20 Things to Have on Hand for Power Outages

By Sonja Stewart on 13 January 2011 (Updated 19 August 2013) 13 comments
Photo: JSmith Photo

I moved from Southern California to a tiny town in the wet wilds of Oregon four years ago. Three months after moving, we had a hurricane (seriously!) and lost power for five days. Five! The cell phone towers went out as well. Basically, it became the 1800s, and there are important things I learned from that experience.  Here is a list of affordable items to make sure you have when you're heading into a possible power outage. Peace of mind is priceless, and these staples are sure to make your “lights out” experience more comfortable.

1. A Coleman stove and plenty of propane

Even better are the stoves you can use indoors. Never cook indoors with a propane portable stove. Ever. I don't care how cold it is outside and how much you need your coffee; bundle up, and cook on the back patio. That's why the indoor stoves are superior in my mind. If you have a gas stove, lucky you. Disregard this one. (See also: Cooking Without Electricity: Hurricane Preparedness With Style)

2. A french press or camping coffee pot for coffee

Instant coffee bites.

3. A stash of pre-ground coffee...

...if you usually grind your own every day.

4. Batteries

Cs and Ds seem to power all those lanterns and things. But get AAs as well.

5. Matches

6. A lantern, either battery-powered or oil

We have both. The kids get the battery-powered one, and we get the romantic oil one. 

7. A spare bulb or extra oil for the lantern

You should get extra batteries for the electric one as well.

8. Candles

We use the long-burning ones. Never leave them unattended, though. It gets easy to forget about them.

9. A car cell-phone charger

10. A car inverter

These little things can run power off of your engine. Go ahead; check your email in your car. That is, if your internet is working.

11. A cord phone

Cordless phones lose power and won't work when the power goes out. (Go figure.) Keep a cord phone in case your cell phone's dead and you need to make an emergency call.

12. Ice

You need lots of ice and a cooler to keep your fridge stuff inside.

13. Powdered milk

Stock it if you have kids or really like milk. You can buy rice milk on sale and store it in your cupboards as a cheaper alternative.

14. Whiskey

Everyone told me to have a bottle of this on hand. I don't drink it, but it's got to be good for something.

15. Canned goods...

...of things you'll actually want to eat. Think warm chili, soups, or creamed corn, if that's your thing.

16. Sleeping bags

For cold weather.

17. Baby wipes

If it's been a while in between showers, no hot water and cold weather makes for one awful shower experience. Just focus on the hot spots.

18. A weather radio

Get one that is either self-charging or runs on AA batteries. I lived off this thing. I got all my news from the local station. I learned where to get hot coffee and where shelters were. I also learned where people were using generators to host a community movie night for the kids. These little things make you feel human when things get rough.

19. Board games

These will make a hard experience more bearable.

20. Treats

Have some chocolate, cookies, or some other sweet things around. The little things help your psyche a lot.

Hopefully, you won't lose your power for too long. But even if you do, you can rest assured that you're prepared.

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Guest's picture
Amy

Forgot the good old fashioned can opener for all of those canned goods... will need water as well. We wash out used gallon milk jugs, fill them with water, and date them. It's nice to have enough water to refill the tank on your toilet. After awhile that becomes a very unpleasant situation! Must flush!!

Sonja Stewart's picture

Yes of course, the can opener! As for the water, you know that's an entire article itself. Water is a must, but I didn't think about refilling the toilet tank. What a luxury! In emergencies, if you get a heads up that water will be shut off, take every available container and fill it with water. If you think about washing hands, dishes, cooking...you need a lot, so every possible container is needed.

Guest's picture
My Dog Foster

When water can be an issue, I always fill some jugs and the bathtub (lucky to have one of those big old fashioned claw foot ones). I have used the tub water for the dogs, simple cleaning or washing and for flushing. It holds a lot of water.

