Last winter, Hell froze over. I mean I love Texas in a way that might be sociologically inescapable to all native-born Texans, but given the number of anti-trans bills being pushed through – I think we can comfortably call Texas “hell,” and move on to the Blizzard that knocked out the power and water for most of the state. Hell. Froze. Over.
Just three months later a heatwave moved through and residents were told to turn their air condition off in order to prevent the grid from going down again. People who had yet to get the time and space and safety to recover from the cold that killed hundreds and traumatized the tri-state area were NOT OKAY.
Thankfully, my home has gas appliances and a working fireplace as well as stocked firewood, and I have what my father referred to as “poor people smarts,” which kept us safe if not happy over the week of freezing indoor temps.
But, there were definitely things that could have made it better – so, after months of consumer research, I compiled a list of items I want to have and assembled links to the highest rated/best version of each I could find on Amazon. I intentionally chose Amazon because many disabled and chronically ill people depend on the fast turn around and ease of ordering from just one place, and I want to support those needs. If you don’t want to use Amazon, feel free to use this list as a jumping off point. Where possible, I’ll give points on why/how each item is helpful.
I’m not a survival expert, I’m just a mexibilly who reluctantly reads a lot of reviews and is good at (personal) disaster response.
Go bag (snacks, meds, chargers, extra chones, socks, gloves etc)
Hot water bottles – Last winter I boiled water and put it in double-bagged ziploc gallon bags, and they were a little wiley but incredibly helpful. We put them between a thin shirt and our sweaters (wearing layers on top but having the heat from the water close to our vital organs) and it made a HUGE difference. The science is that the heat close to your chest helps your blood stay warm when it get to your extremities, meaning the fingees and tosies stay cozy. These water bottles are cute (they have their own sweaters) can double as ice packs, and are meant to be filled straight from the tap but if your water doesn’t get hot enough or you’re boiling snow on the stovetop, I’d recommend using funnels to get the water down the spout.
Fire starters – Obviously fire is warm. That’s great. We love that about fire when we are cold. But fire can also be fickle and there’s no need to have an on-call Eagle Scout when your teeth get to chatterin’. These are supposed to be easy to light (i.e. can use your basic “cigarette” lighters) and stay lit long enough for your logs to catch. They’re also an eco-friendlier version that boy scout juice (did you know lighter fluid is called this?!). However, they’re small and you’ll need a few depending on the size of the logs to get an even burn, so this multipack is the one I got. Helpfully, you can use them for barbecues and other stuff, too.
Frewood/cover/rack cover – If you’re lucky enough to have (and unlucky enough to need) a stockpile of firewood, there are two things that are the worst. Number one is not remembering to bring in a few piles for fires you’ll have soon and then only having wet wood when you need it. The second is having it stocked close to the house and risking the transfer of termites to your house. (Also, you can hear the termites … explode in the fire and it’s very weird.) So, get a rack for your wood (hillbilly style is just stack it between to trees out on the land) and get a cover for your rack. This combo seems like the most highly rated bang for your buck. The rack can also be purchased as just the handles that you screw into opposite sides of a 2×4. Works like a charm. If neither of those work for you, get a pallet from the side of the road and stack your wood on it (avoiding bugs, dirt, and ground water) and for coverage, you could use a tarp and some bungees or rachet straps. (You never don’t need tarps, bungees, and rachet straps once you know how to use them.)
Kindlin’ splitter – Long story short, if you have firewood, splitting some of it into “kindling” sizes well make your fires catch faster and better and usually make the heat go further. You’ll need something to anchor this to, as well as a mallet of some kind to hit the wood through the splitter. DO NOT TRY TO STOMP THE WOOD THROUGH. TRUST ME, OH ANGEL OF ARCHES, DO NOT STOMP.
On the mallet note, it’s good to have a hatchet on hand. Just in general, and especially because any storm that takes out the power may result in needing to cut crap apart. Make fun Xena-throwing-her-chakram noises so it feels less dystopian. Or get into the wild aspects, you do you.
Generators are a totally mixed bag on if you need or want them. But for people on dialysis or who need CPAPs to sleep, power going out is a much more immediate danger. Those of us who can go up to a week with just a few battery recharges (which can usually be accomplished in the car so long as your tank is full) probably don’t need them. But for those who do, here are the options I found. I stuck with solar because the reviews said they large option (also car chargeable with the converter) kept their medical devices working even when the power went out. Here are the versions and attachments that had the highest ratings – and they are NOT cheap. But I think they’re the most reliable option for those who truly, medically need them.
