Prepare your home to handle any natural disaster or emergency with these crucial essentials.
Preparing for an emergency is the last thing you want to be doing during an emergency. There's never enough food, flashlights, batteries, or fuel to go around once you hear of an impending hurricane, blizzard, or wildfire, because everyone else in town is going to out fighitng over the same limited stock of items. It's better to stock up in advance and avoid the battle royal. Forget the milk and eggs. We've rounded up all the essentials for your emergency kit.
Updated May 2023: We've added the LifeStraw Go water purifier bottle, Coway Airmega 200 air purifier, Opinel No. 8 folding knife, and Powerfilm Solar Lightsaver.
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The Fenix E20 V2 for $45 is my top pick for an affordable emergency flashlight, but the ThruNite Archer 2A V3 for $24 is another solid choice. At 350 and 500 lumens, respectively, they're bright enough while remaining compact, and they last long on lower-light settings—200 hours at 5 lumens for the Fenix and 51 hours at 17 lumens for the ThruNite. Both use two AA batteries, and in an emergency your main concern is to have a good supply of replacement batteries.
If you're using alkaline batteries, remove them from the flashlight if it's going to sit unused for a long time, otherwise they'll leak and cause problems. Store them near the flashlight so you can easily find them. Try taping the batteries to the flashlight barrel.
Pro tip: The best-performing flashlights are built specifically to use lithium-ion batteries or have nonremovable rechargeable batteries, which won't do you any good if the power is out for a long time. Rechargeable nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) AA batteries maintain their performance better over the lifetime of the battery, whereas alkalines’ performance drops off more as they deplete, so buy some Panasonic Eneloops for $41. They're better for the environment, but if they run out of charge you can still use regular alkaline AAs.
You may prefer to keep a headlamp handy. The Petzl Actik for $40 is my favorite model and has never let me down, from snowy mountains to dusty deserts. It runs on three easily found AAA batteries and has three brightness settings, the brightest of which is more than powerful enough for emergencies around the home.
Coleman discontinued our previous favorite pick, the Divide+ Push Lantern, so the Coleman 4D LED Camp Lantern for $19 is the next-best choice for not a lot of coin. Flashlights do a poor job when you need to light up a whole room or if you need your hands free for a task. This basic lantern offers a single setting of 54 lumens, with a runtime of 175 hours on four D-cell batteries. That sounds like a lot, but next to other full-size battery-powered lanterns, such as the Coleman Twin LED lantern that uses eight D cells, it's economical. Fifty-four lumens is not what I'd call bright, but it is plenty bright enough for most tasks, even reading, while conserving battery life.
If you want to save batteries or just prefer hanging out by gentle flickering candlelight, keep a spare emergency candle or two. The Coghlan's 36-Hour Survival Candle for $10 has three wicks that'll last for 12 hours each. Keep a lighter or some matches nearby.
Most of the time, your water supply will work even when the power goes out. But major natural disasters can knock it out or damage it, and you might get dirty water. The LifeStraw Go Series Water Purifier Bottle for $45 marries the straw component of the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter with a BPA-free plastic bottle to filter out 99.99 percent of waterborne bacteria for up to 26 gallons of water. The original, bottleless straw is still a good backup option for $17, and it'll filter up to 1,000 gallons.
Our previous top pick, the Grayl Ultralight Compact Purifier Bottle for $81, is still and excellent and dependle choice. It's just expensive. Still, it's a solid and fast one-person filter that’ll last 300 uses—a total of 40 gallons—before you need to swap the filter. It’s what I trust when traveling to countries with no guarantee of water sanitation.
Another option is the Katadyn Steripen Adventurer for $105, which purifies using ultraviolet light. Dunk it in your water and stir. It won’t filter out sediment, but it’s small, lightweight, and runs on replaceable CR123 batteries. You can also try Katadyn Micropur tablets for $16. They're cheap and easy to store. Drop them in water and wait briefly. The taste isn’t great, but no water-treatment tablets or droplets are, in my experience.
If you have a large household, you may prefer something like the MSR AutoFlow XL Gravity Filter for $125. Gravity filters take longer to purify water. You can boil water, but it won’t filter out sediment, and boiling uses fuel and takes time.
Wildfires are becoming an annual hazard, especially on the West Coast of the US, and they can spread dangerous amounts of particulate throughout the air. Homes aren't very airtight at all. Keep that toxic, carcinogenic junk out of your indoor air (and out of your lungs) by purchasing an air purifier for your home. The Coway Airmega 200M for $197 is my favorite affordable model for a small room, such as a bedroom or home office. For a larger room (up to 930 square feet), the Coway Airmega 250 for $330 is our top pick. Like the 200M, it has a smart setting that ramps up the filtering power automatically when needed; after several years of testing, both models are still going strong. Check out our Best Air Purifiers guide for more recommendations from the WIRED Gear Team.
