Go Bag. Bug Out Bag. Bail Out Bag. We who would call ourselves ‘preppers’ talk about a lot of different preparedness types and methodologies—many of them existing simultaneously. This is not meant to draw lines to clarify differences. Here, I will be covering my Go Bag, its contents, and its philosophy. First though, I will supply a quick and dirty version of what a Go Bag (AKA Get Home Bag) is to me, and how it differs from a Bug Out Bag.
First, the Bug Out Bag. I covered Bug Out Bags in my blog about preparedness. The Bug Out Bag is a large, heavy bag, containing 50-85lbs of gear (depending on its contents) which is pre-packed and ready to go. The purpose of a Bug Out Bag is to sustain you and your assumed party (your household members) for a period of 72 hours. It should be able to do this in any foreseeable scenario, regardless of likelihood. It is like a spec’d out rifle. You only take it with you when there is a measurable probability that you’re going to need to use it. For the vast majority of the time—when you are unlikely to need your large, heavy Bug Out Bag—you carry a Go Bag. This would be akin to concealed-carrying a pistol daily. It’s not the optimal weapon for defense, but it’s the only practical weapon for daily carry, given the 0.0001% chance of needing it.
So a Bug Out Bag is like a fully spec’d out rifle with spare ammo and a Go Bag is like a compact pistol with just one mag.
The purpose of a Go Bag is to give you all the support that you can fit within a small, compact pack. Support for what? For everything. It’s a miniature Bug Out Bag with only the critical items. A Go Bag is designed to be able to give you critical support, and buy you up to 72 hours of time before you need basic resupply to live—assuming you are alone. The name of the game here is “High speed, Low drag.” Your Go Bag should never be further from you than a jog to your car. Like a handgun for daily carry, you have to be able to live with it.
Assembling a Go Bag
Now that you know what a Go Bag is, we will turn to my recommendations for assembling one. A great deal of thought has gone into my Go Bag, and I have been living with it daily for months now. This is my version of the perfect Go Bag for full-time carry (bringing it with you any time you leave the house). Your thoughts on this may vary, but I feel confident that you could follow my format to the ‘T’, and end up with a very livable Go Bag that just might save your life, or someone else’s, in an emergency.
Since a Go Bag should contain all the essentials for a hiking, biking, or outdoor recreation emergency, it makes sense to be built around a platform that can be easily worn during outdoor recreation. I chose the Camelbak M.U.L.E. NV hydration backpack (in black). The M.U.L.E. NV is well smaller than a standard backpack, but has ample storage space for a Camelbak system, with a large zipper compartment, a medium zipper compartment, two small zipper compartments, and an open compartment sandwiched between the main body and the outer compartments. The M.U.L.E. NV is a durable, rugged pack, which is very ergonomic, even when fully loaded with gear and water. Its straps are also setup in such a way that I was able to secure every strap, causing there to be nothing loose flapping around when you’re storing the pack or moving it around with you (until you need to deploy it, in which case it takes seconds to loose the straps and put it on).
The contents of a Go Bag should be restricted to only the essentials that will ease survival. For many preppers, myself included, it can be hard to fight the urge to add more and more gadgets to each of your survival systems. For a “Bug In” system (your setup for surviving at home in an emergency) you can go nuts. With a Bug Out Bag you can take liberties. With a Go Bag/Get Home Bag, you must resist the urge.
Food, water, and shelter are the essentials needed for survival. In order of importance, these should really be water, shelter, and food, as you’ll die of dehydration or exposure weeks before dying of malnourishment. After the essentials for life comes protection and first aid, closely followed by fire making. Least important, but not without consideration, are the items that will make extreme survival easier or more comfortable. This is the major category where you must be careful not to go overboard.
In an emergency you will only survive a couple days without water and—depending on your activity—you may only be effective for 24 hours, before beginning to suffer from dehydration. With water being so essential, the Go Bag must have water pre-packed at all times (hence basing it around a Camelbak). Unfortunately, you cannot store water in the Camelbak bladder for long periods of time, as you will develop mold and bacteria, making your water more of a hazard than a help. The solution? Datrex Emergency Water Rations. These water packets contain 125mL of water each, and are sealed for a 5-year shelf life (though I would trust them even longer). Datrex water rations are an ideal shape to allow for storage in the bladder compartment. What I mean by this is that I leave the empty water bladder in place. I then have 1.5L worth of water rations sealed together in a plastic bag. I keep the rations in the same compartment as the bladder. This way if I ever needed the emergency water, I could empty it all into the bladder and have 36-48 hours of emergency water before needing to find a replacement source.
