Making a 72-hour emergency kit for $20

A “72-Hour Emergency Kit” is portable, has basic supplies and tides a couple of people over for 72 hours.

 It may take that long for local, county, state, and non-profit agencies to respond to a disaster or emergency. Until then, you’re on your own.

A commercial kit can cost hundreds of dollars. A truly comprehensive 72-hour kit requires a truck to haul it.

If you’ll settle for a smaller, homemade kit, you can make one for around $20. Here’s what you need:

• Carrying bag. Use eight grocery store plastic bags, stuffed to make two bags four layers thick. You could use a school knapsack or a backpack.

• 3 gallons of water per person, for three days. Carry the water in three 1-gallon plastic jugs. These weigh 25 pounds, and a kid’s little red wagon or suitcase with wheels could haul them. For two people, that’s 6 gallons or 50 pounds of drinkable water.

• Canteen. A two-liter plastic soda pop bottle with a rope tied on it makes a great canteen.

• Clothing. You’ll be wearing clothing, and you could wear or carry a sweater, jacket, and hat. You’ll need enough clothing to stay warm at night, regardless of weather. Wear the same clothes for 3 days? Yes, this is practical. Ask a hunter.

• Raincoat. My Boy Scouts used big 44-gallon garbage can-sized black plastic bags. Wal-Mart sells a plastic rain poncho, or you could use some plastic sheeting.

• Blanket. The space blanket is an aluminized plastic sheet that reflects 90 percent of your body heat, and it fits in your pocket. Any blanket will do, if kept dry. You won’t freeze if you sit on insulation, pull your knees up, and droop the blanket around you. Wear a cap to keep your head warm.

• Food. Instead of buying expensive freeze-dried food, raid your cupboards for high-calorie, low-weight foods that don’t require cooking. Consider peanut butter, raisins, candy, jerky, nuts, granola bars, cookies, etc. Add a plastic fork and spoon.

• Personal hygiene. Put half a roll of toilet paper in a Zip-lock plastic bag, and bring a toothbrush and 12 salt packets from a fast-food restaurant. Why salt? For toothpaste. Feminine hygiene items are an essential.

• Communications. Bring a battery-powered transistor radio and some good spare batteries so you can hear disaster news. Bring a cell phone and some kind of charger that doesn’t require 110-volts from a wall socket. If you can’t talk on the cell phone because circuits are busy, text messaging may be possible.

• Tools. As a minimum, you’ll need a pocketknife and a can opener. Slip-jaw pliers or a multi-tool would be useful. For repairs, a roll of dental floss and a roll of electrical tape or half a roll of duct tape would be helpful.

• First Aid kit. In a plastic bag, put a box of Band-Aids, Moleskin for blisters, medicine cabinet items, and 3 days’ prescription medicines. You’ll be your own doctor. You’ve already taken a Red Cross first aid course and know how to do CPR, right?

• Personal items. Bring your personal ID, spare house and car keys, and spare eyeglasses, hearing aid batteries, etc. Print phone numbers and addresses for family members and friends on paper, with an out-of-state contact for checking on other family members.

So far, you could store everything but the water containers in a big coffee can or a backpack. You could use the can to boil water to sterilize it. All of the items would be useful if you had to move from your home to a shelter in town. If you were going to go out in the country for 72 hours, you’d need some additional items:

• Fire making kit: Bring a paper matchbook and two BIC butane lighters in a plastic bag. For tinder, use some toilet paper, dryer lint, or steel wool. Remember, smoke from a fire will let others know where you are.

• Signaling. An old CD can be used for a signal mirror. An LED flashlight produces the most light with AA batteries. Bring spare batteries.

• Not getting lost. Bring a magnetic compass and city/county maps, which are usually free from the Chamber of Commerce.

This kit is designed for two active adults. You’ll need to customize it depending on family size, age of family members, etc. I’m told that it isn’t a good idea to bring pets or guns if you hope to stay in a government shelter.

Kerry Cartier is the Disaster Guy. His website is


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