Disaster Essentials

Protect yourself and your loved ones. And take nothing for granted.
(Even toilet paper.)


"Security, health and sanitation" isn't exactly sexy sounding, is it?  But we're guessing it's pretty easy to see the appeal of keeping your loved ones as safe as possible.

In this section, we start with home- and self-defense. Note there are no firearms here. If you're trained in firearms, there are plenty of other sources to explore your options. If you're not, then we'd suggest you look into alternative options to protect yourself.

The second is a big one: Health. That includes first-aid kits and medicine. Take this list of health items as a beginning. Honestly, it could go on and on, but also depends heavily on you and your family's specific needs. Note that we are NOT giving medical advice here. You should talk to your doctors and mention that you'd like backups of necessary medication and antibiotics. But, well, good luck. We struggle with it, too.

The last part of this — sanitation — isn't super fun, but it is incredibly important. One of the leading source of death in countries that have suffered devastating natural calamities are the diseases and afflictions that come when you don't have access to clean water. Just keeping you and your stuff clean is paramount to longterm health.

JUMP to any of these categories by clicking...

  1. SECURITY. Protection for yourself and your home. Includes non-lethal but effective options.

  2. HEALTH. Medical kits & gear, plus protection from the elements & critters such as mosquitoes and ticks. Stuff to think about if you have to venture out of the house.

  3. SANITATION. Ways to keep clean and healthy even if there's no running water.




Community becomes especially important in cases of emergencies. Bonding with neighbors can save your life. But desperation also breeds less savory behaviors. And we must come to terms with the idea that you may need to forcibly protect your family.

As mentioned above, this is not a section about guns. We are looking at other less-lethal options and deterrents instead. In some cases, just having a visible weapon of some kind — even if it's just a thick dowel/cudgel that could put a hurting on an assailant — is enough to put off a problem. All that being said, it must be acknowledged that plenty of other people WILL be armed with guns. It's an uncomfortable fact that would get even more problematic without a functioning police force around. There's no perfect answer here.

Also, you should look at the applicable laws in your local area, city, and state. Any kind of pepper spray, and many bladed weapons are illegal in New York City, for instance.

Frontiersman Bear Spray

Frontiersman Bear Spray

Importance: Important.

Bottom line: A non-lethal defense method — against people who might be threatening you (or yes, even bears, though that's actually FAR less likely).

Recommended for: Home & Away Shelter, Go-bag.

No. units recommended: At least two with every evacuation party or longterm shelter.

Be aware: Pepper sprays are illegal in some places, including New York City.

SOG F18-N Voodoo Hawk Tomahawk

SOG F18-N Voodoo Hawk Tomahawk

Importance: Handy.

Bottom line: Self defense item, but perhaps more because of its implicit bark rather than actual bite. Hopefully you'd scare away an attacker, because you don't want to get close enough to have to actually use it.

Recommended for: Home shelter.


Brazos Hiking Walking Ironwood Stick

Brazos Hiking Walking Ironwood Stick

Importance: Handy.

Bottom line:  Makes a good walking stick — and good personal defense weapon. Lightweight and tough.

Recommended for: Shelters, go-bag. 

No. units recommended: 1 for each ambulatory member of an evacuation party. 

Be aware: Comes in 41 inch, 48 inch, and 55 inch sticks. Choose the right size for you.

Buddybar Door Jammer

Buddybar Door Jammer

Importance: Important.

Bottom line: An easily installed home security device for exterior doors that swing inside: Will deter assailants from breaking into your shelter.

Recommended for: Shelters. Apartment friendly!

No. of units recommended: One for every door that swings inward in your shelter.

Be aware: Serious locks, heavy doors, and full braces would be better. But who among us actually does all that? 

Lock-it Block-it Home Security Window Bars

Lock-it Block-it Home Security Window Bars

Importance: Important.

Bottom line: A secondary window defense, which also allows you to keep windows partly open but still relatively secure.

Recommended for: All exterior windows.

Be aware: These won't stop anyone from actually breaking a window to enter.



