Now, imagine you’re back in your house. You crawl out from under your dining room table, shaken and surrounded by what’s left of your now shattered chandelier. Emergency notifications are blowing up your phone and in the distance sirens signal that rescue and recovery efforts are underway. But as you look over the jagged, chalky sheet rock that was once your living room wall, you realize you’ve got a long road ahead. You grab your 72-hour kit and begin searching for a safe place to wait it out until help arrives.
What’s happened in in our world right now is both sad and eye-opening, and though my heart goes out to the people that have to endured all these, I’m grateful for the opportunity to disembark the “It won’t happen to me” boat, and prepare for a possible emergency scenario closer to home.
Keep in mind that your pack should be as minimal as possible—the more you pack, the heavier your 72-hour kit will be. Every 72-hour kit should be catered by each individual needs. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to putting a pack together; however, the base needs are the same. These items are things that you cannot go without in your 72-hour kit.
Waterproof lighter or matches
Sleeping bag or blankets
First aid kit
Change of clothes
Water and non-perishable food
Water. Water should be #1 on the list for every 72-hour kit; it is the most basic and most important thing you need to survive. I recommend packing three one-liter bottles of drinking water per person and getting a Sawyer Mini water filter to add to your backpack. Sawyer mini filter removes 99.99% of waterborne bacteria and protozoa from any water source and can filter up to 100,000 gallons of contaminated water per filter.
In many emergency situations, you will not have to evacuate your home and may simply be without power or running water. I recommend storing the maximum amount of drinking water—at least one gallon per person for three days—in your home food storage. Only for emergencies where you need to evacuate do I recommend reducing water weight.
Non-perishable food. Don’t just get non-perishable food; look for “non-cook” items for your survival pack, as well. You don’t want to have to rely on a stove, fire, or any other cooking mechanism in an emergency situation. If you don’t have to cook, you don’t need cooking supplies, which means you can save space—and more importantly, weight—in your pack.
You need enough food for three meals per day per person for three days. Remember, these meals are meant to help you survive, but you should pack items that you know you and your family will actually eat, especially if you’re packing for a small child. My suggestion packing any of the following non-perishable, non-cook food items:
Gear and equipment
Backpack. One of the more common mistakes for 72-hour kits starts with the backpack. Choose a backpack that has multiple compartments in which you can divide your survival gear. Sifting through an unorganized pack, where everything is jumbled into the same large compartment can be frustrating and time consuming.
Can opener. Since you’re packing canned food, you’ll need a way to get into the cans. This might be part of a Leatherman tool from my experience.
Knife. Many people will pack a Leatherman tool and call it good, but we suggest having multiple cutting tools in case one is misplaced or doesn’t work for the job. Having a knife with a large, fixed, non-fold-able blade, may come in handy if you find yourself needing to cut through large items or cut for a long time.
Flashlight. Make sure to pack a durable, lightweight flashlight.
Emergency two-way radio. Keeping yourself informed and having the ability to communicate during an emergency is invaluable.
Lighter. We don’t recommend lighting fires in the aftermath of a disaster because you never know if a gas line has been damaged and may be leaking. However, every disaster situation is different and you may find yourself in need of a fire. Add a few lighter to your pack, in case you need to build a fire.
I recommend a BiC lighter over waterproof matches for a few reasons, mostly because they can start thousands of fire, don’t add much weight to your pack, and can still be used to create a spark long after the fuel runs out. Matches are virtually weightless, so you can still throw them in as a backup if you prefer.
Extra batteries. All of your emergency electronics need power, and 72 hours is a long time to go between
charges. Make sure to have an ample supply of backup batteries for your flashlights, radios, and any other emergency electronics you decide to pack. You might even consider ordering a solar charger which you can get anywhere.
Gloves. You’ll need to do most everything by hand in an emergency situation so you want to make sure you have good protective gloves to keep from getting splinters or blisters. Gloves can also be used to sheathe a pair of scissors or other sharp utensils you may have in your pack.
Tent. It’s important to know that a two-man tent probably won’t fit two people and their packs, especially if you want to be comfortable. You’ll probably only need one tent for the entire family, but you need to plan for its size accordingly. If you have four people in your family, we suggest going with a 6–8 person tent so you’ll have room for everyone and their packs. Also, make sure to store your packs inside the tent at all times. You don’t want bugs or other animals getting into them.
Poncho. Like many other items in your survival kit, ponchos are a versatile survival item that can be used for many purposes. We suggest finding a quality poncho made from rip-resistant nylon, rather than going for a cheap plastic version. Something like like this is a relatively cheap option on Amazon.
Blankets. Blankets have several uses and you’ll definitely want to have one in your 72-hour kit. We really like these Emergency blanket from SOL
First aid supplies. First aid kits are essential to have in an emergency, and there are tons of pre made options
Medications. Make sure to cover the basics to deal with pain, in case you or someone in your family is injured during the emergency. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, children’s medication, any other personal medication prescribed (enough for three days).
Toiletries. Toilet paper, toothbrush/toothpaste (travel size), feminine hygiene products, contact solution (travel size), etc.
Dust mask. The likelihood of dust and debris is high in any emergency situation. Make sure to have some dust masks in your pack to protect your lungs.
Change of clothes. Because we can never know when a disaster will hit, be sure to pack a change of clothes for each season. A pair of shorts doesn’t do you any good if the weather is cold; likewise, a heavy sweater will make you overheat
Underwear. This is a given; plus, your mom will be proud you remembered a clean pair.
Cash. Depending on the disaster, your credit cards may not work. Keep enough cash on you to survive for a week. Other valuables to have
Infant needs. If you have an infant you’ll need to pack all the necessary items like diapers, wipes, formula, medications specific to the infant, etc.
What you’ll probably want in your 72-hour kit
This is where you start to differentiate each survival pack based on who it’s for. Most of these items may seem like “cannot go without” items but depending on your pack, these are things you could theoretically live without—but probably don’t want to—for 72 hours.
Dishes/utensils. Cup, plate, knife, fork, spoon set. Some people prefer to go minimalist on utensil sets, but with a lightweight set we prefer to not go without.
Rope. Most sites suggest carrying 50 feet of 550 Para-cord rope
Duct tape. Duct tape seems to be the fix-all solution, and it really is valuable in all sorts of situations.
Whistle. An emergency whistle will allow you to signal for help, alerting relief parties to your whereabouts.
Hatchet. Hatchets provide multiple uses beyond chopping wood. It is a great utility tool for your 72-hour kit.
Sleeping bag. Sleeping bags present an interesting size and weight problem and for that they’ve landed on our “probably want” list. It’s not as comfortable as a big fluffy sleeping bag but it’s light and will keep you warm at night.
Sheets. Cloth and plastic sheets can come in handy for ground-cloths, tablecloths, bandaging, food covers, etc.
Shovel. A shovel is another multipurpose tool that comes in handy in a pinch. A military folding shovel lets you dig, saw, chop, cut, pick, pry, hammer, and even open bottles. And it even folds so you can carry it easily.
Bug repellant. Insects are ever-present in the aftermath of disasters. Pack some bug spray to protect yourself from irritating bites, painful stings, and bug-carried diseases.
Last but not least, just because your 72-hour kit is packed, doesn’t mean you’re prepared. Being prepared means you need to test your survival kit. Testing your 72-hour kit is one of the most important parts of emergency preparation. There are countless blogs with opinions on what to pack in your kit, but few mention testing them. Testing your kit periodically once every 6–12 months will ensure you’re familiar with your gear and let you solve any issues before they become real problems.