I've had a few queries now and then about how best to store and organize one's emergency supplies. This is a very good question, because we need to be able to find them when we need them, and also move them in a hurry, if that becomes necessary in a 'bug-out' situation.
I'd begin by establishing the level of preparedness you're talking about. If you want to supply your family's needs for a full year, you're talking about enough goods to take up an entire store-room - and not a small one, either! That quantity of material requires a lot of storage equipment such as shelves, racks, cupboards, etc., and will be too heavy and bulky to be easily moved. If you're like Miss D. and myself, looking to keep our heads above water for a few weeks if necessary, that can be done using two or three shelving units arranged along the wall of your garage (or a store-room in your house). If you only want a minimal vehicle bug-out kit that will keep you going for a few days, a couple of storage totes or backpacks or duffel bags will probably suffice.
I'll use our preparations as an example. They take up three shelving units against the wall of our garage. One is this heavy-duty metal unit, designed to hold heavier weights such as filled water containers, etc. (Water is surprisingly heavy; one US gallon weights 8.34 pounds. Allocating two to three gallons per person per day for all purposes, including basic hygiene, drinking, cooking and cleaning up, a week's supply for two people should be at least 40 gallons, which weighs over 330 pounds. I prefer to keep at least two weeks' supply on hand. There's also gasoline, which should never be stored inside your house, of course - put it in the garden shed, or somewhere that it's less of a fire hazard. I try to keep enough on hand to fill the tanks of both our vehicles at least once.) The other two shelving units are these lighter-duty snap-together plastic ones, rated to hold up to 150 pounds per shelf (although I find it more realistic to limit them to between half and two-thirds that weight limit, otherwise the shelves sag over time).
To store my supplies on the shelves, I use plastic totes or storage crates. There are any number of them out there, but I've learned the hard way which work well, and which are not so good. In brief, my recommendations are these.
- The absolute best, toughest and all-round most suitable totes, in my experience, are the Homz Durabilt Tough Totes. (Note that the link describes all Homz' heavy-duty totes, but I'm speaking only of their Tough Tote line with the diamond-pattern lid, like the 15-gallon example shown below - not their latching-lid totes. The company also makes a useful heavy-duty foot locker.) I use three sizes of their totes, 12-, 17- and 27-gallon; there are others (see the link for details). The 12- and 17-gallon sizes fit into my shelving units, but the 27-gallon size is too tall for that. They're more expensive than their competitors, but they're almost impossible to break in normal use, and they're designed to stack easily. Even when heavily loaded, their stronger plastic seldom buckles or gives way, even if piled six high. For heavier items, I simply won't use anything else. (EDITED TO ADD: The HDX Tough Totes sold by Home Depot are identical, obviously a house brand made for them by Homz. I regard them as interchangeable.)
- My second choice is Rubbermaid's Roughneck storage boxes. They range in size from 3 to 31 gallons; I use mainly the 14-gallon size, as shown below (two of which fit conveniently onto a single shelf of my plastic shelving units), and the 18- and 31-gallon containers for larger items. These totes hold up well to long-term storage, but they aren't as strong as the Tough Totes mentioned in (1) above. If you load them heavily and stack them three or four high, the totes at the bottom of the pile tend to start bulging and losing their shape, and may collapse. Therefore, I use them for lighter items, usually no more than 25-30 pounds to a tote, and don't build tall stacks when I move them. (I recommend the Roughneck series exclusively; Rubbermaid's other brands of totes don't seem as strong or flexible, in my experience.)
- I've used a number of the Sterilite 'Basic Clears' totes, particularly the 16 quart clear storage box. These also fit two to a shelf in my storage units, and, being clear, one can see at a glance what the contents are. However, the lids in particular are very brittle. They crack or chip easily, and bend out of shape if the totes are stacked. Also, the clear plastic sides discolor as they get older. I've broken most of those I bought some years ago, and discarded them; I'm down to just four now. Nevertheless, their transparent sides do serve a purpose for some items. As for Sterilite's 'Basic Totes', I've owned a couple of dozen, but gotten rid of almost all of them by now. The plastic is brittle, and bends, chips or cracks easily if heavily loaded; and when stacked heavy and high, the lower totes crumple under the strain. I've replaced them with Rubbermaid or Homz totes, as described above. Sterilite also makes a foot locker, which is a useful size, but it's less strong than the Homz product mentioned in (1) above.
It's useful to color-code your storage containers. They may be the same color, but you can apply different colors of duct tape to their sides and lids, making it easy to distinguish groups of containers. (For example, red totes, or those marked with red duct tape, might contain food; green might hold kitchen and eating utensils; yellow might hold personal hygiene items; and so on.) Within the color codes, label each tote with its contents, so you can easily locate what you're looking for. A quick and easy label can be made using wide masking tape; just tear or cut it to the right length, and write on it with a fine point marker pen. The tape stays firmly attached in normal use, but peels off easily if desired, without leaving glue residue or torn scraps of paper, making it easy to re-label the container.
For storing water, there are any number of options out there. I find these 20-liter (approx. 5 US gallon) plastic jerry-cans to be very versatile; if lifting heavy weights is a problem, there are also half-size and quarter-size versions. Water weight will be 44, 22 and 11 pounds respectively. I also use some of these 7-gallon and 6-gallon containers, but they aren't as strong as the 5-gallon jerry-cans, and need to be handled more carefully to prevent damage and resultant leaks. (You can get larger water containers, such as this 55-gallon barrel kit or this 260-gallon tank; but neither is easily portable when filled, due to their weight and bulk. I prefer the convenience of portable containers, in case I need to take them with me in a 'bug-out' situation, or take them to a water source to refill them. YMMV, of course.)
Remember to add water purification materials such as filters, chemicals, etc. to your supplies, for use when refilling your containers with water of unknown purity (or lack thereof). For larger-volume filtration and purification, Berkey filters and cartridges are still pretty much the standard against which others are measured, but there are many more options. Some require the use of chemicals after filtration, to be sure all bacteria and viruses have been killed or removed. Also, when replenishing your stocks with water of unknown purity (e.g. from a stream or pond), do not use your clean water containers for the purpose. Rather, reserve some containers for refilling, then filter and/or purify the water as it passes from them to your ready-use containers.
For fuel, I prefer NATO-standard metal (not plastic) jerry cans. Current environmental regulations make it difficult to find the 'real deal', but they can be had from time to time. Again, for the weight-challenged, half-size and quarter-size versions are available, as are pouring spouts to make transferring fuel easier. Remember to add a stabilizer to your gasoline for long-term storage. If you have different types of fuel, it will be helpful to color-code the cans; either spray-paint them the appropriate color, or mark them with different colors of duct tape. The standard, legally-prescribed (in the USA) colors for fuel containers are red for gasoline, yellow for diesel, and blue for kerosene (paraffin) - but don't confuse the latter with a blue water container such as the plastic jerry-can mentioned above! The taste would leave something to be desired . . .