Reviews & field notes of Frontiersmen Bear Spray: So, we don't actually recommend this for keeping away bears. The most dangerous thing you're likely to encounter are other humans trying to break into your shelter or threatening you when you evacuate. This spray shoots 30 feet and lays a thick pepper-based fog. If it can send a grizzly scurrying away, imagine the reaction to an antagonistic person. And it's non-lethal. We've tested this in an open field, and were amazed just how far it shoots. But you don't want to be in an enclosed space, clearly, and the wind can shift and affect you, as well. Still, this will shut down an aggressor VERY quickly. Note that any kind of pepper spray is illegal in some places, including New York City. 

You know that old saying about speaking quietly and carrying a big stick? Well, this is a big stick. Reviews & field notes on the Brazos Hiking Walking Ironwood Stick. Made of lightweight but very strong Hornbeam (or "ironwood"), it's both a very effective walking stick, appropriate for your go-bag, and a physical deterrent. There's something about a long sturdy stick in your hand that is very instinctual — would-be aggressors react with a primordial piece of the brain and give pause. Made in America by Brazos, too. Comes in 41 inch, 48 inch, and 55 inch sticks. Choose the right size for you.

Reviews & field notes on the SOG Voodoo Hawk Tomahawk: So, excuse our slight reservation here. If you're close enough to an attacker to actually use any type of bladed weapon, things have gone quite awry. That being said, having a sharp wedge of steel like the SOG around gives some ease of mind, especially to us macho types. It's not that big, actually, but it's well built, sharp, and would also be very effective to break windows or pry stuff loose. SOG products are well made, and we trust them.

Lastly, we turn to home defense mechanisms. The best defense, clearly, is not letting anybody into your shelter. This rings especially true in urban and suburban areas. The best case scenario would be to invest in great locks, sturdy doors, and full door braces and window guards. In the case of a rental apartment, for instance, that may not be an option. So, for doors... Reviews & field notes on the Buddybar Door Jammer. The Buddybar weighs more than 8 pounds. It's made of sturdy steel, and it fits under your door knob and is braced by the floor. This option isn't as good as actual bar over your door like you see in old castles, but at least this is quick to install. In our field tests, it worked well in our NYC apartment, where the door is metal but the lock sucks. However, we have to move the carpet out of the way, and the floors can't be too slick, or the bracing doesn't work well. Reviews & field notes on the Lock-it Block-it Home Security Window Bars. The names of these products may scream infomerical (ugh!), but these are in fact quite effective, simple, security braces for your windows. These adjustable bars fit into the railings and allow you to leave windows partly open — key in the summer if you don't have A/C. Again, full window bars would be more effective, but these are a step in the right direction.



We all get hurt. You'll want all the backup medical supplies than you can get. Imagine if you can't simply run to the local CVS or Walgreens or — much worse — hospital. Please note: We are not doctors or medical experts, nor do we claim to be. Use your best judgement and speak to your own medical specialists. That being said, you can equip yourself with some good-first aid kits, a good book or two, and over-the-counter remedies.

As for the natural elements: It's important now to stockpile sun screens and insect repellents. You probably already have your own favorite sunscreen, so get lots of that. But when it comes to keep mosquitoes and ticks off of you, we've got opinions. These are especially important considerations, as both carry diseases which would be especially problematic if you're not able to get to dedicated medical care. You don't want West Nile Virus or Lyme disease during the best of times, right?



Is there one first-aid kit with everything?
No. The best still should be supplemented with additional gear. 

What else should I think about?
Stockpiling common medicines you use throughout the year, from kid's ibuprofen to Benadryl and cold & flu medicines. 

How about antibiotics?
They can only be prescribed by a physician, but it's absolutely worth asking yours!


No product

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: Fundamentals for first aid.

Recommended for: All shelters.

You’ll also need: See field notes, below.

Be aware:  This is by no means exhaustive. We suggest supplementing  items. Also, remember, you'll need actual medicines. The kinds you use all the time, like aspirin and ibuprofen, and anti-allergens, flu & cold medicines, etc. Think it through carefully and stockpile the stuff you use a lot of.

Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Daytripper First Aid Kit

Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Daytripper First Aid Kit

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: A reasonably small but versatile first-aid kit appropriate for go-bag and vehicle.

Recommended for: Go bag, vehicle.

You’ll also need: At a minimum, we suggest adding in trauma dressing and quick-clot sponges.

