If you haven’t heard by now (I’ve mentioned it quite a bit, lol), I recently went through an 8-day power outage following Winter Storm Riley. It was cold. I was miserable. I was grumpy. I may or may not have spent ten minutes in my car screaming obscenities at the top of my lungs, but I survived. Even though winter is (mercifully) almost over, the potential for power outages isn’t just a seasonal thing. I’m sharing everything I used to survive 8 days without power, plus a few things that I’m grabbing for the next time. I suggest stocking up BEFORE the lights go out!
Power Outage Survival Guide and Checklist
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As far as survival goes, we all need the same three basic things to stay alive: water, food, and shelter. Everything else is just icing. Still, that icing is pretty sweet and can mean the difference between just barely surviving on cold canned food or actually making it through a week without power with your sanity still intact. Never underestimate how much of an impact small comforts make on your ability to function! That said, I’m breaking this list into three categories: the things that will help provide your basic needs (must-haves), the things that you really should have but don’t absolutely need, and the things that you can survive without but that will keep you sane. 😀Here's everything you need to survive over a week without power! Check it out and stock up BEFORE the lights go out! Comes with handy free printable!
FYI, in case you’re wondering, a lot of people asked me why I didn’t go stay at a friend’s house or spring for a hotel. Bottom line: I have pets that can’t be left alone, and too many to take with me. Besides, the hotels were booked up pretty much everywhere within a 30-mile radius of us. Plus, you know, I’m not made of money!
Your basic needs: the MUST-HAVES for your power outage survival kit
For those who live on a city water line, you might be able to just turn on your faucet and get life-sustaining water without much of a hassle. Sure, it will be cold water (even on a city line, your hot water heater needs electricity to do its job), but it’s water. When you have a well, though, if you don’t have a backup source, you’re up the proverbial creek…except it’s a dry-bed creek. At the minimum, you’ll need:
- A gallon of clean drinking water per person per day. We didn’t go through quite that much, but between coffee, making noodles on the wood stove, and what not, it’s a good place to start. Some survival sites recommend even more, but that will get you through. Fortunately, our grocery store didn’t run out of water. Hot food, wood, gas cans, etc, yes, but not water. I bought a few gallons, then saved the jugs to fill up at a friend’s house (she had power).
- Two gallons of water for every toilet flush. No, you don’t need to flush your toilets to survive, but it sure is nice! I store a bunch of “cruddy” water jugs in the basement filled with flushing water. When it ran out, we melted snow. When that ran out, I took them over to my friend’s house to fill from her hose. Be conservative and only flush when absolutely necessary to maintain your sanity (and keep the place from getting stinky, because yuck).
Again, in a pinch, you can survive on just about anything edible. My town was completely out of hot food on the first day following the storm. I felt bad for the people who were waiting in line at the fast-food places for over an hour only to get to the window and discover that there was no food. Here’s what I am keeping on hand:
- Peanut butter and some sort of crackers that won’t go stale. If I have bread, even better, but if not, the crackers and PB make for a relatively healthy lunch.
- Ramen noodles: if you have even a rudimentary heat source, you can heat up water for them.
- Canned foods, like soup, Spaghetti-Os, etc. Again, you can heat them up with just about any heat source.
- A stainless steel pot, a camping pot, or both. Makes cooking a lot easier!
- A heat source: if you have a wood stove, use that. Just place your pot on top of it to heat up soups, water, etc. It takes longer than cooking on a stove, but it works. No wood stove? Use your grill (even in the winter). You can grab a portable grill to use in a pinch, just use common sense and only use it outdoors! Opt for something that uses charcoal or wood, as it’s going to be hard to find gas and propane if your whole town is out of power. Trust me on that!
- Ice (or snow) to keep some of your fridge stuff from going bad before you eat it. If you have fruits, veggies, etc, go ahead and start chomping on them now. Same with milk. If you want to keep your army of condiments, your apple juice, and a few other heartier items from rotting in the first 24 hours, get a ton of ice. We didn’t find ice the first few days, but we had plenty of snow! My mom packed containers full of it and stuck them in the fridge. The snow alone kept most of our food from going bad until we borrowed a generator (more on that below).
Even if your family only eats raw, or paleo, or some other weird fad diet (no offense), keep the processed canned food on hand anyway. When you’re hungry and can’t find food, you can make do with just about anything. I ate donuts for an entire day on the first day after the lights went out. Healthy? Nope, not even remotely, but I was too exhausted and stressed to even manage soup.
