Sunday, December 01, 2013

Giving and maintaining emergency kits for the holiday gift season

My kind-of annual post below, with a few changes. I've found that emergency kits make highly-appreciated gifts for friends and relatives, one of those things that are on everyone's to-do list but often don't get done. If the entire kit's too expensive, you can just give a car kit, or get a part (I suggest water and water purification) and upgrade over time.

If people have had kits for a few years then it's also time to consider replacing out the food. If you or someone you know uses camping food, you might switch out the old with the new a year or two before expiration, so you can use the food before it expires.

Easy-but-not-cheap 72-hour emergency kits for home, with purchase links

There are nine members of my wife's family in the Bay Area, and when I found out no one had the 72-hour emergency kits we're supposed to have, I put them together as presents (in-laws loved the kits, too). My emphases were making them easy for me to put together, easy for people with no camping experience to use, and ones that would last as many years as possible without needing replacement or maintenance. In return I was willing to pay more, be more bulky than the minimum possible, and have limited control over food selection.

72-Hour Home kits:
The above is the absolute minimum. Meals can be eaten in their pouches, so no dishes are needed. Flameless heating kits eliminate the need for cooking stoves (water has to be purified, though). Emergency meals also can be eaten with cold (purified) water although they taste bad. The food and flameless kits should be good for at least 3 or 4 years, and probably more than twice that long.

In earthquake country, your kit should be stored outside your home in case you can't get inside. So in your yard, your car, or somewhere else. The only maintenance this requires is to simply look every six months to see if the water's leaked through the seams of the plastic jugs - it happens fairly often.

Additional useful items:
  • Cheap flashlight/headlamp
  • Spare batteries in clear plastic bag so you can see if they've become corroded over time
  • Plastic tarp and cord as a rain shelter
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Emergency shelter, 1 per adult
  • Cheap or expensive first aid kit (I went with cheap kits from the local drugstore)
  • Cheap rain gear, spare shoes and clothes
  • Hand-crank radio/flashlight combination
Don't let the extras delay you from putting together the minimum.

I also made better-than-nothing emergency kits for everyone's car, in case you're stuck on the road:

Car kits:
  • Liter water bottle per person (enough to keep you hydrated for a few hours until you can find a water source)
  • Water purification tablets (can disinfect murky water from ditches, and you might need to) 
  • Emergency shelter
  • Small amount of long-lasting food (I found tins of honey-roasted peanuts that were good for four years)
  • Cheap rain poncho
  • Emergency contact list
  • Shoes you can walk many miles in, if that's not what you normally wear
  • Cheap, tiny flashlight
  • wool blanket (additional warmth, or traction under a spinning wheel in the mud or snow)
You can do much better than this car kit, but it's something in case destroyed roads/bridges keep you from getting home for 12-24 hours.

Additional tricks for both kits: put the contact lists in their own ziplock plastic bags to reduce the chance that they'll mold/get wet over the years.

Hopefully this is all unnecessary.

Lots of great comments here, and a resource link at Making Light. UPDATE:  and see the comments below.


EliRabett said...

Substitute a survival blanket for that wool one. Less weight, less volume, better performance.

But Eli also inquires if we should stock these kits in the Finance Eli's Retirement Store?

Andrew said...

Or just move to England - here, if you can survive 2 inches of snow, we'll think you are Bear Grylls..


To assure mastery of these survival tools, order an Acme Earthquake Practice Drill.

Available in mercali numbers six through twelve.

Phillip said...

The handcrank flashlight/radio combos are great - but be sure to look for a model that has a USB port on it so that you can charge your cellphones during an emergency. Often, in a crisis, your cellphone is your only link to family, friends, and emergency services.

Susan Anderson said...

Thanks for the post, and the additional suggestions above. Rabett is right, light and easy.

Brian said...

Nice suggestions, everyone.

guthrie said...

Really, for your car I'd replace that cheap tiny flashlight with a head torch or floody little thing. Modern LED's are great, and pretty damn cheap.
And spare batteries for it, since modern LEDs are so good you can get good light for 24hrs from one battery, but that doesn't cover every eventuality. (I'm not saying a torch that runs off the car battery because you might need that battery to run the car)

I'm amused by the corroded battery suggestion though, because although it happens, the last corroded battery I remember seeing was 5 or 6 years ago at least, and I've not heard of it happening for years, since modern battery manufacturing is so good.

Brian Dodge said...

Useful technique to remember for treating water-
I backpack, so I carry a 0.2 micron ceramic filter purifier similar to this.

I second the recommendation of an aluminized plastic "space/survival blanket (or two), but keep the wool as well, since it will insulate (convective/conductive loss) even if wet. I'd also add or both kits a small bottle of strike anywhere waterproof matches, a butane lighter, and at least one magnesium fire starter.

Another essential item (also makes a good gift) is a multitool. I've carried a since you used to be able to carry them on airplanes. I repaired a busted fuel pump on an unlucky couple's VW minivan while camping fifty miles from nowhere in the Rockies with one of these and the springs from two ball point pens.

Dried foods (either the dehydrated prepared meals or things like beans, rice, or popcorn) and canned foods will keep much longer than their labeled "sell by" date; their nutritional value and palatability will slowly decrease. Drier and cooler = longer shelf life.

Some wines, of course, improve the longer you keep them. "This full-bodied St.-Estephe is exceptionally powerful, pure, and dense with a layered mid-palate that builds like a skyscraper. While there are massive tannins, they are remarkably velvety and well-integrated in this big, backstrapping effort that should enjoy an unusually long life. Forget it for 8-10 years, and drink it between 2017-2040." Wine Spectator 98 Pts - Wine Advocate 98 Pts $ 299.99

Brian Dodge said...

woops, blogger ate my url; filter similar to

Rattus Norvegicus said...


Those filters work really well. I do remember one time when a buddy of mine and I were up in the Trinity Alps (in California) just before hunting season. We had the lake we were camped at all to ourselves for a couple of days but one day a couple of guys who were getting up early for hunting season saw us pumping water from a creek ans asked about our filter. I explained to them that it was to filter out giardia which caused diarrhea. They said "that explains why we get the trots up here every year!".

dbostrom said...

If you're OK with "bland" then SOLAS-approved lifeboat food rations are a pretty good option. Compact, highly stable, ruggedly packaged, calibrated calorie content, designed to avoid causing the need to drink or use a lot of water, relatively inexpensive compared to freeze-dried camping food.

Anyway, "bland" becomes "yummy" when we're actually hungry. That's the food science secret behind Top Ramen and the like. :-)

Chris_Winter said...

A good thread. I'll check out the comments as time permits, but they seem to be spot on.

There is a wide variety of LED flashlights, for a wide range of prices, from "cheapies" on sale at Home Depot or Lowe's to tactical models that can run upwards of $100 (like the ones at monsterflashlight -dot- com).

I have a Husky that I got for $5. It's flat, just under palm size; looks a bit like the later models of hand phaser. It's not perfect: the battery cover pops off easily. But it would be perfect for an emergency kit — if you can find it. I think it's discontinued.

Chris_Winter said...

As for communications, I'd also suggest getting an amateur radio license. You don't need to know Morse these days. The cell phone network has wide coverage, but there are still places it doesn't reach, and cell phone towers are more vulnerable to major disasters than the amateur community in toto.

Chris_Winter said...

OH, Russell Seitz: I assume that, for a slightly higher fee, you can order that kit with your choice of P-wave:S-wave ratio.

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