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Ranking the best freeze dried foods of 2019

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Freeze dried food is the best solution for easy, long-term stable meal storage to keep you ready in case of a disaster. Freeze dried food is lightweight, as it’s had most of its water content removed, and it has an impressively long shelf life.

If packages remain sealed, they can be shelf-stable for up to 30 years. As a result, freeze dried food is well-suited for keeping in a home survival kit, even if you never swap it out. Some people keep just a short supply of a few days’ worth of food to last out a natural disaster or a short interruption in civil order.

More ambitious survivalists will keep weeks or even months’ worth of freeze dried food in their home survival kit, preparing for long-term disruptions in the food supply chain.

Even if you don’t want to go to this extreme, tossing a few days’ worth of a high quality freeze dried food supply into your survival kit is a very smart idea. Our team set out to find the best freeze dried food to pick for your survival kit; here’s what we came up with. 

The big picture

Freeze dried food is lightweight, nutritious, and can stay shelf-stable for 25 years or more. It’s the perfect way to prepare for situations where food access might be cut off for days or weeks at a time, like the aftermath of a natural disaster or during a period of civil unrest.

No home survival kit is complete without a good stock of freeze-dried food. Our team found that the Mountain House Just In Case 14-Day Kit is the best option on the market for freeze-dried food, because of its excellent shelf life and the fact that it conforms perfectly to recommendations for survival kit food needs from top experts.

Rankings

1. Mountain House Just In Case 14-Day Kit

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Mountain House offers a great freeze dried food supply that can last your entire family for at least two weeks. The kit comes with 100 servings worth of freeze dried food that is easily reheated, and comes with enough variety to keep the meals from getting bland. 

Why we like it: The 30-year shelf life guarantee from Mountain House is industry-leading, and the nutrient quality of the meals is great. Having 100 servings on hand is a good balance between storage size and preparedness: at only 13 pounds, the entire kit is lightweight but long-lasting. 

Flaws: Since these freeze dried foods come in a cardboard box (with vacuum sealed plastic inside), you’ll need to supply your own plastic or metal storage container for protection against pests. 

2. Augason Farms 30-day Emergency Food Storage Supply

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Augason Farms has one of the best self-contained freeze dried food supply that comes with its own rigid plastic container. At over 300 servings, it’s enough to last several weeks, and the variety of ingredients is pretty good too. 

Why we like it: Thanks to the rigid plastic container that this freeze dried food supply comes in, you don’t have to worry about rodents or insects getting into your food supplies. The massive size is great for those who want to be prepared for long-term survival, or for people who have a large family. 

Flaws: Fully stocked, this freeze dried food supply weighs nearly 30 pounds. It’s a good option for a home survival kit, but you definitely won’t be able to carry all of this on your own if you have to cover long distances on foot. 

3 Wise Company Emergency Food Supply

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Wise Company makes several sizes of freeze dried food supplies, but the best option is the bucket-sized 120 serving kit. Here, you get a decent variety of meals in individually sealed packages.

Why we like it: The rigid plastic tub keeps out bugs and other pests, so you don’t need to supply your own storage container. Plus, the 25 year shelf life means you can leave this in your survival kit and forget about it for a decade or two, and it will still be good. 

Flaws: A “serving” in this kit is a pretty miserly 250 calories, so 120 servings won’t go as far as you think. This freeze dried food also has the tendency to reheat with a mushy, homogenous texture that’s not the same as the original food it came from. 

4. NorthWest Fork Gluten-Free 30 Day Emergency Food Supply

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Finding good freeze dried food that’s also gluten-free is a real pain. Fortunately, NorthWest Fork has you covered. Their freeze dried food is certified gluten-free and still offers great nutritional benefits in a lightweight package. 

Why we like it: If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, NorthWest Fork is by far the best option on the market. With 90 servings in this kit, you can even feed your whole family for a week or two.

Flaws: Since there’s no standard for what constitutes a “30 day supply,” labels vary considerably when it comes to what counts as adequate food supply per day. The 90 serving size here is actually smaller than some kits labeled “14 days.” 

5. Augason Farms Lunch & Dinner

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Augason Farms Lunch & Dinner makes a pretty good one stop option for long term food storage for your survival kit. At only 11 pounds, this rigid plastic tub is a lighter weight option than some of the other home survival kit options, but still offers pretty good nutrient density and great meal variety. 

Why we like it: If you want a lot of variety in your meals but still want good nutrient quality, Augason Farms Lunch & Dinner is a good pickup. It can even supplement a larger freeze dried food supply by adding alternative meal options. 

Flaws: The quantity of food available in this kit (only 92 servings) is somewhat lower than many of the other options on the market, so it won’t last as long as some of the larger options. 

6. Legacy Emergency Preparedness Entree Meal Supply

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Legacy Emergency Preparedness supplies a calorie-dense and lightweight sample of meal entrees that are easy to prepare and have a long-lasting shelf life. They’re great to stash in your car or to double as backpacking food. 

Why we like it: These freeze dried meals are specifically designed to maximize calorie density and minimize weight. They are good if you need a small supply of meals to keep in your bug-out bag. 

Flaws: At only 60 servings total, this freeze dried food supply can last a family for several days at best. Longer-term survival calls for a larger supply with greater meal variety. 

7. Backpacker’s Pantry Freeze Dried Food

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Though this brand is designed with long-distance hiking in mind, Backpacker’s Pantry makes a pretty good emergency food supply product too. These meals are designed to be nutritionally complete and high in calories, which makes them an excellent choice for places where space is at a premium, like a mobile survival kit. 

Why we like it: At 660 calories per pouch, you know you are getting an energy-dense meal. Plus, the variety of meals available through Backpacker’s Pantry is much better than many other freeze dried food brands. 

Flaws: Backpacker’s Pantry does not offer bulk sized food kits, so it is not as well-suited for large home survival kits meant to feed multiple people for weeks at a time. 

8. Nutristore Freeze Dried Fruit

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Nutristore specializes in freeze drying specific ingredients as opposed to pre-prepared meals. They offer a great selection of vegetables, beans, and meats, but perhaps their most helpful line of products is their freeze-dried fruit variety pack. Fruit is hard to come by in many freeze dried food supplies, and is the best source of concentrated vitamins and minerals. While this won’t be an adequate food supply on its own, it is a great supplement to your primary freeze dried food supply. 

Why we like it: Fruits are likely to be in short supply in survival situations, which is a real shame because they are such a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Keeping a few tins of freeze dried fruit on hand can go a long way towards boosting the nutrient content and taste profile of your normal freeze dried food supply. 

Flaws: Obviously, you can’t sustain yourself for very long on fruits alone, so you’ll need another freeze dried food supply to handle your main meals. 

9. Harmony House Foods Deluxe Sampler

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If pre-made meals are not what you are looking for, consider Harmony House Foods Deluxe Sampler—you get many different types of vegetables, beans, and meat, all freeze dried and stored in individual plastic pouches. With this kit, you can make your own recipes instead of relying on pre-mixed ingredients.

Why we like it: The one disadvantage of freeze dried food is that you typically do not get much control over the composition of your meals. Harmony House solves this problem by allowing you to make your own meals. 

Flaws: Because of the do it yourself approach, you’ll need more cooking space and cooking supplies to prepare these foods. Those might not be readily forthcoming in a survival situation, so this kit is not well-suited for anything but a well-supplied home survival kit that also includes the cooking supplies necessary to prepare entire meals. 

10. Peak Refuel Freeze Dried Meals

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Peak Refuel Freeze Dried Meals is another brand that straddles the gap between survival oriented food supplies and backpacking oriented freeze dried food. Their freeze dried meals have the advantage of being high in protein and very lightweight, making them a good option for mobile survival kits. 

