If you are just getting started in the prepping lifestyle, it can be more than a little bewildering when you are trying to figure out where you should start. There’s so much to do, so much to learn and so much to acquire!
Everywhere you go on the internet it seems like everyone has their own idea of what constitutes the ideal basic survival kit. Who do you listen to?
One authority you might give a little credence to is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
Though sometimes criticized for being too big, unwieldy and inefficient to effectively handle the largest disasters they remain on the front line of civil disaster response at the federal level. More relevant to our concerns they have spent millions upon millions of dollars in taxpayer funds researching the issue! You might say they know a thing or two that we can use..
As a result of that extensive research, FEMA has assembled a surprisingly comprehensive list of items that citizens should obtain in order to call themselves basically ready for surviving the aftermath of a disaster.
The list is hardly comprehensive, and does not take into account any special weather, terrain or circumstances, but they definitely got it right when it comes to a fundamental level of preparedness, and every item on the list is one you will definitely need no matter what kind of situation you are facing.
We have included the list in its entirety below along with our commentary.
What is this!? A List for Newbies!?
Not exactly. A list of survival items you’ll see below are those recommended by FEMA, and sometimes derided as elementary, basic or generally ineffective by hardcore preppers and survivalists.
You’ll notice that there are no entries for self-defense weapons, substantial shelter materials, or any other esoteric gear or provisions typically recommended by private concerns in the prepper sphere.
Well, I don’t want to be the one to rain on their parade but survival is much of the time about the basics, and after considerable experience, laborious investigation and an unbelievable amount of research it was discovered that the vast majority of citizens living in the United States will do fine in the aftermath of a disaster so long as they have a three-day supply a food, water and essential self-care items.
This does not mean they will be living well, and misery might well be in no short supply, but they will live. This assumes, of course they survived the onset of the disaster itself.
And remember this is indeed a basic list, but even so no prepper worth their salt would be going without any of these items under any conditions for their own stockpiles (except perhaps specialized items like baby food or pet food).
It isn’t exciting, it isn’t particularly sexy, but for greenhorn Preppers and salty veteran survivors alike you could do a whole lot worse than making this precise list the starting point for any survival cache.
30 Survival Items Recommended by FEMA
Water, 3-Day Supply
Water is one of the most necessary elements for survival, as most people can only live a few days with no water, at most. For someone who is working hard or already dehydrated, or just living in a hot, arid environment that timetable might be even shorter.
FEMA accordingly prioritizes a clean, potable water supply as an essential on their list, and they recommended that every citizen have a three-day supply, defined as one gallon per person per day.
This water is intended to cover not only hydration but also sanitation, allowing an individual the luxury of sponge or washcloth bath at least.
Keeping clean is not just a nicety we’re going about in society; failing to take care of your body and your hair can lead to a variety of nasty skin conditions, and will also foment disease that can rapidly spread in close quarters, making you and everyone around you sick.
You can accommodate this water supply however you want, either in bottles, jugs or dedicated water storage containers that you fill yourself. Note that it is far easier to keep factory sealed bottled water uncontaminated.
Food, 3-Day Supply
You can live a lot longer without food then you can water, but it is going to be miserable going long before you become incapacitated and perish from starvation.
The bottom line is that calories are fuel, and sometimes surviving in the aftermath of a disaster is hard work. No matter what you were getting up to, food will help keep your morale high and your energy up.
As part of your survival food supply you should consider shelf-stable and easy to prepare meals that are calorie-dense and ready to eat with minimal preparation. Canned food is an obvious option as are similar foil-pouched meals.
MREs are another trusty prepper standby as they are durable, long-lasting and extremely calorie-dense. They are packed full of salt, however, and expensive.
No matter what you buy, make sure you keep an eye on expiration dates and use, donate or dispose of the food before it goes bad.
FEMA recommends you have a 3-day food supply per person. Calorie requirements vary, but you can do worse than shooting for 2,000 calories per day for an adult.
