Best Emergency Preparedness Kit 2020

In an emergency, hearing the latest news and getting in touch with family and friends is paramount. But doing so can be tough when the electricity goes down. By investing in a few reasonably priced pieces of hardware, you’ll be able to contact loved ones and power gadgets until the local utility companies can restore services to your neighborhood. —SB

Signaling whistle

Our pick

Shoreline Marine Emergency Survival Whistle

Shoreline Marine Emergency Survival Whistle

This cheap, brightly colored whistle proved louder and easier to hear at a distance than more expensive products.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $5.


No one wants to think about being trapped during a natural disaster, but it does happen. Screaming for help might get a rescuer’s attention, but the high-pitched shrill of a whistle is far more likely to cut through the din of a fire, a windstorm, or emergency sirens.

We tested six whistles over water in varying wind conditions and through densely wooded forest. Our conclusion: The Shoreline Marine Emergency Survival Whistle is the best choice for disaster preparedness. It was both the loudest and cheapest whistle we tested, registering a piercing 101.1 decibels, according to the NIOSH-recommended NoiSee app we used. The only tested whistle that registered louder, the Acme Thunderer metal coach’s whistle (101.2 decibels), was not audible at longer distances, and it’s usually about $8 more. In fact, while a couple of the dedicated emergency whistles claimed to be audible from a mile away, none of them even came close to that in our testing. Even at half a mile over calm water, just three—the Shoreline, the Markwort Storm Safety Whistle, and the Fox 40 Sonik Blast CMG Whistle—could be heard clearly. The REI SOL Rescue Howler Whistle and the metal ACME Thunderer coach’s whistle we tested could barely be heard even at a quarter mile, and the Coghlan’s Emergency Survival Horn we tried disintegrated on the first use—the rubber membrane that makes the noise detached from the rest of the horn.

If you ever need to use one, call on the international whistle code: One blast means “Where are you?” Two blasts means “Come to me.” Three blasts means “I need help.”

The Shoreline is brightly colored (and thus easy to spot), and because it looks like a normal whistle, anyone can pick it up and know how to use it in an emergency situation. Because it’s just a few dollars a pop, you can keep one whistle at home and another in the car. If you ever need to use one, call on the international whistle code: One blast means “Where are you?” Two blasts means “Come to me.” Three blasts means “I need help.” (A blast should last three seconds each.) —KT

 

Emergency weather radio

A good emergency weather radio can tune in to AM/FM and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration channels (collectively known as a “weather band”) and keep you informed and entertained even if the power goes out. Most models also include a flashlight and multiple charging options, too, which makes them even more invaluable in the case of an emergency.

After considering dozens of weather radios and trying eight popular models, we found the Midland ER210 to be the best emergency radio for most people. It produces loud, easy-to-understand audio on AM, FM, and NOAA bands; comes with a built-in audio/visual NOAA weather alert; and offers multiple charging options, including a USB output port to charge your smartphone in a pinch. The ER210 is comfortable to carry and still durable enough to withstand rainy weather or a drop onto a hard surface, and its 130-lumen flashlight was brighter than that of any other model we tested. Should anything go wrong with the hardware, Midland offers a one-year limited warranty as well.

The ER210’s backlit LED display is easy to read, and you shouldn’t have any problem finding and pressing the rubber buttons, even while wearing winter gloves. The control panel is arranged so that it won’t accidentally turn on while it’s bouncing around in your bag, either. It can operate on standard AA batteries or on a user-replaceable, rechargeable 2,600 mAh lithium-ion battery pack that you can juice up via the built-in hand crank, solar panel, or Mini-USB port. In a pinch, you can also use that rechargeable battery to charge your smartphone with its USB output port.

When the NOAA issues a weather alert, the radio’s loud, audible alarm and flashing display will make sure you notice it, fast. And when that happens, you can press any button on the ER210 and it will switch on to your favorite NOAA weather channel to give you the news. If you fail to turn on the radio before a minute goes by, the ER210’s weather memory indicator will flash every five seconds to let you know that an alert has been issued. So even if you were out of the house when the alarm went off, you’ll still know that some ugly conditions are headed your way.

When we tested the  ER210, we found its built-in flashlight produced 30 foot-candles of illumination on its highest setting—three times more than any other model we tested other than its larger cousin, the Midland ER310, which produced 25 foot-candles of illumination. The ER210 was also one of the only models we tested where the hand crank charged the battery as advertised: one minute of cranking for 45 minutes of radio, or about an hour of flashlight. Though the ER210’s overall battery life wasn’t as impressive as that of some of the other radios we tested, the multiple charging options are more than enough to mitigate the problem, especially because the solar panels keep charging automatically as long as there’s sunlight. If you want longer battery life, consider upgrading to the Midland ER310. The ER310 is bulkier than the 210 and also includes a built-in ultrasonic dog whistle to help rescue workers find you, but the two models are otherwise identical.

Also great

RunningSnail Solar Crank NOAA Weather Radio

If the ER210 is unavailable, or you’d rather not spend around $50 on something you’re not going to use very often, the RunningSnail Solar Crank NOAA Weather Radio is a great alternative. Though it doesn’t issue the audio/visual weather alerts like the ER210, it still picks up AM/FM and NOAA radio signals. It has the same charging options, too, along with an additional “reading lamp” light source underneath the rotating solar panel. The Epica Emergency Radio is another affordable option. Though it has the same flaws as most budget weather radios—a lousy battery, poor sound quality, and no built-in weather alerts—it beats anything else in its price range, or anything you’d find in a preassembled kit. Plus, it still has multiple charging options and a durable, water-resistant enclosure, even if its not quite as tough as the other models we tested.

