Bad power outages can happen anywhere at any time. While big storms can be predicted and prepared for, other circumstances cannot be predicted at all. Car accidents, infrastructure deterioration, earthquakes, and forest fires can all cause power outages with little notice.
Though rural areas tend to experience more power outages, the real surprise comes to those in urban centers who face an extended power outage. I lived through a power outage while living on the 20th floor of my apartment building only lasted four days, and I can tell you that I was woefully unprepared.
This list focuses on the essentials to keep in your emergency power outage kit. It is not an all-encompassing list that gets into what you should have on hand. It assumes that the items kept in this kit will help you quickly organize when a power outage strikes, permitting you to find other things in your house later. These items should be kept in a dedicated bin and only used in an unexpected power outage.
Emergency Power Outage Kit List
- LED flashlights & lanterns
- Emergency Radio
- Can opener
- Duct tape
- Emergency blankets
- Propane heater
- Small butane stove
- Propane and butane canisters
- A small sum of cash
- Analog entertainment
- Water bladder
How to Store Your Emergency Power outage Kit: Get a Large Storage Tote
Don’t decide to leave things out of this kit because they are items used elsewhere in your house because it will give you a false sense of security. You want to have a complete power outage kit with all of these items immediately at your disposal, not misplaced and scattered throughout your home, whereabouts not immediately known.
Get a good-sized bin to put everything in. I’m a fan of Rubbermaid bins, especially their Action-Packer containers. They are incredibly durable and can be locked if needed. The downside is that they are expensive—$60 at Home Depot.
A more economical choice would be a 25-gallon sized Rubbermaid Roughneck tote. I like these bins because the plastic has some give to it and doesn’t break as easily as bins made of more rigid plastics. I’m having difficulty sourcing them individually right now, but a single container is available at Blain’s Farm & Fleet for around $18. I’m sure you could find them used if you looked.
Where to Store Your Emergency Power outage Kit
Your emergency power outage kit should be stored in an area that’s easy to find in the dark and in a place that’s accessible to your entire household.
Keeping it in a main-level storage closet is best, though those with attached garages may opt to place their kit in the garage near their house access door.
As long as you are comfortable navigating to your kit from anywhere in your house in blackout conditions, it’s probably fine.
I’ve read some suggestions to use glow-in-the-dark masking tape on the outside of your kit to help find it in the dark. Unless the tape was exposed to light in the minutes leading up to a power outage, it’s probably useless and a waste of money.
What You Need in Your Emergency Power Outage Kit
The knee-jerk reaction is to store candles. Don’t.
Consider that in a power outage, fire crews will be very busy. They don’t need to be tending to your accidental house fire. It’s easy to say that you’re careful because we know you are.
But with the widespread availability of LED lighting technology, inexpensive lanterns and flashlights can last for days of constant use on a single set of AA batteries. There’s no logical reason to use candles as a default light source in an emergency.
Get at least one decent LED flashlight. Avoid rechargeable batteries because you will need a power source to charge them from. Also, disposable batteries tend to have a long shelf life. AA disposable batteries are the most economical.
Also, get a lantern for ambient lighting. I like this Eveready lantern. It takes 3 AA batteries and has plenty of features for use in many different situations. They’re not big and are pretty bright.
A Way To Store Water
Those that live in small spaces don’t have much room to be storing water in advance. At the onset of a power outage or in preparation for a storm’s arrival, a water bladder built for your bathtub will come in very handy.
These bladders are the size of an average bathtub and can be filled with water directly from the tap. It’s invaluable in an emergency, assuming you still have a fresh water supply to tap. The Aqua Pod Water Bladder is available from Amazon.
Put a good quality heater in your blackout kit. Even if you live in a warmer climate, a decent heater will still help dry things out, like clothes, if your power outage is caused by a storm or flood.
I recommend Mr. Heater Buddy heaters because they are reliable and safe for indoor use. Years of ice fishing and camping have placed my faith in them. They have a couple of built-in safety features, like an auto-shutoff that kicks in if the heater is tipped over or senses low oxygen levels.
Emergency Blankets – Obviously, you will have access to your own bedding and sleeping bags. Nevertheless, there are two reasons to keep emergency blankets around.
The most important reason is in case you can’t use your own bedding. Maybe, due to a storm, your windows have been blown out, and all of your bedding is wet.
The second is in case someone else needs one. Emergency blankets are inexpensive, and they’re infinitely helpful to someone who needs one. Emergency situations aren’t just emergencies for you and your family.
