Preparing Your Family For Unforeseen Emergencies

BagsBOB, Bug-Out-Bag, 911 Kit, Emergency Bag, 72-Hour Bag, Get-Out-Of-Dodge Bag, etc. No matter what name you give it, it is something we feel is important for every family. With weather raging out of control and catastrophic emergencies happening in places we never thought possible (here and here, for example) these type of kits should be “on the ready”, packed and prepared for all kinds of emergencies including natural disasters like flooding and hurricanes, to technological chaos like blackouts, to a host of other things (excluding Zombie-invasions in which case you should just call Norman Reedus).

An emergency bag like each of our family members has is meant to carry the essential for 72-hour survival. Granted this is not Bear Grylls sort of survival but rather basic, essential, day-to-day survival. Be that as it may BOBs, 911 Kits, and survival bags should all include basically the same thing and will serve you best if available to you almost all the time; in the car, when traveling, at home, etc.

Remember. 2 is 1 and 1 is none.

Perhaps the first thing to think about though is that you don’t want your bags to be too heavy and they should be easy to transport, preferably on your back. We have chosen to use our Kelty backpacks and chose a small TinkerBell back pack for our 2-year old daughter. Speaking of weight. Her pack only weighs about 4.1 lbs. and if ever used should go a long way in providing comfort for her as well as familiarity. In regards to the adult packs they should be outfitted as you see fit and you should customize them to your family’s needs and environment. For instance a couple who lives in midtown Manhattan would not at all need/want the same things as a couple living in Door County, Wisconsin. The lists below should help you get started building your own bags though.


  • Keep a few liters of water available. This can be in the form of bottles purchased at the grocery store or emergency water pouches. A good rule of thumb is an individual needs 1 liter per day at minimum.
  • For long-term emergencies, you’ll want to have some kind of water purification system such as purification tablets or a filter. Consider a collapsible bucket for water collection. You can also use old Gatorade bottles, canteens, or even unused condoms. You may have to boil water in some cases so you will want to consider that as well.
  • Dehydrated, Freeze-Dried, or MRE meals.
  • Energy bars, Trail Mix, Peanuts, etc.
  • Canned foods such as sardines or tuna.
  • Comfort treats that are easy to pack (a bag of Swedish Fish for me).


  • Paracord.
  • Duct tape.
  • A knife and multi-tool that includes a can opener, screw driver, etc.
  • Folding shovel
  • A tarp. You can use this as a makeshift shelter to keep out wind, rain, and the sun.
  • Solar powered flashlight with LED lights.
  • And LED head lamp.
  • Spare batteries (typically AA and D are best).
  • Glow sticks.
  • Power inverter for your car to charge your phone or other electronics.
  • hand crank radio.
  • A whistle for each individual.
  • Waterproof matches.
  • Lighter(s).
  • Magnesium fire starting tool


  • Emergency Mylar foil blankets. 
  • Rain poncho.
  • Warm clothes (if in winter season). Lightweight clothes (if in summer).
  • Change of clothes for each family member (including underclothing).
  • Boots or walking shoes.
  • Work gloves.
  • Sleeping bags may be something you want to consider depending on your situation. If so, look for ones that come with a compression sack.


  • A basic first-aid kit. You can buy assembled kits but if you research and build your own you’ll have a better knowledge of what you need and how to use it as well as save a few dollars. Basics include: band-aids, gauze, cloth tape, anti-septic wipes, antibacterial ointment, scissors, tweezers, non-latex gloves, a CPR mask, saline solution to use as eye wash, and dust masks.
  • Over-the-counter medications: anti-diarrheal medications, pain and fever medications, Tylenol, Benadryl, etc.
  • A first aid handbook or cheat sheet.
  • Personal items such as bar soap, mouthwash, toothbrush/toothpaste, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, etc.
  • Essential prescription medications. Rotate these out when you rotate the food/water.
  • Extra eye glasses if you rely on them for vision.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray.


