emergency supplies
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35 Things That Could Save You in Almost Any Emergency

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emergency supplies
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Ready for the Big Surprises?

In the movies, action heroes survive all manner of disasters with nothing but bravery and a repertoire of sarcastic quips. Those qualities might come in handy during real-life emergencies, too — but when the cameras aren't rolling on your life, having the right emergency supplies on hand is the most important thing you can do to be ready.


Of course, the absolute best survival supplies to have on hand depend on what sort of emergency you're facing: Is it a tornado, an earthquake, a hurricane, a flood, getting lost in the woods, or a very scary, very personal medical emergency?


No matter what you're facing, we've got you covered for all of the above, with this roundup of 35 things that could save you — or at least make you much more comfortable — in almost any emergency.


Related: Lifesaving Skills Worth Learning for Emergencies

Closeup of flying red helicopter in contrast with blue sky
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Evacuation Insurance

Nobody starts their day with plans to be airlifted out of an emergency. Yet around 400,000 people are helicoptered to US hospitals each year — and health insurance often doesn't cover the bill

 

Whether you or a loved one are being evacuated from the wilderness or life-flighted to a nearby hospital, evacuation insurance can cover most or all of the massive price tag that sometimes comes with an emergency airlift. AirMedCare and Medjet are two of the biggest providers of evacuation assistance, and you can buy a membership (essentially, insurance) with either or both.

 

Related: 12 Tips to Keep You from Buying Too Much Insurance

GoTenna Mesh
Amazon

GoTenna Mesh: Keep in Touch Without a Cell Signal

Who are you going to call in an emergency? Nobody, if the cellular network in your area is overloaded. The last few years have seen a number of "mesh" communication apps, like FireChat and ZombieChat, that are meant to deal with this eventuality by establishing peer-to-peer communications, using your phone's Bluetooth or Wi-Fi capability to stand in for cellular service.

 

Now the game of good news/bad news: The bad news is that every single one of those apps we've evaluated has been discontinued. The good news is that there's a stand-alone device that accomplishes the exact same thing and has already proven its longevity. 

 

That nifty, pocket-sized device is called the GoTenna Mesh. It clips to your belt, backpack or keychain and gives a serious boost to your phone's peer-to-peer communications range, letting you send text messages and GPS locations to other users nearby, no cell signal needed.


Related: The Best Cell Phone Plans for Seniors: AT&T vs. Verizon vs. T-Mobile

Budget Alternative: Walkie Talkies
Amazon

Budget Alternative: Walkie-Talkies

As brilliant as the GoTenna Mesh is, it can be a little pricey ($179). For a more affordable alternative, consider keeping a set of inexpensive walkie talkies on hand. For as little as $30, you can get a pair of tried-and-true Motorola Talkabout radios that use easy-to-find AAA batteries.

 

You might be tempted to shop for phone apps that offer walkie-talkie functionality, but keep a keen eye open: Many of them require internet connectivity, which is a non-starter if the power and cellular networks are out. If you have that kind of connectivity, you might as well send a text or call.

 

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Eton Hand-Crank Radio
Amazon

Weather Radios

While two-way communication can be very helpful in an emergency, don't discount the importance of being able to tune in to updates on weather and emergency services. As long as your phone battery and cell signal both last, you can use the Weather Radio app to tune in to weather alerts and audio, or an app like Disaster Alert and My Hurricane Tracker to track whatever's heading your way.

 

But when things really go south, there's nothing like having an old-fashioned hand crank or solar-powered radio on hand. The Red Cross has a trusty hand-crank radio ($23) that lets you listen to AM/FM and weather bands. It also has a built-in flashlight and a solar charger, and can be used to trickle-charge your smartphone.

 

Related: 16 Hurricane Essentials You Don't Want to Be Without

Travel Insurance
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Travel Insurance

You might think of having travel insurance for the "big" trips in your life — for example, going overseas. But having travel insurance can come in awfully handy on "smaller" trips, too, especially if you run into a natural disaster or experience a medical emergency for yourself or a loved one. 

