The 72 Hour Kit – How to Build Yours

by Jeff

I have been into emergency preparedness for more than 14 years. It all started when a family member asked if we wanted her friend’s #10 cans of wheat. It wasn’t just a few cans either. We accepted and have since added to it again and again.

As part of our preparedness plan, we have a well stocked 72 hour kit. This kit is not a “go bag”. Don’t get me wrong, I like go bags. I have one at work, ready to go! This is more than a get there from here kit. 

Regardless of the disaster or calamity, we plan on sheltering in place.  This may also be the plans of most of you as well.  We can’t all afford a “doomsday bunker”.  For us, our food, supplies, animals, and garden are all at our home.  I know that in any event, we can survive there.

What happens if you have to leave?  Are you prepared to walk away from your home?  There are some incidents where we may not be able to stay and “ride out the storm.”  I think about hurricane Katrina, or the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo.  If my home is at risk of being destroyed, we’ll have to leave and leave in a hurry.

For most of us, during an emergency, or in survival mode, relying on the government for help really isn’t in our plans.  That’s why we became self sufficient in the first place. If you plan on using their help, I understand. Whether you think it’s right or wrong, it’s not for anyone else to decide.  You have to decide what’s best for you and your family.

Whatever you decide, during any disaster you have to expect that the government will get involved to some degree or another, if you need their help they will arrive. With that though, you can’t expect them to show up right away. You have to assume that it will take a few days for any help to arrive.  This is the purpose of a good 72 hour kit.

Don’t Forget Personal and Environmental Concerns

Assembling your 72 hour kit involves a lot more thought and effort then just finding a bag big enough to cram every single piece of survival gear you own into. It is certainly more involved than just trying to haul the entire contents of your pantry along with you when it is time to bug out.

As with all things, nuance and an eye for practicality is what will set the seasoned, effective preppers apart from the hopeless dreamers.

What you need to do is assess your load against personal and environmental considerations. What does that mean? The easy one is environmental concerns. The weather, the seasons, the terrain where you live will all play a big part in dictating what equipment is necessary for survival and how much you’ll have to prioritize provisions like water.

If you live in a desperately dry place where water sources are rare and drinkable ones even rarer, you should plan on carrying more water than normal. If you live in a place that is bitterly cold and covered with snow, shelter will be a top priority, though you can get water from snow if you have a way to melt it.

Personal considerations also abound. Are you a single individual? You won’t be worrying about a partner or kids, but you have anyone else you’re responsible for, parents, siblings, friends, neighbors? That might change your loadout. Or are you genuinely a “lone survivor,” unfettered by personal connections? That has advantages and disadvantages all its own.

Another major personal consideration are any ongoing or long-term disability or medical conditions that you or someone you care about might have. You might have every item checked off your master “packing list” provided by this article (or another one), but if you forget essential medicines or other care requirements you’ll be doomed from the start.

Also, assess your own capabilities with a critical eye. How fit are you? How skilled are you at the business of survival? A person who is fit is less prone to injury and capable of carrying more weight over a longer distance without injury or undue exhaustion.

A person who is out of shape is just the opposite. Likewise, your skill set, if adequately developed, can reduce the dependency on gear quite a bit, freeing up weight in one area for supplies and tools in another. 

Concerning survival skills, it is quite true that a person sufficiently skilled can head into the woods or any other environment with little more than the clothes on their back and perhaps a sturdy knife or hatchet and survive.

Now, I’m not saying you should do this or even that it is an ideal you should invest time and energy into striving for, but it does illustrate the point.

So, in summary, never, ever forget to assess your load against the environment that you will actually be surviving in, and your own advantages and limitations. Failing to do this is prepping with a major hole in the context of the event you are preparing for. That is the textbook definition of shooting yourself in the foot.

Building a 72h Emergency Preparedness Kit - More Than Just a Bug Out Bag!

Your 72 Hour Packing List

The following sections contain a basic packing list for your 72-hour kit, including such essential categories as shelter materials, clothing, food, water, tools, hygiene items and medical supplies.

