Why is it necessary to have a 72-hour kit, aka Bug-out-Bag (BOB) for each person in your family? We are told that following a local disaster, it can take "at least" 3 days for help to arrive. FEMA tells us it could be longer. Survivors of Sandy, Katrina, and other disasters were on their own for days before help was able to arrive. So following an emergency, these kits are going to be your life-line until help arrives. What this means is if there is a large scare disaster and you are displaced out of your home, you are basically on your own for at least 3 days...likely longer. I personally recommend preparing your kits with 96-hours of supplies in mind. Chances are, communities will combine resources and come up with suitable locations and start taking care of each other. In the meantime, you do not want to be sitting around wishing you had the basic necessities for your family. So, let's get these kits taken care of now. This is something only you can do for your family. Your kids are relying on you for this. Remember, it was not raining when Noah built the Ark.
I want to start by saying everyone faces different potential emergencies. Some live in earthquake country, some live in hurricane country, and some live in tornado country. But no matter where you live, mother nature is always in charge, and there are always potential threats. Check the map above to see what kind of emergencies you need to plan for, and then build your kit with this in mind. Also, remember that every family has unique and individual needs. So, I encourage you to tailor your kits to fit the specific needs of your family. While our kits may not be perfect, they are much better than what the average person has...which is nothing.
There is so much to pack. Where do I start? When asked what the most important items to have are, I first recommend asking yourself a few questions. For example, what is the purpose of your 72-hour kit? If something happens, are you really going to grab your kits and head to the hills, living off of the land, fishing and hunting for food? I'm probably not going to be doing this. But this is what many people have in mind when preparing their kits. So consider where you live, what threats face you, and what your evacuation options will be. If you live in rural Wyoming, maybe you are planning on heading for the hills, in which case you probably want to include fishing and hunting gear as well as some pretty hardcore wilderness survival equipment. But for most people, they are probably going to be grabbing their kits pursuant to an evacuation order due to a small scale emergency, in which case they will be traveling by vehicle to stay with someone they know. In this case, the supplies they are going to need are really the items needed to get them through a few days, such as extra clothes, hygene supplies, medications, maybe snacks or food, extra cash, etc. With this in mind, I recommend starting with these items, and then building based on your specific needs:
Water: Make sure you have a supply of water. I like to expand this into having at least 1 way (3 ways are the goal) to purify or treat water, whether it be a filter, boiling, or tablets.
Non-perishable food: Store something that will last at least 6 months.
First aid kit: You will be your own doctor, nurse, and care taker for a while.
Change of clothes: If you are outside you home with your 72-hour kits, chances are it happened fast, and you had little to no time to grab provisions. And you might be there a while. Extra clothes, underwear, and sox will really come in handy.
Light: It will get dark, but you still have a lot to do. I recommend a flashlight and a head-lamp (head-lamps keep your hands free so you can work).
Knife: Doesn't have to be fancy. Just make sure you have one. You'll use it more than you think.
Matches or Lighter: Ultimately, work toward have 3 methods of starting a fire.
Crank Powered Radio: This might be your only source of information for a while. You will be very anxious for outside information.
Cash: Small bills and some coins.
It has taken me years to build our kits up to what they are now. I hope this is helpful so you don't take as long building yours. I also realize that there are a lot of items covered here, so to help simplify the building process, I've tried to prioritize each item. If you feel this is all overwhelming, concentrate first on the above items, then move to the Priority 1 items, and ultimately work your way down the priority list as you build your kits. This is designed to be a guide and the prioritized items are really just my opinion of importance. You may choose to add certain items while excluding other items. Do what you feel is best for you and your family. These kits get heavy quick, and therefore, I recommend using sturdy backpacks, especially for the parent packs, which tend to carry many of the group items. I have also adopted a bucket system, which I use to carry many of the group items. Buckets are very easy to carry and waterproof. Others use bins, roller board type suit cases, duffel bags, etc. Find what works for you. I've made a YouTube video where I go through every item in our 72-hour kits. So, you can see first-hand how we are all set up. Once you start in on your kits, you'll figure it out pretty quick. Just take a little at a time. Hopefully this video will help you out:
I keep our kits in our laundry room closet in a big storage bin. Everything is about 5 feet from the exit, so we will be able to get everything outside very quickly. The storage bin not only keeps the kits together, but will keep them dry in the event there is a leak of some type in the room where you store your kits (this happened to me and damaged many items in our kits). I eventually moved the community items out of the parent kits (due to weight) and created two “Master” kits, which are stored in 2 5-gallon buckets with lids. These buckets are water tight, durable, easy to carry, and in the event you are displaced outside of your home, some type of toilet device will be necessary…and these buckets are perfect for this. They make toilet lids that fit on top of these 5-gallon buckets. If you choose to use the 5-gallon bucket method for your master kit, get a toilet lid as well. Emergency Essentials as well as Amazon sells these for not very much ($15-25). You could also use a pool noodle as a seat.
