The thing about emergency gear is that once you need it, you won’t be able to get it. Even if you resign yourself to a soul-sucking panic run to Walmart with the rest of the hordes, you’ll be in stiff competition for the limited remaining stock. So plan ahead so you have everything on hand in advance. We’ve rounded up a few essentials for your emergency kit.
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The Fenix E20 V2 is my top pick for an affordable emergency flashlight, but the ThruNite Archer 2A V3 ($30) is another solid choice. At 350 and 500 lumens, respectively, they’re bright enough while remaining compact, and last long on lower-light settings—200 hours at 5 lumens for the Fenix and 51 hours at 17 lumens for the ThruNite. Both use two AA batteries, and in an emergency, your main concern is to have a steady supply of replacement batteries.
If you’re using alkaline batteries, remove them from the flashlight if it’s going to sit unused for a long time, otherwise they’ll leak and cause problems. Still, store them near the flashlight so you can easily find them. Try taping the batteries to the flashlight barrel.
Pro Tip: The best-performing flashlights are built specifically to use lithium-ion batteries or have non-removable rechargeable batteries, which won’t do you any good if your power is out for a long time. Rechargeable NiMH (nickel metal hydride) AA batteries maintain their performance better over the lifetime of the battery, whereas alkalines’ performance drops off more as they deplete, so buy some Panasonic Eneloops ($39). They’re better for the environment, but if they run out of a charge you can still use regular alkaline AAs.
Flashlights do a poor job when you need to light up a whole room or if you need your hands free for a task. Diffused light is what you want, and the Coleman Divide+ Push Lantern does a very good job of it. It’s smaller than the typical Coleman lantern, which is nice as it’ll likely spend most of its life in storage. There are two settings: 425 lumens on high for 40 hours of runtime, and 50 lumens on low for 330 hours of runtime. It uses three D-cell batteries, which sounds like a lot, but next to other full-size battery-powered lanterns, such as the Coleman Twin LED lantern that uses eight D-cells, it’s economical.
You can leave the batteries in this one, even if you’re using alkalines. When not using the Divide+, rotate the battery compartment to separate the batteries from the contact terminals so they won’t corrode in storage (smart!). There’s also a foldaway wire handle so you can hang it off a carabiner or on a hook.
A Water Purifier
Most of the time, your water supply will work even when the power goes out. But major natural disasters can knock it out or damage it, and you might only get dirty water. The Grayl Ultralight Compact Purifier Bottle is a solid and fast one-person filter that’ll last 300 uses—a total of 40 gallons—before you need to swap the filter. It’s what I trust when traveling to countries with no guarantee of water sanitation.
Another option is the Katadyn Steripen Adventurer ($100), which purifies using ultraviolet light. Dunk it in your water and stir. It won’t filter out sediment, but it’s small, lightweight, and runs on replaceable CR123 batteries. You can also try Katadyn Micropur tablets ($14). They’re cheap and easy to store. Drop them in water, and wait briefly. The taste isn’t great, but no water treatment tablets or droplets are, in my experience. Another option is LifeStraw’s personal water filter ($30)—just sip out of it like any regular straw and it’ll filter out 99.99 percent of waterborne bacteria for up to 1,000 gallons of water. If you have a large household, you may prefer something like the MSR AutoFlow XL Gravity Filter ($100). Gravity filters take longer to purify water.
You can boil water, but it won’t filter out sediment, and boiling uses fuel and takes time.
A Propane Camp Stove
Still made in the US, the classic Coleman Propane Camp Stove really hasn’t changed much over the years. Propane is easy to use if you remember to stock up, and it’s clean-burning. If propane is not your thing, get the Coleman Guide-Series Dual Fuel Camp Stove ($125). Camp fuel (also known as Coleman fuel and white gas) burns relatively cleanly, is easy to find for sale, and is an ideal camp stove fuel.
You can also use gasoline in the Dual Fuel, but gasoline contains a lot of additives that gunk up the stove’s internals. You could use spare fuel from your lawnmower or from the jerry cans you use to stock up for the car before an impending natural disaster, but you’re going to need to clean the stove out much more frequently. You don’t have to buy a stand, but it makes cooking more pleasant. Get a filtering funnel if you purchase a liquid-fuel stove.
A cheaper, more compact stove: You could do without this Sterno Outdoor Folding Camp Stove ($16) if you’ve got a nice camp stove or a backpacking stove like a Jetboil, but this thing folds up so small that it’s an easy option for people without room to keep a full-size stove around. It’s a pain to cook dishes big enough to serve several people on a Sterno, but for a pot of ramen or making hot chocolate while waiting out a storm, it’s more than capable.
A Spare Mattress
You’ll need more beds if other folks stay with you during an emergency. Generally, I hate how inflatable mattresses deflate under my body weight by the early morning hours. The only exception so far is Coleman mattresses, which have air nozzles designed to seal tighter when bodyweight is on top of the mattress. When I used the Quick Bed Single High Mattress last, I slept three nights before having to top it off with more air. Pick up a manual air pump if you don’t already have a bicycle or sports pump.
There’s also the Coleman Pack-Away Camping Cot ($60). Unlike most cots, this one doesn’t have horizontal bars across the head and foot ends. Bars like that are evil. I’ve whacked my head and ankles on them enough for two lifetimes.
A Portable Charger
Anker makes my favorite power banks, which I use when traveling and during power outages to keep my phone topped off. That’s important during emergencies for communicating with people. You can get by for days with a slim model like the Anker PowerCore Slim 10,000-mAh Portable Charger, but if you know you’ll be on your phone much more or using an iPad, steer toward the PowerCore 20,100-mAh ($46). Remember to check it periodically, pre-emergency, to keep it fully charged.