Once again, this is only a well-rounded basis for your kit, a list that should serve you well and pretty much every environment and every situation, but one that you should freely modify to better serve your personal needs and accommodate any environmental challenges per our discussion above.

Here is what my family has determined to be important enough to warrant inclusion in our kit:

bags of Eversafe MREs

Food

Whatever you decide to pack, don’t go into this exercise with the idea that you’re going to be getting three square meals. You want to be thinking about sustainment calories over time, not necessarily even meeting your peak nutritional requirements.

The reason being you might have to live off of this food supply for some time in the aftermath of an event, and though your body will be burning up energy rapidly while you work, you won’t be able to indulge in the calorie levels that you typically enjoy if you want to be certain you can go the distance.

Included in this category are specialized tools and supplies for meal time, things like utensils, containers for food or beverages, a field stove, fuel supply and so on.

Regarding the food itself, you should be looking at durable, shelf-stable and ready-to-eat food, or at the minimum food that is very easy to prepare with little fuss.

As mentioned, I like MREs, and they can probably work for you too but take a tip from me: remove the individual components from that big, bulky bag that they come in to make them easier to store.

Eversafe MRE

Other good survival staples are typical camp and trail food like nuts, dried fruit, jerkies, granola and freeze dried, dehydrated meal pouches that only need a little bit of boiling water. Also, for clarity, think twice before including canned food unless you are getting a lot of caloric value for the load, because canned food is heavy and bulky.

Canned tuna or chicken is one potential exception, but remember you can get both in compact, light foil pouches. Also don’t forget that a few luxury items, things like hard candy, coffee and tea serve double duty as morale boosters and energy supplements.

  • Food
    • Proteins and Carbs
      • Energy dense, stable, easy to prepare.
    • Snacks
      • Easy to eat on the move or during short stops for quick energy.
      • Coffee, Tea or Energy Drink mix
  • Meal Kit
    • Utensils
    • Bowl or large mug
    • Cup
  • Camp Stove
    • Fuel Canisters

Water

I don’t think that anyone preparing for a survival situation needs to be told how critical water is. At the bare minimum, an adult will need between a liter and two liters of water per day for hydration, and considerably more when they are working hard or when hot weather leads to significant perspiration.

Unfortunately, water is extremely heavy, weighing nearly 11 lbs. per gallon not including the container that carries it. This makes provisioning your 72-hour kit with enough water to sustain you almost impossible since you’ll barely be able to move it if you are forced to carry it.

The solution is to plan on sourcing water from natural or man-made spots and then purifying it using portable filtration technology or chemical additives to remove gribly bits and kill germs. It is also worth mentioning that boiling water can do much the same thing of chemical purification tablets or solution, but you’ll use up a lot of fuel in the bargain.

Carrying water, at least, is a pretty simple affair if you plan ahead of time. Preppers today do not want for storage containers, and good options run the gamut from plastic or metal canteens to their plastic Nalgene bottle cousins and even flexible, collapsible bladders that are carried like a backpack or stored within your existing pack.

All have pros and cons, but I should point out that metal containers, so long as they are unlined on the inside, can be used for heating up water where their plastic counterparts will simply melt.

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  • Water
    • Adults need min. 1-2L per day, more in hot weather or during exertion.
    • Adjust supply on hand based on availability of resupply along route.
  • Filtration/Sterilization
    • SteriTabs or Steri-solution.
    • Water filter. I like and use LifeStraw.
  • Containers, Canteens and More

Shelter / Clothing

Shelter is an absolutely essential survival concern, and in certain environments it is even more critical than water! You might die in a couple of days without any water to drink, but you can die from exposure in as little as a few hours in really rough conditions.

This means that getting into shelter and out of the wind, rain, snow or sun is critical for preventing exposure.

Aside from a tent, you might consider the use of a lightweight, low bulk bivy (bivouac sack) though some crafty preppers depend on nothing more than a heavy duty tarp and appropriately strong cordage to fashion an adaptable, multi-purpose shelter no matter the situation.

Aside from whatever you are carrying as an actual shelter, make sure you bring along a ground pad for comfort and also a sleeping bag for any environment that can experience chili temperatures at any time of year.

