22 Must-Have Items For Your Emergency Kit
An emergency kit might save your life!
After a disaster, you could be on your own for several days. You will be responsible for your own first-aid, water, food, shelter, and security. If that happens, your disaster kit will come to the rescue!
It doesn’t matter whether you call it an emergency, survival, disaster, or earthquake kit. If you ever need it, you will be glad you have it.
Maybe this is your very first emergency kit, or perhaps you’ve already built one and want to expand it. Maybe your family situation has changed, and you want to make sure you aren’t missing something.
No matter your answer, this is an excellent place to start. In this article, I highlight 22 essential items that belong in your home emergency kit.
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What Is An Emergency Kit?
An emergency kit is a collection of essential supplies for short-term survival during an emergency. An emergency could be a natural disaster, fire, civil unrest, pandemic, or any number of other situations.
Preparing ahead of time with water, food, first-aid, shelter, hygiene, and personal security supplies gives you the resources to survive until help arrives.
Why Do I Need An Emergency Kit?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that every family keep a home emergency kit stocked for at least 72 hours. Having the resources to take care of yourself after a disaster is vital for several reasons.
It Can Affect Anyone
Since 1950, the federal government has declared over 4000 national emergencies affecting every single state. After a disaster, it takes time for relief workers to reach everyone. During this time, you and your family may be on your own.
However, it’s not just about natural disasters. Fires, civil unrest, or even the Covid-19 pandemic illustrate the importance of maintaining your supplies.
It Save Lives
One of the best reasons to have an emergency kit is to save lives–perhaps even a loved one. Providing first-aid to a trauma injury, disinfecting water for drinking, or building a shelter from the elements are just a few examples of how an emergency kit can help.
But, even if it doesn’t come down to life and death, it’s helpful to make your family more comfortable after a disaster.
It Gives You Peace of Mind
There is a peace of mind that comes from being prepared. It’s the reason I made my first earthquake kit. I wanted a way to reduce my anxiety and feel more in control.
So, I decided that putting in a little effort to make a kit was better than worrying about the next disaster. And so far, it’s worked!
Why Build My Own Kit?
The first question I get asked is why can’t you buy a pre-built kit. It’s a great question, and I learned the answer the hard way.
In my experience, pre-built emergency kits don’t work because:
- They rarely contain good-quality items. You don’t want unreliable gear in a disaster.
- They don’t take into consideration the type of natural disasters that are common in your area.
- They don’t provide for your family and living situation.
The point is that eventually, you will want to customize the kit to your specific needs. And when you do, you will be unhappy with a prebuilt kit.
So, rather than waste your money, I suggest you start with a small number of essential quality items that can grow with you as your needs change. In the long run, you will save money and be happier with your result.
I have been building emergency preparedness kits for over 20 years. I’ve started, tossed, and restarted my emergency supply kits several times over the years.
I learned through research and trial and error what works and what doesn’t. I hope my experience helps you save time and money.
I organize my emergency supplies into categories to make them more manageable. And, in future articles, I will explore each type in-depth.
In the meantime, this article should be a helpful guide to get you started. Without any further ado, here is my list of essential gear for an emergency kit.
Water is the most critical component of an emergency kit. After a disaster, usable water may not be readily available.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that every household maintain a 72 hour supply of water to meet their family’s needs. Both FEMA and the CDC recommend at least one gallon of water per person (and each pet) per day.
An average person needs three-quarters of a gallon of drinking water per day with the additional one-quarter of a gallon for personal hygiene. These recommendations, however, vary based on several factors, including age, health, physical condition, diet, and climate.
Children, nursing mothers, and those with illnesses may require more water. Additionally, a medical emergency or a sweltering climate can potentially double water needs.
Every household should store at least a 3-day supply of water; however, a 2-week supply is better.
1. Emergency Water
Unfortunately, water storage is a pretty complicated subject. Whether using commercial water or storing your own, a lot of factors affect its usability.
I plan to explore proper water storage tips in a future post. In the meantime, I recommend using water that has been commercially packaged, especially for emergencies.
Datrex Emergency Water Pouches are purified water made in the United States and packaged in 4.2-ounce pouches with a 5-year shelf life. Approved by the United States and Canadian Coast Guards, two cases of 66 provide enough water for one person for four days.
- Emergency purified water in compact 125-ml sachets
- USCG, Canadian Coast Guard, EC, and NZ approval (NSN 8960 0112 4454 3)
- 5-year shelf life
2. Personal Water Filter
A personal water filter is a great product to include in your survival kit. Designed like a straw and small enough to carry on your person, they remove waterborne bacteria and parasites without the use of iodine, chlorine, or other chemicals.
My favorite personal water filter is the LifeStraw. It advertises that it filters up to 1,000 gallons of contaminated water down to 0.2 microns, removing 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites, which surpasses EPA standards.
