Survival Kit or No Survival Kit?

A Thought Provoking Conversation:

I have a sister in law who I will call Jill who followed my 72 hr kit series the first time I posted it.  She added / reorganized the items I suggested each week.  Her husband who I will call Jake (my husband’s brother) got a little tired of hearing “Well, Misty says….”

They came to visit us in California a couple of months ago and we were all laughing about this and how even online, I’ve found a way to tell people what to do (I am a very typical oldest child with a strong type A or “red” personality. Rolling on the floor laughing)  But then, we actually got into a really good conversation.  Jake pointed out that it would actually be quite rare when you would need a full on grab and go kit.  His point was that you shouldn’t stress so much about getting everything to fit in one bag, especially if it means sacrificing quality.  And since I’m all about simplifying and making “prepping” do-able, I decided to listen to what he had to say and share it with you.  Here is how a bit of our conversation went (or about how it went…it has been a few months, but I remember it being something like this):

  • Jill: Thanks so much for your 72 hr kit series; it really helped me get ours in order!
  • Jake:  Whatever!  It just caused a bunch more work for me!  Every time Jill would say “But Misty says…” I knew I was in for more work!
  • Jill:  Jake!
  • Me: You are welcome Jill.  And Jake, you know I just can’t control myself!  Give me an opportunity to control something and I jump right in!  My OCD organizational needs don’t help much either!New Idea
  • Jake: Okay, okay, but seriously, why do you need it ALL in one pack anyway?
  • Me: Well, in case you need to evacuate.  There is actually a pretty good chance you will be evacuated for some reason at sometime.
  • Jake: So, for what?  A house fire?
  • Me: Sure.  Or natural disaster, chemical spills etc.
  • Jake: Would you really want your 72 hour kit if you had to evacuate your house because of house fire?
  • Me: Of course.
  • Jake: Really?  You’d need a tent?  A compass?  An emergency blanket?  A bunch of food with a long shelf life?  Wouldn’t you just go stay with a neighbor or family member until insurance could replace what you’d lost?  (Side note: See this comment by Brenda for a situation where you just might need some of those things!)
  • Me: Uh……I guess you are right.  It really wouldn’t be too useful in a house fire.  I’d really just want to grab my family members, and if possible, important documents and a few irreplaceables such as pictures and a computer hard drive.  But there are many other evacuation type situations where I’d need my kit.
  • Jake: Like an earthquake?
  • Me: Yep, like an earthquake.
  • Jake: Really?  What are you going to do, grab your kit as soon as you feel the quake start and start hiking?
  • Me: No, I’d get myself and my kids to the safest spot possible. The only thing I will be concerned about finding / protecting during the quake is my kids. I will not be grabbing my 72 hr kit on our way under the nearest table. I’d use my kit after the earthquake.
  • Jake: Okay, so you’d use your kit b/c you can’t live in your home, right?  But would you actually need to evacuate?  Not likely.  You’d just set up your tent where your house was and use it there.  So, you wouldn’t actually need it in a pack you can grab and go.  Having the supplies is smart, but why stress about putting making them all fit in one pack that you can carry?
  • Me:  I see what you are saying, but what about a situation where there was a large scale gas leak we couldn’t shut off or the house was on fire and we had to leave quickly?  That is very likely after an earthquake.  I’d just want a grab and go kit in that situation!
  • Jake: Are you sure?  If there is a gas leak or your house is on fire, are you really going to spend time looking for your kit in all the rubble?
  • Me: Uh…..No, I wouldn’t look for it, you are right.
  • Jake: And what about tornados?  People aren’t usually evacuated for tornadoes, they are just told to go underground.  Wouldn’t it be better to just have a good stock of supplies ready for you underground?
  • Me: Yes, probably.
  • Jake: And a lot of disasters have early warning systems: hurricanes, tornados, many tsunamis, wild fires, floods, etc.  If you had hours to evacuate and could do so in your car would you really want your kit?  Especially if you were going to stay with a friend or neighbor?
  • Me: No, I guess in that case I’d want what we would pack if we were going on a vacation, plus any irreplaceables.  I’m seeing your point.  I guess depending on what type of disaster you are at risk for, you may not actually need 72 hrs of supplies in a kit you can grab and go.



