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The Best Emergency Preparedness Supplies for 2023

Jun 05, 2023

We have replaced our former disposable-respirator pick with one that's widely stocked: the valved 3M 8511.

Emergency-supply checklists are abundant across the internet, including recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (PDF), the American Red Cross, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But those lists can be intimidating in their breadth and their specificity. In reality, for the most part you can assemble a basic emergency kit out of stuff you may already own. And there's no such thing as a single kit that's exactly right for everyone.

"I think we focus too much on there trying to be one right way to prepare," said Jonathan McNamara, a regional communications manager for the Red Cross. "We almost overcomplicate these things and confuse people into thinking, ‘Well, my kit has got to have this in it.’ At the end of the day, my family's emergency kit, having two kids and a crazy dog, is going to look much different than somebody else's. You should definitely feel free to customize it for your family."

That said, there are some basics that everyone should keep on hand. And it's never a bad time to prepare for a crisis by stocking up on gear and organizing it so you know exactly where it is when you need to shelter in place during an emergency. (We also have a separate guide to go-bags should you need to leave your home in a hurry with a small amount of essentials.) Collectively, our staff put in hundreds of hours of research and tested nearly 100 different items to come up with a list of essentials that are indispensable in a natural disaster and helpful in everyday life, too. The items are organized into seven key categories, and by making sure you have these areas covered, you’ll end up with a best-on-the-block kit.

Of course, disaster prep is about more than just buying stuff. Develop a simple communication plan with your family so you know where to meet if power and cell service go down. Find out whether a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class is happening in your area (you can attend at no cost). Participate in community events, such as the ShakeOut earthquake drills held each October. Take a first-aid course. Mark your calendar to review and refresh your emergency kit once a year. And then sleep easier knowing that you’ll be ready to take care of yourself and your family if disaster strikes.

For more information on tools and preparedness for specific disaster scenarios, including ways to protect your home, check out our guides to hurricane, wildfire, and earthquake preparedness supplies and strategies. We’ve also included information here about how the pandemic has changed evacuation shelters.

We understand the temptation to pick up a ready-made emergency kit—both the at-home and go-bag varieties—and call it a day. Unfortunately, after studying the contents of a dozen and getting four to rip apart in person, we can say with certainty that none of the ones we’ve found so far are worth your money. (These are hot items of late, particularly go-bags; we’re seeing more and more being released, and we’ll continue to test them.)

The ones we looked at, priced from $70 to $200, were each designed to sustain two people for three days following a disaster, and they contained several dozen individual items, ranging from basics such as water and "food bars" to protective gear like ponchos, survival blankets, or a tarp. But the key safety gear you need—a radio, a flashlight, and a first-aid kit—were universally of poor quality and far inferior to our picks in those categories.

Of course, having a premade kit is certainly a lot better than nothing. But for the money, it won't be half as good as one you assemble yourself, with careful consideration of your own family's needs in mind.

This guide is a collective effort among staff writers and editors who have trained for disaster preparedness, put their knowledge to use during past natural disasters, and collectively logged hundreds of hours of research in this field.

FEMA recommends that you keep a three-day supply of water on hand—a gallon per person per day. That's generally enough to cover drinking water and basic hygiene needs. But after speaking with a half-dozen disaster-preparedness experts, we think the three-day recommendation is unreasonably modest. Scientists fear that a massive rupture along the San Andreas Fault could damage the aqueducts and pipelines that deliver water to Southern California, and that repairs could take anywhere from weeks to six months or longer (PDF). We’ve seen that floods and hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy can cause massive utility disruptions and contamination of municipal water supplies. Given those risks, as well as the relative ease of storing water, we think that stockpiling a 10- to 14-day supply is a reasonable goal, especially if you live in an earthquake zone. The best way to be sure you have an adequate and easily transportable water supply is to get some dedicated containers.

The best emergency-food strategy is to stock your cupboards full of the shelf-stable canned and dry goods you love and routinely eat—think soups, fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, cereals, pastas, nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter, and boxed milk (which, before it's opened, doesn't need refrigeration). These items are less likely to expire, since you’re eating and replacing them regularly. Popular Mechanics describes a stock-up plan that’ll feed a family of four for a month, with grocery-store items you’d eventually eat anyway. And if you keep the freezer door closed, that food should stay safe to eat for 72 hours into a blackout.

If you keep the freezer door closed, that food should stay safe to eat for 72 hours into a blackout.

Dedicated emergency ration bars like Datrex do have the impressive advantage of a five-year shelf life. But after we tested them, we can't recommend them. We tasted four brands—Datrex, ER Emergency Ration bars, Mainstay, and Mayday—and each was like chewing on a moist, mildly sweet chunk of compressed sawdust. We didn't find a standout winner in taste, but we did like the fact that Datrex bars come individually packaged, rather than in one large chunk divided into smaller pieces along scores (like you might find on a big chocolate bar). These types of bars can be crumbly and greasy; when you open a large package, it makes a mess. In an emergency, they’re a viable meal alternative, but don't expect anyone to derive comfort from these foods. You’re better off going with the stock-up plan.

This sturdy, portable 7-gallon plastic jug has smart features, including a tethered air vent for easy pouring.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.

Rigid water containers made of blue polyethylene consistently perform better than opaque collapsible ones, for both pouring and storage; they’re more durable and leak-resistant, and they prevent bacterial growth. We surveyed the field of jugs that met this criteria and called in five models for testing before concluding that the oversize, rugged, 7-gallon Reliance Aqua-Tainer is the best overall choice for disaster-preparedness purposes.

