What is a Go Bag?

If you spend enough time talking with people in the survivalist/catastrophe world, you’ll hear the term “go bag” plenty, but what is a Go-Bag? Wikipedia describes a go bag, or bug-out bag as they call it, as “a portable kit popular in the survivalist subculture that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy two hours when evacuating from a disaster.” In other words, if disaster struck right now what would you want in your immediate possession to survive for the next 3 days?

If you spend enough time talking with people in the survivalist/catastrophe world, you’ll hear the term “go bag” plenty, but what is a Go-Bag? Wikipedia describes a go bag, or bug-out bag as they call it, as “a portable kit popular in the survivalist subculture that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy two hours when evacuating from a disaster.” In other words, if disaster struck right now what would you want in your immediate possession to survive for the next 3 days? These kits are designed to be portable, easily accessible bags meant to help you survive a disaster. These kits go by several names including Go Bag, Bug-Out Bag, 72-hour Kit, and GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) Bag. The concept is believed to have been derived from the emergency kit that military aviators carry during flights.

So, how do you get started? While, the name denotes that you should put everything into a bag, you don’t necessarily have to. You just need a container that will fit everything that is easy to carry with you. Most people use a backpack or messenger bag because they are easy to get a hold of and easy to carry. Remember that you should have one go bag for each person in your family. Along those lines, it is essential that you don’t “share the load”, or spread items amongst everyone you are packing for. While it’s unpleasant to think about, you are packing for a worst case scenario. What happens if you get separated and someone else had the matches in their bag? Because disasters are a hectic time, it is also helpful to clearly label each bag with the name of the person whom it has been packed for. Again, what if you get separated and you don’t have any of your clothes? This is also important if you are evacuating with children. You don’t want your child bogged down with a bag that is too heavy for him to carry. Don’t forget to pack a bag for any pets you have!

A disaster can strike at any time, so be prepared: keep a go bag at home and at work. If you do this, you need to get into the mindset from the get-go that one of these bags will go to waste. If disaster strikes, there’s no way you’ll be able to salvage both bags. You need to resign yourself to the loss to begin with so you can pack your bags appropriately and not curry favor to one bag over another. Make it accessible! What good is having a go bag if you’re going to hide it under all those boxes in the basement? This bag needs to be somewhere you can get to at a moments notice. It should take you no more than a few extra seconds to get your bag on the way out of your house, than it would if you were just leaving.

The contents of your go bag should be well thought out and properly planned. Two hours before leaving isn’t enough time to put together a proper go bag, especially if we’re talking about an end of the world type scenario that this blog focuses on. If you are packing at the last minute, so is everyone else. The items you wanted in your go bag will no longer be available and you’ll end up making due. What if that hurricane turns into a storm that no ones every seen before, wiping out coastlines for miles inland? What happens if plague strikes slowing killing off the population of the world? The go bag you packed two hours before leaving town suddenly doesn’t seem so appealing does it?

The following items are suggestions for putting into your go bag. The inventory of your go bag is ultimately up to you. There are quite a few items on this list, and it is VERY unlikely that you could stow all of these comfortably in one go bag so pick and choose what works best for you.

Light Source – You should have some kind of light source, be it a flashlight or chem lights. There are ups and downs to either choice. A flashlight is convenient because you can turn it off when you don’t need it, whereas a chem light is on until the chemical reaction is done. However, when a chem light is done, you can throw it away. On top of packing a flashlight, you have to pack extra batteries or else the flashlight loses its usefulness. If you want to be incredibly gung-ho, you can pack night vision goggles in your go bag. This means that you won’t be giving away your position at night to those who may wish to harm you. Plus, you can purchase infrared chem lights which means that when you crack them, they won’t be visible unless you’re wearing night vision goggles.

Batteries – There are plenty of items on this list that require batteries. If you pack any of them you need to ensure that you pack batteries to last you throughout the nominal 72 hour period. That being said, if you can buy a version of any device in a form that doesn’t require you to change batteries (i.e. hand crank powered, solar powered, etc.) this could be the best solution. You don’t know how long you’re going to be away from home, and you don’t know how devastating the disaster was to society at large. The longer you can make something last without having to depend on an item, like batteries, the better.