If you have a sizable supply of canned food, don’t forget your can opener to get into it! Chances are your countertop electric can opener will be non-operational during a disaster because all sorts of situations will result in local or regional power outages.
Trust me; you do not want to be improvising a way to break into a steel can safely when everyone is sitting around with grumbling tummies.
Manual can openers come in all shapes and sizes, from the ubiquitous, portable and popular P-38 military can opener to the more familiar hand-cranked affair that everyone’s grandma is.
Don’t forget that the majority of multi-tools and Swiss Army knives also feature surprisingly effective can opener tools.
Wrench or Pliers
FEMA recommends that you obtain for your survival kit a dedicated set of pliers or wrenches so that you can turn off any utilities which have been compromised or damaged.
You won’t want to be waiting around as your house fills up with natural gas or water due to a utility malfunction or resulting from damage.
Consider this one of your first and most vital tools that you will obtain specifically for the purposes of damage control in the immediate aftermath.
I highly recommend you investigate all the cut-offs in and around your home, and get the specialized wrenches or other attachments needed to operate them.
Consider that if the shutoff valves have not been used in some time they could be stuck due to corrosion or just made difficult to operate due to damage.
Extension bars for the tools or models with long handles are definitely good to have in this situation so you can generate the necessary leverage under the circumstances.
As mentioned above, personal hygiene and sanitation is going to be a big deal even in the aftermath of a disaster. Also, your water might be in incredibly short supply and thus very precious.
If you want to save every drop you can for drinking or cooking, you can cheat the personal cleanliness curve a little bit by using moist towelettes like baby wipes to get clean.
Moist towelettes don’t replace a proper bath or shower, and they don’t even rival a genuine sponge bath, what you can target the stinky parts of your body like your armpits, groin, butt and feet the hold the line when it comes to the germs desperately trying to make you and everyone else sick.
Not for nothing, you’ll start to smell positively ripe long before you spawn the next plague so you can save the sanity of those around you by periodically wiping down with moist towelettes.
You will have plenty of use for garbage bags in the aftermath of a disaster, and accordingly FEMA recommends you have a sizable supply. Humans will still generate trash under the circumstances, and failing to properly take care of trash and other waste is a recipe for illness on a large scale.
Speaking of waste, heavy duty garbage bags are also going to be essential for storing human waste should you need to use them in conjunction with an improvised toilet.
Remember what I said above about utilities going down in the aftermath? That will probably include your water and sewer service.
Concerning the type of garbage bags that you buy I would strenuously recommend you buy an extra-heavy duty, name brand bag. Look for full- or half-length can liners like the type typically used by contractors on construction sites as these are some of the best bang for your buck.
They are not likely to leak, easy to tie and give you extra assurance that whatever nastiness goes inside will stay there. Also, garbage bags can be repurposed by clever survivors for shelter, as ground covers and even as water catchment systems.
Any major disaster will likely result in serious property damage and a true catastrophe can result in tons of airborne debris and particulates. This is not stuff you want to breathe in, as it can result in asphyxiation in the short-term and grueling health problems in the long-term.
Especially if you were going to be working or moving through such damaged areas with poor-quality air you will want to wear something that will prevent or at least cut down on inhaled dust.
Dust masks are affordable, available almost anywhere and if chosen properly can afford a surprisingly good degree of protection.
There are even varieties that fold and store flat so they take up hardly any room among their supplies. More substantial varieties utilize replaceable cartridges of extraordinary efficiency. They cost more, but could be worth it for urban dwellers.
Note that dust masks do not last forever, and eventually will become so clogged that they lose efficiency. Make sure you have a decent supply for everyone in your family.
There will be chaos in the aftermath of any serious event, and especially if you are an urban or suburban dweller there exists a chance you might become trapped in the ruins of a building.
Even if you don’t darkness, loss of communications and general disarray will make finding and keeping track of victims very challenging for first responders, or anyone else searching for you.
You can drastically improve your chances of being found by signaling to potential rescuers, and one of the best signals for the purpose is a loud whistle.
