Top 10 Emergency Preparedness Gear Categories For Off-Roading & Overlanding

4Runner wading through muddy water with snorkel

The Top 10 Emergency & Essential Gear Categories Checklist To Consider When Offroading Or Overlanding – Be Prepared For Whatever Comes Your Way

A little planning can go a long way. It can mean the difference between continuing an excursion or bailing out in a hurry. Emergencies happen and can range from minor to severe. Whether it’s a natural disaster or zombies, having emergency gear can be the difference between life or death. However, even the best gear is of no use if you don’t know how to use it or don’t actually have it with you. Unpack your gear, understand how it all works, and test it out.

When planning for emergencies, it is easy to go overboard with heavy, bulky, expensive gear. We’ve streamlined the process and focused on lightweight, practical gear that doesn’t take up a lot of space.

For example, a machete may be cool, but it doesn’t make the list.

Most emergency gear is boring but essential. Try to focus on gear that is multipurpose to save on space, weight, and cost, and to create overlapping layers of backup.

It’s helpful to break down emergency planning into the following 10 emergency and essential gear categories. In each category, we’ve compiled a list of gear to keep you prepared for whatever may happen.

If you’re packing for a cold weather bag, warm weather bag, or just a general off-road prepardness bag, this overview will help you.

1. First Aid Supplies

Bleed Bag located in center console of 4Runner, includes tourniquets, bandages, gloves.

If you are going to focus on one thing, it must be first aid. Injuries are going to happen. It is your responsibility to be able to perform basic first aid on yourself, your family, members of your party, and even complete strangers. Don’t rely on others to have the equipment and knowledge because one day, you may be out on your own when a medical emergency happens.

Adequate first aid gear must be in your vehicle at all times, not just when you’re on the trail. I like to think of 3 types of bags to pack: The “Band-Aid Bag”, the “Bleed Bag” and the “Big Bag”.

Band-Aid Bag

BandAid Bag including Band-Aids, Neosporin, and Saline Eye Wash, in glovebox.

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The small Band-Aid Bag is a small bag that is easily accessible for minor injuries, such as abrasions, cuts, and scratches.

This is literally a small 1-quart zip-lock bag or small zippered pouch with various Band-Aids, Neosporin, and Saline Eye Wash. Why the eyewash? The primary purpose is to be able to flush your eyes if needed, but its dual purpose is that the nozzle makes for a great general wound flush.

Remember, the solution to pollution is dilution. Any injury, no matter how minor, should be flushed out prior to applying any topical ointments or bandages. Keep the Band-Aid Bag in the glove compartment for quick, easy access. This way, in case you get something in your eyes, you can access it without seeing it. Kids should know where it is also.

All minor injuries should be treated in a timely manner. Bacteria are some of the quickest reproducing organisms in the world, doubling in number roughly every 15 minutes.

A minor cut can turn into a nasty infection, called cellulitis if left untreated.

This easy-access bag makes it convenient to treat minor injuries promptly.

Bleed Bag

DIY First Aid Kits vs Pre-Built Kits (Like the Surviveware FAK) For the 5th Gen 4Runner

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The Bleed Bag is a bit larger but easily fits in the 4Runner’s center console for quick access. This is the bag that must be accessible from the driver’s seat within 2 seconds and therefore should not be lashed down in any way.

If you come across a vehicular accident, this is the bag you grab to immediately render aid. You don’t want to waste valuable seconds untying knots or webbing to access this bag from a back seat. If you are in an accident yourself, you can provide your own immediate aid since it is within reach of the driver’s seat.

The components of this bag consist of items you would typically need for a motor vehicle accident, such as nitrile gloves, tourniquets, compressive gauze with coagulants, trauma shears, etc. Many pre-made kits are 50% useless, but the Fieldcraft Survival Mobility Trauma Kit has all the essentials in a compact form.

Big Bag

Big Bag located in cargo area of 4Runner. Includes more extensive medical and first aid equipment including medicines, bandages, splint, and instruments.

The Big Bag carries more extensive medical supplies, including oral and topical medications, extensive bandages, burn dressings, SAM splint, mylar blanket, wound flush, sunburn ointment, sting kit, honey, lidocaine, etc.

Build this bag yourself with the goal to be able to treat more extensive injuries for several days until appropriate medical care can be obtained. Avoid the temptation to find a pre-made medical supply bag. It’s too easy to buy a bag and throw it in your trunk, forget about it, and never really know what’s inside, much less how to use it all.

Making your own bag forces you to examine each component, evaluate its usefulness, and learn how to use it.