If you live in a perennially hot or temperate environment you can probably ditch the sleeping bag, but make sure you check night time temperatures as they can be surprisingly cold.

Regarding clothing, pack hard-working, hard-wearing but quick drying options that are seasonally appropriate. Don’t forget to include several sets of underwear and socks. Include headgear as appropriate, either for shade or for warmth.

A water and windproof outer shell is usually a good idea in most environments, as staying dry is usually more important than staying toasty warm. Gloves for protection or warmth as required should also be included.

You don’t need to go crazy when packing clothing, but a spare shirt instead of trousers is a good idea as this can allow you to dry or wash one while wearing the other.

One more thing, make sure you pack or have set with your 72-hour kit a pair of heavy-duty footwear appropriate to the task of survival if you don’t wear them habitually on a day-to-day basis.

In order to make our kit low maintenance, we added winter clothing and extra shoes, in addition to or summer clothes in the kit. That way we don’t have to scramble to gather those items in a hurry. They can be bulky, so we used “space bags” to vacuum out the air and compress them to fit:

clothes in vacuum bag

As a reminder, if you have kids, you will need to periodically upsize the clothing in the kit.

  • Shelter Gear
  • Clothes
    • Spare shirt.
    • Spare trousers.
    • Socks and underwear, x2 each.
    • Weatherproof shell.
    • Hot or cold weather headgear.
    • Sunglasses.
    • Gloves.
    • Sturdy footwear for moving on foot.

clothes in vacuum pack and map and compass in backpack

Tools and Survival Gear

Some of these items go without saying, but fire starters, maps and compass are a must, and also a signal mirror, and whistle.

We included several flashlights into our kit, but a few of them are the windup flashlights, that don’t require batteries. They also have the ability to generate power to charge a cell phone.

If you do have battery powered flashlights, extra batteries are extremely important. An ax/hatchet and hand and feet warmers were also included to ours. We also added chemlights. If by chance we are walking away from our home, and doing it at night, I have a bunch of chemlights that I can hook to each of our kids backpacks, so that we can easily identify them in the dark.

When considering all your tools for inclusion, make your watchwords for selection “practicality” and “compactness.” For instance, traditional fire starting kit is always a good idea, but you should not omit the sublime usefulness of a bog-standard Bic lighter. You have room for both, so include both.

Similarly, you’ll have plenty of gear that needs tweaking, testing and repairing while you are in the field but this will not necessarily justify the inclusion of a full size tool bag or tool kit: a heavy duty multi-tool with pliers or Swiss army knife will probably do the job just fine.

On the other hand, there are some tools that are so important you shouldn’t scrimp on size or weight, within reason. No prepper that has a working brain would dream of going into a survival situation without one heavy duty, fixed blade knife. You don’t need a huge machete with some serious screen presence ala Rambo, but you should pick one that can reliably baton wood and perform other abusive chopping tasks.

Self-defense is another category that is hotly contested and debated ad nauseam but it does not need to be an exercise in pulling teeth. If you carry a handgun daily for basic self-defense, you should probably be carrying it in the middle of an SHTF survival situation.

Most people go overboard on ammo, as your objective should not be getting into rolling gun battles but instead protecting yourself and your loved ones immediately before breaking contact. Ammo, like water, is extremely heavy.

The inclusion of a long gun such as a rifle or shotgun might be warranted depending on the situation and your locale but keep in mind that any firearm you cannot keep completely concealed is going to draw the wrong kind of attention from different parties.

hatchet map compass gloves flashlight

  • General
    • Multi-pliers.
    • Swiss army knife.
    • Hatchet.
    • Folding Saw.
  • Knives
    • Fixed-blade knife.
    • Sharpener.
  • Fire-Starting
    • Lighter.
    • Ferro-rod.
    • Tinder.
    • Storm matches.
  • Personal Lighting
    • Flashlight.
    • Headlamps.
    • Chem lights.
    • Plenty of batteries/chargers!
  • Navigation
    • Map.
    • Compass.
    • GPS, handheld.
  • Self-Defense
    • Pistol.
    • Long gun?
      • Think twice before committing to a long gun that cannot be concealed in a vehicle or pack.

