What goes in my Go-Bag?

First, there is no perfect answer to this question. What suits one person or family might not suit yours. What is appropriate for a person in Alaska, wouldn’t apply in the deserts of Arizona. We wil share some great ideas for items for your bag below, but you also need to keep individual factors in mind when planning.

Keep these thoughts in your mind when you plan your go-bag:

  • What is appropriate for the climate where I live?
  • What is appropdiate for the climate I’m going to? (If you’re planning to travel a significant distance.)
  • How many family members do I have to plan for?
  • How many family members can carry bags of their own? (Young children can’t carry a pack, and often might be so young as to need to be carried themselves. Plan accordingly.)
  • What seasonal changes do I need to plan for? (A pack with a winter jacket will consume valuable space if you needed it in the hot summer months.)
  • If I’m stuck in my community, what will I need?
  • I’m I’m stuck away from home, what will I need?
  • What can I carry in my vehicle?

Planning for Climate:

No go-bag is perfect for all seasons. Unless you live in a location that has similar weather year-round, you will need to adjust your bag with the seasons. If your disaster plan calls for having to survive in the cold months, thermal layered garments need to be considered. If it is arid and dry, items such as hats and wick-away clothing will be more important. Plan to change your bag’s clothing contents at least twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, to plan for the upcoming six months.

If your disaster plan calls for traveling extreme distances to other climates, you will need to plan accordingly. May be some items could be kept in your vehicle all the time, just in case, rather than needing to be in your bag all the time.

How Many Do I Have To Plan For?

All the working adults in our family have careers that put us on the road; sometimes only one or two counties away and other times three states apart. In our case, we have to plan as if we didn’t have each other to rely on. That means doubling everything. My wife needs to have everything she possibly needs for her bag in case I’m across the country on a job when a disaster hits our community. She can’t depend on what I have with me and I can’t depend on what she has with her. Everything has to be redundant. Your family might not have such considerations. Just think about it and create a plan that accomodates your lives.

Who can Carry What?

Do you have kids? If so, how old are they? We have kids that are currently nine and sixteen. The sixteen year old can carry her own pack with no problem – after all she’s been carrying a bookbag for the last eleven years of her life to school every day. She’s probably better suited for carrying a bag than the rest of us. On the other hand, my nine year old son can’t be expected to carry much gear with him, if any. One of us has to plan to carry his as well as our own.

Planning for every individual may sound like overkill, but you never know when disaster will strike or how separated your family will be when it happens! Remember that.

What can I Carry in my Vehicle?

Certain things just makes sense to keep in every car you own. If you have three cars, all three cars should be equipped with some common gear. If it works out that you are lucky enough to be able to choose which car to take when a disaster strikes the great news is you can raid the other vehicles and have redundncy. Regardless, here are a few items invaluable in a vehicle.

  1. 10×10 Tarp ($10 at Tractor Supply or WalMart) – a tarp has a variety of uses, from a make-shift shelter from the rain, to a way to collect rainwater to drink. It can be used to sleep on, camp under, stay dry, or patch a hole in a window, or door to keep the weather out. They fold down small and can lie flat in the bottom of your trunk, or under the seat.
  2. Paracord – ($5-$50 online) – There is a reason the military uses paracord. It has a 550 pound strength, so a few simple strands of this kevlar-reinforced nylon can pull an entire car out of a ditch in a pinch. Many families make fun projects out of paracord. A paracord bracelet usually has about 12 feet of strong rope in it and you have it on you all the time. Regardless, put some rope or paracord in your vehicle. You’ll always have a use for it.
  3. Water – A 24-pack of water costs $3.00 from any convenience store. Whether you’re trapped for days or mere hours on a hot interstate, having the ability to hydrate yourself and your family is important.
  4. Food – Trail mix, C-Rations, crackers or nabs – these things last a long time and can keep you going for a short time in a crisis.

Selecting a Go-Bag

Go bag rifelman packHaving the wrong bag can be as bad as not having one, especially if you’re forced to go somewhere on foot. Hunkering down at home or in the car is one thing, but if you’re forced to evacuate on foot because of a road-closure, severe flooding, earthquake or other major disaster, you’re literally going to have nothing but the clothes on your back and what is in your bag.

Selecting a go-bag is as difficult as picking the perfect car. No bag is perfect for everyone. I carry a full-frame US Army issue Rifleman’s pack, with an ACS sleep system and a full backpack frame. With food, water, and all my gear, my pack weighs in at over 70 pounds. Can I carry it all day? Absolutely. Is it fun? No way José!

