Are you willing to bet your life on the 72 hour kit you purchased online? What about your family? I should hope not because most kits are woefully unprepared and are probably more worthless than not. If you’re going to spend money to be prepared then PLEASE do it right.
I’m going to show you how. In fact, I challenged myself to build a 72 hour “bug out” kit that was as well prepared (if not better so) than the high-end $200 kits I found online for half the cost.
Before I tell you how I did, you should have some comparison and background information. Four-person 72 hour kits from Amazon.com seem to cost between $60 and $200 (not including shipping, which can easily be $20-30 due to weight). Do a Google search and you’ll find plenty more options. To save time, let’s look at the two extremes I found…
The Low-End $60 Kit Contents
- 12 Aqua blox – at 8.45 ounces each you get 101.4 ounces of water total, which isn’t even a gallon of water (1 gallon = 128 ounces). This is supposed to keep 4 people alive for 3 days… I’m suspect already.
- 4 ER food bars – usually contain about 2400 calories each (could be 3600 calories). The average adult needs 1600+ in calories per day, so, let’s say this gets you by for a day and a half (which is pushing it)… not quite 3 days and probably not the most filling or satisfying of meals.
- 4 thermal blankets – popular lightweight option, although, there are better options if you can afford them.
- 4 rain ponchos – nice if you can afford them but large trash bags can do almost as well for a fraction of the cost and minimal weight.
- 1 whistle – a whistle is good to have; more is better.
- 4 tissue packs – one pack per person is fine.
- 1 light stick – typically last about 12 hours, so this is good for one night.
- 1 shake light (shake to recharge)- a nice idea, however, I’m not sure how reliable they really are.
- 1 portable AM/FM radio – can’t really tell how good this radio is.
- 10 water purification tablets - usually good to purify one litre of water each, so, these would be good for 10 litres (or just short of 3 gallons), still well short of the minimum 6 gallons for a family of four.
- 1 dust mask – what do the other 3 people use, their shirts?
- 1 pair of vinyl gloves – probably only need one or two pairs of these gloves.
- 33 piece first aid kit – probably mostly bandages and wipes, though, I can’t say for sure because no details are provided.
- All stored in a red backpack, which is the better choice for a “bug out” bag.
The High-End $200 Kit Contents
- 48 pouches of Datrex or 24 Aqua blox – about twice as much as shown above, though, still not even 2 gallons to be shared among 4 people for 3 days.
- 48 food bars (200 calories each) - works out to 2400 calories per person total or about 800 calories per day, which is the same as the low-end kit.
- 40 water purification tablets – works out to a little over 10 gallons total, significantly better than the low-end kit and probably all you would need for 3 days.
- 1 hand-crank AM/FM radio – hand-crank radios are a good idea since you don’t have to rely on batteries, but, as long as you choose to keep a backup set of fresh batteries, you can usually more easily find a descent battery-powered alternative.
- 2 hand-squeeze rechargeable flashlights – nice to be rechargeable but probably also not very reliable.
- 1 5-in-1 survival whistle (compass / signal mirror / flint starter / waterproof container / shrill whistle) - I’m not a fan of multi-use tools such as this; you will find better quality with individual items, even inexpensive items.
- 1 box of waterproof matches (box of 50) – waterproof matches are always a good addition.
- 1 firestarter – I assume it’s a magnesium block, though, I’m not sure (a useful backup to matches) but I would suspect the average person would be more familiar with a basic Bic lighter.
- 4 mylar sleeping bags- better than the typical mylar thermal blanket – good choice if you can afford it.
- 4 rain ponchos – see my comments for the low-end kit above.
- 2 two-person tube tent – another good lightweight idea but a small tarp and some rope will do just as good for less cost, probably less weight, and added functionality because you now have a utility tarp and rope.
- 1 16-function knife – again, not sure what’s in it; I would prefer just a full-tang knife.
- 1 pair of leather-palm work gloves – work gloves are useful to have.
- 1 50-foot rope – not sure what kind of rope it is but about 50 feet is good enough for a “bug out” bag.
- 4 person hygiene kit (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, wipes) – not much else to add except maybe a comb.
- 4 N95 masks – an upgrade to the typical dust mask.
- 12 tissue packs – good to have tissues, though, no reason to have so many.
- 1 large first aid kit – would like to know what’s in it; if it’s more than just bandages and antiseptic wipes then it may be somewhat useful.
- 1 pry bar / gas shut off wrench – perhaps useful to have around the home but not necessarily in a “bug out” bag; I would do without it.
