Ultimate emergency kit
March 21, 2005 9:26 AM   Subscribe

What would be in your ultimate one-person emergency kit?

I read a book a while back (The Fire Duke by Joel Rosenberg in case you care), and in the book the main character’s family kept heavy-duty emergency kits around the house. These kits had things like flashlights, jerky, a doctor’s kit, money, weapons, etc. The book is almost 10 years old and I was wondering what would go in an updated version of the kit. I am looking for a kit that one person could carry (maybe not for extremely long distances). Assume that money is not really an issue. I would also love to know your reasoning behind any of the items you suggest.
posted by bove to Grab Bag (49 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Plastic trash bags - they can carry water, double as a rain poncho, you can put them on your car seat if your clothes are muddy or put your muddy/wet clothes in them if you're changing out of them. Get the heavy duty kind. I always keep one in my kit bag for rugby.

Windup flashlight/radio - self explanatory.
posted by electroboy at 9:59 AM on March 21, 2005

The folks at Homeland Security have some suggestions.
posted by profwhat at 10:13 AM on March 21, 2005

A Swiss army knife with tweezers - you can even get them with built in flashlight. The SAS Survival Guide might give you some great ideas.
posted by bright77blue at 10:13 AM on March 21, 2005

If money's really not an issue, I suspect you could handle quite a range of emergencies with a cellular phone and a credit card.
posted by box at 10:15 AM on March 21, 2005

Some food, vitamins and a good weapon.
posted by caddis at 10:18 AM on March 21, 2005

Major Kong's survival kit from Dr. Strangelove.
posted by Arch Stanton at 10:21 AM on March 21, 2005

I once knew someone who (supposidly) kept a fake passport and $1000 cash locked away somewhere (never did find out where),so in case he ever needed to flee the country, he could.

What's funny is this had nothing to do with criminal intentions, he was just a very methodical person and figured that if he ever needed it, it would be too late to get, so better to have one now.

As for what I recommend, get an army-style field medic kit. They are designed to be portable, and they carry a lot of very useful items (including flashlights, knife, shears, and the obvious medical supplies).

Also, a kite. They're great for impromtu dates, and I suppose you could use them to flag down passing planes or something.. But really, great for impromtu dates.
posted by KirTakat at 10:27 AM on March 21, 2005

In addition to cash, consider stashing some gold. If currency becomes worthless, gold should still hold some value. On that same note, cigarettes and booze could be good for bartering.
posted by Coffeemate at 10:31 AM on March 21, 2005

Medicines of various types: antibiotics (including the anti-anthrax super-strong ones, like Cipro or Doxycycline), Tamiflu (anti-flu, possibly including anti-avian flu), anti-retrovirals (anti-avian flu and anti-smallpox fallback), painkillers (Tylenol or much stronger), anti-inflammatories (Advil or much stronger), any medicine a family member is taking of which you might need a several-month supply. Potassium Iodide ("anti-nuke pills"--basically, salt). Pet medicine, too, if you have any pets. Online pharmacies are your friends in this regard.

Israeli-made gas masks with filter replacements. Full-body rubberized hazmat suits and big knee-high rubber boots.

Non-perishable food. Water water water. Can opener. Swiss Army knife or Leatherman. Rope or clothesline. Plastic bags, both ziploc and garbage bag varities. Flashlight, batteries, hand-crank or solar-powered radio, preferably with SW or TV bands. Waterproof matches.

Duct tape!

At least one gun. A revolver, if you want to go with reliability.

Porn. To keep you busy while waiting for Doomsday, or to barter, like cigarettes or alcohol.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:38 AM on March 21, 2005

If I was going out into the wilderness I would ensure I took a moderate quantity of sprout seeds.

I recall that by simply adding sunlight and water and waiting 5-7 days (or less if needed), the nutrient value increases by about 7000 % (learned long ago somewhere or other).