So, I can guess what is going on in your mind right now:  “Really?!?  Is she really telling me I don’t need a 72 hr kit?”  The answer is no I’m not.  But, my conversation with Jake did change how I’m  looking at my kit and how I’m packing it.

There are still a few situations I can think of where I’d like to have a grab and go kit.  There are evacuation situations with very little warning time.  Things such as hazardous materials spills, nuclear power plant accidents, or terrorist threats.  If early warning systems for disasters such as a hurricane or tsunami failed, you may end up with just minutes to grab and run.  Even if you were able to evacuate by car in such situations, you likely wouldn’t have time to grab much more than a pre-packed bag or two.  If enough people were evacuating by car , traffic may come to a standstill.  You may have to get out and walk and in that situation, I’d want my kit to be something I could carry and something that would help me survive without the assistance of others.

If you are in an area at risk for one of these disasters then I highly suggest you still do all you can to fit 72 hrs worth of supplies into a bag or a few bags that you can carry with you.

However, my conversation with Jake really made me think.  As a result, I am adjusting some of what I have planned for an evacuation situation.  Consider the following

1.  Prepare for evacuations with all warning lengths.

A grab & go survival kit prepares you for an evacuation with just minutes notice (rare).  What if you have 10-30 minutes and will be able to stay with neighbors / family?  What if you have hours?  Do you have a plan of what you will bring or will you be running around like crazy and later realize you forgot something incredibly important?

There was a wildfire near us recently and we were under a possible evacuation notice. In other words, we needed to be ready to evacuate if asked. I needed to go grocery shopping and I asked my husband if he could handle that on his own if needed. He said: “Sure. The 72 hr kits are in the car, right? What else do we need?” Well, actually, we really wouldn’t need our 72 hour kits. We would be staying with family (Jake), and wouldn’t need our tents. They would have food that would be much more nutritious (and better tasting) than what we had in our kits. We’d even be able to go to the grocery store if needed. We have no need for flashlights or a compass or meds or, emergency blankets that we’ve got packed in those kits.

So, what would we need / want? We had hours of notice.  I’d want a bunch of changes of clothes. I’d want our toothbrushes and my makeup and my husband’s razor. I’d want all our old pictures and journals. I’d want my kids “blankies” and pillows (they LOVE their pillows) I’d want my husband’s guitar and a picture my color-blind Dad cross stitched for me (he had to count each stitch b/c he couldn’t tell the difference between the colors). Maybe an air mattress or two. I’d want our computers and backup hard drives. I’d want our important documents folder. I’d want a pack and play for the baby. I’d want her binkies. I’d want our wallets and cell phones. In short, I’d want what we’d need to comfortably survive at our relative’s house until our insurance could replace the rest of our belongings.

I need to pre-plan for such a situation.  It needs to be part of our family’s evacuation plan.  I have a plan for 10-30 minutes, but not one for hours.  I also have a plan for “moments” notice, but it wouldn’t be the plan I’d want if we were evacuating because of a house fire or gas leak.  I’d rather grab irreplaceables if I could than our 72 hr kits in that case.  I need to add those types of evacuations to our plan.  I will post it when I do.

 2.  Have supplementary supplies.

Oftentimes in order to make everything fit in one bag, you have to sacrifice quality.   For example, the tents in our kits are very small and not very durable.  They probably wouldn’t do well in a large rainstorm, but they are better than nothing, so we have them in our grab and go kits.  But chances are that if we have to survive on our own for a while b/c our home was destroyed we may not be evacuating.  I’d much rather use a high quality tent if I could.  So, in addition to those tents, I have a nice, large, high quality tent.  This is true of many items.  I have light compact flashlights in our kits and a big ‘ol mag light separate from them.

Or what if your home isn’t destroyed (no need for a tent), but your running water is contaminated and you have no electricity?  That is when your 55 gallon water jugs and filter and big warm blankets will come in handy.  You don’t have those things in your kit, but you’d want them if you were stuck at home without the luxuries of modern life.

Go through the list of supplies you have in your kit and as you can afford it, add supplementary supplies you could use if you did not need to evacuate, but still had to survive on your own.

