Don’t Leave Home Without It: The Vehicle 72-Hour Kit

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vehicle emergency kitSoccer moms, football moms, cheerleading moms, whatever they call us, “chauffeur” better describes what we, Survival Moms, do every day. In my world, it’s not unusual to have a kid’s dentist appointment, a field trip, and a swim meet all on the same day, transported by our trusty Tahoe. Now, if that Tahoe ever broke down or for some reason we couldn’t get home as planned, what would we do?

My answer is the Vehicle 72 Hour Kit, or Emergency Kit. If you were well and truly stuck somewhere, this Kit could see you and your family through at least 72 hours. That’s three days. It wouldn’t be luxurious living, that’s for sure, but it would be survival, and that’s what we’re talking about here.

I consider the Vehicle 72 Hour Kit to be an essential part of being prepared for emergencies, and fortunately, it’s pretty easy to put together. In fact, you might have all the necessary, basic supplies in your home and garage right now.

Putting the vehicle 72 hour kit together

To get started on your own Vehicle 72 Hour Kit, you’ll need some type of container that will fit in the back of your  minivan, SUV, or in the trunk of your car. I chose a Rubbermaid clear plastic bin, the type that is designed to fit under beds. It’s the perfect width for our vehicle, and I like the fact that I can see what’s inside. It also holds a lot.

The typical 72 Hour Kit, also sometimes called a Bug-Out Bag, is stored at home and ready to grab as you run out the door in case of an evacuation. Since we’re building a Kit for the vehicle, we want it filled with items we’ll need if stranded somewhere. If you have more than one vehicle in the family, make a kit for the one you use most often and then add kits to the other vehicles as you have the time, supplies, and money.

You can find numerous lists online of what should be in a 72 Hour Kit, but since I’m a mom, and I pretty much always have the kids with me, my own list is a little different.  A lot of these items are available online, and I’ve included links. Anything to make shopping easier, right?

Here’s what I’ve packed.


(With kids, you just have to start here.)

  • A 4-pack of toilet paper, flattened  (Take the center cardboard tube out to make it as flat as possible. You can put these flattened rolls in a Food Saver bag and vacuum seal for even flatter toilet paper.)
  • Baby wipes
  • Small box of tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bar of soap
  • Clorox wipes (Germs never take a vacation.)
  • A few plastic grocery bags stuffed into another grocery bag.
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Tampons/feminine protection. A menstrual cup is a great option. You can read more here to decide if this is something you might want to try.
  • Paper towels
  • Emesis bags for unpleasant car sickness incidents. These are so much easier to use than a random trash bag or, worse, your purse.


(Kids will quickly panic if they think you’re out of food, but whatever you pack, make sure it’s something your kids will eat.)

  • Beef jerky or something similar
  • Trail mix
  • Shelled sunflower seeds
  • Small cans of food, such as fruit, ravioli, tuna
  • Protein bars and granola bars
  • High calorie energy bars. This article compares several different brands.  (Handle these with care. High energy may be the last thing your kids need!)
  • Hard candies (Offer a prize for whoever can make their Lifesaver last the longest!)
  • Packets for flavoring water
  • Can opener, unless all your cans have a pop-top
  • Plastic forks, spoons and knives, one set per person. I like this set of sporks from Amazon.


(After everyone has eaten and gone to the bathroom, then what??)

  • A read-aloud book  (Should be something entertaining for the whole family with plenty of chapters. I packed Journey to the Center of the Earth and Charlotte’s Web.)
  • Small Bible  (This is more for my own sanity than that of the kids!)
  • Paper and pens/pencils
  • Deck of cards  (Think “War”, “Go Fish” and math flashcards. If you’re stranded for very long, your kids will invent their own games!)
  • Single-use digital camera  (Not only good for entertainment, but it might come in handy to document your emergency situation.)
  • Small binoculars
  • Sharpie  (Drawing fake mustaches on each other should keep the kids busy for a couple of minutes (make sure it’s a WASHABLE Sharpie!), and you’ll be grateful for this if you have to leave a note on your vehicle.)
  • Glo-sticks  (Great value:  entertainment and emergency light in one!)
  • Ibuprofen  (For me.)
  • Ear plugs  (Again, for me.)