- 1 can opener – always good to have one on-hand.
- 2 waste bags – I assumed 33 gallon trash bags, but, I’m not sure; also good to have on-hand.
- 1 2.5-gallon water bag – descent plastic freezer bags would do for temporary water storage as well.
- 4 body warmers - stated to last 16-20 hours; I would be inclined to have a few more if possible.
- 4 12-hour light sticks – more than one per day, which is about all you really need anyway.
- 1 portable stove with fuel tablets (with extra tablets) – good to have a small stove with you; not sure how many fuel tablets are included but extras are good since they usually only last about 15 minutes each.
- 1 package of survival candles- candles are ok to have but can be dangerous and not really necessary if you already have a flashlight in addition to a way to cook/warm food.
- 1 deck of cards – good to have some entertainment; this is what I would choose.
- Packed in a duffel bag – not the best option; backpacks are a better option especially when you’re on foot.
So, what problems did we see?
- Water supply is lacking. Experts say that the minimum water requirement people need to survive is 2 litres per person per day (or roughly 1/2 a gallon per day). Over a 72 hour period this is about 1.5 gallons per person or 6 gallons of water total for a family of four. In all fairness to any “bug out” 72 hour kit (including these kits) water is very heavy (about 8 pounds per gallon). You simply cannot carry 6 gallons of water. The best you can do is carry a fraction of the water you need and hope to acquire and purify the rest later.
- Food supply is lacking in calories and definitely not varied. Calories are less of a concern, however, you can do much better on your own. Again, in fairness, you can live for days (even weeks) without any food at all. I would be less concerned about the calories in your food and more interested in the types of foods included, especially foods that you would enjoy eating. Really, how many food bars can one person eat? DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE the morale-boost that foods give.
- Equipment was severely lacking for the low-end kit. I wouldn’t rely it for anything more than a backache and disappointment.
- Equipment in the high-end kit was significantly better, however, I would change a few things. For instance, the fact this is all packed in a duffel bag will be very difficult to carry even for short distances. I would also have questions about the first aid kit, 16 function knife, firestarter, and fuel tablets. All-in-all, I would say that the equipment in the high-end kit is relatively useful, however, you ARE paying for it; after nearly $30 in additional shipping costs you’re looking at significantly more than the original $200 price tag.
I say you can do better on your own. I’ll show you how.
My goal: Build a 72 hour “bug out” kit for a family of two to four people that is as well prepared (or better so) than the high-end kit outlined above for as close to $100 as possible…
My 72 Hour Kit Contents
Here’s what I came up with for my 72 hour emergency kitafter my shopping-spree at Wal-Mart (I must be honest since I did *cheat* a little in that I decided to take a few existing supplies from around the home of such items as toilet paper, trash bags, and freezer bags rather than purchasing an entire package simply for this purpose, you should do the same.) Note that dollar amounts are rounded up to the nearest dollar. Pictures of my kit follow…
Food & Water (including related equipment):
- bottles of water ($3) – 12 20-ounce bottles of water, which works out to be 240 ounces of water or just shy of two gallons. Remember that it would be very difficult to carry enough minimum water for four people for three days (6 gallons would weight 50 pounds). In fact, I would probably only carry two bottles per person to save on weight, so, let’s just say 8-20 ounce bottles total.
- food($25) – this is one of the best reasons to make your own kit. I have yet to see an online kit that includes any food other than food bars. Although it will keep you alive, eating nothing but food bars WILL get boring very quickly. To combat this, simply add foods you would otherwise enjoy and end up with about the same amount of calories as well. Foods I bought include: pork and beans (2 cans), chicken noodle soup (4 cans), tomato soup (2 cans), Ramen noodle in a cup (4), granola bars (6), easy mac and cheese (4), instant oatmeal (10), tuna in a package (4), life savers candy (1 package). Although not necessarily food, I also included lemonade drink mix (10 single serving packets) and cocoa mix (1o pouches) to “warm the spirits”. Total food calories add up to about 7000 total calories or just under 600 calories per person per day. Although this is 200 calories per person less than the food bars included in the reviewed kits, I would take this over the food bars alone any day of the week. I bet you would too.
- can opener($1) – good to have one on-hand even if you don’t have any cans in your “bug out” bag to open.
- sterno cans x 2 ($6) – used to heat food. Each can lasts for up to 2 1/4 hours (4.5 hours total). You would need about 18 heat tablets to match this. Sterno cans are reusable too, heat tablets are not.
