Picture this: A local emergency of some sort has emergency personnel knocking on your door telling you that you have 5 minutes to evacuate your house (fire, gas leak, railroad collision, earthquake). What will you grab in those 5 minutes? Hopefully, you’ll get your children and your 72-hour emergency kit (and then whatever else you think you have time to grab and can carry).
The idea of creating kits that keep your family alive until help arrives, until you find support, or until you can return home, can seem daunting. It feels like there is so much to make sure you have, so much to do, and so much to buy, and if you forget just one thing, you’re doomed.
Don’t think about it that way. Break it down into individual pieces. Most of the things you need you probably already have at home. The remaining things you’ll need are not expensive but are actually easy to get and easy to use. Think about it more like planning for a camping trip, but with much less stuff!
We only want what’s best for our family, especially during an emergency situation. There are things that we can’t prevent to happen. However, we can prepare ourselves for it.
What Is a 72-Hour Emergency Kit? Why Do You Need One?
What is a 72-hour emergency kit? It is a kit (sometimes referred to as a Go Bag) in a backpack or tote that allows you to live away from your home for up to 3-4 days in an emergency. It is different from a Bug Out Bag (BOB) as a B.O.B. is meant for the possibility of permanently living away from home. Inside it are the essential things that you need to survive for a short amount of time.
Your 72-hour kit is intended to allow you to escape an immediate threat, live for 3 (or 4 if you stretch it) days without relying on authorities or going back home (though sometimes, home won’t be an option if it is bad enough and that BOB will be a blessing). That is why it is a crucial time when preparing for it. You have wise and strategic what to put inside it. Always be prepared!
Why might you need a Go-Bag or 72-hour kit? There are a number of reasons why you might be evacuated from your area.
You will probably return home eventually, but until you return, find a place to remain safe with your family, whether in a shelter or at a friend’s house, where you’ll have the means to keep your family hydrated, fed, and safe.
- Scenario #1: Leaving Houston for the oncoming Hurricane Rita, many were stuck in the stand-still traffic on the highways going out of Houston. Some for a very long time.
- Scenario #2: Wildfires happening in the Northwest and California had people evacuating their homes, sometimes with only minutes to spare, and having no place to go until they could find shelter with friends or family or in government shelters, depending on what was available (this is a real-life situation in California and the Northwest almost every year).
- Scenario #3: There is an explosion in the area at a local factory. The fumes might be toxic, and they cannot predict whether more explosions will be coming or not. You’re asked to evacuate and make your way to safer ground. But where is that? This is a real-life situation for those in the West – specifically Texas in 2013 and China, too.
Choosing the Container
You’ll see in the photo above that we’ve used a variety of containers for our 72-hour kit. The following will all do:
- Backpack – with ample storage for everything;
- Rolling Suitcase – easy to transport in an emergency;
- Plastic Storage Tote – ideal to organize your belongings.
We keep the plastic storage totes safe in our home, full of food and water, and rotate them out often. The backpacks serve as our Get Home Bags (the ones we travel with all the time) and are a portion of our 72-hour kit. We have a suitcase for family clothes and blankets. We keep a camping kit handy with two 2-person tents and some supplies in another tote not seen in this photo.
You can easily transfer the items if needed, but they’re created for quick and easy storage, gathering, and use for us if we need to leave. We understand that if we had to trek for many miles, we wouldn’t be able to drag those plastic totes, but we’d do some quick rearranging and make things work better for the situation at hand. We also keep a first aid kit (the bottom-most tote) handy.
Tip: To go along with your 72-Hour Emergency Kit, it’s important to already have an escape plan ready if you do need to get away from the house quickly. Don’t wait until the last minute to make decisions about where you’ll go because you don’t always have the best decision-making skills in a moment of panic.
What a 72-Hour Emergency Kit Should Include?
Below is a list of necessary items to include in your 72-hour emergency kit in the event of an emergency situation. Be sure to store them in an easily accessible spot (we keep ours in the car along with our emergency car kit).
