The 72-Hour Emergency Kit Checklist

Last Updated: February 13, 2023

You’ve read the news about hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and other emergencies which can strike at anytime.  One of the first disaster preparedness steps is to build a 72-hour emergency kit.

A 72-hour emergency kit contains everything you need to survive the immediate aftereffects of a disaster.

Here we’ll talk about why the 72 hour kit is so important, give you a checklist, and some options for getting started.

Why is it so important to be prepared for the first 72 hours?

Having 72 hours’ worth of supplies is NOT enough to get you through a major disaster.  The most advanced preppers have supplies of food going 25+ years into the future.  This is not something that you build up overnight.

To get to that level, you’ll have to have a prepping budget, learn many skills, have a storage and rotation system, and know things like how to properly store food.


Having enough supplies for 72 hours will greatly increase your chances of surviving an emergency.

Here are just some of the reasons a 72 hour kit is so important:

  • Utilities go down during disasters: You’ve probably already experienced this during storms. If a small blizzard or storm can take out the power for days, imagine what will happen during a major disaster! For example, 8.1 million homes went without power after Hurricane Sandy, some of them for an entire month.
  • Supplies run out: The majority of people are unprepared, as is evident from the masses of people who rush to the supermarket and hardware storm the day before a storm hits. If the disaster takes out roadways or traffic is restricted, then supply trucks won’t be able to restock supplies.
  • The government won’t help: We won’t get into a political discussion about FEMA here, but more than half of Americans do think that the government will come to their rescue after a disaster. What they don’t know is that it takes an average of 72 hours for state and federal governments to respond. Their response is to assist in the worst cases, like people trapped under rubble, and to distribute MREs to the masses pushing in line.
  • Injuries lead to death after 72 hours: Injuries which seem minor can turn deadly within 72 hours if proper first aid isn’t administered.
empty shelves disaster preparedness
Empty store shelves before Hurricane Sandy hit; Image credit: Wiki Commons

If you are ready to take your safety and survival into your own hands, then you will need to build a 72 hour disaster preparedness kit.

Here is what you need.


Water is one of the most fundamental components of life, and you can only go 3 days without water before dying.

Don’t count on your plumbing to work after a major disaster.

You will need to have at least 1 gallon of water per person, per day stockpiled. This is the minimum amount of water needed for drinking, cooking, and basic hygiene. If you have a family of four, then you will need a minimum of 12 gallons of water (3 gallons per person).


Even if your plumbing is working, it doesn’t mean that it is safe to drink the water coming out of the tap!

The CDC warns that water sanitation facilities might not work when the power goes out. Play it safe and drink boiled water or purify your water. Also, pay attention to boil alerts.

Emergency Toilet

Many of us take indoor plumbing for granted, so an emergency toilet is not something that most people think about until it is too late.

Rescue workers during disasters tell stories of entering homes where the toilet hasn’t been flushed for days. You can imagine what a hygienic (and smelly) disaster that can be!

Most toilets work on a gravity system. So, even if you don’t have running water, you will still be able to flush the toilet by dumping a lot of water into the bowl (manual flush).

For this reason, you will want to have even more emergency water stockpiled.  It takes about 1 gallon of water to flush the toilet manually.  So you will want to stockpile an extra 1-3 gallons of water per person, per day.

It isn’t always a good idea to gravity flush your toilet during an emergency – particularly flash flooding or hurricanes.

The ground can become saturated, which causes sewer systems to overflow. The CDC recommends limiting the amount of plumbing you use (washing clothes, showering, flushing the toilet, etc.). Otherwise, you might have a serious (and unhygienic) problem of waste water backing up into your home through low-level drains!

Be prepared by including an emergency toilet in your 72 hour disaster preparedness kit.

Survival Food

You can go up to 30 days without food, but would you really want to??? You will withstand the aftermath of a major disaster much better – both physically and mentally – if you have food to sustain yourself.

Canned foods are the most obvious survival foods because they last for a really long time, are easy to store, and can even withstand flooding. But bear in mind that survival food should also be easy to prepare.

I really like freeze-dried food pouches because you just need to add water and they are ready to go. Plus, freeze-dried food tastes a lot better than canned food.

Bear in mind that there are different kinds of survival food (such as survival foods for at home vs. evacuation). Learn about survival food here.

Emergency Warmth

What are you going to do for warmth if the grid goes down in the middle of winter? You don’t want to be in a situation where you have to burn your furniture to stay warm.

Be prepared by having some sort of emergency heater and fuel for it (seriously, don’t forget about the fuel!).

You will also want to have wool blankets in your home. Why wool blankets? Because they will still keep you warm even when they are wet. A wet cotton blanket will just make you colder.

See more on emergency blankets here.

Flashlights and Emergency Lighting

It is good to have more than one type of emergency lighting on hand, such as flashlights as well as candles. This is because some disasters (like EMP) could fry electronics like flashlights.

Flashlights can also malfunction when they get wet in flooding.

Don’t forget about extra batteries for your flashlights! I personally prefer to keep a rechargeable headlamp flashlight in my 72 hour kit. It is a lot easier to do things while wearing a headlamp than holding a flashlight in one hand!

