Need a survival kit; opinions?

Joined Apr 28, 2003
I've been contemplating around building a "stay put" survival kit for home.  We got hit by a big power outage a couple months back when a transformer blew and we were without power for a few good hours.  It brought back the memories and concerns of the big blackout that hit the whole easter seaboard several years back.  We weren't prepared back then and its the same story today.  Mind you, I run gas at home so heating food wasn't a problem then but it got me thinking if all infrastructure was compromised.  Extreme sure but still a scary though; consume what is perishable over 2 days then moved onto the dried and canned goods but on a bad day, that can probably only last me just less then 2 weeks. 

So heres what I've thought of so far

-1 month worth of MREs and/or freeze dried foods; I'm debating on one or the other or a mix.  I'd greatly appreciate opinions on this.

-1 month worth of water purification tablets with a large reusable container; I had considered filters but I do believe most require electricity to operate, something I don't want to count on in a worst case scenario plus they're quite expensive.

-windup radio and flashlight; I can find the radio, not so much the flashlight but I do have a couple of powerful flashlights and great rechargeable batteries coupled with a solar powered charger (I've sourced out 2)

-magnesium fire starter; being up in Canada, theres always a chance of SHTF in the middle of winter

-first aid kit

I can't think of anything else beyond that.  Keep in mind that this is for staying put at home, riding out whatever has happened.  I'm planning on putting together a "bug out bag" down the road.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
if all infrastructure was compromised.  Extreme sure but still a scary though;

Actually, not so extreme. 18 months ago we suffered an ice storm that, literally, knocked out the infrastructure for 12 days: no power, no phones, no way to move around (I had 5 trees down just across my driveway).

You're talking about surviving a month with the infrastructure knocked out? That's a very long time, and would indicate a catastrophe of major proportions. So, consider:

What does that 30 days represent? A disaster in which the infrastructure is wiped out for that long would indicate a much longer recovery period. You have to either be prepared to survive with more than you are planning, or be prepared to bug out. One or the other.

Don't forget that survival in a long-term disaster may (probably will) include protecting yourself from your neighbors, who weren't prepared. How you do that can have serious long- and short-term consequences.

Is that bottled gas you're talking about? If not, don't count on gas being available during the kind of disruption you're discussing. And if it is bottled gas, is the supply sufficient for heating as well as cooking?

Potable water is the big issue in any long term emergency. Contrary to what you think, there are many manually operated filters available. Check, for instance, any backbacking store. You can also rig a solar water purification system with only a sheet of clear plastic and a shovel, if you know how.

An interesting thing to emerge during our emergency of a year and a half ago was how little people know about self-reliance. Example: One woman was complaining (a local radio ran a call-in show) that because they had no power they'd had to depend on their fireplace for heating. "So," she said, "while we're keeping warm, we haven't had a hot meal in four days."

Picture it. She's been burning wood in a fireplace nonstop for four days, but can't cook a meal.

It gets worse. She continued, "And now the wood supply is getting low...." Mind you, there are dead branches and whole trees littering the streets and roadways. But I guess it it doesn't come in one of those shrink-wrapped bundles it's not firewood.

Were it me, rather than think in terms of a total breakdown, I'd be considering, what do I need to survive during a realistic emergency ranging from, say, a couple of days to a couple of weeks. And break it down into the kind of emergency. A couple of days with no power is one thing. The same few days with no services at all is something else. Recently we were on a boil-water alert. Coping with that, through preplanning, is not on the same order of magnitude as coping with a complete breakdown of infrastructure. And a long term power outage in the winter is not the same as the same length emergency during the summer.

What are your circumstances. How you cope in an urban environment, and how I'd cope in my rural one, aren't always the same. You mention, for instance, a magnesium fire starter. From this I presume you have a fireplace or wood burning stove? But what's your wood supply like? And have you trained yourself in using that magnesium match (I actually find traditional flint & steel easier to use, and more reliable, btw)?

If electrical outage is a realistic problem, a large generator should be part of your survival kit. Keep in mind that you need to know exactly how to use one (it's incredible how many people who own them don't), and have a supply of fuel on hand. There is surely nothing more useless than a 4,500 generator sitting idle during a blackout because you didn't think about what to feed it.

Survival is mostly about attitude; preplanning, and making do with what you have. In that regard it sounds like you're in good shape. It's just a matter of tailoring your plans to realistic possible needs.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I would look into your pantry/food storage for a 30 day plan. Short of fresh fruits/vegies, you should be able to rotate through your normal stock of canned'/bottled/dry goods and eat largely as you're used to eating in an emergency.