The preparedness mindset is “one is none” (meaning you have no backup) and “two is one” (meaning once you use your extra, you only have that one left). The idea behind this kit is that you have what you need to get through a short-term crisis before you can return home or until you can find shelter and/or help. You don’t need to take your kitchen sink, but where you can, have a backup or a plan if something fails or gets lost.
FEMA recommends 1 gallon of water per person per day, but that is a bare minimum. You’ll want more for sanitation, first aid, and more. Be prepared with water filtration systems, water purification tablets, water bottles, and more for water gathered on the road.
Here are some items you might find useful:
- Water Bottles – Pre-filled with water so you’re always ready;
- Water Pouches – A great storage idea to fit in your backpack;
- Bladder bags – Ideal for toilet breaks;
- Water purification tablets – Water purification tablets are a must-have for your 72-hour survival kit list. Purification tablets clean water and purify it from chemicals in the event that you’re not in an area with fresh water. This is a likely scenario during a natural disaster.
- Water straws;
- Life Straw – Removes impurities from water;
- Sawyer Mini– A high-performance water filter.
Tip: Keep a set of water bottles in your car at all times. You can rotate them out monthly to keep them fresh. A case can be stored flat on the bottom of your trunk, or you can use handy emergency water pouches for extras. Always keep water with you when you’re on the road.
NOTE: Ready.gov recommends having a bottle of bleach and an eyedropper. I prefer the tablets, even if they take a little longer because you don’t have to worry about the bleach bottle breaking or leaking. They are prone to doing this because they’re not designed for long-term storage.
In an emergency situation, food and water are very essential. In most cases, you can get by with typical camping food or things you’ve collected for your family. But don’t discount the calories, and stock up mostly on granola and dried fruit. You need nutrient-dense, high-calorie food. If you do have access to a shelter, you may be provided with food, but it might not be enough.
Here is a list of ready foods that can go in your kit. But you’ve got one more decision to make. Do you want food you’ll need to cook or food that can be eaten directly out of the packaging? Here is just a list to get you started:
List of Food
- Granola Bars – Perfect for a quick snack;
- Emergency food bars – A great release of energy;
- Protein bars – Important nutrition to keep you going;
- Oatmeal packets – Ideal for a snack;
- Beef jerky – Nutritious and packed with protein;
- Peanut butter snack cups/crackers – A slow release of energy;
- Freeze-dried meal pouches (remember to pack enough water to use with these) – Stay stored for months;
- Dried fruit & vegetables to snack on – Healthy and easy to purchase;
- Homemade MREs – Important for survival;
- Meat in a tin or pouch – A long life shelf;
- Canned ready-meals – Canned foods are ideal for a 72-hour emergency kit list because they are designed with a long shelf life. Canned items are inexpensive and available from almost every grocery store. Also, canned foods contain water which is ideal for keeping your food hydrated and long-lasting. You can even eat food directly from the can without an oven.
- Home Canned Food (be careful of the glass) – Ideal for a balanced diet;
- Camping plates/utensils (you shouldn’t need a cup as your water bottle will double) – Necessary for eating meals;
- Can opener – An important tool people often forget about;
- Comfort foods and special dietary foods – Not essential, but ideal to make the experience more enjoyable
- Bring whatever cooking canisters you’ll need depending on the kind of cooking you intend to do. Remember to keep it small and lightweight. Include at least one item that can be used to boil water.
Tip: Don’t rely on unfamiliar food that you bought off the internet to feed your family. Make sure you use what you’ve eaten, even if it is weird food! Take a night to act out an evacuation or a ‘camping night’ and eat that food and use the items in your kit so that nothing is unfamiliar to you.
If you are stranded on the way, your car can serve as a shelter. However, a packed shelter can give you peace of mind in case you are no longer with your car or are given rest in an area without your own shelter. You need a place to stay where it can protect you from the coldness of nights and the hotness of the day. A place of temporary comfort where you are safely covered.