 

Some travel insurance plans will even cover COVID-related expenses, but make sure you read the fine print so you know exactly what is and isn't covered — and keep in mind that in some cases you'll have to front the cost, then file a claim and wait for travel insurance to reimburse you.

 

Are you horrified by the idea of buying travel insurance for every single little trip you make? Us, too — which is why several companies offer annual travel insurance policies. Pay just once and you're covered for a full year.

 

Related: I Drove Cross-Country During the Pandemic — Here’s What I Learned


light combat backpack coyote color front view isolated on a white background
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Backpack or Wheeled Suitcase

How can a backpack help you survive a hurricane, flood, or wildfire, you ask? Simple: By giving you a compact, hands-free way of carrying portable emergency supplies. Even if you don't need to evacuate in a hurry, it's important to have all your supplies gathered in one place so that you don't face the additional stress of digging for essentials you know are "around here somewhere" during a real emergency.

 

Don't want to carry a backpack? A thrifted wheeled suitcase is a great solution: It's highly portable and can carry a lot, but won't weigh you down. 

 

Related: The Best Cheap Luggage

Outdoor Waterproof Bag For Tourism
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An emergency flashlight
Amazon

An Emergency Flashlight

The only thing worse than going through an emergency is going through it in the dark — so your emergency kit should include a light source for each person in the family. It's hard to beat a tool like the Lifegear LED flashlight ($9): Its light-up handle doubles as a lantern and emergency strobe beacon, and can be used to store extra batteries. This flashlight is also waterproof and floats, making it a potential lifesaver in even the worst weather-related emergencies. 

 

Related: 25 Items You Should Always Keep in Your Car


A pair of LED headlamps, of two differente brands
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Go Hands-Free With a Headlamp

If you'd like to upgrade your emergency light source, consider going hands-free with a headlamp. You can find lightweight headlamps for less than $20 at local hardware and sporting good stores, or invest in a tough, weatherproof model like the Black Diamond Spot ($40), which also offers an optional red-light mode to preserve your night vision.

Upgrade to a Solar-Powered Lantern
Amazon

Upgrade to a Solar-Powered Lantern

Another option for hands-free lighting is a lantern. The Luminaid Nova USB ($25) is optimized for use in emergency/survival situations, and it shows: This waterproof, shatterproof, dustproof and child-safe device collapses down to a flat packet and weighs almost nothing. It can recharge itself via an integrated solar panel, and doubles as a slow charger to keep your phone's battery topped off.


Related: The Surprising Purpose Behind Everyday Things

Solar Charger for Your Phone
Amazon

Solar Charger for Your Phone

While trickle chargers like the Luminaid are great for keeping your phone topped off, you'll want a beefier solar panel for fully charging your phone. A trickle charger often isn't strong enough to charge really power-hungry devices like an iPad, but a bigger solar panel can do that, too. As a general rule, look for something that offers 10 to 12 watts of charging power for the most versatile use and of course, do a trial run to make sure it works — and provides sufficient juice to power your devices — before you find yourself in an emergency. The Renogy 21W E.Flex Portable Solar Panel ($80) gives you lots of charging power in a water-resistant, foldable and portable package.

A Portable Power Bank
Amazon

A Portable Power Bank

Solar chargers only work when there's sun, but a portable power bank (essentially, a battery back-up) can keep charging your electronics all night long. Having both gives you the ultimate in self-sufficiency: Use the solar panel to charge the battery bank during the day, then recharge your devices from the battery bank at night.

 

As with the solar chargers, identify your most power-hungry device and then look for a battery bank with sufficient output to charge it. In general that's a minimum of 5 watts output for most smartphones, and 10 to 12 watts of output for most tablets. Pay attention to capacity, too, which is measured in milliamp hours or mAh. The bigger the number, the more charges you'll get out of the device. 

