No matter how safe and comfortable your life is at the moment, having a small stash of emergency survival gear is just plan smart. Mother Nature can be unpredictable and Uncle Sam may be unavailable, at least for a time.
Even FEMA recommends having a three day kit of essentials (in addition to a two week supply of food in your home). This kit, whether you choose to call it a “survivalist bug out bag” or not, should be quickly accessible and portable. This is not about being paranoid, wearing tin-foil hats or playing Rambo. It’s simply common sense in an uncertain world (and when has it not been?) to be prepared for a variety of emergencies, some of which may require you to evacuate your home for whatever reason at a moment’s notice.
In the event of a chemical spill or fire or even an approaching storm, you may be lucky enough to make it to a safe hotel with a vacancy or you may not. You may be stuck in some high school gym for a couple of days or you may be hunkered down out of doors somewhere, stuck in an empty old barn, stranded along the road out of gas or otherwise on your own to reach safety in a situation you would never have thought could happen to you. While it’s impossible to cover every possible scenario, a good basic survival gear kit is just that: basic.
It will be most useful if it covers a variety of situations, although you can naturally add and subtract items that are specific to your own climate, family situation, etc. The main thing is to take responsibility for your own safety, to survive the crisis and perhaps to be able to help others who are not so prepared – even if this only means you is one less person straining what government resources that may be available.
Ideally, your basic survival gear should be light enough to carry on foot if necessary, should keep you fed, protected from the elements, and help you either wait out your situation or reach help. It should be able to be contained in a sturdy backpack, duffle bag, suitcase or a couple of strong tote bags you may already own.
It’s not necessary to go out and hunt for military gear here, just so you have something you can grab and go. The same with the contents – sure you can find all kinds of great specialized gear through military supply stores, but most of what you need you can likely find around your house and at local discount and grocery stores, with maybe a stop at a sporting goods store.
There are even online options if you don’t want to take the time to shop at brick and mortar stores. In any case, it’s not a difficult task to assemble a small survival gear kit and most people genuinely feel some peace of mind knowing they are prepared for just about anything. Just consider what you would need to get through three days in bad conditions.
FOOD and WATER:
Think lightweight, easy to eat from the container and having a decent shelf life. The obvious things that come to mind are granola and power bars, dried fruits and nuts or trail mix, crackers in tins, small containers of peanut butter, sardines or pop-top tuna, jerky, dry cereal, pre-packed lunch type items that contain one serving and don’t need refrigeration.
It’s not necessary to buy MRE’s, although some people do. You just need some basic sustenance for a few days, not everything in your pantry. It’s not about a balanced diet as much as things that will give you some nutrition, enough calories and keep you from feeling weak and hungry. You might want to add some treats – hard candies, perhaps some packets of instant tea, coffee, Gatorade or even some low-sodium bouillon or chocolate mix. These can go a long way in terms of comfort and a feeling of normalcy. (Don’t forget a small can opener unless everything you pack is ready to open.)
Water is essential. It would be difficult to transport the gallon a day that FEMA recommends you keep in your house for each person. At least try for three-quart containers if at all possible – this will get you through if you aren’t doing heavy labor or hiking in the heat. If you are, you will have to find another source sooner rather than later.
You can buy bottled water and rotate it periodically as you do your food supply, or you can use canteens or refillable water bottles. Don’t forget individual juice packs and the like also provide some fluid. A way to sanitize water would be smart – if you pack your food and other items in Ziploc bags, you can use the bags for containers, find an available water source and add camping water purification tablets that you’ve already packed.
If you already are a camper, you have a leg up here. Fire can be used for warmth, cooking, melting snow and ice for water, boiling water to sanitize it, heating water for warm drinks or washing up, or sterilizing anything that needs it. Of course, it can be used to cook with – it’s never a bad idea to find room for a mess kit with utensils and expanding metal cup in your gear.
These are light, take up little space and give you a lot of options. In a pinch, you can use a tin can as a cup or pan (or even to make a “hobo stove” if you haven’t packed a small hiking/camping stove) but you still have to start a fire. Fire can also be important for drying clothing or making a signal fire. Pack waterproof strike anywhere matches in a small sealed container and throw in a disposable lighter or two. Magnesium fire starters are a great, inexpensive backup and can get a fire going in damp wet conditions and one won’t take up much room.