Why we like it: Often, survival oriented freeze dried meals are heavy on basics like beans, rice, and corn, as these are cheap and stable on the shelf for long periods of time. Peak Refuel adds substantially more meat and protein to their meals, which is good if you want an energy and protein dense meal option. 

Flaws: Like other freeze dried food supplies that cater to backpackers as well as survivalists, it’s hard to get bulk amounts of Peak Refuel, so these freeze dried foods are better suited for short-term survival kits or a bug-out bag than for your home survival kit. 

Who should buy freeze dried food?

If you get interested in survival, one of the first things you’ll discover is the list of priorities to keep you alive in a survival situation: first aid, water, shelter, and food.

Food is ordered lower than first aid, water, and shelter in terms of priority, because you can survive for quite a long time without food—most people can last a few weeks without any food whatsoever. In contrast, you can bleed out in a few minutes, die from dehydration within a few days, or get hypothermia from exposure in an equally short amount of time.

However, just because you can survive for a few weeks without food doesn’t mean you’ll be able to function at anywhere near full capacity. Your physical and mental performance will start to suffer within a few days without food, and long-term survival is definitely out of the question if you don’t have readily-available food supplies. 

Keeping freeze-dried food in your survival kit is an absolute must, even if you are only preparing for a few days: if unrest or disaster lasts longer than you anticipate, you can mete out your food supply and reduce the temptation to recklessly leave safety to seek out food, which could be a dangerous proposition indeed.

Since freeze-dried food is so light and lasts for so long on the shelf, it’s hard to justify not including it in your home survival kit. It’s perhaps a little more understandable if you don’t want to keep any in your car, as you’ll presumably be making your way to a more permanent shelter location. 

However, for home kits or stashes at a remote shelter location, freeze dried food belongs right next to your first aid kit and drinking water supply. You can buy some, stash it in your survival kit, and forget about it for the next ten years—and it will still be ready to eat a decade from now if you need it. 

How we ranked

Our metrics for rankings were centered on shelf life, nutrient quality to weight, and taste. Shelf life was the most important criteria, because it dictates how long you can leave freeze dried food in storage before use.

However, we didn’t only look at the date on the box: We also looked at factors like the stability of the packaging to unfavorable storage conditions or resistance to insects or rodents.

While you always want to do your best to store your freeze dried food in ideal conditions, it never hurts to have a product with better resistance to heat, moisture, or pests.

As far as the actual shelf life, the longer the better: top-rated products were those that had shelf lives of a decade or more, since these freeze dried foods are suitable even for stashing in a long-term survival shelter in a remote location. Ultra-long shelf lives mean you don’t have to rotate out your food supplies after a few years. 

When it comes to nutrition quality, we looked for freeze dried products that offered a full range of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as meals (or combinations of meals) that provide all nine essential amino acids. That’s as much as you can ask for in a freeze dried meal that needs to stay shelf-stable for a decade or more at a time.

Since you may end up having to transport your freeze dried meals, we also considered the nutrient-to-weight ratio in addition to just the raw nutrition facts.

One of the reasons freeze dried food is so great for survival compared to canned goods is that it pushes the weight of food down by removing water in the freeze drying process. It makes sense to push this advantage as far as you can go in order to maximize your nutrient content while minimizing the weight you may have to carry.

While taste can get pretty subjective as a review criteria, there are a few things that most people can agree on: to the greatest extent possible, freeze dried foods should retain their original consistency, taste profile, and texture.

That means that vegetables should not be overly mushy and mealy, noodles should not be crumbly or dissolve on touching with your fork, and meat should be savory and tender, not tasteless and rubbery.

While more practical considerations like shelf life and nutrient quality were the biggest factor in our rankings (survivors can’t be choosers, after all), we still factored taste into account when calculating overall scores. 

After scoring each product on shelf life, nutritional quality, and taste, we weighted the scores and aggregated them to come up with our overall rankings. Our team believes these are the best options available right now for freeze dried food if you are looking to complete your home survival kit. 

Benefits

Freeze dried food is more nutritious than dehydrated food. One of the oldest procedures for preserving food is dehydration: passing warm, dry air over foods will draw out a substantial proportion of the water, which reduces weight and increases shelf life.

Freeze drying is a relatively recent innovation that is able to drive out even more water and retains more nutrients because of its avoidance of high temperatures. Freeze drying involves, as the name suggests, freezing food, but under a special low pressure environment that draws out the water as a vapor.

Because the freeze drying process does not expose foods to high temperatures, it does not destroy as much of the nutrient content. A study published in the journal Food Research International in 1998 demonstrated this effect on carrots: compared even to air drying, freeze drying carrots retained a greater proportion of nutrients (1).

Other scientific research shows that, while freeze drying does result in some loss of nutrient content, freeze drying in a vacuum is the best food preservation method by a good stretch, even compared to more conventional methods of preservation like (regular) freezing in three common types of vegetables: carrots, broccoli, and spinach. 

Freeze dried food is lighter than canned or dehydrated food. Freeze drying draws out over 95% of the water content of a typical food, compared to more like 90% for standard dehydration (2).

That means you are getting a substantial weight savings if you use freeze dried food, compared even to dehydrated food. For canned foods, the comparison isn’t even close: canning removes no water content (in fact, it often adds water), and you have to factor into account the weight of the packaging too: freeze dried food is usually packaged in vacuum-sealed foil, while canned foods need to be stored in steel cans or glass jars.

Weight is not a huge issue if you are only planning on keeping your food in your home, but if there is any chance you’ll need to travel during a survival situation, weight is a matter of critical importance.

Canned foods definitely won’t cut it, and even dehydrated food comes up a little short compared to freeze dried food, both on weight and on nutrient quality. 

Freeze dried food lasts longer than dehydrated or canned food. Dehydration and canning are the two biggest competitors to freeze drying when it comes to long term food storage, but of the three methods, freeze drying will result in the longest shelf life.

That advantage can be directly traced to its ability to drive out the vast majority of the water content of food, as discussed earlier. Canned foods can last anywhere from one to six years, depending on the food and the storage conditions—as you might guess, cool dark places are best for food storage.

Dehydrated food can last for ten to twenty years in ideal conditions, which is great, but freeze dried food can do even better: in ideal conditions, freeze dried foods can last for twenty five to thirty years. Practically, that means freeze dried foods can be left alone for decades before being opened, and they’ll still be just as good as they day you bought them.

If you intend to prepare a remote survival location, for example at a cabin in the woods, freeze dried foods are an ideal solution. They’re also great for survival caches buried underground (in a watertight and rodent-proof container, of course), thanks both to their shelf life and to their light weight. 

FAQ

Q: What is freeze dried food? 

A: Freeze drying is a process by which almost all of the water is removed from food, while keeping the temperature low. Freeze drying, as you might guess from the name, uses cold temperatures, but also at a low atmospheric pressure.

Under low pressure, the water in foods will turn to vapor instead of freezing, so instead of ice crystals, the water gets pulled off as a gas. This drops the water content of food drastically: after the freeze drying process, foods typically contain less than five percent water.

Since the freeze drying process happens so fast and since it does not expose foods to high heat, it has the advantage of preserving nutrients to a better extent than dehydration. For this reason, it’s a favorite both among survivalists and among long-distance hikers, who value both its nutrient content and low weight. 

Q: How long does freeze dried food last? 

A: Freeze dried foods can last up to 30 years on the shelf if unopened and stored in reasonable conditions. A cool, dark place is best: try to avoid extremely hot storage conditions like the attic in the summertime, or places where your freeze dried food will get exposed to direct sunlight.

The very long shelf life of freeze dried foods is one of its distinct advantages compared to other methods of food preservation. One final aspect of freeze drying to consider is protection from rodents and insects: it’s a very good idea to store your freeze dried food in a thick plastic or sealed metal storage container, to prevent pests from getting access to your food.

