This list is not an official emergency checklist, although it was informed by Seamus's experience in the military and private security management, my training as an EMT and SF emergency response dork (NERT) and FEMA's prep kit list.
We made sure we had most things on FEMA’s general list, except for things you’d already have like canned food and plastic bags. You should really check out FEMA’s website, because it’s not just about having a bunch of gear ready—it’s about preparing buildings and knowing how to get a hold of your loved ones and planning ahead of problems. (People in flood areas should have materials to construct sandbags, while people in earthquake zones should add braces to their foundations to resist seismic activity, for example.) We will be updating this list in sections over the next few days. Note that these recommendations were done swiftly and do not have the dozen hours of research most picks do backing them up, but we have done our best to vet gear that is safe to buy and own. If you’ve got suggestions, please put them in the comments and I’ll check them out. –Brian Lam, Seamus Bellamy and Nathan Edwards. Note: this list was originally compiled as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast, but most everything here is a good bet in any emergency, be it wind, rain, snow or anything else.
Table of Contents
12V to 110V Car Inverter | Athena Soladyne Solar Lantern | Bear Grylls Survivor Tool Pack | Black Diamond Water-Resistant Headlamp | Cheap Batteries | Clear Mist 100 Hour Candle | Coleman Liquid Fuel Stove | Collapsible Water Jug | Dust Masks | Energy Bars | Eton BoostTurbine1000 | Eton FRX3 Hand Turbine | First Aid Kit | Flashlight | Gas Generator | Goal Zero Solar Panel and Battery | Heatmax Hand & Body Warmer | High Power USB Surge Protector | Leatherman Wave Multitool | Meals Ready to Eat | Monoprice 5000mAh Battery Charger | Motorola Two-Way Radio | Mountain House Freeze Dried Meals | MSR Microfilter | NPower PEG Person Energy Generator | Outdoor GPS | Physical Maps | Potable Water Treatment Tablets | Rain Jacket | Reliance Aquapak Water Container | Sleeping Bag | Solar Joos USB Gadget Charger | Spare Cellphone | SteriPEN Adventure Opti | Textport Deluxe Folding Camp Cot | Umbrella | Victorinox Can Opener | Water Bottle | Waterproof Keychain LED | Wet Wipes | Wool Socks | Zippo Emergency Fire Starter
12V to 110V car inverter (plus USB) — $22 This 150 watt inverter has two USB ports (one is high-powered) and an AC plug. This thing is $22 and has 70 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.5 stars. It’s the best one I could find in terms of specs and user satisfaction.
Athena Soladyne 7-inch mini solar lantern — $21
The Eton FRX3 above includes a solar panel, hand crank and an LED flashlight among its many other functions, but if you’re stuck without electricity, you’ll want another light to provide ambient illumination. A lantern with both solar panels and a dynamo lets you light an area without electricity or combustible fuel. The Athena Soladyne lantern has a crank and some LED panels, so you can leave it out during the day to charge or keep it topped off with a couple minutes of hand-cranking. It’s under $21 on Amazon and is Prime-eligible.
Bear Grylls survival tool pack — $50
If I didn’t already have a multitool, flashlight and multiple ways to start a fire stashed in my pack everywhere I go, I’d be tempted to buy Gerber’s Bear Grylls Survival Tool Pack. The kit comes with a compact LED flashlight, magnesium firestarter and a multitool that packs a pair of needlenose pliers, wood saw, wirecutters, pierce, scissors, bottle opener, multiple screwdriver heads and a partially serated knife blade. The flashlight, multitool and firestarter handles are covered in grippy rubber, making them easy to handle in gloves or wet weather and the whole kit can be stored away in its included case. While the tool pack’s a little bit bulky to wear on your belt on a day-to-day basis, it’d be perfect for keeping in an emergency kit, tossing in a pack for a weekend away or stashing in your car’s glove compartment.
Black Diamond Storm water-resistant headlamp — $40 The Black Diamond Storm was our water resistant (to three feet) winner in our headlamp roundup. $40 for 100 lumens, but 125 hours worth of them. The non-waterproof spot is similarly rated, but at 200 hours, so there’s always that. They both run off AAAs, so stock up on those, particularly lithiums if you can afford it, as they have superior shelf life.
Cheap batteries — $12 Not everything by Amazon Basics is great, but these batteries apparently are. They’re $12 for 20 and they beat some lower end Duracells. They are 20% less capable than our recommended rechargeables, according to some reviewers. But in an emergency, how are you going to recharge anything? They don’t have the shelf life of lithiums but they are a lot cheaper. Get lots of them, since they’re cheap. Update: Hold up–these Duracells are new and have a 10 year shelf life guarantee for $9 for 14 of them. I’d get these instead.
