You’re a dutiful citizen, planning your bug out bag, just like the folks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) say you should do. One of the most essential supplies you need is potable water, so you’re filling the old soda bottles, but you notice they’re getting heavy. How water much can you carry? How much does a liter of water weigh?
No matter where we live, there is always a chance of having to make a quick getaway in a case of fire, flood, earthquake, or some other disaster that brings chaos and ruin into our lives. FEMA suggests everyone in the country take the personal responsibility to be prepared for the unexpected by putting together a disaster supplies kit. That way, if you have to flee quickly, you are ready to go without delay.
Your disaster supplies kit, or FEMA kit, should be packed with sufficient quantities to last each person for at least seventy-two hours, or about three days. The basic items include:
- One gallon of water per person, per day for drinking and sanitation;
- Food, in a non-perishable format that can be packed and stored, probably canned (ramen noodles would use too much of your water supply);
- A manual can opener;
- Battery, solar, or hand-crank standard radio;
- NOAA weather radio, battery, solar, or hand-crank;
- Extra batteries for all of the above items that use them;
- Basic first aid kit;
- A whistle to call for help;
- Dust masks;
- Pre-moistened towelettes (like “Wet Ones”);
- Garbage bags with plastic ties;
- Cell phones with battery chargers or inverters;
- A basic first aid kit;
- Standard tools like wrenches and pliers, and, of course,
- The handyman’s secret weapon: Duct tape.
Remember, these are just the basics. You may also need:
- Baby food, diapers, and formula;
- Prescription medications;
- Contact lens solutions and cases;
- Pet food, and
- Books and games for children.
You may want to add:
- Sleeping bags or blankets;
- At least one change of clothing per person;
- Medical or other reference books;
- Chlorine bleach and a dropper, and
- Family documents like birth certificates, insurance policies, and bank records.
- Jewelry or precious metals.
You see how quickly it can add up to quite a lot to carry. The one item that is most needed in the largest quantity is also probably the heaviest — pure, fresh drinking water. It is needed not only for drinking but also for cooking and hygiene.
If you have to skimp on something, it should be anything but water. The human body can live without food three times longer than it can survive without water. Also, you will need more water than usual if you are exposed to temperature extremes or have to be more physically active during the crisis.
Your body needs water to survive and will do desperate things to get it. I will never forget reading about the fate of 31 individuals who had crossed our southern border in the harsh heat of July 1980. Whenever I think about preparing for enough food and water in emergency, it comes back to mind. No matter what we think about illegal border crossings, your heart has to break for these people abandoned by the “coyotes” they had paid hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars.
So strong is the body’s will to survive, there was evidence that they had been drinking cologne, deodorant, even their own urine. There were a few with sand in their mouths, no doubt hallucinating. All 31 were dead by the time immigration enforcement agents found them only a couple days later, the extreme desert conditions hastening their deaths.
The bug out bag you are packing is not intended to keep you going in a desert without hope, but water is essential. Water is also heavy.
The metric system is really neat. I know it’s hard to adjust to something new, but if the United States had come on board with the rest of the world when President Gerald R. Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act in 1975, we would all be used to it by now.
Here is what I mean when I say it is really neat. One liter of water weighs 1 kilogram. How simple is that?
To just about everyone in the world, that is the only answer we need. For those in the United States, Myanmar, and Liberia, though, that kilogram has to be converted into pounds for us to really understand it, so here you go: One liter of water weighs 2.20 pounds.
Completing the Kit
You can buy water, or you can store your own. I use the example of two liter bottles because it is a handy container that measures in even liters that even non-metric countries use. No matter what container you choose, and whether it is water you have purchased or drawn at the sink, it will weigh what it weighs, and you need a lot of it.
A liter is a little bit more than a quart (1.056). There are four quarts to a gallon. Whether you use two liter soda bottles (at two per gallon) or buy a gallon with a handy handle at the grocery, each gallon of water is going to weigh just under nine pounds.
To meet FEMA’s recommendations, you will pack into your kit a gallon per person, per day, for at least three days provisions. That is three gallons of water weighing about 27 pounds for every man, woman, and child in you home.
Chunky Soup & Minute Rice
That is a lot of weight to carry, and you haven’t yet added a single can of Chunky Soup or box of Minute Rice. And you should definitely take along some Chunky Soup and Minute Rice.
If you shop for FEMA kits online, you will see all kinds of MREs and other food processed especially for long term storage. They may be a bit lighter to carry but also cost more. The same is true for the length of time you can store them, up to 25 years in some cases, but the soup and rice you buy today will have a long, multi-year shelf life that goes well beyond the date stamped on the can.
One can of the soup provides a delicious and healthy topping to a couple of cups of rice for an easy, inexpensive meal on the run. If you have one of the handy folding stoves and a triple wick emergency candle, the only utensils you really need are a spoon and bowl for each person, plus some water and windproof matches.
Here’s what you do:
- Light two wicks on your candle and set it under the stove.
- Pop the top of the soup can, put it on the stove, and stir to warm the soup evenly.
- Pour the hot soup into a bowl.
- Light the third wick on the candle (you want a real boil now).
- Fill the soup can half way with water, return it to the stove, and wait for it to boil.
- Remove the soup can from the stove and add a cup (half can) of rice.
- Note: You will have to guesstimate this because you don’t want to fill the can the rest of the way with rice. The rice will expand, overflow, and be dry with parts left uncooked altogether. Not only is such a result disappointing, it is also wasteful.
- One your rice is in the can, cover the top with something to help retain the heat.
- The bottom of your bowl might do, and using it for this can also help keep the soup warm during the five minutes the rice is cooking.
- Unless you’re going to boil water for coffee, blow out your candle.
Your meal will consist of two cups of nutritious and tasty soup mixed with two cups of flaky, filling rice that is rich in energy building and nerve calming B complex vitamins. Depending on the soup you choose, you will also be taking in a good amount of vitamin A and other good stuff. There is a huge difference in nutrition among the different flavors of soup so be sure to take time to check the label. You want the best possible supplies for your kit, the most bang for your buck and per pound to be carried.
This tasty meal provides between 500 and 700 calories, again depending on the selected variety of soup. If four cups of food sounds like too much, cut the rice in half or share the dish with someone. Chances are good that in an emergency situation you are expending more calories, so it might fill you up just right after all.
If you have room to carry a measuring cup, sauce pan, frying pan, and other cooking utensils, cooking with a folding stove can be almost as good as a stove top at home. I had one on hand when we had the extended power outages a couple of years ago and was glad for it. We boiled water to make our own drip coffee, warmed canned soup and pasta dishes, and fried up some eggs with canned corned beef hash.
That’s another good idea to put in your emergency kit. Not the eggs, of course, but the hash for sure. If there is room for a skillet and folding stove, you want to make room for some corned beef hash. Add some canned fruit for variety, plus it will help improve your water intake.
Good luck with getting your disaster kit packed. It’s a big step in taking charge in an emergency, and I commend you for doing it while hoping you will never need it. How much you add of some items is up to your priorities, but a dozen liters of water per person for a course of three days is not optional even though it may weigh you down a bit. Just get a duffle bag with wheels.