Basic Preparation Pays

Whether you’re hitting the road, the trail, or the couch, building a basic emergency preparedness kit is an essential task that is often overlooked. We get it, not everyone wants to have three months worth of nonperishables stored in their shed; but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

A basic emergency preparedness kit has essentials that can help you in more extreme scenarios, or it can just make dealing with less extreme cases a bit easier to manage. Get stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike behind a wreck for three hours in the middle of winter and you’ll be glad you threw that spare blanket and snack in your trunk. Trust us. 

Getting Started

You may need to survive on your own for several days after an emergency, but most experts recommend being prepared with supplies to survive for a minimum of 72 hours (the window within most emergency scenarios are resolved).

Below is a list of items to get your basic emergency kit started for, and some options for different applications. Remember, at Cairn, we’re not survival experts; but we’re experienced in the outdoors and have learned the lessons of being unprepared the hard way.


Pack your items in one (or two, depending on the intended use) easy to carry containers. Plastic bins, backpacks, or duffel bags are handy for this. If you want to skip putting a kit together for yourself, we’re big fans of the Uncharted Supply Co. Seventy2 Survival System. It’s super portable and was developed with survival experts to contain everything you’d need for 72 hours of survival.

Foundation Items

  • Hydration: In a home-based kit, this means one-gallon per person, per day (3 days recommended). For a travel / outdoor kit, this means a water bottle and purification system (the Lifestraw Universal is a great option).
  • Food: At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and an NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight – The Coast HX5R is compact, rechargeable, very bright and versatile.
  • First aid kit – We’ve long been fans of the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight series.
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Multitool (ideally with pliers, can opener, and knife)
  • Local maps
  • Portable electronics charger like the Power Practical Lithium 4400
  • Blanket – For home and car, a sleeping bag or blanket works. A compact emergency blanket does the trick for outdoor applications.
  • Fire starter – Matches in a waterproof container. Check out the UCO Sweetfire Strikeable Fire Starters (just toss them in a waterproof container).

Here are a few additional suggestions for specific applications.


  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container.
  • Be sure all members of the household know where the emergency kit is kept.


  • Jumper cables
  • Flares or reflective triangle 

Additional items for your car in winter:

  • Cat litter or sand for better tire traction
  • Extra hat and gloves
  • Ice scraper
  • Boots or attachable shoe traction (like YakTrax)
  • Tire chains

Travel / Adventure:

If you’re headed out on the trail or into the backcountry, you’ll need to be efficient with what you carry.

  • Navigation – Paper map and compass. You can’t always rely on electronics!
  • Compact emergency shelter
  • Fire starting tool like the UST Sparkforce

Bonus points: Bivystick – This might be considered a splurge, but if you head into the backcountry on a regular basis, you and your loved ones will be thankful for the peace of mind it brings. The device turns (that doubles as a charger) turns your smartphone into a satellite communication device, allowing you to get messages, send messages, location, and more even when you have no cell coverage. 

Special Considerations:

  • Young children - formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, small games or actvities
  • Pets – Pet food and extra water, leash and / or a carrier
  • Medical needs – Prescription medication or equipment

What else would you add to the list? Any favorite products you wouldn’t leave out of your emergency kit? Comment below!