Clear Mist 100 hour emergency candle — $8
Humanity’s got this thing with fire: too much is way too much, but a little flame can be profoundly reassuring. 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 Emergency Candle ($8) is a sealed liquid paraffin lamp (so, not technically a candle) that burns without odor or smoke for four days. Like any flame, don’t use it in a sealed room or one with a limited supply of fresh air. They’re about eight bucks, so it might be worth getting a couple.
Coleman 2 Burner Dual Fuel Compact Liquid fuel stove — $116
There’s a chance that your electric or gas stove won’t work during a natural disaster, and eating cold food is a drag. Unless you’ve got a BBQ, you’ll need an alternative way to cook. The Coleman 2 Burner Dual Fuel Compact Liquid fuel stove is a great option that’ll cost you $116. It runs off of Coleman Fuel or unleaded gasoline, which is great if the power is out for longer than you thought it might be—having more than one fuel source is always a win. It has two burners: one that puts out 7,500 BTU and a smaller 6,500 BTU one, and can boil a quart of water in just four minutes. Best of all, it folds down into an easy-to-handle size so you can stow it away in your closet when things return to normal, or take it on your next camping trip or cookout.
Collapsible Water Jug — $10 (NOTE: Longterm testing showed this to be flawed. See below for alternatives.)
Get these two gallon jugs and avoid the 5 gallon ones that get terrible reviews on Amazon. These are good to stash in a closet so you’re not forced to drink water out of your toilet bowl tank or bath tub if water supplies go away. Get at least one gallon’s worth for every person for every day you think you could be without potable water. $10 each.
Update: I hate these! Apparently, many collapsible jugs leak or suck for regular use. After using one for three weeks in my car, one started leaking along the edge. Other bottles I have showed the same weakness. I’ll find a replacement. Sorry for recommending them in the first place, the Amazon reviewers were WRONG.
Dust masks — $10 In an emergency like a fire, earthquake or hurricane, the air could become unsafe, either from airborne dust and debris or harmful particles in the air. There’s a limit to what even the best facemasks can do against germs, but they’re at least useful from keeping particulate matter out of your nose and lungs.The FDA says N95-certified respirators can help reduce the risk of illness in a public health emergency. These 3M 1860 surgical respirators are about fifty cents each.They’ll stop dust and debris and other small particles, and they’re FDA-cleared for surgery. That doesn’t mean you are, though. Anyway, these masks are cheap and good. In a pinch, you can 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. Whatever you get, a mask or respirator is not going to make you immune from disease. But it can help protect your nose, mouth, sinuses, and lungs from crap in the air.
Energy bars — $24 I like Clif Bars because they don’t taste as rubbery as power bars and they aren’t as candy-like as others. They’re like chewy granola bars and I especially like the kinds with chocolate and peanut butter because at least that’s realistic. No one’s going to enjoy pretending to eat a bar form of something that is supposed to be fruit, but I can get behind some choco-peanut butter bars any day. About $24 for two dozen.
Eton BoostTurbine1000 — $50
Amazon sells out of these guys a lot, but there’s plenty of other places to get Eton’s TurbineBoost1000 USB battery pack with Turbine Power Generator. For $50, you’ll get a backup battery pack that can provide a 50% charge to a dead smartphone, as well as an integrated hand-cranked generator that can be used to recharge the BootTurbine1000’s battery. One minute of hand cranking will allow for enough juice to make a 30-second phone call or to send and receive a few text messages.
Eton FRX3 hand turbine NOAA AM/FM weather alert radio with smartphone charger — $60
The $60 Eton FRX3 is an AM/FM/NOAA weather alert radio. It’s got a bright, built-in three-LED flashlight and a USB port for charging your smartphone with. If that’s not enough for you, the FRX3 can be powered via its integrated solar panel, internal Ni-Mh battery, DC power or hand-cranked turbine. Oh, and not that it matters when the power goes out, but it comes in red or black.
First aid kit — $35
When bad things happen, people get hurt. Everyone should have basic first aid. Check with your local Red Cross for an upcoming class close to you. Once you’re done, you’ll want a first aid kit. For under $35, this 326-piece kit available from Amazon should provide you with all the medical supplies you’ll need to treat injuries until professional medical assistance becomes available.
Flashlight — $40
Between the solar/dynamo lantern and the Black Diamond Spot headlamp we’re not sure we need to recommend a specific flashlight, but more light sources are always better, and it can’t hurt to have a long-lasting high-powered flashlight on hand.