 

Power inverter (for the car)

Our pick

Bestek 300W MRI3011J2 Power Inverter

A power cut-off can keep you from being able to call for help or to charge tools and devices—unless you own a car, that is, in which case you can harness the vehicle’s 12-volt DC electrical system to run or charge a wide variety of the 110-volt AC hardware you’d normally plug into a wall at home. The Bestek 300W MRI3011J2 Power Inverter is a good, cheap option that will work with less-complicated electronics. Although you can use it with a laptop, you might run into issues with screen flickering or even risk damaging your electronics if you have a cheaper power supply (such as the one that came with our tester’s Dell Chromebook).

If you primarily want to power a laptop, a TV, or other sophisticated electronics, you should spend more on the Go Power! GP-SW150-12 Pure Sine Wave Inverter. For more details, check out our road trip gear guide. —SB

Solar charger

Our pick

BigBlue 28W USB Solar Charger

BigBlue 28W USB Solar Charger

A lightweight solar charger that will get you the most usable power for the size. Plus, it has three output ports to charge more devices than the competition at the same time.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $80.

If you don’t have a vehicle to run an inverter, and your home’s electricity is down, you can rely on the power of the sun to charge some of your gear. The BigBlue 3 USB Ports 28W Solar Charger produced the most power of any portable solar charger we tested, yet it’s still small and light enough to fit into any camping backpack, hiking daypack, or emergency kit. Although other models nearly matched our pick for power and size, the Big Blue has unique features that make it more versatile and durable, including a third output port and weatherproof port protectors.

You should also plan to buy a USB-A battery pack or USB-C battery pack; we have recommendations to fit a variety of needs. Solar chargers produce power that you can pass to dying gadgets, but there’s no way to store that power for later. Using a solar charger and a battery pack, you can take advantage of the sun during the day and recharge your devices overnight. —Sarah Witman

Disposable batteries

Our pick

Duracell Quantum Alkaline AA Batteries

Most of the time we recommend cost-effective, environmentally-friendly rechargeable batteries to power hardware that you can’t recharge or plug into a wall outlet. But during a power outage, rechargeable batteries aren’t all that rechargeable, unless you plug a USB battery charger into a solar panel to juice them up—a time-consuming process. So we say it’s smart to keep a few disposable batteries on hand, particularly Duracell’s Quantum Alkaline AA Batteries.

Available in boxes of 28 from Amazon (and also available in AAA and D sizes), the Quantum batteries are perfect for use with flashlights, headlamps, and portable radios. Quantum batteries also have a 10-year shelf life, so they’ll very likely be fully charged and ready to use when the time comes to pull them out of storage. This life span is significantly longer than that of most alkaline batteries, many of which have a shelf life of around two years before their amount of stored power begins to degrade; it’s also equivalent to the shelf life associated with pricier lithium AA batteries.

Duracell Quantum batteries are a little expensive: Based on the price of a pack of 28, a single AA Quantum battery will set you back about 71 cents. But we think that their long shelf life and test-proven staying power when used in low-drain devices are worth the cost. That said, if you’re looking for something more affordable, a 48-pack of AmazonBasics AA Performance Alkaline Batteries is a good choice. These batteries provide less power than the Duracell Quantum batteries do, but their price is right and they also have a 10-year shelf life. —Mark Smirniotis

 

USB battery pack

Our pick

ZMI PowerPack 20000

ZMI PowerPack 20000

The ZMI PowerPack 20000 can charge phones and high-powered laptops like the MacBook Pro, and it was the only one we tested that properly charged Asus Chromebooks. It doubles as a hub to add extra ports to your laptop, and it weighs less than a pound.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $70.

A high-capacity USB battery pack can keep your gadgets powered for several days at a time. Although we originally chose the ZMI PowerPack 20000 as the best USB power bank for laptops, we think it also offers enough power to help you in an emergency situation. It currently takes the prize as the best high-capacity USB-charging battery pack. The ZMI has a rated capacity of 20,000 mAh, weighs less than a pound, and has enough power to charge a smartphone and other small devices several times over via its two USB-A ports and its USB-C PD input/output port. —SW

 

Gas generator

Our pick

Honda EU2200i

Honda EU2200i

This model is quiet, efficient, reliable—with enough power to run a fridge and then some—and light enough for one person to carry.

After spending over 30 hours researching more than 11 inverter generators and testing three, we’ve found that the Honda EU2200i is the best portable generator for camping, tailgating, working outside, or providing basic backup power in emergencies.

The Honda EU2200i is our choice because based on our tests of its predecessor, the Honda EU2000i, we believe its power output would allow it to handle our highest-demand tests more capably than competitors. That, coupled with Honda’s long-standing reputation, makes it the most reliable generator in its class. As a result, the EU2200i stands apart in spite of its predecessor’s average performance on some of our other tests—including our sound measurement in a rural field and our run-time test using a pair of wacky, waving, inflatable, flailing-arm tube men you might see at used-car lots—and its price, which is typically higher than the competition’s. Reliability is crucial: If you’re dealing with an emergency and your last option for power isn’t reliable, it isn’t an option at all. For more information on generators and why we chose the Honda EU2200i, check out our full review. —MS

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