This subject is pretty far outside of my usual wheelhouse here on the website, but it’s something that the past year has highlighted and I feel it’s important. For a little background, about ten years ago I got really into survivalism – you know, the whole “doomsday is coming, let’s stockpile and plan” thing that you might be familiar with from television series like Doomsday Preppers. Partly this was because I was pretty unwell at the time, going through some tough mental health issues, and one way I found to deal with my anxieties and other issues was to make intricate plans for all kinds of highly unlikely scenarios… like worldwide pandemics!
The coronavirus pandemic caught many people entirely off-guard and unprepared. Here in the UK, they say that the average household only has enough food, water, medicines, and other basic necessities to last three or four days without running into major problems, and while the pandemic has brought this into focus for a lot of people, particularly in the early days when shortages of things like toilet paper threatened to become a big issue, there are still many folks who haven’t taken any steps to get themselves better prepared to ride out an emergency.
A global pandemic or the zombie apocalypse aren’t the only things to be concerned about, and there are many smaller-scale but far more likely events that make having the kind of basic emergency kit we’re going to look at today a sound and practical investment. Local weather events like windstorms or flooding are relatively common in the UK and around the world, and while the damage they cause is not usually extreme, when a major storm is raging simply going out to the shops – or ordering anything for delivery – can be difficult or impossible. Then there are personal-scale events: something like contracting the flu (or coronavirus) can mean days or a week stuck at home unable to get out or do much, and a basic emergency kit can even come in handy if you experience financial issues or things like identity theft. Such things are manageable and are usually resolved within days, but having no access to money or credit cards can become a major headache in the short term if you don’t have the basics at home to tide you over.
So this time we’re going to work on building a basic two-week emergency kit. Obviously the kit I’m showing you today is based around items that are easily accessible here in the UK and that make sense for the kinds of emergencies that are plausible in this neck of the woods. Your emergency kit should be adapted to the needs of your local area; there’s no point in buying heavy winter clothes, for example, if you live in a tropical area that’s warm year-round!
Though I should caveat this by saying that I’m not an expert and make no guarantees about emergency survival, the items we’re going to talk about have done well for me over the years and I wouldn’t want to be without them. Having even a very small kit designed to last 3-4 days already gives you a significant boost ahead of 90% of the population who have made no such efforts, and considering that many of the items we’re going to look at are relatively inexpensive, to me having something like this makes a lot of sense.
So let’s get started and build up a basic two-week emergency kit.
Number 1: Extra medication
I have to take a cocktail of different medications every day as a result of the various conditions and health issues I suffer from. If you or someone in your household are in the same boat, having extra medication on hand is going to be important. You can have all the food, water, and other supplies you want, but if you need to take daily medication and you don’t have enough, your emergency kit can’t be considered complete.
The most important thing to say is to never skip doses to try to build up a stockpile. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist and explain that you need a little extra; or else try collecting your prescription early so you’re never going down to the wire. Remember that medication, like food, has a shelf life, so you should always be taking medication and not squirreling it away for later.
I have a repeat prescription which I collect every four weeks. What I started doing was picking it up a few days early every time, and by now I’ve never got less than a two-week supply on hand. In the worst case you could always come up with a “little white lie” and tell your pharmacist that you’re going to be out of town and unable to collect your prescription for a couple of weeks so you need extra!
Number 2: Food
If you read a lot of blogs or even books by self-proclaimed “preppers,” you’ll often see things like rice, pasta, and flour talked about as things to keep and store. There is a role for dry foodstuffs like that, and having things like rice on hand is no bad thing. However, one thing that concerns me with the approach of basing one’s food supply around these dry items is that they all use a lot of water to prepare and cook. Rice, if stored correctly, keeps for a very long time, but it also requires twice its volume in water to cook; one cup of rice needs two cups of water.
Some emergency events can damage water pipes, treatment plants, and pumps, meaning the water supply system is not something that can always be relied upon; it takes a lot of effort and maintenance at the best of times to keep clean water coming out of the tap. If someone’s food supply is entirely dependent on dried foods like rice and pasta that need large volumes of water for preparation, that cuts into their supply of water for other basic needs, not least drinking. So while there’s a place for dried foods, especially if you get into “hardcore” prepping and go down that rabbit hole, if we’re looking at a basic emergency kit I’m going to advocate keeping that to a bare minimum.
