Friday, September 11, 2015

The Realist: Atlas Industries Be Ready Bag Family Emergency Preparedness Kit

[A guest post by the Realist]

The Be Ready Bag Family Emergency Preparedness Kit.

Walmart seems to have started stocking a few items geared to emergency preparations, as opposed to camping/sporting goods items that may also be useful in an emergency. A few months ago, it was the Ultimate Survival Technologies emergency food ration bars. A few weeks ago, I saw the Atlas Industries, Inc., Be Ready Bag (BRB) Family Emergency Preparedness Kit - a turnkey 72-hour emergency kit for three people - show up on the shelves. (Others have reported seeing them as early as late 2014 in their Walmart stores.) This emergency kit is manufactured by Atlas Industries, Inc., located in Encinitas, California. I don't know why Atlas Industries decided a family was three people, but that is how they describe their kit, and there are three of many items in the kit.

There are plenty of turnkey 72-hour kits on the market, but this is the first time I'd actually seen one offered for sale in the flesh at a reasonable price - $49.97. I was curious about the kit, but substantive reviews of the kit were lacking. I only found a couple YouTube stream-of-consciousness videos that inventoried the items as they were pulled out of the backpack and ended with the reviewer whining about how difficult it was to light the matches. They didn't critically look at any items in the kit.

Given the dearth of substantive reviews of this emergency kit, I decided to spend $50 and do a detailed review of it, highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'll also discuss whether or not this kit is a good starting point for a personalized kit, and compare it to what it cost to put together a similar kit from scratch.

This kit is a generic emergency kit, and is not tailored to any specific type of emergency. If you live in an arid area, you may want to store additional water. If you live in a cold area, you may want additional clothes/blankets for warmth. Or, if you live in an earthquake or tornado prone area, you may want to add a wrench to shut off natural gas to your home.

Contents of the emergency kit.

EMERGENCY KIT COMPONENTS REVIEW

Below, I review the various components of the emergency kit, trying to order them from best to worst: Good, Fair, Poor, Bad, and Ugly. "Good" items are reasonable quality goods I might choose to include in a custom-built emergency kit. "Fair" items are acceptable, and I may or may not have included in a custom-built kit. "Poor" items I would want to enhance or replace. "Bad" and "Ugly" items need to be discarded and replaced with suitable quality items

The Good:

Food Bars. The packaging claims there are 10,800 total calories in the kit. The food consists of five vacuum packed pouches of eight food bars per pouch. Each package looks like it has four bars in it, but the 8 bars are stacked in a 4 by 2 configuration. Each bar is individually formed, and two bars are wrapped in loose paper. Each individual bar is 270 calories. There is no indication who actually manufactured them, and the three-year shelf life is somewhat short for emergency ration bars of this type, which typically have a five year life. The food bars are packed together in a cardboard box, which adequately protects the vacuum pouches from being damaged during normal handling.

The food bar is quite crumbly, reminding me of the Datrex food bars. It has a slightly sweet pastry taste, but I'm at a loss to describe it any better. The food bar is quite dry, so I'd recommend having something to drink handy when eating one of these bars.

Water Purification Tablets. The kit comes with 30 Aquatabs branded sodium dichloroisocyanurate water purification tablets. Each tablet will purify two liters of "clean water", or 750 ml of filtered/decanted dirty water. (An instruction sheet is included with the Aquatabs.) In other words, if the water comes from a potentially compromised municipal water system, the 30 tablets will purify 60 liters (15.8 gallons) of water. If the water came from a dirty source with suspected organic solids like a river or lake, the 30 tablets will purify 22.5 liters (5.9 gallons) of water. Like most other water purification tablets, the Aquatabs will kill most pathogens found in the water but do not remove chemical contamination. Worst case, the tablets will purify 2.5 liters (2.6 quarts) of water per person per day - the equivalent of 5 half-liter water bottles per person per day.

Collapsible 2 Liter Water Bottle. This water bottle actually appears to be reasonably well made from heavy plastic sheeting. There are no sharp corners to create stress points when filled, and it incorporates a handle for carrying. A collapsible water container like this is actually a good item to include in an emergency kit since it takes up very little space when stored, and is sized to be used conveniently with the supplied water purification tablets.

Dust Masks. The kit comes with three 3 NIOSH N95 dust masks. These will keep you from ingesting dust if in a dusty environment or digging through rubble. They will not protect you from airborne biological or chemical threats.

Backpack. The backpack is the size of your typical "book bag" or day pack, and seems to be reasonably well made for its intended purpose. The pack is bright red. Besides the main compartment, it has a smaller secondary zippered pocket and two mesh side pockets for water bottles. All of the supplies come packed in the main compartment.

The Fair:

Emergency Blankets. The kit comes with three aluminized mylar blankets. These are like those sold everywhere and included with every emergency kit. Because these blankets are so cheap, I'd be tempted to buy several more blankets as spares in case one tears or is otherwise damaged.

Alternatively, you might consider buying an Adventure Medical Kits SOL emergency blanket for each member of the household. These are available for around five dollars each and are much more durable than the inexpensive aluminized mylar blanket.