Battery powered radio – I like a little music in the background even when I’m reading, and cellphone service was NIL during the freeze, making news hard to get. LE STRESS. A simple battery powered radio set to the local FM stations for local news and music (and commercials- patooie!) or AM stations for some crackley classical can be a needed break in the white-out days.
Dog Sweaters – I have one small, fussy dog, and one medium mutt who belives she’s a cattle dog. Tiny Tim has no problem snuggling under the covers under any circumstances, so I didn’t worry as much about her. She’d literally just stay tucked in our sweaters or robes. But Squeaker tried to stay brave and distant. Alas, their regular pajamas were not enough for the mid-sized beastie and by the third night, she shivered hard enough to shake the entire bed. We were able to tuck her reluctantly in with us, but I wanted a better solution. So I looked up some warm under layers (you can search for doggy long johns if these don’t suit you) and these little sweaters, fit under their onsies, should give them more autonomy and comfort in the cold.
Coolers may seem like an odd thing to need in a freeze, but weirdly the fridge inside, when not powered, doesn’t stay cold enough to keep frozen things frozen, and not only is it a bummer to have to get rid expensive defrosted/melty food, but some shit you need to stay actually cold/ frozen (hello certain meds). If your snow stays out of the sun, you can pack some of it in the snow (so long as you get it there before it’s already gross), but if the power stays off after the snow/ice has melted outside, a quality cooler can come in clutch. Here are the various options that were best recommended at various sizes and price points.
Large, unanimously agreed best rated
Medium of the same brand
Food &Wine Rated “Best Value” (which is not THAT much cheaper than some colors in YETI, above)
Best budget-friendly version
Emergency blanket/ponchos – These are not sexy or fun, but when you need one, you need one, and I was raised in a hurricane-magnet swamp (Houston) so I know that when the rain comes down sideways, an umbrella just doesn’t cut it. These have the added benefit of being emergency blankets which aren’t comfy, but do the damn job.
Hand warmers are necessary even with the heat working sometimes. Here’s a set of rechargeable ones (same price as 40 pairs of one-use)
and a multi-pack of the one-use kind (great for travel/ multiple people).
Some of this stuff is rechargable, but a lot of it is purposefully battery-powered for longer stints without power (and remember, electronics get funky in the cold) so here’s a link to a big mulitipack of different sized batteries and here’s a set in rechargeable format that look like what the 80’s thought the future would look like (so maybe the 80’s was correct?).
I keep a couple of Power bricks charged and stored with the candles and flashlights. This one can be solar-repowered. Remember that batteries don’t hold as well during the extreme temps. (And if you listen to things on your phone, make sure to download ahead of time so you’re not using extra battery by streaming you media.)
If you don’t have a fireplace, a propane space heater can be a safe option (probably not with young children or rowdy dogs). Read the stuff. It’s made to be used inside but you’ll need to get the propane separately.
Should you end up having to hike within a reasonable distance/ across reasonable terrain, a sturdy wagon might help to carry goods/kids/dogs. We have several friends within a few miles, which isn’t a SHORT distance but given the resources available, it can be much better to walk few miles to somewhere with heat/water than stick it out at home. Of course if you can drive that’s great. But we live at the bottom of a hill with a pond at the end. Driving was not in our cards. Walking to my mom’s house was!
Battery Powered Lanterns are a low-stress alternative to candles. I love candles (and have some good options below) but I don’t have to worry about anyone knocking them over and setting things aflame.
Any candles are find to use, but so called “emergency candles” will usually keep better in the heat, burn longer, and often take up less space. These
refillable votive options still have an open flame but could be put into a glass jar for safety and save the was mess (i personally LIKE messing with wax. And these are unscented pillar candles for the basic bitch options (bless it).
Merino wool warm socks are just the warmest, comfiest options for keeping feet warm. I can never keep gloves on (or dry) but socks work for me.
Finally, here are some items that are geared toward hot weather/flooding issues: Inflatable raft w paddles, battery powered fans, and good quality paper plates because washing dishes in a disaster is the worst.
Okay my friends, thus concludes the listicle no one asked for but I had to make in order to shut up the “help others!” voice in my head. I love you, I hope this helps, stay bravely safe or safely brave or guatever. Xx.