The Survivor’s Guide To Grab-N-Go

Build yourself a basic grab-n-go bag. This bag gets you through an emergency situation and will last for 7 to 10 days. This is designed for adults, so when building a kid’s bag, scale it down a bit and add the extras to the bag that belongs to the strongest adult in your family. And yes, you can get all of this into one bag. Try it and see!

The following is for packing one go-bag.

How to assemble a go-bag

#1 – Start with a heavy duty hikers backpack that has lots of room and feels good on your body. Find one with waterproof material and easy-glide zippers if possible. This makes a huge difference. If you get to the athletic or department store and you’re still not sure, jot down a few brand names and go home to get online. Websites like will most likely sell the same brand and accompany them with buyers’ reviews. This is very important since the sales rep at the store will usually just tell you what you want to hear, but a buyer that has actually used the item will tell you the truth.

A perfectly good alternative – a heavy duty trash bag. (Best bet: Contractors Bags at home improvement stores.) A simple and super cheap solution that will hold everything and can be thrown over your shoulder.

Another, more expensive alternative – a firefighters backpack. Super durable, hold everything bag. It comes with clips, extra pouches and supports the heaviest gear with ease. They have built-in suspension systems that make it easy for a smaller persons to carry larger loads, or for anyone to go a lot longer than just one week.

Tip: For a person who uses a wheelchair, consider a messenger bag that can be carried in your lap (if you have the strength) or bags that can be attached directly to your wheelchair.

#2 – Just add water. One of the heaviest things to go into the go bag is the amount of water you’ll need for a 7 to 10 day stretch. The recommended amount is 2 liters of water, per day, per person. Wow. Some people opt for a canteen and some kind of portable water purifier or purification tablets. Maybe combine the two by including 2 or more days of water along with the purifying system you choose.

#3 – Food. Think “dehydrated” meals. A place like REI has a huge selection of food that is lightweight but hardy and will keep you going for a long time. For survival needs, you want at least one meal per day per person. If you have room, add in other snack foods like trail mix, breakfast or power bars, jerky, raisins and sardines. Ask around about the ER Bar, an emergency bar that is high in calories and vitamins.

Tip: Make sure to place multi-vitamins (crystal forms are best) and electrolyte replacement drink mix in the food portion of your bag. This is to ensure that you maintain the proper electrolytic and nutritional balances in your body. It will also help prevent cramping, illness and other physical maladies created by the high levels of physical exertion and stress.

#4 – Extra cooking gear might help. If you are a family of two or more, and can carry more stuff between you, then consider adding a portable cooking or barbecue kit and utensils. Again, REI has so much to choose from since they cater to hikers and can make just about anything small and portable. Cool.

#5 – Additional daily vitamins, medication, eyeglasses… anything that you absolutely need to have and can throw in a small pocket.

#6 – Lighter and/or matches, and two emergency candles. (Which can be used to heat food.)

#7 – Flashlight and new batteries. (Check yearly for freshness.) Find one that has a strong handle on it so it can be strapped onto the outside of your backpack for easy access.

#8 – A hand-crank or solar radio. The smaller the better.

#9 – Duct tape and a nylon cord (rated for 550 lbs.). Sounds strange but it could rescue a loved one.

Tip: Flatten the roll of tape to maximize space.

#10 – Insect repellent and/or mosquito net. The repellent protects against mosquitoes, ticks, sand- and horse flies, and other disease-carrying insects.

#11 – Essential toiletries in travel size. Soap, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, sunscreen, skin lotion, foot powder, deodorant, feminine hygiene items (for women), and perhaps baby wipes in place of toilet paper.

Tip: If you prefer toilet paper, flatten the roll before placing into bag—make sure it is in a sealed plastic bag to prevent moisture from destroying it.

Tip: If you have room, include a small bottle of laundry detergent for washing clothes.

#12 – Depending on where you live and the time of year, pack either a sleeping bag, mylar or fleece blankets. The latter takes up less space and will be just fine in certain parts of the country, but in others and depending on the time of year, only a sleeping bag will do.

#13 – A garbage bag for waste disposal.

#14 – A rain poncho for rainy weather.

#15 – Tent and/or tarp. These should be in the smallest size you can find. A one-person tent should do, but if the largest person can manage it, they could carry a larger tent for 2 persons or more.

#16 – Knife.

#17 – Extra set of keys for the home and car.

#18 – Important documents. Duplicates of all your most important records (insurance, will, birth certificate, passport, etc.) and valued pictures. Keep these in a ziplock to protect against moisture.

