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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Brad Moon, Contributing Writer
| September 10, 2018
Courtesy Goal Zero
Americans always should be prepared for an emergency situation. Floods, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes — you name it — can be ruinous, especially if you’re not prepared.
Every home should have a survival kit: a self-contained collection of gear that can be grabbed and thrown in the car (or carried if need be), with everything you and your family need to survive on your own in the event of a disaster.
We’ve come up with a list of 10 must-haves to make sure you’re prepared for any emergency.
Courtesy L.L. Bean
You need something to hold your survival kit, after all. It needs to be large (but not overwhelming), comfortable to wear and tough.
The established outdoor companies offer plenty of choices, but I’d recommend something like L.L. Bean’s Maine Warden Day Pack ($99, medium/large version). The company says this backpack is standard issue to all Maine State Game Wardens. It’s water-resistant with a waterproof bottom. It has waterproof and padded compartments and plenty of room, so it will hold all your survival gear and keep electronics safe.
If disaster strikes and you’re forced to leave your home, access to clean, drinkable water is critical. You can only carry so many bottles, and it can take time for fresh water to reach survivors.
The Sawyer Mini ($25) is a portable water filter that weighs just 2 ounces and costs only $25. You can thread it right onto a standard bottle or fill the included pouch. The filter removes “99.99999%” of all bacteria and protozoa, including salmonella, cholera and E. coli.
Sawyer says the filter is good for 100,000 gallons of water. Given that humans need under a gallon of water per day to survive, this filter will keep you going for a very long time.
Courtesy American National Red Cross
No survival kit is complete without a well-stocked first aid kit. You may have injuries to deal with before emergency responders can get to you. And leaving in a hurry — sometimes through treacherous terrain — can result in scrapes and sprains. Getting open wounds sterilized and bandaged gains more urgency when they might be exposed to contaminants like those commonly found in floodwater.
The American Red Cross offers a Deluxe Family First Aid Kit ($28.95) that packs everything you’ll need to treat common injuries, including cuts, scrapes, swelling and sprains. It also includes a binder with instructions on how to properly treat these injuries.
Because this kit is focused on injuries, you may want to supplement it with items such as pain killers and allergy medications.
Courtesy Midland Radio
An emergency radio is a must-have in any survival kit. Cellular networks may be down, but an old-school radio gives you access to critical information without an internet connection.
The Midland ER310 Emergency Crank Radio ($69.99) is an excellent choice. It’s compact at under 1.5 pounds. It receives AM and FM radio, as well as all seven NOAA weather bands. If a weather emergency is broadcast (reporting a tornado, for example), it can sound an alert so you’re not caught off guard. Its battery is good for up to 32 hours of use, and you can charge it with the built-in hand crank, or using its integrated solar cells.
In addition to radio duty, the Midland ER310 has a high-powered LED flashlight with SOS function, a USB port for charging electronics and even a dog whistle to signal search parties.
Courtesy Leatherman Tool Group, Inc.
Few items in a survival kit pack more bang for the buck than a multi-tool. These fold up into the size of a (larger than normal) pocketknife, but include a variety of built-in tools that may prove critical for survival.
A good example is the popular Leatherman Surge ($109.95). This multi-tool is 4.5 inches long and weighs 12.5 ounces. But in that small package are 21 tools, including scissors, pliers, wire cutters, multiple knives, screwdrivers, a can opener, bottle opener and a saw.
Whether you need to open a can of beans, cut the wire to get through a fence or saw off some tree branches to build a fire, a multi-tool like the Leatherman Surge has you covered. If you need a cheaper option, Leatherman’s Sidekick ($49.95) offers key tools – including pliers, a knife, wire cutters, a saw and a can opener – for less than half the price of the Surge.
Courtesy BioLite Inc.
If you’re forced to evacuate and left without shelter for any length of time, warm food, boiling water and staying warm in general can be a challenge. A camp stove takes care of those needs, but portability and fuel are both issues.
The BioLite CampStove 2 ($129.95) is the solution. It’s small enough to fit in a survival kit, packing into a compact bundle that weighs just more than 2 pounds. It can burn virtually any biomass, including whatever twigs and sticks you can scrounge up, and it does so extremely efficiently and without smoke. You can cook on the BioLite CampStove 2, boil water or just keep your hands warm. BioLite says it will boil a liter of water in just less than five minutes.
Also, when the fire burns, it charges an integrated battery. This battery powers a fan that makes burning more efficient and can be used to top up your mobile devices.
Courtesy Brad Moon
Having light is a big deal in an emergency situation – not just for safety and signaling others, but even for keeping up spirits.
A flashlight is already covered off with the Midland Emergency Crank Radio. But having a lantern to light up a room, shelter or campsite is also important.
The $49.95 Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini is perfect for survival kits. It has an integrated rechargeable Li-NMC cell with a built-in USB charge cable, so there are no batteries or cables to remember.
This tiny (8oz) lantern can stand on folding legs, be hung with its hidden hook or be attached to metal surfaces with its magnetic base. It has multiple light settings, including the ability to light up a small room, and a low-light mode that lasts up to 500 hours on a charge. It can even be used to top up mobile device batteries in a pinch.
It may seem silly to stash a smartphone case in your survival kit, but think about it: Your smartphone likely will become a lifeline in a disaster. Most people like to use a slim and stylish case. But in a disaster scenario — with challenges such as water and simply being banged around — that slim case offers little protection.
So, pack a rugged case. Everyone has their favorite case makers, and many offer a rugged version — such as Griffin’s Survivor series ($19.99-$59.99). This case meets military standards for protection from drops, it’s waterproof (with the display fully enclosed as well), it has an integrated battery to extend the iPhone’s and it even has solar charge panels built into the back.
It’s ugly. It’s bulky. But if you’re depending on your smartphone for communication and access to key apps, a rugged case like this will ensure your smartphone doesn’t crack or get short-circuited in an evacuation.
If a smartphone case sounded weird, an e-reader probably sounds decadent. But consider this:
Think of the things you’d want if you had to leave the house in a hurry, possibly for an extended length of time and potentially without access to critical services. Maps would be nice. So would how-to guides. On paper, these are heavy and would take up a lot of room in your survival kit.
Or, just pick up an Amazon Kindle PaperWhite ($119.99). Its 4GB of storage can be loaded up with hundreds of first aid guides, maps, survival books, cookbooks, plant identification books and other valuable reference material. It has lighting so you can read everything at night, while the E Ink display has no glare issues even in direct sunlight. The battery lasts for weeks, and it weighs under half a pound.
And again, don’t discount morale. The PaperWhite will allow you to load up with some novels. Waiting for rescue with no power, no TV and no internet can get boring.
A gas generator is great to have for your home in case of emergencies, but don’t forget about power needs if you’re forced to leave the house. Smartphones, lights and other mobile devices have limited battery life, so bring along a portable power pack (and make sure you charge it monthly so it’s ready to go).
Goal Zero’s new Sherpa 100AC weighs just 2 pounds but packs 100-watt hours of battery power, with a wide range of charge ports, including USB-C and even an AC outlet. It can charge multiple devices simultaneously, and the most common cables are integrated into side slots on the charger so you don’t forget them.
Slip in an optional portable solar panel and you can recharge the Sherpa without having access to electricity. The only downside is it’s not waterproof — that’s where a good backpack comes in.