Flashlight nerd Gordon Ung recommends an LED tactical flashlight with CR123 lithium batteries. Why? When emergencies happen, people run out and buy AAA, AA and D batteries, but “nobody buys CR123s except flashlight nerds,” so you’ll be able to find them in stores. They also have a 10-year shelf life. Tactical flashlights generally have options including high-lumen and low-lumen outputs, variable throw distances, and strobes, so they’ll be useful in a variety of circumstances.
Gordon recommends the Surefire Backup for “civvies” (read: normal people), but a $150 flashlight is going to be beyond most people. The Streamlight 88031 Protac is our choice for most people. It’s $40 (on sale from $80), takes two CR123s, and has 166 five-star reviews on Amazon out of 201 total reviews. 28 of the rest are 4-stars. That’s high praise. If you recommend a different flashlight, be sure to let us know in the comments.
Gas generator –$200 I’m not going to recommend a generator without doing some more serious research. Here’s a link to Amazon’s page for the mostly highly-rated portable generators, which range from 4000 to 7000 watts. I don’t know what I’m talking about, so I’m not going to give you advice on these very expensive pieces of equipment. That said, this is the best one that I could find that was cheap and still highly-rated, but I’m still not comfortable recommending this one to you. Our soul mates at Cool Tools and their readers like these three generators: A silent and small one by Honda, good for $1000 and 1000 watts, one that runs on natural gas (but is kind of large), and one that is cheap at $130 but seemingly the least impressive.
Goal Zero Explorers kit solar panel and battery — $400 And this is the best kit for someone who wants to keep a laptop or other 110V things going. With a 30 watt panel the battery pack will charge in about a day and can power 12 volt, USB and 110V laptops (up to 80 watts) for a few hours. They claim recharge cycles 3-4x for each laptop, which seems amazing. I do know that these kits are highly respected. The lesser kits can’t do 110V or take two days to charge. These don’t come precharged, but they should help. $500 from company or $400 from Amazon.
Heatmax hand & body warmer (x40) — $34
One of the most important parts of surviving is maintaining your body heat, especially if you’re cold and wet. If you can’t build a fire and don’t have electricity, you’d better have another option. Chemical heatpacks are great: they’re portable, they’re cheap and they don’t require fire or electricity. Heatmax seems to be the go-to brand, and you can get 40 of their Hand & Body Warmers for $34. Each warmer is 4 by 5 inches and lasts for up to 18 hours. That’ll last a family of four for over a week, even if everyone’s constantly using one.
High power USB surge protector — $22 A lot of people go to public places to charge their gadgets, and you’ll never be turned away from a full outlet if you have a power strip with you. This one has 2 high power USB plugs in it so it can also make the most of your plug-in time. I’ve been testing one for a few months now and compared to the old Belkin and the Monster ones I’ve tried, it is the best.
Leatherman Wave multitool — $60
Sci-fi author Bruce Sterling says a multitool is a “set of possible creative interventions in your immediate material environment.” It’s also an incredibly convenient way to carry a couple knives, a saw, some wirecutters, pliers, a set of screwdrivers, a bottle opener, a can opener, a pair of scissors and a file in your pocket. These are all useful things to have in an emergency. There are dozens of great multitools out there, most built by Leatherman, Gerber, or Victorinox. The Leatherman Wave is probably the most popular. Gordon Ung of Maximum PC, a flashlight and knife aficionado, told us it’s the “gold standard” of multitools, and the one he carries every day.
Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) — $75 for 12
If they’re good enough for our armed forces in the field, then they’re definitely good enough for you. MREs have been a staple of soldiers in the field for decades now. Why? Because they’re easy to pack, contain a great mix of protein, fat and carbs (13/36/51% respectively) and can be heated without a stove. Just add water to your MRE’s flameless ration heater, drop your entree into it and in a few minutes you’ll have a hot meal ready to be eaten right out of the bag. Each MRE comes with a single entree suitable for one person, and depending on the meal, extras like utensils, napkins, matches, creamer, sugar, salta and gum. Some have hot beverages or hot sauce. The good news is that they’re easy to use. The bad news is that they don’t have as long a shelf life as freeze-dried foods do and when you buy them in large quantities, you typically don’t have control over what variety of meals you’ll get.
Monoprice 5000mAh gadget battery charger — $55 I’ve seen bigger battery packs, but I’ve come to really trust Monoprice, and this one has a great price per amp. (There’s a 10,000 amp one that costs twice as much, so you might as well get two of these.) In an blackout, you’ll have no way of charging this thing up once its gone without a solar pack like the Joos, or the Goal Zero, but this pack will do you a lot of good in every day non-emergency life, too. Oh: it has two ports and one of them is high powered.