We think FEMA's three-day recommendation is unreasonably modest—especially for people in earthquake country.

The 7-gallon Aqua-Tainer was the biggest of the containers we looked at, and it has a built-in, break-proof handle that is relatively comfortable to use. The spigot is stored inside the cap when not in use, reducing the risk of its cracking or smashing. This jug also has a tethered, screw-on air-vent valve, so there are no tiny parts to lose, and there's no risk of leakage. Finally, the Aqua-Tainer is a better value than 5-gallon models made by the same company.

A couple of caveats: Unlike some other Reliance models, the Aqua-Tainer is not designed to be stacked. When full, the 7-gallon jug weighs close to 60 pounds. So the Reliance Aqua-Pak 5-Gallon, which is usually a few dollars more, may be a better choice for people who prefer a lighter load. Or you could just buy the bigger, cheaper jug and avoid filling it to the brim.

Reliance officially advises that people replace emergency water stored in its containers every 90 days. To avoid contaminating water with bacteria, clean the container first, and wash your hands vigorously before filling it. If you’re concerned about contamination after opening the jug, boiling water is the safest way to treat it. But be sure to let water boil for a full minute—three, if you’re at an altitude higher than 5,000 feet. And keep in mind that some water will evaporate, which is a concern if your supply is low.

If you’re without power, FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Red Cross all recommend purifying water using household bleach. The percentage of sodium hypochlorite found in your particular brand will determine the number of drops needed per gallon, but many of the available charts across the web don't take concentrated formulas into account. We recommend reading the CDC's guide to water purification to find the right formula for your brand of bleach; print out the water-purification guide (available in English and Spanish) and store it in your emergency kit. Be sure to use bleach that's less than four months old, and never use bleach that is scented or color-safe or that contains added cleaners.

This large drum, which is made of food-grade plastic, allows you to store an entire family's supply of water.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $154.

A family of four would need eight Aqua-Tainers to store a minimum two-week supply of water. An alternative option is to purchase a 55-gallon drum, like this one from Augason Farms. The company also sells an Emergency Water Storage Supply Kit, which comes with all the accessories you need to store and later use water, such as a siphon hose, a hand pump, and a liquid water treatment made of chlorine dioxide. (For simplicity's sake, we still recommend boiling water or using household bleach in an emergency setting. But when used correctly, chlorine dioxide can be more effective at killing certain parasites like cryptosporidium and giardia.) We’ve seen the price of these drums vary a lot, though they’re usually available with the treatment drops and pump for about $140 or less. When prices spike, you might consider buying the drum and components separately. And in our experience, we’ve found most blue 55-gallon drums of this type to be essentially the same.

The CDC recommends swapping out stored water every six months, and ideally you should keep your water in a cool, shaded location. If it's on concrete that gets hot, place it on a wood platform before filling. These drums will weigh 480 pounds when full, so if you’re in an earthquake zone, don't place them where they might potentially tumble off a ledge or down a hillside and hurt someone.

The consequences of not having access to clean water are far greater than mere stink. Staying clean helps you avoid spreading germs or harboring infection—common problems during extended disasters. (Gastrointestinal illness and wound infections were some of the most common infectious diseases that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (PDF), with at least five people dying from otherwise-minor wounds or abrasions.)

Staying clean helps you avoid spreading germs or harboring infection—common problems during extended disasters.

A quality first-aid kit, hand sanitizer, face masks, and super-thick garbage bags are emergency-kit must-haves, in our opinion. Many people also wisely pack basic personal-hygiene items (toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, tampons or menstrual pads, diapers) and a well-stocked first-aid kit in the car and maintain "bug-out" bags (that is, portable emergency kits). The CDC recommends that people keep at least a 7- to 10-day supply of prescription medications on hand (the Red Cross advocates stashing a month's worth), since supply chains could be interrupted and pharmacies could be closed after a disaster. Sometimes that's easy to arrange in advance, if, say, you rely on a device like an asthma inhaler or an EpiPen. But it might be difficult or expensive to procure an extra supply of other medications ahead of an emergency. The best advice we can give is to simply discuss your specific medical needs with your doctor in advance and make sure that you have physical copies of your prescriptions. It's also smart to switch to a 90-day prescription supply, if your insurance plan allows that.

This First Aid Only kit has all the necessary gear for treating minor scrapes, cuts, and burns (including an abundance of adhesive bandages), and it includes a decent first-aid booklet.

Everyone should take a basic first-aid course. Once you have those skills, you’ll need some supplies. The First Aid Only 299 Piece All-Purpose First Aid Kit (FAO-442) offers a wide selection of gear for treating minor cuts, burns, and scrapes (bandages, gauze, wipes, ointments, and painkillers), as well as some items for handling more-serious injuries (a trauma pad, gauze, and some dressing pads). The case opens like a book, and items are stowed in 10 clear plastic compartments, so you can easily find what you need in high-stress moments. One of the kit's highlights is its selection of 196 adhesive bandages in all shapes and sizes. At about 9 by 7 inches, this kit is also small enough to take with you during an evacuation. Other kits we looked at were less organized or didn't have enough of the essentials. The case is water-resistant, but we’ve found that water can leak in through the zipper. So if you decide to keep it outside of a devoted emergency-preparedness bin, or if you purchase an extra for everyday use, don't store it in an area where flooding is possible, like a cabinet under a bathroom sink. (It also easily fits inside a gallon-size zip-top bag, if you want extra protection.)