 

The OtterBox Power Pack ($42) is an impressive bargain, packing super-fast charging from its dual USB-out ports, and a hefty 20,000 mAh of capacity — more than enough to charge multiple smartphones or top off a tablet.

Update Your First Aid Kit
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First-Aid Kit

Having a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand can make the difference between life and death, especially during a large-scale emergency when first responders are likely to be overwhelmed. Even during a small-scale emergency, having that first-aid kit is a valuable part of remaining self-sufficient. 

 

You can buy a pre-made first-aid kit ($32), or use checklists from the Red Cross to create your own. Don't forget to include a stock of any medications you take; many authorities recommend having at least a week's worth of over the counter and prescription medications in your emergency kit.

 

Related: 25 Emergency Items You Should Put in a First-Aid Kit

Upgrade Your First-Aid Knowledge
Amazon

Upgrade Your First-Aid Knowledge

There's an old adage that you should never carry survival supplies that you don't know how to use. If that leaves you with a Ziploc baggie of Band-Aids in hand, consider investing in some first-aid training before disaster strikes.

 

Of course, having a reminder during the actual crisis is always a good thing, too. That's why you'll find a first-aid handbook tucked inside the beefier first-aid kits, or you can create your own first-aid handbook on your phone with apps like the Red Cross' First Aid.


Multi-Tool
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Duct Tape, WD-40, and a Multi-Tool

As the old saying goes, if it moves and it shouldn't, you can fix it with duct tape. If it doesn't move and should, you can fix it with WD-40. The multi-tool is really only there in case you need a nail clipper.

 

Okay, we're kidding: A solid multi-tool ($60) can also help fix any number of things. It's one of those items that you probably won't need much, but the few times you do need it, it will be really important — so go ahead and keep one in your emergency kit.


Wet wipe on a white background
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Hygiene Supplies

Many large-scale emergencies can leave you with limited access to clean water — and that can throw a real wrench into your hygiene routine. Keep clean, healthy (and in a good mood) with water-free hygiene supplies like baby wipes and dry shampoo. Don't forget less-obvious supplies like contact-lens fluid or lens wipes for glasses, menstrual products for women, and diapers for babies.

 

Related: Easy Ways to Create a Healthier Home Amid the Pandemic

dry food
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Food

It's possible to survive for weeks without food — but that's guaranteed to leave you grumpy, tired, and more vulnerable to illness or injury. Keep your morale, energy and health up by stocking nutritious, shelf-stable foods in your emergency kit. Freeze-dried foods are easy to store, light to carry, and require nothing more than hot water to cook. Canned foods are heavier, but will last for years — just make sure you remember to pack a can opener.

 

Keep in mind that food can be about more than survival — it's also a major comfort when times are hard. So while your food stash should be as nutritious as possible, don't be shy about sticking a few chocolate bars or other comfort foods in there, too. 

 

Related: 25 Things to Buy at Costco and Sam's for Emergencies (Besides Toilet Paper)

Pasta cooking in aluminium pan on a portable gas stove. Bushcraft or camping concept
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Gear to Cook That Food

If you're lucky enough to have electricity (and intact gas lines, if relevant), you can do your cooking while sheltering in place at home. But if the power goes out and you don't have a generator back-up, how are you going to cook that food? Forget rubbing two sticks together to start a fire: Pack a compact camp stove and appropriate fuel instead. Just remember that camp stoves should be used outdoors, to avoid the risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

 

Related: Best Camp Kitchen Products for Car and RV Camping


Plastic Water Bottle caps Beverage Product
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Drinking Water

You might be able to survive for weeks without food, but most people will last only a few days without water. The standard recommendation for emergency supplies is 1 gallon per person per day, though you might need more if you live in a hot climate or tend to sweat a lot.

