2016 Gift Guide: Be Prepared For The Holidays … And Anything Else!


The holiday season is the perfect time to help your friends and loved ones be more prepared for whatever the future may hold, whether that means a weekend camping trip, a hurricane evacuation, or just a trip to grandma’s house.

Many households have a handful of “emergency supplies” stuffed into kitchen drawers and boxes in the garage: candles, flashlights, batteries, a few cans of Sterno, a half-empty first-aid kit … All not particularly accessible, and perhaps not even useful (how often do you check your batteries to see if they’re leaking?). This is why, prior to any evacuation (or even busy travel weekends), the grocery and hardware stores are jammed with people buying everything they don’t have or can’t find.

Surprisingly, that trend is actually getting WORSE, not better. According to research by FEMA:


In 2012, 52 percent of individuals reported having supplies set aside in their home for use during a disaster a decrease from 57 percent in 2009. In all survey years, only a subset of those individuals who reported having supplies in their home were able to name three or more supplies in their home and report that they update them at least once a year.


In other words, if something unexpected happens, the people you care about are probably not nearly as likely to have useful items on hand as they think they are. This Christmas or Hanukkah, help them out by giving each person on your list a fun AND useful gift: a “go bag” pre-stocked with gear that can be used either for fun travel OR emergency preparedness. Then, when it’s time to go camping OR “get out of Dodge,” all they have to do is stuff some clothes and food in the bag that you’ve thoughtfully prepared for them, fill up the water bottle, and be on their way!

Ideally, you could build a separate kit for each person on your list; kids love having their own gear, and if you label each person’s items with a different color of nail polish or electrical tape, it will avoid confusion, and help teach the kids to be responsible for their own things.


Basic Option

Canvas is the best material for go-bags, because it’s naturally tough and water-resistant. A basic version like this one will do the job without breaking the bank. Don’t expect it to last forever, but there’s no reason it can’t stand up to normal wear and tear.

Better Option

While still a canvas bag, you may want to consider paying a little more for a more durable product. This bag is roughly the same size as the one to the left, and maintains an unobtrusive look (the last thing you want is a bag that says, “Look at me! I have cool stuff inside!”, but is made of higher quality materials. A bag like this one still looks unobtrusive, but will provide its contents with a measure of protection from rain and snow.


Basic Option

Ever notice that most cheap flashlights use two or three AAA batteries? That’s annoying for several reasons, mainly because nothing else uses AAA batteries, and who wants to deal with multiple types of batteries, especially burning through three at a time? Thanks to LED technology, it’s now possible to get nice light output for a reasonable length of time from conventional AA batteries. If you’re looking for a basic light, this one is a good option. It is affordable, durable, and provides an impressive amount of light from only one AA battery.

Better Option

The Fenix LD22 also uses AA batteries, but is brighter, more durable, and offers a more even light pool of light.

Flashlight Batteries

Basic Option

Regardless of which flashlight you choose, you don’t want to be reliant on finding fresh batteries everywhere you go (not to mention the environmental hazard of dumping dead batteries). Rechargeable batteries (with a charger) are the solution to this problem. Just remember to periodically recharge them, because they will slowly lose power in storage.

Better Option

The Eneloop Pro batteries are the top of the Eneloop line, holding more power (2550 mAh, compared to the usual 1400 mAh), and discharging more slowly (maintaining 85% of their charge after a year of storage), than other rechargeables. This means that the batteries last longer both in use, and waiting to be used.


Basic Option

Flashlights are quick and intuitive, but if you actually need to work on something in the dark – whether it’s changing a tire on the roadside, or finding your way through the woods – nothing is more convenient than a headlamp. In the past, headlamps have been notorious for being difficult to load with batteries (there were spring-loaded clips with flimsy plastic tabs that never seemed to twist into place properly), but the new generation of headlamps have solved that problem by using the same micro-USB charger as many other electronic products. This also makes them a great gift for kids: if they want to play flashlight tag and forget to turn the light off, it’ll only be a quick recharge instead of a battery-swapping hassle.

Better Option

As with most solid-state electronic products, the difference in price largely buys you increased durability and a few more bells and whistles. The basic concept remains the same!