Just 1.5L? What happens if you can’t find replacement water? Well for that, the Go Bag is also equipped with Iodine tablets that would allow me to disinfect more water, so long as I can find a natural water source (fairly easy in New England). An important thing to remember is that this is a short-term emergency bag. Water filters are too heavy and bulky to be considered for a Go Bag. The focus should be on storing enough water in the bag to get you to more water, which can be at least made safe by iodine tablets.
You never know when you’re going to need to deploy your Go Bag. A natural disaster, civil unrest, or a coffee spilled on your pants could happen any time . Wet clothes and/or a cold environment could quickly compromise the clothes you’re wearing and expose you to a risk of hypothermia (or simply discomfort and embarrassment in the case of the spilled coffee), which will quickly end your ability to effectively focus on survival.
Spare clothes are essential. I have a pair of folded jeans, with a cotton t-shirt folded into them. These are sealed in a 1mil-thickness trash bag and carefully taped off with duct tape with all air removed to save space. The reason for the plastic wrapping is to keep the spare clothes dry. If you end up in the drink, there’s a good chance your Go Bag went in with you. You’ll want to be able to change into dry clothes when you get back to terraferma. In addition to the jeans and t-shit, I also have a pair of underwear and wool socks sealed in a separate bag. Other items for protecting you from environmental concerns include a cotton beanie and Mechanix gloves.
With clothing out of the way, shelter for sleeping is your next concern. This is an area in which a Go Bag is very limiting. Shelter items, such as tarps, flies, and tents, take up far too much weight and space to pack in a bag that you take with you 24/7. A mylar emergency thermal blanket is a key item. One of them is enough for a blanket or a tiny shelter. Two is enough to make a small hanging shelter. Mylar blankets are not tough, but they are waterproof and will reflect about 90% of radiated energy (for keeping the heat in when it’s cold, or keeping the heat out when it’s hot). Additional shelter-making items include duct tape and para cord. I recommend one or two mini rolls of tape. To make these, roll yourself two tightly packed rolls of duct tape. Do not place a whole roll in the bag, as it would come from a store. For para cord, I recommend 25ft. Resist the urge to over-pack the bag. Give yourself enough supplies to get the job done in a pinch. This is not a magic bag of tricks, or a comfort camping kit. These three shelter supplies (mylar, duct tape, and para cord) are enough to get you out of a number of jams, and are not limited to shelter making. Together they make quite a handy repair/tool-making kit as well.
A Go Bag’s purpose is to sustain you for 72 hours. Technically you will not be at risk of starvation at 72 hours without food, however you may start to lose energy and mental clarity… Two things that are needed in abundance in an emergency situation. For this reason you want to have compact, long-lasting food stored in your Go Bag to at least get you to a point where you can resupply. Based on my research there is really only one option here, and that is the Datrex 3600 calorie lifeboat ration. This compact brick is a sealed package containing 18 smaller, individually-wrapped bricks. Each brick is 200 calories, and the contents are formulated to be all natural and high in critical nutrients for an emergency. In all, the package is enough to sustain an active person for 72 hours without significant decreases in energy or focus. In addition to the Datrex rations, I also keep one or two Clif bars in the pack. While the Datrex rations have a 5 year shelf life, Clif bars only last about a year. I rotate these out every time I do something active with the pack, by eating the stored bar and replacing it with a fresh one. The Clif bar isn’t a critical piece of the Go Bag system, but you would be grateful for having it in a pinch.
Obviously if the Go Bag is supposed to cover all foreseeable scenarios, you’re going to want more than basic food, water, and shelter. Here is a list of additional items (including the aforementioned to serve as a complete list):
Gerber 4.5″ Big Rock Camp Knife – This is a good mid-sized sheath knife, with rubberized grips, partially serrated blade, and great ergonomics. This could be used as a fighting knife and is heavy enough to do light chopping work, such as cutting down saplings. It is heavy enough that it will take small 1/2″ branches off saplings, cleanly, with one stroke (assuming it’s well-sharpened).
Gerber 3.5″ Basic Knife – The Basic has been a long-time favorite of mine. It is ultra compact and light-weight, with fantastic ergonomics. It’s is a hard-sheath based knife with rubberized grips and a partially serrated blade. The blade is deceptive. I estimated it at 2.5″, but found otherwise when I looked it up. This is a conveniently small knife. I prefer sheath-based knives for survival purposes, as the only reason to have your knife fold it to save space in a pocket.