Read our Best Portable Chargers guide for more.
Make sure you’ve got warm clothing to wear indoors if the power goes out. The Uniqlo Pile-Lined Hoodie and REI Co-Op 650 Down Jacket 2.0 are insanely warm, as are Uniqlo’s Heattech long johns tops and bottoms. If you end up outside cutting up trees and fixing busted fences after a disaster, you might not want to get your regular jacket torn up or muddy. My outdoor work jacket is an insulated cotton duck canvas from Carhartt. It’s very warm and very tough; I’ve subjected it to all kinds of abuse. Fjallraven is another solid outerwear brand.
While you’re at it, check out our gift guide for people who’re always cold. Don’t forget a cozy blanket, such as the L.L. Bean Wicked Plush Throw, and keep your feet warm with Glerups’ wool slippers and Darn Tough wool socks. They’re expensive, but they’ve kept my feet warm through a few disasters.
Your Coffee Fix
Mr. Coffee and Keurig don’t work when the power’s out, but you’ll still want your morning cup of joe. I’m one of WIRED’s many coffee-worshiping zealots, and my favorite coffee grinder is the manual Hario Skerton Pro. Its base is made of thick glass that’s survived more than a few drops onto my hardwood floor, and you can adjust the grind size to be suitable for anything from espresso to French press. For pour-overs, the ceramic Hario V60 Size 02 is perfect for making a big cup for one person at a time.
If you do pour-over, you’ll need to keep filters around, and you’ll need a gooseneck kettle to control the pour. The best stovetop one I’ve used is the Hario V60 Jino Gooseneck Kettle ($37). For French press, the Frieling 23-Ounce ($90) is my pick. It’s double-wall insulated, so you won’t burn your hands, and it’s big enough to make a couple of big cups of coffee at a time. The AeroPress ($30) also comes highly recommended by another WIRED coffee addict.
Check out our guide to the Best Portable Coffee Makers for more.
- A First Aid Kit: You probably have most of the essentials such as bandages and ibuprofen, but this is a solid one that’ll cover your bases if you don’t. That said, if someone gets hurt badly, you might not be able to get to a hospital right away. It’s a good idea to learn some first aid. You can take NOLS Wilderness First Aid courses through REI. From my experiences over the past four years, NOLS has fantastic instructors and a thorough hands-on curriculum.
- GSI Outdoors Pioneer Table Set for $70: Your regular cooking utensils, eating utensils, and metal, plastic, and wooden cookware can all be used during an emergency, but glass or ceramic drinking glasses and plates are a different case as they can shatter. It’ll be tough cleaning up the pieces with no power. When the lights go out, switch to this enameled steel dishware. If somebody drops it, no big deal. For more drinkware, check out our Best Insulated Travel Mugs and Best Reusable Water Bottles guides.
- Simple Shower Gravity Shower Kit for $15: Your shower is likely to work just fine, but this is an inexpensive, compact backup if your home loses its supply of clean tap water. This kit screws onto a common one- or two-liter soda bottle. Hang it upside down and it’ll feed water onto the bather. You can use it anywhere, but you may as well set it up in your regular shower. If you hang it off the showerhead pipe, just make sure the weight won’t tear it out of the wall or bend it.
- Luggable Loo Snap-On Toilet Seat Lid for $13: Toilets usually will still flush fine in an emergency, and if they stop refilling you can flush a toilet by pouring water into the back tank (not the bowl). If your home’s water supply is broken for days, eventually you’ll need somewhere else to go. Buy a snap-on toilet seat lid and a 5-gallon bucket to construct a makeshift toilet. Don’t forget waste bags to line the bucket. Keep a bag of kitty litter nearby, along with a cheap trowel for scooping it into the bucket after each use, extra toilet paper, and hand sanitizer.
- Coghlan’s 36-Hour Survival Candle for $10: If you want to save batteries or just prefer hanging out by gentle flickering candlelight, keep a spare emergency candle or two. This Coghlan’s model has three wicks that’ll last for 12 hours each. Keep a lighter or some matches nearby.
- Sony Portable AM/FM Radio for $18: You’ll want a portable radio around to hear weather reports and emergency broadcasts. Even if you don’t ordinarily listen to terrestrial radio, you should have one and not rely on your phone. Like with the flashlight, take the batteries out and store them with the radio.
- Generators: If you need a generator for medical equipment or think the luxury is worth the hassle, Honda makes excellent ones. Those with Briggs & Stratton motors are solid, too. But honestly, if you have to buy a big, hulking generator that’ll sit unused most of the time and you’re watching your pennies, you can get by with a cheap one such as Champion. Change the spark plug to a brand-name one as soon as you bring it home, though. The stock spark plugs that come with these Chinese generators tend to be junk. Just remember that gasoline spoils relatively quickly, it needs to be prepared for inactivity with fuel stabilizers, and it must be drained after a year. This is why, for most people, a generator isn’t worth it (especially if you follow the rest of this guide).
Don’t forget to spruce up your place, too. Check out our guides on how to winterize your home and how stay cool without air conditioning. If your heat or air conditioner goes out, these tips can make a world of difference. We also have a guide on putting together a home toolkit, which can come in handy during emergencies.
Finally, you should read WIRED senior writer Adrienne So’s article on why the best emergency gear is other people. Having a network of people to communicate with and check in on you is incredibly important.
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