Bottled Water. The kit contains three 8 ounce bottles of water. This provides some water to be consumed in the immediate aftermath of an emergency, delaying the need to find a water source. The water in my kit was bottled in Arizona. I would have preferred larger bottles of water, but this size reflects a compromise to facilitate efficient packaging of the kit.

Hand Sanitizer. The 2 ounce hand sanitizer is the typical jelled alcohol product you see on the store shelves. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also be used to help start fires.

Tissues. The kit contains one package of ten four-ply facial tissues. I guess this is intended to be used for both toilet paper and snotty noses.

Ponchos. The kit comes with three lightweight plastic ponchos. These are like the cheap disposable ponchos sold everywhere. They will keep you dry, but the plastic is so thin they will easily tear.

Nylon Paracord. Ten meters (32.8 feet) of a nylon sheathed rope. Inside the rope are 13 strands of some unidentifiable cordage - it doesn't melt like a synthetic fiber. The rope is thicker than standard 7-strand 550 paracord. It is adequate for its intended purpose, but has less potential utility than real 550 paracord.

Emergency 5-in-1 Survival Tool. This is the typical orange whistle, compass, mirror, matchbox, and flint gadget. These are sold everywhere, and this unit is just like the others. The compass markings are not luminous. The matchbox was empty.

If you intend to keep this gadget in the kit, fill the matchbox with some strike anywhere matches padded with some cotton so they don't rattle.

Note Pad and Pen. The note pad is a pocket sized (approximately 2.75 by 4 inches) and contains 50 unlined pages. The pen is a four inch long retractable ballpoint pen.

Playing Cards. A standard 52-card deck plus two jokers. The cards are printed on lighter than normal plastic-coated card stock. They are not casino quality cards, but are adequate for their intended purpose.

The Poor:

Light Sticks. The kit comes with three individually packaged 6-inch chemical light sticks for signaling and light. The packing does not indicate the color or operational life of the light stick. Inside the light stick package is a short nylon cord to facilitate hanging it or tying it to something. The light sticks are the common green color. Their performance is subpar, providing what I would consider useful illumination for around an hour, then a marker/indicator level of light for another 12 to 14 hours. One of the three light sticks put out very little light initially and faded quickly. In contrast, the two-for-a-dollar light sticks from Dollar Tree provide more initial light and longer duration light.

First Aid Kit. While the 30 piece first aid kit contains a triangular bandage and safety pins to immobilize an arm, it is otherwise designed to only handle minor cuts and scrapes. It also contains tweezers and scissors. It has surprisingly few (8) standard adhesive bandages.

The first aid kit pouch has enough space to add items to significantly improve it. More bandages, larger bandages, larger gauze pads, analgesic pills like aspirin or acetaminophen, triple-antibiotic ointment packets, and more advanced items could be added to significantly improve it.

Tube Tent. The tube tent package gives measurements of 8 feet long by 6 feet wide by 3 feet high. Doing the math, that is a tube with a 14.5 foot circumference. It comes with roughly 20 feet of lightweight nylon cord to support the tent. I honestly don't know what the fascination is with tube tents. The one time I saw one used, the person using it woke up the next morning soaked in the water they had perspired and exhaled during the night that had condensed on the inside of the plastic tube.

The tube tent can be adapted for use as a tarp or ground cloth. Personally, I'd dump it for a regular tarp or a real military poncho.

LED Flashlight with Batteries. The flashlight looks superficially like the old-fashioned 2 D-cell flashlight with an incandescent bulb, but has three LEDs in place of the single bulb. The kit comes with two heavy-duty carbon-zinc D-cells. The flashlight puts out more light than I remember the original incandescent bulb flashlight putting out, but less light than the typical LED flashlight.

It is definitely better than nothing, but I'd probably replace it with a good quality (and higher cost) LED flashlight that is powered by AA cells that are common with the batteries used to power the radio.

Matches. The matches are claimed to be weatherproof matches. Curiously, labeling on the match bottle says to store them in a cool dry place. These matches are of the "safety match" variety in that the match head must be struck against a red phosphorous striker surface. They really are pretty poor matches. The first match I tried failed to light, a second match did light, but did not burn very energetically. In contrast, some cheap generic Chinese weatherproof matches lit the first time, and burned more energetically. UCO brand stormproof matches lit the first time and burned very energetically. With all three different matches, it seems that the wood of the match stick is treated with a fire retardant so the match extinguishes as soon as the propellant has completed its burn.

At a bare minimum, I'd add a butane cigarette lighter and replace the matches with a higher quality product such as the UCO match kit.

AM/FM Radio with Batteries. The supplied radio is the Yima QQ-26 radio - yeah, I've never heard of Yima either. It works, but I'm underwhelmed by it. The specified tuning range is 530 to 1600 KHz, with my sample tuning 530 to 1630 KHz. The AM broadcast band in the US is 530 to 1700 KHz (expanded 1993), so it doesn't quite cover the entire AM broadcast band - not that I consider this a serious handicap. It has an undersized ferrite bar antenna (around 1.25 inches, compared to a more typical 2 to 2.5 inch length in inexpensive radios) and poor selectivity (the ability to pick out one station between two other adjacent stations). Internal construction quality is below average.

