An emergency bag is a bag that has everything you need to push through an immediate and drastic change of plans. Situations like natural or man-made disasters can cut you off from things you take for granted: grocery stores, running water, shelter, cellular coverage. When this happens, you need a bag that you keep close to you at all times and ideally weighs less than sixty pounds. A reasonable estimate for bag size is something capable of holding a minimum of 35 liters and ideally 55 liters. This is a bag that you should take with you in your car because it may be the bag that weathers you through the storm.
1.5 L water bottle (minimum)
At the minimum, you should have the equivalent of 1.5 to 2.0 liters of clean, potable water on your person at all times. There’s the “8 x 8” rule that gets thrown around a lot in popular medicine. Eight 8 oz. glasses of fluid a day is definitely a good place to start. But depending upon the climate you’re in, the conditions you’re facing, and your metabolism, you could easily need a lot more. Two Nalgene or Sigg 1.0 L bottles is ideal. It’s a quick visual reference to let you know you likely have at least one day of clean water.
1500 to 2000 calories of food
If you maintain a sedentary lifestyle and don’t move too much, you likely consume between 1500 and 2000 calories a day. Some people have a higher metabolism than others, so these numbers will vary wildly depending upon the person.
There are a lot of great choices, but you need to have at least a day’s worth of calories packed into your emergency bag. Most important, though, is protein. Packing a 2 lb. bag of trail mix is a fantastic example. Protein bars could be another. A mixture of both would be ideal.
Two pairs of warm socks or Two cotton handkerchiefs
If you’re on your feet, moving around, your feet are going to get wet. Even in a warm-weather environment, you are going to need to change your socks. Having even one pair of socks offers you the opportunity to change them out. You can optionally substitute for two cotton handkerchiefs because they can work as cassocks (or substitute socks).
Socks also come in handy as protection for your hands if you have to handle rough or sharp objects like debris.
Band-aids will NOT cut the mustard in an emergency situation. You need sealed, waterproof sterile bandages and wraps that you can quickly apply to wounds. They need to be sealed because you want to limit the potential for infection when doing first aid on yourself or another.
Isopropyl alcohol or iodine solution
Iodine solution is usually more compact and acts as a great topical disinfectant. You will need to be able to disinfect wounds, burns, and rashes. A 10-ounce bottle will last you a while so long as you keep it sealed. Isopropyl alcohol is a poor cooking fuel but can be used as a starter fluid to get the kindling going. Iodine solution isn’t flammable.
Alternatively, a hydrogen peroxide solution can be useful for oral hygiene as well as disinfecting wounds. Where weight is a constraint, choose wisely.
Activated charcoal or emergency water straw
If you’re going to survive longer than a day, you’re going to need to purify water. Activated charcoal and chlorine tablets can work in tandem to purify water. Alternatively, an emergency water straw can also be used. Water should always ideally be boiled and filtered. You can use one of your socks, load it with sand, and use that as a first phase filtration before boiling. After boiling, you can add chlorine and activated charcoal to get you the rest of the way there.
Being able to see at night is crucial in a survival or emergency situation. You can also use a flashlight to signal to potential rescuers. LED flashlights tend to hold up a bit better than traditional incandescent bulb flashlights. If you can get one that has a “red light” mode, that’s even better for preserving your night vision.
An extra set of batteries can keep that flashlight running just a bit longer.
A rain parka is one of the most overlooked items in a survival kit. Not only can it be used to keep you dry, but it can also be used in a makeshift shelter and even procure water from dew.
A signaling mirror has many fantastic applications. You can use it to look around corners, inspect parts of your body, signal help when the sun is out, and even use it to start a fire. They’re small, lightweight, and exceptionally cheap. There’s no reason not to have one.
Cell phone power cord and charger
If you do happen upon electricity in an emergency, you’re going to want to attempt to use your cell phone. Even if you can’t make contact with anyone, you may be able to use your cell phone to download maps or check information. You won’t be able to use it if you don’t have a charger.
From the simple to the complex, a utility knife that has a screwdriver, knife and/or a pair of pliers can quickly become your best friend. You can use it to fashion small traps to catch animals or make hooks for fishing. The pliers can also be used to remove rough debris from a wound, pull an infected tooth, or bend back fences.
1-gallon ziplock bags x5
Everything comes wrapped and sealed nowadays, so we forget the value of a good, large ziplock bag. You can use it to waterproof valuable pieces of gear, store excess food, and plenty of other things. It can be used to help store water you procure from streams and ponds versus storing the untreated water in your water bottles.
Trash bags x5
From waterproofing your gear to packing kindling, trash bags can also serve a very important purpose in survival situations. They’re lightweight. You already likely have them anyways – toss at least a few into your survival bag.
Fishing line is an essential piece of gear. You can use it to construct a makeshift shelter, catch a fish, set a snare, and many other things.
Being able to leave your mark on the world is important – and a permanent marker will help you do it. You can use it to write down valuable information on your hand, a scrap piece of paper, or even mark the heads of injured so healthcare workers can more effectively do triage.
Remember: survival isn’t just about the first day – it’s about every day afterward, too. But, in order to get to those future days, you need to be in good enough shape to tackle them. A very basic emergency pack will get you 90% of the way there. Your personal fortitude and desire to survive will provide the rest.