Compared to screaming or attempting to whistle using your fingers, a purpose-made survival whistle is far louder, uses less energy and produces a blast that will travel farther, increasing the likelihood that you will be rescued.
There are all kinds of survival whistles on the market today, and FEMA does not make any specific recommendation. Chances are any whistle you buy marketed for the purpose will be adequate.
Disasters and other emergencies mean injuries; there are no two ways about it. They also mean that medical providers and first responders will be completely swamped, and no matter how many respond to the call and how fast they show up there just won’t be enough to deal with all of the casualties that arise as a result of the event.
This means that you will need to be your own first responder, and for the purpose of, FEMA recommends you have a well-equipped personal first-aid kit.
Your first aid kit should contain everything you need to treat minor injuries, things like cuts, scrapes, burns and so forth. Splint supplies and other items needed to treat strains and sprains are likewise helpful.
You should also include a bevy of common over-the-counter medications for dealing with various ailments and illnesses. If you have the training or experience, you should also make it a point to include items needed for treating more substantial trauma.
If you rely on your GPS to get you where you need to go, you are probably going to have a bad time trying to travel after some natural or man-made disaster has completely turned your town upside down.
It can be a shocking thing to see the damage wrought on the place that you live, now a place that has been rendered virtually unrecognizable. Your GPS system might still work, but then again it might not, and if that is the case you’ll need to rely on old-fashioned paper maps.
Maps, both road and topographical varieties, can help you orient yourself and make your way to whatever destination you need to get to in order to obtain aid or rescue.
You should make it a point to keep these maps up-to-date and suitably waterproof so they do not get destroyed by whatever event has wrecked your town.
You can generally rely on a power outage occurring should any major disaster happen. Even if your building has a backup power system, you should not rely on it for personal lighting.
Additionally, you cannot take heavy generators and install emergency lighting with you. For that, you’ll need flashlights, along with some spares just in case you need to hand some out or lose them.
Luckily for us, modern flashlights are extraordinarily bright, efficient and ultra-durable thanks to the now-ubiquitous LEDs installed in place of traditional filament light bulbs. Flashlight selection is almost a hobby in itself to some preppers, but you don’t need to go that far down the illumination rabbit hole.
Any flashlight you buy should combine modest brightness with a lengthy runtime, and be durable enough to survive some bumps and drops.
If it has additional features that can be easily accessed, like a power saving low output or blinking SOS strobe, so much the better, but they are not mandatory.
A flashlight is not much good without batteries to feed it, and FEMA recommends you have plenty of spare batteries for your flashlights and any other necessary electronics, such as the emergency radio covered in the next entry.
You might consider obtaining spare batteries for your cell phones and other portable devices since there is a non-zero chance they will continue to function in the wake of the event. You’ll have to stay on top of any rechargeable batteries to make sure they are at or near capacity just in case you need them.
Remember that the type of battery makes a big difference in how long you can store it and under what conditions. Lithium batteries have a far greater shelf life, and can withstand significant temperature extremes compared to traditional alkaline batteries.
You might not be fueling any device that you think is important enough to warrant upgraded batteries, but the peace of mind and shelf life might make the upgrade worth it for your survival stash.
Emergency Radio/NOAA Weather Radio
FEMA urges all citizens to obtain an emergency radio or an NOAA weather radio with built-in alert chime that is either battery powered or crank dynamo power.
This will allow you to access government directives and weather warnings even if all other forms of communication are down. Cell phones, the internet and even television are far from foolproof, and a significant catastrophe could knock them all out over a wide area.
Radio, as it turns out, is more resilient, distributed and widespread than most people think, and thus it is most likely to survive where other communication systems fail. These radios are inexpensive, and several modern varieties have other built-in tools like flashlights, USB charging ports and more.
One prep that is often forgotten about except by those who have life-threatening conditions with management dependent upon medication.
Any prescription meds that you or your family depends on for treatment of any ailment should be obtained in abundance before trouble starts brewing.
This can be tricky for the average person, both because you’ll need to work with your doctor and explain your needs but also because medications have a shelf life very similar to food. Over time, they can lose potency or even lose their effectiveness entirely.