Test your radio. Maybe I got a bad unit. At a minimum, I'd replace the radio with the similar Sony ICF-S10MK2.

The Bad:

Work Gloves. These gloves are described as "heavy duty real leather gloves". They are the typical canvas glove with leather on the palm and finger areas. This style of glove typically uses split leather. I wasn't expecting a lot given my prior experience with inexpensive (two-dollars at a flea market) work gloves of this style. These gloves were worse. The leather is almost paper thin. They will provide some protection if digging through debris. They will not protect your hands from thorns or other sharp pointed hazards. Further, they won't last very long if you are trying to avoid blisters while doing something like digging with a shovel.

At a minimum, I'd replace these gloves with similar appearing work gloves sold for a few dollars a pair at Walmart or your favorite big-box home improvement store.

The Ugly:

Multitool. The multitool is described as having pliers, knife, Philips screwdriver, straight screwdriver, can opener, bottle opener, file, leather punch, and being stored in a fabric carrying case. IMMEDIATELY THROW THIS MULTITOOL AWAY! Bar none, it is the worst multitool I have ever seen. The metal pieces that are supposed to form the straight screw drivers, leather punch, and can opener have no grinding or forming to complete their transition into useful tools. For example, what I suspect should have been a small straight screwdriver was a square metal peg. The knife has a terrible edge on it - a "wire" edge. If you are counting on this multitool to save your life, you are going to die.

On the left are several individual tools from the kit's multitool. Note how they are rounded and lack sharpening or grinding to become functional tools. On the right are individual tools from other multitools to illustrate how those tools should be finished to be functional.

High quality multitools, such as the Leatherman products, can cost more than this entire emergency kit. But, there are acceptable quality multitools available for around $10 - these tend to be prominently displayed around Fathers Day and Christmas. Even the cheap $2 pocket knife sold at Walmart would be an improvement over the multitool provided with this kit.

KIT AS STARTING POINT

As I did a lot of "window shopping" trying to find sources for the emergency kit, I came to the conclusion that Atlas Industries was quite resourceful in buying and assembling the components that make up this kit. In some cases, I think they cut corners they should not have cut. In other cases, they managed to provide tremendous value that cannot be matched by a retail buyer.

Atlas Industries did a lot of their own branding of the various components, perhaps to obscure their supplier sources. In most cases, the products are sufficiently generic that supplier sources are not important to this analysis.

This emergency kit can provide a starting point for building a better emergency kit. Just four main components - food bars, backpack, collapsible water bottle, Aquatabs water purification tablets - cannot be purchased for the $50 the entire kit costs. Buying equivalents of just those four components at retail would cost in excess of $60. And, I estimate trying to assemble the entire kit from retail sources (including aggressive use of ebay and Amazon) would cost $140 to $150.

I've suggested a few improvements in the component review above. Of critical importance, I'd replace the multitool, replace/add fire starting implements, and add to the first aid kit. Further, I would be strongly tempted to replace the flashlight with a quality AA-powered LED flashlight.

I'd further make a few low-cost additions, such as a partial roll of toilet paper (put it in a zip-lock bag), a few feet of duct tape wrapped around an old credit/gift card, a small travel-size package of baby wipes, a small sharpening stone for the knife, and at least one large one-gallon size zip-lock freezer bag to hold opened food bar packages.

I would replace the cheap batteries supplied with the kit with name brand (Duracell, Energizer, Rayovac) long shelf-life alkaline or lithium batteries, and include extra batteries. Also, do not leave the batteries in the battery powered devices - store the batteries in an external container (or leave them in their original packaging).

I'd further be tempted to replace the Emergency 5-in-1 Survival Tool gadget with an inexpensive real compass and a regular whistle.

FINAL COMMENTS

Preppers have probably already put together an emergency kit tailored to their specific needs that is superior to this kit. For people who are just starting to realize they may need some emergency preparedness supplies in their home, this kit can provide a good starting point when the updates I recommend above are made.

I remain a bit perplexed by the decision to make an emergency kit that can support three people. It would certainly work well for two people, giving them a little more time and some spare items. And, it would be great for a single person (e.g. a college student - be aware of any campus rules regarding knives on campus).

The kit could easily be expanded to support four people. Add a 3600 calorie emergency ration package (or two 2400 calorie packages), an emergency blanket, a poncho (or a couple large garbage bags, which can be used as a poncho), some more Aquatabs, and a bottle of water. Those items would all fit in the existing backpack. For more than four people, I would just buy another kit for every two or three people and make the recommended updates.

The Atlas Industries Be Ready Bag Family Emergency Preparedness Kit provides a good value for its cost. Like most turnkey emergency kits, it reflects many compromises. This kit can be the foundation of an acceptable emergency kit with the changes discussed above.

Like any emergency/prepping item, don't simply buy it, bring it home and bury it in the back of a closet, and expect it to work as advertized when you need it. Open it up, examine it, make sure it is all there and that the non-consumable items work properly.

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