Guest's picture
Jerry

There are flashlights and radios (and some combos) that contain a hand cranked generator. I also like my backpacking stove - a gallon of Coleman fuel [naphtha] goes a long way.
A few drops of bleach in each gallon of water helps keep it from becoming an algae farm.
A cell phone charger is probably a waste, since most towers' batteries are only good for about 8 hours. Landlines should be good for several days, and many central offices have diesel generators for backup. For communications "when all else fails" consider getting an amateur radio license. Anyone should be able to pass the exam after a few weeks with a study guide, and many local clubs offer classes. Basic handheld radios start around $100, base/auto + antenna start around $200. See arrl.org for more info. [Disclosure: my amateur call sign is N3WSG and I am a member of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service]

Sonja Stewart's picture

I love the idea of an amateur radio license. Actually, truth be told, my husband loves it more. However, our landlines went out for two days. It was a real mess. Only roaming cell phones worked when our nightmare happened. But HAM radios were a hit, too, so thanks for that tip. Also, another thing to have on hand is an old non-cordless phone. When the power goes out, so does the cordless phone.

Guest's picture
Guest

Even better than candles, you can now get battery operated candles. I've never had to change the battery, but I think it's the button type like you have in your watch. No worries about fire, and they even flicker. Some even have timers.

Guest's picture
Fred

Of course the Red Cross has a pretty good list

http://goo.gl/1o72P

Stick to the basics. Chances are you are not going to need this stuff for a long time. When you do need it, you need it to work. Candy that has sat for 6 years --- probably not such a good thing. Also, by keeping it simple, you are more likely to refresh your supplies on an annual basis.

Finally, dont forget about your pets - both in terms of supplies - and what your plans are if you have to bug out.

Guest's picture
Sharon

I have most of these things already, however, it wouldn't hurt to buy a few more candles. We are fortunate to have a gas stove and a gas fireplace. I started to chuckle with No. 20. These items are staples in our home. :)!

Guest's picture
gt0163c

Also, don't forget about stashing some emergency supplies in the not-home places you regularly spend time. For most people, that mean your car and work. You probably don't need near a lot. But it's nice to have a flashlight in your desk in case of a power outage at work. And a sweat shirt, granola bars, bottle of water and deck of cards will make the wait much more bearable should you get stuck in your car somewhere.

Guest's picture
Jane

I make beeswax candles, so of course, I agree that you should have some on hand, but even better for a power outage is olive oil lamps. You can make them yourself, or buy them. 1/4 cup of (cheapest) olive oil lasts something like all day & if they tip over, the oil is not flammable!
A wood-burning stove is great (keeps you warm & you can cook on it), as is a wired telephone & a crank/solar radio. Please store your water in glass gallon bottles (not plastic - it leaches). I also have a composting toilet so I don't have to worry about flushing!

Guest's picture
Geckotraveler

We lived through a hurricane in Florida and these are some great tips. Here are a couple of other items I would add based on our experience of living in a disaster zone with no electricity for 2 weeks.

Cash is also good to have on hand. Better to keep some small bills and change because making change can be difficult for people.

If you happen live in a hot climate and have no electricity, like we did for a 2 week period, candles get very hot when there is no air conditioning. Battery operated lanterns or lights hooked to a generator are better.

Hand santizizer is a must.

Paper plates and utensils so that you aren't worried about washing dishes with no hot water and possible contaminated water.

A washing machine is also a great item to use to fill with a large amount of water.

Guest's picture
Harvey Miller

Just to add to the above what wasn't mentioned but is important:

Having a gas burner in your kitchen
Keeping and renewing at least 15-40 gallons of filtered water (or buying large sized water bottles which stays good indefinitely) and/or having a water filter set-up, one portable, one built in to your kitchen sink.
Having the proper clothing for all seasons. (Note, in the summer, you can jump into a cold shower to stay cool)
Having your home water either solar heated or gas heated.
Having walkie talkies to communicate with neighbors that you may be sharing things with (I did so with my next door neighbor who was, initially, sharing my generator but for whom I lent a 1000 watt sine wave inverter to, saving their food and providing energy for their lights, TV, DVD while their refrigerator was on, though sometimes they had to cycle their fridge during times it wouldn't be opened for awhile, all from their car's engine).
Having prescriptions for all medications prefilled out (sans the date) to be used in emergencies.
Having a bicycle with a trailer or panniers, or a backpack.
Staying in good physical condition.

Guest's picture
Guest

plenty of firewood too. having the firewood ahead of time is a great idea. I remember in the October snowstorm 2011 my family had plenty of firewood ahead of time.