Be aware: All first-aid kits are somewhat limited. Go through it BEFORE you take it, and alter or add to your needs.

Importance: Important.

Bottom line: A selection of over-the-counter medications and extra first-aid items you might consider adding in addition to a home first-aid kit.


  1. More bandages, of every kind. Curad Assorted Bandages Variety Pack 300.

  2. For serious wounds, "trauma dressing" like the Israeli Bandage Battle Dressing First Aid trauma dressing and  quick-clot sponges.

  3. More sterile gloves, like the MedPride Powder-Free Nitrile Exam Gloves, Medium, Box/100 and disposable surgical masks.

  4. Loads of ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

  5. Burn dressings, such such as 4" X 4" Water Jel Burn Dressing.

  6. Anti-diarrhea meds, like Imodium Multi-Symptom Relief Caplets.

  7. Antihistamines in bulk.

  8. Flu and cold medicines such as Tylenol Cold Flu Severe 50 packs of 2 Caplets.

  9.  FirstChoice Extra Durable Moleskin.

  10. Poison Ivy Soap.

Be aware: We are NOT doctors or trained medical personnel and we make no claims of specific medical knowledge. We suggest you do speak to your own physicians and follow all directions on medications.

First-Aid Kit Additions

First-Aid Kit Additions

The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for ANY Disaster

The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for ANY Disaster

Importance: Handy.

Bottom line: A medical resource guide that covers all kinds of emergencies and long-term medical issues. A superior go-to-guide when you need a quick medical resource.  

Recommended for: One for each shelter — home and away.

You’ll also need: Medical supplies!

Be aware: The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide covers many subjects, but it isn't exhaustive. And it won't take the place of actual training or trained medical personnel.


Mask, Particulate Respirator, N95 certified

Mask, Particulate Respirator, N95 certified

Importance:  Important — esp. if you live in urban areas.

Bottom line: The best barrier from airborne illnesses.

Recommended for: Apartments, shelters, go bag.

No. units recommended: These are disposable. At least 10 per adult and child.

Be aware: Many factors. See our field notes section below, please.


Review & field notes of the Red Cross Large Workplace First Aid Kit with Plastic Cabinet. Any first-aid kit is only a beginning. You need to figure out what type of stuff you need, esp. if you have kids, elderly, or pets. Also, a kit is only as good as your knowledge. Go through it BEFORE you need it. And buy a good medical manual (like the Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide, below), to supplement. But know who we trust in emergencies? The American Red Cross. We've come across them in our own emergency situation after a devastating apartment fire and the personnel were amazing. That's neither here nor there, but this 182-piece first aid kit has the fundamentals you need for minor wounds and smaller medical issues. We would supplement it with items (see notes), but it's a heck of a start. There are tons of bandages, first-aid tape, burn cream packs, and a few nitrite gloves. Lastly, we like that it hangs on a wall. NOTE: You'll still want to supplement it with additional medical supplies AND medicines. See above, in the Medicines & First-Aid Supplements for a good start.
Review & field notes of Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Daytripper First Aid Kit. You're going to want a first-aid kit that you can take with you. This one has plenty of stuff in it, including hiker needs like Moleskin, bandages and dressings, a syringe and antibiotic cream. It weighs less than a pound, and it's 5.X7.5X3 inch package is easy to fit into packs. We also suggest this as a kit that goes well in your vehicle. We think it could use a few more items, especially the Israeli trauma dressing and blood-clotting sponge in case of a serious injury. That being said, it's an easy size to pack and relatively lightweight, so a good overall choice.
Review & field notes of the The Ultimate Survival Medicine Guide: Emergency Preparedness for any Disaster. If the internet is down, you won't be able to jump on This book, written by MD Joseph Alton, covers everything from snake bites to sprains to diabetes, all under the scope that immediate medical help may not soon be on the way. It is easy to understand and covers a broad variety of short-term and long-term medical issues. And if you don't have the right medical items on hand, it offers alternatives like improvised butterfly bandages using duct tape to treating burns with raw honey. Be aware that, at 284 pages, it isn't exhaustive and moves through problems and treatments quickly. Still, we like it well enough to keep one copy at home, and another in our away shelter (ie, the country house). 
Review & field notes of the N95 particulate respirators/face masks:  