Motorola MH230R 23-Mile Range 22-Channel FRS/GMRS two-way radio — $46
Cellphones are great and landlines are everywhere, but in the wake of a natural disaster, brownout or other inconveniences of biblical proportions, the systems that support them may not be available for days or weeks at a time. If you’re forced to leave home to head to work, clean up storm and flood damage or root for supplies, you’ll want to stay in touch. Me? I own a pair of $46 Motorola MH230R 23-Mile Range 22-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radios. With a 23-mile range, 22 channels, 121 privacy codes, 11 built-in (7 NOAA) weather channels, and a drop-in charger, there’s no reason to be out of touch or uninformed. They even offer hands-free use and can run off of alkaline or rechargeable batteries.
Mountain House freeze dried meals — $40 for 10
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. I keep Mountain House freeze dried meals in my own home preparedness kit and go-bag, so I feel good recommending them to you. They’re a little pricey, but they’re easily the best freeze dried grub I’ve ever encountered. For $40, you’ll get 10 entrees that’ll serve two people: two chicken teriyaki with rice; two beef stew; three beef stroganoff; two lasagna with meat sauce. You can also pick up a $76 bucket that contains 29 entrees. Are they as good as something you’d make from from scratch? No. But they’re a lot more appetizing than than a can of beans. Just open one up, add water, heat and eat. Oh and if you’ve got any dietary restrictions, head over to the company’s website. You can pick and choose the foods that work for you.
MSR MiniWorks EX microfilter — $90
The $90 MRS MiniWorks EX microfilter water filtration is a hand-cranked system can push one liter of per minute through its ceramic and carbon-packed filtration element to provide you with water free of sediment as well as nasty odors and tastes on the on the go. It’s easy to clean and maintain (even in the most hostile of environments) and comes with a built-in water bottle adapter so that you can use it where ever you happen to be. The MRS Miniworks’ filtration element is capable of cleansing 2000 liters of water before it needs to be replaced. When the time comes, a replacement element will set you back $40, but that’s a small price to pay for safe water. I own one, and it’s served me well. It might not get rid of bacteria and viruses like the SteriPEN or water treatment tablets will, but it makes an excellent add-on to either of them, making your emergency water source not only safe but tasty too.
NPower PEG Person Energy Generator — $130
Public transit’s a disaster in a disaster, so there’s a good chance many of you will be doing some walking. You may as well charge your phone while you’re at it. For $130, NPower’s PEG Personal Energy Generator will use the kinetic energy from walking or biking to create the juice you need to power your phone. If you’re staying at home, it’s still a good get, as you can also charge its 2,000 mAh lithium-ion polymer battery via a USB connection (if you’ve got one) or by shaking it. 10 minutes of shaking will give you enough power to make a short phone call. Seems like a good trade to me.
Outdoor GPS – $375 If you need to find your way around, without depending on your smartphone’s maps and battery, this rugged, water resistant outdoor GPS should be a decent tool in case you have to evacuate. It’s our favorite pick at the moment, even if its not cheap at $375.
Physical maps of your area Some phones and tablets can cache maps offline (Google Maps lets you do this manually and Apple Maps does it automatically to varying degrees of usability), but you should have paper maps of your area ready just in case. Amazon sells literally tens of thousands, from road maps of entire continents to maps of your city. Your local gas station or tourist center are also good sources of local maps.
Potable water treatment tablets — $11
Look, I’m not going to lie to you: These things will make any water you put them in taste like you’re drinking it out of a linebacker’s cross trainers, but they’re cheap and they’ll make your contaminated water safe to drink. At $11, what more could you ask for? Just drop a tablet in, wait 30 minutes and your water will be suitable for drinking or cooking with. A word of warning: These things aren’t meant to be used for an extended period of time. If you foresee the possibility of a lengthy clean water shortage in your future, I’d recommend in investing in the SteriPEN or the MSR Miniworks.
Reliance Aquapak 7 gallon water container for long term and rugged storage ($17)
After the problems with the collapsing containers above, I am looking at tougher, longer term containers. As of now, I am testing this Reliance 6 gallon and 3 gallon container (5-year warranty) for short-term holding at $17 and $13. And my main pick, so far, is their Aquapak 7 Gallon. They’re stackable, have a hide away spigot, and cost less than the 5 gallon version ($20) at $17. Ultimately, they’re good for longterm holding of 90 days, and that’s important because you may not have time to fill up if your emergency is an earthquake. (The Canadian-based company seems to take water storage and BPA/health concerns seriously and they have an FAQ on how to best store water for emergencies which is useful.) Again, they’re not collapsible but they are tough. I’ll update soon as I know more.
