127 Unusual Emergency Items (That Are All Under $20)

Whether it’s a natural disaster, nuclear accident or medical emergency, advance preparation is key.

We’ve scoured the government guidelines, first aid books, and, yes, the doomsday prepper forums, to bring you this list of  items you can keep on hand in your home, vehicle, or even bike. 

Because, seriously, you never know when these things will come in handy….

1. Water Purification Tablets. NATO and global aid organizations rely on these  tablets to purify drinking water in disaster situations. Drop one tab in water and they dissolve and make the water safe to drink. Each tablet purifies up to two quarts of water.

2. Emergency Gas Shut Off Wrench. Keep one of these near your home’s gas line in case you need to turn off the gas supply to prevent fire in a crisis. Has two sizes to fit most gas valves. 

3. Paracord. There are more than a hundred ways to use a paracord. It is an extremely useful item for utility, repair, and emergency purposes. While first strictly used in the military, it quickly became an everyday carry essential.  

4. Compass. Learning to use a compass is not just for outdoor enthusiasts. It is a crucial skill that can get you back home when you are lost in the wilderness. Choose a military-grade compass that is waterproof and vibration proof if you want it to withstand the harsh conditions off the beaten track.

5. Bulk Rice. There has never been a better time to build an emergency stockpile, and a bucket of rice is worth its weight. Rice is a versatile food that will store for a long period of time when kept in a dry, clean, and cool area. 

6. Citric Acid. Food-grade citric acid can be used as a cleaning agent, water softener, preservative, and stain remover. A bath of citric acid can prevent the browning of cut fruits and vegetables.

7. Glow Sticks. These ultra-bright sticks are great for parties, camping, power outages during storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Safer than candles and lasts for up to 12 hours, a glow stick is an economical light source when disaster strikes. 

8. Fire Extinguisher. Small and inexpensive fire extinguishers are handy for the kitchen, vehicle, or campsite. Make sure to check the expiration date at the same time as you replace your smoke alarm batteries. 

9. PVC Pipes.  Having a selection of PVC pipes and connectors on hand will enable you to make a basic plumbing and irrigation system, or build emergency structures.

10. Plant Seeds. Growing your own food can be a critical component of your emergency preparedness plan. During a natural disaster or disease outbreak, you may not be able to go out and buy food. Survival seeds will feed you and your family for the decades to come.

11. Iodine Tablets. Potassium iodide tablets protect the thyroid gland from radiation injury. The FDA recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 40 years take 1 tablet per day but only during a nuclear radiation emergency. 

12. Powdered Milk. Not all powdered milk has a long shelf-life so it’s best to check with the seller or manufacturer. An unopened package may be stored between 2 and 20 years.

13. Tourniquet. Using tourniquet is an effective means of stopping a severe injury. Make sure to familiarize yourself with how to use beforehand.

14. Dried Beans. True dehydrated beans can store up to 25 years in optimal conditions. Just rehydrate (soak in water) and enjoy, or add them to soup and vegetarian recipes for a quick nutritious meal. 

15. Strike Anywhere Matches. As the name suggests, these matches will light from friction against any rough, hard, and dry surface. Unlike strike-on-box matches, they are not as readily available so it’s best to stock up for emergency purposes. 

16. Portable Radio. In the age of smartphones, a handheld radio is still ubiquitous. They are easy to carry and easy to power, providing access to music, radio shows, and important news from great distances. 

17. BIC Lighters. A mainstay in every prepper’s arsenal, these lighters are cheap and highly dependable. Keeping a bunch of them on hand could come in handy in a pinch. When all fire starters fail, a BIC lighter can do the trick. 

18. Car Escape Tool. You need a compact car escape tool for those ‘just in case’ moments. It is basically a tool for breaking the side windows of cars (not laminated windshield) and also doubles as a seat belt cutter. 

19. Personal Water Filter. An award-winning tool for globetrotters and survivalists, this product filters bacteria, parasites, and microplastic when drinking from a water source. Each straw can filter over 1000 gallons of water.