Be sure to include some high-quality stainless steel medical tools. Pakistan-made tools are less expensive and are generally adequate for intermittent use, but my favorite tools are the German-made Miltex brand of Adson Brown Tissue Forceps, curved Metzenbaum scissors, and curved tipped Kelly Forceps. Also, Castroviejo micro forceps and a sterile scalpel with a #11 blade are great for removing splinters. If you have the training, you can use a Mayo Hegar needle holder for placing traditional sutures in larger lacerations. Alternatively, you can use a disposable skin stapler.

Keep in mind that you’re not going to be doing any major surgery out in the wild, but I have known some surgeons who claim that with the appropriate training, 90% of all surgeries can be performed with just these tools alone.

The point is that extensive medical gear is useless without the knowledge of how to use it, but with appropriate knowledge and training, you can become extremely capable with just basic medical supplies. There are countless resources available for training, such as books or online classes. I bet you even know a medical professional who is willing to teach you some basics. Invest in the time, because this one is important.

Be sure to include specific items related to your own medical condition, such as a glucometer for a diabetic, a pulse oximeter, or an automatic blood pressure monitor. Keep an additional 1 week’s supply of your own prescriptions in your vehicle, but beware of expiration dates and degradation due to heat.

The Big Bag can be stored in a less accessible cargo area of your rig. I like to have it clearly marked so that others can find it if needed. Many types of bags are available, but be sure it has shoulder straps to carry like a backpack in case you need to go on foot. You likely have a spare backpack sitting around at home you can use. Separate components in transparent ziplock bags can help maintain organization, cleanliness, and waterproofness.

2. Lighting

Mobile lighting options including a flashlight, work light, chemical lights, and headlamp.

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Adequate lighting, not attached to your vehicle, is an essential piece of emergency gear. I like to have a variety of mobile lighting, each with a different purpose.

Hands-Free Headlamp

A headlamp is perfect when focusing on a task in which both hands are in use and a bright focused light is needed exactly where you are looking. I have had Petzl headlamps for 30 years and they have always been faithful. The Petzl Actik Core Headlamp is compact, bright, rechargeable, and has a red light option. For its relatively inexpensive cost and durability, you can’t go wrong with this.

Intense Flood Light

In some situations, you just want a super bright light so you can see all of your surroundings at once. This Wurkkos Scuba light is completely submersible and provides sustained 2000 lumen intense white light. If you need a light to check out what that noise was on a dark stormy night, this is it. It has 4 settings of light intensity and comes with an excellent lithium-ion 18650 mAh rechargeable battery.

Local Area Lighting

The Warsun LED work light provides 1500 lumens of light from a flat panel of LEDs to light up a broad 500 square feet of the work area.

On the side, there are also 2 focused LED lights. I absolutely love this work light because it is so multifunctional. It can fast charge with USB-C or can charge via a built-in solar panel, providing unlimited energy. Its lithium-ion battery stores 4000 mAh of power to also charge your other electrical devices.

Its base has strong magnets to attach to the sheet metal of your vehicle and there are various settings of light intensity, with an option for red LEDs. It is lightweight in a compact form. It fits perfectly in the slot in front of your 4WD lever so it is always within reach.


Chem lights are unique in that they produce continuous low-level lighting for up to 12 hours, with no heat and no need for electricity.

I have Cyalume ChemLights throughout the house and in each vehicle. They store forever and will always work. The green color tends to provide the brightest light, yet it is a soft comforting glow, which can be a morale boost to a fearful kid during an emergency.

They come with a hook on the end to hang as a necklace, or from a line in your tent. If you tie one of these to a 4-foot piece of paracord and twirl it in a circle, the light can be seen for miles and can serve as a signal to emergency personnel.

3. Water

Stainless steel pot of boiling water for emergency water decontamination.

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Several years ago on a trip to Wyoming, with hot dry air and a continual wind, I was surprised at how quickly our group went through water. By noon on the first day, we each had drunk about a gallon. We were underprepared and that lesson has stuck with me since.

Your water needs will vastly change depending on your environment and activity. A general baseline is 1 gallon per person per day, which does not include cooking, cleaning, or washing. You’ll need more water if you’re in arid climates, high heat, high elevation, or are physically active.

There are a variety of water storage containers you can choose from. Keep in mind that 1 gallon of water weighs 8.3 lbs, so weight can quickly add up. To supplement your water needs, reduce weight, and offer a contingency, think about obtaining water from the environment.

In much of the United States, water is readily available. With a little work, obtaining water shouldn’t be much of a problem. I have the Sawyer Mini Filtration System, a LifeStraw, some Purification Tablets, and a good stainless steel pot to boil water if needed. In urban environments, having a Sillcock key is your ticket to endless water.

4. Fuel

Trailed 6-Gallon "Spare" Tank for the 5th Gen 4Runner for fuel reserve.