  • Diapers or Pull-Ups if necessary.
  • Rash ointments.
  • Trail Mix or other non-perishable snacks. Be cautious about sugars.
  • Multivitamins.
  • Small stuff animal.
  • Favorite small book.
  • Cartoon band-aids.

NOTE: The kids bag is not so much for survival as many items will be carried by the adult. The kids bag is more for comfort and to help ease an already stressful situation.


  • Forms of identification. Some people also like to include copies of birth certificates, marriage certificate, social security cards, insurance policies, and so on. You may even want to have 3 areas in which you store this information: Xerox copies in your bag, on a thumb drive, and in “the cloud.”
  • Cash in small denominations.
  • Laminated list of important phone numbers and information including a recent photo of each family member.
  • Local and regional map and compass.
  • The SAS Survival Handbook is a popular and well-rated book to have on hand.


NOTE: Many of the above items can be vacuum sealed to save room and to keep dry. Consider investing in a FoodSaver kit or a Ziploc brand vacuum sealer.


  1. jparkes says

    A tip from my own experience, from military to personal camping.

    I’m a knife collector…i’ve hundreds collected over decades, some dirt cheap, others incredibly expensive hand made professional blades.
    The best knife is the one you have, the best knife for the job at hand is a whole new ballgame. The most important lesson is how to determine the right knife for a particular job, avoiding injury, not damaging your knife, and not messing up the job are all important considerations.
    I would want at least three on my person should an emergency arise and i had to be away from home for some reason.
    1st…a small, 2″-3″ inch, general purpose, folding pocket knife with a straight blade, for light duty sharp work. These are so well made now they can hardly be felt in your pocket.
    2nd…a 3″-4″ partially serrated, heavier duty folding pocket knife with an attached belt or pocket clip, for heavier duty cutting that would dull your fine work pocket knife.
    3rd…a fixed blade of very heavy stock with at least 6″-10″ of bare blade, a full tang (blade material runs all the way through the grip), Heavy enough to chop through wood for a fire and pound in tent stakes. (look for the ‘Schrade Extreme survival’…30-40 dollars, and my personal choice for brute work)
    Small fine edges need constant maintenance with a stone or ceramic sharpener, pack one. Even a rough edge for chopping wood needs attention after a time, i prefer a small fine toothed metal hand file for these edges. Of course oil to keep things from rusting and operating well.

    Whatever your choice of knives to pack or carry on your person, make sure they are quality tools, take good care of them, and learn to use the right tool for the job. Injuries and broken blades are the results of bad choices…yours.
    Hope this helps…and yes, many knife aficionados will have differing opinions, try not to get too caught up in it.

    • says

      Great comment jparkes. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts. I agree. Blades are important for a number of reasons. They are useful as both protection and tools. I keep a pocket knife (as I think all mean should…and even ladies if nowhere else but in their purse) that has just a single blade. I also keep a file knife (sharpened to shave even my face) and a “Rambo-style” bowie knife with handle compartment in my bag. In addition my wife has a machete for light brush work should we need one. It is lightweight but effective and doesn’t add any bulk to her pack to speak of. As for oil we “double duty” our olive oil (which is in a small squeeze bottle in the food section of my pack) for the blades.

      I am interested to hear what others think. Thank you again jparkes.

      • jparkes says

        Any oil in a pinch.
        I prefer a light machine oil, or gun oil. Food grade oils often leave a protein film that can build up and become sticky over time…not a big deal for knives, but not good for guns and such.
        I use a small visine eye drop bottle and fill it with light machine oil, it has an amber tint and some are clear, but don’t mistake it for eye drops. A little oil goes a very long way.
        Hollow handle knives are cool, a great way to have little things handy…the downside is that most are plastic or just not very well made, the blade easily separates from the handle if used roughly. It’s why i like ‘full tang’ fixed blades. I have seen a couple good hollow ones though…i just wouldn’t chop wood with it! lol

        • GRITS says

          After reading all the comments, I would add a few. For fire starting tinder, duct tape (fish oil based) and antibacterial hand sanitizer (alcohol based) are both great. Immodium AD is a good addition in times of stress and probably unusual diet. A stainless water bottle can be used to boil water. I was complaining about pack weight to a friend and what clothes I need and he said “you don’t need clothes….you can find clothes anywhere”. So now it’s a jacket, underwear, and socks for me. Took off 5 lbs.