- The microfiltration membrane removes 99.9999% of bacteria (including E. coli and Salmonella), 99.999% of parasites (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), and the smallest microplastics down to 1-micron
- The microbiological filter will provide 4,000 liters (1,000 gallons) of clean and safe drinking water with proper use and maintenance
- All claims are verified with laboratories using standard testing protocols set by the US EPA, NSF, and ASTM for water purifiers
While a person can survive without food for days or even a few weeks, it isn’t much fun. That is why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends every household maintain at least a 3-day supply of food. However, 2-weeks worth of food is preferable.
Even though most emergencies should not disrupt the food supply for that long, it’s not always possible to go out to buy food. So, being self-sufficient is a good idea.
3. Long-Lasting Foods
Start by buying foods that have a long shelf life. Canned foods like soup, beans, vegetables, tuna, and chicken are a great place to start. And, typically, they’re not too expensive.
Look for low sodium versions of canned food to avoid causing additional thirst. Add some nuts, nut butter, cereal, dried fruits, and jerky for some variety.
4. Manual Can Opener
Don’t forget to include a manual can opener in your emergency kit, especially if you plan to store canned food.
5. First-Aid Kit
While I’m not a fan of pre-built emergency kits, I do recommend using pre-built first-aid kits as a starting point for a more customized and thorough first-aid kit.
An off-the-shelf first-aid kit is cost-effective to collect basic medical supplies like bandages, wipes, and dressings. You can then add additional items over time.
When choosing an off-the-shelf first aid kit, don’t worry so much about how many items it contains. Focus instead on getting a nice variety.
Also, I find that first-aid kits in soft cases with organizing pockets work best when adding them into your complete emergency kit.
My personal preference is the AMK EasyCare Fundamentals line of first aid kits.
- Organizes contents into clearly-labeled pockets by injury
- Stop bleeding quickly using the trauma pad
- Provide relief from allergies, pain, fevers, and upset stomachs with a variety of medications
According to the American Heart Association, blood loss accounts for 31% of deaths from trauma.
However, a tourniquet significantly reduces life-threatening bleeding from arms and legs by applying pressure to slow the bleeding.
I recommend the North American Rescue 300001RD Combat Application Tourniquet. The official tourniquet of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines is easy to use and can be applied one-handed by yourself if necessary.
- Official tourniquet of the U.S. Army & U.S. Marines
- Proven to be effective in occluding blood flow in upper & lower extremities
7. SAM Splint
A SAM splint is a compact, lightweight, and versatile emergency device designed to immobilize bone and soft tissue injuries. Made from soft aluminum with a polyethylene covering, SAM splints come in space-saving rolls or strips.
When deployed in an emergency, it becomes rigid enough to stabilize legs, arms, or neck injuries. That’s why they are such a popular choice for first-aid kits, even on the international space station.
- Can be used to splint every bone in the human body
- Soft enough to cut with ordinary scissors
- Extremely moldable
8. CPR Mask
A CPR mask is a one-way filter valve that allows one to deliver rescue breaths during CPR. When used correctly, it prevents the user from being infected by a patient’s potentially infectious bodily substances. These masks come in adult, child, or infant sizes.
- CPR pocket resuscitator
- Disposable valves with 3M filtrete fibers protect the CPR practitioner and eliminates cross contamination
- Safe for use on adults and pediatric patients
If you regularly take prescription or over-the-counter medication, you should include an extra supply of them in your kit.
10. Portable Radio
In a disaster, staying informed is critical. However, if electricity is not available, then you will need a hand-crank or battery-operated radio.
Considered an essential piece of gear by FEMA, they recommend that every household keep a battery-powered or hand-crank radio capable of receiving broadcasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
- Receives NOAA and AM/FM stations
- Can be powered by batteries, crank lever, or solar panel
- Built-in LED reading light and flashlight
- Incorporates a 2000mAh power bank
A good quality flashlight is another essential piece of gear to have in the event of an emergency. I suggest LED flashlights made of high-grade aluminum, preferably waterproof and impact-resistant, with a brightness of at least 100 lumens.
Most flashlights in this category have at least a high beam, low beam, and strobe mode. Some models are rechargeable. However, this is only useful as long as it can also use standard alkaline disposable batteries.
Additionally, many tactical flashlights include a striking bezel you can use as an improvised weapon.
My favorite choices for flashlights are tactical ones made by Fenix and SOG, as well as MagLite’s LED line.
- Includes momentary, full power, low power, ECO, and strobe modes
- Advanced focus system allows it to adjust from spot to flood with less than 1/4 turn of the head
- With the highly recommended SST20 LED and TIR lens, the Archer Mini delivers an incredible 405-lumens with a beam distance of up to 285-feet (87-meters)
- Features a low, high, and strobe light mode and a dual directional pocket clip allowing hands-free use
- Includes a built-in rechargeable battery with an integrated Type-C USB charging port
- It measures only 3.26-inches and weighs only 34-grams taking up barely any pocket space
A quality multi-tool is a handy tool to have in your emergency kit. A good multi-tool may include knives, pliers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, scissors, bottle and can openers, files, saws, and rulers.
