In times of emergency a Bug Out Bag or a Go Bag, as it is also called, is invaluable. 

But before we go any farther, for the uninitiated, what exactly is a “Go Bag?”

A Go Bag is an emergency survival bag (normally a backpack) that is filled with the essential survival gear that you would need during a short-term natural disaster or crisis. It’s meant to be grabbed quickly so that one can dash out the door, hence the term “Go Bag.” 

And while some pooh-pooh the idea of a Go Bag, think back to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Thousands of people had to evacuate their homes, and many of them were not in the best of situations. Think of all the wildfires that are destroying communities out west. And as we’ve seen all over the world, no one really knows when the next terrorist incident could strike. 

So, while we can never control when, where, or how disaster strikes, we can control how prepared we are to deal with one. When every second counts, having a plan and the gear to get you through the all-important first 72 hours is crucial to survival. And your Go Bag may very well be your key to survival when shit hits the fan.

I’ve seen many websites that tout “the perfect go-bag” etc. and to be honest, that is all B.S. “Why?” you might ask. The answer’s that there is no perfect, standardized Go Bag list of things to pack, because it all is greatly dependent on your situation, your location, and if you are alone or have others with you. So, what’s the first thing you need to do? Plan.

Always Begin With Proper Planning: 

So, when you begin your planning, as we were taught in our old survival, SERE School classes, a great place to start is the “S” of SURIVAL: “Size up the Situation.”  Here is the full acronym for whoever is interested: 

S – Size up the Situation (surroundings, equipment, physical condition)
U – Undue Haste Makes Waste and Use Your Senses
R – Remember Where You Are
V – Vanquish Panic and Fear
I – Improvise
V – Value Life
A – Act like the Natives
L – Live by Your Wits or Learn Basic Skills

So, in sizing up the situation, the first thing you have to do is a Threat Assessment.

Firstly, where are you located? Are you at home and preparing for a hurricane, flood, or another natural disaster? That would be different than packing for a natural disaster in a foreign country. Or are you working in a foreign location where there could be terrorist threats? Knowing what you’d be preparing for is the first consideration before building a Go Bag. Then you will have to decide for how long you will be packing, what gear, and how much you will need in order to survive.

Secondly, what threats are you facing? Are they natural, (weather-related), along with animal (wildlife), or is the threat from man (crime, terrorism, civil war)? All of these things play a role in the planning phase. 

So, with that in mind, you can go to the next consideration and that is the bag itself. Again there is no perfect “you have to buy THIS bag” answer. But your bag should be large enough to pack all of your necessities and sturdy enough to hold up. You may want to consider a bag with MOLLE attachments that you can attach an almost unlimited amount of stuff on if need be. 

If you’re traveling with family members then, if practical, they should have their own bags with personal gear. It sounds ludicrous, but ensure that everyone’s gear complements each other’s. With a family, it may be necessary to double up the personal items in one bag and have another one be a large medical bag, depending on the location, or it may be fine for everyone to have their own first aid kit. 

So, now we have a plan and a Go Bag. At this point, you can start by packing common items.

Denzel Washington had an excellent example of a Go Bag in “The Book of Eli.”


The biggest need will always be water. At a minimum, each person should pack one liter of water per day, so for a 72-hour evacuation plan, that is a minimum of three liters of water per person. The military issue canteen cup is a nice item to have since it can be used to boil water, if the need arises, or to cook food in. 

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Boiling water may not be practical at times, so having a backup water filtration device or water purification tablets makes sense — but a word to the wise: they make the water taste terrible.

Go Bag Food 

A simple rule of thumb in this type of situation is that you can pack cans of meat, beans, etc. but they get heavy. On the other hand, some of the dehydrated meals sold in backpacking stores are light and delicious but require more water. So, there is a delicate balance to strike here and your situation and location may drive the train.

Have a small pot (canteen cup) and a small metal plate to cook on. A small camp stove with one gas canister is a great addition if space allows and hot food is always preferable.

A good choice for food could be the military’s MREs. Yes, they’ve gotten a bad rap, but the newer versions are much better. Besides, we’re talking about survival and not fine dining here. Some energy bars, candy bars, and trail mix are great additions to the food bag and give you the option of eating while on the go. 

Boots, Clothing, Shelter

Clothing is your first line of defense against the elements and is something that should be of primary concern. You have to protect yourself from the elements as well as keep your internal body temperature regulated. So, depending on your environment, at a minimum, a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a hat, a rain jacket, and two pairs of pants and socks are a good place to start. 

Military ponchos can serve double duty as a shelter or rain gear. The grommets on the poncho can be easily secured by 550 parachute cord and/or bungee cords. A survival blanket is always a great addition to keep yourself warm with, plus it is light and easily stored. A wool blanket will still keep you warm when wet, or act as a sleeping bag if it is necessary. But the old woobie (military poncho liner) with a Gore-Tex bivvy sack is how I lived in the field most months out of the year. 

Go Bag Fire 

Having been through the old Special Forces survival part of schooling, building a fire from scratch is a giant pain in the ass. While it can be done in any conditions, carrying a few small pieces of gear is much more preferable. 

I would include three small items that are indispensable: lighters, waterproof matches, and a fire steel which can generate sparks in any weather conditions. Tinder is important. I got some zipper pulls for my rain jacket which has built-in tinder that can be easily removed. But if you can’t find them, get cotton balls, saturate them in petroleum jelly, and put them in a sealed plastic bag… voila!

Tools and Protection

Here’s where things get interesting. There are many different opinions on these items. A heavy full-tang survival knife is a must. It can be used for chopping, splitting wood, cooking as well as for self-defense. A smaller Swiss Army knife/Leatherman always comes in handy. I always fashion a walking stick when walking in the woods. 

If you find yourself in a position where there is violence, chaos, and lawlessness, then protection may necessitate the use of a firearm. And if you have to protect your life or that of your family, it is actually no choice at all. A firearm gives you, besides the intimidation factor, reach and stopping power. It doesn’t have to be a Desert Eagle, but just enough to stop a predator in his/her tracks. 

Miscellaneous Go Bag Gear

Some other good and handy stuff to pack in your Go Bag are: 

Cash, passports (if applicable), a pad, and a pencil. 

I always pack 550 cord, regardless of where I go, as it has hundreds of uses. Soap and hand sanitizer, duct tape, two or three bandanas, and a couple of medium size plastic trash bags. And don’t pack your bag without a compass… We won’t get into navigation today but that is a skill everyone should have. 

There is no such thing as a perfect Go Bag. It is all assessing, planning, and testing. Pack one and then head out in the woods in your area and see what you left out or want to add.  

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