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Prepare an Emergency Backpack Today and Survive Tomorrow

Updated on December 15, 2010

You Just Never Know

Guide to Packing an Emergency Backpack

As my perhaps overly grim title suggests, it’s impossible to know when disaster is going to strike, and ideals aside, there’s absolutely nothing you as an individual can do to prevent it (I know I just spit in the face of every public service announcement ever). You do, however, have the power to prepare for survival ahead of time.

The idea of an emergency backpack is to have everything you need to live on for several days in one, concentrated, easy-to-carry location; a backpack. I have a few friends who have essentially built panic rooms, stocked with pallets of MREs, gallons of water, ham radio stations, generators...the works. All that is nifty, and if I had the money to spend on a bunker of said caliber, I certainly would - but I don’t - and none of that stuff is going to do any good if you’re forced to undergo evacuation. When you have only a few short minutes to grab what you need and leave (possibly forever), you want to give yourself the best head start possible.

Ok, you get the point; pack now so you don’t die later. But what do you need to pack? What all needs to go into this bad boy?

The short answer is a lot, but...a little. Your average family sized, four person 72 hour emergency kit includes 25 different items; well over 100 if you individually itemize the first aid and tool kits. That’s the “lot” part of the equation. The “little” part comes from the fact that all 150 or so items can be stored neatly into one organized backpack. Therefore, when I suggest a tools and flashlights, I’m not talking sledgehammers and million candle power bulbs. The majority of your inventory isn’t meant to last forever; it’s meant to last as long as you need to get to a safety zone, and lightweight enough to allow you to get there.

For an individually itemized list, the following link will take you to a 4000 word article covering in full detail everything you may want to pack in your emergency backpack. In this article, however, we’re just going to cover the basics.

First, and obviously foremost, you need a good backpack. Top of the line hiking backpacks can get up into the $200 range. If you want to spend that much on a pack for an emergency evacuation kit that you’ll hopefully never have to use, go right ahead, but it’s not necessary. I spend $40 on an Everest hiking backpack. Yours doesn’t have to be an Everest, but regardless of what you choose, be sure that it fits the bill.

As far as material is concerned, I recommend polyester. Polyester is lightweight, resilient, moisture resistant, and relatively inexpensive. You’ll also want to be sure to pick up a pack with several compartments. Mine has two extra compartments on the side, several small pockets in the front, and a top pouch where I can store my water accessibly. Finally, make sure your pack comes equipped with a waist strap. That suckers going to get heavy, and the added support will take a lot of stress off of your back.

As far as food is concerned, you’re going to be seeking cuisine with a long shelf life. Not only do these consumables tend to not require refrigeration, but in many cases, you can stock up now, and still be safe to eat in a half decade.

Considering the lack of space we’re dealing with in the backpack, the key is to choose lightweight foods with exceptionally high calories. Mainstay bars, for instance are perfect. You can get 3600 calories (more than enough to keep an average grown man moving for a full day) all packed into one bar. MREs are also your friends. They take up a bit more space, and tend to be more expensive, but they offer a full meal, packed with energy and vitamins, are self heating (no fire required), and actually taste pretty good.

Regarding water - a clear staple - always carry a full-sized collapsible container, as you never know when you’ll find a fresh source for a refill. Also, get at least one pack of water purification tablets to help prevent disease caused by harmful bacteria and parasites. Finally, give yourself a head start with a case of 4.227 ounce water pouches. That obscure measurement isn’t random; it’s what the Red Cross recommends you consume at minimum to digest a healthy meal.

For shelter, pack light, pack smart. We’re not going to be living in the lap of luxury here, but we’ll stay alive. Pick up a cheap, lightweight tube tent, for every two people potentially in your party. They can be set up anywhere, and they’ll keep you out of the elements. If you’re an experienced backpacker, you can create your own tent from tarp and nylon rope, but a packaged tube tent will definitely suffice. Also, stock up on both emergency blankets and sleeping bags, as well as moisture tight ponchos. The thing you DO NOT need to be is wet.

Darkness, cold temperatures, and the need for cooking are almost inevitable. To adequately prepare, I recommend a set of long burning emergency candles, a cube-fuel flat stove, and, of course, water proof matches (I’d pack these in different locations on your person as well as your backpack). I would also strongly recommend at least one LED flashlight, ideally rechargeable by kinetic energy (shaking or hand crank).

Pack a well-stocked first aid kit. If you go online you’re likely to run across 250+ piece kits. This isn’t necessary. Your average 80 piece kit is going to have more than enough than you need. If the kit doesn’t include a book on first aid basics, or at least a tutorial on how to use the items included, I highly recommend you invest in one. Oh, and read it now, so you aren’t forced to learn under extreme duress.

As far as tools go, you’ll need to exercise some restraint here to prevent yourself from turning your lightweight emergency backpack into a 200 lbs tool shed. Invest in a Leatherman style multi-tool, which includes a screwdriver, pliers, a saw, a knife, and other miscellaneous devices. A Swiss Army knife, though they don’t typically have pliers, can also be a nice compliment. Personally, I’ve included both. You’ll also want to consider packing a folding shovel. A shovel can be extremely beneficial, as it can be used from everything to “cleaning up after yourself” to rerouting flowing water from your campsite. Lastly, one of the most underrated items is a good pair of workman’s gloves. You’re going to be putting your hands in some dangerous places, and working your fingers to death. Cuts and blisters can be a serious show stopper, so get some protection.