20. Electrolyte Rehydration Tablets. These tablets are clinically formulated to maintain your hydration levels. Containing a combination of glucose, salts, and minerals in specific proportions, each tablet replaces both fluids and electrolytes.

21. Duct Tape. You can fix and build pretty much anything when you have a stockpile of heavy-duty duct tapes. It can be used as bandage strips, sling, blister protection, sheath and more.

22. Bandana. This piece of cloth is a handy survival item that is useful for a thousand things. For instance, it can be used to wipe or clean stuff and colorful ones can be used to signal for help.

23. Super Glue. The fast-drying formula of super glue forms strong bonds between non-porous materials such as rubber and metal. It’s great for repairing tents, stopping leaks, making tools. It is possible to use super glue in closing small cuts and laceration but only in emergency situations.

24. Survival Blanket. An all-weather protection item that should be a part of your emergency kit at home or outdoors. It has a highly reflective surface for emergency signaling and an aluminized interior to keep you warm. 

25. Carabiner. A carabiner clip is not just a great way to carry your keys and grocery bags. It can be used to lock tent doors, hook things on your pack, and organize objects. If you need them for camping, check for the ones with kN (kiloNewton) rating, as they are designed to hold more weight.

26. Copper “Wheat” Pennies. Like silver and gold, copper has long been seen as a store of value and can be used as a medium of exchange in survival situations. These “wheat” cents have a collectable value well in excess or their face value.  

27. Hand Warmers. When the power goes out, the car breaks down, or you’re out in the cold, having a supply of these on hand can help you stay warm for hours at a time. 

28. Sunglasses. A pair of them can protect your eyes from dust, cold, and heat, but you can also rely on them in worst-case scenarios. With the sun as a light source, use your glasses to create a distress signal or dismantle and bend its wireframes to make tools.

29. Sunscreen. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30-50 is enough to block harmful UV rays. Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in the label. Do not use products with retinol or Vitamin because it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. 

30. Amazon Gift Cards. During a lockdown, home delivery services could give you a hope of survival. Use it to buy food items, toiletries, and other necessities online. 

31. Sports Tape. Athletes use this to aid recovery from injuries and reduce pain. It’s also a good emergency item for preventing blisters. There are different types of sports tape so choose the one that suits your needs.

32. Instant Coffee Packets. There are many good reasons why you need coffee to survive a long-term disaster. It increases mental alertness and is a morale-boosting drink according to preppers. 

33. Folding Saw. A solid, high-performing hand saw is a dependable tool for various applications.  You can use it to cut wood for a stove, hut for food, or build a shelter.

34. Pencil Sharpener. A sharpener is an unconventional multitasking tool that you might want to add in your fire kit. Use it to create spiral wood shavings as a tinder material.

35. AA Batteries. You need alkaline AA batteries because most small electronics like radios and flashlights rely on them. They are affordable and less prone to lose charge. But they tend to leak when left alone for too long.

36. Activated Charcoal. A natural medicine and survival tool, food-grade activated charcoal can be consumed to absorb ingested toxins or poison. You can also make a DIY water filter using charcoal.

37. Flashlight. Never keep a go-bag without a light source (and extra batteries). A good source of emergency lighting is critical to navigating the darkness. LED flashlights give off super bright lights that can disorient an attacker. 

38. Signal Mirror. This low tech survival device is designed to signal in case of distress. It looks like a regular mirror but with a hole in the middle of its shiny surface. Use it to reflect light on a passing airplane. The hole helps you point the light to your target, in this case, the aircraft’s window.

39. Whistle. A signaling tool that is tiny and inexpensive, but could be the key to getting help when you need it most. Always keep one in your house, in your car, in each of your backpacks, and anywhere they might come in handy.

40. Dental Floss. Flossing is an essential part of your oral care routine. But there are many survival uses for a dental floss aside from keeping your teeth clean. Use it to mend clothes, make traps and snare, make a clothesline, cut food, and as a tripwire. 

41. Animal Repellent. A regular bear spray will work for repelling any four- or two-legged creature. Make sure it is EPA-registered and sprays over 8 meters.

