Looking for some way to keep a respectable amount of survival supplies in a discrete container? Consider building a 5 gallon survival bucket. You can also make the option to turn it into a bucket backpack if you suddenly need to move on foot!
What American home doesn’t have at least three of 5 gallon buckets laying around somewhere? There are soooo many different ways to use these buckets. Yet another is as a cheap (and easy) survival kit solution!
These containers can hold a large amount of supplies for whatever gets thrown your way. To prove it, I went ahead and made my own! Bonus – you can easily turn it into a bug out bag “backpack” if you suddenly have to move out on foot.
Ways to Use a 5 Gallon Survival Bucket
As I mentioned, one of the best things about using a bucket to store survival supplies is that it’s discreet. Toss a cover on the bucket and no one will thinking anything of it. Buckets of this type are everywhere! Usually there’s nothing of interest in them. If anything, people store things they don’t want to touch, so it’s one of the last places people would look for any goods. Consider it also as one of the places to hide valuables in your home.
Natural Disaster Supply Bucket – Live in an area prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters? A 5 gallon survival bucket filled with supplies specific to natural disasters is a great “set it and forget it” way to stock your gear. Put a watertight lid on it as just in case that disaster involves flooding.
Bug Out Bucket – Depending on how much gear you have, how far you might have to travel, etc., a 5 gallon bucket is a fine option for holding various bug out supplies. It can get tossed into the back of a vehicle when you need to move out, it can be (temporarily) buried, and, as we’ll discuss at the end, you can turn it into a backpack if needed.
Ice Fishing – Okay, this may not make sense to people who don’t live in northern areas, not is it necessarily prepping, but a lot of people that go ice fishing use 5 gallon buckets to tote their gear. It sets easily in the snow, it keeps things dry, and – it’ll hold fish!
General Emergency Kit – Your bucket can also just be an all-purpose, toss everything in general emergency kit. Think of it like a non-specific, secondary cache of survival gear. That was my approach to making one, so let me show you what I did….
My 5 Gallon Bucket Emergency Kit
While you have to start with a 5 gallon bucket, let’s just bypass that step, because really – you already have some. Just grab an empty one.
My next step was to attach a Gamma Seal lid to it. Most preppers are already familiar with these as they’re great for food storage, allowing you to just unscrew the lid versus prying it off. Easy access!
These cost a bit more than the stock lids that will come with your bucket, but your fingernails will thank you. A Gamma lid eliminates that problem and does a much better job of keeping moisture out of your bucket as well – meaning whatever food you place in the bucket is going to last a long longer than it would have otherwise.
- Gamma Seal Lids: Turn any standard utility bucket into an airtight storage container. Great for storing pet food, livestock feed, charcoal, smoke chips and more. Fits 3.5 - 7 gallon buckets.
- Food Safe: Made with heavy duty BPA free HDPE Plastic. Safe to store pet and human food as well as other household items.
First Aid Kit – Next I tossed in a spare off-the-shelf First Aid kit. Nothing fancy here, but you can’t have a 5 gallon survival bucket without one.
This was a small one I picked up from Adventure Medical Kits, and its surprisingly well-stocked for its size. There are plenty of varieties of bandages, gauze, antibiotics, and various creams within the kit as well. It came with a button compass and an emergency whistle as well, so those were pretty cool additions. You can, of course, also make your own.
Emergency Mylar Sleeping Bags (2) – Emergency Essentials makes the ones pictured here, and I think they’re pretty well made. I’m a big believer in Mylar blankets, and always do what I can to ensure that I have one in whatever kit is close by.
With these, should there be any need to stay an extended period of time out in the cold, I’m assured that I’ll have what I need to keep my family warm.
Emergency Ponchos (2) – A few good emergency ponchos are an underrated survival prep. I keep these nearby pretty much all the time. Getting wet when you don’t have the appropriate clothing can quickly turn into a dangerous situation, so in a survival situation you need to ensure that you can stay dry no matter how you’re dressed.