Many of the items on this list below are redundant and I do this on purpose. With emergency prep, I prefer the rule of 3’s, which is to say I prefer 3 different methods that will accomplish the same task. For example, Fire: matches, lighters, and flint and steel. Water purification: sterilization (boiling), chemical purification (pills/tablets), and particulate filtration (filters). And I will usually spread these three methods across all three priority lists. You will see this throughout this entire Emergency Prep program (Lights: 3 different sources, Heating: 3 different sources, cooking: 3 different sources, even shelter: 3 different options).
I also make sure the important items within the 72-hour kits are protected from the elements. For example, I keep clothes and blankets in a dry bag (waterproof packs are even better). You could also wrap them in a garbage bag. Just make sure your items are all protected. You never know if you will be bugging out in the rain or snow. Also, I keep all our kits in a large bin. I once had a water leak in our laundry room and it got the bottom of all of our 72-hour kits wet.
Priority 1 Items:
First Aid Kit- This is a must even if it is just a few Band-Aids and ace bandage wraps, although I recommend more than this. Keep this in a master or parent kit.
1 Emergency Survival Blanket- Have one for each individual.
Strike anywhere matches (waterproof and/or waterproof case)- Keep this in the master or parent kit.
Wetfire fire starting timber packages- Keep a few with the fire starters (matches/lighters/flint and steel). These are great for fire starting. Alternatively, you can use dryer lint. Just put a bunch of it in a zip lock bag. I’ve seen people mix dryer lint with petroleum jelly. This is just as flammable, but burns slower and it will stick to whatever you want (won’t blow away).
Water purification tablets. Keep several in the master or parent kit. You never know when you are going to need to purify water.
Entertainment (Cards, Uno, Bible, etc.)- Keep several options in kits as you deem appropriate. These games or books will give you or your kids something to do so you don’t spend all your down time stressing over your current situation.
Several garbage bags- The uses for garbage bags are almost endless. Keep several bags of several different sizes. A bunch of 5-gallon bags would work perfect if you have 5-gallon buckets (master kit containers) for toiletry purposes. Also consider quart Ziploc bags, gallon Ziploc bags, 13-gallon bags, as well as 33-gallon leaf bags. These large 33-gallon leaf bags work well as a poncho, ground pad, etc. Keep these in the master or parent kit.
Dish soap and sponge- You are going to want a way to clean your mess kit items. Keep these in the Master or parent kit.
Small Towel (microfiber type)- These should be in every kit and can be used as a small towel for drying off, etc.
Measuring cups- not a bad idea to have some basic measuring cups in your master or parent kit. At the very least, you may have something that requires measuring out water. Many drinking cups can be marked as measuring cups as well. Do this on your own before hand or buy them pre-marked.
1 plastic drinking cup- This can be used as a measuring cup as well. Have one for each kit.
Mess kit- Basic equipment for heating up food or boiling water. Ensure you have a metal pot big enough for boiling water. Keep in Master or Parent kit.
Small camp stove- this will be necessary if you need to boil water. Much of our 72-hour kit food is freeze dried and requires water. Sometimes it's just nice to have a warm meal. Include as necessary in your master or parent kit. If you don't need to boil water, then this is probably not a priority 1 item for you.
Fuel for your stove above. I have 1 bottle (16 oz) of Isobutene fuel. This will be necessary if you choose to include the camp stove above. Include in the parent or master kit.
100’ of 550 paracord- I include one in each kit, but this might be overkill. Just make sure you have some in at least one kit. The uses for this are endless.