#19 – Money. Keep enough money in an envelope for the following: The average cost of a train, plane or bus ticket. The basic price of a hotel room for at least 3 days. Enough for gas and bridge toll charges for traveling by car. Money for food for 2 weeks.

Tip: Include coins for the public telephone, etc.

#20 – First aid kit. There is a wide variety of kits out there that are ready-to-go. Find one that is for “survival” or “emergency” usage. If you assemble your own, make sure to include aspirin and items to patch a wound.

Tip: Maxi pads have major absorption power and are great for bandaging deep cuts.

Tip: Include a sewing kit if possible.

#21 – Road maps of your immediate and surrounding areas.

Finally, extra clothing is a matter of choice. In cold climates, consider adding thermal underwear. In rough terrain, consider adding jeans and tennis shoes. My thinking: one can wear the same outfit for 7 – 10 days and just wash it. The choice is yours.

Where to store your go-bag

The best place to store your bag is in an easily accessible closet near an exit door. The front entry, the mud room closet, near the back door or low-to-the-ground window. It all depends on your personal situation. It should not be near an area that gets a lot of heat. For example: Placing your go-bag on radiant heat floors or near your kitchen should be avoided.

The weight of the bag (when fully packed) should not exceed 1/4 your own body weight. And test it out to make sure you can easily carry it.

Go-bags for your car and office

One of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time is the Quakehold! 70280 Grab-‘n-Go Emergency Kit. It is very basic, but is perfect for throwing into the trunk of your car or to keep under your desk at work. Or if you have the room, make duplicates of the above go-bag and keep one in each place.

Tip: For the office, throw in an extra work ID card, energy bars and water bottles. Store comfortable clothing if you work in a suit.

Tip: If you keep a go-bag in your car, you can store as much as you like in your trunk. Keep it neat and organized and add extras like a portable battery charger, gallon-size water bottles, canned food (plus a can opener), blankets, folding shovel, road flares, items for pets, bed pan, road maps of surrounding areas and beyond, extra pair of shoes and more clothing, self-defense equipment, towing chain, tire chains, fire extinguisher and anything else you consider to be a must-have necessity for survival.

Emergency bins, inside and out

For creating emergency bins that you can store in the house or outside, the idea is similar to the go bag but add enough supplies for everyone (not just for one individual) with enough to last several days to a week. An inside bin can be a large plastic storage box, and the outside bin can be a trash can stored in a dry, safe place. The Red Cross website has planning tools that make this task easy. A typical bin for two adults for 7 days should contain the following:

Basic Supplies:

At a minimum, have these basic supplies in an easy-to-carry emergency kit that you can use at home or take with you if you must evacuate.

14 gallon(s) of water
(This is one gallon per person, per day for drinking and washing)

28 total meals
(2 meals/day per person of non perishable, easy-to-prepare items.
A ‘meal’ may not include as much as you would usually eat)

2 flashlights
2 cell phones and chargers (Your cell phone may be useful during an emergency)
2 emergency blankets
A radio
2 packs of batteries
A first aid kit
Map(s) of your area
A multi-purpose tool

1 set of personal documents (Copies of medication list, deed/lease to your home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, etc.)

Cash (Estimate how much you would need each day if you could not return home or were unable to use and ATM/bank.)

2 Set(s) of emergency contact information (Every member of your household should have an emergency contact information in writing or programmed into their cell phones)

Medical supplies for family members:

___ Hearing aids with extra batteries
___ Eye glasses/contact lenses
___ Assistive devices
___ Other medical supplies

Additional supplies as needed based on the types of disasters common to your area.

___ Whistle*
___ N95 or surgical masks*
___ Matches
___ Rain gear*
___ Towels*
___ Work gloves**
___ Tools/supplies for securing your home
___ Extra clothing, a hat and sturdy shoes*
___ Plastic sheeting/duct tape/scissors
___ Household liquid bleach
___ Entertainment items
___ Blankets or sleeping bags*

* Consider having one per person in your household.
** Consider having one per adult in your household.

Get a family emergency plan

A family plan of action can include: a meeting place if you are separated (make sure children know how to get there); contacting a specific family member (who doesn’t live with you but is the closest to you) who knows the plan and can act as the “check-in” person; teaching everyone what to do in case of fire, heart attack, flood, etc, and act it out so all family members are clear about it; keeping emergency phone numbers right next to each telephone in your home; and if your home is really large or has more than one story, keeping a walkie talkie in the common areas. My family also has “emergency phrases” that sound normal to the hearer, but only we know something is wrong. (For example, if my son says “dad’s car looks good since he painted it red,” I know to snap into action. The hubby hates red cars.)


Preparedness Now! (for car kit)
Red Cross Emergency Planning Tools