If you have a roof over your head and four walls around you, you have shelter. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s particularly comfortable shelter! If it’s below freezing outside, even that roof and those walls aren’t enough. After Riley hit, the temps went into the 40s for a day, then down into the 30s, then up, then down. At night, though, it was always cold. I used my own tips for staying warm during a power outage, but I was shivering and shaking quite a bit. That was even with the wood stove going constantly.
- If you have a heat source, like a wood stove or fireplace, do yourself a favor and stock up on some Duraflame Logs right now. I went through 5 big boxes of it because my town ran out of wood on day one and day 7. I was a little upset by how much money I was spending on them ($23.99 for a box of six in my town), but I went through a lot less of those than I did the bagged wood. With the bagged wood, I was spending $6 a bag and it was gone by the middle of the day. Duraflame just seems to burn hotter for longer, and no, I’m not being paid to say that.
- You’ll also need some strike-anywhere matches handy to light the fire. I recommend getting the long ones so you don’t run the risk of burning your fingers, and some burn spray on hand in case it does still happen.
- Keep plenty of blankets handy. Even if your power goes out in the middle of summer, the night can get chilly. Plus, if it’s rainy out, the blankets help keep your furniture from getting all gunked up by your dogs who insist on coming and going every five seconds. If it is cold out, here’s an idea that I didn’t try but am storing away for the inevitable next time: get an old blanket that you don’t care about, cut a hole in the middle, and wear it like a poncho. I made capes out of my blankets by just tying the ends around my shoulders, but then the front part of me was still cold.
- If you use a propane heater, you’ll need to make sure that you provide ventilation for it. It’s kind of a trade-off, because you have this one spot that’s nice and warm, but then you have a cold draft from an open window. Also, grab a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector, just to be safe. I have one from First Alert.
Should-Haves for Surviving a Power Outage
These things aren’t absolutely necessary, but they really help!
If you have a generator, then you really don’t need many of these tips, right? Don’t be a smarty pants, I’m not talking about the big ones that run your whole house. I’m talking something little and affordable. We do not have our own generator, but we’re looking into one now! I borrowed a small Honda one from a friend on day 4. It was enough to run my fridge, a lamp, and charge my phone (and Jake’s and my mom’s iPads). If anyone has advice on a small and affordable generator, please let me know. Right now, I’m looking at something like this WEN one.
Keep in mind that you can’t run a PC on a generator. Well, you can, but you’re taking a huge risk. My mom fried her motherboard by hooking her PC up to a generator back when we lost power due to Sandy. Some say you shouldn’t run your TV on it either, but I ran my “not-smart” flat screen and our Sony Blu-Ray player on it without incident. It really depends on the type of TV. FYI, you cannot run a space heater on a 2500-watt generator. We did and while it ran for about twenty minutes, it almost fried the generator.
- With a generator, you’ll also need some good extension cords. The thick ones, not the cheap little ones that you can get at the dollar store. You’ll also need some sort of splitter. My friend let us borrow those. The main extension cord came through the garage into the house from the generator. Then we put on the splitter and added extension cords as needed. If you have young kids or pets, get them long enough to run up over stuff instead of across your floor.
- You’ll also need gas cans. BUY THESE NOW! Seriously, I’m not kidding. Every place in my town was completely out by the time I got the generator. It’s also a good idea to map out a few gas stations off the beaten path (but not so far off that you’re likely to encounter roads with trees still down on them). The Sunoco near me had a line that extended literally nearly a half a mile long. Same with the WalMart gas station (plus, people were rude and parked all willy nilly, so I couldn’t even figure out which line to get in). I found a gas station away from the main roads that was all but deserted. You also want to map out those gas stations in case the main roads are closed. We had A LOT of road closures due to accidents and downed trees.
- Finally, if it’s going to rain or snow, you’ll need some sort of shelter for your generator. They sell covers specifically for this purpose, but we didn’t have time to get one. We made our own out half of of my son’s old playhouse (it came apart a while ago and we used the surviving half as shelter for my indoor/outdoor cat by backing it up against the fence), some tarp, and some window sealing plastic (for the little windows on the playhouse). It may not be pretty, and it’s probably not even the “right” way to cover a generator, but it worked!