The vacuum sealed plastic or foil that your freeze dried food is protective enough to keep oxygen and moisture out, but it’s easily chewed through by mice, rats, or raccoons. 

Q: Can you make freeze dried food yourself? 

A: For a long time, freeze drying food was only viable in an industrial setting: do it yourselfers had to settle for dehydration instead. Today, a small number of home freeze drying units are available, but with some big caveats: they still only accept small batches of food, and they are extremely expensive compared to a home dehydrator.

You’d have to be preparing pretty large amounts of food for it to be cost-effective to buy your own freeze dryer: probably over a year’s worth of food once you factor in the cost of both the food and the freeze drier itself. Dehydration is a cheaper alternative, but doesn’t offer the same low weight and nutrient value that freeze drying offers. For most people, buying commercially made freeze dried food is the best option. 

Q: How do you store freeze dried food properly? 

A: Freeze dried food is pretty easy to store: keep it in a cool, dark place, like your basement or root cellar. Try to avoid keeping it somewhere that gets exposed to direct sunlight, and try to avoid very hot environments like the attic, garage, or your car.

The packaging that your freeze dried food comes in should be enough to protect your freeze dried food from the elements, but it won’t be enough to keep it protected against pests.

Keep your freeze dried food supply in a rigid plastic or metal container to keep out rats, mice, raccoons, insects, and anything else that might want to dig into your food supplies in storage.

This is especially important if you keep your freeze dried food in a remote location, like a cabin in the woods. If you will be away for long periods of time, invest in a rodent-proof container to store your freeze dried food. 

Q: How do you rehydrate freeze dried food? 

A: Rehydrating freeze dried food is extremely easy: all you need is hot water that’s safe to drink. For freeze dried foods like pasta, potatoes, or vegetables, you can add in hot water slowly until the food reaches the right consistency, then stop adding water.

If you have a solid type of food, like a slice of steak, you can soak it in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes, then pull it out. The right amount of water to add will depend a bit on the food in question, but it’s extremely easy to figure out. Just make sure that the water you are using is drinkable: if you’re unsure, boil it for at least one minute to kill any possible pathogens. 

Q: How does freeze dried food work? 

A: Freeze drying works primarily because it removes almost all of the water content of food. Bacteria that cause foods to spoil require two things: nutrients and water. Of course, removing nutrients isn’t going to work very well if you still want nutritious food, but if you can remove the water, you can prevent food from going bad.

And if you vacuum-seal food after removing the moisture, you stop one of the other culprits, which is oxygen. Freeze drying is better than dehydration because it removes more water, and does not expose foods to high temperatures, which destroy nutrients.

It beats out regular freezing by reducing the water content, and avoiding damage to foods from ice crystals. The actual water removal in freeze drying happens because of a process called sublimation, where water ice turns into vapor in the low-pressure environment used in freeze drying. 

Q: How long does freeze dried food last after opening? 

A: After you’ve opened freeze dried foods, you should use them within a week or two: now they’re exposed to oxygen and bacteria in the air, so they are much more susceptible to going bad. This is why freeze dried food is usually packaged in individual portions, even if you buy a product that has dozens of servings. 

Q: What is the difference between freeze dried food and dehydrated food? 

A: Both dehydration and freeze drying are procedures that are designed to vastly increase the shelf life of food by removing its water content. Freeze drying is the more effective of the two, as it can drop the water content down to 5% or less. In comparison, dehydration usually brings the water content of food down to 10% or so.

Dehydration can make foods last for a decade or more before going bad, but freeze drying can more than double this shelf life. Freeze drying also tends to preserve a greater proportion of the nutrients in foods like fruits and vegetables, because high temperatures tend to degrade antioxidants and phytonutrients. 

Q: What kind of food can’t be freeze dried?

A: The only kinds of foods that cannot be freeze dried are foods that are very high in oil, fat, or sugar. Honey, jam, jelly, and syrup don’t tend to freeze dry well, nor does butter or nut products like peanut butter.

Thick slices of meat tend not to freeze dry either, because their surface area is so low compared to the amount of meat included. Shredded or ground meat will work better. Fortunately, high-sugar foods like honey and jam are amenable to canning in Mason jars instead, which can last for a year or more when canned at home. 

Recap

If you want a long term food storage solution that is lightweight, has great nutrient density, and an incredibly long shelf life, freeze dried food is the best way to go.

The freeze drying process removes almost all of the water content but preserves nutrients since it does not expose foods to high temperatures. Rehydrating freeze dried food is very easy; all you need is hot, potable water.

Since freeze dried food can last up to thirty years, it’s the most versatile option for food storage for survival situations. As long as you store it in a cool, dark place in a container that’s protected from insects and rodents, freeze dried food can take care of all of your nutrition needs in a survival situation. 

For SurvivalAtHome’s #1 freeze dried food recommendation, click here.

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Ranking the best survival kits of 2019

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A survival kit is a set of items that outfit you with the capabilities to tackle the basics of survival in the aftermath of a disaster or civil unrest. Ideally, a properly prepared survival kit will help you tackle the most important aspects of surviving: applying first aid to any pressing medical needs, getting clean water to drink, building or getting to a place of shelter, signaling potential rescuers, garnering further information about your situation, and providing food for sustenance.

Survival kits come in different sizes, depending on the range of situations they are intended to prepare you for, and the duration of time you expect to depend only on yourself for all of your needs.

The bigger the kit, the longer you can survive on it—but that also means large survival kits tend to be heavy and difficult to transport. Emergency preparedness and survival organizations recommend dealing with this problem by keeping two survival kits: a small, portable one for travel, perhaps stored in your car, and a large, well-stocked kit kept in your home.

To find the best survival kits on the market, we had our research team look at all of the options available, both small and large, for survival kits. Our rankings are your best bet of outfitting yourself with the gear you need in a survival situation. 

The big picture

Survival kits keep you ready at a moment’s notice in case of disaster. With a well put together survival kit, you can ride out the situation or get out of harm’s way.

A good kit will enable you to take care of the most pressing threats to survival, helping you treat wounds and injuries, avoid exposure to the elements, keep yourself fueled and hydrated, and enable you to navigate your way to safety.

Our team found that Redfora’s Complete Earthquake Bag is the best all-around survival kit available right now, thanks to the gear it provides that can help you avoid or escape the dangers that come in the aftermath of large scale fires, earthquakes, storms, hurricanes, or civil unrest. 

Rankings

1. Redfora Complete Earthquake Bag

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Redfora makes a survival kit that’s specifically geared towards surviving in urban environments after an earthquake or other natural disaster. Unlike many wilderness-oriented kits, it includes a few components that are very useful specifically in urban environments like work gloves. 

Why we like it: Components like work gloves, safety glasses, and a hand-cranked flashlight/radio combo are a really nice touch, as is including 3600 calories’ worth of shelf-stable food. The fact that it’s all packed into a bag you can immediately grab makes it even better. 

Flaws: This kit is very well stocked, so much so that minimalists might want to discard a few components like the comb and safety razor for shaving to save weight if you need to travel cross-country on foot. 

2. Emergency Zone Urban Survival Kit

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Emergency Zone’s survival kit is specifically formulated to meet FEMA recommendations for a mobile survival kit, and for this reason, it’s very well-suited for keeping in your car or in your home in case of emergency. 

Why we like it: It features a pretty solid supply of water (in plastic satchels), shelf-stable food, emergency ponchos and bivy sacks, as well as a pretty impressive array of first aid gear. The hand-cranked flashlight/radio combo is great, and all the supplies fit in an easy to carry backpack. 

Flaws: As with some of the other urban survival kits, there’s some dead weight in this kit, like hand warmers, a comb, a shaving kit, and playing cards. Ditch these for a signaling whistle, compass, and an LED flashlight to make this a first-rate kit. 