My favorite manufacturers of multi-tools are Leatherman, Gerber, and Victorinox SwissTool. All three companies use high-quality stainless steel to make a quality product with a multitude of functions.
I have both a Leatherman Surge and a Gerber MP600 and am very happy with both of them.
- Powerhouse multi-tool features 21-tools, including regular & needlenose pliers, premium wire cutters, straight & serrated knives, scissors, a saw, and a bit driver
- The one-handed opening provides quick access to the tools you use most
- Made in the USA with a 25-year warranty
- Compact, lightweight, and durable multi-tool opens with the flick of the wrist
- Features 15-tools including regular & needle nose pliers, wire cutters & crimper, fine & serrated edge knife blades, cross point screwdriver, can & bottle openers, and small, medium, & large flat blade screwdrivers
- Overall length measures 6.3-in. when open and 4.9-in. when closed
Shelter & Hygiene
13. Portable Toilet
When you gotta go, you gotta go…even after a disaster. If running water is not available for some reason, then a portable toilet is extremely valuable.
A basic model is simply a toilet seat attached to a large bucket. But, it allows you to maintain proper sanitation, which in turn prevents disease.
Ensure you also have toilet bags, toilet chemicals, and some toilet paper or wipes to go along with the toilet.
Into each life, some rain must fall. However, you will stay nice and dry with a rain poncho in your disaster kit. Look for ones that are lightweight, quick-drying, and easy to carry.
- Full-length sturdy zipper, zippered pocket, adjustable hood, elasticized cuffs, and color-matched storage pouch
- Strong waterproof backing with heat-sealed seams
- Waterproof quick drying and breathable
Clothes & Toiletries
When it comes to packing clothes into your emergency kit, you want versatile and space-efficient items.
- Pack items you can wear comfortably when hot and layer when it’s cold.
- Pants with zip-off legs that convert into shorts are a great way to save space.
- Choose clothes made of lightweight material that can be folded up as small as possible.
- Include extra socks and undergarments, and wear outerwear more than once to make your clothes last longer.
Lands' End offers apparel, swimwear, and outerwear for women, men, and kids, plus a complete line of home products, luggage, and seasonal gifts.
Pack a toiletry bag as if you are going away for a long weekend. To conserve space, use compact items and travel sizes. And plan to share products as much as possible.
If necessary, make sure to include diapers and nursing supplies as well.
Documents & Money
17. Emergency Plan and Important Documents
Include a physical copy of your emergency plan along with any necessary legal and financial documents in your emergency kit.
Don’t have an emergency plan yet? Check out my step-by-step article on creating a home emergency plan.
Not sure what legal and financial documents to include? These essential financial tips will help you get your financial life organized.
It’s a good idea to keep a few hundred dollars in small bills and a roll of quarters in your kit. ATMs and credit card processing may not work after a disaster. As the saying goes, “cash is king.”
A tarp has so many practical applications. It can build a shelter, provide shade, collect water, make a storage container, or cover a broken window, wall, or roof.
- Measures 8-ft x10-ft and is 5-mil thick
- Constructed with tightly woven polyethylene fibers
- Built-in aluminum grommets every 36-inches
20. Duct Tape
Whether in a MacGyver episode or on NASA’s Apollo missions, duct tape has a proven record of saving the day. This strong, flexible, and very sticky tape is another valuable addition to your emergency kit.
- Double-thick adhesive grips all types of surfaces
- Reinforced backing but can still be ripped by hand
- Withstands moisture, UV rays, and temperature extremes
- Roll is 1.88-in x 35-yd
Paracord is a lightweight rope made from interwoven nylon strands. Initially developed for use in military parachutes, it is now a popular general-purpose utility cord.
Slightly elastic, paracord ties easily and securely. Additionally, you can remove the yarns in the core when you need a thinner string for applications like sewing or fishing.
- Type IV Military 750 Paracord
- Tensile strength of over 1,000-lbs
- American veteran-owned business with a lifetime guarantee
22. Extra Batteries
As you compile all your emergency gear, note the type and number of batteries your items use. Then include an extra set of batteries in your kit.
I store my gear without the batteries loaded, so I don’t have to worry about battery corrosion destroying my equipment. For this reason, I include two sets of batteries in my kit.
- Designed and developed for long-lasting performance
- Guaranteed for 10 years in storage
- Available in Double-A (AA), Triple-A (AAA), C, D, and 9V
How Can I Be More Prepared?
What Comes Next?
So far, we’ve discussed building a basic emergency kit. In the future, I will review other supplies you can add to your kit.
In the meantime, if you’ve already made a written emergency plan, then the next step is to review your financial preparedness.