We agree that face masks seem a little paranoid. But in case of airborne illnesses, and potential pandemics, a N95 certified mask could be incredibly useful, especially in crowded, urban areas. According to the CDC, a N95, “Protects from exposure to airborne particles and barrier to splashes, droplets, and sprays. In a healthcare setting, protects from exposure to biohazards including viruses and bacteria.” The major difference between a regular face mask or surgeon's mask and a N95 particulate respirator is that a respirator is designed to keep out the smallest airborne particles possible. The "N95" code means that they block at least 95 percent of very small particles, as small as .3 microns. What's that mean to you/us? Well, the major takeaway is they keep out airborne illnesses. So, the flu, at a minimum, but worse things in a potential pandemic.

The Nexcare masks above are specifically approved for by the FDA "use by the general public in public health medical emergencies." (The Nexcare is one of the 3M products.) For a full list of approved masks, see the FDA Masks and N95 Respirators sections of their site.


Note that all these respirators are single-use items. The Nexcare model doesn’t have an exhalation valve — a desirable feature as far as comfort. We've worn them, and they are hot and sticky and not at all comfortable for long periods of time. A valve makes breathing easier and keeps you cooler. In the very helpful CDC section on respirators, the CDC says that “Respirators with exhalation valves can be used in a healthcare setting when it is not important to maintain a sterile field (an example of an acceptable practice would be when taking the temperature or blood pressure of a patient). Respirators with exhalation valves should not be used in situations where a sterile field is required (e.g., during an invasive procedure in an operating or procedure room) because the exhalation valve allows unfiltered exhaled air to escape into the sterile field.”

Be aware that the FDA points out that respirators may not fit children or those with facial hair — buy small sizes for smaller people. Again, we suggest following the above links to both the FDA and CDC sites.

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent

Importance: Important to crucial, depending on variables like geographic location and insect density.

Bottom line: Keeps ticks and mosquitoes off your gear and clothing for extended periods of time.

Recommended for: Shelters; spray on your go-bag and affiliated gear beforehand. 

You’ll also need: Mosquito spray. We are very partial to Picaridin, which is also effective against ticks and skeeters, and does not have DEET in it.

Be aware: You'll have to periodically respray on gear. Don't use on skin. Is also detrimental to cats.   

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Importance: Important to crucial, depending on your geographic location (and bug problems).

Bottom line: Best bug spray you can buy in our opinion.

Recommended for: Shelters, go-bag, vehicle. 

No. of units recommended: One of those items worth stockpiling




Review & field notes of Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent: Mosquitoes may plague you, but if you live in many places in the U.S., ticks can make you really sick. And worse, you don't want to get Lyme disease or other tick-related illnesses if you can't just go to the doctor. Pemetethrin has been shown to be an effective deterrent to ticks, and you spray this Sawyer product directly onto clothes, boots, backpacks, tents, and tarps. It will last up to six weeks and survive rain and a half dozen washes. We've sprayed this on our tent floor and the exterior, and noticed markedly less bugs. We also make a point of it to spray the inside of boots and gloves, and clothes we work in or regularly use outside. Ticks are a very serious problem, and they're getting worse. This is one of the best solutions you can use.

Review & field notes of Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20 percent Picaridin: The single best mosquito and anti-tick spray we've ever found. It uses Picaridin which isn't so bad on your skin, and won't melt plastic like DEET will. Comes in spray or lotion, and effective up to 12 hours. Doesn't stink, doesn't irritate skin, doesn't melt plastic. But works REALLY well, on both mosquitoes AND ticks. We've found this out over the course of using it many summers at our place in tick-infested Pocono mountains.



You don't want to get felled from any of the same stuff that assailed, like, the villagers in medieval times. Incredibly, it doesn't take that much for cholera and other diseases to come roaring into a community that is without clean water and adequate sanitation. And when you think of our crowded urban areas, and what would quickly happen when the toilets stop working... well, ick indeed.

So this stuff is mondo important. None of the cleaning or hygiene supplies are at all out of the ordinairy, and if you've got your own preferences (and you likely do), just order a bunch of that stuff and put it away in case you need it later.

Epic Wipes, massive wet wipes shower substitute

Epic Wipes, massive wet wipes shower substitute

Importance: Handy.

