5 Steps in Packing an Emergency Kit

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5 Steps in Packing an Emergency Kit via The Survival Mom

Coming up with a list of items for packing an emergency kit is the easy part. Books, websites, blogs, and YouTube videos abound with that information. My own lists can be found here and in Chapter11 of my book.

What’s a little trickier is packing all that stuff in a way that makes sense, so that each item can be found when needed.

My daughter and I packed her emergency kit a couple of weeks ago using an excellent bag by Flying Circle Bags. They sent us their Presidio bag in Coyote Brown, and we have really enjoyed getting to know and use this bag. I also appreciated its affordable price.

Many folks grab the first available backpack they see, which is often a school backpack. These typically have a single large compartment and one or two zippered pouches on the exterior of the bag. In a pinch, this is better than nothing, but in a real emergency, you want a bag that is high quality and comes with many, many!, different pockets, slots, and pouches. Having multiple places to store things helps a great deal with organizing your supplies.

The Presidio bag met and exceeded our expectations. It’s definitely large enough to carry school books, supplies, and a laptop. It even has a clear vinyl touchscreen pocket for tablets. Access your iPad or other tablets while it’s safe inside this pocket! That was a nice, innovative feature that I didn’t expect. The large center section has 4 interior pockets and there are other small storage areas galore.

We’ve found the pack to be comfortable with its padded shoulder straps, adjustable sternum and waist straps, and the padded back. It’s on the smaller size, when compared with other, similar packs that are designed for men. Its size brings up the one potential issue that some may find with the Presidio. If your pile of things to pack is enormous, you may want to find smaller versions of some items in order to have enough room. We give this bag 2 thumbs up!

Set up your bag for easy organization

One nice accessory for whatever container you choose is this Cocoon organizer. This could easily be slipped into any one of several pouches in the Presidio to hold things like a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer, a pen, or an inhaler. I’ve also been known to use Ziploc bags and small coin/cosmetic cases for additional organization.

The key is to use small containers to keep like things together and organized. Often, this involves simply using ziploc plastic bags. If you’re packing something like an Altoids Tin Alcohol Stove and fuel, that can go in a bag by itself, along with extra fuel. A big advantage of the ziploc bag is there’s no need to label them since the contents are easily seen and obvious. Using these bags also keeps the contents from getting wet. If you have containers with any liquid, be sure to double up on your ziploc bags.

Though they can be pricey, I also like using hard plastic cases, such as those made by Pelican. These types of cases are available in a wide range of sizes and colors and work very well at keeping your gear both dry and protected from being crushed. I use one such case for my primary fire starting kit  because keeping it waterproof is essential.

Another product I dearly love and heartily endorse is the Grid-It Organizer. It consists of a hard, flat board of sorts covered with a mesh of elastic bands of varying lengths.

This is a truly awesome solution for organizing little odds and ends in your bag, keeping them secure and within easy reach. Many backpacks today are equipped with a flat pocket for use with tablets or small laptops. Those pockets are great places for a Grid-It Organizer.

Whatever tools you decide to use for organizing your gear, the overall idea here is to keep things from just floating around in your pack. You want to know where everything is so you can find it easily, even under stress.

Now, here are 5 tips for getting that pack organized and packed properly.

Step 1: Assemble all your supplies

No matter what list(s) you use, remember to pause and first, look around to see what you might already have. One reason some moms never finish packing their emergency kits is that they have a long list of things to buy and the budget is tight and who knows when the money will be there.

If you start looking through cabinets, the junk drawer, the garage, the trunk of your car, etc., you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you have far more items for your kit than you thought. Anything that is still on your To Buy list, might be found on Craigslist, Freecycle, eBay, in garage and estate sales, dollar stores, and thrift stores.

Step 2: Make sure your bag is the proper size and high quality

When you see that pile of supplies before you, you may panic and head for the largest possible backpack on the market.

If you need to cut back on contents, look for products that serve multiple purposes and for smaller versions of what you have in the pile. Personally, I make good use of my Food Saver to vacuum pack items like toilet paper (remove the inner cardboard tube before vacuum sealing) and medications.

Step 3: Categorize your contents for better organization

Whenever I’ve been in a true panic, everything is confused — my thoughts, my words, my world. The last thing a mom needs in the moment of crisis is to dig through a dozen pockets looking for a pair of scissors or Quick Clot or some other item. This is why Step 3, is so necessary.

Go through everything in your pile of emergency stuff and sort it into my favorite categories:

  • Sanitation
  • Security
  • Survival sundries
  • Sustenance
  • Sanity
  • Seasonal supplies
  • Shelter

You can read more about these in detail, as well as emergency kit items in each category. As you begin to sort, your kit will begin to take shape. You may have all your sanitation items together, only to discover that you’ve somehow left out a small bottle of hand sanitizer or vacuum-packed tissues. With each category, consider what your particular family needs, such as medications, dietary requirements, or small distractions for young children.

Step 4: Put most important items in outside pockets

The groupings with the most or largest items will necessarily be placed in the largest pouches or pockets. However, items such as a flashlight or first aid kit should be kept in outside pockets or wherever they can be quickly accessed.

Think to yourself, if an emergency happened RIGHT NOW, what would I want to get my hands on first? A flashlight? A handgun? A pocketknife? You shouldn’t have to dump out your entire pack just to get to your first aid kit.

Give some serious thought as to which items in your pack you’ll likely use most often and items that you’ll need first when stopping for the night or dealing with an emergency.

Now, that said, it is best to keep the heaviest items close to your spine and/or towards the top of the pack. Keep those items centered as best you can, so as to not adversely affect your center of gravity.