- water treatment chemicals ($6) – Potable Aqua tablets treat about 25 litres of water (about 6.5 gallons), which is all you would need for a family of four for three days.
Equipment & Supplies:
- gloves, leather-palm ($2) – one pair is the minimum you would want.
- flashlight with batteries ($8) – mini MagLite that includes two additional bulbs (good to have extra bulbs).
- knife ($10) – a full tang knife. I would take this over the 16 function knife in the high-end kit any day.
- knife sharpener ($4) – a knife is useless if it can’t be kept sharp. Neither online kit includes this.
- matches and a waterproof match box ($2) – purchased strike-on-box matches, which were NOT my first choice and they shouldn’t be yours either. I would have definitely preferred a box of wind/waterproof matches, though, I couldn’t find any at this Wal-Mart (I swear I’ve seen them at Wal-Mart before). If I were to make this a bag I would keep then I would certainly get some wind/waterproof matches.
- bic lighters x 2 ($2) – a basic lighter and alternative to matches (good to have two sources of fire starting).
- tarp, 8×10 ($8) – anything much larger is not really necessary for a temporary shelter. Using the rope I purchased (shown next) you can create a make-shift shelter almost anywhere. Tarps also have other uses as well, so, this can prove to be a better purchase than the tube tents.
- nylon rope, 50′ ($6) – this is a 1/4″ rope with 124 pound safe working load. You can certainly get rope that is thicker and/or has a higher working load (such as 550 mil-spec parachute cord), however, this should work for most situations and saves on weight. If I could purchase mil-spec parachute cord I would opt for that instead.
- duct tape, small roll – few things cannot be fixed with a roll of duct tape. Flatten the roll to save on space.
- hand warmers x 12 ($4) – stated to last up to 10 hours although I wouldn’t bet on it. Works out to be 3 per person total, which is just right.
- writing supplies ($3) – small pocket notebook and two bold blue ink pens.
- whistle ($3) – a plastic pea-less design. It will work when wet and not freeze to your lips in the cold.
- entertainment ($1) – deck of cards. It doesn’t get much simpler and more versatile than cards.
First Aid, Hygiene & Sanitation:
- first aid supplies packed in easy to identify bag ($19) – although I wasn’t planning on it, I ended up purchasing an outdoor first aid kit in the camping section since it contained quite a few supplies that would be useful and included more than I was originally planning on purchasing. I also supplemented this kit with two 4-inch gauze rolls and a bottle of Equate brand Ibuprofen (24 tablets). Although I won’t list everything, this kit includes: assorted bandages, butterfly closures, adhesive tape roll, first aid guide, assorted gauze pads, gloves, cold compress, tweezers, antibiotic ointment, cotton swabs, safety pins, inspect repellent, sunscreen packets, alcohol wipes, and a few other items.
- vaseline ($2) - petroleum jelly is a wonder product. It can be used as a moisturizer, lip balm, to protect cuts, lubricant, and when combined with something like cotton balls or tissue paper (to act as a wick) it is a great firestarter because it burns relatively slowly.
- hand sanitizer ($2) – good to keep hands clean when on the move and can be an alternative to wet wipes.
- bar of soap ($1) – general cleanliness is good during an emergency.
- toothbrush and toothpaste ($3) – keeping your teeth clean goes a long way to feeling normal in a crisis. Add more toothbrushes if you like. Consider a small spool of dental floss as well.
- facial tissue, 3 packs ($2) – a few packages of tissue is always useful.
- combs x 2 ($1) – added a basic comb.
- backpack ($21) – most any backpack will suffice and is the better option for a “bug out” bag. To save money I purchased a basic backpack.
Additional Items Added:
Note: these items were added to my kit from stock I had around the home in order to save money. Since I only needed one or two of these items, it made little sense to buy a whole package for this purpose. You should do the same if possible. The cost of these additional supplies by themselves is not much, though, they will add to your total if you choose to purchase them at the store.
- plastic freezer bags ($0) – 2 large and 2 small bags. Many uses including temporary water storage.
- 33 gallon trash bags x 4 ($0) – many uses include as a make-shift rain poncho. Saves on weight as well. Add more if you like.
- toilet paper, half roll ($0) – always good to have around. Flatten the roll and place inside a Ziploc bag.
- spare batteries, AA x 2 ($0) – decided to use two batteries from a large pack I had around the house. If you don’t have a stash of batteries to borrow from, then you’re going to have to buy them because you don’t want to be without spares.