Personal Hygiene

Hygiene supplies are a critically overlooked and undervalued resource for many preppers. Seemingly, the popular conception is that since someone will be “roughing it” in the aftermath of a crisis that their hygiene routine will be suspended, or somehow that the consequences of ignoring such will not matter. Like lots of rules, the rule of good personal hygiene can be bent, but should not be broken.

hygiene items

Good hygiene first and foremost helps yourself by preventing disease and sickness, and also improving your morale. There is just something about getting clean and following a daily hygiene routine, as much as the situation allows, that will help maintain your sanity and instill a little bit of normalcy in anything but normal times.

But beyond that it also helps the people around you by cutting down on B.O., a factor that might push people past the breaking point and what is already a ludicrously stressful time.

You should not expect to have every luxury and every item that you employ in your morning or evening bathroom routine but you should cover your bases with simple, compact equivalents.

  • Hand Sanitizer
  • TP
  • Baby Wipes
  • Foot / Body Powder
  • Deodorant stick
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Baby care items (if required)

Medical

In the aftermath of a major disaster, if you or someone you love needs help you had better be able to provide it, because the usual sources of help are going to be hours, even days, away if they are still available at all.

You have to become your own doctor, nurse and medic, able to take care of a variety of injuries. From cuts and puncture wounds to burns and illnesses, you must have what you need to treat an injury, minimize the ill effects and keep the victim stable, if not happy.

Ignoring even small wounds can have life-threatening or even lethal consequences under the circumstances. There are all kinds of infections that have long plagued mankind that are only rendered (nearly) irrelevant today thanks to our ubiquitous and easy access to on-demand medical care and appropriate antibiotics or other medicines. The same infection in an austere environment could be deadly. Plan accordingly when it comes to wound care.

Also included in this section is any prescription medication required for managing long or indefinite term conditions or diseases, and such things as corrective glasses or contacts for vision. If you require either, include a spare in your kit along with the necessary support items like solution or cases.

  • Small injuries
    • Band-aids.
    • Roll gauze.
    • Gauze pads.
    • Wound-cleaning solution.
    • Bug-bite cream.
    • Moleskin.
  • Major injuries.
    • Hemostatic gauze.
    • Israeli bandages.
    • Latex gloves.
    • Tourniquets.
    • Splint supplies.
  • Meds
    • Any required prescription medicines.
    • General pain reliever.
    • Antihistamine.
    • Diarrhea/Nausea relief.

Money

We don’t know what is going to happen, or if the emergency we are in will be the end of civilization, or the collapse of our financial system. What you have to assume is that your credit/debit card may not work. Having cash stored in your kit, just might become one of the smartest decisions you make in your 72 hour kit preparations.

Don’t think for a second that you won’t have a need for cashy money just because the world is falling apart around you. You never know when you’ll run into people who have things you need, and unless the world at large is well and truly screwed, money always talks.

Keep in mind that cash might not be getting you goods, necessarily, but instead could be getting you a favor that will earn you transportation or access to services or expertise you desperately need.

How much cash you decide to keep in your 72-hour kit is up to you, but however much you deem necessary make sure you keep it hidden, safe and don’t raid it like it is a piggy bank on movie night. Some other items to consider adding to this stash include copies of your birth certificates/ social security cards.

Conclusion

Because of the size of our family, our 72 hour kit is quite large. We have opted to distribute the kit into small backpacks for each of the kids to carry, and a couple of duffle bags.

kids 72 hour go bag backpacks
My kids’ backpacks / 72 hour go bags

The duffle bags do have wheels, in case we have to walk away from our home. Whether you are a “master prepper”, or just getting started, a 72- hour kit for you and your family is a necessity.

In closing, let me just say this, I hope and pray that all my preparedness efforts are done in vain. I hope to never have to use any of these resources that I have stockpiled. I hope that none of us has to. We prepare for the day we hope never comes. I believe that one day that day will come, I pray that it doesn’t.

72-hour kit Pinterest

updated 08/25/2021


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