Bottom line: When you can't take a shower, use these. They are HUGE and clean the entire body. A great addition to your house or apartment in case you lose water, and need a bath after many days.

Recommended for: Apartments, shelters.

Be aware: They're bio-degradable!

GLAD 70313 Drawstring Outdoor 30-Gallon Trash Bags

GLAD 70313 Drawstring Outdoor 30-Gallon Trash Bags

Importance: Important.

Bottom line: Not only for the trash, but also key for apartments and suburban locations when your toilet isn't working and going outside isn't an option. See where we're going with this?

Recommended for: Apartments, shelters.

No. units recommended: 90 bags in this bunch, a good start.

You'll also need: You might consider a nice bucket.

Clorox 30966 Concentrated Regular Bleach, 3 Count 121 Oz

Clorox 30966 Concentrated Regular Bleach, 3 Count 121 Oz

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: Keeps eating and cooking and bathroom areas sanitary AND can make water potable.

Recommended for: All shelters.

Be aware: NEVER disinfect water for drinking using scented bleach. For table on how much to use, see field notes below.

Black 4 Gallon Square Bucket with Snap On Lid (4)

Black 4 Gallon Square Bucket with Snap On Lid (4)

Importance: Handy.

Bottom line: You'll always need a bucket. Including as a portable toilet in a pinch. We bet you don't have one in your apartment, do you?

Recommended for: Apartment friendly, home and away shelters.

Be aware: These are NOT airtight. We suggest another kind of bucket for long-term food storage.

Importance: Important.

Bottom line: The stuff you should stock up to keep you and your shelter clean and hygienic.


  1. PURELL Advanced Hand Sanitizer Gel, 2L, Pack of 2: Two of these are the equivalent of a gallon's worth of hand sanitizer.

  2. Ginger Lily Farms Botanicals Island Tranquility Body Wash Gallon: Wash your body, baby. You'll need water for this, of course.

  3. Amazon Elements Baby Wipes, Fresh Scent, 720 Count, Resealable Packs with Tub: Baby wipes, not just for babies in an emergency.

  4. Marcal Toilet Paper 100% Recycled - 2 Ply White Bath Tissue, 336 Sheets Per Roll - 48 Rolls: Not the stuff you'd normally buy, but with 48 rolls, with more than 300 sheets per roll, it will last a long time in times of need. Just put it aside somewhere and open if and when you're in a situation where you can't buy from the store.

  5. Clorox Healthcare CLO 30577 Bleach Germicidal Wipes: Good for all kinds of cleaning.

Sanitary essentials: Various items

Sanitary essentials: Various items

Review & field notes of the Epic Wet Wipes Massive. We used these after a night-long dust storm in the Gobi, and they were big enough to clean out all the gunk in our ears, our feet, and the entire rest of our body. Not too wet, not too dry. These are a fabulous luxury. But the packages are thick, so even one can take up precious room in a go-bag.
Review & field notes of Clorox Concentrated Regular Bleach. It might seem odd to review something that most of us have been using our entire lives. But there are things you should be aware of.  Bleach comes in either 6 percent or 8.25. This one is the 8.25 percent. Not only can you clean up everything with it, in a pinch you can disinfect water for drinking. Never use any scented or color-safe bleach for potable water. Amounts to use: For a gallon of water, use 8 drops of 6 percent; or 6 drops using 8.25 percent. Two drops of either works for a liter/quart, while you'd need one-fourth of a teaspoon of 8.25 for four gallons.
Review & field notes of the Black Square Buckets. A good bucket is like a Swiss Army Knife. When you have one in times of need, there a thousand uses. These are square, so they fit better in closets, and are stackable. They also have lids. Consider to pack all your disaster gear together. When needed, they can capture water, be used as a portable toilet (with or without a Glad bag liner), hold excess food.... Here's what we do with our buckets. We put all of our excess gear and disaster supplies in them (what isn't in our to-go bag), including items like matches, protein bars, etc. Then we stack them in a corner of the closet where they are out of the way. If you're looking for airtight buckets suitable for food storage (like beans or rice), we use these 5 Gallon White Bucket & Lid - Set of 6 - Durable 90 Mil All Purpose Pail - Food Grade.
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