72 Hour Emergency Kit in your Vehicle – just in case…

Level 1 Prepping & Preparedness

Although it might be nice to pull your emergency kit behind you as pictured above pulling my cargo trailer, lets downsize it a bit to level-1…

Basic level-1 prepping and preparedness includes the following topics, of which today’s topic will cover the 72-hour kit for your car.

– Water and Food
– 72 hour kit for your car
– Disruption of electricity
– Kids and Pets
– First Aid and Medical
– Cash stash
– Seasonal considerations
– Safety and Security
– Consumable Supplies
– Gear
– Documentation and Planning

Okay lets get started with putting together a 72-hour emergency kit for your car…

“Why is this part of preparedness level-1?”

Because you spend quite a bit of time in your car and away from your home each day (at work, etc..), having an emergency kit in your car makes good sense.

“Why 72 hours?”

We refer to this kit as a 72-hour kit since it is designed to supply you for 3 days. This is a reasonable time-frame for a generic emergency kit covering most likely scenarios, and is enough time before resupply or getting out of the situation whereby you’re using the kit in the first place. For an emergency extending beyond 3 days, we’re talking about a different level of preparedness (level-2).

Note that these kits may also be designed and fitted for the purpose of simply having at home for “just in case”, or a “bug out bag” (BOB) to be ready at home in case you suddenly need to evacuate for some reason. Today’s topic though will limit the purpose of this kit to one that you will leave in your car.

Okay one final note before we get into it. The contents of the kit that I am about to recommend do not all have to fit into one bag, backpack, etc.., rather simply kept somewhere within one’s vehicle.

Also, the following suggestions are intended as a guideline. Having something is better than nothing, so do what you think is right for you. Since we’re only talking about level-1 preparedness, I’m not going to get into all sorts of additional gear which may be appropriate for higher levels of preparedness. The goal here is to get the beginner going without an overwhelming set of recommendations.

72-hour Emergency Kit List (Level-1)

Note: This kit is designed to be kept in your car or truck


The most important thing is water. There’s no excuse not to buy a dozen water bottles for each person that may typically be in your vehicle. The typical 16-ounce water bottle is also a convenient size to put in a backpack in case you have to walk away.


One of my favorite foods for this type of kit due to their calorie density is the CLIF Food Bar. Most of them pack about 260 calories each.

Related: The CLIF Bar Might Be The Best Energy Food For Survival Kit

Other food choices might include,

– Canned Chicken (don’t forget a can-opener)
– Canned Beef Stew (~ 400 calories each)
– Peanut Butter (~ 3,000 calories in one jar!)
– Low salt snacks (so as not get too thirsty)
– Hard candies (satisfy your sweet tooth)
– MRE’s (meals ready to eat)

Cases of MRE’s

You might buy a small packet of plastic spoons-forks so you can eat civilized…

Just use your own judgement. Having some food is better than none. To truly supply yourself with enough calories for 3 days will require a total of 6,000 calories per person. So check the labels and understand the caloric content.

The following DATREX Food Bar packets actually total 3,600 calories:
Datrex 3600 Calorie Emergency Food Bar (Pack of 2)
(view on amzn)

I reviewed these emergency food bars awhile ago:
Food Storage Food (Datrex Food Bar)


For ordinary circumstances and level-1 hypothetical scenarios, chances are you won’t need to build a fire. However I still suggest that you have a means to start a fire such as an ordinary BIC lighter. We’ll get into additional methods in level-2 and beyond.


Hypothermia is a very real and dangerous condition that can even set in during the summer months. While your vehicle itself will provide shelter during a breakdown or stranded event, having a warm fleece blanket (get one that’s big enough) could be a life saver if not at least a level of comfort.

Example: Martex Super Soft Fleece Blanket


Think about it… It shouldn’t take much thinking about it to understand the benefit…


If you have pets (a dog?) then keep some food for them too. Keep a leash and collar dedicated to the vehicle. Keep a water bowl for them. Also keep a copy of rabies and other vaccinations in the car (in case you have to stay at a hotel requiring proof). Note that I discovered during a recent road trip that LaQuinta hotels are 100% pet friendly.

The collapsible food and water bowls that we keep in the truck for our dog:
Collapsible Dog Bowl


Any sort of soft backpack will be very helpful if you ever need to walk away from the vehicle. It will enable you to carry your food & water and other supplies. I also use the backpack to keep many of my kit items within.


Some people wear “dress shoes” to work. If this is you, be sure to keep a pair of comfortable walking shoes in the vehicle for “just in case”


It doesn’t hurt to keep an extra change or two of underwear, socks, maybe a shirt. Also, depending on the season, you might not always have appropriate outerwear while you’re out and about in your car. Consider keeping a raincoat, hat, gloves, or any other appropriate extra outerwear designated to the vehicle.


