I think we can all agree, prepping your family for an emergency is tough.
When it comes to building a family survival kit of any size, you need to understand a few things. First and foremost, preparing a survival kit for a family or a group of any kind is NOT the same as preparing a survival kit for an individual.
Along with creating a solid emergency plan to ensure everyone is on the same page, you need to consider which items you shouldn’t double up on to save weight. After all, do you really need 4 multi-tools for a family of 4?
In this article, I’m going to break down the strategy we here at RTGS use to prepare families for emergencies. Along with providing a family emergency kit checklist, I’ll dive into some special considerations to ensure your kits are well balanced.
Spread It Out
Preparing a family survival kit means ensuring that each person carries what they need and everything needed by the group is spread between everyone. In other words, each person should have a bag in which they carry what they need on an individual level and in which they can also carry some of what the group needs to survive.
Here is a list of the things that each person should carry to meet their individual needs:
- Method of starting a fire
- Heat pack
- Bivvy bag (for adults and older children)
- Hygiene kit
- Eating utensils
- Emergency whistle
- N95 mask
- Signal mirror
- Photo of family/people in the group (in case you get separated)
- Prepaid cell phone
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For some supplies, you don’t need one of each item for each person. This is where the efficiency of the group comes into play. For every three to four people, you will need one of the following:
- Sawyer water filter
- Solar charger
- First aid kit
- Fishing equipment
- Hunting snares
- Hunting knives
- Garbage bags/Ziploc bags
- Waterproof notebook and marker
- Glow sticks
Take a moment to consider these two lists. If you are prepping for only yourself, you would have the responsibility of carrying everything you need. Depending on your personal situation, you may need to carry everything from both lists all by yourself!
But when you are prepping for your family or a larger group, you will find it is far more efficient. A family survival kit can be divvied up between all members of the group. Everyone will carry everything in the first list. Everything in the second list can be divided between the packs of the group members.
If you have kids, they can carry their share, too. Even young kids and elderly and disabled family members can often carry something.
But what about the individual needs of different family members and age groups? This is a serious consideration when preparing a family survival kit.
One Group, Many Needs
Remember that every person in a family will have different needs. Some families have two kids, some have four. Kids might be different ages and/or sizes. Some families have elderly family members and some have pets.
This means that one family survival kit will not be the same as another. Your kit will depend on how many people are in your family, their ages, and their special needs. With that in mind, let’s consider what you will need in your family survival kit.
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Infants and Toddlers
Here we are talking about children ages 0-5 years. These are the ones who cannot walk on their own, or frequently need to be carried. They are also the most likely to be traumatized by what is happening and by the change in routine and surroundings. They will need close contact with a parent at all times to keep them calm.
This age group also often expresses their needs through sound. This means keeping them quiet becomes a real priority. It is also a challenge. You will need to plan ahead to ensure you have a strategy in place to keep your infant or toddler quiet, particularly when your safety is at risk.
There are a number of comfort items you can include in your family survival kit that will help occupy your little one and keep them quiet and happy. These are listed below. If you plan to use a medication, such as an antihistamine, please consult with a doctor first to determine the proper dosage.
In addition to the regular bug out bag items, such as clothes, food, and water, you will need the following for these children:
Combination child carrier and back pack: This way, one of the adults can comfortably carry the child and still carry at least some of the gear. Plus, they can switch off when someone needs a rest from carrying the child.
Diapers: Preferably cloth diapers that are reusable. Once you are on the move, you won’t be able to replenish your diaper supply. Besides, cloth diapers can come in handy for a variety of other uses, such as first aid, cleaning, and as menstrual pads.
Baby wipes: Can’t forget these! Plus, they are useful for so many things besides just cleaning baby’s bum.
Diaper rash cream: Again, you will need this. Babies get diaper rash frequently. You want your baby as comfortable as possible so that they will be happy and quiet.
Formula: Breastfeeding is definitely more convenient for many reasons when in an emergency. However, if you don’t breastfeed, then you will need infant formula so baby can eat.
Bottles and sterilizer: You will need bottles for the formula and a sterilizing agent so you can clean them after each use. You can buy sterilizing agent in a powder or liquid concentrate.
Pacifier: This is a comfort item and will help keep baby quiet when on the move and trying to avoid drawing unwanted attention.
Extra Clothes: You should pack two more sets of clothing for each child than you would pack for each adult. And you should ensure that you have some clothes that are bigger. Baby will grow quickly when you are on the move, so be prepared with the right sized clothing.
Waterproof clothing: A waterproof bodysuit is the best thing for babies and toddlers. This will keep them dry and warm in inclement weather.
Comfort items: Young children need familiarity. When you have to leave your home, bringing items they find comfort in will help ease the transition. Potential comfort items include:
- A stuffed animal or doll
- One or two small toys
- Playing cards
- Travel games
- Tablet, iPod, or other device (provided you have a way to charge it)
- Ball (Nerf, baseball, etc.)
- Hard candy
- Packets of drink mix
- Trail mix, Cheerios, or other familiar snack food
Young children are still needy, but they can carry their own small backpack.
Here we are talking about children between the ages of 6 and 10 years. They will be more independent than the younger age group. However, the younger ones in particular will still be fairly needy and reeling from being pulled from their home and routine.
However, these kids can contribute more toward the prepping and survival of the family. They can take on small responsibilities, such as collecting firewood or foraging and they can learn numerous skills.
