Go Bag Essentials

It’s also common to mix up the definition of a go bag and a bug out bag, so let’s first discuss the difference between the two. A go bag is a bag that you carry with you that has the essentials of short term survival inside. These bags are designed for 24 hours emergencies or less, and will help you survive long enough to get home or to another secure location.

Bug out bags are generally used when you literally need to evacuate and leave your home. Bug out bags have enough supplies to anywhere between 72 hours and one week.

When you’re thinking about putting together a list of things for your go bag, it’s easy to gather too many and over pack. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the 18 essential things that you need to have. Start with those and be weary of adding too many extras.


Water is heavy so make sure you properly plan for this. A good way to compensate the excessive weight of water is purchase water pouches or water boxes. You can purchase these emergency water pouches off of any survival supply webstore. If you want to completely omit the water pouches and boxes all together, then a personal water system is perfect.


MREs, freeze dried food, high calorie food bars, and protein bars are among the favorites for survival bags. Canned foods are not a good idea for a go bag as they’re too heavy.


You’ll need some type of shelter in your go bag. A Mylar tent is best for the job. It’s lightweight and easy to slip into one of the inner pockets of your bag. Being that it’s a small item, you can pack one or more as backup sheltering in case your main one gets damaged. In addition, you can also pack a heavy duty tarp. You can use the tarp to cover a constructed simple lean-to tent and be better protected from the elements.

Fire Starters

Fire starters are vitally important. Most people think to pack matches, particularly waterproof matches, but also don’t forget lighters, flint starter kits, and kindling such as dryer lint, cotton balls or some char cloth.

Sleeping Bags and Blankets

You’ll need a sleeping bag or a lightweight blanket. Most packs come already equipped with the space to tie your sleeping materials to it. When choosing a sleeping bag and blanket, comfort and quality is important.

First Aid Kit

A go bag wouldn’t be complete without including a first aid kit and necessary medical supplies. You don’t really need a huge kit, unless you’re packing for a family. A simple personal first aid kit would be fine. It must include the basics such as bandaging, gauze, tape, burn cream, antibiotic ointment, and anti-allergy tablets. You can also buy a simple kit and adapt it to your needs. A suture kit should be included also for those times when you need to stitch up yourself or someone else.

Survival Knife and Other Multi-Function Tools

A survival knife and a multi-use knife tool will take the place of many other tools that you may not have room for. When choosing a knife, be sure to comparison shop and pay attention to customer reviews. You want one that is tried and proven to be beneficial and efficient. The same goes for a multi-use tool. It’s a priceless addition to your bag and will save time.

Flashlights & Batteries

Don’t ever forget your flashlight! A person doesn’t know how much they may need a flashlight until the time comes when they’re caught without one. Most preppers know that flashlights are an essential item to pack along with replacement batteries.

Personal Hygiene Toiletries

What kind of personal toiletries could you include? Think of everything you use on a daily basis, and include it. Here’s a short list of basic toiletries:

  • Toilet paper (Pack camping toilet paper to conserve space)
  • Dental health items: Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Mouthwash/Floss
  • Bar soap or Body wash
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Lotions & Creams (including facial creams and cleansers)
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving Cream & Razors
  • Feminine products (sanitary napkins and tampons can double as medical supplies. See: 15 Not Useless Items to Stockpile

While these items can get pretty bulky it’s recommended that you check out the trial/travel size section of your local Walmart or other discount store, and grab some of these items at a low price and stock up.

Sewing Kit

Duct tape used to be the go to item in your go bag to stitch up ripped clothing and gear, but aside from that, you can also add small and simple sewing kit. A sewing kit is necessary for not only repairing clothing, but also repairing gear that may become damaged. You can reinforce your patchwork with duct tape to insure the quality. If your tarp gets a tear in it, stitch it up quickly with your sewing kit.

Camping Utensils (Mess Kit)

Camping dinnerware and utensils are recommended. Once you’ve bugged out and you’re ready to each your meals that you’ve packed, you’ll need something to eat them with. A simple camping mess kit will be fine. It doesn’t take up too much space and it’s lightweight.

Extra Clothing (Including Socks)

Extra clothing takes up space, but they are necessary and extremely recommended. It’s important to have in case your original clothing gets wet or destroyed somehow. One way to bypass the bulkiness of extra clothing is by vacuum sealing them in bags. This cuts the amount of space it takes up down by half, if not more, depending on what you pack.

Dan’s Tip: At the very least, put your socks in a zipper bag to keep them waterproof. Do the same with all items that can get wet should yoru bag be left in the rain.

Money and other Personal Identification Items

Money is important. You’ll need to purchase additional things when it is required, particular food and maybe water. So make sure you pack money in small bills. Larger bills won’t get you far unless you tend on splurging during a crisis situation. Yeah, probably not, so the smaller the better. Several counts of $1, $5, and $10 bills will be good.

Unless you plan on disappearing completely after a crisis situation, it’s vitally important to carry personal identification items with you. Most situations are temporary, like a natural disaster or terrorist attack. In these cases, you’ll want to be able to be identified quickly if stopped by the authorities. A driver’s license or state issued ID, passport, medical alert cards, concealed carry license and a living will, are some of the few identification items that should be packed.


You don’t need that much cordage to survive up to 24 hours, but it’s nice to have some. Cordage has an “infinite” number of uses, you cannot skip it.

Weapons & Self Defense

You need something to protect yourself when you are bugging out. There are some people who will not think twice before taking the life of someone unarmed, just to lay claim to their supplies. This doesn’t have to be you. Carry a hand gun, get a lightweight alternative self-defense weapon such as pepper spray or a sling, and learn some self-defense moves.

Notepad and Pen

Often, overlooked, the notepad and pen are an extremely important combo to include in your go bag. Why? There will be times when you need to map out an area, write directions, write a note, or even simply draw a picture. If you didn’t pack these items, you’ll be forced to utilize your memory which may be stressful in a crisis situation. Pack a “write in the rain” notepads and a couple of pens.

Solar & Hand Crank Radio

A small solar or hand crank radio is important to help you keep up with what’s going on in the world during a crisis.  These radios are small, inexpensive, and can take up little space. No need to worry about replacement batteries  when you opt for a solar or hand crank.

Final Word

There you have it. This list of 18 go bag essentials is an excellent starting point for you. You can always add more to this list to fit your own needs, but keep in mind that the more you add the more weight you add also. A go bag is supposed to help you move quickly and efficiently. If it’s too heavy, then it completely takes away from the purpose.

About Mira J. Ross

Mira has been prepping for 10 years. Living in the outskirts of metropolitan Atlanta with her 3 children, she's preparing not just for SHTF events but also for everyday emergencies.

One comment

  1. Avatar
    Dan F. Sullivan

    Thanks for your input. You have to consider that some people live in small towns, maybe even in the wilderness. Those 24 hours could mean they have to spend the night outside. I’m not saying it’s likely, just that it’s possible. Mira suggested a Mylar tent, not a regular tent, which is really small and lightweight.

    The list has more items than one could fit in a bag so that everyone picks the items they think they’ll need. I agree that speed and a light backpack are essential.

    Other than the tent issue, can you tell me what else is “so much wrong” with this article?

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