How to Build a 72-Hour Emergency Bag

a bag being packed with essential emergency supplies

Life is full of surprises. Rather than be taken by surprise in the case of an emergency, it’s important to spend a little time thinking about what you and your family might need if everyone had to leave home for seventy-two hours. If you need to evacuate for any reason, a pre-packed emergency bag stashed in an easily accessible place can make a real difference.

This post is part of our travel advice series

What you need to pack will vary depending on the needs of your household. As you are putting it together, always keep in mind that this is just a basic emergency bag–it is not going to have the same items you would pack for a typical overnight away from home.

Building Your Emergency Bag

To make figuring out what to include a little easier, below are the types of items you should think about including in your bag to keep your family safe and as comfortable as possible during an evacuation:

  • Change of clothes – include sturdy shoes and rain ponchos, if needed.
  • Water – include three gallons or more per person for drinking and basic cleaning.
  • Cash and essential documents – cash is helpful if ATMs or credit card services are out of order; copies of insurance policies, passports, and birth certificates might also come in handy.
  • Non-perishable food – add only food that is filling and that you don’t need to cook, such as peanut butter and granola bars; bring enough to feed everyone for seventy-two hours.
  • First aid kit make your own or buy a quality pre-assembled kit, and make sure it includes bandages, gauze, and pain relievers. You’ll also want to pack any prescription medications or other medical supplies your family needs.
  • Some basic tools – a flashlight, extra batteries, and a multi-purpose tool are always a good idea to include.
  • Multiple means of communication – add a radio and batteries, cell phones and chargers, whistles, and maps.
  • Items for specific needs – if you have babies or young children, add diapers and formula. Elderly people might need a cane or medical device. If you have pets, include food and water for them, too.
flat lay of essential gear you'll want in an emergency survival situation

What to Leave Out of Your Emergency Bag

While it might be tempting to stuff in a few more items that seem too important to leave behind, remind yourself that your emergency bag is just for the basics, and ask yourself: Do we need this item, or do we want this item? Asking yourself these questions might help you sort through what to bring. Remember, this bag is meant to get you through a few days, not weeks at a time.

The following items should also be avoided in your emergency bag:

  • Matches and lighters – if you decide to bring some waterproof matches, keep them in a safe place, as matches can be a fire hazard if not handled properly. Lighters can also become a fire hazard in the wrong hands like matches. Store these separately in a safe place and not in your emergency kit.
  • Flammable liquids – it might be tempting to bring extra fuel for the car, for building a fire to keep warm, or for lighting a grill for cooking food, but lighter fluid, gasoline, kerosene, and other flammable liquids are dangerous and can easily leak and start a fire.
  • Other hazardous materials – there’s no reason to pack any chemicals in an emergency bag. Leave these behind–they could cause more harm than good.

Storing Your Emergency Bag

Store your emergency bag in a place that’s easily accessible, and make sure everyone in your household knows where it is. The storage spot might be in a hall closet near the door used most often to go in and out of the house or maybe in the garage near the door. Anywhere that is easy for you to grab it and get out of the house quickly will work.

Having an emergency bag ready to go will bring you peace of mind in a disaster. If you need to evacuate, you will be prepared to deal with whatever happens and have essentials with you that will keep everyone going for at least seventy-two hours.

After this time, you will hopefully be able to return home, or there will be emergency services teams on site to help you navigate through a difficult situation.

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What to Pack in an Emergency Bag with example items

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