3. EVERLIT Survival Kit

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EVERLIT makes a great survival kit that has fully stocked first aid supplies, as well as survival necessities like paracord, a flint stone, and glow sticks. 

Why we like it: Many survival kits skimp on first aid supplies, but not EVERLIT. You’ll be able to treat a wide variety of wounds and injuries with the supplies in this kit, plus keep your general survival bases covered. The organization of this mini-backpack kit is also great, with enough room to toss in extra supplies as needed.

Flaws: You’ll need to supply your own batteries for the flashlight, and water and shelf-stable food to cover all of your survival needs, but aside from that this kit is ready for just about anything. 

4. Sustain Supply Co 72 Hour Emergency Survival Kit

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Sustain Supply Co strives to provide your family with everything you need to survive for three days, in one easily carried package. This survival kit hits on all of the essentials recommended by major emergency preparedness organizations, making it a great pick. 

Why we like it: Sustain Supply Co explicitly includes water and ample amounts of food for post-disaster survival, plus the first aid supplies you’d expect in a survival kit. 

Flaws: This kit is a little heavy on creature comforts and is a little light on a few more technical pieces of equipment—most notably, it’s lacking a compass.

You can probably ditch the handheld lanterns for a compact LED flashlight, which would simultaneously drop weight and increase the versatility of this kit. You’ll also want to toss in a radio as well. 

5. Mayday Industries Earthquake Kit

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Mayday Industries is one of the few suppliers that specifically designs home-based survival kits. This kit comes in a watertight bucket and contains food, dust masks, work gloves, and other post-disaster essentials in an urban area. 

Why we like it: Many commercially available kits don’t have the gear you need to protect yourself from building debris during clean-up or extraction, and fewer still come in a waterproof container. This kit can tide your family over for a few days until assistance arrives. 

Flaws: One drawback of the bucket design is a loss of portability: you’re not going anywhere with this kit. It’s also a little light on first aid gear, but that’s easy enough to remedy with a good first aid kit that can be kept inside the bucket as well. 

6. KOSIN 18 in 1 Emergency Survival Kit

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KOSIN makes a survival kit that’s compact and focused on surviving in the outdoors. It’s replete with tools like a flashlight, compass, folding knife, multitool, firestarter, paracord, and a whistle, making it good for situations where you’ll be outdoors for extended periods of time. 

Why we like it: KOSIN goes heavy on tools that are sometimes hard to find in other kits, like a good quality screwdriver and a designated folding knife. 

Flaws: Crucially, KOSIN doesn’t include water purification gear, so you’ll have to add that to the kit yourself. The first aid supplies are a little sparse, and the tools are probably a little bulkier than needed: a single multitool would do the job of two or three of the different components included in the kit. 

7. Monoki First Aid Survival Kit

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Monoki puts heavy emphasis on self-reliant survival, making this mini survival kit a good choice for wilderness situations. The first aid kit is great, and there are plenty of tools for impromptu repairs and fix-ups.

Why we like it: If you want something tiny you can toss in your glove compartment, this survival kit is a prime candidate. The versatility of the first aid supplies is surprisingly good for such a small package, and the range of tools available is a big help.

Flaws: You’d need to substantially supplement this kit to serve as a standalone survival kit; most noticeably, it’s missing a radio, food, and water. 

8. Ready America Deluxe Emergency Kit

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Ready America makes a backpack based kit that’s well balanced for a variety of urban survival situations. It has a few nice perks you won’t find in wilderness-focused kits, like work gloves and a pretty solidly stocked first aid kit.

Why we like it: In a post-disaster situation in a city, you want a kit you can grab and get out quick. This kit fits the bill, providing adequate supplies in a light and easy to carry format. 

Flaws: The backpack itself isn’t as rugged as we’d like to see, and while including boxed water is great, the containers are not very durable: it’s easy for them to rupture. If you get this kit, replace these with plastic bottled water instead. 

9. SUPOLOGY Emergency Survival Gear Kit

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SUPOLOGY focuses primarily on survival tools as opposed to equipment; while this kit is light on consumables, it does have an impressive array of reusable gear. 

Why we like it: SUPOLOGY is one of the few manufacturers to include reusable water purification gear (a filtration straw, in this case) in a mini survival kit, and the mini compass and mini flashlight are surprisingly high quality for such a small kit. 

Flaws: Without a water bottle, food supply, and a fully stocked first aid kit, this survival kit can’t stand on its own in survival situations. You’ll need to combine it with other gear to be fully prepared for survival situations. 

10. CHAREADA Emergency Survival Kit

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CHAREADA brands this kit as adequate for both wilderness and urban survival, and while the selection of durable gear is pretty good, it suffers when it comes to consumables. 

Why we like it: The included compass is surprisingly nice, and you even get a backup mini-compass on the paracord bracelet. It also includes a few components missing in many urban-oriented kits, like a signaling whistle.

Flaws: This kit is too small to stand on its own and needs to be beefed up with water purification gear, more first aid supplies, and food supplies to increase its versatility. 

Who should buy a survival kit?

Survival kits are important enough that major national organizations like the American Red Cross recommends that all families have a survival kit ready for emergency situations.

Even if being ready for doomsday scenarios is not at the top of your mind, you still need a survival kit to be ready for more mundane (yet still dangerous) situations like an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flooding, or severe thunderstorm.

There’s nowhere that’s safe from all of these threats, plus the additional problems that come along with living in populated areas, like civil unrest and power outages. 

The best strategy is to have not one, but two survival kits: one small, portable kit that can support you for a few days, and one large, well-stocked kit at home for a few weeks of survival. The smaller kit is designed to get you home, or to another safe place, while the home kit is designed for longer-term survival.

Any survival kit needs first aid supplies, drinking water, a multitool, a flashlight, a radio or other communication device, and food. Mobile survival kits also need (paper) maps and a compass in case you have to navigate back home or back to safety on foot.

Mobile survival kits tend to skimp on food, since you can live without it for quite a while, and may also include extras like purification tablets for water and an emergency blanket in case you get caught out in bad weather. Home kits focus more on day to day essentials, and as such will carry more food and much more water (often many gallons’ worth) to make sure you can survive for weeks at a time. 

Every home should have at least a rudimentary survival kit—anything less is just irresponsible. It doesn’t take much to trigger a multi-day power outage, a loss of clean drinking water, or lack of basic supplies available at a store. With a survival kit in your home and in your car, you’re well-prepared both for natural and man-made disaster. 

How we ranked

To guide our rankings of the best survival kits available right now, we used principles from leading resources on survival as to what your priorities should be.

This included recommendations from the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the ‘ten essentials’ list espoused by several outdoor groups, among others. We evaluated potential kits based on how well they conformed to the recommended components in these lists. 

The most important components were the items whose absence would most seriously affect your survival prospects: this meant first aid supplies, a source of light, and water or some type of water purification technology.

We also looked at the quality of the knife or multitool included in each kit, as well as the range of shelter equipment included, like emergency foil blankets or rain ponchos.

Mobile kits needed some type of navigation equipment that did not depend on electricity: while you’ll have to supply a map, the quality of the compass included in a kit had a substantial impact on its score. 

We also penalized survival kits that had unnecessary components, or duplicates of items that weren’t strictly necessary. Multi-tools with tons of ancillary items, like bottle openers and corkscrews, or large amounts of minor first aid supplies like Q-tips, were good examples of items that were penalized for not being strictly necessary. Especially for kits that are designed to be carried for long distances, extra weight is a real problem.

Beyond the actual components, we also rated kits designed for travel based on their ease of use and comfort while carrying. Backpack style kits scored well thanks to how easily they support even large loads of supplies.