Dust Mask – Remember when the World Trade Center collapsed? If you didn’t live in New York City, you must have seen images of the dust cloud rolling out away from the remnants of the buildings and the haze that sat over the city for weeks afterward. This is what happens when a building explodes/collapses. Now imagine that happening near you, would you want that thick, choking cement dust filling your lungs because you don’t have a filtration system?

Pocket Knife/Multi-tool – Having either a pocket knife or a multi-tool can be extremely helpful, and more so if you are in survival mode for more than 3 days. You may need to cut rope, shave bark, etc. If you don’t know what a multi-tool is, it is basically a pair of pliers with various cutting and manipulating devices crammed into the handle. You may have also heard these by the name Gerber or Leatherman as these are particular brands. I prefer a multi-tool, but a simple pocket knife will do just fine. Fair warning, pocket knives (and multi-tools) weren’t designed to be weapons and thus don’t make very good weapons, you should keep this as a survival tool. That being said, if worse comes to worst, a pocket knife will do fine as a weapon but if used as a weapon you could unintentionally hurt yourself or break the blade.

Emergency Cash – If this is truly an end of the world situation, cash will eventually be worthless. In the short term, however, it can be vital to your survival. You can use it to pay for supplemental supplies that you don’t have in your go bag, for transportation, etc. Just remember that the longer the post-event chaos and anarchy goes on, the less value money will have. This is likely to be one of the few nefarious or less than moral tips I’ll give, but money has an ingrained value in society and flashing around cash to get what you want will help “grease the wheels” if you will, even though the instant disaster hits and society begins its irreversible decline money will be completely valueless. Coins on the other hand can be valuable under certain circumstances. For as long as telephone company switching stations stay functional, pay phones will remain functional. If you have quarters, you can make phone calls. Who will you call? That’s up to you, but be forewarned that after a few days to a week those switching stations are likely to go and a you will likely not be able to contact anyone. If you choose to carry cash, carry small denominations. You’re not likely to find someone who can or will “make change”.

Clothing – This is something that you should put in your go bag no matter what. As I have said before, what you put in your go bag is up to you, but if you don’t put at least a change of clothing in your go bag, you’re a dumb ass. If your clothes get wet, you need to swap for dry clothes and let the wet ones dry out. This is especially true for socks. You should put a pair of sturdy shoes or boots into your go bag that you can change into at the first possible chance. You should also pack for weather, pack a poncho for rain, a hat, gloves and coat for cold weather, etc. I say a poncho as rain gear because it is easier to wrap up tightly so it takes up less space in your go bag. The more space you can save, the more stuff you can bring.

Permanent Marker/Pen – You’ll need to write, whether it be a note to your family or a journal to keep you sane. While this may not seem vital, you’ll feel differently after a month or two of isolation. Isolation can cause anxiety, sensory illusions, distortion in time and perception, and after extended periods of time can lead to clinical depression and inability to establish relationships at all. Most sources say that these symptoms can be avoided by keep yourself occupied and your mind busy. The best way to do this is to write a journal. This could be as simple as writing notes to leave behind for others about who you are and when you passed through, or notes indicating where to find food or water, or as elaborate as a journal in which you keep your thoughts and events of the day.

Paper – Coupled with the oh-so-vital pen is paper. If you don’t have paper, what will you write on?

Food – Food is the second most important thing you can pack in your go bag. Eating even a little food everyday will keep you alert and give you energy. You will be more likely to survive if your head is clear and you can keep moving. You will want to pack food that isn’t perishable and is hermetically sealed. Energy bars, a sealed can of nuts or two, dried fruit, trail mix, beef jerky, and canned meats are best because they are high in protein, which will be of greater short term benefit than something like canned fruits or vegetables. Baby food is also a good alternative because most baby food is fortified with vitamins and minerals you will need to keep going. If you can manage to get a hold of a box of military “Meals Ready-to-Eat” or “MREs”, by all means do so! These MREs are designed precisely for this situation. They have all the nutrients you need for a survival situation, and you can survive on one a day if you need to. They are also self-contained, including a way to heat your meals without flame, a toiletry pack including a moist towelette, toilet paper, and matches. Buying food for a go bag can be a financially daunting task. However, you can split up the cost over time. Every time you go grocery shopping, budget $2-$5 specifically for go bag food. Before you know it, you’ll have all the food you need.

Water – By far the most important thing to have on this list, water will keep you alive more so than anything else on this list. Unfortunately, water weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon and will quickly weigh you down. You should pack roughly 3 gallons per person in order to drink and cook with. I suggest gathering your water in the large plastic water bottles you buy from the store, as these have easily sealed lids and usually fit well into pockets or backpacks. They’re also sturdy enough to be reused once emptied. Which brings me to my next point.

Water Purification Supplies – Whether it actually be a full blown portable filtration system or simply a bag full of iodine tablets, you need some way of purifying water. The water you pack will only last 3 days at most and you can’t risk drinking non-potable water or assume that clean water will be available somewhere. Keep a look out here for a future post exclusively about water purification.

Family Photos – While these can be a sentimental reminder of the loved ones not with you, I place importance on these photos because they can be used for identification at a later date. If you are trying to find these people (or pets), you will need photographs to show people when asking about them.

List of Phone Numbers – In case you find a telephone that still works, you will want a list of phone numbers to call. Do not keep this in an electronic format! You have to assume your device will have lost power and you won’t be able to recharge it. A pen and paper will suffice perfectly in this situation. You might even use one of those fancy, printers and print a list of phone numbers out.

List of Allergies – This is something everyone should know anyway, but just in case someone is forgetful, or too young. They should have a clearly identifiable way of showing their food and drug allergies.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste – In the long run, dental hygiene will be important. If you lose your teeth, you lose your ability to eat food without special preparation. You could fashion a makeshift toothbrush and toothpaste later on or scrounge one possibly, but better safe than sorry I say. You may not be able to find the materials for a makeshift toothbrush or you may not find an actual toothbrush down the road.

Tent – Shelter is a must while in the initial survival stage and if you pack a tent, its one less thing you have to worry about when the sun starts to set and you start getting tired. I would suggest against the larger tents on the market today as these are far more than what you need, even with a group of 4 or 5. You may not be comfortable jamming 3 people into a pup tent, but you’ll stay warm in the cold nights and you’ll need less space to set up a camp.

Sleeping Bag – Again, shelter is important and staying warm and protected against the elements is a major factor in that. Bringing a sleeping bag will help with both of those. On the downside, most sleeping bags are bulky and cumbersome. If you have the opportunity to buy a sleeping bag with a compression bag to put it in, I highly recommend it. A compression bag is a bag to keep something like a sleeping bag in that has straps all around the outside so that you can clamp down the bag and squeeze the sleeping bag down to the smallest size you can get it to. I also recommend toying around with it before you actually need to use it so as to become familiar with how a compression bag works and how to maximize the effectiveness of it.

Cooking Supplies – Something like a Coleman grill or pots and pans, while not vital, can make life just a little better. Not having to cook a can of stew directly in the fire and then deal with trying to open a hot can can make the difference between being a miserable wreck and being some guy in the woods. This is a simple matter of convenience and mental health. If you want to pack this sort of thing, be my guest. If you don’t, no one holds it against you.

Cutlery and Dishes – This falls into the same category as cooking supplies, they make life just a little easier. I’ve seen sporks on the internet that look durable enough to pack for this purpose. Plus, having a spork means one less piece of cutlery to have to carry per person. As far as dishes go, I’d go with a small plastic or metal plate with a little curve to it. It will be relatively easy to pack and can be used universally.

Fire Starting Tool – There are a great deal of ways to start a fire. Simple match and kindling, a 9-volt battery and steel wool, ferrocerium rod, a flare, and the list goes on. Pick one you feel comfortable with and are reasonably assured that you will be able to start a fire with. Having a fire can be important, it can keep you warm, it can cook your food, it can keep predators away, it provides a light source in the dark, etc. This is another item I plan on writing a more in depth.

Radio – A radio can be beneficial because you can tune into emergency broadcasts to hear the status of things.  Somebody may also be transmitting a signal on a frequency you could pick up. Common sense should tell you that you will need a radio that operates on battery power and not a plug-in radio, but there are also varieties of radios available that are powered by a hand crank and can be recharged by spinning the handle several times.

Two Way (or Hand-held) Radio – This is an entirely different type of radio than previously mentioned in that it is the type of radio you would use to talk to others. Having a hand-held radio means that you will be able to respond back if someone is broadcasting. These radios typically have a scan feature built in so that you can monitor many channels at once. Most commercial grade radios operate in the VHF range and require an operator’s license to use. Having an operator’s license seems like it would be moot in an “end of the world” situation, but truthfully it would be helpful to have one just to know how to properly use a radio.

Firearms – The end of the world has the potential to be a very dangerous, and very scary, place. Having a weapon of some sort can help you protect yourself, but it can also be a hindrance. Should you find yourself in a dangerous situation, having a weapon could dissipate the situation if used properly for the situation. However, most people feel a false sense of security from carrying a sidearm and tend to get themselves into bad situations thinking they have the upper hand. A more important use for a firearm is hunting. You’re going to run out of food and you can’t assume that you will be able to scavenge food. You also can’t assume you will be able to hunt your food consistently either, but it provides another option. Don’t forget to pack ammunition! Nothing could possibly make you feel more idiotic than forgetting the ammunition for the firearm you brought.

Crowbar – A crowbar can be the most used thing you will pack. At the point in which people have abandoned their possessions, for whatever reason, the crowbar becomes your skeleton key. You can pry doors open, break windows, and break locks in order to access abandoned buildings or vehicles. You can pry the top off of a crate (if you ever find one). It can also be used as a weapon should it be needed.

Magnifying Glass – This can be useful to look at the minutiae on a map, but I think it would be more useful to light a fire by focusing sunlight, or as a light signal to airplanes or distant people.

Whistle – In the situation where you are trying to signal a distant party, but they aren’t looking in your direction and don’t notice you yelling, a whistle can be used to create a shriller, more easily heard noise at further distances. If each person in your group has one and you get separated, one of you can use a whistle to indicate your location while the others find you. You can find these whistles nearly anywhere, but I would advise getting a metal referee’s whistle as it will last you longer and will make a much more noticeable noise when blown.

Moist Towelettes – You aren’t always going to have water to clean yourself off with and you shouldn’t waste your drinking water for cleaning yourself. If you have moist towelettes, you can use them to give yourself a sponge bath of sorts. You won’t be the cleanest, but you’ll be clean enough and the difference in mental acuity and well-being will be significant. If you are trying to evade and hide from anybody, not having your stench waft over the area you’re in can be helpful.

Outdoor Garbage Bags – A roll of the kind of garbage bags you use to bag up leaves in the autumn can be used for a number of purposes. You can make a poncho or a water filtration system. You can waterproof your gear with one.

Maps – If you have a map of where you are, you will never be lost. Add a compass into the mix, and you can navigate anywhere. It would also be useful to have a map of where you’re going (if you know where you’re headed). There are a number of different types of maps available. Stay away from the political maps. they are less than worthless for land navigation. A road map can be beneficial, but will only help you if you travel by road. If you can get topographical maps, these would be best because they allow you to navigate anywhere with the right tools and knowledge.

Compass – Even if you don’t pack maps, a compass will help you get your bearings and prevent you from getting completely lost.

Candles – As most people use them now, candles make great emergency light sources. Should you run out of chem lights, batteries for a flashlight, etc. Candles make great light sources. If you’re conservative with the wax, you can reuse it to make new candles.

First Aid Kit – This falls squarely in the “Better Safe Than Sorry” category. A first aid kit is the precaution inside a precaution and it can make or break your survival. You should be able to pick up a standard first aid kit at your local pharmacy or outdoors store. A basic first aid kit is not designed to be used as a primary care tool, there are larger kits you can buy from medical suppliers that carry a more extensive array of equipment. Some items you should consider having in your kit (whether it comes with them or not) are

  • Painkillers
  • Antibiotic Ointments
  • Diarrhea medications like Immodium
  • Sanitary pads
  • Pepcid
  • Benadryl and other allergy pills
  • Theraflu
  • Bandaids (lots of it in different shapes and sizes)
  • Gauze pads / roll gauze and first aid tapes
  • Betadine
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Blood Stopper trauma bandage
  • Gel antibacterial hand wash
  • Prescriptions
  • Super Glue or Liquid Stitches

Don’t skip out on the antiseptics, because you don’t need an infection that festers and spreads and end up losing a limb or dying. Just because you have the means to take care of an injury or ailment doesn’t make you a doctor! You haven’t got the knowledge or experience to treat serious problems, so you need to stop them while they are still minor.