Rotation and keeping your stored goods "fresh" is the trick to runnign an efficient pantry as well as a home emergency supply.

Basically it boils down to shopping from your food storage for your routine meals and restocking your stored consumables on an ongoing basis. It's economical, it fits into your current routine. And it makes you ready.
Joined Aug 21, 2009
I remember that big blackout and we made it through without losing alot of food.  I didn't open the fridge at all unless I absolutely had to and same with the freezer. We had our old crappy fridge at the time.. it was the apartment sized kind that had the freezer above the fridge.  It was pretty thick with ice as I have a chest freezer and I keep most of my frozen stuff in there.  So during the blackout the ice kept everything inside cool and all I lost foodwise was my produce as it got soaked with melting ice and was just gross to touch. 

I would include flashlights and working batteries in your kit.  It's a safer option than candles for sure.  During the blackout I had every candle with me on the diningroom table as I attempted to scrapbook by candlelight and listen to my battery powered radio.  Also you need to have a phone that does not require electricity to work (think old fashioned phones will that rang with bell instead of the electronic warble we hear today) just in case there is phone service but no hydro, at least you will be able to call and check on loved ones. 


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
About the water. You can't store enough to go 30 days in a realistic way. Tablets have lots of issues and assume a certain quality of source water that in a disaster is a bad assumption.  Same for most filters. And The filters that can cope with chemical contaminants are not affordable and usually have expensive perishable elements.

Rather, I would look into short term water storage, for a minimum of 3 days water supply and depending on storage options, maybe up to two weeks. In the US, barring a national disaster, there should be water available from the rescue-support operations within that 3 day period. As to the containers, you need something you can physically move to and from the water supplies. This probably means a 5-7 gallon plastic water can being the best trade-off in size and carryability  though I wouldn't want to carry it very far without a back pack. A few of these containers can be stored reasonably. Just empty and refill about every 6 months as that's about the lifespan of the common chlorinated public water supply as an average. . Just add them to your 6 month maintenance list like you do for your smoke detector batteries.

About the containers themselves. These containers come with a screw top lid, often with an inverted spout and a breather valve. The breather valve is something to consider as they're usually cheap. Just a plastic stem that you pull out or push in. They're not very leak resistant, which is important if you have to store the container on its side. You want a screw on cap for the breather valve. Walmart usually has a decent  7 gallon cube.

The breather valve helps you pour the water out and adapts to changing pressures if you're transporting a partially full container over differing elevations. with the screw tops, you need to manually balance air pressure on trips of varying elevation, but they're worth the security of no leaks in my opinion.

My wife has a difficult time with a 7 gallon container. The classic 5 gallon container, which she can manage, , though that's not a great price is pretty versatile. I have a few of these I use for desert camping. Reliance makes these too.

You want 2 gallons per person per day for drinking, cooking and cleaning.

There are also storage considerations. You don't want them to tip. spill or drop and break. Probably some other pointers too.
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Joined Apr 28, 2003
Well when I mean total collapse of infrastructure is basically to plan for the absolute worse case so whether its only gas, water, or electric that I would be prepared for any of those circumstances or shorter term if they all fail.

I live in an urban area (city kid) in a pretty tight knit community so sharing of resources isn't an issue; for instance during the big blackout, our neighbour relies on an electric stove and they had a 5 year old son so we heated up food for him.  There was some construction work on the sidewalk left unfinished so mom and I placed tea candles all around it at night.  We also provided hot coffee to friends passing by as they brought perishables as not to go to waste. 

I do not have a fireplace, but I can build a contained area for an outdoor fire quite easily.  Plenty of vegetation to burn around me but I would have to invest in an axe.  I'm not trained in using a magnesium flares, this will require a bit more research but I through it in.

I will look into manually operated filters, do a bit more research into that.  I was thinking of, if I can find it, something along the lines of a large hydration bladder or at least several smaller 3L ones should I need to bug out. 

Now my big question...whats the difference between freeze dried foods and MREs?  I've seen how MREs work, I've looked into them but I know some campers buy stuff like those Mountain House which I know little/nothing about.  Which would be more worth it, better bang for the buck, and more efficient in the case of an emergency?
Joined Apr 28, 2003
the who?  A movie?