It helps to be able to see at night.

One of my favorite little flashlights:
Streamlight Stylus Pro

I reviewed it here:
Best Pocket Carry Flashlight For Under 30 Dollars


A whistle can be heard MUCH FARTHER AWAY than shouting for help.

Related post: The Loudest Whistle For Your Survival Kit


Important! Keep a First Aid Kit designated just for your vehicle. There are lots of them to choose from. Here’s one, the apparent best-seller currently on Amazon:

First Aid All-purpose First Aid Kit, Soft Case with Zipper
(view on amzn)

As part of “Preparing and Preparedness 1” use the guidelines above to put together your own emergency kit to be kept in your car. Add whatever else you feel is important. I purposely kept the list short to keep it simple for now…

I know that many of you experienced preppers are saying to yourself that I left a lot of things off this list. Some of them seemingly important. However, level-2,3,4 will pick them up. The intent here is a basic simple kit for ordinary circumstances.

That said, I welcome your comments regarding your own opinions of level-1 kit contents and maybe your own examples of having to actually use your kit for one thing or another…

[ Read: Preparedness Level 1 – 4 Series Overview ]


      1. All good suggestions! I was going to wait till level-2 to bring it up, but that’s okay – Fill-er-up!

  1. Nice truck BUT

    Needs a heavy grille guard to protect the rads from animal strikes and running barriers. Needs more aggressive tires for off-road conditions (duratrac are great). Needs a hundred gallon slip tank/tool box combo c/w fuel filter. Too good looking with all that chrome – all grey or black more discrete.

    Alright, so it’s not technically part of the 72 hr kit but looking tough sometimes gives you a slight edge. :)

      1. NRP

        Careful. I have a Ford f350 which has been great and the DW got GMC All Terrain, also great – we dumped the Dodge Ram (1999) for outstanding price of $12,000 because it looked like new – dealer should have driven it more.

        1. I ditched my 06 dodge too, tons of power, too bad the transmission was going out after only 35,000 miles, no extended warranty either, dealership I bought it from folded and left everybody hangin.
          Now I have a 16 F350, baby got some ballz.

      2. I still own my 1977 F250. Brother-in-law used today pull down a widowmaker.
        I just cannot part with it.

    1. hermit us,
      Got the tires taken care of after moving up here to the north woods of NH (it’s an older picture). I’ve contemplated the tank and/or tool box however I hesitate to give up those precious several feet of the bed – even though it’s 8 feet to begin with. I also like my folding hard cover. Grill guard might be nice, although the moose up here would probably still win.

      1. I forgot to mention that my 1974 Ford had that gas guzzling 360 engine – probably the worst one for power but it ran forever.

  2. Ken

    I thought you might have a small water filter in the level-1 72 hour kit. Three days at 1 gallon per person may be a bit much to carry. 25 pounds per person.

    Or maybe you were going to hit that in Level 2


    1. Yep – I was saving filter till level-2, however it’s certainly a benefit regardless of whatever level of thinking or filling up one’s kit!

      The notion within level-1 is that of non-SHTF disruptions or not having to trek 3 days back home on foot, etc.. Realistically most all of the “most likely to occur” disruptive scenarios today will involve a pretty quick rescue, etc..

  3. Concerning H2O I keep store bought glass bottles of water (the fancy kind) in the back of my SUV. I’m not French but if your water is being super heated in the summer, sometimes those plastic bottles leave a chemical taste when sitting out all summer. The glass bottled Perrier water keeps for well over a year in my hot Florida sun stroked vehicle and tasted fresh when opened.

    I keep about 3 liters per person and each bottle is packed in bubble wrap.

    I then Have plastic canteens and camel backs available to fill if I need to leave the SUV.

    1. White Cracker,
      That’s a great idea especially for hot climates such as yours. Plastic bottles will definitely leave a “taste” after being in the hot sun for awhile. I keep mine in a cooler – which keeps them out of the direct sun. They will still get warm in the summer, but not too bad up here.

  4. Very good list!! I need to add more of the pet items to mine. Due to budget limitations, a little at a time.

  5. Car bags are SO important! Everyone should pack a bag for every vehicle. These bags can come in very handy even if just pinned in and stuck on an Interstate!

    My vehicle bag is packed for 2 people at 3 days duration. The bag is geared towards having a 33 mile (max) hike home with a 10 year old. I include a LifeStraw (see right side bar for ad), 2 tarps and paracord for shelter), TP, head lamp, flashlight, extra clothing (seasonal), space blankets, wool blanket (not packed but could be attached to bag), cooking utensils, and some FD/DH heated foods. Along w/ the FD foods are Datrex bars for extra calories.