We also checked to see if the survival kits we reviewed had extra space for additional supplies: many people have specific survival needs, like insulin for type 1 diabetes, contact lenses or glasses, an epi-pen, or other prescription medication.

Having extra space also factored into an overall score for organization. Much like our rankings of first aid kits, we took into consideration how easy it was to access the supplies you need, and how easy it would be to put things back once you’d taken them out.

Miniature survival kits had a disadvantage in this regard—they tend to make quite a mess once you unpack them to get at the one thing you need. 

Our final rankings factored into account how well each kit hewed to standard recommendations for survival kit ingredients, whether the kit contained any unnecessary extra items, the overall weight, and comfort, ease of use, and organization. The best products in terms of overall quality made our final list of the best survival kits of the year. 

Benefits

A survival kit takes care of the most pressing needs facing you in a survival situation. Among experts on emergency preparedness, there’s very little disagreement about the most immediate dangers facing you in the aftermath of a natural disaster, civil unrest, or other survival situation.

Whether you ask FEMA, the American Red Cross, or the Boy Scouts, you’ll get more or less the same answer: before you do anything else, you need to apply any necessary first aid, make sure you have access to drinking water, and ensure that you have adequate shelter or protection from the elements (1,2,3).

First aid is a no-brainer: you won’t make it long if you have a cut, laceration, or other wound. Tackling first aid is pretty simple: you just need the basic components of a first aid kit to deal with bleeding, cuts, and other wounds. Drinking water is essential as well, since you can barely last a few days without water (and far less if you need to be on the move).

The obvious solution is to include drinking water in your survival kit, but mobile survival kits can also get away with a water bottle and a purification device (often tablets, because they are lightweight). Exposure to the elements can also put your survival in jeopardy in short order, whether it’s heat, cold, or rain.

Hypothermia and hyperthermia can take you out over the course of a few hours. At home, shelter is not usually a big problem, but for a mobile survival kit, an emergency blanket or a poncho can go a long way towards protecting you from the elements. 

A few custom additions to your survival kit can go a long way towards improving your survival chances. As good as a commercially available kit can be, there are a few things that are tailored to your particular situation that you’ll need to add.

First among these is a map: both for a home survival kit and a mobile survival kit, a (paper) map is hugely important if you need to make your way out of a dangerous situation, or get to a designated meeting place. In a survival situation, you may not be able to count on cell phones or GPS to get you where you need to be.

Any good survival kit should have a compass in it already, so you can pair this with maps of your local area to be able to navigate. You’ll also want to include any special medication that you need, like insulin, heart medication, or an epi-pen.

Don’t forget more mundane but equally important personal items, like an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses: you won’t get far without these, either. 

Make sure you have a radio in your survival kit. Perhaps one of the most often-overlooked items in a survival kit is a small radio, either battery powered or hand-cranked.

After addressing your most pressing survival concerns (first aid, water, and shelter, as discussed earlier), your next step needs to be to get an understanding of the parameters of your survival situation. Even in small-scale disasters, you can be virtually guaranteed that cell service will go down.

In New York City, for example, cell service went down almost immediately during the 9/11 attacks because so many phone calls were being sent simultaneously—and that was without significant damage to cell phone infrastructure.

After a hurricane, earthquake, or widespread civil unrest, the odds that cell service will be a reliable way to get information are essentially nil. Analog radio transmissions are incredibly old-school, but they’ll be the most reliable source of information.

Make sure your handheld radio has AM-band reception, because AM band radio transmissions can travel much further than FM band radio (4).

Thanks to a peculiar atmospheric phenomenon known as “skywave propagation,” AM radio signals can travel for hundreds of miles at night.

That means that even if local radio stations have suffered damage or do not have power to transmit, you can receive information from further away on AM band. FM radio, in contrast, is limited to more or less line of sight transmission: you won’t be able to get FM signals any further than 30 or 40 miles away. 

FAQ

Q: What are the top ten survival items? 

A: Undoubtedly the ten most important survival items have to be those that address the much-discussed “ten essentials”: navigation, protection from the elements (sun protection, insulation, and shelter), illumination, first aid, fire, survival tools, water, and food.

For survival specifically, including a radio or other communication device should be considered essential as well, since information is one of the most valuable components of making it through a survival situation. 

Q: What is the most important item in a survival kit? 

A: It’s hard to pin down a single item in a survival kit as the “most important”—after all, it wouldn’t be a kit if it didn’t need multiple different components—but a first aid kit is arguably the single most important piece of equipment to have, as untreated wounds are the biggest immediate threat to your survival.

Water is perhaps another candidate, as you won’t last long without drinking water either. At a more ‘meta’ level, your mentality might be an even more important tool: a cool, calm survival expert with a very bad survival kit will fare much better than someone who is panicked and unprepared, even if they have the best survival gear money can buy. 

Q: Why do you need a survival kit? 

A: Survival kits carry connotations of post-nuclear apocalypse, but they’re necessary to make it through far more mundane (and far more common) scenarios, like a hurricane, severe storm, earthquake, or local civil unrest. If you don’t have a survival kit, you’ll be completely at the mercy of the elements if your house is destroyed during an earthquake, or if rioting forces you to quickly abandon your apartment.

Even a basic survival kit, and some know-how on how to use it, will help you ride out these survival situations or make it to safety. Survival kits aren’t just recommended by doomsday preppers, either.

Major national organizations like the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Boy Scouts of America all recommend keeping a two-week survival kit in your home and a mobile survival kit in your car or at your place of work. 

Q: What is in a military survival kit? 

A: Military survival kits are often customized for the operational environment, but you can count on them to include a reflective space blanket, a poncho, bivy sack for shelter, a storm-proof fire starting kit, combat first aid supplies, sunscreen, water and purification gear, signaling equipment, and an assortment of tools, like fishing hooks, multitools, and paracord.

Military survival kits also invariably include a firearm for self-defense in hostile situations—typically a standard-issue service pistol, plus ammunition. 

Q: Can a survival kit fit in a backpack? 

A: Yes, a mobile survival kit that can last you for at least three days can easily fit in a backpack. Survival kits based out of a backpack are well-suited for using as a mobile survival kit or as a “bug-out bag” that you can easily grab if you need to get out fast (for example, in the case of an approaching forest fire, imminent civil unrest, or other immediate danger).

Mobile survival kits that fit in backpacks generally go a little light on food, using the saved weight and space to include outdoor survival equipment like a poncho and an emergency blanket.

A lightweight water purification method can also multiply the duration that a mobile survival kit will last you. It’s hard to carry more than a few days’ worth of water on you, but refilling with water you purify en route can solve water problems more or less indefinitely. 

Q: Should you keep food in your survival kit? 

A: In a home based survival kit, most experts recommend keeping at least two weeks’ worth of non perishable food (like freeze-dried food). That way, you can hunker down for a few weeks without having to risk leaving home to seek out food.

You pay more of a premium for carrying food in a mobile survival kit because of the weight, but it’s still a good idea to put at least a day or two’s worth of food (perhaps as energy bars that you can eat on the move) to sustain you if you need to cover long distances on foot. After an earthquake, hurricane, or fire, the odds are slim that transportation infrastructure will remain unscathed. 

Q: What should be in a hurricane survival kit? 

A: For a hurricane specifically, you should pay extra attention to ensuring that you have adequate drinking water. Stored water is great, but you should also have a way to purify water.

Hurricanes are notorious for leading to disease outbreaks because drinking water gets contaminated with sewage. You’ll also want to keep a map in your hurricane survival kit that shows elevation—post-hurricane flooding is the biggest danger you’ll face, so you’ll want a reliable way to get to high ground. More generally, try to keep your hurricane survival kit in a watertight container, ideally somewhere that won’t get flooded. 

Q: What should be in an earthquake survival kit? 