          • jparkes says

            It would depend on what you were expecting to use your pack for, and where you are in relation to where you wish to go.
            A change of clothes is perhaps one of the handiest things i’ve got in my pack…for a general purpose travel pack…should you find yourself doing an unexpectedly long trek, and weight becomes an issue you could discard them along the way and retrieve them on the way back through.
            I keep a second bag in my vehicle, it is much more extensive than a carry bag. I can cut it down if a walkout situation arises…but it is filled with things i use a lot, unexpected overnights seem to happen a lot for me with a large group of friends and relatives, not having to pack a bag, return home tired, or after a few too many beers is not uncommon.

            My favorite, absolute necessity item in my survival list…starbucks via instant coffee single serve packets, these are weightless, very tiny stick type pouches that are similar to the flavor packs you would add to bottled water.
            There are also energy drink packets of many flavors for keeping good things in your system. They add almost nothing in weight to your pack, and take up almost no room at all.

          • says

            Funny you say S’bucks VIA. We have a small camera case (and I do mean small) that we keep in my pack and also take with us when we travel. In it is 4 VIA sticks, 4 individual tea bags (2 green tea and 2 detox tea), 8 RAW sugar packets, 2 Int’l Delight creamers, salt, pepper, hot sauce, ketchup, honey, and a few stirrer sticks. I think I am going to add 2 Gatorade sticks to it as well for electrolyte purposes. And I guess I should blog about it too. HAHAHAHAH!

  2. jparkes says

    A small bottle of gold bond medicated powder….for a hundred useful reasons!
    One tip;
    It is mentholated, a bit in and outside your sleeping bag will discourage nasty visitors.

    • says

      I love the life straw and have it on our wish list. But we didn’t find out about it until after we purchased some other water items so when we rotate those out we will replace with a more flexible option like the Life Straw.

  3. David Arnold says

    The list is great, thank you for the wonderful info. I might add that a good pair of pliers with wire cutters are incredible useful.

    My question is, many of those items I use in everyday life: knife, LED head lamp, my good boots, even the backpack itself. In the spirit of tiny living, I can’t imagine you would have purchased all of these items separately for the sole purpose of an emergency. Or would you? What are your thoughts?

    • says

      I have a fine set of pliers on my leatherman tool that also have wire cutters. And while they are a great tool I think most folks would be fine without them provided they had a decent knife. Well, at least the wire cutting part.

      Quite a few of those items are in my EDC (everyday carry), yes. And I carry a couple other items as well that I DO NOT suggest all to carry unless properly trained and practiced.

      No, we did not purchase a number of the items. They were either already owned and just gathered together or they were part of a pack or found at yard sales, etc. For instance, the LED headlamps were a pack of 3 at Lowe’s. Just so happens there are 3 of us. HAHAHAHA. The backpacks are our hiking backpacks that we have both had for about 10 years. Our daughters pack was purchased at the Wal-Mart during the “back-to-school” sales. Maybe $4 at most. Our boots just sit under the bags and were not included in the list because I didn’t want folks to rush out and buy tactical boots thinking that is what they need. In fact, any shoes would be fine for the most part provided you have a pair of dry socks and they AREN’T flip-flops.

  4. Ryan Mitchell says

    I learned a while ago you can do without a lot, but a good knife and hatchet are invaluable, you can’t create them in pinch. Also cordage is a real pain to make, so I keep that on hand. I have my good knife on me and then I put an additional $20 Mora knife at the bottom of my pack/bag/car.

