Helpful Gear for Any Emergency
We’re currently working on a larger update to this guide, with lots of new research and testing, due for publication in September. But we wanted to give you a sneak preview of what we have so far. The following is a streamlined list of emergency gear based on American Red Cross and FEMA standards, as well as on our preliminary research, our existing guides and picks, and some early hands-on testing.
One of the lessons we’ve learned as we revisit this topic is that an emergency kit doesn’t have to be a thing you tuck away in a corner and then drag out only when the worst happens. For example, the grill in your backyard can be an emergency heat source and stove, the can opener in your kitchen drawer can be the same one in your “kit”—so long as you remember where it is—and the energy bars in your pantry are just as good as the ones you stash away in a dedicated kit. In fact, if disaster strikes and you wind up with a bunch of equipment you’ve never even used before, you’re just asking for trouble. We’ll have more tips on how to make the most of all your gear in the full guide, but for now, here are our recommendations for gear to get you through any emergency.
WATER AND FOOD
You might already have an important piece of emergency-preparedness hardware sitting on your deck or balcony: a grill. As long as you keep a good supply of charcoal or an extra tank of propane on hand, you’ll be ready to cook if the power or gas goes out. Using your grill can not only provide a bit of comfort in an uncomfortable situation but also allow you to heat and serve the food in your fridge or freezer that’s likely to spoil in an extended power outage.
If you don’t already have a grill in your backyard, we’ve got your back.
The $150 22″ Original Kettle Premium has been our favorite charcoal grill for three years in a row. Weber gets near-universal praise for its kettle grills from professional chefs, barbecue champions, and scores of backyard-grilling aficionados. The Original Kettle Premium comes with all of the features that made Weber’s now-discontinued One-Touch Gold grill great, including a one-touch ash-disposal system and ash catcher, premium hinged steel grates, a tough enameled-steel firebox and dome, and one of the best warranties in the industry. And if you run out of charcoal, you can use it for burning wood in a pinch. (You can do the same thing with a gas grill, but you run the risk of damaging the burners and other internal components.)
If you prefer cooking over a gas grill, Weber beat out the competition once again in our most recent gas grill guide with the $400 Spirit E-210. This two-burner gas grill is compact enough to fit on smaller decks or a balcony, but thanks to its excellent design and build quality, it provides enough heat, versatility, and durability to serve most people well for years to come. Just like the Weber Original Kettle Premium, the Spirit E-210 comes with a ten-year limited warranty.
OXO Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch $17
Maintaining a pantry full of ready-to-eat canned goods isn’t just a terrific way to keep yourself from ordering take-out when you’re feeling lazy. It’s also a great food source to fall back on if the food in your fridge and freezer goes bad due to a blackout. But you’ll need a can opener to take advantage of that sort of thing. After going through nine hours of testing, 54 opened cans, and 16 rejected can openers, we can tell you that OXO’s $17 Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch is the best piece of gear for the job.
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.
Energy bars—Price varies by type
The best emergency food strategy is to stock your cupboards full of the shelf-stable canned and dry goods you routinely eat and love. That way they’ll never expire, since you’re eating them anyway. Energy bars are a great supplemental emergency food source worth adding to your rotation.
Available in a wide variety of flavors, both online and in grocery and outdoor stores across North America, CLIF Bars offer a great balance of nutrition, taste, and value. Fortified with 23 vitamins and minerals, they can 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, though the amounts will vary slightly depending on which flavor you get. You can store them away and pull them out to eat in an emergency, or rotate them out when they’re getting close to their expiration date (typically about a year from the date of purchase) to munch on as a workday snack or as part of your next camping trip. Cooking Light says CLIF is the best meal-replacement bar, and Health.com chose a CLIF as the best chewy energy bar.
The price for a box of CLIF Bars can, however, differ wildly depending on flavor. For example, a quick bit of scouting showed us that a box of 12 Black Cherry Almond CLIF Bars will cost you $23 (or $1.92 per bar), while the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut CLIF Bar will set you back $11 for a box of 12 (a little under a buck per bar).