- small hand towel ($0) – used for general cleanliness. Add a few extra for good measure.
- plastic eating utensils ($0) – a few plastic forks and spoons can be used (and reused) to eat your food.
Cost and Comments
After I subtract out the cost of my kid’s toy I bought him (because he was very good for me while I dragged him around Wal-Mart for two hours) as well as the unauthorized toy I later found in the shopping bags…
Total cost = $142.57
Total weight = 35 pounds (remember about 10 pounds of this weight is water alone @ 8 20-ounce bottles)
Unfortunately, I didn’t make my goal. However, I am confident I did as good as the high end kit I previously outlined at just over 60% of the total cost I would have paid after shipping.
Granted, I could have come closer to my limit if I had chosen to skimp on *critical components* such as the flashlight, choices of food, first aid supplies, backpack, and so on. I would strongly urge you NOT to skimp on these supplies since their entire purpose is to keep you alive with some semblance of normality after a disaster.
On the other hand, if I were willing to spend a bit more money I could have supplemented my bag by adding a few cyalume light sticks as a second light source, a small roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil (many uses), and a few bandannas (used to conserve warmth when cold and conserve moisture when hot) at little cost.
All-in-all I would say this experiment worked out well and would serve any family well.
>> Click here for a [intlink id="260" type="page"]side-by-side comparison[/intlink] of kits <<
Other Necessities Specific to YOU
Besides the equipment outlined above, there are a few items that should be added but are not shown in my kit because they are personal to you:
- prescription medications- a week’s supply of any special medications you use are vital. Be sure to rotate any meds you keep in your bag.
- any special needs items – could be anything such as diabetic supplies, a spare set of reading glasses, infant supplies, or whatever.
- change of clothing – a change of clothing (at least underclothes) per person is desirable. Clothing appropriate to the climate (i.e., cold weather gear) should be included too. Pay particular attention to children and infants.
- sturdy shoes – you cannot guarantee that the shoes you’re wearing when you leave the house are the best for walking long distances. A good pair of shoes (at least sneakers) can save your feet a lot of pain later on.
- money (cash and coin) – how much to include is a tough decision. I would say at least $100 per adult, if not, much more. When disaster strikes, things tend to cost a lot more. Besides, money could come in handy in other ways (such as bribes) if the situation arises. Beware, however, that a lot of money tends to bring trouble as well.
- identification and documents – photocopies of your driver’s license, state ID, passport, and other important documents such as financials, wills, deeds, immunizations, may prove very useful to have.
- contacts - numbers for local and out-of-state contacts is a must. Could include numbers for your insurance agent, doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, specialists, etc.
- spare keys – keep keys to your house, cars, safe deposit boxes, etc.
- pet supplies – consider a collar, leash, food, etc for any pets you intend to take with you.
Upgrades and Additions
You should know that there are any number of upgrades you could have to the equipment listed. There is always something better to be had. At the same time there are dozens of useful additions to be had if you can afford them and have the space available.
If I choose to spend the money, I would have probably upgraded the following equipment and supplies to make my life a bit easier (click the links to see what I’m talking about)…
- backpack – use a good quality hiking backpack that has a larger capacity to hold more items (such as clothing) as well as a waist strap to better distribute the weight (that will make a huge difference).
- work gloves – a form-fitting pair of work gloves would be nice to have.
- flashlight – for about twice the cost I could have purchased an LED flashlight, which last significantly longer than the typical incandescent bulb lights. I might also consider a second, larger flashlight for general use.
- knife – a better quality fixed blade knife will hold its edge better and be less likely to break under stress.
- rope- 550 mil-spec parachute cord is preferable to most anything else you can carry in a “bug out” bag.
- whistle – a Rescue Howler whistle or Storm whistle whistle will be louder. Consider adding one per person.
- lexan eating utensils- a few lexan utensils will be more durable than the typical disposable plastic ones.
- writing supplies- a Rite-In-The-Rain Notebook and Fisher Space Pen combination will allow you to write in most any situation including in the rain. Very useful for stressful situations.
If I had the money, I would also consider adding the following equipment (these additions could easily cost you $200 or more)…
- multitool or basic tools - A good multitool will prove useful with minimal weight, but, you’ll pay for a good one ($50+). On the other hand, screwdrivers, pliers, a hammer, and a pry bar often come in handy although weight would be a problem.
- folding cook stove – a folding stove gives your pots and cans something to sit atop while heating.