Image: evergreen ad for survival frog solar led tube light

Hard-Core Survival

  • Emergency blankets. These have multiple uses.
  • Fleece blankets  (Cheapest way to get these?  Buy two yards of any fleece print at a fabric store.  Instant blanket. Bulky, but can be stowed beneath a seat.)
  • Light sources  (Headlamps are worth their weight in gold, but also have a traditional flashlight or two.  These can be stored in a glove compartment or other niche in your vehicle.)
  • The Luci light. My current favorite solar lantern because not only does it charge quickly using sunlight, but it collapses to a thin disk, which is very easy to pack.
  • Rain ponchos
  • Duct tape
  • Hand and foot warmers  (Small, stashable)
  • Rope  (Check out paracord for top quality and versatility.)
  • Knife  (A cheapie pocket knife is better than nothing, but you’ll be grateful if you pack something sturdier.)
  • Battery/solar-powered emergency radio in case your car battery dies
  • Ground cover (I packed two large heavy-duty plastic tablecloths purchased at a dollar store.)
  • Work gloves
  • Extra batteries for anything battery powered in your Kit
  • Umbrella
  • Waterproof matches
  • Whistle
  • Water purification tablets
  • Small portable water filter
  • Mirror for signaling — this one comes with a whistle
  • Small, sturdy shovel  (Check out a collapsible shovel if space is tight.)
  • Two heavy duty black trash bags

Medical Emergencies

(With kids, need I say more?)

  • Basic First Aid Kit from Wal-Mart, price $9
  • Children’s pain relief medication and dispenser
  • Adult pain relief medication. Read more about pain relief choices in this article.
  • QuickClot (This product quickly stops bleeding in the case of a serious wound.)
  • Benadryl
  • Aspirin
  • Small bottle of bleach to use for water purification and sanitize medical supplies
  • Thermometer
  • Sunblock
  • Medical gloves and face masks
  • Tweezers
  • First Aid reference book. I own this one by Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy and this book by the Survival Doctor.
  • Super glue
  • Additional medical supplies according to the needs of your family, e.g. inhaler, a few doses of prescription meds


  • Ziploc-style bags  (Just store some of your items in different sized bags so you’ll have them already packed.)
  • Rubber bands
  • A bungee cord or two
  • A cell phone charger, unless you know that you know there’s one elsewhere in the car.
  • A charged battery pack for your small electronics
  • Comb/hairbrush
  • Small scissors
  • Sewing kit
  • Cloth sheet
  • A couple of compact nylon bags and a nylon backpack  (If we have to leave our vehicle, we’ll need something for carrying our supplies.)
  • Money in small bills, along with plenty of change  (If nothing else, this will help greatly with bribing your children to be nice to each other!)

In addition to storing things in the plastic bin, I took a long, hard look at the Tahoe to find other nooks and crannies where I could put additional supplies. A large city map book, along with maps of neighboring states, is in a back seat pocket, and there are two Gymboree baby blankets and a couple of beach towels rolled up and stored beneath the back seat.

I also have several 2-liter bottles filled with water stashed beneath the back seat. I’m not so sure the water/plastic bottle/heat is a good combination, so when we leave the house, I always make sure we have a handful of fresh water bottles with us. However, if the stored water was all we had, we’d drink it until we could get fresh water. Even if we don’t drink the stored water, it can be used for washing grubby hands and faces.

It’s recommended to have a gallon of water on hand per person, per day. It would be pretty difficult to keep that much water stored in your vehicle.   One option, in addition to the 2-liter bottles, is a 5-gallon collapsible water bottle or two. My family has used the inexpensive Coghlan brand for years and recommend it.

What about a change of clothing for each person? It depends on how much space you have in your Kit and in your vehicle, but a clean shirt, pants, underwear and socks shouldn’t take up too much space. If you have Space Bags, a Food Saver, or something similar, clothing and items like the fleece blankets will take up even less room and can be stored beneath the back seat.

For warmth in extreme cold condition, check out this homemade heater demonstrated by Erich over at Tactical Intelligence.  If you use this, be sure to roll down a window for ventilation. This article contains many more ideas for surviving cold weatherif you are ever stranded in your vehicle.