Be sure to check the expiration dates on both the medications and bandages, and set a reminder in your phone for when they need to be swapped out. We also strongly recommend adding naloxone (or Narcan) to any first-aid kit. With the opioid epidemic still devastating communities, you simply never know when you might be able to save a life, and the nasal-spray option is easy to administer. Ask a pharmacist at CVS or Walgreens for details; costs vary based on your insurance coverage and pharmacy copays.

Planning in advance for the number of people you expect to support in an emergency and for their needs can help you determine whether you require a larger and more-advanced kit.

The Sportsman 400 contains additional supplies for treating severe penetrating injuries and broken bones.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $125.

If you want something that can handle more-serious injuries and that offers more supplies, we recommend the Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman 400, which is equipped to serve seven people for up to 14 days. It costs significantly more, around $125, but it's worthwhile if you want a larger kit that includes equipment to treat severe penetrating injuries, broken bones, and serious bleeding. Such scenarios are typically better left to medical professionals, but if you live in an area where a disaster like an earthquake or flooding could make accessing medical aid difficult or impossible, this kit is a good buy.

The Sportsman 400 kit includes supplies not typically packed into smaller kits, like a one-way-valve CPR mask and a C-splint (for stabilizing broken or sprained limbs). To help stop serious bleeding, this kit also has WoundStop trauma dressing and a SWAT-T tourniquet, as well as the instructions on how and when to use them. To accommodate all this gear, the 400 is heavier and larger than our main pick, measuring 11 by 8 by 3 inches and weighing 2½ pounds.

You could buy all of these items separately, but the Sportsman 400 includes instructions with every item. And it's packed so that most anyone, trained or untrained, will be able to use the supplies properly. Even so, taking some training classes will ensure you’re even better prepared to use this kit's contents.

Even though the kit is stocked, it comes with only singles or doubles of certain items used for more-significant injuries, so you might consider getting additional triangular bandages (used for limb immobilization and stabilization, breaks, sprains, or large embedded objects) and 5-by-9 trauma pads (for stemming bleeding from large wounds). It's also smart to sock away more nitrile gloves (which you need to discard after every use but can be tough to come by due to the coronavirus pandemic) and a bottle of Betadine Antiseptic for disinfecting wounds.

Relatively comfortable, this mask filters out 95% of airborne particulates.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $8.

In the event of a wildfire, earthquake, or hurricane, smoke, dust and debris can make air unsafe to breathe. Mitigate the risk with an N95-certified respirator. We like the 3M 8511 N95 Cool Flow Valve Particulate Respirator, which is certified to filter out 95% of harmful particulate matter. Thanks to increased production, it's widely available online and in stores. In our testing, it stood out as the most comfortable respirator mask for long-term wear, since its design gave us space to breathe, and it had edges that didn't push against our cheeks. It sealed well against a wide variety of face shapes and sizes among our testers, who ranged from 5-foot-3 to 6-foot-1, with light to heavy builds. Whereas other disposable respirators have loosely stapled rubber bands for straps, the 3M 8511 has sturdier, woven straps that are less likely to snap or to catch in your hair. (They are latex-free, according to 3M.) The exhalation valve works as a dehumidifier, keeping your face cooler and lessening the chance that your glasses will fog up.

If you anticipate a scenario in which you might need to wear a face mask for longer periods of time, a reusable half-facepiece mask, like the 3M Rugged Comfort Quick Latch Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6501QL/49488, might be a better option. Be sure to have N95 or P100 filters on hand, which you must buy separately as either cartridges or flat inserts.

For information on masks and coronavirus protection, see our guide to cloth face masks and this article on our research into KN95 masks.

The coronavirus pandemic has greatly affected the ability to find Purell, our hand sanitizer pick. Rather than focus on former testing criteria, we think it's most important to store extra of any brand that's effective.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $20.

Oh, how we miss the days when we sat around debating the tactile merits of various hand sanitizers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, supplies can fluctuate. So the only thing you should consider now is making sure your sanitizer contains a minimum of 60% alcohol for efficacy. Many of the no-name brands popping up recently might offend your nose (find out why in our piece Why Do Hand Sanitizers Suddenly Smell So Awful?). But in a disaster scenario, anything that works is good enough for us. We don't recommend making your own unless you’re in a pinch, but if you must, be sure to follow the World Health Organization's formulations (PDF).

Husky's 42-gallon bags are extra-thick, so they ward off punctures—which is important if garbage pickup is delayed and your full trash bags end up sitting in your yard for weeks or longer.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $26.

Heavy-duty garbage bags belong in your kit for several reasons: You can use them for hurricane cleanup, as a duffel for transporting stuff, as makeshift ponchos, or as a small, basic tarp to keep supplies dry. A large-scale disaster could delay municipal garbage pickup for weeks. So you’ll want to stow trash in strong bags that can be kept outside without leaking or disintegrating. And you should have enough on hand so you don't run out.

After spending a decade in the building trades and shoving sharp objects into all kinds of trash bags, coauthor Doug Mahoney can personally attest to the durability of Husky 42-gallon bags over that of the competition. The thick plastic even resists puncturing from broken glass and nail-embedded wood.