    For your med kit, I’d suggest add a few dozen butterfly strips, Ace bandage, a ton of ibuprofen, razor blade, moleskin, and sutures.

    Also how about compass, map? I also keep a camping towel. I picked up some mini fire starters, 99 cents each, they are tiny, but it lets me stash a few everywhere as backups to may main flint and steel.

    Also consider a folding saw and a metal container that you can boil water if need be in.

    • says

      I totally forgot paracord. Good idea Ryan. I have a keychain with paracord (10 ft.) but if I were separated from my keys I would be lost. I also haven’t thought much about a hatchet although I have been threatening to get one even for our yard. Odd that I haven’t yet.

      Butterfly strips. Great point. I have some in our Car Kit but not in our bags so I could easily (in fact, will do in a few minutes) add some. We have plenty. We do have Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Aspiring, and anti-itch cream, in our med area. I need to add that to the list. I overlooked them. We also have some Pepto-Bismol chewables and some Metamucil. You never know!

      The compass is on the tip of my knife and the map is in the car kit. I need to either get another (of the region at least) and add it. Good catch.

      Man, you make some good points. I overlooked quite a bit. My wife has the fire starters in her bag so hopefully we’ll stay together in a 911 or else I will be lighting my boxers on fire!

      I love how so many people are commenting and making great additions. Thanks Ryan!

      • Ryan Mitchell says

        There are a few things that I always say everyone should carry with them. Knife, fire kit, first aid, water, map/compass.

        For Ibuprofen I realized my kit was horrible inadequate when I busted my ankle. To keep the swelling down and manage pain, the doctor had me take 2400 mg a day! that’s 12 tablets a day. So I figure if you hurt your ankle in a disaster, you’ll still have a long way to go, I now keep 300 tablets in my kit, which takes up very little space.

        I have my main compass and then I bought a few button compasses that, like those mini fire steels, I stick a few everywhere just in case.

        Another thing I forgot, I don’t know how I forgot. A P-51 can opener. Canned food will be the only thing edible if there is a serious long term event. I also throw in a hacksaw blade ($1) in case I ever needed to get through a padlock.

        • says

          So you have water and a map in your EDC? How do you tote those around on a day-to-day? Do you have a concealed carry permit? (not even sure where you stand on firearms….just asking).

          As for most meds, I don’t keep the truckstop paper packs. I keep a bottle. A good ‘ol CostCo bottle because I know I am a baby with a fever or a little pain and I DO NOT want to be under-prepared. You got that right. HAHAHAHA.

          My can opener is also in my bowie knife. Man, that thing is convenient I am realizing. You are right. If you can’t open a can all the food in the world won’t help you.

          • Ryan Mitchell says

            I usually have a bottle of water with me. If I am not at home, I’m usually close to my car, I have a pdf of Charlotte map saved to my phone, so I can use it even if the cell towers are down. In the care there is a paper map, a few bottles, plus iodine tabs. If I’m camping/outdoors I usually have a backpack with me.

            No permit, no gun. I’d like to have a Glock 17 and if I do I’d get the permit, don’t ever want a cop to say I was “concealing” a weapon and not have a permit. When I get some land I’ll get a .22 because its a tool for the farm.

            I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people hurt themselves trying to open a can with a knife because they didn’t have a can opener. In a survival situation that could be huge.

  5. says

    As requested, here are the clothes by season left in the kits.


    1 – hooded sweatshirt
    1 – shorts
    1 – pair QuickDry undies
    1 – pair socks
    1 – rain poncho
    2 – tshirts


    1 – Fleece jacket
    1 – cargo pants
    1 – pair QuickDry undies
    2 – pair socks
    1 – rain poncho
    1 – turtleneck
    1 – tshirt

  6. Ines Ifran says

    Hi, Drew! Great post, you make me remember the old days as a Scout Leader. All those lists of essencials. We used to teach the kids how to pack for our journeys.