A simple tarp + rope can serve as an emergency shelter, or you can tie a small tent to the bottom of your pack, or make a bedroll out of sheets and pillows. We keep a tote of just the camping equipment that can be attached to our backpacks if needed. We live in an area where even in colder weather, we don’t need heavy-duty gear, so please pack according to your environment.
- Tent – A must-have for safety and security;
- Tarp (you can get a smaller one with its own pouch) – For protection in severe weather conditions;
- Rope or paracord – Important for many reasons;
- Emergency blankets – Ideal for when it’s cold and wet;
- Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and/or blankets – Important for comfort;
- Inflatable pillow – Ideal for storage.
Tip: Like with eating new weird food that you got from the internet, don’t assume you’ll know how to make a shelter with your tarp and rope. Take a night to camp in the backyard and use these supplies to build your shelters so that you’ll have a basic understanding of what you need to do. Trying to set up for the first time in a harsh weather event will make things even worse.
4. Fire & Heat
If you’re having to be outside, fire can be a great way to warm you, cook your food, or even be a signal. Keep a couple of different kinds of fire starters in different areas of your pack, safely protected from the elements, so that you can always have a fire.
You’ll also have to think about portable cook stoves if you won’t be able to start a full fire in order to cook your food.
- Matches– If you are going to use matches, be sure to store them in a waterproof case, even if they are waterproof matches.
- Lighters– If you are going to store a lighter, please don’t get the cheapest lighter you can find. Oftentimes, they fail miserably. Get the disposables, but get the better versions. I keep a Zippo lighter and a backup canister of fuel.
- Strikers– There are all sorts of fire strikers, magnesium rods, and more, but this is my favorite of all the ones we’ve used. I particularly love it because it’s bright orange and can be seen easily if you drop it.
- Portable stove– There are stoves that take fuel tabs, but I like the idea of a small portable stove that can burn wood like a rocket stove and save some weight. The portable fuel tabs can be more convenient depending on where you might be.
- Portable grill for a campfire- If you decide to cook food over a campfire, this is a great portable grill to have a stable platform to cook on.
Tip: Develop an alternative way to start a fire that doesn’t involve matches or starters. It’s a skill that takes practice and can change depending on your surroundings and weather, but it is a good skill for anyone to have.
Flashlights, glow sticks, etc. help you to see in dark spaces and provide light to get you around safely. Don’t just rely on battery-operated flashlights because there is a whole world of solar power lighting options available to you now that are much better than they used to be. It’s always to have eyes at night that’s why you will be needing one.
Lightsticks are great for an emergency situation. For example, glow sticks are excellent items in which you reserve energy until you need to use them. Invest in good lights, not the cheapest you can find. There are so many options, but here is what we use:
- Glow sticks – Handy to access light;
- Headlamps – Practical for long walks;
- Lantern – An additional light source;
- Solar inflatable lantern – Charges when you’re asleep;
- Personal flashlight – Small and practical for storing;
- Large flashlight – Important for big groups of people.
6. Sanitation & Hygiene
Let’s face it: the need to go to the bathroom is going to come up. And you need to be able to clean yourself, even if you are only gone for a few days or until help arrives. Being sweaty and dirty will lead to feeling uncomfortable when you’re away from home. While doing something homemade may seem like a great idea here, this is the time for convenience!
- Wipes – bleach wipes to help clean surfaces, dishes, gear, and more. We store these in zip-top bags or vacuum seal them to keep them fresh instead of lugging them around a container. Then we rotate them through our regular supplies when we do our quarterly bag checks.
- Toilet paper – essential hygiene items.
- Toothbrush/toothpaste or toothpaste dots/floss.
Toothpaste dots were an idea someone came up with a while back to have toothpaste on hand for camping and hiking. They take up little space, are almost weightless, and are better than packing a tube of toothpaste that will inevitably burst and put toothpaste over the entire contents of your bag, no matter how many layers of plastic you encased it in.
- Soap – you may choose to purchase body wipes for quick wipe downs instead of soap, but a bar of hard soap is useful for washing your clothes, hair, etc.
- Powder shampoo – can help a little with morale;
- Feminine hygiene products – Important for comfort and personal hygiene;
- Trash bags – not only to put your trash in as you generate it if you don’t bury it but for all sorts of reasons.
Tip: Remember, you’ll need to think about water for sanitation as well as drinking when planning your 72-hour emergency kit. Having some convenience products to clean with helps take a load off carrying more water, but don’t discount needing water to wash with altogether.
7. Tools and Gears
- Axe – For cutting firewood;
- Shovel – To bury trash or waste products and to put out campfires;
- Duct tape – Comes in handy;
- Knife – Whether a sheathed knife or a large multi-tool, you need to have a sharp blade for many jobs around the camp.
A prepaid cell phone (with numbers already programmed into it), walkie-talkies, a radio – things to help you be able to stay connected if communications are still available.
- Cell phones – Keep a spare if yours runs out of battery;
- Handheld Ham Radio – Important for keeping updated with the news;
- Walkie-talkies – A great way to communicate with others;
- Signaling devices – For emergencies and catching the attention.
Tip: Most walkie-talkies work on a line-of-sight idea. If you are trying to use them when you are in canyons, large buildings, etc., their range can be affected, but they are good to have for short-range communications.
ATMs and banks may not be available during a local emergency. Nor will credit and debit cards be operational if there are interruptions in power or satellite in your area. Be sure to have extra cash stashed in small denominations to be able to purchase things if purchasing is an option. Be ready all the time.
Tip: Tuck coins and money in different pockets and crannies of your bags and boxes. Don’t keep it all in one place.
Have an extra set of clothes good for whatever season you’re in, plus extra socks. Keep a good, sturdy pair of shoes handy in case you have to walk. You’ll want to have dry clothes available if you get wet, be able to layer on more if it is cold, and change into something clean if you get hot and sweaty or dirty. If you’re wet, having something dry to change into will be a useful thing.
- Extra set of clothes suitable for the current season – Not essential, but necessary ;
- Extra socks – For hygiene and comfort;
- Hat – To keep warm;
- Gloves/coat – Keep yourself warm and protected;
- Extra sturdy shoes – Practical enough for walking;
- Diapers – Important for children;
- Poncho/trash bag/rain gear – Use as a spare for emergencies.
If you’re in cold temperatures, be sure to have cold-weather gear available, with extra gloves in case you get yours wet. Wear items that breathe easily and won’t make you sweat (cotton for the winter can get wet easily and does not dry out quickly).
If you have small children and the elderly with you, you might need 2 or 3 changes for accidents and diaper changes. Be sure also to include any extra diapers and diapering equipment you might need. Small children might revert to pre-potty trained days because they might be scared or you can’t make quick potty stops as often as they need them. It might be time to think about a portable potty, too, because restrooms might not be readily available.
Tip: Tuck a few large trash bags into your pack. Not only are they useful for carrying and sitting on, but they are also good to cover your gear or your body as a rain protector if you didn’t pack ponchos.
11. First Aid
Have a small, well-packed first aid kit to help out with medical emergencies. You can either make your own or buy one ready-made to suit your purposes. Here is a fundamental list to get you started:
- Bandages in varying sizes – For emergencies;
- Sterile gauze pads (sanitary napkins/pads will also work) – Just in case you need them;
- Scissors/tweezers – For a variety of reasons;
- Triple antibiotic ointment – To help with cuts and grazes;
- Hydrocortisone cream – Important for injuries;
- Alcohol wipes – In the event of emergencies;
- Pain relievers/aspirin – Just in case;
- Instant cold compress – Should you hurt your muscles;
- Hand warmers – Great for cold weather;
- Sterile gloves – To keep clean during an injury;
- Imodium – To help with infections;
- Mucinex – Another addition for infections;
- Space blanket (use a better version of a sheet) – To keep warm;
- Ace bandage/large scarf – Great for cold weather;
- Particle mask/face masks – Important in dangerous conditions;
- Prescription medication – Important, and packed for the entire family;
- Antacids – To relieve heartburn or stomach issues;
- Extra glasses/contacts – You never know if you’ll need them.
