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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Best Gear for Your Home Emergency Kit

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.

Be sure to check out more guides to keep your home stocked and yourself prepared, such as How to Build a Home Tool Kit, Essentials You Need to Keep In Your Car, Best Multi-Tools, and How to Winterize Your Home.

Updated September 2023: We've swapped headlamps, AM/FM radios and small stoves, as well as adding an insulated water bottle, a hammer, and a summer sleeping bag. We've also updated pricing and availability.

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A Flashlight Fenix E20 V2 for $45

The Fenix E20 V2 for $45 is my top pick for an affordable emergency flashlight, but the ThruNite Archer 2A V3 for $30 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.

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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 $43. 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 Black Diamond Astro 300 for $20 runs on three easily found AAA batteries and has three brightness settings, the brightest of which throws 300 lumens. That's more than powerful enough for tasks outside the home, while you can squeeze 140 hours of runtime out of the lowest setting for general tasks indoors.

A LanternColeman 4D LED Camp Lantern for $22

Coleman discontinued our previous favorite pick, the Divide+ Push Lantern, so the Coleman 4D LED Camp Lantern for $22 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 $15 has three wicks that'll last for 12 hours each. Keep a lighter or some matches nearby.

A Water PurifierLifeStraw Go Series Water Purifier Bottle for $45

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, bottle-less straw is still a good backup option for $17, and it'll filter up to 1,000 gallons.

Another option is the Katadyn Steripen Adventurer for $120, 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.

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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.

An Air PurifierCoway Airmega 200M for $197

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 $400 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 $12. If these are out of stock, as many masks frequently are, check out our Best Disposable Face Masks guide.

A Propane Camp StoveColeman Propane Camp Stove for $48 

Safety note: Don't use any of these stoves indoors. All of these fuels give off potentially deadly fumes that can accumulate and kill.

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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 $198. 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 $11 if you purchase a liquid-fuel stove.

The Sterno Outdoor Folding Camp Stove for $14 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 an MSR Pocket Rocket for $85. Our previous pick, the Jetboil Zip for $95, is a fine stove for making single-serve hot drinks and soupy meals, but with the MSR you can use your regular cookware to make multiperson meals. It's not as fancy as the Colemans, but it's a lot easier to store in a crowded apartment. Make sure you grab an MSR IsoPro Fuel Canister for $11. This large, 16-ounce size is best, in case the emergency lasts for several days.

Emergency Food and UtensilsGSI Outdoors Pioneer Table Set for $130

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 $130. If somebody drops a piece, no big deal.

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Assuming your home's water supply is still working (and clean), the water will come out of the pipes somewhat cooler than the ambient air temperature. Having an insulated bottle will help conserve that precious coolness if you don't like drinking room-temperature water. The Klean Kanteen Insulated Classic for $34 is much easier to find for sale than the Miir—the top pick in our Best Reusable Water Bottles guide—and I found it remarkably durable. For more drinkware, check out our Best Insulated Travel Mugs guide.

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 $105. 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.

ToolsLeatherman Wave Plus for $120

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.

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You may have to board up windows. Nails have increased sheer strength (that is, strength against forces perpendicular to the head). You'll need a good hammer. Since the slightly more affordable Plumb we recommend in my How to Build a Home Tool Kit guide is sold out, you may as well step up to my favorite hammer, the Vaughan 20-ounce Smooth Face Hickory-Handle Hammer, for $27. Forget metal-handled hammers. They transit a lot of striking force to your hand through the handle. Fiberglass or wood is more forgiving. Pick up a pound or two of common nails while you're at it.

You may need to repair items around the home, too, so it wouldn't hurt to have a good drill handy. 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.

Mosey on over to our article How to Put Together a Home Tool Kit and our guide to the Best Multi-Tools for most information on preparing your home for natural disasters.

A Spare MattressColeman Quick Bed Single High Mattress Queen-Size for $53

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 $53 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. 

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There's also the Coleman Pack-Away Camping Cot for $76. 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.