While it’s possible to be stranded outside Phoenix in the middle of July, most of us are more likely to be threatened by cold and damp. Think layers here. Pack a lightweight windbreaker type of jacket, a hat, comfortable and sturdy boots or shoes, a small folding rain poncho with hood, at least one extra pair of socks and underwear (these not only make you more comfortable but will also be appreciated if you end up in close quarters with others), a pair of sturdy workgloves and perhaps a pair or two of the one-size-fits-all gloves from a dollar store, a wool sweater, socks and thermals for winter climates, a few bandanas and a couple of clean white cotton t-shirts.
The bandanas are cheap, take up next to no room and have many potential uses – an improvised face mask, a bandage or sling, an emergency water filter, a signal flag, an instant pouch if the corners are tied together, a washcloth – just to name a few. The t-shirts are similar. They can add an extra layer or two of warmth, protection from the sun in the summer or serve as fabric sources.
If you pack your clothing items in plastic bags, even recycled grocery bags, you can use the bags as makeshift waterproof socks as well having a few bags for whatever else you might need them for.
A sleeping bag can roll-up quite small and won’t add much weight. If it doesn’t fit is your backpack or bag, it can be strapped or clipped to the outside and will be appreciated whether you are roughing it outdoors, sleeping in your vehicle or stuck on a gymnasium floor.
A tube tent is a great item to have for quick shelter, but at the very least, pack several large very sturdy garbage bags. These can be used to improvise a tent, cover a broken car window, line the bottom half of a sleeping bag, make a roof, cover damp ground or even to catch rain for water. If you don’t have room for a thin blanket, at least pack a space blanket for an additional layer. These are surprisingly warm and also provide a reflective surface if you are hoping to be rescued.
TOOLS and MISC EQUIPMENT:
Probably the best tool is a Leatherman/Gerber type of multi-tool or Swiss Army knife. You don’t need to be MacGyver to realize you may need to cut something, open something, tighten something, file something, etc. in a situation where you are having to improvise.
A roll of duct tape and a length of the strong cord are good additions for making a shelter, keeping your gear together and making emergency repairs. A few big safety pins and perhaps a tiny travel sewing kit (containing needles that can be useful for removing splinters also) are useful as well. Pack a loud whistle for signaling and safety and a small flashlight with fresh batteries. Include some light sticks and a couple of long-burning candles and consider some emergency flares.
A way to tell time is useful and perhaps a small compass if you know how to use it. A small wind-up radio can help you to stay informed if you are isolated. Assemble or purchase a small first aid kit – at the very least it should contain wipes, antibacterial ointment, tweezers, Band-Aids and lip balm with sunscreen. While you might not be able to treat large injuries, a crisis is no time to end up with an unnecessary infection of any kind from poor sanitation.
Several days’ worth of extras for any prescriptions you depend upon should be included and kept up to date, in an original container that provides your dosages and physician information. Add a travel pack or a few sample packets of aspirin, Tylenol or whatever over the counter pain and fever medication you normally use, as well as consider a roll of antacids or diarrhea tablets as stress can reek havoc on your digestive system.
A small pack of premoistened wipes and some waterless hand sanitizer can go a long way towards comfort and hygiene, as can a travel toothbrush, a couple motel-sized bars of soap, a pocket pack of tissues or two and a small supply of feminine items where appropriate. Remember, even if you are in a shelter, supplies will likely be short to nonexistent.
Vital personal information needs to be handy in your survival gear kit as well. It’s smart to pack a small Ziploc bag or waterproof pouch with your old expired driver’s license so you have some form of I.D. (you may not have grabbed your wallet), a card with any essential medical and insurance information, contact information for family or friends and a valid prepaid calling card (even if you grabbed your cell phone and charger and have electricity, cell phone communication can be out or you may be out of range).
If you have an ATM or credit card, this is the place to store a duplicate, but realize a power failure may make plastic useless. It’s wise to pack a roll of quarters and a stash of small bills (even if a business is open, they frequently can’t make a change if the computers are off-line).
This sounds like a lot of items to carry around but realize most of them are small or fold flatly and don’t weigh much. After you’ve packed your bag, test it to make sure you will be able to carry it (a Pullman case may work in some areas but you should at least be able to lift it when necessary).
If you have no problems and have a little more space, add some items that may seem nonessential but will go a long ways towards keeping you comfortable. This could include a paperback book, a small bible, a deck of playing cards or other small travel game, something to write on and pencils or permanent markers – little things to pass the time and keep your morale up if you are stuck in one place for a couple of days.
Even some extra chocolates or a mini bottle of your favorite beverage may be a comfort. Remember this is not a permanent situation – you are just making sure you will be alright for a short period of time until you reach help, it reaches you or you can return to your home.