Getting a week’s worth of additional medicine is a good start, and should not raise the eyebrows of any doctor or pharmacist.
Spare Prescription Eyewear
If you depend upon prescription eyewear, make sure you obtain a spare set or two specifically for adding to your survival kit. It never fails you will lose a contact or break your glasses when you need them the most, and the business of survival is often rough.
There is an old maxim that says “two is one and one is none”, so if all you have is your primary set of eyewear, you might get ready to kiss it goodbye when the going gets tough.
One thing you might consider if you wear contacts instead of glasses, or wear contacts most of the time: though they are certainly more convenient while you are wearing them they do present unique vulnerabilities, and are dependent on regular washing and maintenance using specialized solutions.
You might be better served by obtaining a pair of prescription, shatter-resistant eyeglasses specifically for your emergency kit.
Baby Formula and Diapers
Any readers that have an infant know how vital it is to stay well-stocked on all of the supplies that babies require, foremost among them formula, baby food and diapers.
These are all items that are highly dependent upon the cogs of modern commerce, and will be among the first items to vanish seemingly overnight in the wake of a major disaster. This can put you and your infant, (or a friend’s or family member’s) in a terrible predicament.
Just like stocking up on all the other essentials you need for life support you should likewise stock up on these specialized care items for the little ones. Baby formula is easy enough to prepare with a little ingenuity, and diapers can be thrown out along with all the other waste in the trash.
Some people prefer the washable, reusable diapers for the purposes of long-term survival, but for relatively short-term scenarios disposables will be more sanitary and help conserve water.
Another specialized care item that FEMA recommends is pet food. You have to take care of your furry friends just like you take care of yourself, and feeding your dog or cat human food in the middle of a stressful situation is likely to give them an upset stomach. Every pet owner knows how unpleasant that can get, and how quickly!
You don’t need to do anything special regarding your pets food except for store it in a cool, dry place. Also take pains to stock up on the same brand of food that you normally feed them; changing brands is not as drastic on your pet’s digestion as switching them to people food in a pinch but it still might lead to some digestive problems.
Stick with the food they know and love if you can, and don’t forget to add extra water to your stash for Fido and Whiskers!
Personal Docs Package
Though the popular conception of survival after a regional or national catastrophe strikes is one of living in a ruined society tottering back to its feet and trying to put the shattered pieces back together, chances are the reality of whatever event you are facing will not be so drastic. Society runs on administration, and administration runs on paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork…
For this reason FEMA recommends you keep a personal documents package containing all of your credentials and other important information. Included should be copies of your driver’s licenses, passports, birth certificates, bank account records, deeds, titles, insurance information and more.
You need to be able to prove that you are who you say you are and you own all the things you say you own. Make sure this backup document package is kept safe and secure, as anyone who accesses the information will have all the pertinent details needed to steal your identity.
Cash or Traveler’s Checks, Coins
Credit cards and debit cards are great, as are various easy-pay options enabled by smart devices, but chances are the intricate information infrastructure that makes these modern payment methods viable will be significantly disrupted or damaged enough to fail during and after a disaster.
When trouble is brewing and the chips are down, cash is king, and even if you try to operate using electronic currency and credit as much as possible, you definitely want a stash of cash for a rainy day.
As you might expect from his presence on this list even FEMA recommends the practice, as cash and coins and to a lesser extent travelers checks will give you a bulwark against destitution should power, internet and various other information services be knocked out.
Everybody respects the value of the greenback, and that means you can count on it even when the situation has gone four-legs-to-the-sky.
How much cash you decide to store and your survival stash is up to you, but it should be enough to sustain you for at least three to five days, or even potentially buy you a favor if you really get in trouble.
Survival Guides and Emergency Reference Material
Everybody is an expert, or at least they think they are, thanks to the plethora of information at their fingertips, once again made possible by the internet.
But as I have already mentioned several times throughout this article the internet is fragile enough that it is likely to fail or at least run awfully slowly when you need it the most during a disaster.