Children can also walk on their own, although they won’t have as much endurance or speed as an adult. Plus, they can carry a small pack. Here is what you will need for a child:
Bug out bag: Children of this age can carry a few things, such as their own clothes and some of the food, water, and supplies. While they can’t carry as much as an adult, it is certainly a help. Be sure not to go over 10% to 15% of their weight.
Comfort items: Children in this age group, particularly the younger ones, will also need something that is familiar to them. They will be more aware that that their environment is not normal and they will easily pick up on the stress.
A stuffed animal, doll, toy, or blanket can help keep a child calm. You can also include any of the comfort items mentioned before. Older children in this group might like to have an iPod or similar device so they can listen to music. Again, this will only work if you have a way to charge it.
Toys: Any toys that are easy to carry and do not require battery power are ideal. This will help keep your child busy when you stop for breaks or for the night. Pack at least one toy or game and let your child pick that item. This way they will know it is something special for emergency situations.
Tweens and Teens
Here we are talking about children ages 10-18 years. These are older kids that are physically larger and stronger. They should be able to carry everything they will personally need, as well as some of the additional supplies, such as a knife, hunting tools, or a fire-starting kit.
These kids shouldn’t need anything particularly special as they can function close to or at the level of the adults. At the younger end of the age group, they might still not have as much endurance or strength, but that will change quickly.
Older children can help with many duties, such as keeping a lookout or building a fire.
These kids can take on a lot of responsibility and can grasp the seriousness of the situation. They can help take care of smaller children in the group. And be sure to teach them as many survival skills as possible, such as how to:
- Start a fire
- Purify water
- Build a shelter
- Hunt, trap, fish, and clean game
- Identify edible plants
- Administer first aid
General Tips for Kids
In addition to the above lists for the different age groups, there are a number of other considerations when preparing a family survival kit. First, choose a high-quality regular-sized day hiking or school backpack for each child. Keep the color and design neutral so they don’t stand out, but it’s okay if it looks like a regular school backpack.
This will keep them from drawing attention. Aside from this, here are a few general tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure your child knows precisely what is in their backpack and that they know how to use everything. If the child is old enough, lay out the items and let the child pack the backpack. This will help ensure they know the contents and you can go over the importance of each one.
- Change the backpack as your child grows. A backpack that is suitable for a four-year-old isn’t going to work for a 14-year-old.
- Choose a color that is different from the child’s school backpack. That way, should you ever need to use your bug out bags in an emergency, your child won’t accidentally grab the wrong one.
- Tactical bags aren’t the best for young children. They will stand out, especially if a child is wearing one. If you want them to have a tactical or hybrid backpack, pack it and then put it inside a regular kid’s backpack. They will blend in and look like they have nothing of importance. However, they can pull out the good backpack when they are away from the crowded areas.
- Practice! I know this is important for any group that is prepping, but it is especially important when it comes to children. Make sure you go through your plans, drills, and survival situations many times to ensure they know what to do.
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The Elderly and Disabled
Depending on the age and level of health and fitness, an elderly family member might be able to do a lot or very little. Obviously, some elderly and disabled people are less mobile. You will have to plan your bug out route based on the ability of these people to travel.
If they have a wheelchair, they will be restricted in terms of the terrain across which they can travel. However, they can carry a bug out bag on their chair. They will need the same type of family survival kit as other adults, but they might have increased medical needs. These family members will need:
Medical bag: This bag will have all the medicine and medical supplies that the person will need. These items will depend solely on the needs of the individual, so it should be packed accordingly.
Extra glasses: Yes, this might apply to anyone in the family. However, having a spare set of glasses is more likely to be a must with the elderly.
A rolling bag: An elderly person or person with a disability who can walk might have a hard time carrying a pack. A rolling bag or cart might be a good option, something that the person can pull behind them, rather than carry.
Chances are, if you have a pet that will be traveling with you, it will be a dog or a cat. And you don’t want to forget your favorite four legged fur-ball when planning your family survival kit. Here are a few items we recommend for pets:
- Collapsible food and water bowl (2)
- Emergency water packets (10+)
- Ziploc bag with favorite food
- Pet first aid kit
Cats & Small Animals (up to 20 lb):
- 1 Animal: Pet backpack that can be worn on your chest (allows you to also carry a bug out bag)
- 2 Animals: Large pet carrier with shoulder strap
- 2+ Animals: Pet stroller (yes, these do exist)
At the end of the day…
…it’s all about the safety and comfort of your family and every family is different. Keep in mind that the age ranges for children are guidelines. Those at the older end of one group won’t be all that different from the kids at the younger end of the next oldest group.
In addition, some kids are more mature than others of the same age. You will have to judge the maturity level and abilities of your children and decide what they can carry and what responsibilities they can handle.
If you think things through carefully and plan ahead, you can easily accommodate every family member. Your family survival kit will include everything you and your family needs to not only survive, but thrive when things go south.
Good luck when planning your family survival kit. If you think of anything we forgot to mention, please let us know in the comments section below.
Survival supplies should be kept in an easy-to-access place but out of reach of small children. Durable storage totes and backpacks work well for storing and organizing supplies.
Ready.gov has a lot of lists to create kits for specific people and situations.
Power outages and natural disasters are the most common reasons why families find the need to use emergency supplies. Are hurricanes common in your area? What about floods? You may want to add some extra supplies to your emergency stash based on your climate. Do you live near an industrial zone? Do you need to be prepared for industrial disasters?