Another drawback: CLIF Bars technically expire after about a year, which is nothing next to the five-year shelf life of emergency ration bars like Datrex or ER Emergency Ration bars. These options offer 200 and 400 calories per bar, respectively, making them a viable meal alternative in an emergency. (Having tasted both of these, however, we can tell you that eating them feels like chewing on a moist, mildly sweet chunk of compressed sawdust.) That said, so long as you’re buying and eating CLIF Bars on a semi-regular basis, expiration should never be an issue. But there’s no reason you can’t buy both.
Datrex Emergency Survival Water Pouches—$30
Most people tend to take the water piped into their homes for granted—until an accident or natural disaster stems the flow or makes that water unsafe to drink. In such situations, you should have a backup supply of drinking water in place.
We like Datrex Emergency Survival Water Pouches. For around $30, you can get a box of 64 4.23-ounce packets of clean drinking water (a total of 2.12 gallons of water). The water pouches come with a five-year shelf life, so you don’t have to maintain your water stash with chemicals or even think about rotating the pouches out for half a decade. The pouches are tough, flexible, and slim enough that you can easily pack them around your other emergency items in a duffle bag or plastic storage box, or stuff them into a bug-out bag. A number of competitors sell similarly styled emergency water pouches, but we like the Datrex version for several reasons. Datrex specializes in safety, emergency preparedness, and survival gear, and these pouches have the approval of the respective coast guards in the United States, Canada, the European Union, and New Zealand for use in their emergency kits. The Datrex pouches are available through a wide variety of online stores and brick-and-mortar shops, too.
If you want to stock up on water with a much longer shelf life (but packaged in a less portable manner), canned water like this flat of water by Blue Can (almost $35, but about $60 total after you add the shipping fee) is a great way to go. You can safely consume the water up to 50 years after its original packaging date. Each flat comes with 24 12-ounce cans, making for a total of 2.25 gallons per flat. When you include the cost of shipping, however, you’re paying close to $30 more for only 0.13 gallon more water than you get from the box of Datrex water pouches.
So if price is a leading concern, or if you want your emergency water supply to be as portable as possible, consider the Datrex pouches. But if you’re shopping for an emergency water supply that you intend to leave on a shelf or in a storage box, the 50-year shelf life of the canned water is a costly option that fits the bill.
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 BPA-free plastic bottles. Because all three of our picks resist impacts, boast leak-proof tops, and fit into a backpack, any one of them would be a great addition to your bug-out bag or your car’s emergency kit. You could also bring a bottle along for more mundane times like your daily commute or workout.
Oh, and if you’d prefer a flask that offers the same great qualities but better accommodates hot liquids, we recommend the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Travel Mug, available in 12-, 16-, and 20-ounce sizes. It proved capable of keeping liquids hot for longer than any travel mug we’ve tested over the past two years. More than eight hours after we poured boiling water in, the liquid in the Zojirushi mug was still hot enough to burn your mouth. In an emergency where cooking fuel could be scarce, the ability to make a hot drink in the morning that will still be hot in the evening is a definite win.
BESTEK 300W 110V Inverter—$30
At the best of times, a power outage is inconvenient. But when the aftermath of a storm or some other event cuts you off from the power you rely on to call for help or to charge tools and devices, that nuisance can become a threat to your well-being. Fortunately, if you own a car, you can harness the power of its 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. For a cheap option that will work with less-complicated electronics, the $30 BESTEK 300W MRI3011J2 Power Inverter is your best bet. If you want to power more sophisticated electronics, like a laptop or TV, you’ll need to spend more on the $150 Go Power! GP-SW150-12 Pure Sine Wave Inverter—or else risk damaging your devices.
The BESTEK unit, and most every inverter that sells for less than $100, creates AC power in what’s called a modified sine wave. Instead of the smooth curve of power that comes from home outlets, the power steps up and down the scale. While simple electronics such as a fan or a coffee maker can deal with this type of power just fine, more complex electronics can get cranky. For some devices with screens, audio functions, or sensitive electronics, you’ll need a pure sine wave inverter. Pure sine wave inverters like the Go Power! unit re-create the smooth curve of a home outlet and use more advanced components that generally cost quite a bit more to produce.