Tip: Read this 10 First Aid Skills Every Parent Should Know article. If an emergency arose, would you be able to stand in the gap and help out, or wait silently by hoping that an ambulance gets there in time? Not all of the PREParedness is about collecting stuff, but also learning skills to take care of your family and community when you can! Make these a priority for you to learn!
Make sure you have copies of the documentation you may need to rebuild your life or identify yourself during an emergency. You can keep the copies in a waterproof bag or vacuum-sealed or on a small memory stick.
- Driver’s license – To use as identification;
- Social security cards – For emergency identification;
- Credit and/or bank accounts – For purchasing at a corner shop, etc;
- Birth certificates – For identification;
- Voter registration – Not essential, but ideal;
- Medical information – Important for emergencies;
- Vaccination records – Keep stored in your bag at all times;
- Contact information – Important to contact individuals;
- Emergency ID cards – For the entire family.
Tip: For more information on how to create your own Family Emergency Binder try our related article. Creating a Family Emergency Binder or a Grab and Go binder will help ensure that your entire family is ready for emergencies. With just a little advanced planning you won’t ever have to worry about being without the important information you and your family might need in an emergency.
It is essential to have something that you carry at all times for safety. Even having a knife in your pack that is handy for utilitarian reasons but can do double duty as a self-defense weapon is essential. If you are more comfortable carrying a weapon or mace, do that.
Tip: Read this 10 Basic Safety Tips for Women article of mine and prepare to take care of yourself!
You might want to consider adding items for enjoyment if you end up spending many hours waiting for things to happen, like books, card games, pen/paper, or electronic readers (though know that you might not have electricity to recharge).
- Playing cards – Keep the children entertained;
- Books – More comforting than you think;
- Crayons/paper – Keep people entertained;
- A small stuffed comfort toy – Great for the little ones.
Tip: Pack some extra glow sticks for nighttime play with the youngsters.
Customize this list to what you need for the particulars of your family. There are many other things that you can add to the list that you may find helpful depending on the vehicle you may be able to evacuate in or the modes of transportation you may use, where your planned final stop might be, or whether you have extra bodies to help carry.
Use this as a starting point for what you need to do for the basics and expand it as your family needs and as circumstances dictate.
Just remember, you need to be able to pull or carry what you pack. Don’t plan emergency needs expecting to always have a working vehicle or a way out in a car. Be prepared to take the most critical items in personal packs that you can carry.
Tip: Don’t plan on carrying more than 25% of your body weight.
How to Pack Your 72-Hour Emergency Kits
Once you know what items to pack in your backpack, you want to ensure that you effectively pack your supplies for emergency situation procedures. Everything should be organized so your items are easy to grab in a disaster. Here are some tips to stay well organized:
- Keep electrical items together – such as your cell phone and batteries. But, make sure your cell phone is properly stored so it isn’t touching the metal on your backpack, for example.
- If you choose to take a pocket knife, make sure this is safely stored and not in easy access for children. Also, keep the pocket knife away from canned goods as it could accidentally open the food.
What to Include in a 72-Hour Emergency Kit for Your Whole Family
If you have a family, you’ll need a 72-hour emergency kit that caters to everyone. You can purchase the cheapest backpack you can find, as the items inside your 72-hour kit are the most important aspect.
First, you’ll need a change of clothing for each family member – including an appropriate top that will keep you warm and clean underwear. In the event that disaster strikes, everyone should have clean and fresh clothing in case.
Pack personal hygiene products in your backpack such as a toothbrush, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, and wipes. The most important thing to remember is prescription medications for each family member, if necessary. You’ll need these in everyday life, so you don’t pack them away for a disaster. Instead, keep all medication stored in a survival kit in your home. This means you can quickly grab the survival kit in an emergency situation.
And there’s more
Each family member will need a rain poncho so you’re always prepared for poor weather. You’ll also want to store extra batteries – especially if you have young children with you.
