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I don’t know about you, but I can’t stop talking about HBO’s hit series The Last of Us. As a travel editor who’s always on the road, something about this show’s post-pandemic America with characters crossing the country and fighting off zombies has me hooked. It really got me thinking — what if a disaster like this actually happened? Would I be ready? Just the thought was enough to create my own emergency survival kit inspired by the show. I even convinced a few friends to do the same.
Now, I’m not saying there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse any time soon, but I have traveled enough to know it pays to be prepared in any situation — for winter road trips, extreme weather emergencies, evacuations, camping, (ahem) pandemics, and who knows what else.
While there are a few great emergency preparedness bags over at Amazon that are all set up for you, like Taiker’s Emergency Survival Kit for just $33 (thanks to an on-site coupon) or the Judy Emergency Preparedness Dry Backpack from an Oprah-approved brand, I opted to create my own go-bag to build off essentials I already own, including a first aid kit and the amazing $18 Lifestraw water purifier I take with me on all my hiking trips.
So, make like Joel and Ellie and get prepared for anything with this checklist of survival kit essentials — and stock up for your own peace of mind, too.
Hot Hands Hand Warmers
As a Boston resident, I already swear by these best-selling hand warmers for keeping toasty in the frigid Northeast winter. So when I saw my town depicted in post-apocalyptic fashion in The Last of Us, I wanted to reach through the screen and distribute these magical helpers to stave off the cold in those old, run-down apartments. When activated, they provide up to 10 hours of natural, safe heat. (We know that fungi can’t survive in super high temps, so my theory is: the warmer the better, right?) Maybe that’s a stretch, but you can’t deny these are useful for hikes, camping, and long winter walks.
This pack comes with 40 pairs, so you can throw a few in your emergency kit and use the rest this winter. If you need any more convincing, just look to the 36,500 perfect ratings. One shopper who called these their “go-to” said, “These are the best hand warmers on the market, period.”
To buy: amazon.com, $27 for 40 pairs
Johnson & Johnson Portable Emergency First Aid Kit
While I already owned a first aid kit that I slipped into my survival bag, it’s always great to have multiple, so I am eyeing this as a backup for my car as well. If you’re in need of an upgrade or another to have around the house, opt for this portable, compact size (9.9 inches by 6.8 inches by 3.4 inches) from the tried-and-true brand Johnson & Johnson. The highly-rated kit includes 160 essential pieces with Band-aids, gauze, Neosporin antibacterial ointment, Tylenol pain reliever, hand cleansing wipes, and more — all great for treating minor cuts while camping, playing sports, and household accidents, too. It’s probably not going to ward off any zombies, but hey, it can’t hurt.
To buy: amazon.com, $17
FosPower Emergency Radio, Portable Power Bank, and Flashlight
Space is tight in an emergency preparedness kit, so I especially love that this solar-charged, hand-crank flashlight ticks three essential boxes all in one: radio, portable power bank, and light. Whether you need to charge your phone, light the way, or listen in for important emergency weather forecasts or FM/AM stations, this compact little box has you covered — and there’s no need for electricity to power it.
Of its more than 22,000 five-star ratings at Amazon, this glowing review had me convinced: “We got through Hurricane Ian with this.” They shared that even though they lost power for four days, “it was a lifesaver to have a radio pick up the news,” and that solar charging kept them connected to their phone. “I cannot recommend this enough,” they said. “I’m so glad I bought it. I encourage anyone in a hurricane-prone area to have one just in case.” As someone who grew up in Florida, I was sold — plus, how else would I be able to hear all that ominous ’80s music?
To buy: amazon.com, $30
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
With a whopping 72,000 five-star ratings at Amazon, this portable drinking filter is so handy, it might just save your life one day. The compact tool can filter 99 percent of bacteria and parasites out of the water from lakes, streams, and rivers — giving you access to clean drinking water pretty much anywhere, anytime.
I originally bought my LifeStraw before a trip to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats, where I spent hours on harsh, rugged terrain with little surrounding me. While I’m thankful I’ve never actually had to use mine, I was glad I had it — just in case. And, it’s so easy to carry that I always bring it on hiking and camping trips or long-haul travel. It’s a best-seller for a reason, after all.
To buy: amazon.com, $18 (originally $20)
Evolvetogether KN95 Masks
There’s nothing like a show about a pandemic to get you stocked up on protective face masks, am I right? And the show aside, an uptick in cases and a particularly rough flu season is a great reason to buy a pack or two more.
I love the Evolvetogether KN95 mask since it has six-ply technology, double filtration, and the ultimate comfortable ear strap. Even celebrities like Jennifer Garner and Katie Holmes have been spotted wearing them, and they have an impressive five-star rating with 6,700 ratings. It’s no wonder they sold out and amassed a 100,000-person long wait list — but luckily, they’re back in stock.
To buy: evolvetogether.com, $15 for a five-pack
Swiss Safe Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets
I’m sure the thought crossed Joel and Ellie’s minds before their cross-country adventure: Wyoming can get cold. That’s why I added a four-pack of these emergency thermal blankets from Swiss Safe to my survival bag. They weigh only two ounces and are waterproof, windproof, and most importantly, are designed to retain up to 90 percent of your body heat. Plus, they can be fashioned into an emergency shelter, too.
I opted for the more camouflage army green, but there are nine other colors too, including red if you want to attract attention. I don’t go on many cold-weather camping trips, but I will definitely be storing one of these in my car for winter road trips. One five-star reviewer who did the same said, “They take no more space than a large handkerchief.”
