Since returning from vacation, I’ve been trying to check some long-standing items off my lists. And one of those things is to finish my disaster preparedness plans. Seriously: I’m not talking about getting ready for the pending zombie apocalypse, but there are plenty of bad things that can happen and it’s smart to be ready.
One way to be ready is to have a Go-bag. A Go-bag (also known as a Bug-out-bag or a Grab-and-Go bag) is basically a pre-packed bag you can quickly grab in an emergency if you need to evacuate the area that will supply you for a few days. For example, if a major earthquake, fire, or zombie infestation leaves your home or neighborhood unsafe, you can grab it and feel comfortable heading to a shelter, hotel, or other safe place.
My Go-bag is intended to last for up to three days, in style of course, but not luxury. I’m guessing that by the end of three days, I’ll either be able to return home, or if I can’t, I’ll have other stuff figured out (two topics that need their own articles).
Many Go-bag lists focus on survival and first aid equipment. While those are important and we’ll address them, it’s unlikely we’ll find ourselves staying in the woods. It’s more likely that we’ll be spending a night or two or three with family or friends, in a hotel, or possibly in an emergency shelter of some sort, and food and water will be available. We want our Go-bags to be light and small enough that we can (i) afford to make them, (ii) have space to store them in an accessible place, and (iii) can actually carry them when the time comes.
I have two Go-bags: one at home, and one at my office. Those are the places I spend most of my time, so they make the most sense. If you drive to work, or spend lots of time in your car, it might be a better location than in your office. Why not just one back in your home? If you aren’t home when you need it, chances are you won’t be able to go there. If you’re able to make it home to get it, chances are you can stay there and don’t need it. So, two bags.
Ok, the gear…
Because this stuff is hopefully never used, I’m not going to spend a ton of money on it (and if I can, I’ll choose something old that I already own). At the same time, I don’t want to totally skimp either – if something doesn’t work, I might as well not get it.
Backpack. A backpack doesn’t store as well as a duffle, but it’s a lot easier to walk with. If there’s a major disaster, it’s reasonable to expect roads to be clogged or cordoned off for emergency vehicles only. You’ll be walking.
Change of clothes. Disasters are dirty. You’ll want a change of clothes. Choose clothes that are comfortable and versatile. In my pack: North Face Paramount Convertible Pants, a couple cotton t-shirts, an extra pair of underwear, and extra socks. Store this stuff in a waterproof bag.
Warm jacket and rain jacket. You could combine these two items in some sort of big parka thing, but separate items offers a lot more flexibility. Basically, I want a light fleece, and a light rain shell. The fleece doesn’t need to be super warm (San Francisco is not terribly cold), and the rain shell doesn’t need to be super breathable. I chose these because they are relatively inexpensive, lightweight, but still are decent quality.
Warm hat. This is hopefully self-explanatory. I prefer a wool beanie. I’m not actually buying one, as I have several extra.
Shoes! You may be wearing a pair of wingtips or sandals. Not very helpful. Shoes are the hardest thing for me to deal with – you want something decent, but don’t want to drop a lot of money on it. I recommend watching Big 5 or some other general sports store for a good deal on running shoes and buying a pair or two.
Water & water treatment. Water is potentially an issue, but it’s easy to address. Assuming you make it to a shelter, you should be able to get clean water, and might as well ick up a 1 liter Nalgene bottle to carry it. And in case you can’t find clean water, chlorine tablets or a Steripen (with extra batteries!) will be good. In general, I can’t recommend the Steripen highly enough, but you need backup.
Food. Just bars and such. Bring enough for a few days (it’s actually a lot of bars!). Maybe some jerky. This needs to be rotated out periodically.
First aid. I’m not a huge fan of pre-made kits. I prefer rolling my own with a few bandaids, tweezers, various medications (Advil, Immodium, Benadryl, Psuedoephradine, Pepto/Tums, Vicodin), and stuff for sprained ankles (seriously – this is something I always carry!). But if you want, just buy a prepacked kit.
Cards. Most likely you’ll be doing a lot of waiting. Some cards would be helpful.
Pillow? I’m thinking an inflatable pillow or something. Not for me.
Tent. Probably not necessary, and will dramatically increase the size of your kit. If it’s important, bring a bivy sack. Or a tube tent (better hope you aren’t setting up in a field unless you have poles of some sort).
Paracord. Paracord is basically strong nylon cord. I like the bright orange stuff – if you use it to set up a tent or something you’re less likely to trip on it.
Sleeping bag liner / blanket / sleeping bag. Probably a sleeping bag liner. A cheap blanket or quilt might be nice, but big and heavy. The best of course would be an actual sleeping bag and a pad. But that adds a lot of cost and space so forget it. A sleeping bag liner and an emergency bivvy bag is a great combo. Small and useful. You can use the bag liner wherever you go and the other thing if you’re really cold.
Headlamp. Straightforward. No need to get fancy here, the Black Diamond Gizmo lamp is under $20 and works great.
Paperwork. Copies of all your important stuff – passport, drivers license, insurance info, bank and other account info. Store it in a waterproof bag (a Ziploc bag is perfect).
Cash. Maybe a hundred or two hundred bucks in fives, tens, and twenties.
Hand warmers. I just know it’s sometimes cold and it’s nice to have hand warmers available.
Pen, permanent marker, and paper. You may want to make signs to find people.
Ducktape. This is always useful.
Toiletries. Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, deoderant, q-tips. Don’t overdo it, but take whatever you need.
Toilet paper and hand sanitizer. How many times have you been at an outdoor event and the portable toilets were out of toilet paper? Yeah, you’ll probably want to bring your own. Put it in its own Ziploc bag.
Whistle. A whistle is worth its weight in gold. Here’s a loud whistle for you to buy.
Multitool. I think the Leatherman Wave is good. It has pliers, a knife, and a bunch of screwdrivers.
Earplugs. It may be loud where you end up, and so nice to sleep with these.
Plates and a spork. If you end up at an emergency shelter, they’ll have food, but may not have plates. This stuff doesn’t take up much room, might as well.
Radio. I’m not sold on all the fancy-pants hand-cranked radios out there. In fact, I’m not sold on radios at all, but everyone says you should have one, and it probably makes sense. In our scenario, you’ll only be seriously displaced for a few days, so a battery powered radio is fine. The Sony ICF38 Radio is very high quality and very cost effective.
Extra charger for your phone. Possibly solar panel.
The problem with a Go-bag is that it’s unlikely you’ll ever use it. So you spend a bunch of money putting it together, then it sits. You could theoretically use some of it, but remember to always returne it to your go-bag – what you don’t want is to have it spread out all over the place in an emergency, because it defeats the purpose.