How to build your best-ever emergency kit

“Build your best-ever emergency kit” sounds good, but perhaps you’re wondering why I’m using the word, “kit”. After all, “bug out bag” is so commonly used in prepper and survival circles — why not use that term?

Well, first of all, let’s clarify the purpose of this kit/bag:

An emergency kit contains the most essential supplies to have on hand to solve the most urgent needs in a crisis.

As you work toward assembling a kit that best suits you, keep this definition in mind. It’s pretty important to help filter through all of the “must-haves” listed on all the prepper and survival checklists out there.

I chose to use the term “emergency kit” as a sort of generic catch-all. Some of you will go on to adapt your kit for the purpose of getting home from work or school. Others will customize their kit as a true “bug out bag” with supplies and gear intended for longer-term survival away from home.

What your kit is NOT is the kitchen sink!

By far, the biggest complaint of almost everyone with an emergency kit is that it’s too heavy. This happens when we toss gear and supplies of all kinds into our backpack or another container because a survival or preparedness guru says it’s a must.

The only thing that is an absolute MUST is your common sense and judgment about your own set of circumstances.

How to determine the best weight for your kit

Is your bug-out bag/emergency kit too heavy to carry? That’s a complaint I’ve heard dozens of times.

The problem is that we want it all:

  • high-quality gear
  • reasonably priced
  • compact
  • and lightweight!

When you work through my 5-day challenge, you’ll learn how to sort out the priorities that make the most sense to you. In the meantime, I have a few tips that will help you determine how much your kit should weigh.

There’s no cut-and-dried, exact weight amount that is perfect for every body, since we all have our own unique set of physical characteristics and limitations. So, let’s figure out what weight is right for YOU!

Step 1: Weigh your current bug out bag/emergency kit with all its contents. (A luggage scale or kitchen scale is handy for these steps.) Make a note of that weight.

Step 2: Next, you’ll determine how much weight you can comfortably carry. Empty your kit and weigh the bag/container on its own. Write down that weight.

Step 3: Next, weigh 2 or 3 books (heavier books, like hardcover or textbooks) and put them in your kit. Carry or wear your kit around the house or go on a short walk and pay attention to any pain points or overall discomfort. If you can carry this weight comfortably, repeat this step by weighing another book or two or three, adding them to your bag, and then carrying it around for at least 20-30 minutes. I like using books for this step because everyone has at least a few and you can add various sizes to arrive at a specific weight that is comfortable for you.

Step 4: How much weight can you comfortably carry? By now you should have a backpack/bag loaded with a weight that isn’t too burdensome and doesn’t cause any real pain. Weigh the bag and books and jot down that amount.

During the 5-day challenge, you’ll determine which supplies and gear are most necessary to you and knowing the optimal weight for your kit will be an invaluable piece of information.

What if your backpack is the problem?

It’s possible that the bag or backpack you’re using might be the culprit.

Lightening the weight of your bag might be as easy as finding a lighter weight backpack or another container! Naturally, those lightweight, high-quality backpacks will cost more, but it may be worth it in the long run.

Heck, you could get lucky by finding one on eBay or Craigslist. Look for brands like Osprey and Gossamer Gear, and read online reviews of “best lightweight backpacks”. You might also try a cross-body bag to distribute the weight differently.

Does it have to be a backpack?

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 will have multiple pockets and pouches to help organize your gear and supplies, they can be carried on your back, leaving hands free, but they aren’t always the right solution for every scenario.

But a backpack isn’t right for everyone. It requires some physical strength, especially the torso and back. If you’re looking for options, here are just a few to try out:

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 and come in lots of different sizes and weights. This is one of the most popular options for those who cannot use a backpack.

A Rubbermaid container with lid

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, but this isn’t the type of container that you can easily to transport from Point A to Point B if the distance is very long.

Under-the-bed storage container

The advantage of this size and type of container is that it fits nicely in the trunk of a car or in the back of an SUV, and it holds a large amount of supplies and gear. Of course, it’s not at all suitable for physically transporting it much further than short distances.

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-gallon buckets with lid

Again, these buckets have multiple uses besides holding your emergency kit contents, but they’re awkward to carry.

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.

A few other types of options to the backpack are cross-body messenger bags, diaper bags, duffel bags, toolboxes, and a storage locker with wheels. Whichever type of container works for your emergency kit and/or bug out bag, interior pockets and pouches to keep the contents organized.

Your emergency kit doesn’t have to cost a fortune

Equipping an emergency bag is one of the easiest tasks to do on a budget because so many pieces of gear and basic supplies aren’t very expensive to begin with.

For example, it’s easy to use Ziploc bags to organize your supplies in categories. Use a Sharpie to label the outside of the bag. One big advantage of using Ziplocs besides the fact they’re inexpensive is that you’ll be able to easily see the contents.

Another way to save money is to shop at thrift stores, Goodwill, and garage sale for your kit or bag. Suitcases, backpacks, plastic bins, and other creative containers can be had for pennies on the dollar, and if you’ll be assembling kits for your kids or other family members, this is a great way to get those started. Do watch for quality construction — heavy-duty zippers, tight stitching, and fabric that is free of any fraying or tears.

This article is a good resource for identifying backpacks that will stand up to a good deal of wear and tear.

Before going on a shopping spree, first review standard lists of emergency kit supplies, including the ones provided by the Survival Mom “Build your best-ever emergency kit” challenge and identify items you believe will be an essential part of your kit. Then, consider if maybe you might already have some of those around the house, in the garage, or out in the car!

This junk drawer challenge will help you track down supplies and gear you might not remember ever buying!

Next, review your list again, prioritize what’s left, and then begin looking for those items at discount and dollar stores, second-hand stores and yard sales, and even on

Also, neighborhoods and towns have their own Facebook groups where people buy, sell, and even give things away.

Sure, some people will spend a small fortune equipping their emergency kits with hi-tech and expensive gear, but why do that when you really don’t have to?!