Choosing water containers for your emergency water supply can be a real headache, but it doesn’t have to be. Your emergency water supply can be as simple as store-bought water bottles. Every method of water storage has pluses and minuses.
Depending on your budget and storage requirements, there is a water container that’s perfect for your emergency water storage needs. Start small and stockpile as much freshwater as you can. Down below is a list of 21 containers to get you started with emergency water storage.
One: 55-gallon Blue Food-grade Barrels
208 Liter Blue Barrels
- Weigh approximately 460 lbs when full
- Fill the barrels where they will be stored
- Store them off the floor using 2x4s or a pallet
- Store in a cool, dry location without temperature fluctuations (garages are not ideal depending on the climate)
- If you fill the barrels from chemically treated municipal water, you don’t need to treat the water with chlorine
- If you have a method to purify and filter the water when you drink it, you don’t necessarily have to rotate it (by emptying it periodically)
- Have a bung wrench (lid remover) on hand to get the cap off
- You need a hand-pump or a siphon to get water out of the barrel
- Purchase new or get used food-grade barrels
- Once filled you will have to empty it before moving
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Two: Water Cooler Jugs
3 Gallon (11 Liter) and 5 Gallon (18.92 Liter)
(The kind that goes on an office water cooler)
- Some 3-gallon units are stackable
- 3-gallon units weigh approximately 25 lbs when full
- 5-gallon versions aren’t stackable and weigh around 42 lbs when full
- 5-gallon jugs are bulky and cumbersome compared to jerrican style water jugs with molded handles
- You can purchase hand-pump type dispensers to pump water out of the jugs manually, or buy a gravity-fed counter-top dispenser
- If you have pets, there are pet-specific water dispensers that are gravity fed
- The plastic in these jugs is clear so keep them away from sunlight, or you’ll have algae growing in your water (cover with a blanket or a beach towel)
- You can sign-up to have a company, like Crystal Springs, deliver 3- or 5-gallon water jugs to your home but this can be pricey.
Check out the Ready Squirrel article, 5 Methods to purify drinking water in an emergency.
Three: Cases of Commercially Bottled Water
- An excellent option for drinking water if you rotate your stock
- Not the best for “set it and forget it,” the plastic in these bottles will start to degrade after the expiration date (around 2 years)
- The expiration date for bottled water is for the plastic in the bottle, not the water
- Keep out of sunlight and store in a cool, dry location
- Underneath a bed is a good storage location for bottled water
Four: 1-gallon (Milk Type) Jugs of Commercially Bottled Water:
I’m not a big fan.
- The milk jug type containers are designed to break down quickly in landfills
- These jugs bust, crack, get pin-holes and leak easily
- They aren’t good for long-term storage unless you rotate them
- A quick way to ruin some food storage if you have food stored near your jugs (ask me how I know)
Five: Water Bricks: Stackable
3.5 Gallon/ 13.2 Liters
These are pretty tough little water containers, they are ergonomic and easy to manage. They work well for your emergency water supply but they also work well for car camping or tailgating.
- Made from blue polyethylene
- Gasketed lids
- Dimensions: 18″x9″x6″
- Hold 3.5 gallons of water, 13.25 liters
- Rigidly stackable
- Weigh 30 lbs when filled with water
- Versatile, portable, and water-tight
- Used for water, or as a storage container for dry goods
- The spigot costs extra and you can’t use the handle with the spigot
- You can’t fill the brick
- BPA- free plastic
- Good choice if you have limited space, and you need to stack your water storage
- Not easy to clean, water and dry goods get hung-up on the shoulders of the container
Seven: Reliance Aqua-Tainer
7 Gallon/26.5 Liters
The Aqua-Tainer is probably the most popular container used for emergency water storage. It holds a lot of water, it’s decently priced, and it gets the job done.