42. Spork. This hybrid cutlery combines a spoon and fork in one tool. It’s pretty straightforward why you would need a spork in critical situations. The spoon part is deep enough to scoop up soup and stew, while the fork sinks into the meat without trouble. 

43. Emergency Candles. Long-burning candles provide low-level lighting but they last a long time. Most of them burn clean so they won’t add smoke to your tent. They are perfect for emergencies or long outdoor trips.

44. Survival Books. Once you are forced to deal with circumstances beyond your control, knowledge is your best bet for survival. You need accurate and reliable information, tested in real-world scenarios when the unthinkable happens. 

 45. Chlorine Bleach. This is available in groceries and pharmacies. It contains sodium hypochlorite and is used for emergency water purification, as recommended by the Red Cross. Only use regular, unscented bleach without added dyes and cleaners.

46. Monofilament Fishing Line. Aside from catching dinner, there are several survival uses for fishing lines that will make this tool an indispensable component of your arsenal. Use it for repairing fabric, building a shelter, and making a snare trap.

47. Magnifying Glass. Any sort of lens may be used as an alternative fire starter on a sunny day. You would want a magnifier, at least 1.5 inches in diameter, with a plastic protective case so you can carry it anywhere.

48. Safety Pins. Another trivial item that can save your life is a safety pin. Use it to remove a splinter, secure bandages, repair rips, pick a lock, and for self-defense.

49. Magnesium Fire Starter. You can never have too many fire starters. The traditional flint and steel require a bit more skill to use. Magnesium fire starters are reliable, inexpensive, and waterproof.

50. Metal Pots. The best all-around cookware for survival is stainless steel or titanium pots. Stainless steel is cheaper and reliable, while titanium is more durable but expensive.

51. Mason Jars. While they are heavy to carry around, there should be a space for glass jars in survival shelters. You can use it to store food or as secret storage for cash and important documents. 

52. Work Gloves. Always keep a pair of these for your emergency supply. From chopping woods to building a shelter, you can do heavy-duty chores more efficiently when your hands are protected.

53. Scissors. It’s not unusual for a good pair of scissors to be left out of everyone’s survival kit. Yet scissors can accomplish a lot of tasks easier and faster, such as cutting wires, clothing, or bandages and gathering food in the wild.

54. Cloth Diapers. Reusable diapers are perfect for survival situations. The only downside is you will need plenty of water to wash them.

55. Playing Cards. In an emergency situation, keeping the faith is crucial to ensuring your survival. These are not miracle cards, but it will help boost your group’s morale.

56. Weatherproof Paper. An all-weather pad is good for keeping important information. For smaller kits, take a few sheets out of the pad and put them inside your kit, together with a pencil and a back-up pen.

57. Pressurized Pen. Speaking of back-up pens, a space pen is the perfect writing instrument you can use on the go (aside from a pencil, of course). Fits easily in your pocket and even writes on wet paper and at any angle.

58. Paper Plates. Serving meals using paper plates will make for easy cleanup. It also eliminates the need to waste water for cleaning utensils when you have a limited supply.

59. Ramen Noodles.  These dehydrated noodles are a favorite late night snack, have an extended shelf life, and taste great. But did you know that they can also be used as kindling in a pinch?  A must for any bug out bag, or extended stay pantry.

60. Fresnel Lens. It’s a good way to conserve matches, but like a magnifying lens, you can only use it on a sunny day. With just a little bit of skill, this can help ignite your tinder bundle.

61. Survival Ax. For under $20, you can get a stainless steel multitool ax, which includes a screwdriver kit, a hammer, hex wrench, bottle, and can opener and more. Perfect for cutting branches and chopping small logs for a stove or campfire.

62. Survival Credit Card Tool. Carrying a toolkit is not always ideal. A  cheap multitool that fits your wallet is a handy device to carry around in survival situations. The pricey ones offer more features than their $3 counterpart. 

63. Nap Alarm. This anti-sleep device loops around your ear like a Bluetooth headset. Based on the position of your head, it detects if you are getting drowsy and fires a strong alarm sound. Use it in any situation when you need to be fully alert such as when driving long distances.