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The 5th Gen 4Runner is not known to be a very fuel-efficient vehicle. This gets even worse with added cargo, heavy steel mods, and larger tires. Having additional fuel on hand will easily extend your range and provide you with additional security in the event you need to run your vehicle for extended periods of time for heat or power.

Remember when hundreds of motorists were stranded for >24 hours on I-95 during a winter storm in January 2022? Many ran out of fuel and some died from hypothermia. Emergency situations happen, so never let your fuel tank get below half, and carry some extra fuel.

As many of us have oversized tires, the traditional spare tire area remains open and unused. You could get an additional fuel tank, such as the one Long Range America makes, or for a less expensive option, get a 6-gallon Trailed Spare pack. The main advantages of these options are that it keeps your vehicle’s center of gravity low, utilizes unused space, and is invisible to the untrained eye.

Of course, there’s always the Jerry can route as well. Just don’t carry a lawn mower gas can in your trunk. Oh, and when dealing with fuel, you must also have a readily accessible fire extinguisher.

5. Shelter

4Runner in snow as a storm shelter with snorkel.

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Your vehicle is the best shelter you can have. You are literally driving in a lockable, portable shelter with steel walls, which can be climate controlled and has power.

An emergency has to be really bad to make the decision to abandon your vehicle and face the elements. When in doubt, stay with your vehicle. If you are lost, stranded, stuck, or injured, a vehicle is going to be easier for rescuers to spot than an individual roaming around.

If you have lost fuel or power, focus on preserving heat with insulation. Even in the desert, it can get freezing at night. The clothes on your body act as a microenvironment. Get in the habit of layering clothes with a good wicking synthetic base layer, a middle insulating layer, and an outer weatherproof layer.

Stick with reliable brands such as Patagonia. You can find good Patagonia deals during their annual winter clearance sale, or even gently used Patagonia clothes on their Worn Wear site. The Patagonia Ironclad Guarantee is legit. I had a Patagonia winter jacket that started to delaminate after 20 years of use, and Patagonia replaced it with a brand-new winter jacket.

Good socks and lightweight Gore-Tex trail shoes, such as Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX are a must. Consider them a micro shelter for your feet.

Emergencies happen at unexpected times when you may be the least prepared, so these things should all be part of your normal routine. Have a good coat in the trunk, along with a change of clothes and socks. You can also throw in an emergency Bivy Sack as it takes almost no space and can help retain up to 90% of body heat while sleeping.

6. Communications & Navigation

Overland Communications includes Midland GMRS radio.

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In emergency situations, communications between family and friends allow you to know the location and status of each individual. It also lets you know who is in need of help, and who can provide help. Cell phones are great, as long as you have power and a cellular connection.

In emergencies, cell towers are often overwhelmed and calls may not be able to go through.

You might also be out of cell phone range. It is clear that alternate forms of communication and navigation are vital.

For short-range communications, realistically less than a mile in terrain, I use the Midland Xtra Talk Walkie Talkies. These are great general-purpose radios that are simple enough for kids to use and come with an NOAA weather scanner.

For a longer range, roughly 10-20 miles, a more powerful GMRS radio is needed, such as the Midland MXT275. This radio requires a license and can communicate on the same channel as the Xtra Talk Walkie-Talkies.

To communicate anywhere in the world, with the ability for accurate navigation, and integration with your phone, the Garmin InReach Mini is one of the best value subscription satellite communication devices there is. Having all 3 of these devices provides you with powerful communication capability and flexibility.

7. Power

Dometic power station PLB40 reserve power battery.

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If your vehicle is running, you have plenty of power available with the 5th Gen 4Runner. In an emergency situation, however, you may be trying to conserve fuel. To avoid depleting your 4Runner’s starter battery, a supplemental power system is ideal.

Perhaps one of the simplest additional power sources is the Dometic PLB40 Power Station. You no longer need to install a supplemental battery under the hood, with secure brackets and wiring. The Dometic PLB40 is capable of pass-through charging, allowing your 4Runner to charge the Power Station while running and not worrying about depleting your starter battery when your vehicle is off.

The Dometic PLB40 is extremely versatile, in that it can be charged via solar, AC, or 12V outlet. It will easily keep all your devices charged and it is designed to work seamlessly with the Dometic PB40 Portable Fridge.

If you happen to find yourself with a dead starter battery, you will need a jump. If nobody is around to jump your battery, the NOCO Boost HD GB70 Jump Starter has you covered. What I love about this battery pack is its versatility. In addition to jump-starting your 4Runner, it has a 400-lumen LED light on one end with various settings, and its large battery capacity can charge your phone or other devices.

More importantly, I can easily jump other dead vehicles without hooking up my own 4Runner and potentially putting my electrical system at risk.

