Helpful Gear for Any Emergency

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.

WAIT: 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.
Expand Most Recent Updates
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.

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: Last year, we donated half of all proceeds from this guide to emergency relief funds, and we’re doing it again for 2014.

Table of Contents

 Bestek MRI3011J2 12V to 110V car inverter (plus USB) – $27

power_inverterIt’s possible that a serious storm, flooding, or other disaster could affect the power grid in your area but, if you’re lucky, your ride will still be in working order. If that’s the case, you can use a Power Inverter like the Bestek MRI3011J2 to recharge your gadgets or power small, essential electronic devices.

We originally researched the MRI3011J2 for our Road Trip Guide, but there’s no reason it wouldn’t serve you well during a blackout, on your daily commute, car camping or doing anything else in between. The MRI3011J2 is designed to plug into a vehicle’s 12 volt DC power outlet or cigarette lighter, convert that juice into AC power and let it flow out through its dual 110 V AC outlets and a pair of USB ports (rated for 1 amps and 2.1 amps). While it can’t provide enough power to keep your refrigerator or a space heater running, it’s more than up to the task of recharging a smartphone or tablet, topping off the charge in a portable USB battery pack or operating a portable radio or even a laptop.  

UST 30-Day LED Lantern – $30

30_day_lanternHaving 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 LED Lantern outperformed LED lanterns that cost twice as much and in some cases were larger. Splash-resistant, equipped with a handle for carrying or hanging, and protected by a lifetime warranty, the 30-Day LED lantern comes with three different illumination settings—300, 150, and 29 lumens—and can run up to 720 hours off of three D-cell batteries (you’ll get 32 hours on the lantern’s maximum illumination setting). Capable of throwing enough light 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 emergency preparedness kit.

 Black Diamond Spot Headlamp – $40

headlamp_diamond_spotWhile a lantern, flashlight, or candles will take care of your illumination needs during a power failure in most situations, they can be bulky and need to be carried. That isn’t ideal if you need your hands free for important tasks like clearing debris after a storm, providing first aid, or farting about with a fuse box. The Black Diamond Spot headlamp is a versatile lighting solution that can be worn on your head (duh), lashed to an object, or carried like a conventional flashlight. More importantly, it proved to be the most capable headlamp we could find after exhaustive research and testing.

It’s capable of casting long-range spot illumination for seeing what’s in front of you in the dark, or close-range floodlighting that’s perfect for preparing meals by, topping off a portable generator with fuel, or reading a book. What’s more, the Spot will run for up to 200 hours off of three AAA batteries (or 50 hours on its maximum illumination setting), it’s water-resistant, comes equipped with a red LED lamp for preserving your night vision, and is covered by a one-year warranty.

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.

Duck Max Strength Duct Tape – $7

duck_tapeThere’s no one right answer for why you should have a roll of duct tape in your emergency preparedness kit. Ideal for binding, mending, gaffing cable, or even certain first aid duties when the right hardware or materials for the job are otherwise unavailable, duct tape is, as any MacGyver fan will tell you, an indispensible tool. Duck Max Strength Duct Tape is the best all around duct tape we could find, and should serve you well in a pinch, even if that pinch includes sticking to masonry, wood, plastic, or glass.

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.

 IntoCircuit Power Castle USB Battery Pack – $40

battery_pack_intocircuitPower inverters, portable generators, and solar panels are great for powering your phone, tablet, and other portable devices when you’re stationary. But if you’re faced with an emergency that leaves you no choice but to grab your go-bag and get out of Dodge, you’re going to want something that’s a little more portable. The $40 IntoCircuit Power Castle USB battery pack might not come from a well-known brand name, but after 15 hours of testing close to 30 different power banks, we found it was the best option. With a 11,200mAh capacity, dual USB ports, and an LED charge level indicator, the Power Castle packs more than enough juice to charge your smartphone several times over or to recharge an iPad Air one and a half times.

Eton FRX3 hand turbine NOAA AM/FM weather alert radio with smartphone charger — $50


The $50 Eton FRX3 is an AM/FM/NOAA weather alert radio tat’ll keep you marginally entertained and well informed during an emergency where the services we take for granted like power, cable, and internet access are interrupted. As it comes equipped with multiple power options (integrated solar panel, internal 600mAh Ni-Mh battery, DC power, or hand-cranked turbine), you won’t have to worry about it running out of juice when you need it most. What’s more, its battery can be used to partially charge a cell phone or power the FRX3’s built-in flashlight.

While the FRX3 will likely meet most people’s needs, if you’ve got the extra cash, Eton’s $100 FRX5 is an option that comes with a number of desirable upgrades. The FRX5 has IPX4-level protection against splashes of water, a larger 2,000mAh 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.

