. what used to take 4 D cells and halogen bulb can be done now with 2 CR123’s and an LED.

  • Albert einstien

    Great blog
    post! I don’t understand how long it will require me to obtain through all of

  • Edward Becerra

    Have you tested the SteriPen Sidewinder yet? As a hand-cranked UV sterilization device, it would seem to solve the battery problem, but I’d prefer to see some professionals put it through the wringer (no pun intended.)

  • Eric Arnold

    I have one of those 7 gallon Reliance Aquapaks for a few years now. I picked it as an intermediate container to carry water from my 55 gallon drums (change the water annually, add a capful of bleach to fresh fills). It is just barely light enough to carry around when full. I have two mechanical failures. The white plastic “golf tee” vent plug split. Still works but it is just a nub now. The second problem is the white plastic collar or ring that fits around the reversing lid’s spigot split. It allows water to leak around the spigot. I fixed that with a tie wrap around it. I still like the container but their materials need improvement.

    I agree with another commenter below about battery choice. I understand the basis for your CR123 recommendation but it makes more sense (to me) to standardize around AA’s (and some AAA’s) along with solar recharge systems such as the Goal Zero equipment you mentioned. It wasn’t that expensive to form a collection of AA Eneloops (and Amazon Basics equivalents on sale), plenty of spares, and then commit to recharge them using a charger once or twice a year (I picked the La Crosse BC1000 model to verify each discharge/charge value).

    • Rel Iance

      Hi Eric, Craig from Reliance Products here. Thanks for commenting, we’re super stoked to be included on this list. I’m sorry that you had a problem with the spigot / vent assembly on your container. Our products have a lifetime warranty and I encourage you to reach out to our customer support with your information. We want to be 100% sure anyone using our products always has a safe and reliable water source.

      I wanted to point out that we actually have a brand new spigot on containers coming off the line right this minute! It’s a huge improvement to the old and most importantly it does not leak. It hasn’t been formally announced by these should be in stores very soon if not already near you.

      Again, thanks for commenting and a shout-out to Brian and Seamus for putting together this essential list. Looking forward to the updates in the fall!

  • BrianHook

    Well, information shared here about various emergency tools is benevolent indeed. For flashlight I would suggest choose Best Emergency Flashlight with bright light and high luminosity.

  • Andrew Toth

    Any alternate recommendations for dust masks? The current pick has jumped up for $23 a pack, probably because of Ebola fear. I’m not worried about the virus, I just want an inexpensive dust mask.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Our researcher Seamus came up with these. We haven’t tested them, but they’re CDC certified


      • nrpardee

        I’ve used a few over the years, and now buy only the 3M’s with a release valve that opens when you exhale. Otherwise, under even moderate exertion, my breathed-out air leaks around the edges and often fogs my glasses. The additional cost is worth it to me.

  • L.A. Lady

    Definitely would put a LifeStraw over a Steripen on this list. Very affordable. Perhaps not as user-friendly but much more foolproof and they’re not dependent on batteries or power.

  • L.A. Lady

    Also, iodine-based water purification is not OK for people with thyroid disorders. It’s something I figured out the hard way… look for chlorine-based varieties.

  • iamlucky13

    The Mountain House meals are a joke as emergency rations unless you need to store the stuff for a decade, meaning you can’t simply rotate them out in your regular meals each year. Even if you really do need freeze dried, foil sealed meals, I’d be shocked if you can’t find something cheaper.

    As much as $8 for 200-250 calories per meal? Mountain House is budgeting 1/3 the calories per day that a typical adult needs. A more active adult will fall even faster into serious calorie deficit.

    A Snickers bar actually has more calories than Mountain House budgets.

    Of course, you could just triple the amount you stock compared to what they recommend, but the already high cost will skyrocket.

    The writer claims:
    “Canned goods are great. But when the power’s out, stress levels are high
    and you’re hungry, being able to sit down to an actual meal can really
    take the edge off.”

    But a canned stew is faster to heat than a freeze dried meal is to heat and rehydrate, and way more filling. And if you have a reliable heat source to prepare freeze dried food, you’ve got a lot of other affordable options, too, ranging from pasta to dried soup mixes.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Noted, but we still like them as emergency rations.

      • Goolie

        I set up a camel^3 alert for Mountain Home #10 cans that I like. 10 servings per can, 25 year shelf life, you can vacuum seal portions. Recently got the popular chili mac and cheese for $17 bucks Prime.

  • schwinn8

    I have always had terrible luck with Duracell batteries – they have often leaked out on me when they wear out completely. I spoke to a friend of mine who worked with them and he said this is because they have a lower internal-resistance, so they will certainly last longer in usage, because they will give more of their charge to the device… but if they leak, they can damage the device, which is why I refuse to use them. I use Energizer batteries and have never had this problem – honestly, in tests I’ve seen they last just as long… but since they don’t leak I don’t end up with damaged devices.

    Test references:


  • hanguolaohu

    Awesome list. Looking forward to the expanded September update.

  • PeterV

    No September update?

  • AaronR

    I would have liked to see more discussion on food storage and preparation. As is you are basically saying “Keep a stocked pantry and buy Clif bars.” That seems rather limited.