USB Power Pack

Basic Option

With cel phones, tablets, and now headlamps running off USB power, a rechargeable USB power packs makes a great gift for anyone on your list. For entertainment on a long car ride, or to ensure your phone won’t die in the boonies, these little bricks are perfect. This 5,600 mAh power bank

Better Option

Need more power? This 16,100 mAh power bank has dual USB ports to charge two devices at the same time, and estimates that it will fully charge an Apple iPhone 6S nine times before being depleted! Be aware though: while the 5,600 mAh bank only weighs 4 oz, this one is a hefty 12 oz.

Solar Charger

Basic Option

Want to take your self-sufficiency up a notch? Get a solar USB charger for your power bank. It won’t be as fast as charging from an electrical outlet, but if you’re stranded somewhere, on an extended hiking excursion, using a solar charger to top-up your power bank during the day, and then using the power bank to recharge your devices over night, can be a totally sustainable way to keep your electronic devices viable without AC power.

Better Option

Want a little more juice from the sun? This 20W charger delivers about 40% more output than the 14W version. While it’s on sale for only $10 more, it’s a great deal!

Water Bottle

Basic Option

After having a brand-new, expensive Camelbank watter bladded rupture in my backpack a few years ago, I swore off using plastic bags to carry water. Not only are they puncture-prone, they give the water an unpleasant taste and offer zero insulation. There’s a reason soldiers around the world have used metal canteens for generations: they just work! An uninsulated bottle like this can double as a sleeping-bag warmer too; fill it up with water heated over a campfire, slip it into a sock (so that you don’t burn yourself on the hot metal), and drop it to the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm on cold nights!

Better Option

In this case, “better” depends on your needs. If you’re camping in the cold, a basic canteen that you can use as a hot water bottle is a great choice. If you spend most of your time in the heat, a vacuum-insulated product like this will be more useful. It holds more water (40 oz), and will keep cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours. The wide mouth design also makes it easier to clean.

Mess Kit & Camp Cutlery

Mess Kit

Don’t waste money on ultra-flimsy aluminum mess kits, or on anything made of plastic. This copper-bottomed steel set is not expensive, and it’s all you need for food prep on a camping trip or emergency situation of any duration.

Camp Cutlery

While you’re at it, don’t waste money on flimsy cutlery either. Get one of these “Hobo Tools,” and you’ll never find yourself without a sturdy knife, fork, or spoon. Properly cared for, this will last a lifetime.

First Aid

Start With This

Medical supplies deserve a whole list to themselves, but this is definitely a category in which something is better than nothing! This kit is designed to be water-resistant and compact, which makes it a good fit for a personal go-bag.

Add This

Uncontrolled bleeding is one of the most dangerous situations a person can find themselves in. Adding a tourniquet to your first aid kit is a way to ensure that you’ll be able to provide meaningful help to somebody with serious bleeding from an arm or leg. It’s a popular misconception that attaching a tourniquet will cause gangrene/loss of the limb. In fact, EMTs have found that no serious damage occurs until about six hours after tourniquet application. If you’re dealing with a life-threatening loss of blood, a six hour window to get help is far preferable to the alternative.

Camp Stove

Basic Option

The humble Sterno stove has been around for generations, and still works as well today as it did decades ago. It’s not fancy, but if you need to heat up a can of soup, it’s simple, quick, and convenient. Order the stove online, but don’t order the fuel; it’s cheaper and easier to get fuel cans locally somewhere like Wal-Mart.

Better Option

Ready to upgrade your camp-cooking game? Go for a self-igniting ultralight stove like this one. It folds up into a tiny little package, and will boil a liter of water in under 4 minutes. This product is compatible with any 7/16 thread butane or butane-propane mixed fuel canisters (EN 417). That means Jetboil or Primus Power Gas, both of which are also available at Wal-Mart.


Basic Option

My first real knife was a Swiss Army knife that I got on my twelfth birthday. I still have it! The new generation of Swiss Army knives are cooler-looking and safer than the old ones, and they make a great gift for a (responsible!) young person or adult.

Better Option

You just can’t beat a Leatherman for utility and durability. In day-to-day use, you’ll reach for it to tighten screws, unbend wire, and accomplish a thousand other little chores, and in an emergency situation, it could literally be a lifesaver.

Of course, this is not a comprehensive kit, but it’s a great start! And, since you’re giving the items in a backpack, there’s no excuse for the kids not to be able to put things away when they’re finished with them.

In addition to the products listed above, there are a few inexpensive things you might want to pick up at your local Wal-Mart or Target.

• Bic lighter
• Dust mask
• Gloves
• Hat
• Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, etc.)

Happy holidays!

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