No, I figured I'd just take the initiative.  I've taken my mother's truck out, battery dies, and she didn't have boost cables yet shes got plenty of window washing fluid...yeah, no emergency kit there either.  Just trying to be prepared.  Now if I really want to take it far, I should go for my firearms license and arm myself for the impending zombie apocalypse (Zombieland) or alien invasion (ID4) /img/vbsmilies/smilies/biggrin.gif
Joined Feb 1, 2007
In practical terms there is little actual difference between MREs and freeze dried, other than in how they get reconsituted. And, of course, some MREs have built-in heating systems.

MRE's have a declared shelf-life of ten years. Civilian freeze dried food is rated at less than that, because of the packaging. Frankly, in either case, if the original packaging integrity is maintained, I wouldn't worry about shelf life at all.

Either way, you do need a supply of potable water to reconstitute. As you do with regular dried foods.

Let me say, too, that the only actual advantage freeze dried brings is needing less storage space. It's one thing if you're stocking a bomb shelter, quite another if you're planning a 30-day survival cycle. As Phil notes, you can do that within a regular food rotation plan. Plus, keep in mind, that canned goods bring safe liquids to the table, lowering, somewhat, water concerns.

You should be aware, too, that an outdoor firesite may be ok for cooking. But it's useless for keeping warm. And that's one of your priorities.

Indeed, that should be your first job: List realistic disasters, what effect they're likely to have, and what do you need to do to lower (or even eliminate) their impact. We're talking a basic "what if" scenario. What if the power is out for 30 days? What if the gas supply quits? What if it's winter? That last is important, because impacts can change seasonally. F'rinstance, in the winter, food preservation is much less a concern (unless you're like the woman down here, who wondered whether it would be safe to leave the milk on the back porch). In the summer, heating the house is irrelevent.

You might look at infrastructure failures over the past, say, ten years, to develop a feel for what is realistic. During the great blackout, power was out for, what? A day? Two days in some locales? There are reasons that it's a milestone, but really, who actually suffered? But what if you power is out three days, during the winter? How would a 5-day outage effect your preparedness? Etc.

What I'm saying is simply that a rational plan should be built around realistic events. You cannot, in you live in a reasonably sized home, fully prepare for a total failure lasting 30 days. And, even if you could, there are deeper implications to that.

So, look at, for example, the frequency of blackouts, and their typical length and seasonality. How often are their water main breaks, in your area, and how long does it take to repair them? How much snow does it take to lock you in? Or make resupply difficult? Etc.

I don't mean to sound cynical, but the reality is that, no matter how tightly knit a community may be, such closeness exists in an inverse ratio to the length of the emergency. That is, the long it lasts the less likely people are willing to help their neighbors. So if you're truly planning a long-term survival strategy, counting on your neighbors should not be part of it. In fact, if history is any indicator, just the opposite is the case.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
MREs remain nutritious even after they become unpalatable. As noted they should remain mostly palatable for about 10 years stored at room temp of 70. Stored cooler, lifespan can increase. Hotter and it can decrease rapidly. Heating cycles are cumulative. And they can be pretty awful in some cases. I've not found a pasta based one I can stand. MREs tend to be more expensive and they certainly weigh more than freeze dried if you have to be mobile. Freeze dried is easier to store, even in a ziplock baggie at room temp, where an MRE would go bad. Freeze dried pasta dishes are generally OK.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
In my location, the big fear is earthquake. While the major freeways have been undergoing a lot of upgrades, there all still have seismically bad bridges as do the smaller roads. In a bad earthquake, It will be days before a major workaround for one route in is even possible for rescue vehicles. My home is seismically unsound, built in 1949. There is a relatively high risk that the exterior walls will just crumble and the main floor collapse into the basement. It is not feasible for me to store my goods anywhere but the basement so even if I survive the big one itself, recovering my supplies is problematic.

The major fault is about a mile from my house though I'm on the side that should shake less.  Still, it is likely that my neighborhood for many miles around will be nothing but a rubble field in a major earthquake.

Economics dictate that I just have to live with that risk for now and the near future.
Joined Sep 8, 2010
In case of a blackout (or other natural disaster where power and water loss are unavoidable for extended periods of time) one of the most important items in a survival kit is deodorant...lots and lots of deodorant.

And heavy duty aluminum foil.

I lived through a couple of hurricanes in Florida.  I'd just moved from Ohio when the first one was making a bee-line to hit my area.  I headed to the local convenience store and stocked up on batteries, beer and smokes.  The cashier asked me if I needed any ice.  I looked at her quizzically and said, "Ice?  Ice?  What would I need ice for?" I didn't buy any.  A week without power and with the contents of my refrigerator and freezer a total loss, I realized what I needed ice for.  Duh!