Sanitation and Hygiene Items

Prepping isn’t all about food and water. You also want to make sure that you’ve got enough toilet paper (which would give a whole new meaning to SHTF!) and other essential hygiene items. Here are some that you should have stockpiled:

  • Toilet paper or toilet paper tablets
  • Baby wipes (can be used to clean body when you can’t shower)
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel
  • Soap
  • Feminine products (my wife uses a menstrual cup, so we don’t have to stockpile feminine products)
  • Diapers
  • Trash bags

Emergency Radio

emergency radio

A radio is absolutely essential for your 72 hour kit. How else are you supposed to know if there are evacuation orders in place, whether more bad weather is on the way, or other critical news?

An emergency radio must be waterproof and have a reliable power source. A hand-crank radio is probably the best option. Many emergency radios have other features like built-in flashlights too.

Recommended Reading: Best Emergency Radio

Board-Up, Cleanup and Repair Supplies

Some of the most likely disasters include earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

During these disasters, serious damage can occur to your home – such as broken windows and roofs being blown off. If you are stuck in your home in the aftermath of the disaster, how are you going to keep rain from coming through the broken roof? How are you going to clean up all that broken glass?

It is essential that you keep some basic board-up, cleanup, and repair supplies in your 72 hour emergency kit.

Evacuation Kit

Finally, don’t forget to pack an evacuation kit that includes all of the essential gear you will need in case you have to flee your home.

Unfortunately, too many people rely on wishful thinking and don’t bother to pack an evacuation kit (aka Bug Out Bag). Then, when forced to flee, they have to run out with literally nothing except what last-minute items they can grab.

In your evacuation kit, you will need:

  • Evacuation documents
  • Water + filter
  • Survival food (Where to buy cheap MREs)
  • Emergency shelter
  • Sleeping bag
  • Change of clothes
  • First aid kit
  • Medications

72 Hour Emergency Kit Checklist

Food and Water

First Aid, Hygiene, and Safety

Damage Mitigation

  • Fire extinguisher
  • Window barricade (hammer, nails, wood planks) – See our guide to home protection
  • Wrench or pliers (for turning off utilities)
  • Heavy-duty gloves
  • Bolt cutters
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Shovel

For Sheltering in Place

  • 6 large tarps or plastic sheeting; 2ml minimum
  • Duct tape
  • 50 feet of nylon rope
  • Flashlights or other off-grid lighting (candles and open flames should not be used after an earthquake because of risk of gas leak!)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Sleeping bags or wool blankets
  • Change of clothes and footwear for each person
  • Rain jackets or ponchos
  • Extra batteries, preferably rechargeable with an off-grid charging method
  • Solar power bank
  • Survival lighter or fire starter
  • Rescue whistle or signaling method
  • Emergency manuals (water purification, first aid, sheltering in place instructions)

Other Items

  • Copies of vital documents, put in a waterproof binder
  • Comfort items (games, books, toys for children, etc.)
  • Cash in small bills
  • Pet supplies
  • Extra keys for car and house

How to Store Your 72 Hour Emergency Kit

You probably already have many of the items in the 72 hour emergency kit checklist.  For example, you probably have a rain jacket in your closet.  The problem is:

How will you access your supplies in an emergency?

If your supplies are scattered all around the home (jackets in the closets, sleeping bags in storage, can opener in the kitchen…), you won’t have time to gather them all together when disaster strikes.

You must keep all your emergency supplies in one place!

Of course, where you keep your emergency kit will vary depending on the type of disaster you are prepping for.  In a hurricane area, you wouldn’t want your disaster supplies in the basement (which will flood).

In an earthquake zone, you don’t want your disaster supplies in a room with shelving that could collapse.

Preferably, you keep your 72 hour kit in the same place where you will be sheltering, such as your basement, storm shelter, or safe room.

Even better, make more than one 72 hour kit and keep it in various locations.  These are in addition to the emergency kits for your car and workplace!

This way, you’ll be able to access your 72 hour kit regardless of where you are when disaster strikes.

Make sure that the supplies are protected against the elements – particularly water.

I like to:

  • Put my core supplies in a sealed plastic bag, which I put…
  • Inside a 5 gallon bucket

Obviously, you aren’t going to be able to fit all your supplies in the bucket, but make sure the ones susceptible to water damage are protected.

Tips for Building Your 72 Hour Emergency Kit

A 72 hour emergency kit is the absolute MINIMUM that you should have.  Ideally, every home will have supplies for 30 days and a goal to stockpile a year’s worth of supplies.

If you are just now getting started with emergency preparedness, the idea of building a year’s worth of disaster supplies can seem overwhelming.
Start slowly

  • Get the items in the 72 hour emergency kit checklist ASAP.
  • Set a budget and use it each week to buy some extra supplies.
  • Instead of tossing plastic bottles, clean them and fill them with water.
  • Start reading guides on disaster preparedness and survival.
  • Soon, you will be ready for whatever disaster may strike!

How many of the items on the checklist do you have?  Do you feel ready for a disaster?

Leave a comment

  1. I have a 72 hour BOB for my wife and one for me easily accessible. The only thing I’m missing In it is a change of clothes based on the seasons.
    In the car I have a full 72 hour BOB, which has a change of socks, t shirt, underwear, along with a separate 48 hour GHB, and an extra sustainment bag with freeze dried food.
    It seems like I’ll never be fully ready although right now we can last about 30 days self sufficiency wise. I still have gaps that concern me like enough propane for hear and cooking, and supplies for home repair/boarding up. I just don’t see a Fort Apache situation happening however stranger things have occurred. Basically I’m just trying to be prepared for a natural/man made disaster not a full TEOTWAWKI!


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