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How to Prepare a Backpack Emergency Kit

What’s in your emergency backpack? Mine got organized last year, when the northern California wildfires ravaging neighborhoods a half-hour’s drive from my house were sending soot to dust my front porch.

Whether smoke is in the air or you live in a region with stormy weather ahead, now is a good time to organize emergency essentials so they will be ready to grab and go.

Photography by Mimi Giboin, except where noted.

Backpack

To get started, I consulted the checklists at the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In addition to a bag filled with the recommended basics—such as water, food, and a warm blanket—I packed a lightweight backpack with a first aid kit, cash and essential documents, and an emergency lantern.

Luckily I didn’t need my emergency kit this time. It’s hanging on an entryway hook, it’s ready to go.

emergency kit backpack by Mimi Giboin
Above: What’s inside? My Danish-made Rains Backpack is sewn of water-resistant fabric and has internal pockets, including one big enough to hold my laptop; $110.

Oversize Wallet

My leather wallet is big enough to hold a spare set of keys and cash. It also can accommodate important documents—passports and insurance cards—and keep my cell phone safe.

When you’re headed out the door fast, it’s helpful to have one wallet that can hold all these essential items so you don’t have to scramble around and look for them later. In one spot, they’re less likely to go missing later than if you toss keys into one pocket and cell phone into a side pouch and passport into…well, who can remember?

I keep a large wallet (which can double as a handbag) tucked in an inside pocket of the backpack. For a similar wallet, consider a 10.5-inch-long Black Leather Clutch Bag with a wrist strap ($105 from ThePurseCo via Etsy).
Above: I keep a large wallet (which can double as a handbag) tucked in an inside pocket of the backpack. For a similar wallet, consider a 10.5-inch-long Black Leather Clutch Bag with a wrist strap ($105 from ThePurseCo via Etsy).

Color-Coded Keys

Add color-coded keys to keep track of all your house keys, car keys, office keys, and any other sets or spares in your backpack.

Color-coded Key Caps are $8.95 for a pack of 20 in assorted colors from Amazon.
Above: Color-coded Key Caps are $8.95 for a pack of 20 in assorted colors from Amazon.

First Aid Kit

In addition to any medications you take regularly, it’s a good idea to pack antibiotic ointment, sterile swabs, different sizes of bandages, cotton swabs, safety scissors, surgical tape, and tweezers.

emergency kit First Aid kit
Above: I packed emergency first aid essentials in a small metal White Tin that fits easily into my backpack; $7 from Amazon.

Emergency Lantern

You may not have access to electricity in an emergency. Pack a lightweight battery-operated camping lantern (in a weather-resistant finish). For a simple model with a rechargeable battery, consider the Barebones Forest Rechargeable Lantern with a lithium-ion battery that can also be used to charge a cell phone; it’s $49.95 at L.L. Bean.

emergency kit lantern by Mimi Giboin
Above: My trusty battery-operated lantern is weather-resistant and has a hanging hook. It’s a discontinued model, and some next-generation models have more functionality, including batteries that you can use to charge your cell phone.

Candles and Matches

emergency kit candles and matches by Mimi Giboin
Above: A few small tea lights, strategically placed, can light up a whole room. A pack of 100 Glimma Tealights is $3.49 from Ikea.

Emergency Radio

emergency kit crank radio by Mimi Giboin
Above: From Eton, an AM/FM American Red Cross Emergency Weather Radio is powered by hand crank. With an LED flashlight and a glow-in-the-dark locator, it is $29.97 from Amazon.

Soap and Bleach

FEMA recommends packing household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper in an emergency kit: “When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color-safe, or bleaches with added cleaners.”

bleach and bar of soap by Mimi Giboin
Above: A bottle of bleach and a bar of Kirk’s Original Coco Castile Soap ($1.99 from iHerb) are in my emergency kit backpack.

Can Opener

can opener by Mimi Giboin
Above: An old-fashioned can opener also will open bottles and doubles as a hole punch in a pinch; an OXO Steel Bottle Opener is $7.99 from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Deck of Cards

playing cards from Amazon
Above: Here’s hoping for a warm, dry shelter—and companions to play cards. Designed for Areaware by Joe Doucet, a deck of Minim Playing Cards is $9.97 from Amazon.
Now that you’ve seen what’s in my backpack, tell us about yours. What is in your emergency kit?

N.B.: This post is an update; it was originally published on November 30, 2017.

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