FEMA’s recommended countermeasure for this is a good, old-fashioned survival guide and various other emergency reference manuals and material.
Paper and ink will “operate” with no power, and that means you will always be able to reference the valuable information contained in the pages of a book so long as you have light enough to read buy.
Especially if you are not a particularly skilled prepper, or lack experience dealing with various life-threatening situations, a how-to guide complete with pictures could make the difference between success and failure.
Sleeping Bag or Bedding
Exposure is the number one killer in survival situations, especially in places throughout the United States and the world that don’t have 24/7 pleasant climates.
If you get cold, wet and exposed to wind your body can lose heat at a precipitous rate. When your core temperature drops too low, you die, that’s it, and you will be completely incapacitated long before then.
FEMA advises that you can prevent this unhappy fate by including a sleeping bag and/or bedding as part of your survival kit.
This will help keep you warm on cold nights no matter where you are, and in conjunction with some extra blankets and warm clothing you can stay as snug as a bug no matter the conditions.
Once again, sleeping bag selection can be an article or a series of articles all on its own, but generally speaking you should purchase a sleeping bag that is rated for the coldest conceivable temperatures in the place that you live.
Yeah you can probably imagine how your clothes are going to get awfully messy and torn up in a disaster.
If you don’t want to be running around in tattered rags that will make you more vulnerable to injury and also fail to keep you warm or cool, you will need a spare set of clothing as part of your survival gear.
FEMA recommends that you take the opportunity to include disaster-ready clothing, stuff that is durable, breathable and protective. A good, sturdy set of footwear should be included with his clothing, as well as other protective gear like headwear, gloves, and so forth.
Chances are you will really be roughing it if you have to call on these clothes, so don’t dress for style or fashion. Pick practical, comfortable hard-use clothing and you will be ready to go the distance.
Bleach w/ Dropper
Bleach is far more than just a useful additive for doing a load of white laundry. Bleach is a veritable survival superstar, able to sanitize surfaces, disinfect skin and even kill germs that might be hiding in recovered water, by far its most standout feature.
As mentioned above, water is a precious resource and if you run out of bottled water you’ll need to depend on found water sources, and those aren’t always the cleanest.
By adding a specific ratio of a few drops of bleach to a given quantity of water, you can be assured that any microorganisms hiding in the water will die, keeping you from getting sick.
Note that only standard, conventional, scentless bleach works for this purpose. Don’t use any bleach that has a perfume, special additives, or anything else in the mix.
Also keep in mind that bleach will not keep on the shelf forever, as it loses potency over time, and loses it even quicker after it has been exposed to air. If you remember to rotate your bleach supplies every 6 months or so, you won’t have a problem.
Fire extinguishers are an essential prep in all circumstances, and definitely deserve a place in your survival kit.
House fires are an extremely common occurrence even in the best of times and many disasters will result in widespread fires large and small. Things can definitely go from bad to worse if your shelter, or what’s left of it, burns down.
A fire extinguisher is the only thing that can reliably and effectively snuff out a fire on demand that you’ll have access to. Don’t depend on the bucket brigade or smothering it to work.
Any residential fire extinguisher should be ABC-rated and of a size that is large enough to allow you to fight a significant fire before it gets out of control. Make sure you take the time to keep your fire extinguishers maintained, inspected and when necessary replaced or refurbished.
They don’t need too much care, but make sure you store it where it is least likely to be overtaken by a fire; if your fire extinguisher is also on fire it won’t do you much good!
If you have spent any time on prepping related websites, you have doubtlessly seen articles encouraging you to learn primitive fire starting techniques. This is for a good reason, as exposure, mentioned above, is one of the biggest killers in any survival situation anywhere in the world, and being able to start a fire using basically nothing is great insurance.
However, if you need to light a candle, start a small cooking fire, ignite charcoal or any other task that needs a small, controllable flame it would be good if you didn’t have to mess around with complicated and laborious methods to do so.