When it comes to emergency gear, one of the lessons we’ve learned is that a disaster kit doesn't have to be something you tuck away in a corner and drag out only when the worst happens. We’ve found that our recommended headlamp and lantern, for example, are among the most frequently used items on our overall list. You can stow the headlamp in a bedside drawer for emergencies, as well as for late-night reading when your partner is asleep. The lightweight lantern can stay on the front table, handy for when you need to walk a friend home after dark. You can practice your fire-making skills over the grill—or on your next camping trip. In fact, if disaster strikes and you’re staring at a bunch of equipment you’ve never used before, you’re asking for trouble.

This model is ruggedly built, powerful, and brighter than any other model we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $62.

Having no light during a power outage can be frustrating, demoralizing, and dangerous. After 15 hours of testing, we found the UST 60-Day Duro Lantern to be the best tabletop lantern. It's versatile: You can hold it by the handle on top, like a creepy old innkeeper; attach it to a carabiner (there's a loop on the base for additional hanging options); or simply set it on a table or the ground. This lantern is the brightest we tested by far, and it has a sturdy hard-plastic shell with grippy side strips that help prevent it from slipping out of your hand.

Bright, durable, and long-running, the Spot 350 offers the best mix of the most important features at an affordable price.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $0.

Although a lantern or flashlight can address most of your lighting needs during a power failure, they can be bulky or cumbersome to carry. Keep your hands free with the Black Diamond Spot 350 headlamp—the most capable headlamp we could find after our exhaustive research and testing. A version of the Spot has been at the top of our list since 2012. The updated 350 model gives us the same features we’ve always liked, but with 25 more lumens than the previous Spot, giving you a slight bump in brightness. A recent update to the Spot's top buttons makes them more intuitive to use than the single button on the older models; you’ll still need to experiment with clicking through various configurations, but we think the learning curve is fairly short. The headlamp also comes with a Brightness Memory mode, which means it can revert back to its previous setting whenever you turn it on. This model offers both a red-light option (which is good for when you’re switching it on and off at night) and a strobe option, for emergency signaling; it locks; its PowerTap technology lets you instantly transition the headlamp from full power to dimmed with one touch; and it weighs a decently lightweight 3 ounces with batteries installed. Although there are headlamps out there with brighter, higher-quality beams, none of them give you quite this level of performance and reliability at such a low price.

No backup fire starter we tested was as easy to use or created as many sparks as this model from The Friendly Swede.

It cooks your food, dries your clothes, warms you up, and signals distress—fire does it all, provided you can start one. A lighter or matches are the easiest option, but your best bet is to have a backup plan in case you run out. A single magnesium fire starter can last for years. And using the better ones, a complete novice can successfully light a fire after just a few tries. We tested five top-rated models by trying to light Vaseline-infused cotton balls, and we found that The Friendly Swede's Easy-Grip Fire Starter (two-pack) is the best choice. The trick to getting strong sparks with these tools is to scrape down the flint quickly and firmly, and this was easier to do with the Friendly Swede model's relatively long flint than it was with smaller, cheaper tools.

Also consider:

The Instafire burns hot and long, and a single packet can start multiple fires.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $32.

You definitely don't need a fire starter to light a fire, but if you’re dealing with wet wood or extreme conditions, it sure can make the process a lot easier. After researching 20 starters and burning five of them, we found that Instafire's Fire Starter pouches are the best tool for getting a fire going. The material lights quickly, burns hotter than anything else we tested, and stays lit long enough to get a fire roaring.

The Instafire Fire Starter consists of wood, rock, and wax. It doesn't emit any harmful chemicals when it burns. The pouches come in sets of 30, and each one contains enough to get four fires going—meaning that one purchase could help you start 120 fires. The envelope is waterproof, too, so it's a great pick for a hurricane or flood emergency.

Also consider:

In an emergency, keeping yourself warm or cool in extreme temperatures, hearing the latest news and getting in touch with family and friends is paramount, but doing so can be tough when the electricity goes down. By investing in a few pieces of hardware, you’ll be able to power electronics until the local utility companies restore services to your neighborhood.

The quietest, lightest, and most powerful 2,200 watt generator we tested is easy to start, and the Bluetooth app makes monitoring its power input simple.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,100.

We tested four 2,200-watt generators for our guide to portable generators, and it was clear that the Honda EU2200i is the best. It's not big enough to power an entire house, but with some smart power management, you can use it to keep the essentials going during an emergency. The Honda was the quietest, lightest, and most powerful generator we looked at—it even exceeded its listed capabilities and powered household items that caused the other generators to overload. Starting a gas engine can be frustrating, and that alone could keep someone from buying a generator. But only the EU2200i started on the first pull of the cord every single time we used it. In addition, you can easily monitor the Honda's power output through a Bluetooth-connected app, so during an outage you can manage (and maximize) the generator's operation from indoors. This is a relatively new feature that not many generators have. The EU2200i also has an onboard carbon monoxide detector that shuts the generator down if a concentration of the deadly gas gets too high, which can happen if the generator is running in an enclosed area. (And that's why you should never run one of these indoors or even in your garage with the doors open.)

Honda generators have an excellent reputation and recognition in the industry as the gold standard, but the hitch is that this quality comes at a cost. The EU2200i is typically priced over $1,000, about $400 more than other gas options, but its ease of use and dependability are worth the extra cost.

With great radio reception, NOAA early-warning notifications, and a hand crank that effectively revives it, the ER310 is a durable, compact radio that doubles as a flashlight and charging station.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $74.