That has to be the best emergency food source per volume of carrying weight, if getting LOST for an extended period is possible.
posted by peacay at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2005

Oh, almost forgot: toliet paper!
posted by Asparagirl at 10:40 AM on March 21, 2005

Swiss army knife. Victorinox, not one of those crappy Wenger knock-offs. Surprisingly useful. (Just remember: Use pointy stick to capture food, not knife tied to stick. Failure to do this invariably results in loss of knife in every damn outdoor adventure epic I've ever read.)

Flashlight, with extra bulbs/batteries if necessary. I did also see in an outdoors magazine a flashlight that was powered by shaking it: Magnet moves between coils to charge a capacitor, light was a high-intensity LED - so no batteries to ever wear out, and no bulbs to ever change. Sounded idiot-proof to me.

Metal mirror. Shatterproof, simple signal method.

Flint and steel. Works when wet, works when dry, doesn't run out like matches or lighters do. Add a small waterproof pouch for carrying tinder and you're set as far as warmth / cooking goes.

A good compass. Moss grows on whatever side of the tree it damn well pleases, but north will always be north to the compass. (Magnetic north, anyway.)

Strong cord (not nylon if possible, it unravels and won't hold a solid knot). This plus a simple knot-tying guide can really save your butt - snare traps for food, for one, are much easier to make with cord than they are with whatever natural fibers you can put together yourself.

Heavier rope (hemp if possible, manila if hemp isn't around, and avoid sisal like the plague) for heavier tying. Hemp resists rot better than manila or sisal. Manila is easier to find but doesn't hold up for as long as hemp. Sisal is cheap rot-prone crap you can damn near cut with a butterknife. You can go nylon here if you want, but you generally can't easily splice nylon to repair cut ropes, remove worn sections, or make eyeloops.

I'd also add a good reference book: The Boy Scout Field Book, for example, sounds a bit cheesy but it is easy to find a copy, and it has a ton of useful advice on making shelter, first aid techniques, provisioning of food, navigation, etc. I'm sure there are other guides, but this one is relatively solid, plus it is written simply enough that a twelve-year old could understand and follow.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:41 AM on March 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Water is heavy to carry. One of those handy water filters might be a better bet. I don't know much about them, but I think you'd want one with no internal moving parts, and plenty of spare filters.
posted by Irontom at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2005

Topographic Maps
posted by reverendX at 10:51 AM on March 21, 2005

credit card - that, along with tickets and passport, if i need them, is what i always carry. it can be used to buy water, torches, even beef jerky, in most places where i go.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:54 AM on March 21, 2005

I wonder did bove particularly mean new-fangled widgets when they asked about an 'updated version' of the emergency pack??
I'm with box: a phone ought to be No. 1 on the list these days. That's the major improvement in the last 10 years on the emergency widget front isn't it?
posted by peacay at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2005

peacay: I just meant any new advances in survival or emergency gear. Some perfect examples include things like those flashlights that don't need batteries, etc. So far the ideas have been really good.
posted by bove at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2005

GPS and good-quality topographic maps sounds like a great idea. Good quality mechanical watch and the ability to roughly nagivate with the stars or the sun. Ziplock bags, fiber-based rope, fuel (gelled alcohol is awesome), some kind of torch, a good flash light, a radio, duct-tape, a good set of tools (wrenches and screwdrivers of all types), a hatchet, a hacksaw, a regular saw, a shovel, and a sledge-hammer.
posted by odinsdream at 11:31 AM on March 21, 2005

If you want to be really full on then consider a portable defibrillator.
posted by biffa at 11:33 AM on March 21, 2005

Many of you folks said phone, but what if cell phone towers are out for some reason?

Personally, I'd put a small waterproof notebook with a waterproof pen or pencil inside my kit. You never know what you may need to write or remember.

I'd add one of those foil-like emergency blankets too. This is the one I have right now

Also, on top of what everyone else has said - I would put one of those self-cranking radios that don't need batteries inside the kit.
posted by tozturk at 11:34 AM on March 21, 2005

dental floss and a needle (magnetized): very good for making strong repairs to fabric, tieing things up, getting splinters out, using as a compass
posted by anadem at 11:43 AM on March 21, 2005

Above all, do not forget to include a towel. Apart from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-ness of it, a towel is rather staggeringly useful in the real world.
posted by dabradfo at 11:53 AM on March 21, 2005

QuikClot - stops bleeding from large wounds

Potassium iodide tablets - in case of radioactive contamination

2 AirCast leg braces- quick comfortable splints for sprained ankles
posted by nicwolff at 11:55 AM on March 21, 2005

For a light, 'on the go' survival kit, I recommend:

Solar blanket
Simple water filter
USP-grade resublimed iodine crystals
Nalgene bottle
Unbreakable signal mirror
Headlamp (with extra batteries)
Magnesium fire starting tool
Lint (for kindling)
Plastic bags (for storage)
Extra pair of dry socks
Leatherman Pocket Tool
Pocket chain saw (this is gravy)

First aid supplies including:

Pressure bandages
Medical tape
Strong (codeine) pain killers
posted by nyterrant at 12:59 PM on March 21, 2005

Condoms. After the apocalypse, you'll want to be able to accept comfort wherever you can find it. Without making a little 3-headed baby.
posted by matildaben at 1:17 PM on March 21, 2005

Here's what I carry when hunting in Montana, fits in a small fanny pack and doesn't weigh much:

Climbing strength webbing (not sure what its correct name is, but very strong and 20' rolls up into a disc of about 1" thick x 6" dia.)
4 Nylon tie straps (like the cops use for handcuffs) don't have to tie a knot, very strong, could be used to attach splint, very light.
flexible wire saw
topo maps printed out from delorme's Topo USA, with previous gps waypoints included.
Garmin GPS 12Map.
4 extra AA batteries
small flat flashlight that used 2 AAs
candy bars
2 juice boxes (I liked them better than a canteen or water bottle because you drink the whole thing and they don't slosh).
waterproof matches
2 lighters with child safety thing removed (easier with frozen fingers)
2-3 small knives and ceramic sharpener
first aid kit
iodine tablets
homemade jerky
several garbage bags
a few bounty paper towel, folded in quarters
kleenex (good for TP also)
disposable poncho
space blanket
roll of electrical tape (suggested by montana FWP for attaching tag to game)
Nitrile gloves
2 balloons (replacements for the balloon over the end of my rifle barrel, keeps out snow and can be shot through)
fluorescent orange plastic tape (not sticky, for marking a trail by tying to branches)
sandwich (obviously, I packed new one each day, but included for completeness)
10 rounds ammo for rifle (30-338 winchester mag. wildcat)
camera (yardsale 35mm, source of two extra AA batteries)

Some variations: when hiking in summer, I would exchange rifle ammo for pistol ammo, and clip a pistol to the belt (taurus 415 snubby 5 shot .41 magnum revolver or Dan Wesson 445 Supermag if I was in grizzly country)
My fanny pack has a elastic holder for a water bottle, in winter I would carry my hat or fleece neck warmer in it, in summer the actual water bottle
posted by 445supermag at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Don't forget a solar trickle charger for all those battery-powered gadgets, or perhaps a couple of motors that could be hooked up to a stationary bike to provide charging current for batteries. Also a multitester (analog, please -- it'll need a battery only for testing resistance, whereas a digital one needs a battery for everything).
posted by kindall at 1:49 PM on March 21, 2005

I built this kit. On top of the usual survival and medical stuff already mentioned, it included things more taylored to the specific needs of surviving a zombie epidemic, such as the Zombie Survival Guide, a body-temperature indicator to tell at a glance from a safe distance if your friend is still on your side, hammer&nails to board yourself into a small room (probably with no exit), a meat cleaver for when that fails, etc etc.

Plus it looks great on the wall!
posted by -harlequin- at 2:05 PM on March 21, 2005

posted by fixedgear at 2:09 PM on March 21, 2005

I'm not sure what kind of emergency you're preparing for. It might be interesting to keep different types of kits for different purposes. For example, in case of a house fire, a kit could be assembled that has family photo negatives, important certificates and papers, data backup, etc. For Armageddon you could create some kind of commando kit. If you're preparing for a several day power outage then I suggest a candle, a deck of cards, a book about how to play different card games and some liquor. This could also double as a weekend kit.
posted by quadog at 2:37 PM on March 21, 2005

Wool blanket
Waterproof tarp
Swiss army knife
Water filter
Folding shovel
Useful knowledge
Magnifying glass
Local topo map
posted by cali at 2:37 PM on March 21, 2005

Here's an EMT's recommendations.

I'd note that a credit card and a cellphone are great for dealing with many personal disasters. For a regional disaster, they're not.

I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the usual advice is to expect to be totally on your own for 72 hours if the Big One hits (and it's easy to believe it'd be substantially worse.) No water, no power. Not many of use are, including myself.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:54 PM on March 21, 2005

Useful if the emergency might include wandering about outdoors:
couple of maxi pads--Besides the obvious, you can use 'em as bandages (strap on tight with duct tape), padding for shoulder straps, insulation for cold feet, and a buffer for blisters.
good long length of blaze-orange plastic tape--Swaddle yourself in it if you're tromping around the woods in hunting season, or if lost tie a bit to an eye-level branch once in a while to mark the way you came.
posted by hippugeek at 3:05 PM on March 21, 2005

Someone mentioned a condom as a joke. While they might not have meant it to be serious, it is something vital for a minimal kit. An unlubricated condom can be used to keep a wide variety of things dry, including kindling. It will also transport water. It is very durable and can be rolled up small.

As a side note, my compact survive kit consists of ten yards of strong thread, a razor blade, a condom, and four matches. Some very good suggestions above.
posted by ix at 3:40 PM on March 21, 2005

Blonde on Blonde and On the Road by Jack Kerouac. If shit's going down, I want to be somewhere much cooler in my head.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 3:51 PM on March 21, 2005

This site features a lot of good suggestions (though the ones above are all pretty good too).
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:31 PM on March 21, 2005

Chapstick. Serves as a moisturizer for any body part in a pinch, which can prove very useful around wounds, cracking skin, etc. I'm surprised that no one has noted this one yet.
posted by honeydew at 5:19 PM on March 21, 2005

a contact kist of relatives, distant friends, bank accounts, doctors, medications, insurance policies, etc etc. If it's armageddon, this info may not help you much, but if your house is wiped out by fire or flood, such info could be quite useful.

A few photos. If everything else is gone, you may want a few mementos of your lost life, and they won't take up much space.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:35 PM on March 21, 2005

In extremis I'd want, in order of importance:
Immediate family.
Spare pair of eyeglasses.
.30-30 or AK47 with several boxes of ammo.
Good sharp knife and whetstone.
Nanny goat, in milk.
Billy goat.
20 laying hens and 2 roosters.
Duct tape and baling wire.
5 cords firewood.
Several rolls of 3 mil plastic.
Ax, shovel, 2-man crosscut saw.
Anvil and 3 lb. sledge.
100 lb. seed corn.
posted by bricoleur at 6:04 PM on March 21, 2005

The Bible
posted by caddis at 6:25 PM on March 21, 2005

Check out Equipped.org for some additional suggestions.
posted by mlis at 6:40 PM on March 21, 2005

If in the wilds, long arm and long leg inflatable splints for fractures would be useful. They would make fair pillows in the alternative.
And a piece of material for a sling; a hat and sunglasses and a self propelling flare, if not mentioned already.

[-bible; +Ulysses]
posted by peacay at 6:55 PM on March 21, 2005

My addition to the survival bag: a whistle. Better than shouting for signalling or calling for help over long distances.
posted by SPrintF at 6:59 PM on March 21, 2005

The point about maxi pads made me remember another must-have for a kit: tampons!

And one more related point: if you're female, consider adding emergency contraception (sold as "Plan B" in the US--it's basically just birth control pills) to your kit. Sure, it's highly unlikely, but let's say on Day 1 your partner's condom breaks and on Day 2 your city gets destroyed and you're off in the wilderness not knowing what to expect. Pregnancy and childbirth in a survivalist situation, with no trained medical help, would truly suck and could certainly threaten your life.

And in a related but rather disturbing vein, a small amount of pennyroyal and blue cohosh could be dried and packed away, just in case--not the safest idea, but in a hypothetical near-apocalyptic survivalist situation, using even unregulated abortifacients would be a whole lot safer than carrying and delivering a child(ren) on your own.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:19 PM on March 21, 2005

Airline-sized bottle of vodka - drink and antiseptic all in one.
posted by casarkos at 7:38 PM on March 21, 2005

RE: Nylon webbing - The webbing usually used by climbers is tubular nylon webbing. It's very strong, until it gets nicked, at which point it can unravel. (It's one continuous strand.) You can also get flat webbing, but it doesn't knot well.

Re: Rope & cord - I would not bother with hemp or manila. Nylon is so much stronger and less likely to rot, there's no comparison. Climbers gave up on natural-fiber rope many years ago, because their lives depend on their ropes. The comment about nylon not holding a knot may have some relevance to laid (twisted) rope, but kernmantel (braided outer sheath) nylon rope holds knots extremely well and is very strong. If you have time to splice rope, you're probably not in a survival situation; learn knots. Nylon rope can be had in dynamic (it stretches) or static (it doesn't) types. If you're maybe going to arrest a fall, get dynamic. For cord, parachute cord is the way to go.

Re: "Space" ("solar?") blankets - This stuff is called superinsulation. It's mylar with a film of aluminum. You can buy it in bulk. Be aware that some examples of space blankets have degraded in storage, and disintegrated when used.

Re: flashlights - LEDs run much, much longer on a given battery. The Petzl headlamp in somebody's link above is a couple of generations back, and very expensive. I believe it also runs on a proprietary 4.5 volt rechargeable battery. If the power goes out for a number of days, you won't have a headlight. Petzl and others now offer much more advanced lighting systems. Try here.

Re; drinking water - Most outdoor stores carry water purification tablets, which take up a lot less space than a filter rig, and kill all the nasties. The product may not taste too good, but you won't get sick.

If your survival is going to happen outdoors, pack a rainsuit, or at least a poncho. Getting wet can lead to hypothermia at even relatively mild temperatures.

CDs make great signal mirrors. Never tried shaving with one, though.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:40 PM on March 21, 2005

On a somewhat related note, I learned in the last major blackout that it is nearly impossible to grind coffee beans in a mortar and pestle. I keep a little extra pre-ground on hand all the time now.

I guess the larger lesson is to be sure you have on hand whatever you're addicted to or are prepared to suffer the consequences.
posted by cali at 10:35 PM on March 21, 2005

My two cents.
posted by cribcage at 5:05 AM on March 22, 2005

Training is more important than almost any of this. So, assuming you aren't trained enough (and that's almost certain), get a very good book on survival methods and keep that in the kit.

Other than that, forget the extras and think about basics -- lots of water, first aid kit, medicine (are you dependent on certain pills? how long would you live without them?), basic canned or dried food, warm clothes, and somewhere to crap.

If you're talking about an emergency shelter in your home, your pantry/closet/medicine cupboard ought to be part of (or directly accessible from) wherever you would shelter. A really big pantry with a heavy door between the pantry and the kitchen and then another heavy door or hatch opening up from the shelter into the pantry. (Maybe a hallway with a heavy door on either end.) Get into the pantry, close the door, throw everything through to the shelter, then get into the shelter and close the shelter door behind you.

Making it part of normal home use as a pantry makes it more likely you will keep it stocked and checked, and because you are using it and the contents anyway (rotating through the contents), you won't feel like you're wasting money and space when the end of the world never comes.

I'm not sure to tell you where to crap. In a real emergency, you'd probably start by crapping your pants, so bring extra pants.
posted by pracowity at 5:55 AM on March 22, 2005

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