64. Firewood Sticks. These fire sticks are made of natural, sustainable, and easily combustible material, without petrochemical additives. Use it to start a fire for your stove or fire pit. 

65. Compact Binoculars. The lightweight and portable design make it convenient for prepping and survival. It gives you a better vision for hunting, spotting fire, and defending your shelter from intruders.

66. Edible Plants Book.  The Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants gets 750 5-star reviews on Amazon and helps foragers identify what wild plants are safe and nutritious to eat. A bug out bag must. 

67. Powdered Juice Mix. Fruit drink powders are necessary for your survival supply. It keeps you hydrated and improves the taste of treated water.

68. Rubber Bands. Use it to secure gears to your backpack, seal open food bags, organize items, or as a makeshift strap for your eyeglasses.

69. Portable Solar Charger. An emergency solar backup helps keep your electronic devices running in disaster situations. Without the grid, you will be able to charge your radio, cell phones, tablets, GPS devices, and more.

70. Survival Poncho. It doesn’t only keep you dry during a storm. Since it’s waterproof, survivalists use rain ponchos as a hammock, groundsheet, and as an emergency survival shelter.

71. Gauze Dressing. An essential part of every survival kit, dressings are used to cover wounds and protect an injured site from infection. Keep an assortment of dressings in different sizes to protect you against all sorts of injuries. 

72. Digital Thermometer. It’s important to have a reliable mercury-free thermometer in your survival kit. Ear thermometers are said to give more accurate readings but they are also more expensive. A regular digital thermometer without all the bells and whistles is a worthy alternative. 

73. Fish Hook Set. Keeping a set of fish hooks on hand can be useful in a survival food situation. You can use dental floss or a stand of your paracord as line, so you won’t have to keep extra fishing line on hand.

74. Sand Bags. These bags are made of woven polypropylene or burlap. Fill them with sand, gravel, dirt or concrete and use them as a flood barrier. Empty bags can be used as a blanket, emergency tarp, bedding, and food storage.

75. Sewing Kit. A kit containing basic survival sewing items is a must-have for any type of disaster. Your kit is useful for mending backpacks and sleeping bags, fixing your tent, and repairing all sorts of things. 

76. Metal Water Bottle. A stainless steel water bottle is the perfect container to carry in emergency situations. Aside from storing water, it doubles as a cooking vessel. Choose a wide-mouthed, non-insulated, fireproof bottle if you want to cook in it.

77. Petroleum Jelly. Apply it to minor wounds, chapped lips, and sunburned skin. Soak cotton balls in petroleum jelly to make long-burning fire starters. It can also be used to lubricate metal gears and tools.

78. Freeze Dried Food. While it’s good to stock up on ready-to-eat meals, they have a shorter shelf life. Freeze -dried meals are easy to prepare and have a shelf-life of over 25 years. They last longer than dehydrated food. 

79. Tarp. A strong, durable, and water-resistant material mainly used for setting up tents. Tarps are also used to collect water from condensation, cover windows, and as an emergency blanket. 

80. WD-40.  More than lubricating joints, this common toolbox item can be used for dozens of purposes, from preventing snow buildup on windows, to preventing wasp nests, to killing weeds or removing grease buildups. 

81. Sharpening Tool. Obviously, a whetstone is a bit heavy to carry around. This pocket-size sharpener sharpens all straight knives and common house tools.

82. Ziploc Bags. A multipurpose item that keeps things dry and organized. Use it to collect and carry water, store food such as seeds and berries, and cover a wound to prevent contamination.

83. Foldable Backpack. It’s great to have a backup bag in case you might need to carry additional items. A lightweight foldable pack provides valuable space without weighing you down.

84. Bivy Sack. A better alternative to an emergency blanket, this survival bivy sack also serves as a sleeping bag or an improvised shelter. It keeps you warm and protected from elements when stranded outdoors. 

85. Baking Soda. It is one of those items that have a variety of uses. Baking soda is a powerful cleansing agent, a natural deodorizer, and a soothing treatment for bug bites.

