16+ Non-Traditional Containers For Your Bug Out Bag/Emergency Kit

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tool box, stack of white 5 gallon buckets, garbage can on wheels; rolling suitcase; containers for emergency kits

When it comes to selecting a bag for an emergency kit, many of us veer in the direction of tactical-looking backpacks or any type of backpack at all. And, it’s no wonder. A good backpack has multiple pockets and pouches to help organize your gear and supplies, and they can be carried on your back, leaving your hands free. However, they aren’t always the right solution for every scenario. Here are some ideas for other types of containers for emergency kits.

Non-traditional Containers for Emergency Kits and Bug-out Bags

Sixteen suggestions for backpack alternatives, plus a bonus idea!

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.

A Rubbermaid container with a 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.

Under the bed storage container

Mine fits perfectly in the back of my Tahoe, and the transparent plastic lets me see the contents.

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!

Space Bags

Great for use with softer items, such as blankets, coats, jackets, and pillows.

5-gallon buckets with lid

Again, these buckets have multiple uses besides holding your emergency kit contents. A product like a Bucket Backpack would provide an alternative way to carry the bucket longer distances.

Multiple milk crates

My husband swears by these! They are extremely durable, and stack easily, but do not have lids. They could also be free if you can find a grocery store that will give you one or more.

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.

Ziploc Flexible Tote

These are inexpensive, allow one to easily see inside the tote, and are lightweight. They could be good for keeping things like blankets and seasonal clothing separate from other items. The downside is they’re not heavy-duty, so it’s not a good option if your evacuation includes trekking through the wilderness.

Diaper bag

The waterproof lining could be very helpful, especially if you have small kids and/or a baby.


Not necessarily lightweight depending on the style you choose, but it could be very useful for protecting fragile items. And they come in a variety of price points.

Metal bucket with lid

I have this one, and it’s definitely a multi-purpose container.

Rubbermaid Action Packers

Heavy-duty, waterproof, and lockable. Keep in mind they don’t have wheels. They also don’t stack well as the lid is lightly domed to allow water run-off. However, this is a solid choice if these cons weren’t an issue.

Heavy-duty black trash bags

Be sure to buy “contractor” bags. These are amazingly resilient, stretch a bit as you stuff more into them, and are cheap. They would be useful for packing soft things like bedding, clothing, and sleeping bags.

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.


These are waterproof, hold a lot, and don’t automatically announce they’re containers for emergency kits. Get one on wheels so you can roll it if the need arises.

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. Check out ScotteVest for more discreet options.

Features to Consider When Selecting Containers for Emergency Kits

When choosing your containers, remember 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

My Recommendations for Dividing the Contents of Your Emergency Kit

When planning for an emergency evacuation, I recommend dividing the contents of your emergency kit into two or more different types of containers. For example, a 5-gallon bucket can hold food and cooking supplies and provide an emergency toilet, a large water container, and a handy tote for firewood. Then use a Space Bag to hold sleeping bags, cold weather clothing, and a large backpack for everything else. You’ll have two 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.

Also, keep in mind your family members’ different ages and physical capabilities. Even young kids can carry small backpacks, easing the load for parents and teens. Ideally, you’ll want one bag per person, although in each bag, there should be a few communal supplies.

What kinds of non-traditional containers for emergency supplies have you used and recommended?


44 thoughts on “16+ Non-Traditional Containers For Your Bug Out Bag/Emergency Kit”

  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.

      1. 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.

  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. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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…

    1. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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….

    1. something never discussed about the storage location of your long term stotage buckets of food >>> the 02 absorbers create a slight low pressure core that nature slowly tries to correct – the outside atmosphere around your bucket is drawn thru the air permeable layers into your food >>> the chemical taint could have been “Homer bucket” muck or could be from any fuels or chems stored by the bucket ….

      the most common taint is pickle brine from used deli buckets – destroys the usefulness of your food but it’s at least not medically or physically harmful ….

  12. 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.

  13. 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. ๐Ÿ™
    Action Packers are very durable.

  14. 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.).

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. Mississippi Hippy

    Some times you can get the square plastic buckets from restaurants and bakery’s as they get lots of stuff shipped to them this way. Some cleaning is needed, food grade plastic, best of all free for the asking. I picked up some more from Walmart just the other day.

  22. My kids have had their own bags since they were 9 & 10 (getting larger as they did). Each bag is packed for independent use, just in case, but there’s a certain amount of variety so that we’re not duplicating everything if we stay together. For example, I carry a coffee pot, my daughter has a saucepan, and my son gets the skillet. We each have the ability to haul or boil water and to cook meals if we’re apart, but we have the option of using whatever’s most appropriate when we’re together. We each have a small first-aid kit, but because my daughter is chronically ill and gets the most cuts and bruises, hers is larger and has supplies for more serious injuries. Try to personalize the bags with whatever items that person will need the most, but keep them practical enough that they’ll still be useful if the bags get mixed up. Also, if you pack each one to be independent, it won’t be as great a loss if one gets stolen or lost.

  23. Because my family is on a “extreme” budget (at least from typical spend spend spend society view) we are paying off all debt and saving for a house. Were trying to live frugal and smart and my husband works at a recycling trash/wood/dirt facility as a machine operator. Well he will have people come in who just cleaned out a house or business and they just throw away brand new and usable stuff (like my brand new never used still in the box $200 skullcandy aviator headphones! ) so when things come in I can use for my bob bags I grab it. I built all of ours for almost nothing! (Family of 4 humans and 1 dog)

  24. For one adult bob bag I have a very nice perfectly fine hiking bag (great condition but colors slightly sun faded) and I used a like new tow behind luggage thing for my kids bob bag (tossed cause its stained on the inside looks like coffee or a rose wine?) I also got totes and organizers and if you can imagine it a hand crank/solar powed/battery powed flashlight, phone charger and radio combo! All from people trashing perfectly good stuff!