You might want different features depending on the area you live in though. See Lifehacker’s really useful writeup for more about how to pick the best emergency radio for you.

 Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Bighorn first aid kit – $55

adventure_medical_kitUnder normal conditions, medical aid from paramedics or your local hospital are typically only a phone call or a short car ride away. But in the aftermath of a severe weather event, flooding, wildfire, or earthquake, you can expect emergency services to be stretched to the limit. You may not be able to call for help, and quite frankly, even if you can, help might not be available. Adventure Medical Kits’ $55 Sportsman Bighorn first aid kit was designed for hunters and outdoor adventurers planning to spend up to seven days in the bush, far from medical aid. Why go with a kit designed for hunters and fishermen? Because both groups have a greater chance of sustaining penetrating wounds, trauma or exposure-related medical emergencies than most folks do. High winds, flooding or heavy snow can lead to falling debris, everyday objects being transformed into crippling or deadly missiles and extreme temperatures–things that cause penetrating wounds, trauma and exposure related medical emergencies. What works in the bush in a pinch will work in your home, office too.

Packed into a waterproof case, and featuring a wide range of supplies to deal with minor bleeds, sprains, broken bones, burns, respiratory emergencies, minor illness, and mid-range trauma, the kit is organized by injury type, making it easy to quickly treat a patient or yourself. What’s more, it also comes with a comprehensive field guide to treating common injuries that includes details on when an injury can be treated at home, and when getting to the hospital is vital.  It’s important to note that like food, first aid supplies typically come with a shelf life. So be sure to check the expiry dates of your medical kit’s contents and add them to your calendar so you remember to restock when the time comes.

Oh, and honestly, everyone should have basic first aid. Check with your local Red Cross for upcoming classes.

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 New Wave Mutlitool – $90

leatherman_multitoolSmall enough to be worn on your belt or tossed in a bag in its included nylon sheath, and packing a wide range of useful tools, the $90 Leatherman New Wave is a multi-function tool that everyone should consider including in their emergency preparedness kit, if not making it part of their everyday carry. When tool expert Harry Sawyers tested it for us, he found that it was better made and offered more functionality than 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 and Phillips head, a small bit driver with an eyeglass screwdriver, a medium fixed-blade flat screwdriver, an 8-inch/19-cm ruler, a bottle opener, a can opener, and a wire stripper. Short of a hammer, that’s just about everything you could possible need to make an emergency repair in the field or around the house.

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.

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 that can push one liter of water 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 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.

 Garmin Oregon 600 – $380

garmin_handheld_gpsIf 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. We like the Garmin Oregon 600 because it comes equipped with an easy-to-use touchscreen interface, a three-inch display readable in the brightest sunlight, dual-band GPS/GLONASS positioning, a three-axis compass, barometric altimeter, and 16 hours of battery life. It’s our favorite pick at the moment, due to its ruggedness and borad, easy-to-use feature set,  even if its not cheap at close to $400.

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.

 Marmot PreCip Rain Jacket – $60 – $110

rain_jacket_marmot_preclipStaying dry and warm can go along way towards keeping you physically and psychologically healthy in an emergency situation.

Our favorite cheap rain jacket for the last few years is the Marmot PreCip. Lightweight, waterproof, breathable, windproof, durable, and loved by a number of trusted editorial sources, the PreCip held its own in our breathability and waterproof tests against rain jackets that cost significantly more. What’s more, Marmot recently upgraded the coat’s materials to make it more durable than ever, and for the same reasonable price.

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.

 EuroSCHIRM Light Trek Umbrella – $52

light_trek_umbrellaBeing wet and cold can lead to having a cold or worse: even in warm conditions you can develop hypothermia. You don’t want that. If you get caught in a downpour without a rain jacket, you should at least have an umbrella with you. After more than 35 hours of research, we found that the best umbrella out there for most people is the EuroSCHIRM Light Trek. It’s a $52 compact umbrella that offers an excellent combination of water resistance and durability in the face of high winds.

 Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch – $17

can_openerIf the food in your fridge and freezer goes bad due to a blackout, the canned goods in your pantry will still be a win. But you’ll need a can opener to take advantage of that sort of thing. After nine hours of testing, 54 opened cans, and 16 rejected can openers, we can tell you that that OXO’s $17 Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch is the best piece of gear for the job.

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.

Are we missing something? Let us know in the comments.

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Originally published: June 27, 2014

  • 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.

    • 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:

    Thanks so much!

    • light&shadow

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

      • 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…

  • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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: 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.

  • Henry Armitage

    On the water filter front – I’ve recently come across Sawyer Filters:

    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:

  • 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.

    • tony kaye

      Thanks for the input!

  • 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?

    • Brett S. McCoy
      • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

    • tony kaye

      Noted, but we still like them as emergency rations.