Here in the United States, we have apparently been hit by the old Chinese curse. That is to say, we live in interesting times. The world is fraught with tension and violence, and within our own borders, we are collectively agitated and bewildered by our depressing lack of a coherent and functioning political system. International terrorist groups target weekend revelers across the West, and our own children—usually young men—periodically engage in spasms of violence, in which a deranged shooter kills scores of innocent bystanders, usually before offing himself.

There is no point in arguing how we got here. That is for future sociologists and historians to parse, with the benefit of decades of hard data and hindsight. Our goal in the here and now is simply to manage the day-to-day, to do right by our families, to make the best of the world we inhabit, and if we are lucky enough, to help—even incrementally—to make the world a better place. Part of our job is to simply survive. We have to adapt to the world around us, be cognizant of the threats, and do what we can to mitigate them.

This author has addressed the possibility of various attack scenarios playing out here in the United States—here, here, and here—and has also provided some ways that one can help him or herself survive a mass shooting. Following on these hopefully helpful missives, it is now time to think about making yourself a go bag to maximize your chances of successfully surviving a man-made or natural disaster.

A go bag (I have no idea from where the name originates) is also known as a bug-out bag, or an E&E (escape and evasion) kit. There are probably countless other names by which it is known, but you get the point. It is a small to medium-size bag that is at your disposal whenever you might need it. Whether it be a terrorist attack on the scale of Paris or 9/11, or a workplace shooting, or even the zombie apocalypse, this bag will keep you alive and well for a short duration—ideally until the situation settles down.

Typically, the go bag is meant to sustain you for 48 or 72 hours, for evacuation survival rather than long-term survival. That is an important distinction. You should not pack it like it is your end-of-times bag. It is meant for a scenario in which you might encounter unplanned violence or threats to your life, over a short duration, and from which you will attempt to extricate yourself expeditiously. This bag will assist you in that effort, if you pack it right.

There are a million different ways to assemble a go bag. Like every other thing, you can spend major bucks, buy a top-of-the-line tactical bag, and load it up with high-priced gear; you can spend the money to purchase an expensive pre-made bag from a survivalist website; or you can go cheap—excuse me, economical—and do it yourself, using cheaper alternatives from Home Depot, Walmart, and/or the local camping store. It is truly up to you which route you want to go.

The bag we will discuss here is probably more accurately termed an “urban” go bag. It is designed for a situation in which you might find yourself in your hometown or city, in need of hunkering down due to a terrorist attack, mass shooting, or natural disaster of some sort. Ideally, you will quickly evacuate yourself to safety. This bag is not meant for a long-term wilderness situation, in other words, though some of its contents would surely function in that setting as well. The point is, assess your situation, the threat you are most likely to face, and plan and pack accordingly.

There is no “right” or perfect combination of gear to pack in the go bag, except that which keeps you alive and well as you evacuate and move to safety. Whatever works for you and your loved ones is best. Make no mistake, if and when—God forbid—the crap impacts the fan, there will probably always be that one piece of gear you wished you had packed (“Dammit, why did I not pack snake bite anti-venom!?”). Such is life. You live (hopefully) and you learn.

Following that lengthy preamble, we can now ask: What should you pack in your go bag? Here are my suggestions. Like I said, they may not work for you in this exact composition, so obviously, feel free to borrow liberally from this list, and make it your own.

  • A compact pistol, in a decent caliber. I like an H&K USP Compact .45, but others can and will work.
  • Two full magazines.
  • An expandable baton, in case you do not want to shoot someone, but still need to incapacitate them. ASP, Inc makes a good one.
  • Pepper spray, for the same reason.
  • A good, and sharp, folding knife. I use one by Spyderco, but again, there are many.
  • A muti-tool
  • Some cash
  • Passport
  • A tourniquet, for uncontrolled extremity (arm and leg) bleeding. I like the CAT version.
  • An N95 mask, or a mask that, at a minimum, will effectively filter dust and other particulates (a particulate respirator).
  • Combat gauze. This is a trauma dressing impregnated with a hemostatic agent, meaning it will help stop uncontrolled bleeding more effectively than normal gauze.
  • A chest seal. This is an occlusive dressing used for penetrating chest wounds (also called “sucking chest wounds”). You simply place it over the hole in your chest to treat the resulting open pneumothorax being caused by said hole.
  • A high-quality flashlight
  • Water and food to last 48 to 72 hours. This may include a freeze-dried camping meal, iodine tablets for treating water, a camping stove and fuel, or a LifeStraw-type of device for water purification.
  • A small roll of duct tape (also called rigger’s tape) for any number of uses.
  • A package of large zip ties, also serving many purposes.
  • At least 20 feet of parachute cord (also called paracord and “550 cord”) for tying something down, and many other uses.
  • Batteries

That’s it. As you can see, this is not an exhaustive gear list. It does not need to be. It is meant to keep you alive for a short time. Finally, to illustrate that there are many different ways to do this, here are some examples of other variations of emergency preparedness kits from some reputable sources:

Now, get to packing, and stay alive, my friends.


This article previously published on SOFREP 02.24.16

Featured image courtesy of Warner Brothers.