How to Build an Emergency Kit

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 04, 2022
5 min read

Emergency kits are the sort of thing that you never want to have to use, but if the need arises, you’re glad you have them. Almost every state in the U.S. has natural disasters from time to time, and they’re only increasing in frequency. Having an emergency kit on hand can help you navigate disasters and stay alive.

An emergency kit, sometimes called a survival kit or disaster supply kit, is a collection of supplies that you might need during a time of emergency, like water, food, and medical supplies. These kits need to have enough supplies so that everyone in your family can survive for a few days.

There are a few different types of kits you can build, and all are good to keep on hand. 

Home disaster kit. A home disaster kit is a kit for when you’re stuck at home during an emergency. It will include things like nonperishable foods and stocks of water. It may also include things to help combat severe weather issues, depending on the area you live in. 

Evacuation kit. An evacuation kit is a portable kit that you can grab in the event of an evacuation. It should contain things like water and food but also things that you may need if you can’t get back to your home, like copies of important documents and medications.

Car survival kit. Car survival kits have enough equipment so that you can survive if you’re stranded in your car. Aside from typical car emergency items like a tire iron or jumper cables, you should also keep things like blankets, food, water, and first aid supplies in your vehicle.

First aid kit. Every home should have a first aid kit of some type, whether you build it yourself or buy a pre-made kit at the store. These include items like bandages, ice packs, and sanitizer to patch someone up after an injury.

Emergencies can strike without warning. Having a kit on hand means that you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way. With natural disasters increasing, it’s more important than ever to have these supplies on hand.

Emergency kits give you the supplies you need to stay alive until help comes. They can be the difference between life and death.

The method for making an emergency kit is similar no matter what type of kit you’re building.

First, determine the type of kit you’re building. Are you looking for something to keep at home or in the car? That will influence some of the things you need for your kit.

Find a checklist, like the one below, of things you’ll typically need in your emergency kit. These are the basics. Then consider anything extra you might need, like pet supplies, things for kids, and medical items. 

You also want to consider which types of emergencies you’re preparing for. People living outside of the western U.S. don’t need to prepare for volcanoes, and people outside the east coast don’t need to prepare for hurricanes. 

But many parts of the country can experience flooding, wildfires, or severe storms. Winter storms can hit areas that might surprise you and can cause severe damage, like the Texas winter storms of February 2021 that resulted in 246 deaths.

The things you need in your emergency kit will depend on your personal needs, the type of kit you’re building, and what type of emergencies you’re preparing for.

Basic emergency checklist. Your basic emergency kit should include:

  • Water — at least 1 gallon per person per day for several days, more if you have pets
  • Food — a several-day supply of food per person
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio as well as a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Cell phone with extra chargers and a backup battery
  • Dust mask to filter out contaminated air
  • Extra batteries
  • Fire extinguisher
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Local maps
  • Manual can opener
  • Matches
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

Medical supplies. Aside from a first aid kit, you may want to consider adding medical supplies, especially for your evacuation kit or car kit, like: 

  • Eyeglasses and extra contact lens solution
  • Extra prescription medications
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Masks
  • Over-the-counter medication like pain relievers, antacids, and allergy medicines

Kits for families with kids or pets. If your family includes kids and pets, you may need to add some of the following:

  • Activities to reduce boredom for kids, like books and games
  • Infant supplies like formula, bottles, diapers, and wipes
  • Pet food and extra water

Kits for evacuation. An evacuation kit should have important things that you’ll need if you flee your home, like: 

  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Copies of important documents, like birth certificates, stored in a waterproof container
  • Extra clothes for everyone, including a pair of sturdy shoes
  • Sleeping bags or warm blankets

Winter emergency kit. If you live in an area where the temperatures can drop too low for survival, you need items that can prevent you from getting hypothermia and frostbite. Winter kits should include:

  • An emergency heat source like a fireplace, space heater, or wood stove
  • Heating fuel
  • Instant heat packs
  • Working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

Other. You may also want to include:

  • A generator
  • Mess kits with things like disposable plates, cups, and utensils
  • Paper and pencil

Vehicle emergency kit. While there is some overlap between a vehicle emergency kit and a basic disaster kit, there are also some major differences. Your vehicle emergency kit should have:

  • Blanket(s)
  • Bright-colored cloth and reflective triangles to make your vehicle more visible
  • Car charger
  • Compass
  • Drinking water
  • Duct tape
  • Fire extinguisher
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Jumper cables
  • Nonperishable food
  • Rain poncho
  • Tire changing equipment, including an inflated spare tire, wheel wrench, and tripod jack
  • Tool kit and/or multipurpose utility tool

In winter or when traveling to snowy areas, your car should also have:

  • Cat litter to provide traction
  • Extra blankets or sleeping bags
  • Instant heat packs
  • Shovel
  • Snow brush
  • Warm clothes

Check on all your emergency kits every six months. Replace expired food and water bottles and update the contents as needed.

You should keep your home emergency kit and evacuation kit in a designated spot that you can access quickly if you need to. Make sure everyone in your family knows where this kit is.

You can keep your car emergency kit in your vehicle. If you don't have trunk access from inside the car, you may want to keep the kit inside the car rather than in the trunk.