Emergency Radio- This may be the only way to get updates from “the outside world”. Include one in the parent or master kit. Look for the hand crank radios. They are capable of charging USB devices as well.
Toilet Paper- Make sure you have enough of this. Maybe some in each kit? But at least a roll in the parent or master kit. Remove the center cardboard roll so you can flatten it easier.
Cash in small bills and coins- You pick the amount, but $50 in each kit may not be a bad starting point. Whatever you decide, have some in each kit; small bills as well as coins. Remember, in widespread emergencies or when the power is out, no establishments will take credit cards (electricity will be out), most won’t take checks, and these establishments are not always going to be able to give the correct change, if any.
Sewing kit- Include some kind of a sewing kit in your parent or master kit.
32 oz Nalgene (or similar) water bottle- Put one in each kit (full of water).
Pint size metal cup- this is basically a drinking/soup cup. Include one in each kit.
Work gloves- Include as necessary. I make sure I have at least a pair for me, but I recommend one for each 'worker' in your family.
LED flashlight- Include 1 flashlight for each kit. Include batteries, but do not store the batteries in the flashlight. Over time, batteries can leak and damage your device, possibly rendering it useless. And the first night following an emergency is not the time to find this out. Batteries will need to be checked and/or replaced periodically. Check/replace them as you check/replace your food.
Knife- Include at least one as necessary. I have one for each adult, and eventually put one in the kids kits as each kid gets old enough to use a knife.
Sunscreen- Exposure to the sun can really make life miserable. If you are displaced outside the home, this may be your only protection from the sun.
Emergency Poncho- These will at least keep the elements off of you. In case you don’t have a poncho, a garbage bag with the appropriate cuts will suffice. Include one in each kit.
Whistle- Include one for each kit, but especially for the kids. Yelling takes more energy and is not as effective as a whistle. Include a lanyard with each one.
Deodorant- Include as necessary. You might not think this is necessary, but your close-quarter partner is going to eventually disagree.
Small bar of soap- Include one in every kit.
Plastic or metal fork and/or spoon- Include as many as you feel are necessary in each kit.
Can opener- Include at least one in the parent or master kit as necessary. If you do not have canned food, then you may not need one.
Toothbrush and tooth paste- Include in each kit. It is amazing what keeping clean will do for your morale.
Ibuprofen/Tylenol/etc- Never a bad idea. Include at least in the parent or master kit.
Triple Antibiotic Ointment- Include in the parent or master kit, or individual kits as necessary.
Priority 2 Items:
Multipurpose tool- Not a bad tool to have. They have a few basic tools such as pliers, scissors, etc. Include in parent or master kit. I like Gerber and Leatherman.
Fleece blanket- These are very much a ‘nicety’ and roll up very tight. Very inexpensive at Wal-Mart or online. Include one in each kit.
Bic lighters- This is a backup to the matches. If you find yourself relying on fire for heat or cooking, you will eventually run out of matches. Include several lighters in the parent or master kit as necessary.
Water Filter- Backup to boiling. I like the Life Straws and the Sawyer filters. Include at least one in the parent or master kit, but makes sense to eventually get one for each kit, so you're not all having to share.
Deet Bug Spray- Include as necessary.
Hurricane or Gorilla Tape- Amazing what you can do with this stuff. Highly recommended. Include in parent or master kit.
Note pad with a pen and/or sharpie- Include in parent or master kit. This is a great way to keep information or communicate information to someone else.
LED headlamp- Backup to the flashlight. As with the flashlight, do not store the batteries in the device. Headlamps are very nice as they leave both your hands free. Recommend one in each kit.
Hand sanitizer- Include as necessary.
Lotion- Include as necessary.
Shampoo- Include as necessary, but remember, good hygiene leads to good morale.
Chapstick- Include as necessary, but a must for me.
Fingernail clippers- Include as necessary. I keep a pair in my first aid kit.
Priority 3 Items:
Survival Handbook- Include as desired. I prefer the SAS Survival Handbook by John "Lofty" Wiseman.
Quick clips (carabineer type)- Not a must, but they come in handy.
External Battery (USB)- Can charge devices as necessary.
Rechargeable or spare batteries- Include as necessary.
USB Solar Charger- If you have rechargeable batteries and external USB batteries, this might be necessary to charge those. No electricity necessary, just sun exposure.