 

Sometimes water on its own isn't enough: Your body also needs certain minerals, called electrolytes, to make use of the water you take in. You'll find electrolyte powders in many first aid kits, or you can tuck a few packets of Emergen-C or a similar electrolyte product in with your other supplies.


Water Treatment Tablets/filter
Amazon

Water Treatment Tablets/Filter

A gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds — so if you need to evacuate, it's usually not reasonable to carry your water supply with you. Instead, consider packing iodine tablets or water treatment drops to render "found" water drinkable, or splurge on a backpacking-style water filter.

 

Related: 20 Must-Haves for Your Next Weekend Hike

male or female winter boots walking on snowy sleet road
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Ice Cleats

If you live in a cold climate where your emergencies may come with a side of ice, having slip-on ice grippers in your emergency kit offers invaluable protection from painful, injury-inducing slips and falls.


stack of blankets
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Heat Source

Similarly, emergency conditions in cold climates can be ... well, awfully cold. It's worth thinking about what sort of heating source you can safely store and use during a crisis. The simplest option is to have extra blankets handy. You can also turn a metal coffee can into a crude space heater by placing several metal-cupped tea light candles in the bottom. Watch out, though — this can be dangerous around pets and small children, and must be used in a well-ventilated area as those candle flames will consume oxygen. And of course, never, ever leave a burning candle unattended.


Related: 50 Best Products for Surviving Winter

modern metallic floor stand electric fan
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Fan(s) for Cooling

Here's one for people in hot climates: While your brethren in Alaska, Minnesota, Colorado, and other wintry states might be left shivering in an emergency, you're likely to be sweating instead. If the air conditioning goes out during an emergency, consider keeping at least one battery-powered fan per person on hand as an emergency back-up. It's not foolproof, but it can help move the air around and take the edge off the heat. Add a couple of extra fans to help circulate air in and out through open windows.


Money
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Cash

There's no beating the convenience of credit and debit cards, or payment apps like PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle. But in a large-scale emergency or power outage, all those electronic methods become unavailable — and cold, hard cash becomes the currency of choice. Whether you're buying food or filling up your vehicle's gas tank to get out of town, having a supply of cash in your emergency kit can help you get what you need.


Related: 14 Situations Where Cash Beats Credit

Hikers using compass and map in nature
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Map of Your Area

Nowadays, most of us use navigation apps on our phones to get around — but what happens when the phone screen breaks, its battery runs out, or the local cell service and internet are down? 

 

Here's exactly what happens: You pull a laminated street map out of your emergency kit, and navigate the entire household to safety like a boss. Of course if trouble strikes while you're out in the wilderness, a map-and-compass combo is more appropriate — just make sure you know how to use them, which includes not just navigating with the compass but also knowing how to set it for the appropriate magnetic declination in your area.


Satellite Communication/Navigation Device
Amazon

Satellite Communication/Navigation Device

If you really want to bring your communications and navigation game to the max, consider popping for an InReach ($439) or Spot GPS ($150) communicator. The Garmin Inreach is a combination GPS and satellite messaging device; Spot devices range from simple, one-way SOS beacons to two-way satellite messaging devices. 

 

The more expensive versions of these devices also have capability to send your location to contacts, or help you navigate on your own as a GPS tracker. Just make sure that you've downloaded any appropriate maps or tracks to the device, have the appropriate service subscriptions, and know how the device works — all before you need it in an emergency.

 

Also: Not all satellite networks are created equal, so it's best to check which devices provide the best coverage in your area.


GPS Map to Route Destination network connection Location Street Map with GPS Icons Navigation
juststock/istockphoto

Cheaper Alternative: A GPS App

Standalone GPS and satellite communications devices can be really pricey. While you can't quite turn your phone into a satellite communicator, you can use it for GPS tracking — even when you don't have cell phone service — with the aid of apps like Gaia GPS and Backcountry Navigator. Just make sure you're ready to keep your phone running with the aforementioned battery bank or solar charger. 