A good emergency weather radio can tune in to AM/FM and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration channels (collectively known as the "weather band") to keep you informed as well as entertained, even if the power goes out. The Midland ER310 offers better reception, a brighter flashlight, and more-effective charging options than other radios we tested, including the ability to charge from dead through solar power or hand-cranking. More important, it can receive NOAA extreme-weather alerts, providing notifications that are both loud and readily visible so you won't miss any warnings. The ER310's convenient size makes it comfortable to carry, so it's easier to grab on the go. It was also one of the few radios we tested that lived up to their crank-generating claims: We found that just one minute of cranking produced 10 minutes of radio time or a few minutes of flashlight use. Plus, its durable body can stand up to heavy rain or a drop onto a hard surface.

If there's an emergency alert in your area, the ER310's built-in NOAA audible alarm and flashing display will make sure you notice. When the siren sounds and the lights begin blaring—it can be quite clamorous—you can press any button to switch the radio to your preferred (preprogrammed) NOAA weather channel to get the news. If you fail to turn on the radio before a minute goes by, the weather memory indicator flashes every five seconds to let you know that an alert has been issued, and it continues to do so until you press any button to turn the notice off. So if you have hearing loss, or if you’re out of the house when the alarm goes off, you can still find out if some ugly conditions are headed your way. The flashlight also has an SOS blinking pattern, and the radio has a button that sets off a high-pitched tone—beyond the range of human hearing—to attract the attention of rescue dogs if you’re really in distress.

More-sensitive gadgets may not function correctly while using this DC-to-AC converter, but a smoother converter costs $100 or more.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

If there's a power outage or cutoff and you own a car, you can harness the vehicle's 12-volt DC electrical system to run or charge a wide variety of the 110-volt AC hardware you’d normally plug into a wall at home. The Bestek 300W Power Inverter is a good, inexpensive option that will work with less-complicated electronics. Although you can use it to charge a laptop, you might run into issues with screen flickering or even risk damaging your electronics if you have a cheaper power supply (such as the one that came with our tester's Dell Chromebook).

If you primarily want to power a laptop, a TV, or other sophisticated electronics, you should spend more on the Go Power! GP-SW150-12 Pure Sine Wave Inverter. For more details, check out our road-trip gear guide.

This lightweight solar charger puts out a lot of power for the size. Plus, it has three output ports, to charge more devices at the same time than the competition.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $70.

If you don't have a vehicle to run an inverter, and your home's electricity is down, you can use the power of the sun to charge some of your gear. The BigBlue 28W USB Solar Charger produced the most power of any portable solar charger we tested. Yet it's still small and light enough to fit into the typical camping backpack, hiking daypack, or emergency kit. Although other models nearly matched our pick for power and size, the BigBlue charger has unique features that make it more versatile and durable, including a third output port and weatherproof port protectors.

Also consider:

These batteries score highly in third-party tests for capacity and storage ability, and they have a 10-year shelf life.

We usually recommend cost-effective, environmentally friendly rechargeable batteries to power hardware that you can't recharge or plug into a wall outlet. But during a power outage, rechargeable batteries aren't very rechargeable. So we think it's smart to keep a few disposable batteries on hand, particularly Duracell's Quantum Alkaline AA Batteries.

Available from Amazon in boxes of 12 (and also available in AAA and D sizes), the Quantum batteries are perfect for use with flashlights, headlamps, and portable radios. With their 10-year shelf life, they’ll very likely be fully charged and ready to use when the time comes to pull them out of storage. This lifespan is significantly longer than that of most alkaline batteries, many of which have a shelf life of around two years before their stored power begins to degrade.

Duracell Quantum batteries are a little expensive: Based on the price of a 12-pack, a single AA battery will set you back almost $2. But we think that their long shelf life and test-proven staying power (when used in low-drain devices) make them worth the cost. That said, if you’re looking for something more affordable, a 100-pack of AmazonBasics AA Performance Alkaline Batteries is a good choice. They provide less power than the Duracell Quantums, but they go for around 27¢ a pop, so the price is right. And they also have a 10-year shelf life.

The key tools to have on hand for an emergency—everything from a road atlas to good duct tape—are also the key tools to have on hand for life in general. And here's a common theme we noticed in this category: Although a great tool can be a genuine joy to use and will serve you well for years (if not decades), cheap imitators will waste your money and your time. Go for the good stuff.

In our tests, this gas can had the easiest spout to operate by far, and it didn't spill a drop when pouring.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $40.

Motor fuel is volatile, and even small quantities can flame up. However, storing a couple of gallons in a safe place—away from your house, not in your car, and far from electrical equipment or other potential sources of flame—is something you might consider if you’re pairing the gas with a backup generator. (As for your car, it's better to simply keep the tank at least half-full.) Another drawback to fuel-can storage: Gas loses potency over time, so long-term supplies need to be preserved with an additive product. But even then, you should rotate it out at least once a year—if not every season.

Despite all of that, having an empty gas can around is a good idea in case you ever need to obtain or transfer gas without a car—gas cans were among the most coveted items during Hurricane Sandy. Full or empty, the container you choose should be leak-proof and easy to pour with. After performing eight hours of research and testing four different cans, we chose the 2½-gallon plastic container from No-Spill as our pick for most people. The No-Spill stands out because it has a patented, proven nozzle design that prevents spills; you just push a button and pour. We also like its unique fuel-level window, which lets you see how much gas is in the can. Note that our chosen size weighs close to 17 pounds when full. You might want to opt for No-Spill's 1¼-gallon version for easier transport if you live in, say, a flood zone and anticipate possibly needing to evacuate. A 5-gallon version is also available, and both have the same great nozzle.