USB Charger for Batteries- Include if you use rechargeable batteries. This will require a power source, such as the above-mentioned solar charger.
Two way Radios- Include as necessary. These might be your only means of communications. Never plan on cell towers working, especially if community power is out.
Hand warmers- Include as necessary.
Arm Sleeves- This is an alternate to sunscreen. I include sleeves that I can put on at any time. They cost no more than $10, take up almost zero space, and weigh next to nothing. But I'm fair skinned and take uv exposure very seriously (because I've already had melanoma).
Personal protection- Include as necessary. Knives, bows, hand guns, sling shots, ammo, etc.
Zip ties- Include several different sizes as necessary. These can really come in handy.
Flint and Steel- Third backup to the matches and the lighters. Include in the parent or master kit.
Glow sticks (snap lights)- They are all over in our kits. Very handy, simple to use, and they are a great alternative light source. They last over 12 hours. Include as many as you want in all the kits. Kids really appreciate them.
Folding shovel- Recommend one in the parent or master kit. They make plastic shovels that are lighter and quite strong, but I prefer the tried and true metal folding shovels, despite the extra weight.
Signaling Mirror- Include as necessary in the parent or master kit. Can also be used simply as a mirror.
N95 Face Masks- Never a bad idea to have a few of these on hand.
Compass- Depending on where you are bugging out to, include as necessary in the parent or master kit.
Phone charger cord- Not a bad idea to be able to have a phone specific cord for charging, especially if you chose to carry the solar charger or an external battery. Keep this updated to your current phone.
Additional USB cords- Include as necessary in the parent or master kit.
Food Items (3 days' worth):
Choose items that: 1) your family will eat, 2) will last at least 6 months (since we rotate every 6 months), and 3) require little to no preparation.
Options include canned soups, canned tuna, canned chicken, beef jerky, freeze-dried food, peanut butter, granola bars, instant oatmeal, easy mac, ramon, dried fruit, drink mix, hard candy, fruit snacks, trail mix, etc. The ramon, easy mac, and freeze dried food do require water and boiling, so consider that if you have no way to boil water or you feel your water is on the 'light' side.
Consider summer and winter. 3 pairs of wool socks, a short-sleeved shirt, a long sleeved shirt (layering), sweatshirts (as necessary), a rain jacket or poncho (already in your 72-hour kit), change of underwear, shoes, gloves (consider different gloves for working, warmth, and sanitation or medical purposes), hats (winter for heat, summer for sun exposure), pants, etc.
Additional Water- They recommend a gallon per day per person, but that is primarily for consumption. Consider water used for cleaning, sanitation and other purposes. So, if you can figure out how to carry all this water in your backpacks, please do so. But as a bare minimum, I have two 2-liter soda bottles full of water in each parent kit and one in each kid kit (and remember, you still have 32 or so ounces in your Nalgene bottle). I keep some extra water containers in the bottom of the bins that hold our 72-hour kits. Consider having additional water (portable, not 55-gal drums) in your garage that you can throw in your vehicle if you need to evacuate quickly.
Child care items such as diapers, pull ups, wipes, Destin, formula, baby food, etc.
Elderly care items including medications
Pet considerations (food and water as necessary for 3 days). Also consider spare leashes.
Feminine products as necessary
Supply of prescription medications. Many doctors, depending on the medication, will provide you an extra week or month prescription, allowing you to keep a supply on hand. Rotate through this of course.
Copy of important documents- This is basically a digital copy on a thumb drive of all your important docs. Here is a link to The Documents Kit Module.
Copy of your Home Manual- Keep a copy of your home manual in a parent or master kit. Remember, this Home Manual documents your entire emergency preparedness plan and supplies. Here is a link to The Home Manual Module.
There are a few items not covered here that many ask about, and that is tents, sleeping bags, ground pads, ground cloths, etc. We have all of these items ready to go at a moment's notice, but I do not store them with our 72-hour kits. They are all kept together near another exit. I address these items in more detail in my Shelter Sleeping and Heating module.
So this is the overview of how my family and I have set up our 72-hour kits. Admittedly, I am constantly revising, adding to, and removing items for evolving reasons. But I am always up for suggestions and critiques as that is how I learn. So please feel free to reach out with any comments, questions, or suggestions.