A: Assuming you survive the initial quake, the two biggest dangers from an earthquake’s aftermath are untreated injuries and fires. Make sure you have a well-stocked first aid kit to treat gouges, cuts, lacerations, and other injuries that can occur during or after an earthquake.

Also make sure you have a survival kit that’s ready to be thrown on your back in a hurry: gas lines can be easily ruptured in an earthquake, leading to out-of-control fires that envelop whole areas of a city. Make sure you have a map so you can get out fast if fires break out. 

Q: What should be in a mini survival kit? 

A: If you’re making a mini survival kit, it’s best to design it so it can treat any pressing needs and get you to safety as fast as possible. Include some basic first aid supplies like gauze and bandages, a multitool to get out out of sticky situations, and some way to purify water for drinking.

To go ultra-light, you might even keep only an empty collapsible water bottle and a few water purification tablets, and count on your ability to find a source of water to purify.

Lastly, make sure you include a local map, miniature compass, and some sort of protection from the elements, like an emergency blanket. These items should be able to get you home or to another safe place if you find yourself in a survival situation. 

Recap

A survival kit contains everything you need to ride out a survival situation, or to get to safety. At a minimum, a survival kit should include items to administer first aid, supply or purify drinking water, protect you from the elements, help you navigate to a safe place, receive information about your situation via radio, and signal for help.

Most experts recommend keeping two survival kits prepared: one mobile survival kit which can sustain you for 72 hours, and a home-based survival kit that can sustain you for at least two weeks.

That’s because some survival situations call for hunkering down in your home, while others require you to get out—often fast. These survival kits will help you be prepared for earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, civil unrest, or any other survival situation that might come your way. 

For SurvivalAtHome’s #1 survival kit recommendation, click here.

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Ranking the best first aid kits of 2019

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A first aid kit is possibly the most important part of any survival kit. When you find yourself in a survival situation, your number one priority is to address any immediate medical needs.

It’s not hard to imagine how you could sustain cuts, gashes, abrasions, bug bites, stings, splinters, or broken bones during a natural disaster or civil unrest—a good first aid kit should have all the materials necessary for treating these injuries.

You’ll also want some basic medications to take care of conditions that might emerge during the course of a survival situation, like fevers, migraines, or inflammation.

Our research team scoured the market for the best first aid kits of the year. Our final picks are well-situated for use in a home survival kit or as a key component in your bug-out bag. 

The big picture

In a survival situation, help may not be immediately at hand. You need a first aid kit that’s well-stocked to be able to handle pressing medical emergencies.

The best option on the market right now is the SURVIVAL Work/Home First Aid Kit: It’s fully stocked for treating even severe injuries, and to top it off, it’s incredibly well-organized and easy to use. 

Rankings

1. SURVIVAL Work/Home First Aid Kit

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SURVIVAL Work/Home First Aid Kit has a great range of supplies in their first aid kit for disaster situations, and they’re all incredibly well-organized.

Their newly redesigned kit is roomier and comes with additional compartments for storage. You’ll find key components in this kit that are rare in many other commercially-available first aid kits. 

Why we like it: With sterile saline solution, a combat-grade tourniquet, and eye pads, SURVIVAL’s first aid kit comes ready for just about anything. Their checklist of components shows they are on top of all of the recommended first aid supplies for disaster preparedness in the 21st century—hemostatic bandages and tourniquets can stop people from bleeding out after gunshot wounds and stabbings. Not many other kits offer supplies that prepare you for such a broad range of medical threats. 

Flaws: The only real downside for a kit like this is its size: it won’t fit in the glove compartment of your car, for example. But that’s a small price to pay for such a comprehensive, well-organized kit. 

2. Surviveware First Aid Kit

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Survivewear makes a first aid kit that looks small at first glance, but packs a surprising amount of key components into a tough, water-resistant package. 

Why we like it: The organization is great, with individual mesh pockets that even have stitched labels on them showing you which components are stored where.

Make no mistake, this isn’t a basic kit for cuts and scrapes—you’ll find heavy duty shears for cutting clothing away from a serious wound, compressive dressings to stop bleeding, and a triangular bandage for broken bones. This small but mighty first aid kit is great for your car, truck, or RV. 

Flaws: The small size precludes inclusion of duplicates, so if you do have to use this first aid kit, you’ll want to resupply whatever you used in short order.

It’s also not the best if you’re looking for a comprehensive kit to keep in your home and provide first aid for longer periods of time for your whole family. It’s also short on some of the key medications you’d want included in a first aid kit, so you’ll have to add these yourself if you want a fully equipped kit. 

Flaws: Because of the inclusion of all the additional survival gear, this kit is a lot heavier and more crowded than it otherwise would be. It doesn’t have some non-trauma gear either, like fever medication, and you’ll likely want to swap out some of the survival gear with your own higher quality equipment (especially the knife and the flashlight). 

3. CURAPLEX Stop the Bleed Kit

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While it’s not a stand-alone first aid kit, the official Stop the Bleed kit has some modern innovations that should be in any real survival-ready first aid kit: a tourniquet and kaolin-treated hemostatic wound dressing. 

Why we like it: Military research has found that many gunshot, knife, and shrapnel wounds are survivable if the initial bleeding can be stopped. Once combat medics were outfitted with tourniquets and special gauze to induce rapid clotting, deaths from bleeding out on the battlefield dropped precipitously.

Bleeding kits are on track to become the new CPR mask: something that was once the purview of doctors and EMTs, but is now usable by regular citizens to save lives. If you want to be ready for serious accidents, active aggressor situations, and civil unrest, a Stop the Bleed kit absolutely needs to be a part of your first aid supplies. 

Flaws: A Stop the Bleed kit on its own isn’t going to fulfil your needs for comprehensive first aid treatment, so you’ll want to supplement your kit with another one from our list. 

4. EVERLIT 250 Piece Survival First Aid Kit

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EVERLIT has a first aid kit that’s definitely engineered to appeal to the survivalist crowd. It includes first aid basics alongside survival essentials like a folding knife, glow sticks, a firestarter, and paracord. 

Why we like it: This first aid kit does dual-duty as a basic survival kit, which makes it a good fit for keeping in your vehicle. It also features some nice extras you don’t find in basic first aid kits, like butterfly bandages and burn dressings. 

Flaws: Because of the inclusion of all the additional survival gear, this kit is a lot heavier and more crowded than it otherwise would be. It doesn’t have some non-trauma gear either, like fever medication, and you’ll likely want to swap out some of the survival gear with your own higher quality equipment (especially the knife and the flashlight). 

5. Swiss Safe First Aid Kit

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Swiss Safe First Aid Kit comes with a pretty impressive range of first aid supplies, as well as a few token survival components, like a compass, a whistle, and glow sticks. 

Why we like it: The two-in-one design means you get a larger, more comprehensive range of supplies in the main carrying case, which is pretty well organized. Additionally, you get a mini kit that comes in a zipper pouch and can be tossed in your backpack when you are on the go. 

Flaws: Like many general purpose first aid kits, this kit lacks some of the more substantial trauma gear for more significant injuries.

It’s short on medicine, too, which hurts its survival applications. Finally, things like a compass and whistle likely belong in your survival kit, not in your first aid kit: they take up space and add weight here. 

6. Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight

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Adventure Medical Kits mades an outdoor-focused first aid kit that’s great for stashing in your glove compartment, as it has just the basics for survival situations and comes in a watertight carrying case.

Why we like it: Waterproof cases are surprisingly hard to find, and the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight comes with a lot of basic medications that are lacking in other first aid kits.

With after bite wipes, antihistamines, aspirin, loperamide, and ibuprofen, you are well-prepared for slower-moving but still serious medical problems that can occur in survival situations when help is a long ways off. 

Flaws: Due to the small size, the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight skimps a bit on more serious trauma gear.