This simple but versatile wrench was invented for disaster response.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $17.

If you smell, hear, or see evidence of a gas leak in the aftermath of an earthquake or other disaster, your first priority is to turn your gas off. To accomplish that, you need to do two simple things: Learn where your gas valve is (ahead of time), and find a wrench that will do the job.

A quarter-turn of the metal gas valve from the vertical to the horizontal position typically shuts off your supply. In almost all cases, a 12-inch or larger adjustable crescent wrench will work. If you already have one, consider keeping it in a waterproof Ziploc bag duct-taped to a wall or pipe next to the valve. That’ll ensure you won't have to spend even a minute looking for it in an emergency. (And be sure to show the location and instructions for shut-off to everyone in your family.) Preadjust the wrench to fit your valve before sealing it into the bag.

If you don't have a crescent wrench, or you prefer to keep yours in your toolbox, you can purchase a dedicated shut-off tool. After a couple of hours of online research and discussions with a handful of experts, we feel comfortable recommending the On-Duty Emergency Gas and Water Shutoff 4-in-1 Tool. It was designed by firefighters in the aftermath of the San Francisco Bay Area's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and is often recommended to students of CERT emergency-preparedness classes.

The 11-inch aluminum tool is sturdy and rustproof, and it won't risk causing a spark, as a steel tool hitting steel might (an important consideration when gas is leaking). You can also use it to shut off your water valve, pry open doors, and dig through debris.

Don't be too quick to use it, though. Smell a leak? Yes, turn off the gas. But note that in many cities, the gas company may have to come to your home to turn your gas back on. In a citywide disaster, scheduling that visit could take days or even weeks. So avoid turning the gas off preemptively if you’ll need it to cook, boil water, or heat your home during a blackout or some other power outage.

A favorite of tool aficionados, the Skeletool CX has all of the essential implements you’ll likely need, but it's also easy to carry and use.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $80.

The Leatherman Skeletool CX is a multifunction tool that everyone should consider as a component of their emergency-preparedness kit, if not as a part of their everyday gear. It stood out from the other 18 multi-tools we tested by focusing on the functionality and construction of a few essential tools (instead of cramming dozens of tools into a single bulky body). The tools include pliers, a bit driver, a pocket clip, and a carabiner/bottle opener. It also has a high-quality, 2.6-inch 154CM carbon-fiber stainless steel blade, which you can deploy with one hand—a great feature you won't find on many other multi-tools.

We also like that the carabiner adds the convenience and security of being able to attach the multi-tool to a backpack or a belt loop, rather than just having it loose in a pocket. Short of a hammer or a socket set, this pick has just about everything you could possibly need to make an emergency repair in the field or around the house.

This cheap, brightly colored whistle proved louder and easier to hear at a distance than more expensive products.

No one wants to think about being trapped during a natural disaster, but it does happen. Screaming for help might get a rescuer's attention, but the high-pitch shrill of a whistle is far more likely to cut through the din of a wildfire, windstorm, or emergency sirens.

We tested six whistles over water in varying wind conditions and through densely wooded forest. Our conclusion: The Shoreline Marine Emergency Survival Whistle is the best choice for disaster preparedness. It was both the loudest and cheapest model, registering a piercing 101.1 decibels, according to NoiSee (a sound-measurement app we used that ranks highly with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). The only whistle that registered more loudly, the Acme Thunderer metal coach's whistle (101.2 decibels), wasn't audible at longer distances.

If you ever need to use one, call on the international whistle code: One blast means "Where are you?" Two blasts mean "Come to me." Three blasts mean "I need help."

The Shoreline is brightly colored (and thus easy to spot), and because it looks like a normal whistle, almost anyone can pick it up and instinctively know how to use it. In an emergency, the whistle is even more useful if you memorize the international whistle code: One blast means "Where are you?" Two blasts mean "Come to me." Three blasts mean "I need help." (Each blast should last three seconds.)

This duct tape adheres to pretty much any surface.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.

As any MacGyver fan will tell you, duct tape is an indispensable tool, and Duck Brand MAX Strength Duct Tape is the best all-around choice we’ve found. Compared with other brands we tested, it has the strongest adhesive and highest strength, but it's still flexible enough to wrap around curved or uneven objects—like the finger of a glove or a battered pair of work boots. Duck Brand MAX tape sticks to a wide range of surfaces—including wood, glass, plastic, and concrete—so it's ideal for binding, mending, gaffing cable, or even keeping gauze in place (if medical tape isn't available).

EasyFinder maps are simpler to read than those in any other road atlas.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $8.

Most people have a smartphone, and most smartphones have GPS receivers and navigation software to get them where they want to go. But when cellular connectivity goes down, Google Maps and many other popular apps won't be able to give you directions to emergency aid or shelter. Granted, a number of navigation apps will let you download mapping information, so a cellular connection isn't required, but you’ll be lost once your smartphone runs out of power. To get around that, we recommend that you keep in your emergency kit or car physical maps of the area you live in and the places you visit.

For navigating urban areas and highways, we like Rand McNally's EasyFinder maps. Typically priced well under $10 on Amazon or Rand McNally's website, EasyFinder maps are available for all US states and Canadian provinces, as well as for major cities across North America. Each map displays thorough street, rural road, highway, and interstate information, as well as the locations of hospitals, police stations, schools, public buildings, and religious institutions—all of which can be vital meeting points during a disaster. Because EasyFinder maps are laminated, with tear-resistant folds, you can use them in wet conditions or write on them with a dry-erase marker or grease pencil.