  6. May be another Level 2 item, but I also have a portable radio and batteries in my kit (plus extra batteries for my flashlight).

  7. Probably not level 1, think about a combo belt cutter/window breaker hammer in the vehicle.

  8. When I lived in the north part of our province where you could be a couple hundred miles from anyone it really set in my mind that I needed to be prepared for anything & anything happened sometimes so don’t think it can’t. What a blessing those preps were.

    1. “a couple hundred miles from anyone”

      That is hard to find (impossible?) down here in the lower 48. You certainly need to be prepared for that way beyond level-1 ! (and I’m sure you are)

  9. I was traveling to be with family – about a three hour drive. DH and I were snacking on what I usually keep in the car so we didn’t have ​to stop. When we got close to our destination near the city, traffic was backed up for miles. We got into my GHB and feasted on mixed nuts, dates, dried cherries, and mixed some powdered drink mix into our water bottles. Moods instantly improved.😉

    1. @Skibum, When we used to work in a particular population-dense region on the west coast, we would semi-regularly dig into our kit food due to the insane traffic which often would cut into dinner time…

      That fact alone should be motivation enough for many out there who work in such regions!

      1. Yup. When I don’t snack, I get cranky. It’s actually a bit worse than that. I’ve gone into hypoglycemic shock 5 times. Last time was about 13 years ago. I have since learned to recognize the warning signs and control it through diet. But when DH hears me say that I need to eat NOW, he gets it.

    1. True enough. As part of my every-day-carry I always have one on my person. I also keep another in my truck kit and yet another in the drivers side door panel for access.

      1. Ken, I have a Swiss Army knife for EDC, a Gerber multi tool in glove box, and a K Bar knife in drivers side door. I also have a camp axe in tool box.

  10. Check out S.O.S. Emergency Rations, 3600 Calorie Food Bar – with 5 Year Shelf Life for your food needs. US Cost Guard approved and their not sensitive to the high temperatures found in your vehicle.

  11. Depending on where you are from, spending an evening out without bug spray could be a disaster…

  12. Keeping food in the 72 hr. BOB I keep wondering how safe that food is in the heat of summer here in the south. And water. They say don’t keep water in the car in the plastic bottles in the heat as the plastic chemicals leach into the water. Just curious as to your thoughts on this matter.

  13. Please pardon me if I have overlooked postings relevant to this comment. I’m old enough to have some trouble in missing important information.

    My concern is this: How is it possible to store food in a vehicle that may, for example, be exposed to heat in excess of 100 degrees during the summer? Such high temperatures will quickly destabilize most–perhaps all–prepared foods, irrespective of their rated shelf life under more comfortable conditions. It’s well and good to collect 72 hours worth of food and water. But unless these are stored in a way that safeguards their value the survival enterprise falls short of its goal.

    I suppose the answer, if one exists, involves packing the foodstuffs in insulating materials, such as several inches of styrofoam, and keeping the package out of direct sunlight. But I have no actual experience in doing so and therefore I don’t know if these or other measures are or can be effective in keeping foodstuff temperatures low enough to prevent catastrophic destabilization of the food, compromising its appeal and nutrient value.

    Can anyone shed light on this topic?

    Thanks, in any case, for your patience in reading my comment and for considering my concern.

    1. Dr Bill,

      First, thanks for your question. Let me reference a few articles:

      72-Hour Emergency Kit

      When Summer Ends, Replace The Food In Your 72-hour Vehicle Kit

      Food In Your Vehicle – What’s Best For 72 Hour Survival Kit?

      MRE Meals for Food Storage & Survival Kit

      Temperature Versus Food Storage Shelf Life

      To briefly sum up your concerns, my recommendations are:

      1. Replace all foods after each summer season due to heat / shelf life issues (referenced in articles)

      2. Choose foods less susceptible to heat issues where possible.

      3. Adapt your food storage location to your vehicle. A small cooler helps to offset extreme temps. In my truck I keep some of mine under the back seat which lifts up to reveal storage compartments (cooler under there).

      There’s no getting around the heat issue during summer. But with adherence to my advice above (and in the articles) you can safely store emergency foods in your vehicle.

      1. Ken, thanks for your reply. The information you summarize is exceedingly helpful! I have to suppose the cited articles are even more helpful.

        I’m embarrassed in not having figured out more of this on my own, especially the tactic of rapid replacement. But I haven’t been thinking about these issues for all that long so I suppose I can be forgiven. And, as I wrote, I have read a goodly number of books and articles that glibly overlook these problems.


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