Notably missing are larger compressive dressings and sturdy shears for cutting away clothing from sites of injury. Extras like moleskin are nice for blisters, but take up precious space that could be used for more urgent supplies. 

7. DeftGet First Aid Kit

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For a tiny, portable kit that you can keep at the office, in your glove compartment, or in your backpack, DeftGet is a good choice. Its water-resistant case is rigid to protect the supplies inside, and for such a small kit, it has a surprising range of supplies. 

Why we like it: If you want to be ready to treat basic injuries anywhere you go, or if you want a kit you can toss in your glove compartment and forget about until you need it, DeftGet is hard to beat when it comes to being lightweight and portable. 

Flaws: With any small first aid kit, there are bound to be important components missing, and DeftGet is no exception. The tiny case also means that using the supplies can get a bit disorganized: this kit doesn’t have the same kind of convenient mesh pockets you’ll find in bigger kits.

There are also a few questionable inclusions, like a plastic, low-intensity flashlight, which take up precious space and weight.

8. Rapid Care First Aid Wall-Mountable First Aid Kit

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If you want to stock your basement, interior closet, or other designated shelter area with a permanent first aid kit, the Rapid Care First Aid Wall-Mountable First Aid Kit is a great choice. 

Why we like it: This first aid kit comes in a rigid and well-organized shelf-style container, and has ample supplies of the basics, like bandages, band-aids, and antiseptics. It’s designed to meet OSHA recommendations for providing care for workplace injuries, so you can be confident it supplies the basics. 

Flaws: While there’s plenty of band-aids and bandages, this kit is lacking in some more advanced survival-oriented supplies, like some medications and more serious trauma gear.

It doesn’t do too well if it isn’t mounted on a wall, as the shelf organization system only works if the kit is vertical. As such, it’s a poor fit for an all-purpose kit that can stay at home or travel with you on the road. 

9. MFASCO First Aid Kit

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The MFASCO First Aid Kit is specially designed for disaster and trauma response. It has more advanced supplies, like glucose gel and a blood pressure cuff, to treat and assess the status of people who are injured in the aftermath of a disaster. 

Why we like it: For people who have advanced training in first aid, there are few commercially available kits that suit their needs. This MFASCO kit is one of them. For the kinds of injuries you’ll see in the aftermath of a natural disaster, it’s hard to beat the range of tools at your disposal for treating them. 

Flaws: For people who don’t have advanced training, many of the components in this first aid kit (like the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff) are more likely to be dead weight that just take up space. Using these and other components in this kit is no easy task without extensive training, especially under the pressure you’ll face in an emergency situation. 

10. Protect Life First Aid Kit

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This first aid kit is small, portable, and simple. Toss this in the back of your car and you’ll be ready for many mild to moderate injuries that might crop up when your out and about.

Why we like it: This kit has a surprisingly large amount of components for such a small package. The carrying case, while not waterproof, is fairly durable as well. 

Flaws: The zipper pouch means that this kit gets disorganized very quickly. It’s also missing some important medicines, as well as larger survival-oriented components like trauma gear. Since there are few duplicates of individual components, you’ll need to replenish it pretty much every time you use it. 

Who should buy a first aid kit?

If you don’t have a first aid kit in your home and your car, there’s no other way to put it—you’re unprepared. Even if you don’t expect to find yourself in a long-term survival situation anytime soon, it’s quite likely that you or someone you care about is going to sustain some kind of injury that requires first aid.

Properly applied first aid can make a big difference when it comes to wound healing, and with the plethora of pre-arranged first aid kits on the market, it couldn’t be easier to be prepared. The best plan is to have a well-stocked first aid kit in your home, hopefully centrally located and next to your other survival supplies, like purified water and long-term food storage.

Additionally, you should also have a smaller, travel-sized first aid kit with just the essentials stored in your car (perhaps as a part of your bug-out bag, or kept at hand in your glove compartment).

That way, if you get caught away from home, you’ll be able to apply first aid to yourself or anyone else you come across—and you’re quite likely to encounter people in the aftermath of a disaster or civil unrest who need first aid precisely when advanced medical care is a long ways off. 

Many people hesitate from buying a first aid kit because they don’t have advanced training in medical treatment. But you don’t need to be an EMT or a Boy Scout to get a benefit from a first aid kit—using gauze to wrap a deep cut, or treating a superficial cut with an antibiotic cream, doesn’t take any training at all, yet makes a big difference, especially if you won’t be able to see a doctor for several hours.

Many other components of a first aid kit take only a marginal amount of training to use—it’s very easy to learn to use nitrile or latex gloves to protect yourself from bodily fluids, and even administering CPR has been considerably simplified from what you’re probably familiar with from movies or TV.

So, not being trained in first aid is not an excuse for not having a first aid kit (though getting trained, especially in skills like CPR and stopping major bleeding, is definitely something to put on your to-do list). 

How we ranked

Our research team’s procedure for ranking first aid kits started with making a list of common injuries and medical conditions that might require treatment in case of a natural disaster, civil unrest, or other potential survival situations.

We prioritized things that need prompt treatment, like cuts, abrasions, and gashes, especially if failing to apply treatment could lead to infections or other longer-lasting problems that could impair your ability to function in a survival situation.

This list included burns, deep cuts and lacerations, large abrasions, joint injuries like knee or ankle sprains, and blunt trauma injuries like broken bones.

We also took note of minor injuries that could lead to infections, or that could limit your mobility and functional capacity, like minor cuts and scrapes, blisters, fevers, bug bites, and severe sunburn. 

We used this list to inform our choices of which first aid kits to include in our rankings. We eliminated many consumer-grade kits that are made mostly for treating minor cuts and scrapes—in almost all cases, these were eliminated because they did not provide a sufficient amount of large gauze pads, tape, and rolls that can be used to treat larger cuts and more serious injuries.

We also had to eliminate kits that were only designed around acute skin breaks, and included no supplies like anti-inflammatories for sprains and other sources of inflammation, and no antipyretics for treating fevers.

We strongly preferred kits that had all of these ingredients, and hopefully other useful materials like ankle splints, or at least some type of athletic tape for securing an injured ankle.

We also looked for personal protective equipment, like a CPR mask and especially latex or nitrile gloves, which keep you safe from the bodily fluids of the person you are treating. This kind of personal protective gear is the only way to ensure you’re not exposed to bloodborne pathogens like HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. 

Once we determined which first aid kits had the necessary ingredients for survival-grade first aid, we looked at the physical layout of the kit. When administering first aid, you need to know exactly where to find your supplies.

Just as importantly, you should be able to pack everything back up with ease after you’re done treating an injury. Keeping this in mind, we rated first aid kits more highly if they were well-laid out, well-organized, and easy to reuse. Kits that had all their supplies stuffed into one big compartment with no individual pockets or pouches scored lower, or got eliminated completely. 

With regards to the layout, we also considered the overall size of the first aid kits on our list. The larger ones were better suited for home use, where you can keep them in a cupboard or storage closet. At home, it pays to err on the side of more supplies.

That way, you won’t have to resupply your first aid kit after every time you use it. In contrast, smaller first aid kits are best for when you are traveling light: Smaller kits are excellent for keeping in your car, or as a key component of your bug-out bag.

While you’ll have to resupply them more often (perhaps even after every use), it’s far better to have a first aid kit at the ready anytime you need it. 

Finally, we considered any extra perks offered by a given first aid kit, like general-purpose survival supplies, or a waterproof case. While you shouldn’t be relying on or expecting a first aid kit to fill all your survival needs, these little extras are good to have. 

After scoring all the remaining products per our criteria, we ranked them according to their overall rating, giving us our final list of the best first aid kits on the market.

Benefits

If you have a medical condition, make sure you add specific supplies to your first aid kit to treat it. No commercially available first aid kits are going to have prescription-only supplies, but you can augment a kit with your prescription if you have a medical condition that requires you to take medication on a regular basis, such as diabetes.