You need to be able to see, right? Flashlights are great, but make sure you get a variety of them that take different batteries. My town ran out of C and D batteries by Day 1. I ordered a bunch from Amazon Prime, though, and they made it by Day 3. Their Amazon Basics batteries are pretty inexpensive.
I also grabbed this four-pack of battery-operated LED lanterns. Let me tell you, they are awesome! Bright light, and they don’t burn through batteries like crazy. We didn’t change the batteries once during the 5 days we used them, and Jake had his going all night long. They collapse for easy storage. To light them up, just pull up on the handle to un-collapse them. Batteries aren’t included, but they run on AA. Since most lights run on Cs and Ds, it’s easier to find batteries for them if you forget to stock up.
You can also get a few of those emergency candles that have the wick in the oil. We used two of those, but they don’t put off a lot of light. Using candles makes me a little nervous because of the cats and dogs. Solar lanterns are also okay, but I suggest getting one that uses solar as a backup and not the only power source. Otherwise, you’re out of luck if you forget to charge it up during the day.
A battery-operated radio
I have this great little NOAA radio that I got in my LivePrepared kit a couple of years ago. It’s kind of like this one, but a different brand. It’s battery-operated with AAA batteries, and also solar-powered and crank-powered. Plus, it has a built-in phone charger. It’s not enough to actually charge your phone for heavy use, but enough to let you make a 911 call if needed. I liked the NOAA ones because you can just slide the button over to NOAA and get weather updated constantly.
The radio is also a sanity-saver for when it’s just too quiet in the house. You can also, in theory, use it to get news updates about road closures, emergency shelters, etc. I say “in theory” because my town’s radio stations failed miserably at giving us frequent updates. My paper was no better! Can you believe that, one Day 1 when 30,000+ people were without power, the top story was about china patterns?!?
Backup chargers for your phone
I am totally drawing a blank at what these are called, but basically you plug them in before the power goes out and it gives you a backup charge for your phone. Power banks? Power cells? Ah! Portable chargers! That’s it! I wish I could find a good one that runs on batteries, but I didn’t have any luck there. I do have a couple little power banks that I charged up before the power went down. They were cheap, I think I got them at BigLots. They did get my phone from 30% back up to 80% before running out of steam.
It’s also a good idea to keep a charger in your car. My old car wouldn’t have worked because the lighter thing was dead, but my new car actually comes with little USB charging ports. It takes forever to charge your phone when you’re idling, so if it’s safe to drive around, do it on your daily journey for fresh water, food, and wood.
Nice to haves for keeping your sanity during a power outage
These things aren’t necessities by a long shot, but they will help you stay sane!
- A way to make coffee- if you’re a coffee snob like me, you can put ground coffee in empty tea bags and brew it in your camping pot. By day 3, though, I was tired of waiting an hour for coffee and just bought a jar of instant.
- Coloring books, puzzle books- Before we got the generator, my mom would spend the day coloring in adult coloring books to pass the time.
- Hard-copy books (not ebooks) – if you don’t have a way to keep your Kindle charged, you’ll need some regular books to occupy you during your down time. A battery-operated reading lamp is also a good idea!
- Board games for the whole family. This includes age-appropriate games for your kids, and some more “adult” fare for when they go to bed.
- A battery-operated camera, to document your experience (and to take pictures of trees down on wires so you can harass your electric company until they take care of them). Everyone seems to use their phone camera these days, but I think every home should have at least one camera that runs on batteries (and not the kind you have to plug into a wall).
I’m sure I’m forgetting something little, but these are pretty much all of the essentials and sanity-savers that I used to get through eight days without power. I did write things down throughout the outage, but my list vanished. Maybe it went into the fire to keep us warm! Being without power may not be the worst thing that can happen to you, but it’s definitely incredibly trying.
Oh, one more thing: if anyone tries to demean your frustration or emotions by saying something like “I bet the people of Puerto Rico would gladly switch places with you,” tell them to shove it! Someone on Twitter actually said that to me. In no way do I think my 8 days without power is worse than their months without, but it was still hard for me, especially since I literally rely on power for my livelihood. Saying crap like that is like saying “oh, you broke your leg? Suck it up! Some people lost their legs!” It may not be an amputation, but it still freaking hurts! Don’t EVER let anyone make you feel petty for feeling the way you do, whether it’s about an 8-day power outage or a glass of spilled milk! You are entitled to your feelings. 😀
Can you think of anything I forgot on this power outage survival checklist? Tell me below!