If you keep the heavy stuff too low in the pack, it will feel like the pack sags. Too high and you’ll feel off balance. Ideally, if packed correctly, the bug out bag will feel balanced and stable.

Step 5: Each person should pack their own kit, so they know where to find each item

Before you know it, your kit will be fully packed. You’ll be tempted to move on and prepare everyone in the family, and that’s a good thing, but it really is best if each person packs their own kit.

If you’ve ever had someone make a grocery list for you, you know how disconcerting it is to arrive at the store and have to figure out, from scratch, what you’re supposed to buy. It’s when you write the list or pack the kit that it makes sense. Even young children should go through this step themselves, with your supervision.

There are many, many events that might require a quick grab of an emergency kit, such as a house fire, flood, earthquake, or another natural disaster. It’s worth taking some time now, on this side of those events, to get a high-quality pack and begin making your own, customized kit.


Jim Cobb contributed to this article.


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I'm the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I've been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

7 thoughts on “5 Steps in Packing an Emergency Kit”

  1. Ooh that’s a nice looking bag. I don’t need another bag. I have too many already. But I guess you can never have too many bug out bags. I like to pack them for friends and family too.

  2. I work at Flying Circle, so yes, I am a little biased, but I just wanted to to say Thanks for such a great review of this pack. Something that you mention that I would like to reemphasize is the size of the Presidio. It does seem smaller than other packs out there, but the capacity potential is really not that much different than other packs that seem larger. I think this is because of the form or footprint of the pack is taller and thicker, rather than flat and wide. It seems better suited for carrying lots of smaller to midsized items, than carrying just a few large bulky items – which is why it is so perfect for a Go Bag application. That attribute in combination with a high degree of adjust-ability comes in real handy if you have smaller shoulders. Like Survival Mom mentions, when you need to mobilize quickly, sometimes the kids need to carry something too and this pack would be something they could handle and not look like a giant turtle with wobbly knees. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for those insights! I was looking at the Presidio again last night and one of its features that I love is that upper zippered pouch on the top front of the pack. That’s the perfect location for that set of items that you want to grab first — maybe a self-defense weapon, flashlight, a pocket knife or multitool. My 15 year-old is carrying this quite comfortably and packed it herself without any help from mom. 🙂

  3. I give this review a C..
    Every military solider will tell you there are thousands of ways to pack any bag. There are only 2-3 right ways.

    The most important consideration when packing is not even mentioned. Weight! When packing the heaviest stuff must go to bottom and as close to body as possible in order to maintain center of gravity. This is extremely important if you are going to be carrying for more then an hour. In prepping we must assume worse case where we have to walk several miles. An associated tip is to place clothing items along the side that touches your back so you have a cushioning effect of the weight

    No matter who, what, where or why you are emergency packing there is a set of basic items you will be taking. Seems to me survivalmom should have such a list to be used as a bases in evaluating products.
    Now tell me how well this pack can hold the weighty stuff in the proper place.

    Step 2 is worthless. Assume ANY pack. I’m able to write generic instructions that will help optimize packing for a pillow case, luggage, military ruck sacks or these new fangled multipocketed packs. Despite the generic sounding title only steps 1 & 5 are of real world value.

  4. @ AJ- I have to disagree with you on one point- Any soldier/sailor /marine will tell you that the heaviest items DO NOT go at the bottom, but up near the shoulder blades and upper back for proper weight distribution. Putting the heaviest items at the bottom will make the pack weight pull back on your shoulders causing a lot of discomfort as well as affecting balance. The lightest stuff goes at the bottom and very top, and the mid weight stuff goes near the small of the back while the heaviest goes near the shoulder blades. A hip belt is beneficial to help distribute the weight evenly as well and take the weight off the shoulders, but sizing a bag for the individual is important, NOT worthless. You would not put a large ALICE pack and frame weighing 30 lbs. on a 10 year old child, male ort female. Taking a little time to think things through and using common sense, which I feel Survival Mom is trying to convey here, is a good approach, especially for those just starting out. The hardest part about this is keeping it realistic and knowing you are not going to need everything you think you need, or your bag will weigh much more than necessary, in which aspect AJ is correct. Have a great evening!

  5. This all seems like great advice–thanks very much for it and all the other great tips and info on the site. One thought to add/share that might relate to B.O.B. planning and packing: I learned the need to pack a first aid kit with some thought for other people using it when I opened the back of our car and saw the first aid kit I keep there strewn about. At first I thought someone had broken in and searched it for meds, but no, it was just from my wife looking for bandaids. So now I have the kit packed with the items others might look for/need in clearly labeled ziploc sandwich baggies, and bandaids are on top. Even if someone’s looking for something else, they’ll be able to find it more easily: the labels guide them, and digging other items out is easier because they’re grouped in the ziplocked units, and afterward are easier to gather and return to the kit. They also stay protected from dirt, etc. that way. So really, planning for others’ less-thoughtful/aware use is a way to keep stored gear from getting spilled out and having items lost. A bug out bag is less likely to be shared with others, so maybe there’s less need for this approach, but it would still offer some benefits.

    1. G.R.I.T.S.onamission

      I like this tip, @Schneb. We are a family of four. I’m the mommy. After years of having kids, I know that nothing is ever actually “mine.” Why should my B.O.B. be any different? LOL Some things may not go in the kids’ bags. I hadn’t thought about it before, but if they don’t have everything, they may need to be able to find stuff in my bag. Making a mental note of labels, and clear baggies. Thanks.
      Also, I appreciated this article. Thank you, @The Survival Mom.

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