Like most intelligent people, I keep an emergency kit in the car. Since we live in Silicon Valley, we also have to worry about that next significant earthquake, and the authorities recommend everyone set up an emergency kit in case bad things happen.

I’ve kept that emergency kit in the car for a number of years, on the assumption that any emergency serious enough to destroy both the house and the car means we’re going to have all sorts of challenges, and keeping it in the car means that if I’m away from the house when it happens I still have enough supply to carry on until I can get back.

The problem, of course, is entropy. Over time, the kit gets sloppy, stuff gets old and needs to be replaced, stuff gets borrowed and you don’t quite get it put back, and unless you have a really anal view of these things (I don’t), it tends to spread out. And it takes up a fair amount of space, which means there are times when I need to re-arrange things inside the car and all the loose stuff makes that a pain in the butt.

I’ve put some time and energy into building out and maintaining my emergency kits, and I thought I was describe what they contain so you can use it as a reference. This is my second generation kit, with improvements and changes from my original, and this list is accurate as of May, 2017.

Most of my emergency kit does double duty: It lives in my car, so it also serves as the emergency kit if I have a break down, and so there are items specific to that. Since I do head into non-paved areas at times for my photography, being able to be self-contained for a while is crucial. If we do have a major earthquake, the kit should be set up to help us manage if we are taken off the grid or if the house is damaged beyond use or access. Earthquake authorities recommend building a kit that can keep you for at least a week, and I think we’re close to that.

The emergency kit is broadly broken down into four pieces:

Cargo Box

In the Cargo Box

On top of the car I’ve added a cargo box to carry items I don’t need to use often. That includes much of the emergency kit as well as tire chains and other items. My cargo box is from Inno, which has an easy connection system to most manufacturer car racks. The only negative to the cargo box is that I can no longer run the car through a wash, I have to actually wash the thing. The nice thing is that without the cargo box, this kit would effectively fill my trunk area and make shopping and travel more complicated, so it’s nice to have it out of the way.

Because the box is on top of a fairly high profile SUV, I need a way to get into it. I’ve solved that with a small step that lives in the trunk, which gives me access into the cargo box, where I store a three step ladder. I can get to the chains with the step, or I can pull down the ladder to get to everything.

Tire Chains

Other things I keep in the Cargo box include a set of tire chains, a camp chair, photographic gear like an extra tripod and monopod, a bag of clothing with two changes of clothes, and a gear kit with items I don’t need to access on a regular basis. In with the clothes is a pair of eyeglasses two generations back (the previous generation lives in the car console, just in case).

That bag I keep in the cargo box includes these items: a couple of empty, stainless water bottles with purification tablets and a Lifestraw to deal with tainted water; a package of AA batteries. An emergency crank radio, disposable towels, some rope, a Power Inverter, wire ties wrapped in gaffer tape, fireproof storm matches, a fire starter, an emergency blanket, and a compass.

Cargo Box

In the Trunk

The trunk, or more correctly the back storage of my Ford Eclipse, holds items I need to use or want fast access to if a situation crops up. I built this kit in a pair of Wide Mouth tool storage bags by Black and Decker because I found they fit perfectly behind the seats (which lean at an angle and under the storage area cover. That leaves most of the storage area for storage and gives me plenty of space for suitcases and camera bags when we travel.

Highway Emergency Blinkers

In those bags I keep a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, four stainless water bottles filled with water (or sometimes replaced with bottled water on a trip), a can of flat fixer, an ice scraper, a pack of AA batteries, disposable towels, some Goop Hand Cleaner, a Leatherman Multi-tool, a Multi-tip Screwdriver, Winter caps, gloves, some bungee cords, DEET spray and DEET Wipes, highway emergency blinkers and a pack of AAA batteries for them, a few days of my prescriptions, a spare glucose testing kit, a package of Sudafed, some Hand Warmers (which are amazingly nice on dawn shoots), Purell Wipes and regular Hand Wipes, a Rescue Knife and a set of two-way radios.

The radios are useful both for when Laurie and I need to separate but stay in communication when we’re out of cell coverage and when I’m birding in a group since they cover the standard channel used by birdwatching groups.

Shopping Bags

In the Back Seat

In the back seat I keep a few items for convenience: re-usable shopping bags, my hoodie, in winter a rain jacket, a baseball cap and my birding hat, and a spare set of walking shoes.

In the Back Yard

We have a storage box in the back yard, and in it we have an emergency water store, using

Aqua-Tainer 4 Gallon Rigid Water Container

These should be emptied and refilled every six months or so to keep the water fresh, and we use that to water the trees. This will give us about a week of drinking water with a little to spare.

There’s a lot going on here, but I hope it reminds (and convinces) you that if you’re going out and roadtripping in any significant way in areas outside of normal cell phone traffic that you need to carry things that’ll help you if and when things go wrong.

More importantly, many of us live in areas where natural disasters happen, and here in silicon valley, that disaster is an earthquake, which can happen with no notice so you have no time to prepare. You need to be prepared before it happens. Hopefully my detailing out my preparations will help you as you think through what you need and how you plan to make it accessible in an emergency. Because sooner or later, you’re going to need it.