Sleeping bag — $95 I’m not saying this is the ideal sleeping bag in all emergencies, because it’s made of down (not great if it gets wet) and it’s rated to 20 degrees, but I’ve used the zero degree version of this bag–highly lauded for being a great value–on many van trips, some while it snowed in the desert, and I really like it. I picture this as a useful bag if your house is ruined or you have guests over that need something to keep them warm in a pinch.
Solar Joos USB gadget charger — $150 This is a great gadget charger. It’s waterproof and can charge a cellphone a few times directly from its battery or from the panel’s power. And it recharges in the sun in less than a day, or faster through a USB port. I’ve tested these in the Atlantic, Pacific, California and in Mexico and I’ve never been let down with this sturdy little guy. Comes with adapters for various cellphones and USB ports. About $150.
Spare cellphone – $90
The SpareOne cellphone runs on a single AA battery, which it includes a lithium version of so it can sit on your shelf for 15 years and still have juice. You have to provide your own SIM card, which could be tricky if you have one of these new NanoSIMs but dialing 911 should work without it. It also has a 24 hour LED flashlight built into the top. $90.
SteriPEN Adventurer Opti — $77
Just because the water’s still flowing from your household taps doesn’t mean you can drink it. Flooding, earthquakes and other disasters can fill an city’s clean water supply with contaminants capable of causing short-term discomfort or longterm illness. The $77 SteriPEN adventurer Opti is small enough to stash in a kitchen drawer, go bag or emergency preparedness kit, but don’t let the size fool you: using UV-light, it’s capable of sterilizing 99.9% of all harmful Protozoa, bacteria and viruses out of 32 fl. oz of water in just 90 seconds. Two CR123 batteries will power it through up to more than 8000 16 ounce treatments, which should be more than enough to see you through times when potable water’s scarce. (Of course, it goes without saying that you should consider stockpiling bottled water as well.)
Texport Deluxe folding camp cot — $48
Maybe you have to leave your home, or the floor is wet or dirty or vermin-infested. Either way, a camp cot is a good way to get your sleeping body off of the floor. It’s also more comfortable than floors. You don’t need anything super fancy, just something that gets you off the ground, is fairly comfy, and doesn’t cost a fortune. The Texport Deluxe Folding Camp Cot is under $50 and has 4.5 stars with 52 reviews. It also folds up for easy stowage. A cot is still more than you’ll want to carry in a serious emergency, but for a few days in a shelter or a friend’s house, it’s better than the floor.
Victorinox Can Opener — $16
Electric can openers are great–until the power goes out. This manual can opener from Victorinox, is easy to operate and comfortable to use. You were smart enough to stock up on canned goods, so you’d better have something to crack them open with when dinner time rolls around. No can opener? No problem. Just find a flat piece of concrete and do this.
Water Bottle — $35 I like the Hydroflasks for emergency use, because they’ll keep drinks hot or cold with their insulation and go pretty big in size, to 40 ounces for $35. They’re also very tough and have a lifetime warranty. But in case of a sudden emergency (like an earthquake) you should buy bottled water in case you don’t have time to fill.
Waterproof keychain LED — $7
I have one of these keychain LED lights, and I love it (as do many on Amazon.) It’s waterproof to a few feet and it’s a pretty focused beam (good and bad). You’ll get plenty of use out of it even before an emergency.
Wet wipes — $15 Wet wipes are good for keeping clean when showers aren’t working. Here’s a pack of 144 single-use disposable towels for $15. By the way, when water isn’t working, you’ll have to poop in garbage bags and tie them off (double tie.)
Wool socks — $13 Wool socks are antimicrobial and keep your feet fresh longer. When wet, they still retain warmth. These are highly rated and I’ve used many smart wool pairs myself, so I don’t think you could go wrong with these during an emergency–or during several days of travel–when access to a shower is not the easiest thing to find.
Zippo emergency fire starter — $13
Cook your food, dry your clothes and keep you warm: fire can do it all–provided you can start one. Zippo’s $13 Emergency Fire Starter has everything you need to kindle a blaze, even in the foulest weather conditions. In a package about the same size as the company’s iconic windproof lighters, Zippo has packed four waxed sealed cotton fire starter sticks and a flint wheel, which will ensure that you’ve got dry tinder and the means to start it, no matter where you are. If you end up using up all of your fire starting tinder sticks, you can buy a pack of eight replacements on Amazon for 37 cents.
- Pocket Knife
Are we missing something? Let us know in the comments.