LED Flashlight – A cheap-o LED click-on flashlight is perfect for this application. They are very small and light weight, but bright enough to work in a pinch. If you are willing to spend just a little more here are some thoughts on the higher-output, more robust Inova X1 and Inova T1
Fishing Float, 50ft of 8lb line, and a set of hooks and sinkers – Some basic fishing supplies take up very little space or weight, but could be your best bet for acquiring additional food in an emergency that takes you away from the comforts of civilization. All you need is a worm, a long stick, and some basic know-how.
AMK Fire Lite Tinder-Quik – This is basically a flint wheel mechanism like you’d find on a Zippo, mounted on an orange, plastic stick with a rubber strip for grip. It’s meant to be a small, simple, and reliable way of creating sparks. It comes with four Tinder Quik sticks which are waxed, waterproof tinder, which can be sparked into flame by the sparker.
Mini Bic Lighter – Always an easy way to light a fire. Bics are reliable and simple.
Grabber Toe Warmers – A light weight, compact comfort item, toe warmers may help quite a bit if you get stuck in the winter.
Sea To Summit Trek & Travel Pocket Soaps – These are little packets, sort of like an oversized Listerene pocket strips packs. They contain dissolvable sheets which are shampoo/conditioner and body wash. These are compact and weight an ounce combined. They must be housed in something water proof because water would ruin them, and likely everything around them. They are available in a number of soap types.
Pocket Pack of Tissues – Another light comfort item. No one likes the sniffles…
1/4 roll of Toilet Paper – For this I tightly rolled toilet paper to a size that would fit inside a toilet paper roll. I used the toilet paper roll as something to house the toilet paper, and wrapped it all really well in 8mil plastic and sealed it off with duct tape. The result is a packet the size and weight of the pocket tissues, which is probably good for two ‘number twos.’
Spare Batteries – Two words. Energizer… Lithium… I’m passionate about this one. If you use standard alkaline batteries, you’re a freaking moron. Get some Energizer Lithium batteries. They’re a third the weight and last 5+ times as long. They pay for themselves. You need a replacement set of batteries for the flashlight in the bag. Mine takes AAAs but I also keep a AA for the flashlight that’s always with me as part of my EDC system.
5 Hour Energy – Shut it. They do work, and all your arguments about how and why are irrelevant. They’re the only thing I know of that will keep you awake in a serious pinch, which can be stored using so little space and weight.
Camelbak Cleaning Tablets – A little chlorine tablet to help clean your Camelbak bladder.
Two 3/4″ rolls of duct tape – It’s common knowledge that duct tape has a million and one uses.
Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets with PA Plus Taste Neutralizer – A set of water purification tablets. The iodine will render water biologically safe, and the PA Plus kills the iodine taste.
Clif Bar – Shorter shelf life, but easy to rotate out. Clif Bars are great go food.
Medium Packtowl Persona – Weighs only 2oz but very high absorbency. This is the only thing I cannot attest to being totally functional, as I’ve never used it and I’ve not seen many detailed reviews. I understand they are very absorbent, but that most complain that it’s too small. Size is a luxury. In a Go Bag, this is the right size.
Datrex 3600cal Rations – 5 year shelf life. Good taste. ‘Nuff said.
Datrex Water Rations (12) – Each packet is 125mL with a 5 year shelf life. I package 12 in a 2×2, 3 deep formation, sealed in a bag for convenience and form-holding. With this setup it’s very quick to remove the water and fill your Camelbak bladder if you’re going to go hike with your bag. Then you can easily replace it for storage.
I keep a weatherproof LaCie XtremKey USB stick in my pack, loaded with scans of personal documents that could help with identification, and the like, in an emergency.
I also keep cash, a spare credit card, and my Passport Card in a duct tape wallet with the USB stick.
It is important to understand that a Go Bag is not a complete preparedness solution for the road. A Go Bag should be complimented by your EDC (Every Day Carry) system, which should be your base of full-time preparedness. My EDC system is detailed elsewhere, but the basics are a flashlight, knife, fire-making implement, multitool, smart phone, and firearm (or two).
No amount of gear or gadgetry can save you in an emergency, without the proper mindset and training. A medical kit will do you little good if you don’t know how to use its contents. Shelter making supplies won’t help if you don’t know how to use your environment to your advantage to make a shelter. Fishing line and hooks won’t help you much if you’ve never fished before. A high speed, low drag Go Bag won’t help you if your body is in poor shape and your mind is numb. The cost of this Go Bag and all of its contents (considering that you have to over-buy a few things which don’t come in small quanitities) is about $350 (minus personal data storage USB and emergency cash). That money will be wasted if you don’t invest in the knowledge and training to use it.