What's a good bag for emergencies?

You wouldn’t go on a picnic without first finding a good basket to carry your picnic blanket, dishes, and food. The same goes for preparing for a disaster. This section covers several types of bags for emergencies and what to put in each bag. 

Go bags

If you’re in a hurry to leave, this is the one bag you need - for your household. That last phrase is especially important. You don’t need much for yourself, but if you’re responsible for several people in your household, make sure this bag holds enough gear for everyone.

The term for this type of bag originates from when soldiers carried a bag in case they were overrun and needed to evacuate quickly, or “bug out.” Besides bug out bag (BOB), you may have heard other names for this bag such as Get out of dodge (GOOD) bag, Grab bag, 72-hour bag, or Go bag.

To get a sense of why the foresight of packing a Go bag is so smart watch this video of a family evacuating  before this 2019 wildfire that displaced nearly 50,000 people. You can imagine what they may have overlooked as they hurriedly packed their luggage and threw it into the back of their car. 

You don’t want to be like those people. This blog will help you know, when it’s time to go, exactly what you should take with you. You won’t be thinking as you drive down the road, “Why did I pack a coffee table, and leave my medication behind?” 

How portable is it?

There is some crossover between a Go bag and an earthquake kit. A Go bag is light for running away. An earthquake kit has everything you need to survive after an earthquake has hit, and part of that requirement may require escaping a collapsed building, but it also includes food and water for hunkering down.

For that reason I suggest a two bag strategy. Grab the primary Go bag if there’s only time to get one thing. If there’s more time you can grab your secondary Go bag. The secondary bag increases your comfort while on the road. The secondary bag also has evacuation tools that are specific to storms and earthquakes.

Depending on the age and health of the people in your family, you may be able to lighten the load by letting individuals carry more of their own gear. On the other hand, if you have to carry gear for some of the people in your family, be realistic about what you can carry. I have been on enough backpacking trips where someone had to stop and redistribute or abandon their gear because they couldn’t carry everything they packed.

Are you driving, walking, or running? Who knows? Find a good quality backpack, or a duffel bag with shoulder straps. A waterproof or water resistant bag is even better because you don’t want to carry soggy clothes and food if it’s raining. Keep additional essentials next to your secondary bag such as a camp stove, sleeping bags, extra water, and tents. If you’re evacuating by car you’ll want to grab these essentials before you get on the road.

Regional and seasonal differences

When you evacuate the initial adrenaline will help you focus on safety, but if you have to evacuate it may be a long time before you can return home or that things get back to normal. Sitting out in the hot sun, or shivering at night in borrowed blankets will make you miserable. Be certain that you have the right supplies for the season.

When my family moved from California to Florida it took some time to update our Go bag. We realized quickly that our earthquake gear wasn’t the same as hurricane gear. The wool hats and socks were out. Extra t-shirts, sunscreen, and mosquito lotion were in. It’s also a good idea to periodically review and update your bags, especially as your family grows up and seasons change.

The ultimate list of gear for your Go bag

Now that you have a bag it’s time to start organizing the supplies you’ll put in there. Start small. Only put in the things that you actually have lying around the house. As you review your list you’ll start to think about things that you want to get over time. Consider it this way; every thing you add to your bag makes you more prepared than you were the day before. It’s not a race to get everything on your list. 


Thule Chasm Sport Duffel Bag

This cool looking, weather proof bag comes in four different sizes, and four different colors. Lots of easy to access pockets. Carry it like a duffel, or add the removable shoulder straps to make it into a backpack. Check it out on Amazon.com

Gonex Water Repellent Duffel Bag Backpack

A water resistant duffel bag with backpack straps that tuck out of the way for a cleaner profile. The bag is made of sturdy high density 1200D PVC and comes in two sizes and four colors. Check it out on Amazon.com

Patagonia Black Hole Duffel - 70L

A lot of people think of backpacks for Go bags, but I think this is a better choice. The duffel sits well on your shelf without the shoulder straps getting in the way. It does have straps, which makes it just as easy to throw on your back or into the back of your car. Check it out on REI.com

What can you do right now?

Now that you've picked out a bag it's time to find some gear to fill it up. Keep in mind the goal is not to be done, but to do one little thing today that makes you better prepared for the future.