You can use a rectangular sleeping bag (instead of a mummy bag) so that you have more room to stretch out. The Coleman Brazos 30 Sleeping Bag for $47 and Alps Mountaineering Crescent Lake 20F Sleeping Bag for $55 are solid options that won't break the bank. For warmer seasons when you might need something during cool nights, the Marmot NanoWave 55 Sleeping Bag for $79 is a personal favorite. It's rated to 55 degrees Fahrenheight and is just roomy enough not to feel constricting while also packing down into the size of a water bottle. Keep in mind that temperature ratings on sleeping bags are often overly optimistic, especially for women, who tend to sleep colder than men.

A Portable Charger and RadioAnker PowerCore Slim 10,000-mAh Portable Charger for $24

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 $24, but if you know you'll be on your phone much more or using an iPad, steer toward the PowerCore 26,800-mAh for $26. 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 $200. 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.

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You'll also want a portable radio, such as the Sony Portable AM/FM Radio for $40, 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. As with your flashlight, take the batteries out and store them with the radio.

Warm ClothesUniqlo Fluffy Yarn Fleece Jacket for $40 or REI Co-Op 650 Down Jacket 2.0 for $100

Make sure you’ve got warm clothing to wear indoors if the power goes out. The Uniqlo Fluffy Yarn Fleece Jacket (men, women) for $40 and REI Co-Op 650 Down Jacket 2.0 (men, women) for $100 are insanely warm, as are Uniqlo’s Heattech long john tops (men, women) for $30 and bottoms (men, women) for $30. If you end up outside cutting up trees and fixing busted fences after a disaster, you might not want to get your regular jacket torn up or muddy. My Carharrt Duck Sherpa-Lined Coat for $130 is very warm and very tough; I’ve subjected it to all kinds of abuse. There's a similarly tough Carharrt Duck Sherpa-Lined Coat in women's sizing for $130. Fjallraven is another tough outerwear brand that makes jackets we like. 

While you’re at it, check out our gift guide for people who're always cold. Don’t forget a cozy blanket, such as the L.L.Bean Wicked Plush Throw for $30, and keep your feet warm with Glerups' Wool Slippers for $100 and Darn Tough wool socks for $23. They're expensive, but they’ve kept my feet warm through a few disasters. 

Your Coffee FixHario Skerton Pro for $51 and Hario V60 Size 02 for $21

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 $51. 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 $21 is perfect for making a big cup for one person at a time. 

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If you do pour-over, you'll need to keep coffee filters for $6 around, and you'll need a gooseneck kettle to control the pour. The best stovetop one I've used is the Hario V60 Jino Gooseneck Kettle for $44. For French press, the Frieling 23-Ounce for $120 is my pick. It's double-wall insulated, so you won't burn your hands, and it's big enough to make a couple of big cups of coffee at a time. The AeroPress for $40 also comes highly recommended by another WIRED coffee addict. 

Check out our Best Insulated Travel Mugs and Best Portable Coffee Makers guides for more.

Bathroom Needs

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. This product tends to go in and out of stock, so if it's currently unavailable, just keep an eye on the product page.

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 $6 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 $575.

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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.

Other Essentials

You probably have most of the medical essentials such as bandages and ibuprofen, but you should have a more robust medical kit for emergencies. Check out my guide on How to Make a First Aid Kit. It'll tell you how to build a bomber kit for less money than the storebought versions. If that sounds like a daunting task, the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer Medical Kit for $70 will cover the bases.. They also make medical kits that include directions for pets and their humans for $57. If someone gets hurt badly, you might not be able to get to a hospital right away. It's a good idea to learn some first aid. You can take NOLS Wilderness First Aid courses through REI. From my experiences over the past four years, NOLS has fantastic instructors and a thorough hands-on curriculum.

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 $48. Check out more of WIRED's Favorite Board Games for ways to pass the time during trying times.

Finally, you should read WIRED senior associate 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. 

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