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Updated June 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best survival kits

If tragedy strikes, a survival kit can keep you and your family safe for days. Whether your area is prone to tornadoes, forest fires, hurricanes, or winter storms, disaster preparedness is crucial for any household.

Survival kits vary in their components, the number of people they can support, and how long they will last in an emergency. Many kits boast the number of components they include, but the quality and type of products are more important than the number, especially when considering the needs of your family and the disasters you are most likely to face. However, there are some staples every kit should include, such as water, food, and first aid supplies.

No matter what disasters or emergencies you and your family may face, a survival kit is an essential tool that offers peace of mind and can potentially save lives.

survival kits
Practice carrying your survival kit before disaster strikes. It should weigh less than a quarter of your body weight. If it’s too heavy, consider removing items that are less vital or dividing the contents between two bags so another family member can help.

How to buy the best survival kit

Choosing the right survival kit means considering your region and its potential natural disasters, how long you might not have access to food, water, or other necessities, and the number of people your kit needs to support.

Why do I need a survival kit?

While disaster conditions vary greatly — a major snowstorm can trap you in your home while a flood can force you to relocate — there is some overlap in the items you need to make it through most of these events.

The most important reason to have a survival kit ready is time. You might not have time to spare when disaster strikes, and the likelihood is slim that you can rapidly gather everything you’ll need to survive for days away from your home, that is if you even have everything you need in your home. With a prepackaged survival kit, you can spend your valuable time making sure that your loved ones are safe and ready to go instead of finding and gathering supplies.

Prepare for disasters in your area

Know what disasters can potentially force you and your family to shelter in place or evacuate so you can find a kit with the appropriate components.

House fires can happen anywhere and can often force you and your family to shelter away from your home for days.

Wildfires can force you out of your home, or you might be instructed to shelter in place. It’s crucial that you have adequate supplies and access to a radio for updates.

Hurricanes can force people to evacuate their homes, sometimes for weeks. Alternatively, you might be instructed by local authorities to shelter in place.

Floods can force you out of your home, so you’ll need enough supplies for several days.

Winter storms can leave your home without utilities, and access to food could be limited.

Earthquakes strike with little or no warning and can happen at any time, which means you might need multiple kits for home, vehicle, and workplace.

Size

Most survival kits include supplies for up to three days, but how long they last depends on the number of people and pets in your home. Always check that the kit you purchase has enough supplies for your whole household.

If you expect to need your survival kit for longer than three or four days, you can find some kits with more supplies or purchase more than one kit. Either way, consider the size and weight of the kit and how easy it will be to transport during an emergency.

Survival kit contents

While a kit with more than 150 pieces is likely to have the basics, you should check the components carefully before you buy one.

Essentials

There are some key items that every survival kit should contain.

Water: The first essential is enough drinking water for each person and animal for three days. This means you need a gallon for each person each day. Kits might include water pouches or equipment you can use to purify water.

Food: Just like water, you need at least a three-day supply of food for everyone in your home. Food comes in the form of canned goods, protein bars, or cereal. Include a variety of items that can be eaten cold or heated.

Radio: A crank-powered or battery-powered emergency radio is essential for keeping you up to date on news and instructions from authorities.

First aid supplies: No matter the emergency, a first aid kit is crucial. Even minor cuts can be dangerous if not disinfected.

Flashlight and batteries: Whether you lose power or you’re sheltering outside your home, having a flashlight for every member of your family is important.

Whistle: You might need a whistle to draw the attention of rescuers or other survivors.

Tools: While a can opener is one of the most important tools to have on hand, you’ll also need scissors, knives, and eating utensils.

Dust masks: A dust mask can protect you from smoke or dangerous fumes. N95 masks are also important if you need to shelter in a crowded place during a pandemic.

Hygiene items. These include items like moist towelettes, garbage bags for disposing of waste, and toilet paper.

Additional items

There are several essential items that won’t come in a survival kit.