- cook pot- a lightweight cook pot or cookset will make cooking your food easier at times, though, as long as you’re only heating food in their cans then it’s probably not a big deal.
- alternative means to purify water – any number of water purification options are available such as water filters, UV sterilization, etc. An additional method to clean your water is ALWAYS good.
- alternative means to start a fire- another way to start a fire such as a firesteel or magnesium block with flint is useful. Add some form of tinder such as Tinder-Quick.
- alternative light source – a second light source such as cyalume light sticks would be useful.
- small folding shovel – a folding shovel is very useful for bathroom needs at times.
- portable radio- a small battery-powered radio (or hand-crank radio preferred) is always good to have, I simply couldn’t find what I was looking for at Wal-Mart.
- sewing kit – a good travel sewing kit will serve to mend most problems in clothes, straps, etc. Safety pins will do in a pinch as well.
- feminine pads – include several for any menstruating women; are also useful as a trauma pad.
- ponchos – although trash bags will suffice and are useful in general, rain ponchos will do better. Consider one per person and brightly-colored is preferred.
- pre-paid calling card per adult ($10-20) – useful to have an alternative way to pay to when trying to contact relatives and friends from your contacts list.
- pocket survival manual – a small manual such as the SAS Survival Handbook may be useful.
72 Hour Kit Comparison
Food and Water Equipment
Item Low-End Kit High-End Kit My Kit
can opener 1 1
heat tablets yes; unspecified plastic eating utensils several
plastic freezer bags (many uses) several
portable stove 1 sterno cans (no stove needed) 2 cans (5 hours total)
water bag 1 2.5-gallon water treatment chemicals treats 40 litres treats 25 litres (won't need more at 72 hours)
Food and Water
Item Low-End Kit High-End Kit My Kit
aqua blox or datrex 12 aqua blox 24 aqua blox bottles of water 8 20-ounce bottles
chicken noodle soup 4 cans
cocoa drink mix 10 pouches
food bars 4 2400-calorie bars 48 200-calories bars granola bar 6 bars
instant oatmeal 10 packets
lemonade drink mix 10 single servings
life saver candy 1 bag
macaroni and cheese 4 single servings
pork and beans 2 cans
ramen noodle 4 cups
tomato soup 2 cans
tuna in package 4 packages
Shelter and Protection
Item Low-End Kit High-End Kit My Kit
body/hand warmer 4 at 16-20 hours 12 at 10 hours
dust mask 1 mask 4 N95 masks emergency shelter 4 mylar blankets 4 mylar bags; 2 tube tents 1 8x10 tarp (more versatile than tube tents)
rain poncho 4 ponchos 4 ponchos 4 trash bags (lighter weight and more uses)
First Aid, Hygiene, and Sanitation
Item Low-End Kit High-End Kit My Kit
bar of soap 1 1
facial tissue 4 packs 12 packs (way too many) 3 packs
first aid kit 33 piece kit 1 large kit (don't know contents) 1 comprehensive kit
hand sanitizer 1 bottle
hand towel 1 towel
toilet paper 1/2 roll
toothbrush and toothpaste 1 of each 1 of each
vasaline 1 jar (many uses)
wet wipes 1 package
Equipment and Supplies
Item Low-End Kit High-End Kit My Kit
candle 1 package (fire danger - intentionally not included)
duct tape 1 roll
entertainment 1 deck of cards 1 deck of cards
firestarter 1 firestarter flashlight 1 shake light (unreliable) 2 hand-squeeze (unreliable) 1 mini MagLite
gas shut off wrench 1 (not needed in a bug out bag)
knife 1 full-tang large knife
knife sharpener 1 mini sharpener
light stick 1 12-hour 4 12-hour lighter 2 Bic lighters
matches 1 box waterproof 1 strike-on-box
multi-function knife/tool 16-function (prefer to have a good knife over a multi-function knife any day)
portable radio 1 portable am/fm 1 hand-crank rope 50' (what kind?) 50' nylon
spare batteries 2 AA batteries
waste bags 2 33-gallon (assumed) 4 33-gallon (many uses)
whistle 1 whistle 5-in-1 survival (multi-use tools are questionable) 1 pealess design (best design for emergency)
work gloves 1 vinyl 1 leather-palm 1 leather-palm
writing supplies 1 notebook and pens
Item Low-End Kit High-End Kit My Kit
storage backpack duffel bag (difficult to carry on foot) backpack
cost (before shipping) $60 $200 $145
cost (after shipping) $80 $230 $145
weight 35 45 35
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