    I would like to make a couple suggestions:

    – Get ready for the most likely scenario depending on where you live (zombi attack hazards are really low, severe snow storms are more common). In which cases are you going to leave your house? Only if a flood or a hurricane is upon you, otherwise, make sure your house is ready to keep your family safe.

    – Make sure you have enough basic items at home in case of a blackout (like when Sandy strick NY, they spend a week without electricity). Some good things you may want to have at home are:
    – Rice (lots) and other dry foods you can cook with little fuel (dry soup, lentils, nuddels).
    – Canned food is not very good for emergencies. Too bulky and full of chemicals. Dehidrated food is a better option.
    – Gasoline (that was the biggest complaint during Sandy. Nobody could get gasoline). If you are planing to use your car to charge your phone, is better if it works, right?

    – MONEY (again, without electricity, no way you can get cash from machines)
    – A full propane tank (for cooking and warming).
    – Candles or other device for light at night.
    – Games for the kids. If they are older than yours (and used to tv) surviving a week with bored kids inside a house can be a challenge.
    – A small solar panel for charging the laptop and the phones (I mean those small solar panel kits, like a square foot, that produce just enough energy for real emergency situations, like charging a phone. They are cheap (from 12 dollars to 100, on e-bay)

    If you may leave your house, you may like to add:

    – Disposable aluminium foil trays, deep (they fold, and you can use them to cook rice and so on) – Here:

    – A foldable or portable cooking stove (like those made with a small can)

    – If you are going ot with a little child, I would really consider a small tent. Tarp is not going to protect you in a storm, and tents are waterproof and keep you warm. You will need reliable shelter if you are out there.

    – Extra ziploc bags (you can use them for everything, from keeping rain water to separate the dry clothes from the wet ones)
    – Most folding shovels are unreliable (they break too easily). A small garden shovel (the small ones you use to dig earth from pots) may be more usefull, and lighter. Also, you can use a good stick to dig, far more efective than those shovels.
    – About the compass, most of the ones on knifes are not very reliable. If you really want one, go with the big ones that are good for camping. I would suggest you make a little research on the web about orienting with the stars and sun. You only need to recognize some stars and know how to calculate the north using the sun. Easy to learn. You also need to learn how to orient a map on the terrain, with or without the compass.
    – Make some research about possible shelter and emergency places near your house (Where are you going to go is you have to evacuate your house?)
    – Make sure you KNOW how to use all the things in your kit (I say that because I find out most scouts couldn’s use a compass propertly, for instance, even when they have one), and learn about common injuries and how to deal with them.

    Oh, my godness, this comment is soooo long. Sorry about that, I hope is usefull somehow.
    Please Andrew, correct all the ortographic mistakes, would you? Even when I try, I always manage to sound like an indian in a John Wayne movie :)

    • says

      What do you mean zombie attacks are relatively low? Man, I was really counting on that and preparing for it. HAHAHAHAH!!!!! I even ordered a crossbow from the Internet. LOL!

      Interesting what you say about our house. The ONLY reason we would leave is for flood, hurricane, or extensive tornado damage. We live in the country so there is no reason to flee what we have created here. So our home is absolutely ready. I would tell you how but I like to keep things secret regarding this topic.

      In regards to going mobile, I have thought about our tent. It is small and could be put in a stuff sack if need be to save room. I have even thought about using our daughters bike wagon as a means of transporting some things for a while to make our immediate load lighter. Of course I pray I am never faced with these real decisions.

      As for the compass, great point. I actually know more about tracking the sun and basic constellations than I do about how to read a compass. As a gardener and a weather buff I love tracking weather patterns including the lunar schedule.

      We do have an evac plan and an emergency meetup in place so I think we are okay on that. It can’t be gone over enough though. It is too easy in an emergency to forget basic things.

      Great comment and NEVER too long. Thank you so much Ines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *