A Go-Bag (also commonly referred to as a Bug-Out Bag) is a pre-packed bag that will be your lifeline in case of an emergency evacuation situation. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way exactly why a Go-Bag is an essential item to have packed and ready in your home. It was the middle of December about ten years ago when I found myself standing outside our Bay Area apartment building with 60 other families watching flames chew through the wooden siding and smoke billowing in every direction. With all of our cars trapped in the building’s basement garage below, we had nothing to do but watch. I was wearing hot pink fleece pajama pants, rain boots with no socks, and a too-light jacket for the unseasonable cold winter we were having. Heat from the flames notwithstanding, it was a chilling moment in every sense of the word. Somehow, despite living in earthquake country and working for a company that specialized in medical and survival gear at the time, I had just never gotten around to building a Go-Bag – it was somewhere near the bottom of my to-do list. You can bet, it immediately moved to the top.
So, here are my recommendations for your Emergency Go-Bag. Mine is built for four people (two adults and two kids) for 24 hours. Given the type of disasters that are most likely to occur where we live (grass fires or floods), we should be able to reach a friend’s home or red cross shelter in 24 hours on foot. If you live in earthquake or hurricane territories, I recommend having enough supplies for all family members for 72 hours as those disasters can take out a much larger area of infrastructure at once. A coat closet near the front door or other place that you would pass on your fastest way out of the house is the ideal spot to keep your bag.
Without further ado, here is the list:
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 have water carry bags as well as water purification tablets in case we need more than the pouches I’ve packed.
If you are only packing a 24-hour kit, food is not technically essential, however eating can help you stay warm and keep you mentally and emotionally stronger. Plus, if you have kids, you know that snacks actually are essential for everyone’s sanity. I like the classics like energy bars and dried fruit, they have to be replaced more regularly than emergency ration bricks, but they are significantly more palatable.
3. 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 it has radio functionality plus you can charge your phone or rechargeable headlamp from it, just make sure you have the correct charging cords packed.
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 Radiant 2-in-1 Lantern which pulls double duty as a flashlight and lantern, 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, but it’s packed with high quality, well thought out medical tools, and has enough room for me to throw in a couple items to customize it for our family. I also keep N95 respirator masks in my kit. In the case of major fires or earthquakes, air quality often deteriorates to harmful levels. If your biggest concern is the next Superbug, 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 keep the Pocket Survival Pak Plus which kills a lot of birds with one stone. It has fire starting tools, a whistle and signal mirror, knife, water-purification tablets, duct tape (for gear repair, clothes repair, really anything repair), and much more.
7. Emergency Blankets + Bivvies
I have two emergency blankets and two emergency bivvies so everyone can wrap up warmly if we are sleeping out for a night.
8. Emergency Shelter
I recommend a lightweight, heat reflective tarp that can act as an extra blanket or as a shelter. Make sure to get one with grommets (like this) and pack nylon cording so you can easily rig it up.
9. Extra Layers
Your emergency blankets can be wrapped to keep everyone warm on the go, but I recommend packing up an extra set of clothes for everyone. I use a Large RunOff Waterproof bag that acts as a compression sack and keeps all of our extra layers dry in the pack.
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, and 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 waterproof RunOff 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.
If you have suggestions of what to pack in a Go-Bag based on your experiences, please leave them in the comment suggestion below.