To see the results side by side, we sent our three favorites from a list of 18 top-rated inverters to Dr. Jim Shapiro, a mathematical physicist who offered to help us examine the ups and downs of the power output. On an oscilloscope, the output looked as we expected, and matched the manufacturer’s claims. In practice, however, behavior was a little harder to predict. We were able to charge an iPad without any problems via the AC outlets on the inexpensive BESTEK inverter. Charging a Dell Chromebook, in contrast, caused Shapiro some problems: “The screen flickered and I noted that when I asked the computer to display the charging time left, that it oscillated between giving that time and ‘calculating,’ indicating that the software was having problems.”
With 1,941 reviews averaging 4.3 out of five stars on Amazon, most users report good luck using the 300W BESTEK inverter with everything from speakers to phone chargers on its two outlets and USB ports (rated for 1 amp and 2.1 amps). Safety features such as overvoltage and low-voltage shutdown are included as well. Still, we’re going to stick with our expert, who didn’t want to subject his more expensive gadgets to long-term testing and concluded by saying, “Save the [modified sine wave] inverters for warming your coffee and not for driving electronics, TVs included.”
If you want to power a TV or any other expensive piece of gear in an emergency or during a road trip, the Go Power! GP-SW150-12 Pure Sine Wave Inverter will serve you well. Though it’s more costly than than the BESTEK model, its $150 price makes it one of the least expensive pure sine wave inverters available. As it weighs 6 pounds and takes up some space, it’s better suited to permanent mounting in a van than sitting between your seats in a sedan.
RAVPower 15W Foldable Solar Charger—$50
If you don’t have a vehicle to run an inverter, and the power to your house has been cut off, you can rely on the power of the sun to charge some of your gear. The $50 RAVPower 15W Foldable 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.
With three panels, each about the size of a sheet of printer paper, stitched into a nylon sleeve, the RAVPower 15W Foldable Solar Charger folds up to just 8 by 11 inches and weighs 1½ pounds. That’s the sweet spot in portable solar right now—any smaller doesn’t get you the amount of power or reliability you need off grid, while any bigger becomes too heavy in a backpack or too large to mount comfortably in the sun. In our testing, it 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.
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. And although you can plug a USB battery charger into a solar panel to top off your rechargeables, that can be time consuming. So we say it’s smart to keep a few disposable batteries on hand. We like 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 $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.
LIGHT AND HEAT
UST 30-Day Lantern—$30
Having to make do with no lights during a power outage can be frustrating, demoralizing, and under certain conditions, dangerous. After putting in 20 hours of research, we discovered that the $30 UST 30-Day Lantern outperformed LED lanterns that were twice the price and (in some cases) larger. Measuring 4¼ by 7¼ inches and weighing just over a pound (comparable to a 1-liter water bottle), the 30 Day Lantern is splash-resistant, equipped with a handle for carrying or hanging, and protected by a lifetime warranty. The lantern has three illumination settings—29, 150, and 300 lumens—and can run for up to 720 hours on three D-cell batteries (you’ll get 32 hours on the lantern’s maximum illumination setting). Capable of throwing enough light for you to see your surroundings up to a distance of 38 feet, or just enough to read a book by, it’s a reasonably priced, versatile piece of gear that deserves a place in your home’s emergency preparedness kit.
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp—$30
Although a lantern, flashlight, or candles will take care of your illumination needs during a power failure in most situations, you need to carry such things, and they can be bulky. That setup isn’t ideal if you need to keep your hands free for tasks like clearing debris after a storm, providing first aid, or tinkering with a fuse box. The $30 Black Diamond Spot Headlamp is a versatile light that you can wear on your head (duh), lash to an object, or carry like a conventional flashlight. More important, it proved to be the most capable headlamp we could find after exhaustive research and testing.
This model can cast long-range spot illumination for seeing what’s in front of you in the dark, or it can produce close-range floodlighting for preparing meals, topping off a portable generator with fuel, or reading a book. The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp will run for up to 200 hours on three AAA batteries (50 hours at its maximum illumination setting). It’s also water-resistant, equipped with a red LED lamp for preserving your night vision, and covered with a one-year warranty.
SOL All-Weather Fire Cubes—$10
Cook your food, dry your clothes, and keep you warm: Fire can do it all—provided you can start one. If you don’t have a lighter and fuel, waterproof matches, or dry kindling handy, we have a few suggestions for getting a blaze going.
