If the worst happened — an earthquake, a tornado, extensive flooding, or some other large-scale natural disaster — would you be prepared?
In recent years, more and more Americans are following the example of doomsday preppers, some who have stockpiled emergency supplies and created elaborate escape plans for years.
But you don’t need to be politically or socially motivated to begin preparing for natural disasters. This is where emergency survival kits come in.
Being prepared for emergencies or disasters simply means being properly equipped with all of the supplies you and your family might need if grocery stores or outside help were suddenly no longer accessible.
To help you prepare your own survival kit, we spoke with four survivalists. They shared details about everything your emergency survival kit needs — and all of the things it doesn’t.
Why is it important to have a basic emergency kit?
Dr. Nicole Apelian: Emergencies hit when least expected. If you’re prepared, a would-be emergency may just be a blip on your radar instead of a life-threatening event. This is why we prepare.
Having an emergency kit could easily save the life of you, your children, or a complete stranger. Be the person who has prepped just in case. That way you don’t have to worry because you’re ready for anything!
EJ Snyder: It’s incredibly important as you never know exactly when and where an emergency or survival situation will happen. Just having an emergency kit is an important step to prepare and protect your household for those unforeseen events.
An emergency kit is essential for short-term survival and can provide vital items for you, your family, or household. Also knowing what’s in the kit and how to use it is a must for everyone.
Samantha Biggers: Everyone needs to be prepared for emergencies. While it may not be the end of the world as we know it — when things happen you want your family to be as prepared as possible. Natural disasters, like the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico or the volcanic eruption in Hawaii, are perfect examples of why you should have a basic emergency kit.
What should you include in your emergency survival kit?
Elise Xavier: The must-have essentials in an emergency survival kit are specific to your circumstances. For example, if you live in a cold region, your number one item would be a blanket, while if you’re traveling through a desert, you’ll want to make sure you have a sufficient amount of water.
Another way to look at it is to think of a small emergency that’s likely to happen to you in your day-to-day life. Then think of the most helpful tools to either remedy that problem, or help you wait it out until you can find help. Those are your must-have essentials.
Samantha: Water is your first line of survival. You can go days — or longer — without food, depending on how much extra weight you have on you and your activity level. Without water, however, you will dehydrate quickly. Even minor dehydration can cause fatigue, negatively impact cognitive functions, and reduce your chances of survival.
I recommend that you have enough food to last you and your family at least a week, though two weeks is even better. You should also consider caloric intake. If your body is stressed, or you’re having to do more manual labor or walking, then you’ll need more calories to maintain your body weight.
A radio that can be used to charge cell phones and other small devices is also important — this will allow you to listen to what is going on and keep devices like cell phones and e-readers topped off.
What are some common things you’ve noticed in emergency survival kits that are actually unnecessary, not useful, or unessential?
Elise: Those who sell emergency survival kits have to make the products viable for as many people [and situations] as possible. Because of this, they’re typically useless in the majority of likely emergency situations.
Many of them contain dehydrated food, flashlights, knives, cheap first aid kits with only a few bandages in them, and other could-be-handy items. Are these items useful in certain situations? Absolutely. Are they tailored for a more specific emergency? Clearly not.
Dr. Apelian: Extra food. Keep that in your car. When you go for a walk, take the other basics with you. You can go a long time without food, but not without medical attention, warmth (hypothermia can kill quickly), and a way to signal for help.
EJ: You need to know how to use your kit [before trouble happens] — not during. I’m also not a fan of fancy high-tech gadgets that promise the world, but normally can’t deliver — likewise with items that have too many moving parts, as they tend to break under true duress.
As a professional survivalist, I can see a use for just about anything. Your kit has to cover the basics first, and any extras you throw in after that must have a good reason.
Where should you keep your kit?
Elise: Think about when and where an emergency is most likely to happen to you. If it’s while you’re driving, keep the kit in your car. If it’s while you’re biking to school, keep the kit in your backpack.
Remember, emergency kits are all about preventing disasters. Where that disaster is likely to take place is exactly where you should keep a kit.
Dr. Apelian: Keep your kit small and lightweight enough so you can carry it at all times. When I’m at home it’s in my car and when I go for a hike I carry it with me. My basic kit is a small bag with pockets with my water bottle in the center of it. It goes wherever I go.
Samantha: An emergency kit should be kept in an area where an adult can easily access it. Some items may pose a hazard to children. You want it accessible, but still hidden away enough that children can’t get into the supplies. You also want to be certain that your kit is animal proof. A lid left ajar on a tote is all it takes for mice and other pests to find your food and ruin it.
I also recommend an emergency kit on a smaller scale — sometimes known as a “get home kit” — for each car you drive or own.
Jessica has been a writer and editor for over 10 years. Following the birth of her first son, she left her advertising job to begin freelancing. Today, she writes, edits, and consults for a great group of steady and growing clients as a work-at-home mom of four, squeezing in a side gig as a fitness co-director for a martial arts academy. Between her busy home life and mix of clients from varied industries — like stand-up paddleboarding, energy bars, industrial real estate, and more — Jessica never gets bored.
Samantha Biggers lives in western North Carolina. She writes mostly for Backdoor Survival, a site dedicated to survival and preparedness for everyone. Backdoor Survival believes prepping isn’t about politics or religion, but instead concentrates on helping everyone become more self-sufficient and skilled.
EJ Snyder is an expert in leadership, tracking, trapping, building shelter and equipment, primitive weapons, navigation, security, self-reliance, and self-defense. EJ is a highly decorated Army combat veteran with 25 years of military service under his belt. He’s also been on Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid” and “Dual Survival.”
Dr. Nicole Apelian has a master’s degree in biology and completed her doctorate while working in South Africa. She’s worked as a field biologist in Botswana and as a game warden with the U.S. Peace Corps. At home in the Pacific Northwest, she makes her own herbal medicines from local plants as part of her healthy living strategy after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000. She’s also one of the founders and primary guides of her own tracking and wildlife safari company, EcoTours International. Nicole was a challenger on the second and fifth seasons of the History Channel’s TV series “Alone.”
Elise Xavier is one half of the husband-and-wife team behind More Than Just Surviving — a preparedness blog that focuses on long-term sustainability, first aid, and gear reviews.