Don’t Get Caught Without These Eight Safety Tools

A car escape tool.
Photo illustration by Slate

September is National Preparedness Month. And with wildfires raging throughout the Western United States and COVID-19 continuing to spread, it seems like an appropriate time to take stock of emergency plans and supplies. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “Ready” campaign offers suggestions for how to best prepare for an emergency, including necessary supplies for an emergency kit. Over the years, our staffers have recommended a variety of safety and preparedness tools, so we’ve combed through our archives to list them for you here.


In last year’s roundup of basic safety devices, Slate recommended every household outfit itself with carbon monoxide detectors, as well as a car escape tool. Christina Cauterucci writes of carbon monoxide detectors, “At under $20, a plug-in detector with a battery backup is too cheap—and possibly lifesaving—to justify going without.”

“Here’s a fun little bit of nightmare fuel,” writes Slate staffer Rebecca Onion. “You’re trapped in a car that’s sinking into water, and you can’t open a window to get out. Or your child is playing with a seat belt that gets locked around his neck—the more he tries to wriggle out, the tighter the seat belt becomes. These scenarios are why gadgets like the Resqme Original Keychain Car Escape Tool exist. This gizmo features two tools in one—a spring-loaded metal cone that you press into a window to break the glass, along with a recessed blade to cut away a seat belt.”

A flashlight can prove extremely useful in an emergency. Shannon Palus relies on this Lixada handheld flashlight, which she calls “superlatively tiny,” and “perfect to throw in your daypack for peace of mind, in case you get stuck on a hike past sundown.”

In a moment in which so much is out of our control, it feels good to be prepared. This past summer, Christina Cauterucci reviewed stand-to-pee devices, so that you don’t have to face public bathrooms and their possible health risks when out on the road. Her favorite? The pStyle, which she declares “surprisingly easy to use and effective.”

Former Gist associate producer Christina Djossa leans on her LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle, which she says “has saved me from many waterborne illnesses while traveling.” The 22-ounce water bottle “can easily filter water from lakes or streams and remove any bacteria or chemicals.”

Our health reporter, Shannon Palus, who has steeped herself in all aspects of COVID-19 since its emergence, writes of her favorite mask, “With three layers of cotton fabric, Old Navy masks fit the CDC’s recommendations, and they pass what one Canadian health official calls the ‘window test’: when held up to a bright window, not much light gets through.” Palus also praises these masks for their comfort, design, and affordability.

Bikers trekking any distance would be remiss to leave home without a multitool—a device that allows you to make basic repairs, as well as perform simple tasks like raising your seat and removing your wheel. Slate bike enthusiast Henry Grabar recommends this one.

Lastly, should the need ever arise to spend the night in one’s car, this waterproof and windproof blanket could come in handy. Keep it stashed in your trunk, so you’re always prepared. (And while you’re at it, throw in a case or two of water.)