In this case, tins (cans) and packets are your friend. Look for things like potatoes, pasta in sauce, vegetables, soups, and fruits. These are things which, generally speaking, have a shelf life at room temperature of several years, and crucially, they can be opened and eaten without wasting any water on preparation. Many tinned foods are designed to be heated, but even those are usually pre-prepared or pre-cooked; it’s uncommon to get raw food in a tin that’s inedible without extensive preparation.
So how many tins of food are we talking about? For an adult, you can get away with two tins per day – according to some online sources – but I like to figure that if we’re going to stick to three meals a day, each meal can be approximately one tin. Tins vary in size, and it will depend on the contents and calories, but this is a good general rule.
If we say one adult is going to consume three tins of food per day for fourteen days, we’re talking about 42 tins per adult. Children could perhaps consume two tins per day, so two tins times fourteen days gives us 28 tins per child. These are very rough guidelines, and you should consider it for yourself.
A variety of different foodstuffs is a good idea, not least in case of spoilage! If you buy a job lot of 200 tins of potatoes, they could all spoil at once if you’re unlucky. Or you could get incredibly bored of eating the same thing every day! A mix of different items is the best bet. And whatever you do, don’t forget to have at least one tin opener! All those tins of food are useless if you can’t safely open them. Considering how important your food supply is, I recommend having at least two tin openers so you always have a backup.
While we’re on the subject of food, don’t think that everything you keep in your emergency kit has to be purely nutritious and functional. Emergency situations can be incredibly stressful, and for a lot of people having a treat like a piece of chocolate or candy can be helpful. Your emergency kit shouldn’t only consist of candy bars, of course, but there’s incredible value in such things from a psychological perspective, so my emergency kit contains some milk chocolate, as well as packets of hot chocolate mix, expressly for that reason.
One final note about food: your emergency kit should consist of things you enjoy eating, or at least can put up with. If you hate green beans, for example, why would you keep tins of green beans in your emergency kit? As noted above, psychological factors come into play in emergencies in ways we won’t necessarily expect, and if the only thing to eat is something you hate, that’s going to have an impact on your state of mind. So the best advice when it comes to food is find shelf-stable, long-life versions of things that you know you at least tolerate eating, if not enjoy.
Number 3: A power brick/battery backup
Battery banks, power bricks, or whatever terminology you use can be incredibly useful in a situation where mains electricity is out. The average mobile phone these days might last 24 hours on a full charge; 36 if you’re lucky, and the length of use per charge decreases over time. If the emergency situation you’re in sees power outages that last for days, you’ll need a way to charge your phone.
These backup power supplies can handle several complete phone charges – so long as you remember to keep the battery itself charged! – and are incredibly useful. In an emergency situation, getting information and communicating with loved ones are both going to be vital, and with phones being the primary way folks keep in touch these days, having a way to stay charged even if the power goes out is important. That said, it’s worth having a backup “offline” copy of important telephone numbers – in case you need to contact a loved one and your phone isn’t working. Write these numbers down and keep them with other supplies in your kit.
These backup power supplies can power many USB devices, and while mine is primarily a backup for my phone, having that facility could be useful for all kinds of things. A small LED light can be powered by USB, for example, or a fan.
Number 4: Lighting
Unless you live in a rural area or have lived through a major blackout, I think it’s not unfair to say that a lot of folks don’t really appreciate just how dark it can get when there’s no street lighting or other ambient light outside. If the power goes out in a major way, you can’t rely on any kind of electric lighting, including street lighting, to illuminate your home or the surrounding area after nightfall.
Where I live, in the dead of winter nightfall comes very early – the sun sets around 4pm in mid-December – and for around five months of the year we’re dealing with at least as much darkness as daylight. Autumn and winter are also the seasons where extreme weather is more likely. For all of those reasons and more, having a source of illumination that doesn’t rely on electricity is a worthy investment.
Though torches (flashlights) are useful and a good one is definitely a fine addition to an emergency kit, if we’re talking about building up a kit that can sustain you for two weeks, battery life becomes an issue. Many torches on the market today come with a built-in rechargeable battery, which in my experience tend not to last as long as regular disposable batteries. Under normal circumstances that would be fine, but if the power is out for days on end, that battery is going to run down.
Candles are inexpensive, especially if you buy a bulk pack, and as long as you’re careful with them they provide perfectly adequate illumination, especially if you use several at once. If you do decide to add candles to your emergency kit, remember you’ll also need a way to light them! Safety matches are by far the best option, but you can also get a lighter or something like that if you prefer. It can be a good idea to store matches and other fire-lighters in a waterproof bag or container.
