Emergency Kits – Build vs. Buy

A couple of our community members have asked me, “should I buy an emergency kit or build my own?”  This is a FANTASTIC question.  There is absolutely no right or wrong answer.  I’m going to give you some thoughts from my experience answering this question for my own family.

Obtaining a kit, whether you build it or buy it, will be reflective of your preparedness journey.  You may have one answer at the beginning and change your mind over time, or you may know what you want right off the bat and never give it a second thought.  When I think about this question there are 3 key elements that dictate the eventual answer: Time, Money, and Function.


Our time is incredibly valuable, and not everyone wants to spend a ton of time researching and ordering products.  It is much faster to find a kit that someone else has researched and packaged.  The element of time in the “Build vs. Buy” decision refers to how much time you actually want to spend either building or buying.


Budgets are never unlimited.  In the case of emergency supplies, budgeting can be even trickier because many people see these items as “things we’ll hopefully never use”.  With that mindset, it is really difficult to justify a large price tag on a specific item, or the kit as a whole.  Many premade kits are less expensive because they are mass produced.  The individual items are purchased in bulk, at a lower price by the kit makers, and that discount is passed along to the end consumer.  Additionally, the quality of the materials in the premade kit may be reduced to make sure a certain price point can be reached.  On the flipside, it’s really easy to run up a huge price tag by buying individual, brand name items.


What do you need the item to do? This is the key question around how functional an item should be.  You may want the item to do 5 different things, but you only need it to do 2 things.  Understanding how functional you need an item to be will dictate whether you can use what is included in a ready-made kit, or if you will need to supplement.  Note: I’m including durability as a function in this context (disposable vs. rugged and reusable).

Pick Your Path (Some Things to Think About)

There is a relationship between the elements of Time, Money, and Function.  We’re going to assume that we’re all regular people and these resources are not unlimited.  As a result there will be tradeoffs.  Higher functionality usually means a higher price.  Trying to find “the best” item will require more research time.  With that in mind, here are some common scenarios and my recommendations.

  • wise emergency kitYou don’t have a lot of time and you don’t have a large budget: Buy a pre-made kit.  You’ll have confidence that you have the basics covered.  You won’t have to spend a ton of time researching each item, and the items included will be less expensive than if you bought them on their own.
    • Downside: These kits tend to be very specific in their function.  You’re not going to get a bunch of bells and whistles (hopefully you’ll at least get one whistle).  It’s likely that you’re not going to use the contents for other jobs, it will just sit in your closet or car trunk until you need it…if you need it.
  • You don’t have a lot of time but you’re not concerned with your budget: Buy a higher end kit and supplement as needed.  Not all pre-made kits are budget friendly.  Some kits have higher-end, higher quality items that you might actually buy on their own.  In this case, look for kits in the $200+ range.
    • Downside: You may spend a premium on the kit and still have to supplement.  You will also find that some of the higher-end kits are so “tailored” that you can’t supplement in the same bag.  You’ll have to purchase an additional pouch or pack to hold any supplemental odds and ends.
  • You don’t feel limited by time or budget: Build your own.  You have the time to research the products and functions that you need and want.  Your budget isn’t unlimited, but it’s flexible enough to allow you to prioritize functions that you want in addition to the functions you need.  Additionally, you see the opportunity to invest in items that will be used for more than just an emergency.
    • Downside: This is likely the most expensive option.  This will definitely take the most time.  When you assemble your own kit, you are relying on your own research.  You need to make sure you have all of the boxes checked.

What I Did

backpackWell, first I panicked.  Then I started digging.  I’m a researcher, so I started doing as much research as I could.  I had never camped in my life, so I had literally not one thing that could be considered emergency preparedness gear.  I also had an extenuating circumstance in that my son and my wife have multiple food allergies.  Most pre-made kits contain food that would have been dangerous to them, so just getting a pre-made kit was instantly off the table.

I prioritized the basics and invested when and where it made sense.  I bought higher-end backpacks so we could use them on family trips too.  I bought a nicer multi-tool so that I could use it for more things.  I tested multiple food options and companies to find options that were allergy friendly and reasonably tasty.  I looked for deals and discounts so I could add quality while managing to some sort of a budget.  I’ll go into more detail about my kits and the items in my kits in future posts, but at a high-level that was my process.

As I said in the beginning, there isn’t a correct answer to this question.  In general, I think you have more flexibility if you build your own, or if you buy a kit with the intention to supplement it or replace it over time.  However, having something is way better than having nothing.  You need to think about what you want to prepare for, how much time, money, and functionality you want, and then make a first step.  Don’t sit by, totally unprepared, while you’re waiting for the “perfect” solution…disasters don’t care about your desire for perfection.


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Author: Casey Feves

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