How to Make an Emergency Bag Part 3: Shelter and Clothing

emergency clothes and shelter

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If you’re like me, you live most of your life in one climate-controlled box or another. A typical day for me starts out inside my home (box 1) that only fluctuates in temperature between about 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year. I may spend a minute or two in the morning walking from my front door to my car (box 2) when I set off to work in the morning. Once I’m in my car, it’s heated or cooled to a comfortable temperature within about 5 minutes. Then, because I work indoors in an office setting (box 3), I spend the bulk of my day sheltered from the elements and in temperatures that hover around 70 degrees all day. Now, not everyday is like that for me. I like to get outside and do outdoor activities as much as possible. While engaging in those outdoor activities, I’m reminded of the full range of weather conditions that the area I live in has to offer.


In a disaster situation, you may have to travel on foot without the protection from the elements that your vehicle provides. Or, if basic utilities and services are disrupted, you may find yourself holed up at home or at work without the normal means of controlling the temperature to comfortable levels. If these circumstances coincide with cold and wet weather, it may be a struggle to stay warm enough, which could turn into a life-threatening situation. Even in geographical areas with warmer climates, temperatures can drop drastically at night. For these reasons, including proper shelter and clothing in your emergency bag can be critical to survival or, at the very least, provide for a more comfortable experience.


In the previous post, titled “How to Make an Emergency Bag”, I described the food and water related items to keep in your emergency bag. In this post, I’ll detail the items needed for shelter and clothing. As with the previous posts in this series, I’ll label each item as either essential, recommended, or optional to include in either a 72 Hour Bag (72HB) or a Get Home Bag (GHB). Essential items are what I consider the bare minimum to include in your bag. Recommended items should be strongly considered for inclusion in your emergency bags. Optional items are great to have but might not be as essential as recommended items. To help you keep track of ALL of the items to include in your emergency bags, I will send you my free Get Home Bag and 72 Hour Bag checklists just for subscribing to my mailing list! 



I also make a few gear recommendations, as well as provide a few tips and insights from my experience in the outdoors and from the research I’ve done in preparing for disasters.




If you find yourself outside in cold weather or indoors without power for heating after a disaster, a small emergency tent like a tube tent can help keep you dry. In addition, crawling inside an emergency bivvy will reduce the loss of heat and help keep you warm. For these reasons, an emergency shelter and emergency bivvy should be kept in your 72 Hour Bag or Get Home Bag.


Shelter List

The following items are essential shelter items to include in your emergency bag:


  • Tube Tent (essential 72HB/GHB) – Unlike typical camping tents, tube tents are made specifically for emergency situations. They’re designed to keep rain and snow off of you but most of them lack doors and are open at the ends, so they won’t retain as much heat as camping tents.


  • Emergency Bivvy (essential 72HB/GHB) – Mylar emergency blankets are popular in emergency bags but for a few dollars more, a bivvy can help you retain more heat because it’s enclosed on three sides—similar to a sleeping bag. While an emergency bivvy might lack the comfort of a good sleeping bag and sleeping pad, they cost far less take up much less space, and can help keep you warm in cold and wet conditions.


The following figure shows the tube tent and emergency bivvy that I keep in one of my emergency bags:


Tube tent

 Emergency Shelter Supplies


My Picks – Shelter:


Savvy Tip – Shelter


Choose the right location to setup. Choosing the right location for your tent is critical for getting the best protection from the elements as possible. Avoid areas exposed to wind and if you can’t get completely out of the wind, try to set up the tent in an orientation that will prevent it from allowing wind to blow directly through its open ends. Just beware that wind direction isn’t always constant and can shift. It’s also a good idea to try to avoid areas where water may drain directly through the footprint of your tent, causing the floor to become a sloppy wet mess.




The degree of warmth and protection from the elements that your clothing needs to provide will be dictated by your climate and the weather extremes that may occur there. Layering is the preferred method, as you can add or remove layers to adjust what you’re wearing to fit the weather conditions and your activity level at any given time.