This is also great for a cell phone as you might not have access to electricity to charge it. Alternatively, pre-paid phone cards are a great way to make sure you’re able to use your cell phone during a disaster.
What to Pack in the 72-Hour Emergency Kit You Keep at Work
Be prepared at work with a 72-hour kit filled with our recommended emergency supplies. Add a rain poncho to your backpack in the event of a weather disaster. If you can’t get home from work because of transportation issues, you might have to walk home for miles. We recommend keeping your emergency kit on your office desk in case a disaster strikes outside. Then you have all of your emergency supplies right there at work.
Pack canned foods as they have a long shelf life and will sustain your energy until you return home. Canned items are also ideal because they last for years, so you don’t need to regularly update your stash of emergency supplies.
Finally, consider that you may need water purification tablets, in case the water is switched off at your office. You’ll need to have a bottle of water already placed in your backpack so you’re prepared for such an event.
How to Store Your 72-Hour Emergency Kit
For your emergency kit preparedness, your backpack should be easy to access. This is why we recommend having numerous 72-hour kits to store in different locations. Keep one in your home, one in your office, and another in your car.
If each one is filled with appropriate emergency supplies, you’ll always be ready if disaster strikes. Also, bear in mind the temperature, because you don’t want to keep food in a hot environment, or extra batteries as they might not work when you come to use them.
Use this link to help you create a printable .pdf of this post if you want to make your own instead of using my premade one above. It’s easy and free to use, and will let you edit what you actually print!
It’s safe to say that our ultimate goal is to help you have an emergency kit, a family plan, and the knowledge to garden, preserve your harvest, and use useful herbs every day – without spending a ton of money to do it. Luckily that’s obtainable for every family and a journey we would love to help you with.
This year we have posted about food storage, 72-hour Kits & Bug Out Bags, and every aspect of preparedness, from water storage to cooking off the grid. You’ll also find many ideas to help you be more self-reliant.
So, be sure to visit our sites and learn as much as you can about being prepared. We’ll be using the hashtag #30DaysOfPrep for these and many other ideas throughout the current month, so join in the conversation and make this year the one you become truly prepared for.
72-Hour Emergency Kit: SOURCES
Finally, these are all the links that were helpful in creating this article. I thought that you may want for different reasons to have them listed all in one place. So, here they are!
- The Prepared Pantry: A 3 Month Food Supply | PreparednessMama
- How to Wax Cheese for Long Term Storage | Perky Prepping Gramma
- How to Dehydrate Cherries | Mom With a PREP
- How to Dehydrate Milk for Long Term Storage | Perky Prepping Gramma
- The 5 best crops for Self Sufficient Gardeners | Our Stoney Acres
- Butchering a chicken | The Homesteading Hippy
- 3 Small Livestock Preparedness Tips | Timber Creek Farm
- Essential Oils for Preparedness | Mama Kautz
- Farm First Aid Preparedness | Timber Creek Farm
72-Hour Kits or Bug Out Bags
- Build Your Dollar Store B.O.B. for your Car in minutes! | Simply Living Simply
- 10 Essential Oils You Need in Your B.O.B. and at Home | Blue Jean Mama
- 10 Must-Have Herbs for Your B.O.B | Simply Living Simply
- Create a 72 Hour Emergency Kit or Go Bag | Mom with a PREP
- 5 Things New Moms Can Do to Prepare for Disasters | PreparednessMama
- Trauma Essentials for the Prepper | The Prepared Ninja
- 10 Most Important Items a Female Prepper Should Have | Living Life in Rural Iowa
- Why Natural Health, Exercise and Whole Foods Play a Role in Survival | Trayer Wilderness
- Getting Started With Water Storage | The Backyard Pioneer
- 10 Totally Free Prepping Things to Do | Living Life in Rural Iowa
- 21 Prepper Tips I Wish I’d Heard Before I Started Prepping | Urban Survival Site
- Is Homesteading Like Prepping? | The Homesteading Hippy
- What You Should Consider When Fire Is A Threat | Trayer Wilderness