86. Salt. Either for flavoring or preserving food, salt is a reliable friend. Use it as a mouth gargle for sore throat and toothache. Add a pinch to your drinking water to treat electrolyte imbalance. Cure meat and fish to slow spoilage and prevent bacterial growth.

87. Snare Wire. This flexible brass wire is used for setting up traps to catch small animals. You need a 24 gauge wire that is strong yet easily molded into a snare.

88. Soothing Gel. Keep single dose burn packets in your purse, emergency kit, or backpack. Use it for immediate treatment of minor burns and abrasions. The gel contains an anesthetic to provide pain relief while cooling the damaged skin. 

89. Plastic Trash Bags. Turn a trash bag into a sleeping bag. Fill it with leaves, pine needles, grasses or any material that can trap body heat. To get water, create a hole in the ground and lay a trash bag to catch water from precipitation.

90. LED Headlamp. If you want a lighter pack, ditch the flashlight for a long-burning LED headlamp. LED provides a high-intensity beam for nighttime navigation.

91. Relighting Birthday Candles. A low-volume, long-burning light source and fire starter. What’s so great about this? Well, the wind can’t blow it out.

92. Energy Bars. High-calorie food bars are your best bet for surviving any disaster. They are nutritious, compact, widely available, and don’t spoil easily. 

93. Mylar Blanket. Also known as a space blanket, a mylar thermal blanket is a lightweight and cheap addition to your emergency go-bag. It reflects body heat to keep you warm and also resists water and wind.

94. Surgical Tubing. It can be used as a straw to suck water from shallow sources or as a tourniquet. It is also super useful for fashioning tools and building shelter.

95. Coconut Oil. Everyone’s praising coconut oil even the survivalists. This shelf-stable wonder food can be used for cooking in high heat, as a candle replacement, and for treating skin allergies and infection.

96. Vinegar. There are many reasons why you should add vinegar in your stockpile. It’s a cheap, multipurpose, and non-toxic ingredient. Use it to preserve food, remove grease from dishes, deodorize and disinfect chopping boards, and kill mold.

97. Crayons. You can use melted crayons as a fire starter. Then use red and other bright color ones to mark trees as you move.

98. Mini Water Filtration System. Similar to the LifeStraw personal filter, Sawyer products filter water from any water source to make it safe to drink. You can drink directly from the straw or use the included drinking pouch.

99. Hydrogen Peroxide. We all know that this topical solution is used to disinfect minor cuts and scrapes. But preppers also recommend it to clean produce, soothe boils, kill mites, sanitize tools, and whiten teeth.

100. Bandages. Because it takes roughly 72 hours for the skin to close up, you would need bandages in a variety of sizes and shapes. They are useful for keeping germs out of wounds and hasten the healing process. 

101. Antiseptic Ointment. Knowing how to disinfect a wound is critical. Even tiny cuts can become infected when you are lost in the woods. Clean the wound and apply thinly to stave off infection. 

102. Tweezers. Use tweezers to remove any debris that is lodged in the cut. Disinfect the wound. It is also your best bet for removing ticks. Just avoid squeezing the body that might push its juices into your wound.

103. Pocket Chainsaw. Consider a wire saw, rope saw, pocket chainsaw, and other flexible saws so you can leave the hatchet at home. We recommend testing different types because these tools require a certain level of physical exertion.

104. Blood Clotting spray. It is more difficult to survive a rough environment with a bleeding cut. If you run out of clean gauze or bandages, a quick-stop spray powder will help control minor bleeding while protecting your skin. 

105. Toothache Drops. Dental pain can be excruciating. For temporary relief, use toothache drops after gargling with salt and water solution. This is not a substitute for dental treatment.

106. Can Opener. This is a dirt cheap tool for opening cans manually. It does not break easily than regular can openers that are often flimsy and bulky.

107. Float Bag. You may not always need a float bag (ditch bag), but if you live near water or plan to go to a place surrounded by water, this securely stores all your survival items.

108. Zip Ties. The black cable ties are said to be stronger than the colored variants but you can still use them as trail markers. Like duct tapes, zip ties have endless uses: hanging things, repairing gears, organizing small items, and attaching tools to your bag.