Keep Your Personal Emergency Information Handy
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Personal Emergency Information

What if you need emergency help at home, on the road, or in the wilderness — will first responders know who to call? Once solution is keeping an "in case of emergency app," such as ICE (iPhone, Android) prominently displayed on your phone's home/lock screen; the ICE app can be programmed with a list of people to call, insurance information, the name and number of your doctor, and so on.

 

Not up to leaving your phone unlocked? You could always go old-school and carry a laminated card of emergency contact information in your wallet.

suitcase packing
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A Change of Clothes — and Sturdy Shoes

Once the immediate crisis has passed, few things are more comforting than changing into a set of clean clothes. Having an extra set of everything (tops, bottoms, underwear and socks) into your emergency kit for each person in the household gives you that luxury — and something to wear while you find a way to clean your other clothes.

 

Don't forget to include a sturdy pair of shoes to protect your feet.


Related: Where to Buy Shoes and Boots That Are Made in America

Lightweight Shelter
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Lightweight Shelter

If you're not able to shelter in place at home or access a community shelter located nearby, you'll be very thankful to have a lightweight shelter in your emergency kit. This doesn't have to be anything remarkable: Depending on your local climate, it could be as simple as a tarp to keep the sun and rain off, plus appropriate cordage and stakes to string it up.


Related: The Best Cheap Tents

Personal Documents
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Personal Documents

Once you're past the immediate crisis, having the appropriate personal documents on hand is key to piecing your life back together. Here are a few examples of the information it's important to have available in a fireproof, waterproof container:

  • Passport and Social Security card

  • Birth and marriage certificates

  • Insurance documents

  • Urgent/critical medical documents

  • Deeds/mortgages/vehicle titles, documents for stocks and bonds

  • Bank and credit card information


An App to Manage Medical Information Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods may leave an indelible mark on entire communities — but medical emergencies can have a similar impact on your life and that of your family. Apps like Medcorder help you stay on top of what can feel like an uncontrollable situation by recording and transcribing doctor visits, and securely sharing that information during loved ones as you receive care for complex medical situations that can range from COVID-19 to cancer.

 

Related: How to Cope With COVID-19, Job Loss, and Other Traumatic Events

Iodine Pills for Radiation Exposure
Amazon

Iodine Pills for Radiation Exposure

If radiation exposure tracks on your radar as a possible emergency, consider keeping a supply of iodine pills on hand for each person in your household. As the CDC explains, (non-radioactive) iodine pills can help protect your thyroid gland, the part of your body most sensitive to radioactive iodine. 


Heads up: Iodine pills do carry some health risks, so you should only take them on the advice of public health or emergency management officials.


Pet Care Items
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Pet Care Items

We all love our pets — so don't forget them when it comes to making plans to evacuate or shelter in place. Some important pet items to keep on hand include extra food and water, cage/carrier/leash (as appropriate), immunization records, identification tags to help reunite you if you become separated, and any special medical supplies that are relevant to your furry (or scaled or feathered) loved ones.

Various board games, leisure, hobby. Background games.
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Entertainment

Once your immediate survival needs are taken care of, it's time to think of morale. Having a positive, familiar focus for your attention can make a huge difference in mood for everybody, so consider sticking some non-electronic entertainment material in your emergency kit. That could mean a deck of cards, a favorite book, coloring supplies or a stuffed animal for the kids, and so on. 


Related: 19 Fun Family Games to Keep You Entertained at Home

Emergency Preparedness Checklists
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Emergency Preparedness Checklists

Plan ahead before emergency strikes with these checklists/guides. While this slideshow offers a pretty comprehensive checklist, the specifics of what you need will vary according to your region, the specific emergencies you face, and your personal lifestyle/living conditions. Consider using the Red Cross's excellent suite of preparedness/checklist apps (Earthquake, Hurricane, Tornado, Wildfire, etc.) to make sure you have all the information and supplies relevant to your area.