13 Essentials Every Emergency Bag Should Have


You hear a knock on the door, or an announcement on the TV or radio — you need to get out, and get out now! We rarely consider the possibility of an evacuation, but for the people recently affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, it was a harsh reality. People were given a short window to grab what they could and find a safe place to wait it out. What would you take? Do you have a list, or a pre-packed bag for each member of the family? You should. Here's what you will need.

1. The bag itself

Functionality is key here. What you need is something that is heavy-duty, waterproof, large, and lightweight enough not to be a burden. You are going to have to fill this with supplies that will keep you alive for days, or even weeks, and the last thing you need is something flimsy and unreliable. Look for bags with waterproof liners, plenty of pockets and storage compartments, and multiple ways to carry it. Ideally, it has handles, padded shoulder straps, and a large adjustable strap.

Look in specialist camping and survival stores, and also check out army surplus stores; if it's good enough for the Marines, it should do well. Some bags also come with built-in chargers, solar panels, and other tech hookups. Those are optional, but worth considering.

2. Nonperishable food (and access to clean water)

You want to concentrate on survival, not comfort. MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are a good option, as well as protein bars, packets of oatmeal, freeze-dried products, nuts and dried fruits, and a few canned goods. You want to keep the weight down as much as possible, and cans tend to be on the heavy side. You can also buy an emergency food kit and keep that next to your go bag. These can be purchased on Amazon, as well as specialist "prepper" sites, and cost anywhere from $30 to several hundred dollars. If you're watching your budget, these Datrex 2400 Emergency Food Bars won't be a culinary treat, but they will keep you filled with calories for 72 hours and have a five-year shelf life.

For hydration, it's not always practical to pack your go bag with bottled water, so invest in a Lifestraw, or some water purification tablets. These can be kept safe in the go bag, and ready to go when you need to leave quickly.

3. Cold hard cash

Make no mistake, you're going to need money at some point during your evacuation. Even with a well-maintained go bag filled with food and supplies, you'll have to stock up on anything that runs out quickly, or items you just didn't have time to pack. Chances are, if the blackout is in you area, the ATMs will be affected. And even if they do work, they could be out of bounds due to flooding, extreme weather, or barricades. Any stores that are operational won't be operating at full strength, and their POS (Point Of Sale) system will most likely be down. When blackouts happen, everything jumps back several decades in time, and that means paper money and coins will be king.

Keep several hundred dollars in a waterproof pouch inside your go bag, in different denominations. Don't stock $100 bills. Instead, pack $20s, $10s, $5s, and $1s. Another pocket filled with loose change is also a good idea.

4. Several changes of clothing

You'll be gone from the house for at least a few days, but it could be weeks. However, whenever any of us pack a bag, we tend to overestimate what we need, and take way too much with us. You do not want to weigh down your go bag, so be very judicious. Clean underwear and socks are light and take up little space, so grab at least a one-week supply of those. Then, consider the conditions. A lightweight jacket is usually a good idea, as well as a few T-shirts, a pair of jogging pants, and a small plastic raincoat that can be folded into a small pouch. Pack everything inside waterproof bags. Don't worry about the condition of the clothing either. Stains, slight tears, wrinkles — they're all fine. You're out for survival, not dinner and a movie, so choose based on practicality.

5. A first aid kit and your prescription medications

It doesn't have to be a big kit, but you will need something for minor cuts and scrapes, plus the usual pain relievers, ointments, lotions, tools, and allergy meds. Most importantly, you need to grab the prescription medications you rely upon daily. You do not want to run out of the house only to remember you have left behind the meds you need to stay fit and healthy. There won't be the time or opportunity to see a doctor immediately, and the pharmacies in the area could be out of power too. So, attach a note to your go bag reminding you to grab your meds. They could literally be the difference between life and death. (See also: The 5 Best First Aid Kits)

6. Mylar blankets

Also known as space blankets, Mylar blankets were developed by NASA in 1964 for the U.S. space program. The Mylar blanket keeps in the heat or reflects the heat, depending on the situation you're in, is very thin, and can shelter you from the wind. They have since been used to cover athletes after finishing marathons, and have also found their way into backpacks of extreme sports competitors. They are cheap, small, and reliable.

7. Hygiene and sanitation products

It may be some time until you get to take a hot shower or bath, so be prepared to clean yourself in the most efficient way possible. Every go bag should contain hand sanitizer, mouthwash, toothpaste, a toothbrush, toilet paper, soap, a washcloth, and baby wipes. Ladies should also pack feminine hygiene products, as well. Don't worry about after shaves, perfumes, deodorants, cosmetics, and even conditioners. You are only interested in staying clean and germ-free for the duration of your time away from home.

8. A multitool

The go-to multitool in the past was a Swiss Army Knife, and it's still a great tool to have in your go bag. It has at least six handy tools in one compact case, and if it is built by Victorinox, it will last you a lifetime. However, the Leatherman multitool has increased in popularity over the years due to the inclusion of the pliers case design, and is also an excellent option. This model has 14 tools and is a comparable price to the Victorinox. It is also built to last a lifetime. Either of these will be invaluable when you are away from home.

9. Portable power source

You're going to bring your cellphone with you, and it's probably the first thing you'll grab. But it will be useless in a few hours without a power source. You can opt for power banks, which can be charged and ready to go. But, they too will drain quickly, and before you know it, you have two useless bricks in your bag. Instead, opt for power that can be replenished. Dynamo power banks require manual winding to charge your phone. You can also find models that include a solar charging options, to give your hand a break and let the sun do the work. (See also: The 5 Best Solar Power Banks)

10. Identification

Hopefully, you will grab your wallet or purse as you are running for the door. But if there just isn't time, or it's in a place that cannot be easily accessed, what are you going to do about official identification? During evacuations, rescue and government workers may need to know who you are, and just telling them your name may not be good enough. A passport is a good way to identify yourself. If you keep it next to your go bag, you can put it in there when you take the bag, and you will always know where it is when you need to take a trip. An official state ID is also a good option.

11. Fire starters

You don't want to discover how hard it is to start a fire after you have been evacuated. It's tough. Just watch an episode of Man Vs. Wild or Survivorman. A fire will provide warmth for your body, and heat to cook with, so keep something in your bag to help you out. A flint and stone is the most hardy and long-lasting, but it can take some practice to get used to. Disposable lighters and waterproof matches are also a good bet.

12. Flashlights

Finally, you should keep a hand-crank flashlight or two in your go bag. This is a better option than a battery powered flashlight, especially if you forget about it and the batteries are dead when you do have to evacuate. You could find yourself way out of your element in an evacuation, and having reliable sources of light in your go bag will prove invaluable. If you want to go for an all-in-one model, there are options available that include radios, power banks, and hazard lights. But as long as you can use it to see where you're going, it will work.

13. A tent

If you live in an area that does not have a lot of options for accommodation, you should consider putting a small two or three-person tent in your go bag. They are very small and lightweight, and can be assembled in less than five minutes. If it's the choice between carrying a heavier bag, or sleeping in a field in the rain, take the first option.

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