To buy: amazon.com $17 for a four-pack (originally $19)
Swiss Safe Israeli Sterile Compression Bandage
There’s no sugarcoating it: Those zombie bites and wounds from The Last of Us (I’m looking at you, first episode) were spine-chilling. They had me snapping up this medical-grade compression bandage two-pack, which is effective at bandaging trauma wounds that a standard first aid kit just can’t. The burrito-sized pack comes with a pressure applicator to act as a tourniquet, too.
Not fun to think about, but Amazon shoppers say they feel peace of mind with the product around, with one of 3,500 five-star reviewers sharing they are “very durable and a great item to have in case you need it.” Another said it “fits nicely” in their motorcycle first aid kit while another who did “quite a bit of research” before building their emergency kit called it “a must-have emergency item.”
To buy: amazon.com, $17 for a two-pack (originally $20)
Sharpal 6-in-1 Survival Tool With Fire Starter, Whistle, & Sharpening Rod
Another jack-of-all-trades, this multifunctional tool acts mostly as a fire starter, whistle, and knife sharpener. It takes up almost zero space in my backpack at just 3.54 inches by 1.46 inches by 0.5 inches and 2.4 ounces, so I tote it along on camping trips now, too.
And, I’m not the only one. One five-star Amazon reviewer said they bought a few and added one to their “Tsunami bug-out kit,” vouching that the sharpening tool works “very well.” Plus, it has a three-year warranty and just happens to be 38 percent off right now, too.
To buy: amazon.com, $10 (originally $16)
Ultra Bright Emergency Glow Sticks
I was surprised to learn that only 45 percent of Americans reported having an emergency preparedness plan last year, according to FEMA. In emergency situations in which you’d like to attract attention to get help (or, maybe to distract encroaching zombies by tossing one in the opposite direction!), these are an easy way to get prepared. They glow for 12 hours and can be seen from a mile away. I liked that these are waterproof, non-leaking, and non-toxic, and I know they’ll be useful if I lose power at home and need to get to safety. Plus, I was happy to see that other reviewers who bought them for emergencies say they “work wonderful” and are “high-quality.”
To buy: amazon.com, from $10 for a 12-pack (originally $16)
Rainleaf Microfiber Towel
These best-selling compact towels are quick drying, and when folded, the 12-inch by 24-inch towel takes up only 1.45 inches by 6.05 inches by 8.25 inches and weighs only .13 pounds. I’d say they’re well worth their weight, especially if I fell in the water on my perilous journey (or, if I could somehow take a shower in end times). And it’s well loved by hikers and campers, too. Of more than 15,600 five-star reviews on Amazon, one said they “survived camping” thanks to this towel and now they use it at home, too.
To buy: amazon.com, from $9 (originally $12)
UST ParaTinder Utility Cord
An Amazon Choice product with 4.7-star rating, this 30-foot utility cord can be used for so many things (think: as a rope, tying yourself to your survival buddy to stick together, or even fishing or suturing with the interior lines), but its most handy feature is getting fires started. It comes with a convenient clip so it can be attached to the outside of your backpack, but one reviewer who gave the product a five-star rating said they use them as shoe laces so they’re able to make a fire anytime while taking up no packing space.
To buy: amazon.com, $9
Osprey Hikelite Hiking Backpack
You’re going to need something to pack all your gear into, and I chose this lightweight hiking bag by Osprey. I like it for a few reasons: It comes with a waterproof cover, so you can keep everything protected, and unlike all the larger but highly rated waterproof survival kit bags on the market like Earth Pak, it’s a little more manageable since I can wear it like a backpack. I really feel like I could carry this a long distance — say, on a trek out West. Plus, it’s one I would actually use for hiking, too.
One Amazon reviewer who took this to Hawaii said, “I couldn’t be happier. I am not a small frame person by any means, and this pack was extremely comfortable and super sturdy.”
To buy: amazon.com, $84 (originally $110)
If you prefer to buy a bag that’s ready to go at the drop of a pin instead of creating your own, read on for a few great brands to check out at Amazon, including one that’s from an Oprah-approved brand.
Pre-made Survival Kits:
Judy Emergency Preparedness Backpack
From a small-business-owned brand that was listed as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2020, this high-quality disaster bag may be on the expensive side, but its contents are exhaustive. Not only does it come with pretty much everything on my list (first aid kit, glow sticks, whistles, gloves, hand warmers, radio charger flashlight, and a quick dry towel), but it also has a weeks’ worth of emergency food and water rations and a large waterproof bag to store it all in. That does make it a bit heavier at 15 pounds — but worth it. At least, it is according to my friend who bought the bag. They say it’s easy to manage, and they have so much peace of mind that it’s sitting in their laundry room, “ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
And, others who bought the bag agree it’s a good choice, too. One Amazon reviewer who lives in California said it was the perfect addition to their emergency earthquake plan.
To buy: amazon.com, $156 with on-site coupon (originally $195)
Taiker Emergency Survival Kit
For the price, you probably can’t do better than this 151-piece Amazon Choice emergency kit. It comes with a first aid kit, flashlight, fire starter, utensils, gloves, cord, glowstick, and backpack. Heck, it even comes with an emergency shelter and fishing tools, too. It weighs only 3.96 pounds, so it’s light and ready to go, and the only downside I can see is that it doesn’t include a radio (though you could easily add one separately). One Amazon shopper who got it as a gift for an Eagle Scout said it’s “everything you need in one small package.”
To buy: amazon.com, $38 (originally $48)
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