3.  Know what you are preparing for.

Are you most at risk for an earthquake?  Then prepare for that!  Store your kit and supplementary supplies together in a spot they will be likely to be as protected as possible so you can find them after.

Do you live near a nuclear power plant (we did in California).  Be SURE you have a grab and go kit!

Do you live in a large city or somewhere that could be the target of a terrorist attack?  Have a grab and go kit!

Do you live in tornado country?  Make sure you have lots of supplementary supplies stored underground somewhere.

Hurricane territory?  You will likely have quite a bit of warning.  Where will you go?  Who will you stay with?  Do you know alternate routes to get there in case the main highways are full of traffic?  Do you keep your gas tank full?


Do not just blindly build a grab and go kit if it is not the best thing for what you are at risk for.  Plan for your highest risk first.  Once you’ve done that, you can start planning for other things that you may be less at risk for, but still want to be prepared for just in case.  “Prepping” is expensive, make sure you are smart about it!


Your Thoughts?

This has the potential to be a hot topic.  I’d love to hear your opinions, and personal experiences with evacuation.  What did you have prepared that you were glad you’d done?  What did you wish you’d done differently?

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Becky is a wildlife enthusiast and pet and livestock care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to Simple Family Preparedness through insightful info about pets, livestock, bee keeping, and the practicalities of homesteading.

19 thoughts on “Survival Kit or No Survival Kit?”

  1. Do you have tips outlined for any specific situations? Specifically, my husband and I just moved to tornado country but I feel at a loss of knowing exactly what would be helpful to prepare for this specific situation. I saw that you had a post on preparing to survive in your car, hoping you have one on tornadoes!

    • Holly. I am so sorry for my late response here! I don’t have anything on tornadoes, but it is on my “to-do” list. I just haven’t gotten to it yet! Watch for it!

  2. I think Jake shared some of the challenges and frustrations that many of us have when trying and working to prepare a family for any of the myriad calamities that could befall us. I think he is overwhelmed by needing to plan of each and every one of them. It really can be much simpler than that. Prepare for a time when you’d have to leave your home and not return and everything that is less than that is taken care of.

    If you are planning to hang out with family or at a neighbors home when your evacuation crisis hits and so therefore you don’t need to take anything but your toothbrush, you better have great faith that they have planned for you to do so. Do you really want to rely on someone else for your comfort and protection? I don’t.

    I struggled with this very topic for a long time because it was so overwhelming to me too. There was no way I could prepare for every eventuality and still live a regular, carpool-driving life. Then I went to a class that opened my eyes to a simple system that even I could follow. I got permission to share it and it’s on my blog now for others to use too. Send Jake over, it might help.

  3. So interesting I’ve been having this same conversation with my husband a lot lately. I don’t know anyone that has every had to use the “camping supplies” in their 72 hour kit. But I do know plenty of people who have had to evacuate and have been very grateful for the other supplies that they had. I’ve been thinking that the most important thing to have is cash.

  4. I look at it this way…none of us know what is going to happen. Will I need to leave my home quickly and only have time to grab a pre-packed bag? Or will I have time to gather things? Or will I be able to stay in my house, but not have ‘luxuries’ like running water? I’m trying to have something in place for each scenario. I feel that having these items on hand is like buying insurance, you hope you don’t ever have to use them, but if you do they are there and ready. With 4 kids who will be my priority in case of an emergency, I want to have a plan so I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

    I guess you post is what I’ve been thinking about all along. Have a 72 hour kit for if you need it. Have a plan of what to get if you have warning before you need to leave. And have a plan in case I’m home and life isn’t quite normal.

  5. Great Post Misty! I have to disagree with Jake on the house fire. My home burned down in Sept 2010. We were at a hotel for a couple of days but ended up setting up our tent in our front yard because some people were trying to steal stuff from our home that we could have salvaged. Everything had to stay until the adjuster could examine the home and then we were allowed to salvage whatever we could. Thank God that our camping supplies were stored in a shed and not in our home or garage. We were able to salvage the garage but all of the camping equipment would have smelled like smoke. The garage was missing one wall so anyone could have stolen my husbands tools, if we had not been there.
    Our major concern as far as weather goes is a tornado (which we got hit by one of those too 19 yrs ago) We are saving money to build us an underground storm shelter which will have a working kitchen, a toilet and a place to sleep.
    We like to travel so I try to be equipped for disasters for when we are out on the road. My goal is a nice little camper that we can keep stocked. Some people prep out of fear, I prep so that we can better provide for our extended family and so that we will not be a burden on someone else.

