National Preparedness Month is here again, and it is a great reminder that if you still haven’t built or updated your emergency kit, there’s no time like the present. A Go Bag (also referred to as a Bug-out Bag) is a pre-packed kit that will be your lifeline in case of an emergency evacuation situation. Some disaster scenarios don’t leave time for thorough planning in the moment. Fires, for example, move fast – so should you. In these instances, you aren’t going to be able to take your time to gather up everything you want to from home. A Go Bag is about making sure you have what you need and getting away quickly and safely. After working in the survival and medical industries over the last two decades and experiencing my own fire evacuation due to living in California, I have compiled a list of items that I have tested and strongly recommend.
Before you start compiling your kit, here are a few helpful considerations:
Build it out for the number of people in your household (including your pets). My bag (pictured above) is built for five: two adults, two small children, and one dog for 24 hours.
Consider the type of disaster you are most likely to encounter where you live. For us, it’s likely grass fires or floods, so we should be able to reach a friend’s home or red cross shelter in 24 hours or less on foot. If you live in earthquake or hurricane territories, you should pack enough supplies for 72 hours as those disasters can take out a much larger area of infrastructure at once.
Determine where you’re going to keep your kit and communicate exactly what it’s for to all members of your household (you can even label it as an extra reminder). I recommend putting it in a place that you would pass on your fastest way out of the house, like a coat closet or hook near the front door.
Without further ado, here are the items I recommend packing in your Go Bag:
- Water – I like this style of water pouch as it is packaged for a long shelf life and makes it easy to determine and regulate how much each person should get – two 4.4 oz packs a day. I also have a LifeStraw in case we need more than the pouches I’ve packed.
- Food – If you are only packing a 24-hour kit, food is not technically essential, however eating can help you stay warm and sustain you mentally and emotionally. Plus, if you have kids, you know that snacks are actually essential for everyone’s sanity. I like classic energy bars and dried fruit. They have to be replaced more regularly than emergency ration bricks, but they are significantly more palatable.
- Emergency Radio and Charger – I like this little one that Eton makes for the American Red Cross because it doesn’t take up much space in your pack and has radio functionality. Plus, you can charge your phone or rechargeable headlamp from it—just make sure you have the correct charging cords packed as well.
- Lights – At the very least, pack a rechargeable headlamp like the Radiant 300 which can be recharged as you go (using the Emergency Radio from item #3 above). I also have the handheld Rechargeable T7R flashlight (which can also run on non-rechargeable CR123 batteries) and the 3-in-1 Mini Flashlight so the kids can feel in control with their own light as well.
5. First Aid – I keep the UltraLight Watertight .9 Kit in my bag because it doesn’t add much weight, and it’s packed with high-quality, well thought-out medical t tools, and it has enough room for me to throw in a couple customized items for our family. If any of your family members require daily prescription meds or emergency meds (like inhalers or epinephrine) ask your doctor for an extra script to put in with your emergency supplies. I also include N95 respirator masks. In the case of major fires or earthquakes, air quality often deteriorates to harmful levels. And, if your biggest concern is the next pandemic, these can also help you rest easier.
6. Survival Essentials – Again, weight is a consideration so items that are multifunctional in small packages are key. You have to be able to carry all of this on your back. I recommend a combination like the compact DoohicKey Key Chain Knife and the SOL Scout Kit which kills a lot of birds with one stone. The Scout has fire starting tools, a whistle, signal mirror, fishing kit, and duct tape (for gear repair, clothes repair, and really anything repair).
7. Emergency Blankets + Bivvy Bags – I have two emergency blankets and two emergency bivvy bags so everyone can wrap up warmly if we are sleeping out for a night. The blankets offer a little more versatility in use, but the bivvy bags ensure you really trap in body heat for a warm night.
8. Emergency Shelter – A lightweight, heat-reflective tarp that can act as an extra blanket or as a shelter could be lifesaving. Make sure to get one with grommets (like this) and pack nylon cording so you can easily rig it up. Something like the CamJam XTs will make your life significantly easier if you’re not familiar with traditional shelter rigging methods and knots. With the CamJams, you can just wrap and clip to any available trees and easily adjust tension on your lines.
9. Extra Layers – Your emergency blankets can be wrapped to stay warm on the go, but I recommend packing up an extra set of jackets, underwear, and flip flops for everyone. I use a RunOff Waterproof Large Packing Cube that acts as a compression sack and keeps all of our extra layers dry in the pack.
10. Cash – There’s no guarantee that you’ll have the ability or wherewithal to grab your wallet on the way out the door. Keep cash in your Go Bag so you can purchase essentials or pay for a night in a hotel/motel if you can.
11. Emotional Support Items – When thinking about survival, your mind probably goes to the food, water, shelter basics, but the truth is your mental state is equally important. Something as simple as a deck of cards can be a great way to calm your mind and bring levity if you’re holed up in a red cross shelter for the night. Disasters can be particularly difficult on children as they have a harder time processing the rapid change and understanding why this is happening. Our kids are still little and they each have cherished “loveys”. We have extras of these for traveling, laundry time, etc… but we also have an extra for each of them packed away in our Go Bag along with one of their favorite books. I have no doubt that these items would bring immense comfort to them in an emergency.
12. Hygiene Items – Bath wipes, a roll of TP, and dog poop bags…not just for the dog. Let’s just leave it at that. You’ll be covered until you can get settled into a shelter or friend’s home.
13. Rain Protection – In a worse-case scenario, everything you own is now being carried on your back. Don’t let it get soaked in a rainstorm to boot. Throw in ponchos and make sure at least one is big enough to cover you and the pack. I also keep certain items in RunOff Waterproof Bags inside the pack for extra protection like my cash, batteries, food and clothes.
14. A Sturdy Pack…or Two – Once you have all your items laid out, you’ll have a better idea of the pack size you’ll need. Ideally you have an old one in the basement that would love to be given a new life as your Go Bag. Because ours is packed for four people and pretty heavy, I keep a second smaller bag rolled up and clipped to the side of the pack. This way, assuming my husband and I are together, we can get clear of the emergency and then split up gear into the two packs or cut leg holes in the smaller pack to use as a kid carrier. I also have a bunch of S-Biners, Carabiners, and Gear Ties clipped and strapped to the pack so if we have time to grab extra items, I can quickly clip or strap them to the bag on the way out the door.
15. Prep for the Pup – Don’t forget about everyone’s favorite four-legged family member! I keep a RadDog All-in-One Collar and Leash in the bag, along with a RadDog collapsible water bowl, and a NiteHowl light-up necklace to keep our little lady visible.
If you have other suggestions of what to pack in a Go Bag, please leave them in the comment section below. In a disaster situation, nothing is more important than your support community. You are our community, and we appreciate anything you share that could help someone else in a time of emergency.
For more preparedness resources, explore our post with information on disaster-specific prep tips.