I did learn a good ice keeping trick, however.  Bags of ice will keep for a longer period of time if tightly wrapped in aluminium foil and placed in the bottom of a large cooler with another layer of foil and frozen food items stacked on top.  

But maybe everyone all ready knows this trick.  Still helpful if disaster strikes in hot weather.

Joined Jul 14, 2010
Very interesting thread.  It's not often I find something on this site that pertains to what I do for a living.  (I love to cook but not I don't think I'm good enough to keep up in a professional kitchen.)  As an IT guy, I spend quite a bit of time working on and testing disaster recovery/business continuity (BC/DR) plans.  One of the professional groups I belong to just had their quarterly meeting the other day and one of the topics/presentations was what to put in a "Go Bag".

So, here's a short list of what I remember from the Go Bag that was emptied on the table at the meeting (in no particular order):


ID, copies of property deeds, and any other important papers

Hiking food (freeze dried meals, high energy bars, etc.)

water purification tablets, filter

medicine (prescription and OTC stuff for normal ailments)

first aid kit

flashlight (LED)

crank/solar radio/flashlight combo


duct tape

cooking kit



extra batteries

bug repellent

deck of cards

pet foods/medicine

knife/knives - think multi-purpose, tough knives, not your treasured yanagiba.

leatherman type tool

home and vehicle keys

emergency blanket

glasses/contact lenses and supplies

One thing that was mentioned but not brought along for the meeting (we were on a high-security defense contractor's site) was a gun.  One woman was a little shocked as to why someone would need a gun.  The guy who put the bag together said "If I have a gun, I can get anything I forgot to pack" and the FBI agents standing there agreed. (As the song says, "Rally 'round the family with a pocket full of shells.")

Some things to add to the list if you are not going to be traveling and have more space than a backpack available:

heavy cookware (camp dutch oven, etc)

charcoal briquets





signaling devices (radio, mirror, flares, air horn (like you would have on a boat))

fishing/hunting gear

fuel for generator(s), vehicle(s) and cooking tools (thinking gas grill)

books and board games to pass the time without FB or XBox  (even more important if you have kids)

axes/saws for firewood

sewing supplies

spare parts for generators, vehicles, etc.


You can get quite a bit of what you need at outdoor stores like REI, EMS, LLBean, Sierra Trading Post, etc.  Think about items that could have multiple uses. 

Depending on the nature and duration of the emergency/crisis, you may need to be more self-sufficient than you expect.  It's easier to plan for an emergency, which is usually a short duration event, in comparison to a long-term crisis.  Water, food, medicine and some sort of shelter are at the top of the list.  FWIW, the feds figure that it will be two weeks before a federal response to a disaster is deployed and ready to help people.  Before they get their, it's the responsibility of local and state authorities to maintain order and provide assistance.  As we've seen from recent history, these folks are often victims of the same disaster and may have a more personal agenda than their job would dictate.  If you are in an urban area, you may want to include a plan to get out.  Not that joining a refugee exodus doesn't have it's own dangers and concerns, but foraging opportunities will be quickly exhausted in an urban area and competition will be significant.

When planning for a disaster, your geographic location is probably the most important factor in determining what goes into your bag or in your case, your larger, stay home kit.  For example, up here in New England, we get blizzards, ice storms and nor'easters.  We don't have to worry about hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or wildfires, so our list would be quite a bit different than someone from Florida or California.  (Do they even sell snow shovels in Florida???) 

As a side note, during the Blizzard of '78, the Boston area was shut down for about a month.  Food deliveries to local stores stopped for a week or longer in most areas.  Few vehicles were authorized to be on the road, although many were stranded there.  Only newspaper delivery trucks(?!), police, fire, civil defense vehicles could get through the roadblocks. Not that it mattered that much as most people's cars couldn't be found under the snow drifts.  The effects of that storm still linger around here.  When the first snow of the season is predicted, or any significant amount after that, the supermarkets are blitzed.  No bread, milk, water, batteries, soda, etc. can be found.  I remember working in a supermarket bakery and a guy was trying to get me to sell him a 100# bag of flour when 6 inches were predicted!  (I would have sold it to him if I could have found out what to charge...)

