15 Non-traditional containers for your bug out bag/emergency kit

  1. image by Tim Musson

    A rolling suitcase on wheels. Look for sturdy wheels because if one breaks off, you’ll be carrying that suitcase. Not fun! Some of these suitcases also have backpack straps.

  2. A Rubbermaid container with lid. You select whichever size suits your needs and space. These are a good choice because the bin itself can be used to hold water, kindling, and a lot more.
  3. Under the bed storage container – Mine fits perfectly in the back of my Tahoe and the transparent plastic lets me see the contents.
  4. Trash can on wheels. These hold a lot, are very sturdy, and have an attached lid. They will also be heavy and difficult to load into a truck. However, if a trailer is part of your bug out/evacuation plans, you could store a trash can, fully packed, in the trailer. Include a box of heavy-duty black trash bags to keep the interior of the trash can clean if you ever have to use it for actual trash!
  5. Space Bags – Great for use with softer items, such as blankets, coats, jackets, and pillows.
  6. 5-gallon buckets with lid – Again, these buckets have multiple uses besides holding your emergency kit contents.
  7. Multiple milk crates – My husband swears by these! They are extremely durable, stack easily, but do not have lids. They’re also free if you can find a grocery store that will give you one or more.
  8. Military duffel bag – Soft-sided means you’ll be able to shove this bag behind and between things, and they come in several sizes. Their muted colors are also a plus.
  9. Ziploc Flexible Tote – Inexpensive, can easily see inside the tote, and lightweight. Not heavy duty, though, if your evacuation includes trekking through the wilderness.
  10. Diaper bag. The waterproof lining could be very helpful, especially if you have small kids and/or a baby.
  11. Tool box – Not lightweight but could be very useful for protecting fragile items.
  12. Metal bucket with lid
  13. A storage locker, preferably one with wheels
  14. A messenger bag with shoulder strap – Anything with a shoulder strap will leave both hands free and might be easier to carry than a backpack for someone with back problems.
  15. A fisherman or photo vest – Obviously this won’t carry as much as these other containers, but with all the multiple pockets, you could keep the most essential items close at hand.

Unless you are single and will be evacuating alone, I recommend dividing the contents of your emergency kit into 2 or more different types of containers. For example, a 5-gallon bucket can hold food and cooking supplies and will provide an emergency toilet, a large water container, and a handy tote for firewood. Then use a Space Bag to hold sleeping bags and cold weather clothing and finally a large backpack for everything else. You’ll have 2 multi-purpose containers and a backpack large enough to hold all the essentials in case you have no choice but to continue your evacuation on foot and have to leave the bucket and Space Bag behind.

When choosing your containers, keep in mind that they might be in for a pretty rugged future. Look for:

  • extremely durable fabrics
  • sturdy construction
  • heavy-duty zippers, snaps, or other closures
  • colors that blend in
  • non-tactical appearance. This may cause you to look too prepared and a potential target.
  • tight fitting lids

Also keep in mind the different ages and physical capabilities of your family members. Even young kids can carry small backpacks, easing the load for parents and teens.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

(30) Readers Comments

  1. We like the Rubbermaid ActionPacker. It’s a little more expensive than an ordinary bin, but it’s very heavy duty, the lid has handles that can be locked, and it’s sturdy enough to use as a seat.

    • The Action Packers are great!

      • The action packers are also waterproof , most of the other so called containers are not waterproof, will easily split, and if you leave them out in the sun will become brittle.

        I have several in the bed of my truck for pipe fittings and tools.

  2. Love containers. The Container Store has some clear ones with a lid that doesn’t come off, just hinges together. You can see what’s in there without opening it. And you don’t have to mess with a lid.

  3. When I started getting my preps together I realized it was a lot of stuff to carry. Since I wasnt using my suitcase on wheels I had an epiphany…and it has those swivel wheels making it extra easy to roll. I also have a couple of small waist pack type purses and each pocket is filled to the fullest as well as a back pack full of more stuff. I keep these in a couple of clear plastic containers in my truck for EDC. Then there is my “camping trunk” with all my big cooking stuff for when I have to bug out.
    I plan to bug in, if at all possible, the only thing that would make me run is a flood or fire.

  4. I love the old fashioned kind of picnic cooler, made of metal, lined with styrofoam, with a locking lid. Very sturdy and stackable.

  5. I am a huge fan of Space Bags. I get generic ones from Harbor Freight for a fraction of the cost. Light weight and water proof.

    Some of the under bed storage boxes have wheels, too.

    • I’ll have to check out the bags from Harbor Freight. Is the quality the same?

      • They seem to be of good quality. Double “ziplock” style. You just have to be sure they are zipped well.

  6. We use the large Rubbermaid containers at home but we have smaller ones in each car. They’re easier to maneuver onto a seat if we need the trunk space. The big ones all have an assortment of supplies inside in case we can only grab one on our way out the door. Our first BOBs were made using the kids’ cast-off school backpacks. They can really hold a lot, if you’re careful about packing them. Since we’ve never been able to cram our tent back into the bag it came with, I found a rolling duffel at Goodwill that has space left over even after the tent, tarp, and all the accessories are packed inside.

    The best thing to remember is that ANY preps are better than none, and it’s easiest to start with what you have on hand. If something isn’t working for you, it can be replaced later on.

  7. The last item on the list, a Photo Vest… well, let’s see here, what can we do with that? :)
    Part I
    Part II

    I found this years ago, thought it was interesting. Enjoy!