Number 5: Heating and cooling
Depending on where you live, you might need to add a way to keep warm or a way to keep cool to your emergency kit. If your home’s central heating or air conditioning isn’t working, the additional stress of being too hot or too cold can make an already-difficult situation worse, so this isn’t something to overlook.
Anything to do with heating tends to involve fire or burning, so make sure that any fuel you keep around is properly and safely stored! If you have a fireplace with a chimney, you’re probably good to go as long as it’s clean and useable and you have wood or coal to burn. The rest of us will have to make do with things like butane-fuelled heaters. Look for anything called a camping heater or greenhouse warmer; get a good quality one and make sure to read the instructions and get the right fuel. Small kerosene heaters are a good option, and kerosene has a long shelf life.
On a smaller scale, getting a collection of warm blankets, good winter coats, gloves, and other cold-weather gear is going to be helpful as well. You can also invest in a pack of those disposable hand warmers! Emergency foil blankets don’t take up much space and can also help keep you warm in a crisis.
For cooling, you’re basically limited to fans as air conditioning isn’t something that can be easily simulated without power! However, it’s also worth getting spray bottles which can be filled with water; some people find that helpful in keeping cool – though it’s not my favourite method! A battery-powered fan (often sold as a travel fan or camping fan) is a worthwhile investment – just make sure to keep extra batteries on hand.
Number 6: Water
Water is perhaps the most important thing to consider when preparing an emergency kit. Many people can survive even a couple of weeks without food, but with no access to clean drinking water you can become very ill in hours. As above, we have to assume that, in the worst-case scenario, water will either not be coming out of the tap or the water that does won’t be potable.
Bottled water is your friend here – as long as you have the space for it. According to the NHS and other health bodies, men need anywhere from 3-4 litres of water per day, and women need 2-3 litres per day. Here in the UK, bottled water can be bought in 2l bottles, so for me on my own for a fourteen day survival kit I’d want to have 28 2l bottles – two bottles per day times fourteen days. You can do similar maths for your household!
You can get larger drums of water, like the big five-gallon (19l) ones designed for water coolers. They may be more cost-efficient, but you have to consider ease of use. Can you effectively carry such a large container and access the water inside without spilling? In my opinion the 2l bottles are a good middle ground, and as they’re easily accessible and relatively inexpensive that’s my preference.
Water is heavy. When considering storage, you need to keep in mind that weight can be an issue. In my case, if I want to store 28 2l bottles for my fourteen-day kit, those bottles have a combined weight of around 56kg (over 100lbs). If you store your water on shelves, you’ll have to make sure the shelves can take the weight. Likewise if you’re on an upper floor like an apartment or storing your water in an upstairs room or attic. The last thing you need is for your emergency kit to cause damage to your home – or even a flood!
Bottled water has a shelf life. The shelf life is important to keep in mind, because water stored in plastic bottles eventually becomes contaminated with molecules from the plastic which can be harmful. Like with your food, medication, fuel, and everything else in your kit, you can’t just buy up a bunch of water bottles and leave them sitting around forever. Eventually you’ll need to cycle through the bottles and replace them – though bottled water usually has a shelf life of at least a couple of years. But it’s something to always keep in mind.
Some folks advocate having a rainwater collection system, but this is something to only consider if you really know what you’re doing and you know how to get potable water at the end of the process. Making yourself sick because you tried to drink rainwater that had ran through your gutters and drainpipes will make your emergency a lot worse! However, if you don’t have the space for two weeks’ worth of water, something like this could be useful – but you really need to work at it to make sure you know what you’re doing.
Water purification tablets are relatively inexpensive – again, look to camping supply shops for this kind of thing. As always, read the instructions so you know when they can and can’t be used, but having some around won’t take up a lot of space and could be a lifesaver.
Number 7: First aid
You don’t need to go crazy and stockpile enough medical supplies for a small hospital, but a decent first aid kit should be part of your emergency kit. Websites like Amazon sell pre-prepared first aid kits designed to be kept in your car, and larger ones for workplaces. These can be a good place to start, but in my experience they often need to be augmented with a few extras – and better-quality items like tweezers and scissors than these kits typically provide.