You probably already have some face masks at home, but if you don't and you live in a region susceptible to wildfires, you should pick up a box of disposable, medical-grade masks so you can breathe easier if the air becomes saturated with smoke. Fortunately, the best masks that protect against Covid-19 also protect well against smoke. We recommend the Powecom KN95 10-Pack for $11. If these are out of stock, as many masks frequently are, check out our Best Disposable Face Masks guide.
Still made in the US, the classic Coleman Propane Camp Stove for $48 really hasn't changed much over the years. Propane is easy to use if you remember to stock up, and it's clean-burning. If propane is not your thing, get the Coleman Guide-Series Dual Fuel Camp Stove $178. Camp fuel (also known as Coleman fuel and white gas) burns relatively cleanly, is easy to find for sale, and is an ideal camp stove fuel.
You can also use gasoline in the Dual Fuel, but gasoline contains a lot of additives that gunk up the stove's internals, and you'll need to clean the stove out much more frequently. Get a Coleman Filtering Funnel for $8 if you purchase a liquid-fuel stove.
The Sterno Outdoor Folding Camp Stove for $12 folds up so small that it's an easy option for people without room to keep a full-size stove around. It's an inexpensive backup that's handy to have, even if you've got a nice camp stove or a backpacking stove like a Jetboil Zip for $95. It's a pain to cook dishes big enough to serve several people on a Sterno, but for a pot of ramen or making hot chocolate while waiting out a storm, it's more than capable.
Your regular cooking utensils, eating utensils, and metal, plastic, and wooden cookware can all be used during an emergency, but glass or ceramic drinking glasses and plates are a different case, as they can shatter. It'll be tough cleaning up the pieces with no power. When the lights go out, switch to this enameled steel dishware, such as the GSI Outdoors Pioneer Table Set for $122. If somebody drops a piece, no big deal. For more drinkware, check out our Best Insulated Travel Mugs and Best Reusable Water Bottles guides.
Stock up on items that don't require refrigeration and have long shelf lives. Rather than making a grocery run for eggs and milk, pick up foods such as instant rice, dried fruit, and oatmeal. If you don't have room for a camp stove or live in a busy city where it may be tough to cook outside when the power goes out, or if you just don't like to cook, pick up a Mountain House 3-Day Adventure Dehydrated Meal Kit for $155. All you need to do is add water.
If the power does go out, keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible, to keep the stuff inside fresh for as long as possible.
For small jobs, a good do-it-all multi-tool such as the Leatherman Wave Plus for $120 is a lifesaver. When the lights are out and there's emergency gear spread out all over the home, it's especially annoying to keep going out to the garage to retrieve one tool after another. Carry them all in one tool in your pocket and cut the number of trips way down.
If you only need a knife, the made-in-France Opinel No. 8 folding knife for $19 is an excellent choice. For such little money, the stainless steel blade—which can be locked open or closed—is remarkably sharp and well shaped. Because it's so light, I often take it hiking instead of a chunkier knife.
Forget nailing boards to your home. Screws hold more securely. You may have to board up windows, so you'll need a good drill. The DeWalt 20V Max 1/2-Inch Cordless Drill for $99 is my favorite drill, and the best deal in cordless drills on the market. I recommend it for all homeowners, but it comes especially in handy when you have a lot of screws to drive in a hurry. A DeWalt 14-piece Screw Bit Set for $11 is a solid, affordable set of drill bits to use with your drill.
It's difficult for most people to store a bunch of spare lumber in case of an emergency—you'll just have to go to the hardware store to stock up at the earliest sign of trouble—but it's easy to go ahead and store a big box of general purpose screws. Some 2-inch wood screws should do the trick. Make sure they're wood screws, which are designed specifically to go into wood.
Some odds and ends will come in handy, too. Always keep a roll of duct tape for $8 handy, and a screwdriver in case your cordless drill runs out of power and you're unable to recharge it. A Channellock 6-in-1 Screwdriver for $8 has the main screwdriver bit sizes, both flathead and Phillips, and keeps everything compact by storing the bits inside itself.
You'll need more beds if other folks stay with you during an emergency. Generally, I hate how inflatable mattresses deflate under my body weight by the early morning hours. The only exceptions I've found are Coleman mattresses, which have air nozzles designed to seal tighter when bodyweight is on top of the mattress. When I used the Quick Bed Single High Mattress Queen-Size for $55 last, I slept three nights before having to top it off with more air. Pick up a manual air pump if you don't already have a bicycle or sports pump.
There's also the Coleman Pack-Away Camping Cot for $80. Unlike most cots, this one doesn't have horizontal bars across the head and foot ends. Bars like that are evil. I've whacked my head and ankles on them enough for two lifetimes.
