If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent times, it’s that we simply cannot predict what life is going to throw at us — whether it’s wild weather events, a worldwide pandemic, or a horrifying fungal outbreak that turns us all into vicious zombie-like creatures. Okay, maybe that last one’s not a real threat, but we can’t deny that The Last of Us hasn’t got us thinking about what we’d do if a real emergency — manmade or natural — came crashing onto our doorstep. That’s why we’re here to round up a solid selection of emergency preparedness essentials so you can find the best survival kit or go bag to help you prep for all the things you can’t predict.
Why do I need a survival kit?Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires, blizzards, blackouts … There’s a seemingly endless list of dangers that can trap us at home without help for an extended period of time, or force us to evacuate at a moment’s notice. That said, you certainly don’t need to be a doomsday prepper with a well-stocked bunker to want to keep yourself safe in case of an emergency. There are plenty of pre-made survival gear kits out there to fit all sorts of needs, whether you want to stash some basic essentials in your car, stock up on goods to hunker down at home, or have a backpack ready to go to your nearest evacuation center.
What should a survival kit include?To gain insight on what should be included in a top-notch survival kit, we spoke to a series of emergency preparedness experts: Bruce Jones, seasoned meteorologist and spokesperson for Midland Radio(Opens in a new tab), a leader in two-way communications and extreme weather/emergency alert technology; Michael Collins, PE, Commissioner of Public Services & Engineering for Beverly, MA and member of the APWA Emergency Management Committee which provides American Public Works Association members with resources to prepare for, respond to, and recover from hazards; and Melanie Papworth(Opens in a new tab), planner and founder of Plan for Awesome(Opens in a new tab), a website sharing practical, approachable, and realistic preparedness resources for everyday busy families. Their recommendations fell into a handful of key categories:
Food and WaterAll of our experts agreed that non-perishable food and clean water for drinking and sanitation should be at the top of your list. Jones notes that you’ll need at least three days’ worth of food and water per person (and pet!) in your household — but you’ll want to bump that up to seven days if you live in a hurricane zone, and 14 days if you live in an earthquake zone.
Collins recommends canned food, protein bars, and shelf-stable MREs (that’s a Meal, Ready-to-Eat), while Papworth notes that you’ll want both stored water and a means for water filtration to make clean water from any source, if needed. She loves her family’s Berkey(Opens in a new tab), but a portable LifeStraw(Opens in a new tab), filtered water bottles, or even iodine tablets may be all you need, depending on the water source.
Collins also recommends including single-serving electrolyte powder packets in your survival kit, especially if you may be dealing with extreme heat.
Communications, Navigation, and LightIt’s important to keep a hand-crank radio, flashlight, and charger in your kit so that you don’t need to rely on electricity or batteries. Jones is partial to Midland’s ER310 Emergency Crank Radio(Opens in a new tab) — equipped with NOAA Weather Radio, a built-in LED flashlight and whistle, and the ability to recharge USB-compatible devices — but any similar crank radio will do.
Collins recommends a solar-powered phone charger and a battery pack of at least 10,000 mAh to keep devices charged up. And you may also want a compass, local maps, waterproof matches or a lighter, and a small mirror, flare, or glow stick to signal for help, especially if you’re heading out into the wild.
First AidTo help treat yourself and your family in an emergency, Jones recommends a first-aid kit with at least: bandages, antibiotic ointment packets, antiseptic wipe packets, non-latex gloves, gauze pads, and a thermometer.
Papworth also points out that you’ll want to stash some OTC medications for fever and pain relief, as well as any prescriptions and medical devices that are necessary for your survival.
HygieneAt the very least, pack some moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation in your kit, according to Jones. However, Papworth’s own top three must-haves for an evacuation scenario are deodorant, floss/toothpaste, and chapstick — though a change of clothes is really high on her list, too.
“Can you imagine wearing the same underwear for three days? Enough said.”
Face masks can also come in handy for keeping out dust and debris, and hand sanitizer always comes in clutch as well.
Shelter and WarmthCollins advises those in colder climates to pack warm clothing, a hat, and space blankets in their survival kit. If you expect to be evacuated, be sure to keep a weather-appropriate sleeping bag for each person, and maybe an emergency tent as well.
“Also pack some trash bags or polyethylene sheeting,” says Collins. “They offer an alternative way to stay warm, collect rain, and protect you from rain or the sun.”
Jones seconds the recommendation for plastic sheeting, as well as duct tape. The latter can repair gear, patch leaks, or even stabilize a broken limb in an extreme emergency. It can also be fashioned into a bowl for eating or collecting water — the possibilities are really endless.