A basic first aid kit should have: plasters (a.k.a. elastoplast or band-aids) in a variety of sizes, sterile gauze dressings, eye dressings, at least one roll of cloth/linen bandages, tweezers, scissors, medical tape, a thermometer, safety pins, disposable gloves (in the correct size), cleaning wipes, rash cream, basic painkillers (paracetamol, ibuprofen, and/or aspirin), antihistamines, distilled water (for cleaning injuries), antiseptic wipes and cream, hand sanitiser, face masks, and anti-diarrhoea medicine.
Most importantly you’ll also need a first aid manual or guide book – the items you have aren’t going to be a lot of use if you don’t know how to use them correctly! I have a first aid manual published by a charity called St. John’s Ambulance, and it’s detailed while being easy enough to understand. If you can’t take a proper first aid course, having a good book is the next best thing.
It’s also worth looking up some of the basics ahead of time. For example, do you know how to perform CPR? There are classes you can take in CPR, basic first aid, and the like that will all impart useful skills – and even websites like YouTube offer tutorials that are better than nothing. In an emergency situation, it’s possible that the emergency services will be very busy, overwhelmed, or even unable to access your location for a time. Knowing the basics – and having access to the right supplies – could quite literally save life and limb.
Number 8: Supplies for babies, children, and/or pets
You’ve thought through your own food supply – but what about your furry and feathered friends? If we’re building a two-week emergency kit, you’ll also need two weeks’ worth of food and other pet supplies. Same goes for babies and children: do you have enough nappies (diapers) and changing supplies, as well as baby formula, food, etc?
If your children are growing up fast, make sure you’re regularly updating their part of the emergency kit. Having two weeks’ worth of nappies is useless if the child has outgrown that size, for example. I don’t have kids myself, so I’m not the best person to put together a comprehensive list of everything a child might need. But if you think about the things they go through on a weekly basis, you’ll need to add most to your emergency kit.
If any part of your kit is delinquent, it compromises the entire thing. In an ongoing emergency situation, where access to supplies may be difficult or impossible, the last thing you need is to run out of nappies or dog food because you didn’t include those elements in your plan!
Number 9: Cleaning and hygiene
Keeping clean – or at least as clean as possible – is the best thing you can do to prevent illness and infection during an emergency situation. As such, you’ll need some basic cleaning and personal hygiene supplies.
Soap. A good bar of pure soap lasts a long time, though those augmented with scents, oils, and the like tend to expire sooner. Regardless, a bar of soap is a great basic thing to keep around, and you almost don’t need anything else if you have enough bars of soap for each member of your household. If you only get one item from this section to begin with, make it a good quality bar of pure soap.
Dry shampoo and bodywash. Often sold as camping supplies, these are products for cleaning hair and your body that, as the name suggests, don’t need water.
Hand sanitiser. After the year we’ve all had, I think practically all of us have hand sanitiser lying around! Though I did include this above in the first aid section, having extra for personal hygiene and keeping your hands clean is a good idea too.
Feminine hygiene products – enough for everyone in the household.
Baby wipes and toilet tissue. Even if you don’t have kids, baby wipes are still a good idea to keep in your emergency kit.
Plenty of waterproof bin liners (garbage bags). In the event that the water supply is compromised, you’ll need somewhere to do your “business” – and some way to seal it up and get it away from your living quarters. Toileting in an emergency could be a whole essay in itself, but suffice to say that you’ll need somewhere to put bodily waste, and unless you want to invest in an expensive camping toilet or spend time digging a latrine outside, bin liners are probably the least bad option.
Number 10: Miscellaneous supplies and tools
In this category I’m going to dump everything not already covered! Let’s start with a basic tool kit. At the minimum you’ll want a hammer, a couple of screwdrivers, some nails, screws, tape measure, wire cutters, strong gloves, a spirit level, and a good box cutter/stanley knife. You never know when any of these items might come in handy, and if you don’t have them already it’s worth investing in a basic tool kit just to keep around the house!
You may also want to add a spanner or wrench, particularly if you think you may need to turn off your home’s water supply at the stopcock/stop tap. Contaminated or dirty water can be a source of disease, and in some cases it may be necessary to turn off the water supply entirely to prevent leaks or to stop dirty water entering your home.
This is a controversial one, but keeping at least a small amount of cash may be invaluable if payment systems aren’t working and you can’t get to an ATM. Obviously this is something that needs to be carefully and secretly stored, but it’s worthwhile having some just in case. This can also be useful if you’ve had your credit card or card details stolen and need to wait for the bank or your card issuer to resolve the situation. In short, there are possible scenarios where you’ll need cash – so keep some squirreled away!