Disasters are unpredictable.  There is a good chance that one or more of your loved ones will not be home when it strikes.  A communication plan is a key part of your disaster plan.  It should have rallying points and contact info for all family members as well as contact information for friends or relatives that live outside of your geographic area.  In an emergency, they may be the best place to leave messages and coordinate recovery efforts.

Power is a big one if you are going to stay home.  KYH made a great point.  Make sure you not only know how to operate and fuel your generator, but I'd like to add that you must also TEST IT!  At companies that I've worked at, emergency generators were tested either every week or every two weeks.  To test your generator, turn it on, let it come up to speed, and put a load on it.  (Actually cut over to the generator and run your home as you would expect to in an emergency.)  You should run it with a load for at least 4 hours (8 is better) every quarter.  Many home improvement store generators have a tendency to die shortly after the standard 4 hour load bank test, so consult with an electrician or plant engineer with backup generator experience.  (Hospital electricians are pretty knowledgeable, as people tend to die when they fail at their job, so hospitals pay close attention to hiring competent electricians.)

There are some good sites out there with lists and advice.  The FEMA site Chef Petals recommended is very good.  Another one worth checking out is is  Different lists for businesses, families, and individuals.  A google search for emergency preparedness ( has some good links as well.  An important resource to include would be the Official Boy Scout Handbook, Boy Scout Fieldbook, and the instruction book for the Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge (the Boy Scout Motto is Be Prepared!).  All readily available on Amazon.  Also, check out some Mormon sites or talk to some Mormon leaders, if your area has a local ward.  I was researching this topic last summer and found quite a bit of information on emergency preparedness for families staying at home that was posted on Mormon related sites.  (I don't know too much about the faith, being a simple Catholic boy from Boston, but from what I've read, there is a significant tenet of the Mormon faith that requires families to maintain a year of emergency supplies.  Hopefully someone with more knowledge on the subject can weigh in.)  There were sites that sold complete kits for families or wards and others that went into detail on food storage and rotation.  Not many MRE or freeze dried products.  Mostly rice, beans, and other grains, salted meat, canned goods, etc.  Yeah, commercially canned goods don't always taste so good, but they have a very long, stable shelf life if they are stored in a dry location.

All this being said, I hope you never need to rely on your preparations.

Joined Feb 1, 2007
I did learn a good ice keeping trick, however.  Bags of ice will

Lyniebeck, if you're talking about ice to last through emerencies you shouldn't be using cubes in the first place. Block ice lasts exponentially longer. If it's not available for sale where you live, make your own. It's easy enough.

You can also double dip by freezing water in 1-gallon jugs. As the ice melts you gain potable water as well.

You also want to displace as much air from your coolers as possible. Once the ice and food is in them, use blankets, towels, even wadded newspaper to fill in the spaces as much as possible.
Joined Apr 28, 2003
OK so I've started building an emergency kit. 

-I just got my case of MREs stored next to my luggage for a quick bug out (12 meals).

-I've got all my ID and important documents stored securely together.  Done the same with my pellet guns.

-I've picked up a few multipurpose flip knives, looking into some leatherman multitools.

Still coming in;

-I've ordered a solid 24hr day pack and a larger wheeled duffel bag

-I found a great portable solar charger

-water purifier with filter and some tablets just in case.

-getting a basic 72hr survival kit

Items I'm considering:

-gas canister

-car emergency kit

-real firearm (pending whenever I do my license)

-axe, incase I need timber
Joined Jul 28, 2001

intense posts.

I usually keep a half a dozen sets of scrubs.

I figured I have 6 hospitals and a prison. They are self sufficient with major generators.

Just dress the family and  blend in.
Joined Apr 28, 2003

intense posts.

I usually keep a half a dozen sets of scrubs.

I figured I have 6 hospitals and a prison. They are self sufficient with major generators.

Just dress the family and  blend in.
meh, just preparing for the possibility of the worse...I do it all the time at work since taking the lead. 

egress timing wasn't something I had considered since someone brought up issue.  The scenario was; given only 5mins to pack up and leave, what would you bring?  That was situation the people of Slave Lake, Alberta were in when a forest fire quickly changed course.
Joined Jan 9, 2014
I don't think I saw dried fruits or nuts on a list here, but with fresh fruit and veg out of the picture you'd want to get some nutrients from somewhere.
Dried fruit well sealed will keep for a long time, and a good stock of pickles or jams would do you well also...

And unless it's a drought, rainwater or snow boiled up would be my choice over any kind of water purification tablets.
Those things taste so wrong.
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