Finally, not to be a fear-monger, but there’s always the chance you’ll be stranded far from any bathroom facilities. A 5 or 6 gallon bucket, equipped with a portable potty lid is a big improvement over squatting by the side of the road.  Be sure to include toilet bags and there are even chemicals to have on hand that keep the odors down.

You’ll be surprised by how quickly your own Kit comes together once you get started.  I was able to finish mine in just a day or two.  I actually had most everything on hand already.  You may never need this Vehicle 72 Hour Kit, but I’ll bet it will bring you and your family peace of mind just knowing it’s there.

Get the printable list!

Click here to get a printable list for your own Vehicle 72 Hour Kit!

vehicle 72 hour kit



54 thoughts on “Don’t Leave Home Without It: The Vehicle 72-Hour Kit”

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  8. Hi there,

    Glad to hear that Space Bags helped build your 72-hour kit, though I hope you never need to use the kit! Did you know that if you submit your success story on our online community you could win free Space Bag product? Feel free to use the "contact us" form, at, if you have any questions.

    Space Savers community correspondent

  9. A couple of items that I recommend, a wool cap and an extra pair of wool socks…….Keep your head and feet warm and dry, you'll feel a lot better!

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  11. We made a get home bag for all of our cars and trucks. They are very basic and work on the water /food /shelter focus.
    Each is built in a pack with a hip belt and shoulder adjustments for wlaking out of…. wherever.
    3 liters of water in 1/2 liter bottles. Makes grabbing just a small amount of water easy, and the whole can be broken up to fit the packs where best.
    sports bottle with water integral filter
    water treatment tabs
    Mainstay lifeboat rations. They're about $6 for 3600 calories, and they do not induce thirst. These are the only lifeboat rations that exceed Coast Guard psecs.
    3 MREs for variety and extra calories (about 1200 per) They include heaters. $5.88 ea.
    peanuts for salt and protein /variety
    cocoa mix
    utensils and cups
    Poncho, emergency blanket, gloves, socks and undies.
    wet tinder and firestarters
    first aid kit with Celox as a blood stop
    travel-sized dental hygiene kit, small sample shampoo, baby wipes
    small folding knife
    OFF bug repelant
    my pack includes a folding shovel….. (dad carries more weight…), extra food for the others

    The purposes of our packs are to get home when vehicle travel is impossible due to one of many reasons.
    In the event where we are disabled in the hills, we have the option to sit tight until found.
    Whether we need to walk out, walk home or migrate (Lord forbid), we have at least 3 days food, and the means to carry and /or find water.

  12. What do you do about keeping food in your car all summer? The heat where we live would degrade anything we put in our Go bags pretty quickly. Anybody find any good survival items for car storage in the summertime that lasts?

    1. Here are a few ideas: high calorie energy bars (Mainstay is one brand.), almonds, gatorade mix, peanut butter/jelly/jam cups, cups of applesauce/fruit, tuna in packets, pilot bread, Triscuit crackers, freeze dried meals, shelled sunflower seeds, dried fruit, jerky, trail mix (no chocolate!), rice cakes, dry cereal, lollipops, cans of V-8, and Gatorade drink. Even with these choices, you'll still need to check on your food periodically throughout the summer. I had 3 or 4 Slim Jim meat "things" in my vehicle kit, and within a couple of months they were completely dried out. Their packaging didn't have a long shelf life. (The Slim Jims themselves would probably last through Armageddon.)

      1. Clothes Dryer Vent hose (5 ft. to 12 ft.) placed over your car exhaust pipe (angeled up and out) will keep snow/water/mud debris from clogging the exhaust pipe allowing you the ability to run your cars engine without fear of C02 poisioning.

      2. laura lopiccolo

        Millennium Bars are good , taste good and do last in car. I live in Nevada and I kept some in my car over 3 summers and they lasted just fine. They are about$1.25-1.40 a peace, have several flavors and have a 5 year shelf life. I know that S.O.S and Emergency Essentials sell them.

    2. I have heard some people store heat sensitive items in a small cooler. You wouldn’t have ice in it of course, but the insulation would stabilize the temperature between day and night temperatures.