Tissue Packets (3) – My backpacking trips have taught me how valuable these are as toilet paper out in the woods. They’re cheap, easy to find, and squish down into just about any space that you want to pack them in. You should start including these in all of your kits, if you don’t already do so.
DIY MREs (3)– After having recently purchased a vacuum sealer, I began experimenting with making my own MREs. You can read about how I did it here.
You have to have food to survive, so this helps to ensure that my family would at least have enough food to make it through a day not on an empty stomach. It’d be ideal to have more than this, for sure, but space is at a premium in these buckets, and you have to make do with what you have.
Hot Hands Packets (2) – Another item that’s always in my vehicle – just in case – are Hot Hands. Combined with a heat-retaining Mylar blanket, these can be a real game changer in cold weather.
Emergency Essentials Fuel and Fire Starter – My DIY MREs don’t come with their own heaters like military-grade ones do, so I threw in yet another cool piece of gear from Emergency Essentials (can you tell that I like them yet?) – their fuel and fire starter.
This stuff lights really fast and stays lit long enough to allow me to cook whatever MRE it is that I want to heat up.
Forever 50 Fire Striker – Those teeny little magnesium fire strikers drive me up a wall. Ever since discovering the Forever 50 from Minuteman Rocket Stoves, it’s been my primary fire striker of choice. It throws a massive shower of sparks and is actually pleasant to use.
SteriPen – As always, my favorite form of water purification is going with me, the SteriPen. It’s a bit more expensive than some similar products of the same size, but like with all things – you get what you pay for.
This utilizes UV light to kill everything. Viruses, protozoa, bacteria – you name it. This makes it so you don’t have to worry about the little sickness-causing boogers in your water.
Needle-Nose Pliers and an Adjustable Wrench – Out of all the tools on my farm, these are probably two of the ones that I end up using the most. Needle-nose pliers can be used for just about anything, and the ones I’ve included have a wire cutter on them as well, something that could be very beneficial in a post-disaster urban environment.
An 8’x11’ Tarp – You have to have some type of shelter within a survival kit, and I’ve found that a tarp will do the trick just fine. There’s a reason they’re a common item all of the contestants use on the show Alone.
I like the size of an 8’x11’, and picked this one up from a Harbor Freight. They offer a 5’x7’ size as well that’s significantly cheaper, but in my experience that’s too small to do much with. You’d have to lay under it just right to not get wet in a rainstorm at night, and if there’s more than one person using it, forget it. It’s best to just go with a larger size.
Water Bottles (3) – While a means of purification is a must, you also should have some water already at hand as well. This helps to ensure that you can stay hydrated until you actually get to a point where you can find some water.
From past backpacking experience, that can be quite a longer distance from where you are than you would imagine. This would come in handy for cooking some of the DIY MREs as well. Rotate your water!
Paracord – You can’t do much with a tarp without Paracord, so I’ve included a pretty substantial length of it here. I’ve found that tarp shelters often require more cord than what you would think, so I like to go overboard on this one when I can.
Camping Pots (2)– Metal pots are invaluable in a wilderness situation, allowing you to cook the food that you already have and the food that you find along the way as well. And if it really comes down to it, you can use these to boil water so that you have something safe to drink as well.
These are just from a cheap Coleman set I picked up at Walmart over a decade ago, but they’ve served me well on numerous trips out into the woods. If you want to explore other options check out our article on bug out cookware.
Two Knives – I’ve included a fixed blade and a folder. I like having the redundancy here. Really, if it came down to it I’d probably already have two other blades in my EDC, so this would give my family four knives at their disposal post-disaster.
Two Flashlights and a Vont Headlamp – Setting up camp in the dark is no fun and can be dangerous as well. I’ve thrown in two flashlights that I had laying around, and a recently acquired Vont headlamp.