  25. Excellent tips! We have some larger backpacks on wheels, I like the suggestions to have kids all pack their own, with 6 kids we are greatly outnumbered….love that my teens can help carry heavier things, little ones will feel like they are contributing. Thanks~

  26. I do have backpacks for each person in the family. But, for the majority of the water/heavier things (my four kids are still young), I have rolling coolers with handles. Even my 6yo can grab one and roll along on flat ground if need be, we have the luxury of maybe being able to keep things cold, plus they’re a medium enough size that two people could easily carry them with the handles. Well, and they fit in the minivan along with all the people.

    1. The Survival Mom

      I’ll have to add rolling coolers to this list! Great idea! I’ve also seen those types of coolers used for solar cookers. If you brought the supplies with you, you could make your own solar oven once you got settled in somewhere.

  27. Coolers.

    Uv resistant. Stand up to heavy impacts even in the cold. Float. Available with wheels. Rain resistant. Designed for heavy weight. Plain and common to allow for grey man. You can stack several on a hand truck for quick bug outs.

  28. I have fallowed you since 2011 Many Ideas have bee great But As we have stated before it is very different from Florida to Alaska and part of my Family are / was Florida Crackers, the Cattle hunters of the 1920s to 1960s I rode a horse drawn chuck wagon before I learn to drive a car I think I can still put the correct gear together to put on a team of horses to pull two ton wagon with enough food water/ drink and medical supplies for 16 people to travel 100 miles a normally 4 to 5 day trip During the 1970s it was odd to travel from Orlando to Miami in 8 hours pick up truck load of supplies and be back with in 20 hours

  29. ditto on the use of pop coolers for the storage of your more delicate and gear that can be environmentally impacted – coolers are both cushioned and sealed ….

    and when emptied of your SHTF required gear you have them for their primary mission – food storage ….

    also to note – pop coolers are food grade poly inside – useable for prepping food for storage – like brining and salting and smoke/drying prep ….

    come SHTF time I intend to waterglass eggs up to 6-9 months >>> pop coolers are the perfect container for that mission – the modern crock of the day

  30. For human transport of heavy contains consider a beach wagon. It is one of the fold-up wagons, like a regular kids wagon, only with a metal folding frame, fabric cargo tub, and large wheels. Some have much smaller wheels which are fine on pavement for a decent amount of time. The beach versions have much larger diameter and wider tires/wheels to make them work better in sand.

    Another alternative is a game cart. Usually a two-wheeled card with a V-shaped frame. From 12″ to 24″ wheels. The V-shaped frame allows a horizontal flat portion with the other portion sloping up from the axle that is used as the push/pull handle. I have made quite a few modifications to mine, to include a wide, heavy-duty, front, swivel wheel, with brake so the cart will stay horizontal and not roll. It also has partial decks so I can still get to the frame for lashing. To make some lashings easier, I attach snaps to the frame and cut some of my 6′ dual side-release buckle webbing straps and put the other half of the snaps on the cut ends (after flame sealing them). Plus a few other things to make them more easily useful for some tasks.

    Both my medium Action Packer totes and the newer medium size Plano trunks will fit sideways between the braces of my particular game cart. It might be wise to measure everything carefully before buying anything that will need to work well with something else.

    I have switched over the Plano totes from the Action packers as they do lock together a bit better, therefore stack better. I have many of the Action packers still in use for semi-permanent storage. I found that after a few years of being stacked with heavy loads they began to sag significantly and deform in several other ways. I will not throw them away, as they still work, I just do not use them much for field work.

    I also have quite a few 2-gallon to 7-gallon buckets. They are used for specific purposes and some are general storage and general use buckets. Most have regular lids, but some have Gamma seal lids for easy access.

    I have quite a few problems with my body, so carrying heavy, large, or awkward items is very difficult for me. (Thus the game cart.) Also, off-balance loads, even pretty light ones can do a number on my back, side, and arm.

    Because of this I picked up a nice canoe portage yoke. It is a shaped, flat board, with a U-shaped opening in the center so it can rest on a person’s shoulders without riding on the neck.

    Designed to fit the side rails of a canoe so it can be carried on a person’s shoulders around places on the water where the canoe cannot be taken because of rough water or large drops, or dangerous rocks and such.

    I drilled a hole near each end, at a distance from the centerline, so we could add a bolt with a hook on the other end, at the point where I could easily grip the drops or the handles of the buckets, or some other way to control the swing of whatever I was carrying.

    For the most part I would adjust the length of the drop lines so the items were a few inches above ground, but not so high that if I squat I can step up under the harness and straighten my legs I am ready to go.

    I use lightweight dog chain so it is easy to adjust the length of the drop and use various types of hooks and latches on the bottom end to attach to the items to be carried. Keep the weight even so you do not hurt your back, and so the load is not as difficult to carry as it can be.

    Just my opinion.

  31. When I first read this article it was Earth-shattering for me. Why didn’t I think of that?!? Now I read it again, and I picked up on the toolboxes… HUSKY has a compartment rolling toolbox that would be great! It would make organization into segments so easy, and it is built tough! Now I’m thinking I’ll add one for communal items and meds, since we can just grab the med section and go when needed.

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