Should you buy an emergency survival kit or pack your own? We've tested 6 pre-packed kits but think our DIY one is better. See what's in it.
Unsurprisingly for a country that’s endured more than its share of natural disasters of the past decade, New Zealand is now host to several companies offering ready-made emergency solutions.
Google “emergency-kits” and you’ll find outfits offering everything from huge heavy-duty kits geared towards months of survival, through to custom-made emergency bags for your pet.
This report is free thanks to funding from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.
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When you look at our rates of emergency-preparedness, it’s not hard to see why these companies have emerged. In 2014, Stats NZ found just 22% of New Zealanders had food and water for 3 days, and a household emergency plan. An earlier survey taken just after the Christchurch earthquakes found even fewer had an emergency kit including a torch, radio and first-aid gear.
Quakes may be our most high-profile and costly disaster, but floods are the most frequent. And, according to a report last year by the Royal Society of New Zealand on the implications of climate change, events like the 2017 Edgecumbe flood are likely to become much more common. The upshot is you need to be prepared to survive for a few days at home when the lights go out and the water stops running. It’s also crucial to have a grab bag for when you need to cut and run quickly.
We spoke to experts to find what you need when disaster strikes. We also tested off-the-shelf survival kits to see if they really will see you through. Our assessment included grab bags (also known as getaway kits), designed to support 1 person for 72 hours, from most of the major suppliers: After Shake, Grab&Go, LIFEPAC, NZ Survivor, Prepare.co.nz and Survive-it.
Our main finding was you’re better off building your own getaway kit. All commercial kits either lacked key items or performed poorly in our tests. The exercise of putting together your own survival gear offers better value for money. It’s also a great spur for you and your family to discuss what to do in an emergency. If you’re set on a pre-made kit, there are a couple worth considering — the Prepare.co.nz Survival Kit and the NZ Survivor 1 Person 3 Day Pack — though we recommend adding more items.
In general, our testing showed radios and torches powered by disposable batteries were a better option than their wind-up counterparts.
We also found a minute of winding only gave about 5 to 10 minutes of radio-life, or 30 minutes for the torches. Wind-up torches were significantly less bright, even when fully charged, than those powered by disposable batteries. Modern battery-powered AM/FM radios and LED torches run for several hours off cheap disposable alkaline or lithium AAAs, which hold their charge in storage for more than 5 years.
In contrast, many wind-up torches use NiMH batteries, which can lose up to 30% of their charge each month in storage. One exception is the wind-up torch/radio offered by NZ Survivor, which uses batteries that hold their charge better than others, and features USB and solar charging in addition to the crank lever.
The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) recommends having the following basic supplies at home:
It suggests you have the following items in a getaway bag in the event of a quick evacuation:
MCDEM public education adviser Bridget Cheesman says individual emergency preparedness doesn’t need to be a big undertaking.
“The most important thing is having a conversation and making a basic plan with your family. This just means sitting around the table one night and jotting down a few quick points covering where you’ll meet if you can’t get home, what you’ll need, where you’ll go, who can help you and who might need your help,” she says. “You don’t have to have all your supplies in one place, but you might need to find them in a hurry and/or in the dark.
“Having some supplies in a backpack that anyone in your household can grab on their way out, if you have to leave in a hurry, is a good idea.” Mrs Cheesman says most people will already have some basic survival items at home.
Check out the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management's site for more information.
We were able to construct a kit of decent quality for $150, significantly less than many of the commercial kits. It’s likely you can build a comparable kit for even less than this, as many of us already have spare backpacks, torches, radios and drink bottles.
Find out which 17 items we'd put in our survival grab bag.
If you're still keen on buying a pre-made kit, here's an analysis of each of the ones we tested. See our table below to compare the kits' contents.
Overall score 75%
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re set on a pre-made getaway kit, this is 1 of only 2 we think are worth considering. But you’ll need to add more hygiene items and tailor it to your needs by adding cash, important documents, sturdy shoes etc.