Common matches will do the trick, and stout grill matches are an even better idea. There are multiple varieties of specialized survival matches, or storm matches, that can light even when they are soaking wet and strike virtually anywhere, but they are expensive and you don’t get many of them.
You should buy whatever matches you prefer, but make sure you keep them dry and in good shape.
FEMA recommends you have a waterproof container for storing your matches specifically, but this container is also useful for keeping all sorts of other sensitive documents, electronics and other items that will not endure moisture very well.
This container could be large or small, and you might decide to invest in one that is small enough to fit in a pocket and a larger one that you can keep in your stash.
This is one area where you should choose carefully, because while cheaper containers might appear sturdy enough and just as good as more expensive options, the consistency of their manufacture and especially their sealing will often let you down, especially in the harshest of conditions.
A waterproof container that is not waterproof at all is worse than useless!
Keeping clean is always a virtue, I know you might not think you have any time to follow your normal cleanliness routine after a disaster, when things settle down you will be able to, and furthermore you’ll be glad that you have your normal body care items for the routine.
Though you should not expect to enjoy your typical post shower or bath regimen, you might be able to get pretty close if you are able to stay in your home.
Baby wipes are your friend here, as mentioned above, but you should also include a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, foot powder, bar soap and potentially shampoo though thoroughly washing your hair is often a poor use of water.
Remember all the food we mentioned earlier on? As it turns out you probably don’t want to eat that with your hands like some kind of savage.
After you have opened your food and are preparing a meal, you’ll want to keep the dining experience as normal as possible both for efficiency and for cleanliness.
Stock up on your typical picnic supplies for the purpose, including disposable plates, cups, cutlery, napkins or paper towels, and other assorted items.
Some people prefer reusable camping style mess kits for the purpose since they are so compact, lightweight and easy to transport but remember you will have to wash them.
Depending upon your proclivities and your situation this might be a bad use of limited water or it might not be. For short-term survival situations, busting out the paper plates and plastic forks that can then summarily be thrown away could be a better and more convenient option.
Pad and Pencil
Having something on hand to take analog notes with is a commonly overlooked part of many preppers’ survival stashes.
Though I have little doubt that you can come up with pens, pencils, markers and innumerable sources of paper scattered around your home right now, give yourself a leg up and a little bit of peace of mind by including notebooks, legal pads, and a variety of writing instruments in your stash.
If you need to take notes, leave messages or sketch maps or instructions for someone you’ll be glad you have it, and both small and large writing pads have their uses.
Remember that it might grow increasingly more difficult to keep your phone or other electronic note-taking devices charged and usable, and squandering precious electricity under the circumstances simply for note taking is probably not a great idea.
Books, Games, Puzzles, etc.
Sometimes surviving is just a matter of waiting around, not taking risks and waiting for help to arrive or things to get back to normal. Again, not every event is a society-toppling catastrophe with nationwide or global implications.
Localized national disasters might turn the immediate area completely upside down, but outside of the affected area life goes on as normal, and indeed help will be streaming to the area from these places.
If your position is secure, safe, well provisioned and otherwise acceptable there is no need to engage in frantic activity just for the sake of doing so. You might not need to improve your position any more for practical purposes.
In such situations, and other specialized occurrences, it is good to have something to take your mind off the circumstances, alleviate boredom and engage in a little relaxation.
Electronic games, even those on cell phones, are likely too wasteful and dependent upon electricity to be depended on here, so you should turn to books, analog board games, puzzles and other such simple, affordable forms of recreation.
These are especially important to consider if you have young children as they do not fare well at all when the doldrums set in!
Every prepper, even the newest beginner, should have a basic survival kit to handle the most common disasters. For our purposes, FEMA has done much of the heavy lifting in researching and producing an excellent checklist to help you obtain this basic survival kit. No matter who you are and where you live the vast majority of the items on this list will be essential whatever you are facing.
Take the time to review this list, understand the additional considerations for selecting the relevant gear and then set about checking off these items. In no time at all you’ll be drastically more prepared to face the unknown then you were before!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.