We like SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) All-Weather Fire Cubes because they’re reliably flammable and come individually wrapped for better moisture resistance. A six-pack 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. I’ve used these fire cubes to great success over the past few years for lighting beach fires on Vancouver Island and while stealth camping in Spain. If you can set a spark or the flame from a lighter or a match to them, they work every time.
The cubes are also great for lighting charcoal in a grill if you don’t have a charcoal chimney handy (or even if you do). Speaking of grills, Weber, maker of our favorite grill, sells almost identical fire cubes in packs of 24 for less than four bucks. They aren’t individually wrapped as the SOL cubes are, which means they aren’t as well protected from moisture. But if you already have the means to produce a flame or a spark and simply need some fuel to get your fire going, they’re an inexpensive, foolproof option.
Clear Mist 100 Hour Plus Emergency Candle—$8
An emergency candle is a source of both light and heat, and in a pinch you can cook on it. The Clear Mist 100 Hour Plus Emergency Candle ($8) is a sealed liquid paraffin lamp that burns without odor or smoke for four days. It burned longer and made less of a mess (none at all, actually, as it produces no melted wax as it burns) than any of the five emergency candles we tested for this guide. Amazon shoppers currently give the Clear Mist a 4.3-star average rating, with 60 percent of its reviews granting it a five-star rating. The only drawback that we discovered during our testing was that a slight breeze easily blows it out, so it isn’t a great choice for outdoor use.
If you’re looking for an emergency candle that performs well outside, consider picking up a $6 Sterno Emergency Candle. Of all the candles we tested outdoors, it was the only one that refused to be snuffed out by a stiff breeze. Unfortunately, unlike the Clear Mist 100 Hour Plus Emergency Candle, the Sterno candle is messy: Because it doesn’t come in a protective canister, the dripping melted wax gets everywhere. That said, dripping wax is easy to contain with an old coffee can or even a plate, so the mess definitely isn’t a dealbreaker.
AT&T 210M Trimline Corded Phone—$10
There’s no school like the old school, especially when it comes to staying in touch during an emergency. When your cellular or Internet service goes down, or when your area loses electricity and you can’t charge a cell phone or use a cordless phone, short of finding a pay phone (good luck with that), a corded landline phone is your best bet for staying in touch with loved ones and calling for help. So long as the phone lines are up, you can make a call from a landline, because telephone lines carry enough electricity to power a corded landline phone.
Calling from a landline phone also helps emergency service personnel find you more easily, as the phone number you’re using is tied to a physical address. You might argue that a cell phone allows geolocation, but anyone who has used a smartphone navigation app will tell you that location data received or sent from a handset is sometimes inaccurate.
If you don’t own a corded phone and you want to include one in your emergency preparedness kit, the $10 AT&T 210M Trimline Corded Phone is a solid choice because it works even when the power goes out. 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. 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, coming together as a community makes everything just a bit better.
Eton FRX3 Hand Crank NOAA AM/FM Weather Alert Radio with Smartphone Charger—$60
A wide variety of emergency radio brands—Ambient Weather, Epica, ER Radio, La Crosse, Midland, and topAlert, to name a few—offer NOAA-band weather radio service and can run on multiple power sources so you’ll always be in the know, even when the electricity goes out. But at the time we last updated this guide, only one brand had the American Red Cross’s recommendation for inclusion in an emergency preparedness kit, and that’s Eton. Available in a number of configurations at varying prices, Eton’s AM/FM/NOAA weather alert radios have shown up consistently in our emergency preparedness guide thanks to their sturdy build quality, wide availability, and multiple reliable charging technologies.
The $60 Eton FRX3 is our top pick because it can charge from multiple power sources, so you won’t have to worry about its running out of juice when you need it most. You can charge its internal 600-milliampere-hour nickel–metal hydride battery with its integrated solar panel or with DC power via a Mini-USB connection, or use its hand-cranked turbine; using AAAs is yet another option. Cheaper models like the FRX1 and FRX2 lack the solar and/or AAA-battery options, which makes them less versatile. Also, its battery can serve to charge a cell phone partially or to power the FRX3’s built-in flashlight.