Available from prepare.co.nz
Overall score 73%
BOTTOM LINE: A comprehensive kit with good quality items, though the most expensive on test. Dynamo (wind-up) torch/radio is the best we’ve seen and its USB charging makes it much easier to keep charged, which we’d recommend doing every 6 months or so.
Available from nzsurvivor.co.nz
Overall score 70%
BOTTOM LINE: An OK kit overall but let down slightly by its drawstring swim bag which lacks compartments and will be less comfortable to carry on a long walk home than a backpack. Combined dynamo/torch radio is also of dubious quality.
Available from aftershake.co.nz
Overall score 68%
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re looking for a very compact, lightweight kit for the car or office Lifepac’s offering might be worth a look, but the lack of space for any additional items is an issue, as is the absence of a drink bottle.
Available from lifepac.co.nz
Overall score 65%
BOTTOM LINE: An OK kit let down by a low-quality non-showerproof bag and a complete lack of hygiene items. That said, it does include a very good battery-powered torch and radio, and good rations.
Available from survive-it.co.nz
Overall score 64%
BOTTOM LINE: An OK kit offering good value for money and worth a look as an extra kit for the office or car. But you’ll need to add your own rations and hygiene items (e.g. tissues, wet wipes and soap).
Available from grabandgo-kits.com
|[width=16%]||Our DIY kit ($152)[tick]||Prepare.co.nz ($205)[tick]||NZ Survivor ($262)[tick]||After Shake ($170)[tick]||LIFEPAC ($139)[tick]||Survive-it ($228)[tick]||Grab & Go ($85)[tick]|
|Name of kit||One Person 72 Hour Survival Kit||1 Person 3 Day Pack||Emergency Grab Pack||1 Person Kit||1 PERSON GRAB 'N' GO KIT||1 Person Emergency Kit|
|Overall score (%)||81||75||73||70||68||65||64|
|First aid kit (/10)||7.0||8.0||8.0||7.0||7.0||8.0||7.0|
|Total volume (L)||20||20||20||15||9||24||17|
|Spare volume (proportion of total)||1/2||1/2||1/10||0||3/4||1/3|
|Radio||Battery||Battery||Wind-up combined torch/radio||Wind-up combined torch/radio||Battery||Battery||Wind-up combined torch/radio|
|Torch||Battery||Battery||Wind-up combined torch/radio||Wind-up combined torch/radio||Wind-up||Battery||Wind-up combined torch/radio|
|First aid kit||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Water purification tablets||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Notebook and pen|
|Emergency survival plastic sleeping bag||yes||yes|
|Toothbrush / paste||yes||yes|
Five of the 7 kits in our assessment contained emergency food rations. Most packs contain 9 bars/blocks designed to sustain you for 3 days. Essentially, they’re vitamin/mineral supplements held together by flour, corn starch and sugar for energy. They generally resemble dense, grainy shortbread, but often taste surprisingly sweet as they’re designed to not make you thirsty. Three bars supply the approximate recommended daily intake of several nutrients for an adult.
However, they’re primarily designed for if you’re sheltering-in-place, rather than expending a great deal of energy. Most rations only supply 5022kJ (1200 calories) per day. In contrast, the Ministry of Health says a moderately active 30-year-old male of average height and weight requires 11,800 kJ daily, while the equivalent woman should consume 8800kJ.
These rations are compact, lightweight, and last for 5 years. They’re also fairly cheap, costing about $20 for a 3-day supply. But what would it be like to live off these beige nutrient bars for 3 days?
We convened a tasting panel of Consumer NZ staff to sample 4 brands of survival ration. Generally, our panel found them palatable, and agreed they’d do the trick in a pinch.
The winner in terms of taste is the SOS Survival Food Pack, from Lifepac’s survival kit and available for $19 from lifepac.co.nz. Panellists described these rations as “sweet and kind of citrusy” with a texture “like that of a baked slice”. However, this pack only contains 6 bars for 3 days, equivalent to just 3348kJ per day.