The number one thing to remember when choosing the materials that your layers are made from is that in cold and wet conditions, “cotton kills”. This is because cotton loses its insulating abilities when it gets wet and actually draws heat out of your body. The only exception to this guideline is that a cotton bandana is a great item to keep in your 72 Hour Bag for several reasons; one being that you can use it to help keep you cool by dampening it and draping it over your head or neck in hot weather.


If you want to stick with clothing made from natural materials, wool is the preferred natural fiber for outdoor clothing. If you’d rather go with synthetic materials, there are many options to choose from, but one of the most popular synthetic materials for outdoor use is polypropylene.


Clothing List

The following items make up the basic clothes to keep in your emergency bag:


emergency clothing


Going back to the topic of layering, the four main clothing layers to consider including in your emergency bag are as follows:


Base Layer (Thermal Underwear) – The base layer is the layer that is closest to your skin and usually consists of a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. The base layer wicks away moisture while providing some insulation. Due to its softness, merino wool is the most popular type of wool for base layers. I am a big fan of merino wool, but it tends to be more expensive than synthetic materials. For synthetic base layers, polypropylene is easy to find and can be bought at a reasonable price. There are also blended base layers that include both natural and synthetic fibers to take advantage of the desired qualities of each.


Mid Layer – This layer goes on top of your base layer and consists of pants and a long sleeve shirt. For the top, I prefer a performance or athletic shirt that is made from polyester. For pants, I like convertible hiking pants like the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pant that is 100% polyester and helps to wick away moisture. Convertible pants have zippers near each of the knees that when unzipped, allow for the bottom parts to be removed, leaving you with a pair of shorts. On warmer days, the base layer can stay in the pack and these mid layers become the layer closest to your skin.


Insulating Layer – The insulating layer goes on top of the mid layer and, as the name suggests, provides the most heat-retaining insulation of any of the layers. For milder climates, a long sleeve fleece shirt or wool sweater can work great for a top. For colder climates, a jacket with synthetic insulation can provide better insulation than medium weight fleece or wool. Fleece pants are a great option for bottoms. Goose down is also an option for the insulating layer but loses its insulating abilities once it gets wet.


Waterproof Shell or Poncho – This is the outermost layer that consists of a jacket and pants and is intended to keep you dry. The ideal shell is made from waterproof/breathable materials so that it can keep precipitation out and let moisture from perspiration escape. If the shell is not breathable, then even minimal amounts of perspiration can condense on the inner surfaces and make you damp. Shells that are made from waterproof/breathable materials tend to be quite expensive so a good compromise between cost and performance is a breathable shell that is water resistant rather than waterproof. These might not keep you as dry as waterproof shells in heavy rain but in light or moderate precipitation, they’ll keep you dry while the breathability will allow you to exert yourself without getting clammy inside the shell.


There are also cheap emergency rain ponchos that are lightweight but are not breathable. If you perspire even a moderate amount, you might find it clammy inside one of these non-breathable ponchos and will have to limit activity while wearing it or you’ll get damp from your own perspiration. However, an emergency poncho is better than nothing and can be purchased for a few dollars. For a few dollars more though, there are breathable rain ponchos that can be a great addition to your emergency bag.


In addition to the four layers described above, I highly recommend adding the following items to your emergency bag:


Underwear – As with base layers, underwear should be made from materials that wick away moisture to keep you dry and help prevent chaffing.


Sturdy Shoes or Boots – You might have to walk many miles over rough and/or wet terrain in an emergency so sturdy shoes or boots make the best choices for an emergency bag. Shoes and boots designed for hiking provide good traction and are designed to be comfortable when walking long distances. If you live in a wet climate, consider shoes or boots that are made with waterproof materials to help keep your feet dry.


Wool Socks – Wool socks wick moisture away from your feet while simultaneously keeping them warm. Wool retains much of its insulating properties when wet, and so they’ll still help keep your feet warm even if they become damp.


Beanie / Stocking Cap – A beanie or stocking cap helps prevent heat loss thorough your head. As with the four layers, wool or synthetic materials are preferred materials.


