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How to Create a 72-Hour Emergency Kit

disaster supply kit items laid out on table
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While a zombie apocalypse isn’t likely, real disasters can strike at any time, and it’s smart to be ready. If you want to be prepped when a flood or tornado hits, you should start with a 72-hour emergency kit.

What Is a 72-Hour Emergency Kit?

A 72-hour emergency kit is a collection of items you can use to get through an emergency. This includes basics like food, water, and medications. It also includes items you need specifically for certain members of your household, like pets and babies.

The idea is that the kit contains everything the people in your home will need for 72 hours. It’s also important that you put all of those items in containers that are easy to carry. Consider the fact that you may have to walk to somewhere safe. A couple of backpacks or duffel bags are a wiser choice than plastic bins.

What to Put in Your 72-Hour Emergency Kit

Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) packet
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There are some specific things you should have in even the most basic emergency kit. These items include:

Food

Mahatma Gandhi proved that you could go 21 days without food in his longest fast, but he had also trained himself in such matters. Yes, humans can survive for weeks without food, but that kind of hunger takes its toll. After a few days without food, you might notice weakness, lack of motivation, and reduced decision-making ability, all of which get worse the longer you go without eating.  

For food, look for non-perishable items that you can eat without cooking. MREs from the military come in handy, and they are safety sealed with extended expiration dates. You’ll need enough for three days’ worth of meals for each person. Invest in mess kits as well, which ensure each person has a plate, cup, and silverware. If you pack canned foods, add a manual can opener.

Water

Your body is made up of a lot of water, around 60%. This makes water consumption even more important than food. The length of time a person can go without water varies. Scientific America explains it well: some people may only survive hours when extremely dehydrated, but others could be fine for a week with no water intake. Going without water can still cause health issues, and it’s important to have a clean source with you in case of emergencies.

Even if you could go without water for an extended period, you shouldn’t. According to a study from the National Institute of Health, even mild levels of dehydration can impact your cognitive performance:

Being dehydrated by just 2% impairs performance in tasks that require attention, psychomotor, and immediate memory skills, as well as assessment of the subjective state.

In other words, even when you suffer mild dehydration, you could be making bad decisions—not something you want when you and your family are dealing with an emergency.

For your 72-hour emergency kit, you should have one gallon of water per day for each person. Since a 72-hour kit is meant to get you through three days, for two people you’d need six gallons of water. That’s a lot to carry, so you’ll want to find a convenient way to pack it and make it portable. A hydration pack makes it easier to carry water, but they only hold about three liters. For water stored in plastic, look for BPA-free jugs.

If you can’t carry that much water (or you want a good backup to your supply), consider adding iodine water purification tablets to your kit. For around $11, you can get enough to treat around 25 quarts of water. Another great option is to invest in a Lifestraw Personal Water Filter. For around $50, you can get three straws—each is good for purifying over 700 gallons of water.

First Aid Kit

Military Medical Aid, first aid kit
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Your well-stocked first aid kit should include bandages, wraps, ointments, pain medications, antidiarrheals, and antacids. Even for $25, you can get a first aid kit that includes everything you’ll need for treating minor illness and trauma.

You should also plan for any prescription or over-the-counter medications you or your family might need over the 72 hours. 

You might also want to have a book on common first aid, as well as a book on doing emergency medical care. Depending on the emergency, you could encounter broken legs and other extreme injuries.

Personal Items

Make sure to bring important papers along with you. The things you should make copies of and keep in your emergency kit include:

  • Insurance cards
  • Birth certificates
  • Deeds to your property
  • Bank statements

Pack all of these important papers in a watertight container and put them in your emergency pack.

If you wear glasses or use contacts, make sure you pack extras in your emergency kit, plus the supplies you’ll need with them (contact solution, eyeglass repair kit, etc.). Women should pack any feminine supplies that they might need, too.

Basic Emergency Items

There are a lot of other items you should have in your emergency kit. What exactly you include depends on your situation, but here are a few basics to get you started:

  • Hand crank (or battery-powered) radio
  • Flashlight (those with LED bulbs last a lot longer)
  • Batteries for battery-powered items (like the radio and the flashlight)
  • Items to signal for help—a whistle and some flares may be useful
  • A small tool kit
  • Maps of your local area
  • Trash bags and duct tape (this will come in handy for protection from contaminants and for keeping trash under control)
  • Personal sanitation items like wet wipes and toilet paper (biodegradable, please)
  • Cell phone with a backup battery and portable chargers (preferably solar-powered chargers)
  • A small, portable fire extinguisher

For Ease and Comfort

There are also items you’ll want to pack with your 72-hour kit that will make your time away from home more comfortable. They’re for more than just making you feel at home: they’ll also help with your survival.

A sleeping bag for each person and a spare warm blanket for everyone will help you avoid hypothermia. A change of clothes and some hiking boots will help with comfort and protection. A tent may also come in handy.

Paper and pencils allow you to keep track of events. To keep your mind off of tragedy and to keep children distracted, pack puzzles, books, and games.

Keep Your 72-Hour Emergency Kit Maintained

Hand completing Emergency Preparation List by Equipment
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Keep your packs in a cool, dry place; this will help keep the food safe. Check expiration dates periodically and replace foods as needed. Food should be stored in airtight containers and then placed in something that will keep rodents out, like a storage bin.

If your group or family changes in size, you may need to increase or decrease what’s in your kit. 

Tips for Staying Prepared

No one knows where they’ll be when an emergency strikes. You should have emergency kits prepared and stored in various areas.

At home, make sure your entire family knows where the emergency kit is kept. You may not be there when something happens. This will be where your most supplied kit is.

Keep a 24-hour kit at your place of work. You may get stuck there during an emergency. Have a backup of prescriptions, some non-perishable food items (like granola bars), and a gallon of water tucked away beside or in your desk. If you wear high heels or fancy, uncomfortable shoes to work, keep a pair of walking shoes with your kit as well.

You should also have an emergency kit in your car. Getting stranded in a broken-down vehicle is no fun, and you could be there for hours. A small kit with an extra set of clothing, a first aid kit, car repair tools, a blanket, and some snacks and water will make life easier. Once you have all of these kits in place, you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes from being prepared.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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