As far as miscellaneous items go, I personally plan to pack a pistol. The laws of your region may prevent this option, however, I always carry a gun on my person. A handgun in the right hands can help you hunt, and defend yourself from wild animals and general chaos after the fallout. Regardless of whether or not you carry a gun on you, you need to have some cash. I shouldn’t have to explain the significance of cash here, so just pack it. In addition, I bought myself an inexpensive, however, comfortable pair of walking boots that I keep by my bag. While this is optional, you don’t want to be walking around in no man’s land in a pair of high heels.

The link I mentioned beforehand includes several other items that you may find extremely helpful, but the staples I mentioned should give you a solid jump on staying together and keeping yourself and your family alive. Pack light and smart, and you’ll be alright. Good luck out there!

This guy breaks down the contents of his kit


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    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 

      6 years ago from East Coast

      Very useful information in one place. I think it's good to be proactive and something such as this is a very good step even if one doesn't go to any further lengths.

    • profile image

      Uncle Bob 

      7 years ago

      Please have a look at our pre-packed Emergency Bug Out Bags at

    • rs217000 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Columbus, OH

      Kosmo - you sound like the John Rambo type - a bit more hardcore than me :)

      Thanks for the tip on the show. I've seen trailers for it. It looks right up my alley.

      Thanks again!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley Marks 

      8 years ago from California

      Hey, rs217000, (weird name!) do you watch the survival shows on the Discovery channel? Don't miss "Dual Survival," the latest offering. Anyway, if you have some survival skills, there are only four things you need in a survival situation - a heavy camping knife, matches or some other way of starting a fire, a water bottle and a compass. The latter isn't necessary if you know the sky and how to read the terrain. That's all ya gotta know, dude. Of course, it always helps to have some chow. Ha! Later!

    • profile image

      Wife Who Saves 

      8 years ago

      Good advice, nice hub. I believe in the old phrase of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. I have a backpack with important paperwork and irreplaceable photos as well. Those who live in condos or apartments in northern climates know how common winter fires are and how fast a fire can spread in older buildings.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      8 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Great advice, hopefully never needed! Thanks for drawing it to our attention.

    • Zakmoonbeam profile image

      Michael Murchie 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Great stuff! Will begin my preparations as this is really useful advice and is well presented.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi rs-what a great hub-well written and chockful of great info. Wow, you've made the task of organizing a survival pack seem very simple. Thanks. Welcome to hubpages and congratulations on your nomination for the hubnugget award. Good luck.

    • rs217000 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Columbus, OH

      Wow! I haven't been on in a few days - thank you all for the great feedback!

      Sounds like a lot of you are on the same page...glad I'll have so many friends around after the bomb drops!

    • elayne001 profile image


      8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      I have a 72-hour kit, although not as cool as yours. Great info. Kudos on the nomination.

    • Sallie Pinkerton profile image

      Sallie Pinkerton 

      8 years ago from USA

      For some reason this hub instills images of tasty Cliff bars. A necessary part of every survivalist backpack, no?

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      8 years ago from Washington

      Good information - when our daughter was at home, she always had these made up for us in case of earthquakes, etc. I must confess without her tutelage I had better get busy! Congrats on the nomination!

    • fetty profile image


      8 years ago from South Jersey

      Great, useful hub. I , also, have bookmarked this. Congratulations on you hubnugget nomination, too!

    • LAZY BOY profile image

      LAZY BOY 

      8 years ago from Europe

      great hub and some really useful advice. This is one of those things I always mean to get around to doing but never do. Perhaps this will inspire me.

    • NamVetRich profile image


      8 years ago from Springfield Oregon

      What a great idea for a Hub, and very useful. You put alot of thought into this hub, very well done. I now have a back pack already for hopefully just hiking.

    • Deborah Donados profile image

      Deborah Donados 

      8 years ago from Portland

      Great information here. I have a couple of these, and a cache of supplies in case of a long power outage at home. (I have to keep a spreadsheet to keep up with expiration dates, etc.)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Bookmarked for future use!

      Official announcement: This hub has been nominated in the Hubnuggets! Congratulations. That link will explain more.

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • outdoorsguy profile image


      8 years ago from Tenn

      LOL actually its come in handy over the years. makes going hiking easy. and I can leave in ten minutes or less. I even keep one strapped to the four wheeler.

      My Dog even has a saddle bag pack so she can lug her own food and bowl LOL. though somehow I end up with it so she can run around like a nut case.

    • rs217000 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Columbus, OH

      Hey, thanks a lot man! Five packs? You put me to shame - you're probably the only person on Earth actually hoping for a disaster (just kidding, of course).

    • outdoorsguy profile image


      8 years ago from Tenn

      Great Hub. I have five packs loaded and ready at all times. LOL. so when I get the chance to go on a long hike or an emergency all I have to do is add some extra clothing and off I go.


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