Unfortunately, Rand McNally's maps don't provide detailed coverage of a vast number of the smaller cities and towns that dot our continent. If you live in such an area, we recommend taking a look at OpenStreetMap. You can view the site's maps with a "humanitarian layer," which highlights emergency buildings and evacuation routes—an incredibly useful tool when you need to get away from danger or find help.

In cases of flooding, fires, and other natural or manmade obstacles, it may not be safe to take to the streets. If your predicament requires you to head through the wilderness to reach safety, you’ll want a detailed topographical map to learn about the terrain you’ll be traversing. In that case, check out MyTopo, which specializes in custom maps that you can print to suit your needs and laminate for use in any weather.

Of course, even if you have a good old-fashioned paper map with you, determining which direction you’re headed in can be difficult. That's where a compass comes in handy.

This cheap, reliable compass is perfect for ameteur orienteering.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $26.

The Suunto A-10 is an inexpensive, high-quality baseplate compass that provides everything a novice orienteer needs to stay on course on marked trails, city streets, and areas where landmarks abound. The compass is made of scratch-resistant acrylic, with a fixed declination correction scale, a jewel bearing, and dual scales (centimeters or inches) so you can use it with maps that employ either unit of measurement. The A-10 even comes with a brief basic guide on how to use a compass and map—though you’re likely better off learning as much about orienteering as possible before you need to put the skill to use.

If you have sand on hand, cheap polypropylene bags will do the job. But for city folk looking for hassle-free prep, "sandless" bags are the way to go.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $25.

Sudden downpours come with a heightened risk for flooding and mudslides. You can help control floodwaters by stacking sandbags in front of doorways or garages to block seepage or by piling them up to form makeshift mini dams. The preferable approach is to fill the bags with sand—if you don't have any on your property, local emergency agencies will sometimes supply it. If not, dirt will work, but it's not as effective. The best tactic (PDF) is to fill sandbags about half-full (two-thirds full at most), and seal the top with some empty space inside so that the sand has room to shift and settle within. This is a two-person job, and here's a good tutorial (PDF) on sandbag placement once they’re ready.

Though sandbag shoppers will find many different types of bags, including biodegradable burlap and long-lasting nylon, woven polypropylene sandbags offer the right balance of affordability and durability for the typical homeowner planning to use them to block or redirect storm waters. Amazon's 16-by-26-inch polypropylene bags are highly rated.

City folk and others with modest sandbag needs may instead want to buy compact, lightweight "sandless" bags, which absorb and block water using sodium polyacrylate, a hyper-absorbent polymer that also serves as the miracle pee-sucker in disposable diapers. We like the 12-by-24-by-3½-inch Quick Dam Flood Bags. Quick Dam also makes a model ideal for blocking the gap at the bottom of garage doors—the 6.5-inch-wide, 10-foot-long Quick Dam QD610-1 Flood Barrier. Owners report that it performs well over many months of use; you can leave it in place through a rainy season or dry it out and restore it. Like regular sandbags, these bags are essentially disposable and designed to last months rather than years (storing them out of direct sun will prolong their life). Also keep in mind that their polymer filling is ineffective against saltwater.

Easy to handle and effective against all types of common fires, this First Alert model exceeds the minimum recommendations for the home and is easy to find.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $45.

Aside from being as effective against all types of common household fires (wood and paper, burning liquids, electrical) as other models like it, the First Alert PRO5 has further advantages. First, it exceeds the minimum size recommendations of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) yet weighs a manageable 5 pounds. We also prefer this type over a disposable model because it has a sturdy and reliable metal valve (not plastic). And if you have to use the PRO5, you can refill it for about half the cost of getting a new extinguisher. You can find a number of extinguishers that share most of the PRO5's features. But after spending 30 hours researching fire extinguishers, we found that the PRO5 has the edge because of its wide availability.

Where you store your cache of disaster supplies will depend on your region and your risk factors. Are forecasted hurricanes and winter storms your main concern? You’ll have no problem storing supplies in the garage or deep in a closet. Is flooding a probable hazard? Don't keep your emergency gear in the basement. For those in earthquake territory, storing supplies outside may make the most sense, especially if you live in a mild climate and don't have to worry about freezing temperatures (which can damage your items). In the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, garage doors were knocked off-kilter and jammed, trapping supplies inside. If you’re storing your gear outside in a warm climate, choose a cool, shaded spot, to avoid sun damage.

This easy-to-carry container is the best water- and impact-resistant storage bin we’ve found.

We like water-resistant bins because you can store them outside, unlike a duffel or most other bags. After testing 32 models by dropping them, soaking them with a garden hose, and hauling them around stuffed to the brim, we concluded that the Iris Clear Watertight Tote is the best water- and impact-resistant storage bin.

Chunky hand grips make the Watertight Tote comfortable to carry, and its stiff sides refuse to flex, whether the bin is empty or full. Although our drop tests showed that the plastic may crack a little if you hit it hard enough, this container won't pop open, thanks to its six-latch locking lid. That's important when you’re storing foodstuffs and electronics for months—even years—at a stretch. And this bin is made of clear plastic, so you can easily see what's inside when it's closed.

The Iris also comes in 12 different sizes across different retailers. But only the two largest sizes, 74 quarts and 103 quarts, were big enough to store all of our key emergency gear (minus water and extra food) with room to spare. Consider a second bin for storing emergency meals.