  6. This is a great post! My main goal from the beginning is to get all of my supplies in one place, but you are correct that each family requires its own needs assessment. DH and I travel light anyway, so I naturally focus on a grab-and-go type of kit, but that will not be the best thing for all families.

  7. Now this makes sense to me. I don’t have any advice to add, but want to thank you all for sharing what you do to prep. Instead of children to grab and prepare for, I have animals, so don’t forget food, leashes, meds, crates and comfort items for them too.

  8. Hi Misty, great post as usual. Here we each have a 72 hour kit (backpack) for my boyfriend and myself that can be grabbed in an instant in case of a fire, house fire, etc. It has a couple changes of clothes, some Shelf Reliance pouches of food and snacks, fire starting equipment, and copies of all of our important documents (among other things).

    Then we have our grab and go kit – a few plastic tubs of varying items that we would also grab if we had more time. One of the tubs is camping gear on its own that we use for camping, but don’t figure we’ll have to take it BUT it’s included in our grab and go kit just in case. It contains our tent/etc. We restock it after we go camping so it’s always ready to go.

    This is assuming we leave in our truck and not on foot…but we do have lightweight sleeping bags and items to make a makeshift tent in our 72 hour kits.

    It was your post about what your list is with 5, 10, and 30 minutes of evacuation time that made me think that a graduated, two-system approach would work well for the risks we face where we live (wildfires, earthquakes, inclement weather). Thank you!

  9. Very interesting topic, thanks! I live in area where there are no chances for hurricanes, and the chances of an earthquake are minimal. I don’t live too close to a major city and not too close to nuclear reactor. We do have tornadoes now & then, but no basement. I look at our 72 hr. kits as insurance that we don’t forget anything if we have to leave fast (like go to the neighbors for a tornado warning) and can’t return, but I’ve been thinking too, about how I can pack what I’d really take in other situations. I must remember to duplicate our important documents (thanks labbie1). I also just talked to my husband about a camper. Neither of us have camped since we were children, but it seems like a great idea now!

  10. PS–I have all of my needed papers in two safe deposit boxes.

    We travel so I have a box where we are currently located and I have a box at our home state.

    The box here has originals of all documents plus copies of utility and local bills to prove that we live here should we need to get back to our place here. It also has a key to the deposit box in our home state and keys to vehicles and campers and houses.

    The box in our home state has all of the same documents–original certified copies plus property tax statements etc. showing our ownership there and keys etc.

    I carry a notebook with just copies of all of our papers which will have all of the numbers needed until we can get to one of our bank boxes.

    The probability of a total disaster that takes out both banks would be astronomical but they are close enough that we can get to one of the boxes and be able to access all of our ID’s and important papers.

    I like redundancy. 🙂 (OCD?)

    • Redundancy is a good thing in a crisis. You sound very well prepared. I am just learning about preparedness for and emergency and appreciate your sharing

  11. Very thought provoking!

    I think sometimes we get all wrapped up in one thing that we forget the others.

    I have a plan written out for items to grab in different timeframes. If we have 5 minutes, grab this, if 10, add that, if 30 add this…

    I also have different kits in different areas that add to and compliment each other.

    My 24 hour kit in my purse adds to my kit in my vehicle.

    The vehicle kit has my air mattress and heavier tools such as a saw and shovel that would be hard to carry. There is also more than 72 hours of water and food in there.

    My self contained camper is fully prepared to be hitched up at a moment’s notice to leave. We keep all of our extra foods, paper supplies etc. in that camper and rotate through it (like a pantry) so it is always fresh and well stocked for an emergency. In 10 to 15 minutes I can be hitched an off.

    Our 72 hour backpacks have the 3 days of items to backpack if necessary.

    So, my purse has 24 hours, plus backpacks of 72 hours=4 days. Add to that my vehicle and you have another 72 hours min along with air mattress with pump and all items needed to camp in the vehicle if needed so that give us a full week or more. Hitch up the camper and we are okay for a long time.


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