Gloves – Synthetic materials are a great option for gloves to keep your hands warm. In a disaster situation like a storm or earthquake, you’ll likely encounter debris and broken glass that can be hazardous to handle. A sturdy pair of leather work gloves will help protect your hands and are recommended for your 72-Hour Bag but are optional for a Get Home Bag.


Bandana – A bandana has many uses and is the only cotton item that is recommended for your emergency bag. You can tie one over your mouth to help keep dust out, use one as a pre-filter for water, or moisten and drape one over your head and neck to help keep you cool in hot weather.


The following figure shows the clothing items that I keep in my 72 Hour Bag:


emergency clothing

 Clothing Items


The rain jacket (1) and rain pants (2) are lightweight and packable and are from Sierra Designs.  The poncho (3) is a the Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite model. Item 4 is a standard cotton bandana and the stocking cap (5) is a generic fleece hat I picked up from Old Navy on clearance for a few dollars. The insulating jacket (6) is from REI and has PrimaLoft ® insulation which is a synthetic material. This jacket is super warm and makes a great insulating layer. Item 7 is a pair of REI brand fleece pants that make a great insulating layer. Item 8 is a ColdPruf Enthusiast base-layer shirt and item 9 is a pair of Under Armour ColdGear leggings that I’ve had for a while now and have re-purposed for my 72 Hour Bag.  The black gloves (10) are a pair of synthetic and letter motorcycle gloves that I had laying around and the leather work gloves (11) are a generic pair that I picked up for just a few dollars.  Additionally, I have included a pair of wool socks (12) that I’ve had for a couple years that were still in good condition and some Nike shoes (13), intended for trail running, that I keep with my 72 Hour Bag during the drier and warmer parts of the year.


My Picks – Clothing:

There are so many options and personal preferences when it comes to clothing, so I’ll only recommend a few items.


Savvy Tip – Clothing


If you live in a cold climate and your emergency bag clothing takes up a large amount of space in your pack, consider putting them in compression sacks that can be lashed to the outside of your bag. If you must use your bag in an emergency situation, you can put on the layers you need and quickly stuff the remaining layers inside your pack or lash them to the outside. If you’re concerned about keeping your clothes dry while storing your emergency bag, a plastic garbage bag can be used to line the inside of the compression sack and make it waterproof before putting the clothing inside.


This post should give you a good framework for selecting the clothing and shelter items for your emergency bag. In my next post, I describe the navigation, fire, and illumination supplies for your emergency bag.


If you would like to get my FREE checklists for Get Home Bags and 72 Hour Bags, simply join my mailing list and I’ll send them right to your email!


The content provided in this post is intended for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. I am not a professional and the information provided does not constitute professional advice. If you choose to use any of the information or recommended products, you do so at your own risk. For more information, read the full disclaimer here.


Copyright © 2018 Savvy Disaster Prep. All Rights Reserved.


8 thoughts on “How to Make an Emergency Bag Part 3: Shelter and Clothing

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I have been thinking more and more about having an emergency bag, better safe than sorry! I am definitely going to be using your tips 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing this list! We are always talking about how we need to create emergency back packs but never knew what to put in them but now I do!

  3. I learned a lot in this post. I’ve always wanted to put together emergency bags for my family. Your recommendations take being prepared to a whole new level for me. I’m definitely checking out the rest of the series. Saving this post for later!

    1. I’m glad this post was informative and I’d like to encourage you to get started putting together emergency bags for your family. You can download my free checklists and start getting a few things here and there and before you know it, you can have emergency bags put together for each of your family members.

  4. Preparing an emergency bag isn’t something I’ve thought all that much about, but it’s a great idea. You never know what’s going to happen…Your list is well thought out, thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! I hope this series gives you some ideas on what to look for and what to include in an emergency bag. An emergency bag is one of those things that I hope I never have to use but knowing that my family is at least a little prepared helps me to feel more confident that we’ll be able to handle what might come our way.

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