A Way to Cook
Just because of who I am, I have several different types of cooking appliances around that use all kinds of fuels. For an emergency power outage kit, I recommend a cheap butane stove like this one from Coleman. They are small, one-burner stoves that are very easy to use and burn hot. Keep one packed up with a few cans of fuel and a small pot.
Note: Use these in well-ventilated areas, preferably outdoors. Use common sense if using indoors. At the very least, crack open a couple of windows to exchange air. Also, use on fire-resistant surfaces.
In a power outage, you can’t trust your traditional forms of communication.
Cell service can easily be knocked out or limited to no-data service. Don’t rely on your cell phone as a way to stay in contact with the world. VOIP services often have a built-in UPS battery backup, but they aren’t rated to last long. Dedicated landlines are more reliable than cell service but are not infallible. They can also be knocked out for extended lengths of time. Both VOIP and landline services won’t work with cordless phones or other phones that use an external power source.
Instead, store an emergency radio. There are a plethora of emergency radios with bunches of features, but don’t get carried away. A few simple features like AM/FM/NOAA bands, hand-cranking, some LED lighting, and maybe phone charging will see you through. I like the Eton FR1 because it has those features, it’s relatively affordable, and it’s small.
Stock up on some disposable batteries. Disposable batteries have a good shelf life and are relatively inexpensive. Keep enough batteries on hand to power your emergency items. Flashlights and lanterns, your emergency radio (if it takes them), and anything else you might need power for, like blood sugar monitors, hearing aids, etc.
Don’t go with rechargeable batteries because they notoriously lose their power capacity sitting around not being used. They’re just not a great choice in this situation. Plus, recharging takes power generation.
A small solar panel/trickle charger is ok for charging phones if you have the room but should be kept at the bottom of your list of ‘must have’s. As mentioned above, some emergency radios have built-in phone chargers.
Tools & Supplies
Though you likely have all of these tools around your house, it’s good to keep a dedicated set with your kit. Keep safe and stay double-sure that you’re equipped to handle your emergency power outage.
Can opener – During a power outage, the contents of your fridge and freezer have a limited lifespan. After that, you will need to sustain yourself off of (a hopefully well-stocked supply of) shelf-stable goods. Having a can opener with a can tapper is what I suggest. This one is cheap and functional.
Multitool – as handy as these tools are, I don’t like to recommend buying one exclusively for a power outage kit. Good ones are pretty expensive, and cheap ones are not very good. The only exception is a lower-end Swiss Army Knife, which a lot of you might have kicking around. The Tinker model has a couple of invaluable tools and isn’t too expensive.
Duct tape – You never realize how helpful duct tape is until you don’t have any. Keep a full roll or two in your pack. This is my favorite duct tape.
Utility scissors – These don’t have to be expensive, but they do have to work. I have a pair of Stanley scissors that I bought a few years ago. They’re cheap, but they cut well enough.
Paracord – From simple repairs to ladders to tying down tarps and stringing up lanterns, paracord is one of the most versatile items you can have on hand. Put at least a 50’ length in your kit. This one is inexpensive.
Your water supply might be interrupted, regardless of where you live. If you live in a high-rise apartment, expect that water pumps will be knocked out with your power, leaving you with a trickle of water coming out of your taps. Keep a stock of and baby wipes in your kit to make up for the lack of showering and to conserve water.
I put a deck of cards in every emergency bag or kit that I make. Distraction through entertainment is the best way to retain your sanity. Having a full deck of cards to play with at arm’s reach can keep your rational mind in the forefront. Keeping your stress level down will help you weather emergencies better.
Playing cards can help you with that, whether you’re playing games with family members, solitaire, or even building card houses. It’s not something you might think of when a power outage strikes, so put them in your kit and use them.
Beyond cards, I don’t recommend a whole bunch. Your home will have any other analog hobbies like reading or knitting.
Never keep more than $200 in small bills in your power outage kit. Cash is vital to buy things like gas and essentials in an emergency. If you find yourself needing more than $200, your crisis is probably a lot greater than a simple power outage, and money isn’t going to help.
As you can see, a good emergency power outage kit doesn’t need a lot of stuff, mostly because you will already be home when you actually need it. However, it does require a few essentials that you will undoubtedly need in the event of an extended power outage. Having these few items available in an easy-to-reach place when the lights go out can bring down your stress level dramatically.
Once you have your emergency power outage kit completed, share its location with your family members. Next, focus your energy on preparing for other aspects of an unexpected power outage. Look into creating a two-week emergency food supply to start. Now that you know what tools you will have at your disposal, you will know what can go into your stores.