Survival ToolsAside from the almighty, all-purpose duct tape, you should keep a few other versatile tools in your survival kit, including a multi-tool that can act as a bottle opener or survival knife to help you cut through rope or open cans of food. Collins also recommends a paracord bracelet which has a wide variety of applications, from tying up gear to securing shelter. You could even use this survival bracelet to go fishing.
ID and Important DocumentsYou should always have your driver’s license, passport, or another form of ID on you, and Papworth recommends keeping the originals of all your important documents in a fireproof, waterproof box to grab before an evacuation — just in case of the worst possible scenario. Cash can come in handy too, especially small bills.
EntertainmentAnd last but not least — as we’re reminded by Ellie with her comics and delightfully cringeworthy book of puns in TLoU — it’s important to bring along a little entertainment to keep spirits light, especially for kids.
“Think small, light, and inexpensive,” says Papworth. “Dice and a Yahtzee scorecard, playing cards, Go Fish, UNO, a coloring book and crayons, bouncy balls, a book, etc.”
Best overall “go bag”
This 72-hour kit from Emergency Zone just might be the most comprehensive survival bag on the market. The waterproof bag has built-in space for the included hydration bladder and a buckle on the chest strap that hides an emergency whistle and flint striker to use as an easy fire starter. Packed inside, it boasts an emergency food supply, water, and water purification tools, emergency ponchos, sleeping bags, hand warmers, toilet paper, and a biohazard bag, a hygiene kit, a first aid kit, a crank radio flashlight, a multitude of survival gear, like duct tape, a folding saw, a multitool, a compass and more. It also comes with a two-person dome tent. But best of all? The go bag is totally discreet; it looks like any old backpack, so you won’t become a target for others who didn’t have the same foresight for disaster preparedness. (And it has a hidden pocket to store your valuables, to boot.)
Best roadside kit
There are roadside emergency kits and there are survival kits, but it’s rare that one kit provides such great coverage for both scenarios as this one. Any driver can agree that a crash (especially one caused by cold or stormy weather) is their worst nightmare, but keeping this comprehensive emergency kit stashed in your car should bring some peace of mind. It includes heavy-duty jumper cables, reflective warning triangles, tow rope, bungee cords, a safety vest, screwdriver, emergency whistle, mylar blanket, emergency poncho, glow sticks, a flashlight, and more. It also includes a pretty decent first aid kit, plus a window breaker and seatbelt cutter tool to help you get out of, arguably, the scariest emergency situation of all.
Best on a budget
For its wallet-friendly price, this emergency survival kit doesn’t skimp on the basic necessities. It covers a wide swath of protection for a variety of emergencies thanks to its 33-piece first aid kit, two 2400-calorie food ration bars for sustenance, water pouches, survival blankets, gloves, masks, emergency ponchos, an emergency whistle, a multi-tool with a pocket knife and more. Even better, everything in the 72-hour kit comes perfectly packed in a lightweight bag that’s easy to grab and go or keep stashed in your car for roadside emergencies.
Best tools for adventurers
If your potential emergency requires more wilderness survival and disaster preparedness, this compact emergency survival kit has all the innovative multi-use survival tools and compact gadgets you could need to play out the MacGyver rescues of your dreams. Just some of the highlights inside include a saw, emergency blanket, flashlight, survival knife, emergency whistle, multi-use spork, plus a fire starter, and more. Best of all, everything fits inside a small smartphone-sized container that’s perfect for stashing in your survival gear bag or your glove box.
Best starter kit
Credit: American Red Cross
Approved by the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, this basic survival kit hits all the right notes when it comes to emergency preparedness: first aid, food and water, light, communication, protection, and comfort. It includes a flashlight with batteries, a crank-powered flashlight/radio/charger, emergency food supply, emergency water pouches, an emergency whistle, an emergency poncho, a dust mask, a mylar blanket, hand sanitizer, and a comprehensive first aid kit. It even comes with a toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, comb, soap, shampoo, body wash, deodorant, and body lotion — because being able to clean up will make you feel a hundred times better. Plus, it all packs away in a durable, easy-to-grab bag that makes it a great earthquake kit, too.
Best for bunkers
If you don’t anticipate having to evacuate your location (perhaps you already have a safety bunker at the ready?), this top-rated ready-kit features a collection of essentials hand-picked by emergency preparedness specialists. The waterproof bin is stocked with everything that four people could need for 72 hours, including a 3-in-1 hand-crank radio/flashlight/charger, a first aid kit, a multi-tool, meal replacement bars, and biohazard bags, just to name a few. And it’s all organized into pre-packed boxes that are clearly labeled as tools, warmth, safety, first aid, food, and water so you can find what you need fast. Also super-cool and convenient is the fact that you can text the JUDY experts your emergency preparedness questions and they’ll answer you in real-time. (A feature best utilized before an actual emergency, of course.)