109. Board Games. Your state of mind is as important as your food supply. Whether you have children or not, an emergency entertainment kit can be helpful. A little distraction can calm anxious thoughts by keeping the brain focused on something else.

110. Chopsticks. They weigh next to nothing, so feel free to toss them in your bug out bag. Use them as utensils and then as kindling afterward.

111. Hard Candy. Your list of staples should include hard candy, particularly those with added Vitamin C. The sweet or sour taste is a tasty supplement to the monotonous rice and beans. 

112. Steel Wool. This common kitchen item can be used to sharpen tools, start a fire (requires alkaline batteries), remove rust, and keep critters and pests away since rodents can’t chew through it.

113. Cheesecloth. It is a valuable item because it is reusable and can withstand water without disintegrating. Use it as a dust mask, window cover, water filter, fishing net, bandage or signal flag. 

114. Plastic Sheeting. You can do so many things with this item. Build a temporary rain-proof shelter. With the help of duct tape, seal doors, windows, and air vents to protect you and your family from contaminated air. 

115. Canned Cookies. Danish butter cookies and Biscotti can be stockpiled for a year or two. Burn pieces of wood inside the cans to make charcoal. Alternatively, put strips of corrugated paper inside and use it as a buddy burner.

116. Fire Suppression Blankets. These are helpful if you live in a place prone to bushfires. Use it to smother the fire in the kitchen or wrap it around your body when evacuating from a burning room.

117. Cloth Sanitary Napkins. In austere and remote locations, feminine hygiene products will not be available. Having reusable sanitary pads in your survival kit is a convenient way to deal with the monthly menses. You can remove stains by soaking them in vinegar and water solution. Do not use bleach as it can break down the fiber of the pads. 

118. Manuka Honey. You may not think of honey as an essential survival food, but this New Zealand multifloral honey has been clinically shown to have several benefits.  What’s more honey has a great calories to weight ratio, making it a super portable source of nutrition, as long distance hikers have long known.

119. Seed Sprouter. Adding microgreens to your emergency food supply is possible with a sprouting tray. Sprout mung beans, soy, peanut, black bean and a lot more. Use these healthy sprouts in salads, soups, and sandwiches. Since it doesn’t require soil, you can use it inside your shelter.

120. Pantyhose. An unusual item that will come in handy for an array of survival scenarios. Wear them under your socks to prevent blisters. You can also use them to filter water (before purifying), sprout seeds, store various items, and catch crabs, fish, and other small animals.

121. Aluminum Foil. It’s not just for cooking an appetizing meal in the wilderness. Tear off strips of aluminum foil and tie them on branches as a reflective signaling tool. Additionally, create a boxy foil container to boil water.

122. Emergency Stove. This is a foldable, lightweight, and really cheap stove that will help you survive a disaster. It comes with a compact, ready to use fuel tablets so you don’t need propane tanks or kerosene. If you run out of fuel tabs, just gather twigs or sticks and you’re good to go.

123. Bungee Cords. It helps to have as many items in your emergency kit that have a variety of uses. This elastic cord can replace a belt or suspenders. Use it to bundle sleeping bags and blankets and secure other valuables on your vehicle.

124. Lightning Nuggets. Carrying multiple fire-starting methods is the key to long-term survival. These pine-scented pellets can replace tinder or kindling. They are non-combustible so they are safe to store indefinitely in your survival packs. They work with coal, wood, charcoal and other types of fuel.

125. Survival Tabs. Every 3.9 grams of survival tabs provide 20 calories and contains 100% of the RDA for 15 essential vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A, D, E, C, B1, B6, and B12 among others. If stored properly, an unopened pack will keep for over 20 years.

126. Screws Set. Having a set of multi-sized screws on hand is a great idea in a longer term survival situation. Screws can come in handy for fixing structures, furniture repair, and more.

127. Shoelaces. Chances are you already have several of these. If not, they are cheap and widely available. You can use them as a belt or rope. They will also be useful in building your shelter, hanging food for cooking, and hunting small animals.

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