Two Walmart Bags – Plastic shopping bags are one of those everyday items that are just useful. You’ll find at least two in every survival kit that I craft. If you’re going out foraging mushrooms, picking huckleberries, or nabbing crawdads, Walmart bags help to make the process much more convenient.
Matches and a Bic Lighter – In a disaster situation, it’s the Bic lighter that I’m going to turn to first. It’s the most advanced technological option, and it’s the most convenient as well. However, once that Bic has run its course, I like having matches as a backup.
A Small Multitool – I picked this up in a geocache years ago. You never know when you’ll need a multitool, and they make a perfect addition to a survival bucket.
Digital BOB – Have you read our post about making your own digital BOB yet? This is something that can save you a lot of heartache in the future. Digital copies of important documents, family photos, and other information can all be easily stowed here for easy access post-disaster if your originals are destroyed. You should make one.
Purell – A.k.a., 2020 coronavirus gold. This is the last of what was once a large stash I’d put away. Within the 5-gallon bucket of survival it will help you to avoid post-disaster illnesses that are commonly caused by eating food with hands covered in bathroom germs. Mind the expiration date!
If anything, if there ends up being a hole in the tarp shelter, this will help patch things up. This should be included in just about every kit that you make.
Bandana – Sweat rag, pot holder, pot cleaner, water strainer – if you have a job that you need a piece of fabric for, the bandana will do the job. I always have two with me when I go backpacking, and like stashing them in my survival kits when I find them laying around.
Fire Tube – Who likes breathing smoke as they attempt to get a fire started? Not me. This cool little tube telescopes out to about two feet in length allowing you to still get a steady supply of oxygen to your tinder while keeping your lungs as far away from the smoke as possible.
A survival bucket requirement? No, but a nice feature nonetheless.
Radio – The radio I tossed in here is cheap, but it’s better than nothing – and this is, after all, intended to be a cheap survival bucket, a secondary emergency cache.
A radio helps to ensure that we can gather some degree of intel while out in the bush and listen to music as a form of entertainment. I pretty much always have a ham radio HT within reach as well, so this would in essence be a backup radio.
How to Turn it into a Bucket Backpack
There is one quick and easy way to turn your 5 gallon bucket into a survival bucket backpack – that’s to buy a strap designed to carry it on your back. These aren’t going to break the bank, and the upside is that you can use the strap for bucket use in all kinds of other ways – picking apples, ice fishing (as mentioned), foraging, etc. If you have to carry any bucket for an extended distance, this makes total sense.
- Transforms your 5 gallon buckets into a new heavy duty hauling backpack
- Multipurpose: Useful for fishing, apple picking and athletics
For the more hardcore option, you can buy a bucket backpack outright, something already equipped with the bucket, attachments for water bottles, and even a soft seat cover that makes it double as a chair. Perfect for carrying hunting supplies into the field or even just snacks to the kids’ sports games.
- Reinforced polyester fabric featuring a Desert tan color
- Fully insulated interior accommodates standard 5 gallon bucket (bucket included)
If you want an even higher-end product, something that comes with a more comfortable frame, waist belt, adjustable straps, and all the associated bells and whistles, you can also consider hooking your 5 gallon bucket into the Mystery Ranch Back Strap. Mystery Ranch is known for high-end products and this pack frame is designed for attaching and hauling different containers of different sizes. Very versatile.
As you can see, a survival bucket of this type should give anyone a pretty good shot at surviving out in the woods for a few days. However, note that in this case, my EDC really helps me to round out this kit.
I virtually always have a ham radio, a gun, two knives, and various other gear on my person at all times. If you have that and a BOB at hand, you’ve got quite the makings of an off-grid survival camp!
Everybody’s 5 gallon bucket emergency kit is going to look slightly different though. Use what you have laying around your house already, and don’t feel that you have to copy our bucket to the letter.
What items that you already have could be used to boost your chances out in the wild? What would you include in your own bucket? Let us know in the comments below!