Anker makes my favorite power banks, which I use when traveling and during power outages to keep my phone topped off. That's important during emergencies for communicating with people. You can get by for days with a slim model like the Anker PowerCore Slim 10,000-mAh Portable Charger for $30, but if you know you'll be on your phone much more or using an iPad, steer toward the PowerCore 26,800-mAh for $36. Remember to check it periodically, pre-emergency, to keep it fully charged. Read our Best Portable Chargers guide for more.
If you'd like to plan for longer emergencies, in situations where you may run down a battery bank before the power comes back on, consider the Powerfilm Solar Lightsaver for $211. Barely the size of a small flashlight when rolled up, this compact solar panel charges fully in only six hours. Once it's charged, connect it via a USB cable to whichever device needs extra juice. It can also double as a standard battery bank if you charge it via a wall outlet, which takes about three hours with the included micro USB cable.
You'll also want a portable radio, such as the Sony Portable AM/FM Radio for $23, to hear weather reports and emergency broadcasts. Even if you don't ordinarily listen to terrestrial radio, you should have one and not rely on your phone. Like with the flashlight, take the batteries out and store them with the radio.
Mr. Coffee and Keurig don't work when the power's out, but you'll still want your morning cup of joe. I'm one of WIRED's many coffee-worshiping zealots, and my favorite coffee grinder is the manual Hario Skerton Pro for $46. Its base is made of thick glass that's survived more than a few drops onto my hardwood floor, and you can adjust the grind size to be suitable for anything from espresso to French press. For pour-overs, the ceramic Hario V60 Size 02 for $23 is perfect for making a big cup for one person at a time.
Your shower is likely to work just fine, but the Simple Shower Gravity Shower Kit for $12 is an inexpensive, compact backup if your home loses its supply of clean tap water. This kit screws onto a common soda bottle. Hang it upside down and it'll feed water onto the bather. You can use it anywhere, but you may as well set it up in your regular shower. If you hang it off the showerhead pipe, just make sure the weight won't tear it out of the wall or bend it.
Toilets usually will still flush fine in an emergency, and if they stop refilling you can flush a toilet by pouring water into the back tank (not the bowl). If your home's water supply is broken for days, eventually you'll need somewhere else to go. Buy a Luggable Loo Toilet Seat Lid for $16 and a 5-Gallon Bucket for $5 to construct a makeshift toilet. Don't forget waste bags for $14 to line the bucket. Keep a bag of kitty litter nearby, along with a cheap trowel for $3 for scooping it into the bucket after each use, extra toilet paper, and hand sanitizer.
A Generator … in Certain Circumstances
Most of the time, you can get by without a generator and manage to stay warm, cook, and keep some lights on. You have to maintain generators, make sure you store enough fuel, and empty their tanks before they sit unused for a long time—or use a fuel stabilizer for $9. If you need a generator for medical equipment or think the luxury is worth the hassle, Honda makes excellent ones; Briggs & Stratton motors are solid too. But honestly, if you have to buy a big, hulking generator that’ll sit unused most of the time, and you’re watching your pennies, you can get by with a cheap one such as the Champion Dual Fuel 3650-Watt for $616.
Pro tip: Change the spark plug to a brand-name one as soon as you bring it home. The stock spark plugs that come with these Chinese generators tend to be junk. Just remember that gasoline spoils relatively quickly, needs to be prepared for inactivity with fuel stabilizers, and must be drained after a year. This is why, for most people, a generator isn't worth it (especially if you follow the rest of this guide).
You should keep some spare gas around, as well. Whether you need it for your generator or your car, buy a fuel can that's made specifically for storing fuel safely. The Garage Boss Press N Pour for $28 will hold 5 gallons of gasoline and comes with a safety nozzle that only releases fuel when the spout is pressed to the gas tank opening. Just remember that cans are typically color-coded to the types of fuel they hold, in order to reduce the chance of costly or dangerous mix-ups. Gasoline goes in red canisters, and diesel goes in yellow.
Natural disasters can be pretty boring during the non-panicky parts. Power outages involve lots of sitting around, so pick up a card game or a board game to play. I recommend Exploding Kittens for $20 to soothe everybody's nerves—or aggravate them in an entertaining manner. It also has no small pieces to lose in the dark. For board games, check out one of our favorites: Ticket to Ride for $47. Check out more of WIRED's Favorite Board Games for ways to pass the time during trying times.
Finally, you should read WIRED reviews editor Adrienne So's article on why the best emergency gear is other people. Having a network of people to communicate with and who will check in on you is incredibly important.
Matt Jancer is a staff writer for WIRED who focuses on reviewing outdoor gear. Previously, he spent a decade as a freelance writer covering automobiles, motorcycles, and lifestyle stories for magazines. Some of his longest gigs were at Car and Driver, Outside, Esquire, Playboy, and Popular Mechanics.