Best for backpackers
If you need to fit a lot of survival essentials into a relatively small space, this lightweight emergency kit has just enough to keep you going if something goes awry on your next wilderness adventure. The tactical MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) pouch easily clips onto your existing pack and will have you covered on three separate, but very essential fronts: escaping the elements, staying warm, and signaling rescuers. It includes survival gear like a mylar emergency blanket, poncho, fire starter, camping knife, paracord bracelet, and glow sticks, plus a first-aid kit with various bandages, alcohol wipes, and wound dressings. A total of 250 quality supplies are organized neatly inside a compact 8-inch by 6-inch frame.
Designed as an earthquake kit, this survival bag can honestly suit just about any emergency situation. The best part about it is the color-coded organization as everything is divided into resealable waterproof pouches for emergency food supply and water, survival tools and first aid, shelter and warmth, light and communications, and a personal hygiene kit. (Because, let’s face it, you want it to be as easy as possible to find exactly what you need in the panic of the moment.) Just a few highlights of the contents are an emergency tent, mylar sleeping bags, water pouches and water purification tablets, food bars, and a 3-in-1 hand-crank radio, flashlight, and phone charger. There’s even an additional pouch for you to keep personal items safe.
Built from military-grade aluminum, this compact, virtually indestructible adventure tool from VSSL (pronounced “vessel”) provides 70 outdoor survival essentials—all inside an ultra-bright, 4-mode LED light. They consulted with military, first responders, and outdoor pros to ensure that this little survival gear kit packed the most functional punch without compromising space in your pack. Just unscrew the compass top to reveal a fire starter kit, water purification bag, wire saw, whistle, can opener, bandages, multi-purpose tape, and lots more to give you peace of mind any time you’re headed outdoors.
Best for families
Credit: Sustain supply co
With enough superior-quality supplies to sustain a family of four for three days, this expertly curated 72-hour kit is easily a top choice for families, especially those in areas prone to power outages. It has a first aid kit, just-add-water food ration pouches, a portable stove, plenty of water and water-filtering straws, too. It also comes with multiple light sources, including a flashlight, an LED lantern, SnapLight sticks, tinder and fire starter. And, it all comes organized in a sturdy backpack that makes it easy to take on the go if needed — which makes it a handy earthquake kit, as well.
How we choseWhile we haven’t had the opportunity to personally test all of these survival kits, we did put forth hours of careful research into the chosen products and consulted with several emergency preparedness experts to get their take. We prioritized survival kits made by trusted companies as well as those praised highly by customers with firsthand knowledge of the product.
To ensure that we’ve included the best survival kits on the market, we considered the following factors:
High-quality gear. We strived to include survival kits packed with high-quality gear — no cheap stuff or fluff.
Variety. We made sure that each survival kit includes gear pertaining to multiple categories of preparedness. The best of the best hit upon all of the main categories, while other survival kits serve as worthy supplements to a larger kit.
Usage scenarios. We made sure to include a wide array of survival kits to suit different scenarios and needs, including at-home use, backpacks to take on the go, wilderness survival kits, and compact survival kits to stash in a vehicle.
Frequently Asked Questions “Every home should have an emergency kit — no exceptions, no excuses,” Papworth urges. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live…emergencies happen to everyone.”
Collins concurs, noting that it’s important to have survival kits — one at home and one in the car — that factor in the most likely threat you will face and the weather that will give you the most trouble in your area. In addition, he recommends practicing your shelter-in-place or evacuation plan with the whole family.
“When children take part in the building of the kit,” adds Jones, “it could help ease anxiety they may have as they learn more about the plan their family has in place.”
Jae Thomas is the Deputy Shopping Editor for Mashable. They specialize in all things outdoor gear, kitchen goods, pet products, and fitness gadgets. Before Jae came to Mashable, they received a B.A. in Journalism and English Literature from New York University and wrote for publications like Bon Appétit, Epicurious, The Daily Beast, Apartment Therapy, and Marie Claire.
When they’re not testing products or writing about online shopping, you’ll find Jae whipping up an elaborate meal, hiking, camping, or hanging out with their dog, Miso. Reach out to them on Twitter at @jaetaurina(Opens in a new tab) or by email at [email protected]