If you have severe allergies to bee stings, certain foods, or other allergens, you can even get an extra epi-pen to keep in your first aid kit. All you have to do is talk to your doctor to get an extra prescription filled—most doctors are more than willing to help you out, as they are also interested in making sure you get your medication on a regular basis, even in the aftermath of a disaster.

Make sure you keep these medications clearly labeled—and in their original prescription bottles or containers if you keep them in your car. The last thing you need is to get hassled about unmarked containers full of pills kept in the back of your car! 

Don’t neglect personal protective equipment in your first aid kit. When most people think of the essential components in a first aid kit, they think of bandages, band-aids, gauze, and antiseptic—all the supplies that are going on the person being treated.

However, a good first aid kit also needs equipment for you, the person administering first aid. That means, primarily, latex or nitrile gloves to protect you from bloodborne pathogens. When treating injuries, especially in the context of a survival situation, you’re bound to be exposed to bodily fluids like blood, vomit, or saliva.

If you’re not careful, you can get exposed to bloodborne pathogens like HIV, Hepatitis B, or Hepatitis C. These are spread through contact with bodily fluids, and since they are viral infections, can’t be cured. You need to prevent these fluids from getting access to your body, so covering your hands with gloves when administering first aid is one of the first things you’ll learn if you take a first aid course.

Your first aid kit should have multiple pairs of gloves so you can treat, dispose of, and re-apply gloves on multiple occasions. Taking off protective gloves without getting blood or other fluids on your hands also takes some practice—it’s worth trying a few times before you actually need to do it.

A mask for CPR and artificial respiration is another piece of personal protective equipment that can protect you from bodily fluids, and comes standard in many high-quality first aid kits. 

Keeping a checklist of the components in your first aid kit can help you resupply it on a regular basis. There’s no way to predict which supplies you’ll go through, but after a few uses of your first aid kit, it can be very hard to keep track of what you’ve used, and what’s left. When you are applying first aid, keeping track of exactly how many bandages and gauze pads you’ve used is not at the top of your mind, to say the least.

A better solution is to keep a checklist of all the supplies in your first aid kit, and schedule a day (maybe once per year) to take the time to go through your first aid kit, check what’s missing, and resupply it. That’s far better than going to use your first aid kit and realizing that you’re completely out of band-aids, antibiotic cream, or latex gloves.

Going through your first aid kit on an annual or semiannual basis is also a good opportunity to make sure all your supplies are well-organized, and to make sure that you know where to find everything in the kit. That will prevent you from digging through your entire first aid kit to find the tweezers when you need to remove a splinter. 

FAQ

Q: What items are found in a first aid kit? 

A: Broadly speaking, a first aid kit is going to contain supplies for treating minor to moderate injuries and acute conditions like cuts, burns, gouges, sprains, strains, and fevers.

These are all conditions that can be treated, or at least stabilized, at home, so applying first aid is the first course of treatment. More advanced first aid kits will have some supplies for treating more serious conditions, such as a CPR mask or splints for broken bones.

You’ll still need emergency medical attention, but first aid can help stabilize someone until help arrives. Primarily, though, the most common items in a first aid kit are going to be simple supplies: band-aids, gauze, bandages, and antiseptic. 

Q: Is there a standard list of supplies you should have in a first aid kit? 

A: Several reliable sources have produced lists of first aid kit essentials. The American Red Cross, which works on disaster response and preparedness, recommends the following items: Large absorbent compressive dressings, several sizes of band-aids, adhesive tape, gauze rolls, antibiotic ointment or cream, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, an emergency blanket, a breathing barrier or CPR mask, an instant cold press, a thermometer, tweezers, a triangular bandage or sling, and protective gloves (1).

A guide for providing emergency first aid can accompany these items to provide instructions on their use, which is especially important if you do not have specialized training in emergency medical aid.

The Mayo Clinic has similar recommendations, (2) additionally recommending an eye pad, butterfly bandages, super glue, a finger splint duct tape, safety pins, eye wash solution, laxatives, anti-diarrhea medication, antihistamines, and aloe vera gel.

These additional supplies are great for survival situations where it might be longer than usual before you can get any specialized medical care. Our research team used lists like these to inform our rankings of first aid kits.

Q: How do you use a first aid kit? 

A: The best way to use a first aid kit is to make sure you know which components are most effective for which types of injuries. For example, while it’s certainly possible to use a large gauze pad and tape to close up a deep gouge, it’ll be far more effective to apply a butterfly bandage first—this will help hold closed a deep but small wound far more effectively.

Some items in a first aid kit, like a triangular bandage, require some practice to be able to use correctly. A guide for first aid is the easiest way to figure out how to use all of the separate components in your kit; many good commercially available first aid kits come with brief guides on how to use all of the components.

Q: How big should your first aid kit be? 

A: Generally it’s best to choose one of two strategies for sizing your first aid kit: either aim for a large, comprehensive kit with all of the supplies needed, even for more rare but serious situations (for example, everything recommended in the more comprehensive Mayo Clinic checklist), or a smaller first aid kit that has just the bare essentials.

Smaller, basic first aid kits are best for keeping in your car or at your office, for situations where you’re far from home when disaster strikes. These can tide you over until you can make it to medical care, or make it home and have access to your full survival kit, including your larger home first aid kit. 

Q: How do you make your own first aid kit? 

A: The best way to make your own first aid kit is to start with a checklist of essential first aid supplies from a reputable organization like the American Red Cross or the Mayo Clinic.

Then, aggregate your supplies, making sure you keep them in a tough durable container that is conducive to being in rough environments while still keeping your first aid supplies well-organized. Since you have a checklist already, you should pack your checklist into your first aid kit.

That way, you can schedule an annual or semi-annual resupply where you go through your kit, replenish any of the items you’ve used, and check to make sure all the medications are not expired. Always make sure you store your first aid kit in a memorable and easily accessible location, whether you are storing it at home or in your car. 

Q: What is the most important thing in a first aid kit? 

A: Though a first aid kit is designed to be able to treat a broad range of medical conditions, arguably the most important components are the supplies designed to stop rapid bleeding: compressive dressings and their associated gauze and adhesive tape that is used to stabilize them.

Deep cuts and lacerations can cause dangerous amounts of blood loss in short order if you don’t treat them. So, if you have nothing else on hand, make sure your first aid kit has the supplies necessary to quickly stop bleeding from a deep cut or puncture.

Applying this kind of first aid is so important that the American College of Surgeons has started a new campaign called Stop the Bleed, modeled after the success of Stop, Drop, and Roll, to train ordinary citizens to stop severe bleeding quickly (3). 

Q: What special things should be in a first aid kit for survival? 

A: In a survival situation, you need to be ready to supply first aid and treat medical conditions over a longer timeframe. Most consumer-grade first aid kits are only for minor cuts and scrapes—normally, for anything more serious you’d just go to the emergency room or the hospital.

In contrast, in survival situations, you need to be prepared for more serious medical emergencies when you won’t be able to get treatment for at least a few hours—or perhaps even longer. These include deep cuts and lacerations, burns, insect bites, broken bones, and slower moving but still serious problems like diarrhea and fevers. 

Recap

Providing first aid is the very first thing you need to do in a survival situation. Before you plan out any travel back home, and before you worry about water, shelter, or food, you need to take care of any medical situation that crops up.

That’s why a first aid kit is the very first thing you should put in a survival kit. The best plan is to have a good first aid kit that is well-stocked that you keep at home, and a smaller travel-sized first aid kit with just the essentials that you keep in your car, if you have one. That way, you won’t be caught unprepared for any situation. 

For SurvivalAtHome’s #1 first aid kit recommendation, click here.

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