Compiling a stash of emergency-preparedness items used to be a task many of us kept on the back burner — something we knew was important and we’d get to eventually. But eventually, we now know, is here today, and while we’re not suggesting you start digging out an underground bunker and filling it with instant noodles, we’ve come to learn that having a few things on hand before you need them will only help you, even if it’s just mentally. Most preppers, like Oregon’s Afrovivalist, Sharon Ross, equate preparation with peace of mind. “Once a person is prepared during a disaster,” she says, “they don’t feel the sense of urgency to go shopping for supplies.” So if visions of last year’s empty store shelves still haunt you, have a nice, calm look at our well-organized, detailed list of emergency supplies to keep on hand. To assemble it, we consulted recommendations from the CDC, Red Cross, the Department of Homeland Security, and the NYC Emergency Management Department. But those agencies give you only general categories, and we wanted specifics. So we interviewed 18 survivalists, preppers, bushcrafters, homesteaders, and emergency professionals about their favorite things to always have on-hand — and their advice to make your bugout (or bugin) the best it can possibly be. Here are their suggestions, broken down into categories based on your level of survivalist instinct. And if you feel overwhelmed, just keep in mind the advice from Idaho prepper Nettie David, of the popular website Preppers Survive: “Small contributions add up over time.”
The lifeblood of a prepper is his bugout bag. Most preppers keep two bags: a three-day bag and a two-week bag. While you needn’t get too hung up on that, it’s not a terrible idea to have something that you can easily grab that has everything you need in it in case you have to leave quickly. Bushcrafter Mark Christensen recommends a “quality rucksack, or even a five-gallon bucket, which keeps your emergency gear together.” Survivalist E.J. “Skullcrusher” Snyder (whom you might know from his many appearances on Naked and Afraid) likes the “tough and roomy” bags by Gregory, but if you prefer something more tactical, he suggests something by Maxpedition. And Lisa Bedford, a.k.a. the Survival Mom, loves the Presidio Tactical Assault Backpack from Flying Circle, because it’s “a very good size for teens and most women.”
Survivalist Travis McGill, along with Thomas Coyne, the owner and lead instructor at Thomas Coyne Survival Schools, and a survivalist who asked that we refer to him by the pseudonym “RC” like Surefire flashlights because they’re virtually indestructible. They’re so durable, in fact, that some are specially designed to be used as a self-defense weapon, Coyne says. McGill uses the Surefire D3ft but admits “it’s totally overkill” and says you could also “get something that takes AA or AAA batteries since they’re easy to find and replace.” Even a small one for your keychain will do, says Mykel Hawke, a former U.S. Army special forces captain and author of several survival books. “But make sure it has a turn on button, not just squeeze on, for when you need to have light to work and be hands free,” he says. Snyder and Morgan Rogue of the prepper site Rogue Preparedness, however, prefer headlamps to flashlights so you can be 100 percent hands-free. Rogue likes Foxelli or Petzl, while Snyder uses a Black Diamond Spot 325.
There was plenty of consensus here, too. Unsurprisingly, everyone likes a Leatherman. “I am a big fan,” Snyder says. “There are many types to choose from to meet your needs and budget.” Coyne likes the Supertool 300. And John Ramey of the prepper site theprepared.com likes the Leatherman Wave+ because it “doesn’t waste space and weight on tools that don’t matter much in an emergency, but it’s versatile and robust enough to be a core survival item.” The Signal, which McGill uses, also includes a fire starter and a whistle.
For most preppers, recommending a first-aid kit off the shelf would be like Julia Child telling you her favorite flavor of Pop-Tart. They like to put them together themselves so they can pack them with, as Hawke puts it, “some dressings for real trauma,” including tourniquets, Israeli Bandages, and, in R.C.’s case, zip-tie restraints, though he wouldn’t really say what those were for. That said, Coyne calls Adventure Medical Kits “the best first-aid kits on the market [and] definitely the closest commercially available to what I would customize for myself.” Survival Mom has a different preference, saying, “it would be hard to find better medical kits than those sold by Dr. Joe and Amy Alton at Doom & Bloom.” Their company offers a variety of kits that cover everything from labor to gunshot wounds. Whatever first aid kid you decide on, Mike Glover, crisis management and response expert and host of the popular FieldCraft Survival podcast, recommends you always maintain a 30-day supply of over-the-counter medicine (like painkillers, cold, allergy, anti-diarrheal medications) as well as any prescription medications.
Most of our experts recommended Kaito shortwave radios. Coyne’s favorite is the Kaito Voyager because it’s rugged and water-resistant, has plug-in and solar charging capabilities, and is shortwave, which means it picks up broadcasts from around the world. “In an extreme global situation, an entire country may be off-grid, but someone, somewhere, will be broadcasting,” Hawke says. Snyder likes the Kaito KA500 Emergency Radio. “It’s capable of being charged via hand crank, solar panel, micro USB, a standard wall outlet, or batteries,” he says. “And it has a five-LED reading lamp, an LED flashlight, and a red LED SOS beacon light.” Ross, however, prefers the GoPower Plus Emergency Weather-Band Radio, which compares favorably.
Waterproof matches are the best matches, though our experts say lighters are better than matches. Rogue recommends carrying both, in case either fails. Hawke likes Bic lighters, but stresses that “folks should review fire basics [because] it’s surprising how many people don’t know how to build a fire once they have a light.” Coyne uses only UCO Stormproof matches. “Once lit, they cannot be put out,” he says. “They even burn underwater.”