- Made from blue polyethylene
- Holds 7 gallons/26.5 liters of water
- Weight empty: 2 lbs
- Weight full: approximately 62 lbs,
- Dimensions: 11 1/4″ x 11″x 15 1/4″
- Reversible spout
- Water-spigot is known to leak, but that goes for just about every water spigot I’ve ever used
- The plastic on these units isn’t sturdy
- Not stackable when full, plastic may crack
- If you purchase in person, check that the threads on the cap vent and supply caps allow you to thread the tops onto the threads (there have been some issues with threading not going all the way down the male part of the outlet)
- Spotty build quality
Eight: Reliance Rhino Heavy-duty Water Jug
5.5 Gallons/20.82 liters
- Holds 5.5 gallons
- Weight full: approximately 45 lbs
- You can stack a few units on top of each other, but the weight of full jugs will cause the vent caps to leak if you stack too many
- BPA Free
- Heavier duty than the Reliance Aqua-Tainer
- Lids sometimes leak
Nine: Allentian Stainless Steel Water Can
- It comes in 5, 8, or 10-gallon sizes
- Weighs approximately 50 lbs when full
- Not stackable
- Spotty build quality
- Known to leak
Ten: Portable Water Storage Cube
5 Gallons/18.93 Liters
- Holds 5 gallons
- Weight full: approximately 42 lbs
- Flexible and somewhat foldable for storage
- Somewhat challenging to fill with water and unstable when it’s partially full
- Flimsy and will roll off of a table if not secured
- Carrying when full is challenging
- Not as tough as the rigid-bodied jerricans
The Fold-A-Carrier is a great bag to have on hand for backup or to fill if you know an emergency event, like a hurricane or tropical storm, is on the way. I wouldn’t use it for long-term water storage; it’s just too delicate and difficult to store.
Eleven: Samson Stackers
5 Gallon/18.93 Liters
- Dimensions: 11.25″ x 10″ x 14.25″
- Hold 5 gallons of water
- Approximate weight full: 42 lbs
- Solidly Built
- Spigot is not included, but there are all-inclusive kits available
- As with all square-shouldered containers, it is more challenging to get all of the water out and to clean
Twelve: Saratoga Farms
5 Gallon/ 18.93 Liter
- Solidly Built
- Stack well
- Spigot not included
- Lid wrench not included
- Weigh approximately 42 lbs when filled with water
- Lids may leak
- It does not have a vent like some of the jerrican style water containers, so water glugs out.
- As with all square-shouldered containers, it is more challenging to get all of the water out and clean.
Container shape is a trade-off; if you want your containers to be stackable, they are more likely to be square-ish and, therefore, a little harder to clean.
Thirteen: Ice Mountain Type Commercially Bottled Water
.79 Gallon/3 Liter
Fourteen: IBC Totes
(Intermediate Bulk Container) 275 Gallon (1041 Liter) and 330 Gallon (1249 Liter)
At the time I’m writing this article., I was able to find IBC totes selling on Craigslist for $75 to $100 per unit. Finding these is worth the footwork if you have the time and the space to store them. These are pretty popular among homesteaders and are used for everything from water storage to building dog houses.
- Food-grade IBC totes are used by food manufacturers to store honey, cane syrup, and other food-grade items for manufacturing food.
- Make sure you know what was in the totes before you purchase used ones for storing drinking water.
- IBC totes also work well for rainwater collection and can be converted for aquaponics.
Fifteen: Military Grade Scepter Water Jug (TOP Choice)
Scepter 5.2 Gallon/ 20 Liter, Heavy-duty Water Container/LC Industries
If you are looking for one or two water storage containers that are bullet-proof and portable, these Scepter are the best choice on the list. Scepters are tough enough to withstand the extreme conditions encountered by our troops. A good way to store water long-term.
- Dimension: 18 3/4″x 13 1/2″ x 6 3/8″
- BPA Free
- Made by a military contractor to military specifications
- 5.2 gallons (20 liters)
- 1 wide-mouth opening
- 1 air-vent
- 1 small pour cap
- No o-rings
- Heavy-duty handle
- Weight empty: 5 lbs
- Weight full: 50 lbs
- Extremely heavy-duty
- Easy to clean
- Expensive but worth it
Sixteen: Re-used Food Grade Containers
Re-used containers include 2-liter pop bottles to 55-gallon drums previously filled with honey.
- Make sure you know what was in the containers before you use them. You don’t want hazardous chemicals in your drinking water.
- Avoid using plastics that have an expiration date
- BPA-free only
- Make sure the re-used container is food-safe
- Clean well
- Sound method for storing hygiene and sanitation water
- Re-used containers can transfer the flavor of what was in the bottle into the water. No matter how well you clean the container, it will give taste to the water
Bathtub Emergency Water Storage Container 100 Gallons/ 378 Liters
The WaterBOB is a giant water bladder that you fill in your bathtub for temporary water storage—used to prepare when you have advanced notice of an event like a hurricane, tropical storm, or flooding. As the bladder fills, the walls of the tub provide support. You can fill the bladder without treating the water if your municipal water is clean.
- Holds 100 gallons of water in your bathtub
- Weight filled: 800lbs
- It only works in standard bathtubs
- Does not filter or treat water
- Considered a one-use item
- BPA free
- Use if you expect flooding, groundwater contamination, loss of municipal water source or a loss of power
- Use before your water supply is contaminated, or treat the water if it is contaminated
- Use in place of store-bought water if you know a hurricane or tropical storm is coming
- Water will stay fresh for up to 12 weeks (if it’s clean when it goes in)
- Siphon pump included
Eighteen: Above Ground Emergency Water Tanks
If you have space and want to get serious about water storage, look into the types of tanks used by farmers, ranchers, and those living off the grid.