A spare pair of glasses or extra contact lenses for everyone in the household who uses them.
A waterproof box or container to store important documents – the deed to your house, insurance policy, passport, birth and marriage certificates, etc. It can be worth investing in a fire-proof box for this purpose, but those are more expensive.
A good fire extinguisher. Before you buy or use one, check! Is it suitable for use on all types of fires or only some? If you get a water-based fire extinguisher, for example, you won’t be able to use it on electrical fires. Fire extinguishers also have a shelf life – typically several years – so you will need to check this and update it when required.
Disposable plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have very many knives, forks, spoons, or plates! If we’re building a two-week emergency kit, having plenty to eat and drink is great – but not if you have no way to eat or drink it safely. Putting your bare hands into an open can could lead to injury, and if your hands aren’t clean you could get sick. Dirty crockery and cutlery can also harbour bacteria, so disposable is the way to go. There are a lot of card and paper-based options, so you don’t have to go with plastic if you’re concerned about the environment.
A wind-up (hand-crank) radio. Even if you have two or three portable battery banks and use your phone sparingly, it may eventually run out of battery power. A wind-up radio may be your best way to hear what’s going on in the outside world – including potentially important information about the emergency and the response from the authorities. I consider this one absolutely vital, something to add as soon as possible to your emergency kit.
A map of your local area – the higher-quality the better. Do you know all of the routes in and out of your local area? If the main road was cut off or unusable and there’s no Google Maps or sat-nav in your car, would you know an alternative? Having a good quality paper map of your local area could be valuable, not only for your own navigation but if you need to guide emergency responders to your location.
Pen and paper (or pencil and paper). Who knows what you might need to write down in an emergency. The time and date of events for insurance purposes, telephone numbers or contact details, or something random that we can’t predict! Having something to write with and something to write on is potentially going to be important. And if you’re artistic (or have artistic kids) having extra supplies for drawing and colouring is no bad thing too!
A good quality all-purpose knife is also a valuable tool to have. It can be used for all manner of things, from preparing food to household repair. Beware of anything that looks too cheap; the last thing you want is a broken knife blade potentially injuring someone.
You might want to invest in heavy-duty plastic sheeting. Not only is this waterproof, but if your emergency situation requires you to seal off part of your house, seal the doors and windows, or even just replace or patch a damaged or broken window, heavy-duty plastic and good strong tape will do a good job in the short term.
Number 11: Activities
Though an emergency situation is hardly a vacation, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll have a certain amount of down time – perhaps more than you’re used to. So many of us live digital lives, with our activities being primarily conducted via electronic devices. You know best what members of your household will like doing, but a library of fiction and non-fiction books is a good place to start, as well as board games like chess, scrabble, and the like.
You’ll want to have access to things that can keep your spirits up, as well as the spirits of others in your household. This will vary depending on the individual, but think ahead and make sure you can keep yourself and others entertained.
So that’s it.
That’s my guide for a basic two-week emergency kit. Two weeks is the longest that 99% of emergency scenarios I can think of could reasonably last. Obviously some exceedingly rare events can last longer, but even then your two week kit will have given you a real head-start.
An adequate water supply is, as you may have gathered, something I consider top priority. Many of the items in your emergency kit are designed to preserve as much of your water supply as possible for drinking – so you should use the bare minimum for things like washing, preparing food, etc. Water is also the bulkiest and heaviest part of your kit, so figuring out how and where to store it safely is important.
As I found when I got into preparedness and survivalism a few years ago, this is a rabbit hole that’s easy to fall down and get lost in. If you start thinking about all manner of unlikely scenarios it’s possible to convince yourself that no emergency kit will ever be complete and that you need ten years’ worth of food, expensive systems for storing and preparing things, and so on. If you have an unlimited budget and want to dig a bunker, go for it I guess. But in 99% of cases, having a two-week emergency kit will get you through whatever life throws at you. That’s what I base my current kit on, at any rate.
So this was a total change from what I usually talk about. But you know, I think it’s important. Not only to share my (admittedly limited) knowledge in this area, but also to shake things up and spend some time considering a different subject. I hope it was interesting and informative, and if you do decide to build an emergency kit for your household – which I fully encourage – I hope you’ll check out other sources as well, as there’s no telling what I might’ve missed!