By comparison the $30 Eton Microlink FR160 is a better deal than the FRX3, as it does most of the things the FRX3 can do but at half the price. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do any of those things really well. The battery inside the FR160 is only 400 mAh, compared with the 600-mAh battery in the FRX3. Neither battery is great for charging a modern smartphone, but the difference is a big deal if you’re using the radio in a place where you have minimal light to recharge the battery. Additionally, the FRX3 is rechargeable via USB while the FR160 isn’t, so you could leave the FRX3 plugged into a wall until the power goes out, and be good to go. Add to this the fact that the FRX3 can rock regular batteries, and you have a device with multiple power redundancies.
Although the FRX3 will likely meet most people’s needs, Eton’s $90 FRX5 comes with several desirable upgrades. For about $30 more, you get IPX4-level protection against splashes of water, a 2,000-mAh battery, a larger solar panel for faster recharging, built-in LED ambient lighting, and, in addition to a AM/FM/NOAA weather alert radio, the ability to create up to 24 region-specific weather alerts. If you want enough power to fully recharge a smartphone like the iPhone 6 or to provide a significant charge for a larger phone or tablet, or if you think you could be in a situation where you’ll need a water-resistant radio, picking up an FRX5 is worth the extra cost.
Finally, if you’re more budget-minded, consider the Eton FRX1. Although it can’t charge a cell phone or tablet, or recharge in sunlight, the $15 FRX1 does provide an AM/FM/NOAA analog radio and an LED flashlight. One minute of rotating its hand-cranked turbine will provide the FRX1 with 15 to 20 minutes of radio play. And should you happen to have an inverter, a computer, or a battery pack to plug it into, its internal rechargeable battery can juice up via USB. We think it’s a much better value than the FRX2, which currently sells for $40 and adds only solar charging and a headphone jack. If you’re willing to spend that much, you might as well go a little higher and get the more capable FRX3.
Shoreline Marine Safety Whistle Basic—$3
No one wants to think about being trapped in the attic during a flood or being caught in a collapsed building in the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado, but it happens. Screaming for help might get a rescuer’s attention, but chances are good that the sound of your voice will get lost in the din of a house fire, a windstorm, emergency vehicles, or rescue operations. The high-pitched shrill of a rescue whistle can cut through all of that noise.
In our testing we found that of six different whistles ranging in price from $3 to $12, the Shoreline Marine Safety Whistle Basic was the best choice for an emergency whistle. Loud enough to be heard from a great distance, this whistle (unlike many traditional whistles) has no internal ball, so it has no parts that can break. It’s also familiar to anyone who needs to use it, since it looks like a regular whistle.
With its piercing 101.1-decibel sound, it’s powerful enough to be heard over water or through wooded terrain from up to 1.5 miles away. Two of the other finalists in our test group—the $13 Storm Safety Whistle and the $9 Fox 40 Sonik Blast CMG Whistle—were just as loud, but the Shoreline whistle’s $3 price makes it a much more appealing deal.
HEALTH AND HYGINE
3M 9211 Cool-Flow N95 Particulate Sanding Respirator Mask—$19
In an emergency such as a fire, earthquake, or hurricane, airborne dust and debris or harmful particles in the air could make breathing unsafe. Even the best face masks have limits against 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. The 3M 9211 Cool-Flow N95 Particulate Sanding Respirator Mask comes in a box of 10 for $19. 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 or sunglasses, as the valve helps to prevent lenses from fogging up. In addition to its ability to stop dust and debris and other small particles, this mask is FDA-cleared for surgery. (That doesn’t mean you are, though.) This mask is cheap and good, but in a pinch, you could instead 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 built-in 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 looking at the Alpha Protech PFL N95 Particulate Respirator mask. A box of 35 will set you back a little less than $35. The CDC recommends this mask for preventing exposure to tuberculosis, SARS, swine flu, and similar airborne viral illnesses and diseases.
Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Bighorn First Aid Kit—$60
In the aftermath of a severe weather event, flood, wildfire, or earthquake, you can expect emergency services to be stretched to the limit. You may not be able to call for help—and frankly, even if you can, help might not be available. Adventure Medical Kits designed its $60 Sportsman Bighorn first aid kit with input from doctors and outdoor-survival experts, tailoring it for hunters and outdoor adventurers planning to spend up to seven days in the wilderness far from medical aid. High winds, flooding, or heavy snow can produce falling debris, transform everyday objects into projectiles, and create extreme temperatures—conditions and hazards that cause penetrating wounds, trauma, and exposure-related medical emergencies. When it comes to treatment, what works in the wild can work in your home or office too.