8. Heat

Jetboil camping stove heating warm drink for emergencies to stay warm
Photo courtesy of Jetboil

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Retaining body heat is often overlooked during emergencies. Natural disasters often come with wetness and unexpected wide temperature swings, both of which sap your body of precious heat and calories trying to keep warm.

Remember, your first line of defense should be layers of quality clothing, including a warm hat.

It is much easier to maintain body heat than it is to recover lost body heat. During natural disaster emergencies, make every effort to stay warm and dry. Keep your feet dry and your head covered.

As stated before, your vehicle may become your primary shelter from the elements. If you have enough fuel, intermittently running your 4Runner’s HVAC system can provide the necessary warmth. Hang thermal sheets over the windows to further insulate, crawl in a sleeping bag, and try to minimize opening the doors. You’ll still need some degree of fresh air flow, so cracking a window a bit can provide this without losing too much heat.

A Jetboil Camping Stove can boil water within 100 seconds, which also minimizes your time outside your shelter in the elements. Having a hot drink or soup is a quick and easy way to internally warm your core. It’s also a great morale boost when the going gets tough. Don’t underestimate the value of a warm drink, especially with kids.

Tip of the day: don’t use a camping stove in an enclosed area due to dangerous fumes and the risk of fire.

Campfires are an effective way to provide heat and light, cook, and dry out clothing. BIC lighters and weatherproof matches should be in your vehicle. They are cheap and readily available. There should really be no excuse for not having BIC lighters everywhere. Things have really gone south if you are relying on a Ferro rod, a lens, or friction to start a fire.

With natural disasters or urban environments, you may struggle to find dry combustible material. You may consider having a compact fire log in your emergency kit, which stays dry, can readily light, and will consistently burn for a few hours. In a pinch, you could even heat up rocks, or a cast iron pan, and bring the warm objects inside your 4Runner to provide radiant heat.

9. Food & Hygiene

Energy bars, Clif bars, protein bars, nut bars, all provide nutrition and protein in survival emergencies.
Photo courtesy of Clif Bar & Company

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We’ve all heard that an adequately hydrated human can live for weeks without any food, but that human would be in a serious state of fatigue, delirium, and a compromised immune system.

When creating an emergency kit, pack some protein bars, nuts, and beef jerky for high-protein snacks. I’ve got plenty of Clif bars in my kit, which provides a great balance of calories with protein and carbohydrates and come in several flavors for variety.

Having 3 days’ worth of food is a reasonable quantity. Don’t just rely on high sodium dehydrated meals in case water is not readily available. Include a few cans of soup with the peel-back top. They’re reasonably healthy, are ready to eat, can be eaten hot or cold, and also provide some degree of hydration.

You can also use the empty can to boil water or to create a micro stove.

After emergencies and natural disasters, there will be a spike in illness related to a lack of proper hygiene. Imagine using your filthy hands to eat soup after wading through water contaminated by dead animals and who knows what else. A bottle of hand sanitizer, some biodegradable body wipes, toilet paper, and metal utensils are cheap, easy ways to mitigate your risk of illness or infection.

10. Recovery

Off Roading Gear recovery essentials for emergencies.

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A good rule of thumb is to never travel alone. If traveling in separate vehicles, you can help each other out and share the load of some equipment. In emergency situations, recovery can mean the difference between being stuck in hazardous conditions or safety. Having some recovery gear, including various straps and shackles in your vehicle at all times, and the knowledge of how to use them is essential.

Recovery also means the ability to make simple repairs, such as a punctured tire with the ARB Speedy Seal Tire Repair Kit and an air compressor, to ensure mobility.

Amongst the tools to have on hand, my favorite is the Leatherman Free P4. It is an extremely versatile work of art and should live in your 4Runner at all times. It fits perfectly in that random slot by the cupholders and I swear it’s what that slot was designed for.

Final Thoughts

4Runner TRD Pro in desert sand overlanding and well equipped for emergencies.

Being prepared for an emergency is not paranoia. In fact, having the proper knowledge and equipment should help you feel at ease in the event of a true emergency. It feels good knowing that your planning could save the life of a loved one, a stranger, or yourself. When you are creating your own setup, remember to ask yourself these essential questions:

  • Do I know how to use this?
  • Is there a lighter-weight, more condensed option?
  • Is this the appropriate spot to store this item?
  • Does this item have multiple uses where I can eliminate a different item to save space?

Don’t get overwhelmed by it all. The fact that you have read this makes you miles ahead of the crowd and has already increased your chances of survivability in an emergency. Preparing for emergencies is not an overnight process. It takes time and dedication, so pace yourself, be confident, and have fun!

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