Blankets – Regardless of where you are or where you are going, it WILL get cold and you need a way to stay warm, especially when you aren’t moving. Pack a Mylar solar blanket or the like in order to keep the cold at bay. Mylar blankets are especially convenient because they aren’t bulky at all and very easy to fold up and tuck away.

Hand and Feet Warmers – These are a bit of a luxury unless you live far enough away from the equator. In these northern climates having an ample supply of hand and feet warmers can keep hypothermia away and your digits attached. You should get the carbon activated kind if you can because they are very convenient.

Ziplock Bags – These aren’t vital for survival, but they come in handy more often than you think. Because they lock closed, they are waterproof which can help keep things dry that shouldn’t get wet. They also keep moisture in, so something that should stay moist can keep better in a ziplock bag. Most importantly, these will lock in smells so you can keep food or trash in them and not attract unwanted animals.

Work/Latex Gloves – It’s inevitable that you’ll have to deal with something unpleasant be it hazardous waste, a dead body, Constantina wire, or just broken glass. You’ll need some protective gloves to keep the “eww” off of you. Work gloves are good for jobs where you might cut or otherwise damage your hands, picking up glass, carrying Constantina wire, moving heavy equipment, etc. Latex gloves are good for dealing with wet materials you don’t want to seep through to your skin: human waste, a body, chemical spills, etc.

Ropes – Ropes can help you strap things to your bag so you can carry more. They can be used to hang things when you’re stopped for the night. They can be used to assist you in climbing a steep incline or rock face. If small enough they can be used to make candles. You should familiarize yourself with at least a handful of different knots and practice using them often. It would behoove you to buy a pocket guide for knot tying in case you forget how to tie a knot or which knot to use for which purpose.

Duct or Rigger’s Tape – Duct tape is great for binding things and waterproofing things. Its capable of holding a great deal of weight and is resistant to tearing. The problem with duct tape is that it is designed to patch leaks in ducts and is therefore designed to stick to wet metal materials. It isn’t very good at sticking to anything else. Rigger’s tape is, however, like duct tape on steroids. It is as strong and waterproof as duct tape, but will stick to ANYTHING. As great as rigger’s tape is, it is expensive and harder to procure. The only place I’ve ever seen it, is military surplus stores and moreso around military bases. Whichever direction you choose to go with this item, I suggest carrying 1 roll.

Watch – Everyone sees a watch as a one purpose item: to tell time. In a post-apocalyptic survival situation, whats the point of knowing what time it is? Honestly, there is no reason. But a watch has more use than that, most importantly: pacing. You can keep track of how long it takes you to walk a mile so you can estimate how long it will take you to go a further distance, this in turn will allow you to estimate how far you can travel in one day. On the other side of the coin, if you know how long it takes you to walk a mile on average, you can estimate how far you’ve gone.

Satellite Phone – A satellite phone can be a good asset to keep with you, provided you don’t mind carrying a device that will require batteries or a way to charge existing batteries.  The reason a satellite phone is better to carry than a standard mobile phone lies in the way each communicates with its network.  A mobile phone must be able to communicate with a cellular tower which then communicates through a satellite to another tower and to another mobile phone or into the terrestrial phone network.  A satellite phone, however, links directly to any satellites it can communicate with, thereby “eliminating the middle man” so to speak.

Solar Chargers – If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m against packing anything that requires batteries or power really of any kind because it is unreliable and if you loss your power source, the item is useless. However, should you decide to pack any of these items, a solar charger would be a good idea. You will be able to charge your batteries or items while the sun is out.

Further Reading

  1. http://www.72hours.org/build_kit.html
  2. http://www.gobag.org/
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bug-out_bag
  4. http://www.ehow.com/how_5464199_stock-emergency-go-bag.html
  5. http://www.wonderwifey.com/2010/02/go-bag-are-you-prepared.html
  6. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Go-Bag
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite_phone
  8. http://www.content4reprint.com/business/satellite-phone-communications-during-a-natural-disaster.htm