Local maps: Your phone might lose charge or reception, and the power could be out. Having paper maps of your area can help you navigate safely. You should use your radio to stay up to date on any road closures or other hazards.

Medications: If possible, keep any essential medications for you or your loved ones in the same place so you can gather them quickly.

Money: Keep some cash with your survival kit so you can buy supplies even if the internet or power is out in your area. Consider putting your money in a resealable plastic bag so the bills stay dry.

Important documents: These might include photo IDs, insurance documents, and banking information. Keep them in a resealable plastic bag or another container that will prevent water damage.

Candles: While flashlights can run out of batteries, a dry survival candle provides light in sheltered conditions, but make sure the kit also includes matches or a flint.

Emergency water supplies have a shelf life. Be sure to check the expiration date every few years.

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Accessories

In addition to items unique to your area and your family’s medical needs, consider a few extras that won’t come standard in most kits.

Pet food

Improvising cat or dog food is difficult, especially when you have a limited supply of human food to work with. Keep a few days of pet food near or in your survival kit so you can keep your animals safe and healthy too.

Diapers

If you have an infant, diapers are essential. Include some garbage bags so you can dispose of used diapers safely.

Card games

Entertainment might not be the first thing on your mind in an emergency, but if you have to take shelter for an extended period away from home, there will be downtime. Card games are easy to carry and a great way to keep everyone busy. Plus, they can help take your mind off the situation at hand.

Two-way radios

You want to keep your group together, but if you have to split up, a set of two-way radios ensures you can stay in touch even without smartphones.

survival kits
DID YOU KNOW?
A survival kit isn’t just useful in a crisis. Many components like a flashlight and batteries and a first aid kit are good to have on hand all the time.
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How much do survival kits cost?

Inexpensive

Affordable kits that cost $30 to $80 give you some of what you need, but they might leave out crucial components like water and food. These often tell you their total number of pieces, but take note of whether they include enough components for the number of people in your family. In addition, the quality of the included tools might not be the highest.

Mid-range

Survival kits that cost $80 to $150 often come in a convenient backpack and include a variety of tools and rations. While you might need to add a few items to be completely covered, most kits in this range are reliable and have durable components.

Expensive

For the prepper enthusiast, kits that cost $150 to $300 have robust components made of high-grade materials. While this type of kit isn’t necessary for most people, it can work well for large households.

Pets are not permitted in many public evacuation shelters for safety reasons, so make sure you have a disaster plan for your pets if you need to evacuate to a shelter that doesn’t allow pets.

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Tips

  • Practice your disaster plan with your family. This means planning for a variety of scenarios and practicing both exiting your home and sheltering in your home. Assign each member a role and task if possible.
  • Store your kit in an easy-to-access place. If you can keep your kit somewhere on your escape route, that’s even better. This might be a coat closet, in your vehicle, or in your garage.
  • Don’t ration water. Drink water as you need to. You don’t want to become dehydrated during a crisis when you have drinkable water available.
  • Check your survival kit once or twice a year. Take note of any items that are nearing expiration (including water and medications) and any cans that appear swollen, rusted, or damaged. Don’t forget to replace any batteries that are nearing their expiration date as well.
survival kits
Disaster can strike at any time, and you might not be home when it happens. Consider keeping a kit in your car as well as in your home.

FAQ

Q. What if my family gets separated in a disaster?

A. Have a designated meeting place and a backup meeting place. Your primary meeting place can be your home, and your backup can be another family member’s home or a public place like a designated shelter.

Q. How do I stay in contact with my family during a disaster?

A. Have a sheet of paper with phone numbers of any family member you might need to contact. (Remember, your contact list in your smartphone might not be available if it loses charge and the power is out.) In addition to making plans and checking in on them, you should also let your family members know that you’re okay.

Q. How long will a survival kit last?

A. The tools will probably outlast you and your family, but items like canned goods will expire after about five years, depending on the type of food. Bottled water lasts about two years, while bagged water can last up to five years. Fortunately, you can purchase these items separately rather than replace the whole kit.

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