A larger, burlier box is a good choice if you want to be able to lock up your gear or throw it into a pickup bed and take it on the road.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $70.

If you want a larger, burlier box, we recommend the Rubbermaid 1191 ActionPacker. At 35 gallons (140 quarts), it holds much more than the largest Iris container. It's also heavy-duty enough to serve as a bench or stool, and it's designed to be locked with a cable lock or padlock, if you’re concerned about theft. Some drawbacks: You can't see what's inside at a glance, it's heavy (16.3 pounds), and it can be difficult for the average person to carry alone. But if your location leaves you vulnerable to disasters that might cause you to flee your home—say, wildfires or hurricanes—and you envision throwing all of your gear into the back of a pickup and possibly camping out until the danger passes, this badass bin could be your best bet.

For everyone: In addition to assembling all of your supplies, form an emergency plan with your family. Designate an out-of-state contact that you can rely on to relay information (during a disaster, making long-distance calls is often easier than calling locally). Ideally, carry that person's phone number in your wallet, not just in your phone. Collect copies of important documents and keep them either in your emergency kit or in another secure place where they remain easy to grab. In an extended disaster, ATMs and credit card machines may go down. Save up a couple hundred dollars in small bills to keep with your kit or documents.

For parents (of children and pets): If you have small children, formula and/or baby food and diapers may be important items in your emergency kit. Prepare on behalf of your pets by stocking up on extra food and prescription meds, and by keeping a leash or crate at hand. The ASPCA has comprehensive information on how to handle pets in a disaster.

In the car: Keeping emergency drinking water, some long-lasting but appetizing snack bars, a basic first-aid kit, an emergency blanket or two, and some old running shoes in your vehicle is a good idea for everyday breakdowns as well as for times of greater crisis. We also have recommendations for a number of other car-specific emergency supplies in our road-trip guide. Keeping your gas tank full is also one of the smartest things you can do.

For people in tornado territory: Even the worst tornadoes—like the one that killed 158 people in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011—affect a small geographic area compared with hurricanes and earthquakes. If tornadoes are your primary hazard, you should be more concerned about knowing how to shelter in place than about surviving without help for an extended period after a storm. Though many communities have tornado sirens, a good NOAA-equipped weather radio is crucial for people in Tornado Alley. Identify the best "safe room" in your home (a storm cellar, a basement, or an interior room on the lowest floor, with no windows) and gather there before the storm hits (bring your pets, too!). FEMA has recommendations for where to go, depending on where you are when a storm is approaching.

Flying debris is a major tornado hazard. If your safe room contains windows or unattached objects, covering yourself with a heavy blanket could help. When you emerge, wear sturdy shoes and heavy gloves to protect yourself from broken glass. The CDC has reservations about recommending helmets for tornado protection; the agency says that spending time looking for a helmet could delay the more-crucial goal of getting to a safe space. But scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say they can be lifesavers (especially motorcycle helmets with a full-face shield).

For people in tsunami territory: Are you in a tsunami risk zone such as the Pacific Northwest coast? Did you just feel a big earthquake? Do not pause to grab anything. Just run or drive to high ground. (Oregon and Washington coast-dwellers, enter your address here to assess your risk.) Put important documents on a thumb drive today and give them to a relative (or another trusted keeper who lives in a different area). If you aren't familiar with the quickest route to higher ground from your home and work, learn it.

The COVID-19 pandemic required new levels of preparedness to stay safe if you had to evacuate to a shelter during 2020, with local emergency managers following considerations put in place by FEMA in its Mass Care/Emergency Assistance Pandemic Planning Considerations (PDF) guide. In a press release about the 2021 hurricane season, FEMA now strongly encourages vaccination as part of your overall planning: "In addition to being prepared for a disaster, ensuring that you and your family are vaccinated against COVID-19 helps your entire community be more resilient before future disasters," the statement reads. "COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 disease, especially severe illness and death. Vaccines also reduce the risk of people spreading COVID-19, making all our communities safer."

Since most shelters are designated and run by local emergency-management offices, be sure to monitor yours closely.

FEMA now defers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it comes to other coronavirus safety considerations inside a shelter and points to that agency's guidelines: "The risk of COVID-19 in a public disaster shelter is lower for fully vaccinated people. However, precautions should still be taken, as transmission risk in these settings is higher and likely increases with the number of unvaccinated people present. Thus, fully vaccinated shelter residents should continue to follow all rules set by the shelter which may include wearing masks correctly, maintaining physical distance (at least 6 feet), covering coughs and sneezes, and washing hands frequently."

Since most shelters are designated and run by local emergency-management offices, be sure to monitor yours closely, know its rules, and bring your own PPE if you can. (Any Red Cross volunteers on hand should have face coverings and other PPE supplies if there aren't any at your shelter, but they also advise bringing your own.) FEMA has a guide to state emergency agencies and their websites, but there is no one central database broken down by all states and their county offices. Frankly, most government websites are so hard to navigate that our best advice to find information locally is to just Google your county and state name along with "emergency management" to see specifics for your area.

Jonathan McNamara, regional communications director, American Red Cross, July 10, 2020

Community Emergency Response Team, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Make A Plan,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

National Institutes of Health

National Interagency Fire Center

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Also consider: Also consider: Also consider: For everyone: For parents (of children and pets): In the car: For people in tornado territory: For people in tsunami territory: