Cool disaster gadgets
November 24, 2012 4:46 PM   Subscribe

Building the best emergency kit -- gadget time!

As a happy Quonsar present to my significant other, I am building an awesome emergency & first aid kit. I am particularly interested in getting elements that are cool gadgets. (Yes, I know I should be focused on storing 30 gallons of water ... )

Please provide me with your best suggestions for emergency radios, flashlights, flares, batteries, lanterns, cook stoves, and other disaster-related gadgets, especially those that are crank and/or solar powered and/or otherwise cool and that work really well.

I started reading reviews of crank and solar radios on Amazon and here, and got a bit overwhelmed. Also, I just purchased a solar backpack, which seems (is?) really cool, but does not actually seem to work (will probably be taking back), so want some guidance.
posted by ClaudiaCenter to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
LL Bean sells great hand cranked radios and flashlights - they served us well during Sandy. Also, there are many high power flashlights out there, but I carry a Surefire E2D Defender daily - its a huge light source and built to be a weapon also.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:00 PM on November 24, 2012

This Eton crank radio has been getting good reviews.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:03 PM on November 24, 2012

This is a very bright, cheap LED flashlight that requires a single AA battery. I just bought one and am impressed, especially for the price. Note that most of the Amazon sellers offering it are in China / Hong Kong, so be careful to select a domestic seller if it's time-sensitive.
posted by jon1270 at 5:08 PM on November 24, 2012

Please check out this previously: I think I would look good in waders.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:13 PM on November 24, 2012

The things you don't need until you suddenly do is another good related thread; it's not necessarily disaster-oriented, but provides a bunch of handy suggestions.

Aha! Finally found it -- this site was linked several times on the blue and the green: In case of emergency (gear for this one or the next).
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:26 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Solar chargers for gadgets have been on my camping/roadtripping/disaster-prep wishlist for a while.
posted by erst at 5:27 PM on November 24, 2012

Response by poster: These are great, keep 'em coming! Thanks!
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:46 PM on November 24, 2012

Whatever crank- (dynamo-) powered flashlight/radio combo you choose, try to get one that gets the NOAA stations and can also recharge your cell phone. Also consider getting a spare dynamo flashlight for your car.

As for that 30-gallons-of-water: for now, consider getting half a dozen 5-gallon jugs you can fill as needed --- cheaper to buy than bottled water & easier to store.
posted by easily confused at 7:09 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check out this list
posted by dottiechang at 7:27 PM on November 24, 2012

D20 die. I have one in both my emergency kits.

Just because.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:25 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Collapsible water jugs, they come in all kinds of sizes. And forget pumping or steripens: get a gravity filter, those are the business for large volumes of water. 5 gallons in a couple hours and all you have to do is hang it up. Although bleach is cheaper.

For serious disasters that might go on for weeks a multifuel stove is technically better I suppose but they require a lot more expertise, a safer place to cook, are 100x more exciting to light and pretty much suck on the cooking food front. I have a Coleman two burner stove for car camping and when the power goes out and it's a million times better than trying to cook on a stupid MSR whisperlite which just chars everything.
posted by fshgrl at 10:48 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

A deck of cards because it gives you something to do when you're bored.

Also it allows you to play the classic dumb joke on somebody.
Why do you have deck of cards in your emergency kit?
Oh, if I'm lost I'll just play solitaire, pretty soon somebody will peek their head over my shoulder and say, "you know you can put the red seven on the black eight." And I'm rescued.

posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:03 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

A low-tech object that has been super helpful--a corded phone. Just a plain old phone of days gone bye that doesn't need anything more than a telephone line to work. When the power goes out, you can still use a corded phone to make calls. On your phone, tape the phone number of your power provider and your account number and some other numbers that you'd like to have handy.

I also have zip tied the tool to turn off the gas right next to my gas meter.

Cash is helpful but I sadly often raid mine to pay the pizza man.
posted by dottiechang at 12:45 AM on November 25, 2012

The Lofty Wiseman's "SAS Survival Manual" has been telling people how to butcher a polar bear since the mid 1980s. It is now available as a smartphone app.
posted by rongorongo at 6:07 AM on November 25, 2012

I got one of these little stoves, and really like it.
posted by flabdablet at 6:55 AM on November 25, 2012

See also on the green: Tiny and powerful flashlight.

I can't recommend the combo of a small flashlight and an LED headlamp highly enough. My old Fenix lives in my pocket, along with my multitool, but the headlamp frees up your hands if you're working outside at night. Also awesome for non-emergencies like splinter removal (make sure you put a pair of tweezers on your emergency kit).
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:56 AM on November 25, 2012

Hand-cranked flashlights are nice and all, but be sure to get some awesome LED AA flashlights and load them with lithium AA batteries. It'll seem expensive when you're buying those batteries, but when you suddenly need them and your light works (rather than having some rotting alkaline AA's in there) you'll think it worth every penny. Lithiums last a decade or more.
posted by jgreco at 6:57 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Super helpful -- I am looking at a low-end Surefire flashlight with lithium batteries, a couple solar-powered (plus wall-chargeable) flashlights (good reviews), and some little LED flashlights. (Any tips on where to buy fresh lithium batteries? how do you store them?) I will also get walkie talkies, hard-copy maps, some kind of water storage, and some freeze-dried meals. Also looking at a car inverter for charging cell phones (though my old '97 Jetta is terrible at giving a charge through the cigarette lighter).

I am still trying to find the best emergency radio -- the reviews are pretty negative on the crank/solar ones. So if you have recent experience with emergency radios, please let me know. (blaneyphoto, the LL Bean radio was panned so thoroughly in the reviews I have been dissuaded.)

I will update periodically. Thanks!
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:50 AM on November 25, 2012

Something to consider for cold-weather non-emergency use, as well as for your kit: handwarmers (link for demo purposes). Your local camping store/KMart should carry them. Easy to slide in a pocket for those times when you're going to be outside for a while, and they work (my husband found a great deal on the toewarmer version; I scoffed, but wow, were my feet toasty).

One walkie-talkie recommendation.

Also: Paracord.

As I've said here before: Think about what kind of shelf-stable things you can incorporate into your current pantry: Nutella; granola bars; peanut butter; crackers; chocolate bars (or other sweet); tuna; dried fruits/nuts; jerky. Tortillas last, even in a power-free 'fridge. Prepping does not have to be big and scary. [I say this just having excavated some Mountain House freeze-dried meals, which I find to be bleah. It may be easier to keep frequently-used shelf-stable stuff on hand because it will get rotated and can be used in daily life. But ASTRONAUT ICE CREAM? Ab-so-lutely. Worth putting a couple of packs into the kit!]
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:24 AM on November 25, 2012

Having all that stuff is important, but having the knowledge to use it is important too. Assuming that you've got something to power electronic devices...
U.S. Army Survival Guide (Android). I recommend this for the wide range of help it offers. Free. Paid version removes ads.
Army Survival for iPad/iPhone.
U.S. Army Survival Guide in pdf format.
American and British Red Cross guides: Medical, and various disasters. Android.
Red Cross guides, iphone/ipad.
posted by Zack_Replica at 3:08 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Combine the 30 gallons of water and the cool gadget.

Water filters like the MSR Sweetwater allow you to filter a mud puddle into drinkable water. It won't strip out all viruses, but is a normal thing to take backpacking and that works out just fine.

Water purifiers like the SteriPEN use UV light to kill all the bacteria and viruses in water; it won't strip out heavy metals or other chemical toxins, but is a normal thing to take backpacking and that works out just fine.

The "old, less gadgety" way to do this is with water purification tablets, which are cheaper, but wind up with water tasting like iodine, and won't strip out chemical toxins, either.

With one or two of those, you can use any water you can find, and it's a lot easier to store than 30 gallons of water.

I also can't recommend the headlamp enough. I laughed at how geeky the damn things are, tried one, and have gotten rid of my two flashlights, and I give them as gifts regularly. The "Petzl Tikka 2" is my gold standard of plain, just-works headlamps.
posted by talldean at 6:27 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a LifeStraw for each person in your family (or get a LifeStraw Family) and you don't really need to store any water at all. While everyone else in town is dehydrating, you'll be sipping safe, clean water from any ditch. While others are carrying heavy water bottles on the long march to safety, you'll have your entire water supply in your shirt pocket. That's a lot cooler than any flashlight.
posted by pracowity at 2:40 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Solar backpacks/bags are worthless gimmicks. They can perhaps put out enough juice to trickle charge a phone. They are worthless for charging anything larger. For the amount of weight it adds, you would almost always be better off bringing battery packs. (also there is the fact that I have never seen a decently designed bag with solar cells). For some perspective of how large of a solar setup you would need to be useful for a laptop, the Brunton Solaris 26 can likely charge a netbook. To charge anything larger would require a larger array almost certainly.

Standardize on a battery type and choose devices that use batteries sparingly. For general use personal lighting, I have a fewZipka2 and Zipka Plus2. For more directional light, Preon P2. And for small non-moving lighting the Black Diamond Orbit Not necessarily the best of any of those categories, but fine choices in my mind.

For cooking, heating, and serious light needs, I have standardized on propane powered things. Typical camping stoves that take small propane containers can be connected to grill sized propane containers with the right adapter. The same goes for lanterns and catalytic heaters (which claim to be usable indoors). I don't have particular recommendations for these things as they are boring camping supplies and should be purchased on sale at the hardware/outdoor store.

Gadgets are not what you want when preparing for disasters. You want tried and true boring supplies that will still work after being unused for a year plus in storage.
posted by fief at 2:41 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: Disaster-emergency planning kit was a huge hit. I didn't get everything, but I purchased and wrapped: two solar flashlights; one crank flashlight; two LED AA flashlights with extra lithium ion batteries; a Surefire tactical flashlight with extra lithium ion 3 volt batteries (that is the favorite, of course); walkie talkies with extra lithium ion batteries; an emergency weather radio (I went with an Ambient Weather brand with good reviews, powered by battery, plug in, solar, or crank); a box of Mountain House freeze dried food; a no-electricity landline phone; and two "Aqua Paks" that hold five gallons of water each. So, just a start, but super fun and useful. I'm very glad for the suggestions here, they were super helpful.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:16 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

LifeHammer in case your car becomes submerged with you in it.
posted by Dansaman at 9:15 AM on January 11, 2013

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