    3. If plan on going out my safe zone i will grab acooler and back pac with snacks ie. Jerky nuts protein bars water powerAide ect ect.f.. The heat in the summer hear is anywhere from 90 to 110 winter -20 so I have taught my kids to pack accordingly

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  14. I love the mom's point of view here. We guys to tend to forget much of this because we have relegated it to our "better half" Being Mr. Mom. I've come to understand these ninja skills that moms have. 🙂

  15. I always plan to have to set up a kitchen out in the middle of nowhere. My Kitchen kit consists of:
    Sun Shower- Solar heating water bag for dishes, showers, melting snow
    A large plastic cutting board- The thin kind that take almost no space
    Kitchen utensils and knives- Filet knife, the longest tongs I could find, large wire strainer w/ handle
    A self standing fire grate- Can cook directly over fire or hold pots and pans safely
    Fire starters, hatchet, lighters- Disposables lighters from Dollar Store 3 for a buck
    A tiny butane backpacking stove- Extra fuel cans are stuffed in small spaces
    A folding camp table- Heat resistant for cooking on, meal prep, eating, playing games etc.
    Kitchen sink (wash basin) sponge and dish soap- For dishes, faces, water collection
    Funnels- For filling bottles, reloading, pouring from large to small vessels
    Spices- Make crappy food taste better
    Rosary candles- In the glass tubes, burn continuously for days, cheap, reusable glass

  16. Other stuff:
    SUV size Fix a Flat, tire patch kit, road flares

    Luggable Loo Portable 5 Gallon Toilet- $14.99 at Amazon. Put 2 tall kitchen trash bags inside. Use dirt or sand and cover as you go. When it’s full you pull the bags and put in 2 more. Easier than digging a pit and more comfortable too.

    Surgical tubing- Multiple use rubber tubing

  17. WELL DONE and thank you for sharing and educating others who may otherwise not even think of what you so kindly shared. I too have in place a "Vehicle 72 Hour" Kit with just about everything you listed and some but added what I feel is one other important item. While researching the ration bars and MRE's it is better for them to be stored in a cooler climate so I dug out my HUGE ice chest that hardly gets used and put my "Kit" items in there. Helps with the temperature changes for the food items as well as keeps it contained and out-of-site. While researching I also found water pouches that are 4 oz size that can withstand extreme hot and freezing conditions. God Bless.

  18. Some of the links aren’t working 🙁 Specifically, work gloves, portable water filter, and homemade heater

  19. I am still working on deciding what all I’d like in my kit. However, I like the idea of using a large cooler (regulates temp, and keeps things dry… nice). Plus, a case of water will fit nicely in the bottom, and be out of sight from the family (we see bottles of water, we just gotta drink them–the way some families drink soda products.), which would ensure their presence when we really need them. I’ll probably pack nearly everything in its own zip loc baggie.

    My family found our selves in a tight spot recently. We used a large stock pot, two plastic grocery bags, and a few layers of news paper as a potty (I’ve always got grocery bags and TP in the van, since I’ve got 2 kids under 5)… Our stock pot was a sturdy one, so we could even sit right on it. After someone used the facilities, we just tied up the bags, and replaced them w/ a new set. Worked out really well, but then, we had a place to dispose of the waste so that the smell didn’t drive us all batty.

    Thanks for the site. It’s good to get info. from someone has already been there-done that.

  20. Dear Lord! My dear you have written the Survival Article that I have searched the whole net looking for. I had despaired of finding someone who shared the same problems with survival packing that I have and you not only did it well, but cheaply! Kudos! I will be integrating your Vehicle BOB with my own immediately. THANK YOU!
    -SoCal BVM

  21. I just noticed alot of your links to The Ready Store are not working…. please relink the Hard-Core Survival items so I can view them.

  22. Is there any way to share pictures of how you are able to fit all that in the plastic bin and in your car? I can’t imagine being able to fit it all and we have a mini-van! I appreciate your list.

    1. The Survival Mom

      I use one of those under-the-bed plastic bins. An awful lot of those items are small and can be combined together in zip-loc bags or other small containers.

    2. Put the items in a used golf bag/cart in trunk or back of van. If you need to leave vehicle, just cart items away with you.

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  25. All of this stuff is going to take up way more room than a plastic bin. I’d like to see photos of how one fits all of these items in their car or SUV. 🙂

    1. The Survival Mom

      Don’t worry about how this will all fit! You only need to pack what you and your family might need. My own needs have changed over the years, as I first wrote this list back when my son was just 7. He’ll be 16 this month!