The Sportsman Bighorn has almost everything you’re likely to need in an emergency medical situation to help multiple injured people, but it doesn’t come with anything superfluous that would weigh it down or make it larger than it needs to be. Measuring 8½ by 7 by 4 inches and weighing only 3.7 ounces, it’s small and light enough to stuff into a backpack if you need to leave the house, and it won’t take up much space in the box, duffle bag, or shelving that you keep your emergency supplies in at home.
The kit is helpfully organized by injury type—as opposed to supply type, which is the case with many other kits—so you can quickly treat a patient or yourself. Its wide range of supplies will help you deal with minor bleeding, sprains, broken bones, burns, respiratory emergencies, minor illnesses, and midrange trauma. It also comes with a comprehensive field guide to treating common injuries that includes details on when treating an injury at home is sufficient and when getting to the hospital is vital.
The only thing not included in this kit is splinting material to assist in immobilizing a broken bone or sprained joint. For this task, we like the 36″ SAM Rolled Splint, priced around $11. You can cut this reusable material to size with a pair of regular household shears, and thanks to its aluminium core, it allows you to mold it to cradle any body part. We recommend buying two for your kit so you’re sure to have enough splinting material to stabilize multiple injuries—you never know.
Be aware that first aid supplies have a shelf life. Check the expiration dates of your medical kit’s contents and add them to your calendar so that you remember to restock appropriately. Also, although clear instructions are important and good, prior knowledge of how to treat wounds is even better. Check with your local Red Cross for upcoming first aid classes.
Seventh Generation Thick & Strong Free & Clear Baby Wipes—$13
In an emergency that cuts off the water flowing into your home, drinking water will become a precious commodity. As for bathing—well, let’s just say that it could become a luxury you can’t afford. But being forced to ration your water 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 a bit less than $13. For the comfort of staying clean when there’s no water for a shower, however, we think these wipes are worth their weight in gold. Currently these wipes are Amazon’s best-selling baby bathing product, but they’re great for cleaning big people, too.
They’re durable enough to stand up to a bit of scrubbing, and each scent- and alcohol-free wipe contains natural aloe vera and vitamin E to soften your skin. The effect is a far cry from a hot shower, but in the middle of an event where water is scarce, the morale boost from feeling clean can be enormous. A lot of people complain that these wipes, which are the result of a reformulation, are not as soft as the old ones were. That’s a valid point of concern for anyone cleaning the delicate skin of a baby, but we believe that the new formulation’s resiliency is better suited to general cleaning duties.
A roll of duct tape belongs in your emergency preparedness kit for several reasons. 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.
Leatherman New Wave Multitool—$85
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 tool expert Harry Sawyers tested it for us, he found that it offered better construction and more functionality than any other multitool we could find.
The New Wave comes packing 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.
Map and compass
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 go-bag.
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 U.S. states and Canadian provinces, as well as for major cities across North America. Each map comes packed full of 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 providing aid and shelter during a disaster. Because EasyFinder maps have lamination and come with ultraviolet light resistance and tear-resistant folds, you can use them in wet conditions without fear of ruining them, or you can write on them with a dry erase marker or grease pencil to aid in navigation.
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. In contrast to 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.
Due to 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. To get a detailed topographical map of your area, 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.
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 $15, 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 guide that provides the basics on how to use a compass and map—to be honest, however, you’re likely better off learning as much about orienteering as possible before you need to put the skill to use.
Ziploc 60-Qt Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box—$16
You want something to keep all of this stuff together, and you want that container to be made of a see-through material so that you can easily find what you need at a moment’s notice. It should be sturdy enough to withstand moderate abuse, and it should have a water-resistant seal to help keep your supplies dry. After considering close to two dozen storage bins, and testing 10 models by dropping them, soaking them with a garden hose, and hauling them around full of books, we discovered that the $16 Ziploc 60-Qt Large Deep Weathertight Storage Box was the best water-and-impact-resistant storage bin we could find.
The box is comfortable to carry thanks to its chunky hand grips, and the stiff sides refuse to flex whether the bin is empty or stuffed. The box also resists sliding around on the ground or when stacked. And 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. It should keep your supplies safe from casual abuse, rain, or even short-term submersion.
Originally published: June 27, 2014