Best Emergency Survival Kit

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There is no one-size-fits-all survival kit for everyone or for all situations. Here’s how to customize one.

Useful but non-critical items should therefore be included, such as:

  • small sewing kit for wardrobe malfunctions
  • change of clothes and toothbrush for unexpected all-nighters at the office
  • throat lozenges and aspirin for minor illnesses

The flashlight and penknife in the pocket survival kit should be used regularly, whenever required: fitting keys into locks in the dark, opening packages. This also serves as an automatic check that they are available and in working condition.

Medicines, batteries and other chemical items should be checked every year, to ensure that their expiry dates have not passed.

Communications and Survival

A radio transmitter can be the best survival tool. A cellphone should be carried at all times.

For remote areas without cellphone coverage, satellite equipment should be considered:

  • Satellite phone
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
  • SPOT Satellite Messenger

How to Evaluate and Customize an Emergency Survival Kit

A survival kit, no matter how minimal, should be within reach at all times.

A list of kit contents (even if prepared by an authoritative expert or organization) should not be blindly followed. Customizing the contents of each kit – for local conditions (climate, likely disasters) and personal requirements – will maximize its usefulness.

Doug Ritter, on his Equipped to Survive website, groups the contents of survival kits into the following categories:

  • Signaling (whistle, mirror).
  • Emergency devices (compass, flashlight, knife, multitool, firestarter).
  • Shelter and personal protection.
  • Medical.
  • Water and food (water purification, survival rations).
  • Personal supplies (prescription medicine).
  • Miscellaneous and multi-purpose (rope, sewing kit, duct tape).

This provides an easy to understand framework for evaluating the contents of prepackaged commercial kits, and for creating a customized kit.


The US Department of Homeland Security’s Ready America website lists “Get a Kit” as the first step in preparing for emergencies.

Types of Survival Kits

Survival kits are best thought of as layers of protection. For example:

  • The basic survival kit is small enough to fit in a pocket, to be with a person at all times (pocket knife or multitool, small flashlight, whistle, compass, cigarette lighter). Not just when on long trips, but also in daily life.
  • More survival equipment can be carried in a backpack or office briefcase (water, food, basic first aid kit, rain gear, warm clothing, sanitary gear, radio receiver, cell phone, GPS).
  • A well-stocked vehicle (car, boat) can store loads of supplies that can make all the difference (weapons, power tools, spare batteries, larger first aid kit, first aid and survival books, food and water for 72 hours or more, CB radio).
  • The office (or other place of work) is a good place to store supplies. Considering the amount of time spent at work, the chances of being there when an emergency strikes is high.
  • A house will have the most storage (food and water for weeks).

Having layers of survival kits means having the most support whenever possible, yet not being completely empty-handed even if caught unexpectedly away from home, office, vehicle or campsite.

When hiking, backpacks may be left behind at camp or ditched for a quick getaway (from criminals, animals, forest fires, raging river currents). The basic pocket survival kit ensures that there will be some aid to survival even if the backpack is lost.

Emergency Survival Scenarios

The type of equipment and supplies required depends upon the type of survival situation. Different emergency scenarios should be considered:

  • Personal emergency. Only a few people involved, however danger is imminent and extreme: traffic accident, street crime, lost in the wilderness, dog attack, trapped in a burning building.
  • City-wide disaster. No immediate danger, however emergency services are overloaded and unavailable: natural disaster, power-grid failure.

Expanding upon the above scenarios (traffic accident – need to cut jammed safety belt, break toughened glass window) helps generate ideas about what is required in a survival kit.

Survival Kit Maintenance

A survival kit that is used occasionally, even if not for survival, will more likely be carried daily and not forgotten and left behind.

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