- A company like Plastic-Mart (I have no vested interest) offers emergency water tanks that start at 50 gallons and go up to 10,000 gallons.
- Tanks are UV stabilized, so you can use them outdoors
- Commonly used for drinking water, fire protection, irrigation, disaster preparedness, and rainwater collection
Nineteen: Doorway Tanks
I’d never heard of these tanks before writing this article, but they are pretty cool for the right application.
Designed so you can carry the tank through a conventional household door. These tanks are usually left in place once installed.
- Also known as wall tanks, closet tanks, or slimline tanks.
- 100-1000 gallons when filled
- Designed to fit through most conventional doors
- Installed to stand upright
- Constructed of polyethylene resin that is FDA approved for potable food-grade water
- Check out Tank-mart.com if you are interested in looking at these (I have no vested interest)
Twenty: Mobile Water Storage Tanks
Maybe you are considering having mobile water storage. Many have cabins that do not have a water supply. A portable water storage tank placed on a utility trailer or in the back of your pickup might be a good option for flexible water storage.
- Portable storage tanks come in all shapes and sizes, from 2.8 gallons up to 1000 gallons, and every size in-between.
- Consult the Maximum Payload Specification for your vehicle before deciding on a mobile storage tank
- The Maximum Payload for a Ford F-150 bed is 1,142 lbs to 2,309 lbs, so the top-water weight you could store would be 136 gallons to 276 gallons, respectively (less the weight of the storage tank)
- You can check these out on plastic-mart.com ( I have no vested interest)
Twenty-One: Pickup Truck Bed Tank
305 Gallon/1154 Liter
These tanks aren’t practical for most of us, but you never know what someone’s needs are. I don’t like that these units take up the entire truck bed and eat up most of your Maximum Payload when full.
- Holds 305 gallons when full
- The tank weighs 107 lbs
- Weight full: 2650 lbs
- This tank will only work on heavy-duty trucks (check your Max Payload)
- These tanks take up your entire pickup bed
- It fits in most standard truck beds
- Dimensions: 60″ Diameter x 30″ Height
- FDA Approved for drinking water
- You can check these out on NTOtank.com (I have no vested interest)
Consider the Weight of Water When Storing It
When storing water, keep in mind that it weighs a lot. One gallon of water comes in at 8.34 lbs. Water weight is especially important when you’re walking out of an emergency (pack weight) or if you are moving it around. (Remember those blue barrels weigh 460 lbs when full.) If you’re on foot, filtering and purifying water become a better solution than storage. Try to plan for that contingency.
Chart #1 Weight of Emergency Water Storage
|# of Gallons/Liters||Gallons (lbs)||Liters (lbs)|
Water Storage Tips:
- If your municipal water is chlorinated and clean, you don’t have to filter or purify it before storage
- For water storage, look for food-grade, BPA-free, HDPE plastic
- Sanitize whatever container you use to store water
- Don’t use containers that were used to store any type of hazardous chemical
- Keep clear containers out of the light
- Fill large containers like 55-gallon drums where you plan to store them. They will be too heavy to move after filling.
- Store water in a cool, dry location with no direct sunlight or considerable fluctuations in temperature
- If you store emergency water outdoors, take extra precautions to protect water from extremes of temperature and sunlight.
- Clean and fill your bathtubs with water if you have prior warning of an emergency like a hurricane or tropical storm.
- If a hurricane is coming, fill any containers you have available (any extra water you have will help)
- If it’s legal where you live, collect rainwater.
- Most models of water containers, spouts, and spigots leak at some point
- Water containers may leak if turned on their side or if stacked when they aren’t designed for that purpose
- Weight and compression can cause leaks through vents and o-rings, so keep an eye on water storage the first few days after you fill
- Have a method to purify and filter found water. You never know when you will have to walk out of a situation
- Calcium hypochlorite can be used to make a bleach solution that you use to chlorinate drinking water. It stores much longer than store-bought bleach, which has a shelf-life of only six months
- Consider how much each container weighs before using them for water storage. A 5-gallon water jug weighs approximately 40lbs when filled
- Water weighs: 8.34 lbs per gallon
- Water weighs: 2.20 lbs per liter
- Water containers may burst if they freeze
Cleaning & Preparing Personal Water Storage Containers: Centers For Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) Website: Click Here
Creating & Storing an Emergency Water Supply CDC Website Click Here
Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water CDC Website Click Here
Food and Water in an Emergency: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) PDF, Website Click Here
Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Website PDF Click Here