That pack would be useless for my wife or my kids. My wife carries a USMC 3-Day assault pack – smaller, lighter, and with less pockets than mine, but still a formidable bag. If you don’t have the budget for the ideal bag, don’t sacrifice not having one just because you can’t get the one you want right away. A gym bag can hold a lot of supplies in a pinch! How many of those useless mini-duffels have you accumulated over the years? Put them to use until you get something better.

You don’t have to use military packs. There are plenty of sports-equipment shops available that sell great merchandise. My family carries military packs for three reasons:

  1. Go Bag - 3 Day Assault PackIt is affordable to get a good-quality one at a surplus store (check the condition of the item if you do this. Be sure of what you’re purchasing.) You can often purchase military gear for less than a high-schooler’s backpack at Wal-Mart.
  2. They are durable. They’re made to military specs and usually consist of heavy-duty nylon reinforced with rip-stop material, lots of webbing, and they are almost always water resistant on at least the inside, if not the outside.
  3. They are EASY to strap things to. The military uses a webbing system called PALS or MOLLE webbing – a series of interconnected straps that allow you to tie things together in a wide variety of configurations. On a military pack it’s often not now much you can put INSIDE the pack, but how much you can strap to the OUTSIDE that makes the difference.

Regardless whether you get your bag from military surplus, or your local REI outiftters, be sure to get one that is comfortable on your body. One suggestion is to buy one pack at a time. That way if the pack you purchase isn’t necessarily comfortable for you, maybe it will be comfortable for someone else in your family and you wont have wasted money. If it fits you and your wife or husband well, then go buy another just like it.

Need some ideas for good go-bags? Check out what we’ve put together for you.

What Goes Inside?

You’ve got your bag and you’re ready to stuff it full of supplies. What goes in and in what order? Follow a few common sense ideas and things will go great. Put stuff you expect to need the least on the bottom, or deeper inside the pockets or pouches. Put things that would be critical on top or in an easily accessible pouch. If you have multiple bags for your family, load them out as similarly as possible. This way everyone knows what general area the first-aid kit is in each bag.

Keep in mind what we mentioned at the begining of this article when selecting what goes in your particular bag. Some of these items below won’t apply to you. Others will have concerns that we haven’t covered. Spend some time on Google to get great ideas. You can search Google for “go-bag” or “bugout bags” to get some great ideas.

Things to Include:

Some of the items below have links. You can click the link to see some of the items for sale on Amazon. These are the items we personally carry in our bags, so we know we like 'em.

Clothes (two sets – adjust seasonally)

Mess Kit (eat out of it, use it to collect water, or to use as a dog bowl)

Socks (at least one wool pair and two others) Socks have way more uses that you realize at first.

Water – Either bottled water/canteens or water purification straws/tablets.

Large Good Quality Knife or Camp Hatchet – maybe you’ll need to cut limbs out of the way on a blocked road, hack down vines, or just chop some firewood.

Dynamo Radio (Get one that has a hand-crank so it never runs dead. Be sure it has all the NOAA weather radio channels as those are most often used for emergency broadcast 24 hours per day.)

Compass/Signal Mirror – No, not for signaling planes down from the sky. You can use a signal mirror to attract the attention of police, EMS, or even individuals from an extreme distance.)

Ziploc Bags – store water in them, preserve food, anything that needs an airtight seal. They even make decent gloves if you have to handle a caustic material.

Communications – Whether in separate cars, on horseback, or other modes of travel, these can often be very convenient for communication across minor distances. In disasters, cell phone towers are often over-capacity and calls aren’t always able to get through easily.

Maps – GPS batteries die. If you’re evacuating to a location you have preplanned, you should have maps of both destinations and every location in between you plan to travel.

Fire Starting Tools – A 5-pack of bic lighters is great. Just in case they get wet, grab a simple fire-starter for each pack. They’re cheap and it doesn’t matter if they get wet. They work in all conditions.

Survival Book – These are chock-full of knowledge you’ll rarely ever need, but if you do, having a handy reference to tell you how to tie knots to erect shelter, or how to make a fire in the wind is always helpful.

Food: If your house burns down or you’re trapped on the road for days, food is critical. More important than taste is longevity and calories. Calories help you work and give you energy. A normal adult at rest needs 1000-1200 calories per day. A working adult walking 5 miles with a pack in the heat can require over 4,000 in the same day. Salty foods help you retain water, which your body needs. Chocolate is great for energy. Protein bars, MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and C-Rations are great. Pack things that won’t go bad if left in your bag for months at a time.

Sleeping Bag: Save the money on the big huge bags. They’re heavy and cumbersome. Smaller compression bags will do the same job. If it’s cold out, grab a 10-pack of space blankets to line the bag with.

Space Blankets – These super-thin sheets of aluminum-foil-looking material can be the difference between freezing in the cold and staying toasty. They’re available for less than $2 each most places. Grab a ten pack and you’ve got enough for everyone.

Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman or Multi-Tool – Any of these provide a great combination of tools you might need at any given time. Can openers, screwdrivers, picks, awls, etc.

Children’s Entertainment: Nothing will stress you out more as an adult than children who can’t entertain themselves. Whether it’s coloring books, toys, or a stuffed animal – having that one thing chat can bring your child peace in their bag can bring YOU peace too! It works for adults too. Consider a pack of playing cards, UNO, or something similar. It can help take your mind off the boredom or be a much needed distraction during a crisis.

Rechargable Batteries (and solar charger) – These are cheap to pick up online and invaluable for all kinds of emergencies. In the event of an extended power outage, you can use these to recharge anything from radios , to flashlight batteries, to cell phones, iPods, and kidsn’t gaming consoles.

Rope/Twine: Ever break shoelace? Forget your belt that morning? Need to tie something to your back? How about tying that tarp up to make a shelter? 100 feet of rope or twine takes up very little space and can be a life-saver.

Fishing Hooks, Line, Weights – Whether it’s to distract the children, to pass the time, or to replenish food, fishing gear is a great thing to have with you. All you need is a long stick and you’re ready to fish. Sleeping Bag: Save the money on the big huge bags. They’re heavy and cumbersome. Smaller compression bags will do the same job. If it’s cold out, grab a 10-pack of space blankets to line the bag with.

Bed Roll – These aren’t just for comfort (though they do help with that). A good bed roll serves two main purposes – to keep the moisture in the ground from you, and to keep the ground from leeching away your body heat. If it’s a warm climate and you know you don’t need them, you can always leave them behind. Space Blankets – These super-thin sheets of aluminum-foil-looking material can be the difference between freezing in the cold and staying toasty. They’re available for less than $2 each most places. Grab a ten pack and you’ve got enough for everyone.

Moist Towellettes/Garbage Bags – for personal sanitation. You’ll find other uses for them too, but this is enough reason right here. Swiss Army Knife/Leatherman/Multi-Tool – Any of these provide a great combination of tools you might need at any given time. Can openers, screwdrivers, picks, awls, etc.

Paper and Pencil – Whether it’s to leave a note saying where you’ve gone or to jot down something critical, it’s a great thing to have.

Important Documents: This is especially important if you are forced to shelter somewhere. Having multiple copies in everyone’s bag of all the family information is vital. What if your children get separated from you somehow? When an officer can see their name, address, and your license and other info, your family can be reunited quicker. Include things like home mortgage documents, insurance documents, business licenses, driver’s license, passports, medical info, anything you can think of. (seal these in something waterproof, such as a ziploc bag)

Flashlights or Chemlights – Flashlights are great but they consume batteries. Glo-Sticks or Chem Lights are cheap and provide illumination for over 12 hours. Cash – Don’t depend on

ATM’s and credit cards to be working in an emergency. Phone lines are often down for days or weeks, and these systems run on those phone lines. Cash is King during a crisis. Remember, stores are sometimes likely to inflate prices during a crisis, so plan to spend more than you normally would for high-value items.

fema_readyAdditional Resources:

FEMA has a page dedicated specifically to Go-Bags, Personal Family Preparation, and other related topics. Visit them by clicking the FEMA logo.




Testing the Go-Bag

If your family likes the outdoors, this is a great way to have fun together and to see how ready you are. Pick a day when conditions are good – this is a test after all. There’s no need to make everyone miserable. Call the family together and have an emergency drill. In an emergency you can literally have less than 60 seconds to escape a home, vehicle, or area before disaster hits. Tell everyone “You have 60 seconds to be at the car. Grab what you can and we’re leaving!”

Stick to it! No more than one minute! In a perfect world, everyone would grab their go-bag and be outside in ten seconds, but that rarely happens.

Even if you simply go car-campig in the back yard – spend 24 hours living off what you have in your bags. You will learn some valuable lessons the first time you do this. You’ll realize there were critical things you forgot. (Did anyoen add toilet paper to the list?) Maybe you have lots of food, but nothing to cook it in, or to serve it in. Looks like you’re eating that Ravioli with your fingers tonight, Dad! It will be a learning experience and it will be fun. Make it a contest – whoever was the best supplied gets a prize! (and not Dad’s ravlioli leftovers!)

Practice this drill with your family until you KNOW your family is ready for a disaster. If it’s not in the bag, you don’t need it to survive. That needs to be your motto.

Get Your Supplies Here

Dr. Amy and I are always updating our gear as often as we can. When we find something we think you’ll like, we add it to the list of items you can purchase direct from amazon. Any of the items above that have a link in their name can be purchased directly online, or you can visit the disaster preparation store we’ve prepared on Amazon for you.

Check out Some Suggestions for your Disaster Supplies