The next favourite is the Mainstay 3600 Emergency Food Rations, contained in the Survive-it and After Shake packs and available from survive-it.co.nz for $20 for 3 days’ worth. It supplies the standard 5022kJ per day, as do the other 2 ration brands in our assessment. Our tasters all found the texture of the Mainstay blocks a little crumbly and grainy, but it tasted comparatively pleasant and reminiscent of lemon shortbread.
NZ Survivor’s Seven Oceans rations failed to impress, described variously as “bland” and “dry like sawdust”. The Mayday 3600 bars from prepare.co.nz took the wooden spoon – our panellists found them hard, dense and dry.
While the Mainstay rations came up second in our taste test, we think since they contain more calories and the sufficient range of vitamins and minerals, they’re your best choice to stow in your kit.
Red Cross international and national emergency management officer Andrew McKie has been involved in emergency management for more than 2 decades. In that time, he’s managed recovery efforts for some of the world’s worst natural disasters, including the 2004 Tsunami in Aceh and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. We asked what he keeps in his emergency kits.
Mr McKie keeps getaway kits in his office, home and car. As he lives up a hill, where there’s no tsunami or flood risk, and his home is only a few kilometres from work, he’s designed his kits with that in mind.
He suggests adding more food to your kit if you anticipate being stuck at work or away from home for longer periods. His kits include the standard gear recommended by MCDEM, but also feature energy-dense, lightweight snacks such as beef jerky and chocolate. He also includes thick work gloves, in case he needs to handle rubble or clamber over rocks, along with face masks, as collapsed buildings generate huge amounts of noxious dust.
Mr McKie recommends keeping cash and scanned electronic copies of important documents in your getaway kit. “You should always make sure you have cash in small denominations as shops run short of change after a disaster.”
His getaway kits include a charged-up powerbank for his mobile phone, as he says he’d use the built-in radio and torch in his phone in the event of a disaster. Note, some phones, namely iPhones, lack an FM tuner. He urges keeping a roll of duct tape in your grab kit as “it can be used to repair backpacks, shoes, jackets, everything”.
Despite experiencing some fairly dire emergencies, Andrew hasn’t built a panic room and doesn’t keep years’ worth of supplies at home. He keeps a 250L tank of water in reserve, along with a few weeks’ worth of canned food that he can cook using his gas barbecue (he also keeps a full LPG cylinder spare). He’s organised street-wide meetings to take inventory of who has what, (for example, gas barbecues or large tents).
If you’re a pet owner, chuck 3 days’ pet food into your emergency kit. This will save you from having to share your own survival rations. Dog owners should also pack an extra collar and leash. Toys for keeping your pet occupied are also a good idea.
For your kids, include a set of playing cards or some of their favourite games. These will lift morale if your family has a few hours to kill. While survival rations might be acceptable to adults, it’s a good idea to pack some snacks your kids won’t take much convincing to wolf down. And if you’ve got infants remember to grab a few extra jars of baby food next time you’re at the supermarket.
A good pre-made getaway kit must have everything you need to get through 72 hours in reasonable safety and comfort, and its contents should be of decent quality. Note that relying on a getaway bag for 72 hours is an extreme scenario. In most cases, your getaway kit will just need to get you form where you are when disaster strikes to where you need to go. With those factors in minds, we developed the following assessment.
At a minimum, we think the ideal ready-made getaway kit should contain everything from the MCDEM recommended supplies list plus a rain poncho, thick gloves, dust mask, additional hygiene items (tissues, wet wipes toothbrush/paste and soap) and water purification tablets. We also think it should include a plastic (polyethylene) survival bag in lieu of a foil space blanket, as they’re more durable and double as a groundsheet and makeshift tarp.
Rations aren’t essential, but if the kit doesn’t include food it should have a checklist showing the food that needs to be added (along with any other missing items). The bag should also have room for these extra items. Kits receive a low “comprehensiveness” score if they omit any of our essential items.
We ran a series of tests on the following key items:
We estimated the cost of all the items in the kit then compared the total to the kits’ retail price. A low score indicates you could put a similar kit together yourself for significantly less than the RRP.