      If you look at most of what is listed, they are very small. I grouped like items together in either large zip-loc bags or vacuum sealed them with my Food Saver so they would take less space. Things like the black trash bags and the plastic table cloth lie flat on the bottom of the container (at least the one I am using — the under-the-bed bin) and a number of items I keep in the glove compartment because I use them more often, such as a multi-tool, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, etc.

      As far as the food is concerned, only pack what you know your family would eat in an emergency. Depending on where you live, you may not be able to pack a whole lot due to extreme heat, or only be able to pack certain foods during cooler weather.

      Ultimately, your emergency kits will have to be customized to your needs and circumstances.

      1. Trevor Miller

        I used to leave a flashlight in the car and just remove the batteries.

        There were several times it came in handy – In fact even when the electricity tripped because I always knew it was in my car. Things are a bit different now as your cellphone usually has a flashlight built into it.

  26. Regarding buying fleece yardage for blankets, you can make it even MORE affordable by watching for 50% off one regular priced item coupons from JoAnns or Michaels. Usually a “single cut of fabric” is considered one item, so if you need 4 blankets, get 8 yards of fabric, and cut it into pieces yourself.

  27. It is not likely that a well-maintained car will stop running and leave you stranded–unless by an EMP. Help will not be forthcoming after an EMP; you’ll be on your own to hike and camp to get home if you have no car. Testing of many cars by subjecting them to intentionally induced EMP has shown that many can be restarted after disconnecting the cables from the battery and then reconnecting them. A small wrench the size of the locking nuts on your battery cables should be kept in the car.

    1. Excellent list! I used to carry a lot.of that stuff when my kids were little. Due to our extreme heat, leaving food, water in the vehicle is not an option. When plastic gets hot, it starts to off-gas into the contents of the bottle and surrounding air. Just take a small drink from a water bottle that has become hot. Yuck! When the average annual temperature is 75°F, edibles don’t last . Remember that the temperature of items in a space will become the temperature of the space, unless the items are kept heated or cooled. I did like the idea of one person who wrote they just keep the food in a small bag and take it with them when they get in their vehicle. I always take water with me, and about 11 to 11 1/2 months of the year, I keep it in a koozie to keep the water as cold as possible as long as possible. I do keep an older bottle of water to rinse off hands or feet, in addition to hand sanitizer. Used that water the other day to wet a cotton rag to get something off the car. Thanks to all who share their ideas.

      1. Excellent list! I used to carry a lot.of that stuff when my kids were little. Due to our extreme heat, leaving food, water in the vehicle is not an option. When plastic gets hot, it starts to off-gas into the contents of the bottle and surrounding air. Just take a small drink from a water bottle that has become hot. Yuck! When the average annual temperature is 75°F, edibles don’t last . Remember that the temperature of items in a space will become the temperature of the space, unless the items are kept heated or cooled. I did like the idea of one person who wrote they just keep the food in a small bag and take it with them when they get in their vehicle. I always take water with me, and about 11 to 11 1/2 months of the year, I keep it in a koozie to keep the water as cold as possible as long as possible. I do keep an older bottle of water to rinse off hands or feet, in addition to hand sanitizer. Used that water the other day to wet a cotton rag to get something off the car. Thanks to all who share their ideas. Also need to mention that even hard candy melts when it gets warm enough!

  28. To be honest one of the best things to add to your kit is probably an EDC multi purpose tool such as a leatherman. There is always something to cut, trim or sometime you need tweezers. I kid you not my swiss knife has a pair of tweezers build into them. They are tiny but work a charm for thorns or splinters.

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  33. This list is GREAT! Very thorough.
    My two cents…
    Saran Wrap (lots of uses, even first aid)
    Tourniquet (tactical first aides love ‘em)
    Bible? SAS pocket survival guide.

  34. Awesome Kit list…I will get this to use my car garage. I have a car, jeep, truck repairing garage. Thanks to author.

  35. Rima B. Campbell

    Really helpful tips you have shared… i am planned for trip next month and these essentials help me on trip. Thank you for sharing this article

  36. I appreciate you putting up this list of what items should be included in an emergency survival kit. In addition to this, how about a paper with a list of your names and an emergency contact? It should also be waterproof.

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