    • Great read – thanks!

  8. Hardigg or Pelican waterproof cases. These can range from small boxes to hold a cell phone to large monsters to move military or industrial equipment. I use the larger footlocker sized cases along with several of the medical cases for storing both bug out gear and medical gear. You can get these used on ebay or at gun shows.

    • I’ll have to check for these at the next gun show, and there is ALWAYS a “next” gun show where I live!

  9. Our family makes a simple back pack for each member of the family. Everyone can carry their own item unless you have a small child. If you have an infant or toddler then the parents pack larger backpacks. All of the items placed in the back pack are either in ziplock bags or I’ve run them through my food saver machine. It shrinks the clothing down to a more manageable size and keeps the water out if dealing with rain, snow or flooding. We also carry a separate bag for an extensive first aid kit.

    • That’s a great idea. I think it might be a fun way to get my young aughter to participate, since she just LOVES packing a bag to go anywhere! We two adults arhave packed our big old camping knapsacks from the 1990’s. One fits in the front hall closet and one is in the garage, but they are both ready to go.

  10. How about using a shopping cart and concealing your bug out backpack and misc supplies in trash bags?

    Good way to blend in and not be a target, I think…

    • That would be an interesting choice. In a world of homeless people, you would definitely blend in, but the homeless are very often victims of robbery, assault, and other crimes. OTOH, they typically don’t have anything of value.

  11. I bought an Ikea backpack/rollaround. It’s a backpack, with the straps in a zippered section. It has inline skate wheels and an extendable handle to use as a rollaround, it has lots of space both inside and out. And, the outer two sections zip off for a smaller carry around. I can take two or three days of clothes and toiletries in one and carry it on a plane.
    The back pack and roll around capabilities let me figure out which is the easiest way to move the weight of the contents over whatever surface I’m crossing.

  12. On a similar not, I recently discovered the peril of storing flour in non-food grade buckets. After a summer of being stored in the garage in a brand new sealed “Orange” bucket, the flour had a very strong chemical smell when the misses went to use it. No thumbprint cookies for me….

  13. the large trash can with wheels can be packed, ready to go, and be topped with a plywood ’round’,(turn its own lid upside down), put a nice tablecloth over it and have it in a readily accessible spot. Makes it easier to change out the food on a regular basis, too.

  14. Milk crates are not FREE. They are the property of the dairy not the store. Their theft became such an issue it has its own statute in PA.

    I have had bad luck with Space Bags.they exploded in the middle of a move. :(
    Action Packers are very durable.

  15. If you want a vest that doesn’t scream I’M CARRYING A LOT OF STUFF, the ScotteVest is a little more subtle. Most of the pockets are on the inside. If they were cheaper and/or domestically made, I’d buy more styles (they also have jackets, etc.).

  16. I have one of the photographer vests and can’t recommend it.
    First, it is very heavy all by itself because of the multiple layers of heavy grade fabric.
    Second, there are pockets IN pockets, pockets stacked ON TOP of pockets and every manner of pocketing tricks you can imagine, all of which makes it very difficult to find what you are looking for. Once, my cell phone was ringing and I could feel it through the cloth but by the time I figured out how to get to it the call had dropped off. On mine for example, on the left side there are 3 pockets stacked on top of each other and each one is accessed differently so if you have something in them it takes a moment to figure out which pocket its in and how to get to it. Finally, if you put stuff in ever pocket on the vest, a full build out, it would weigh more than 100 pounds. Neat in concept but not so useful in reality.

  17. I have a ScottiVest also. Wore it on a trip to Italy. Love it. Pockets for everything. You can wear a lightweight long sleeve baggy shirt over it also to hide it. Its expensive but the multiple uses for it make the cost reasonable.

  18. lots of tool boxes come with wheels now. The one I’ve found most useful is called Fat Max by Stanely. It has big wheels and is very sturdy. You can find it at Home Depot and Lowe’s for about $60.

  19. For the car, I got a “Very Useful Box” from OSH, 50L size, and it lives in the car with the bulkiest and most car-shelter-related bug out stuff (rope, first aid, hatchet, tarp, air horn, water, pry bar, flares, etc.). It’s translucent, and mostly water tight. On top of that in the car lives my actual bug out bag, a duffel-style backpack with our walk-out stuff (paperwork, cash, first aid, light, layers, some water, some food, comfort items, toiletries, multi tool, radio, knife, maps, small fishing kit, walkie talkies, pet food). Then the kids each have a small bag with their emergency card, outerwear, long underwear, water, energy bars, knife, emergency whistle, hat, map, and $20 in ones and quarters. They can only carry 8-10 pounds at this point, so I have their change of clothes and toiletries.

    One thing I realized last month, we have really been all about “let’s not be too uncomfortable if we have to bug out or live in the car for a while,” and less about “I can keep my family alive in the woods for a month.” And the big backpack I have crammed full of nice stuff would be a target, maybe I can pare it down to more basics and learn to defend myself in case of attack.

  20. For the car, I bought a green 48qt cooler. You can pack a lot of stuff in the cooler and if anyone sees it in your trunk, they don’t think anything of it.

  21. I know it’s been awhile since this was written but I have a question. I have two kids, 16 and 18. When putting together things for bug out, would it be better to have a bag for each of us in case we get separated or just one larger one with everything in it? I can’t seem to find an opinion on this anywhere.

    • Separate bags for each person, but in each bag there should be a few supplies that will be communal.

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